Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Just blown in...

Even the Kansans are about done with the excessive winds of late.  Constant high winds make the day's distance seem doubled, but what pilgrim doesn't like a challenge?  It's been a great workout for my abs.

The good people of Kansas have been particularly pampering lately... one friendly woman scooped me out of a dry and not-uncomfortable church basement to install me for the night in her warm and loving family home next door - scrumptious dinner, hot shower, laundry, grand conversation filled with joy and laughter, and - jackpot for any pilgrim - a foot massage.  Alighting on cloudlike feet for another full day in the rainy strong wind, I entered the next farmland village yesterday tired and happy, and after resting a few minutes on a bench in the cemetery on the edge of town, two senior women pulled alongside me in a pickup with a cheerful - where ya headin', stranger?  To the church I should think, I'm a pilgrim going to Chimayo (so far, not many have heard of the famous shrine) past Santa Fe.  Okay, on the left up ahead, can't miss it.  How friendly are countryfolk!  The ladies circled the block, pulling alongside again as I continued to walk... would you like to come to my house and stay the night with us?  It'll cost ya no more than a story.  Well, butter my biscuit!  How pilgrim-friendly the people have been since I began this walk back from the Annual Pilgrim Gathering.

In this culture generally inexperienced in pilgrimage, I've been explaining the salient points as I greet people - the credencial, the scallop shell, the peaceful simplicity and tradition stretching back 1,200 years in Europe and existing in all the major religions of the world...  Pilgrims be on the lookout, at least some family homes in central Kansas will be putting scallop shells out on their front door to inform pilgrims of a safe and fun place to pass a pilgrim night.

Just at 500 miles into the journey back to Chimayo now - the halfway point is coming up soon and the rolling hills are flattening out as I step closer to the Great Plains.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Snakes and Sails

It's occurred to me that if I only had a sail, I could be blown to New Mexico.  The snakes in the grass are bigger, fatter, and I'm pretty sure more venomous... from my description to locals, I'm seeing more copperheads as I head westward into the historic prairie grass of the Great Plains.  I've just passed through the famous Council Grove, Kansas, where in 1825 the leaders of various native groups and the territorial governor signed an agreement to ensure safe passage to travelers... I wonder if there were any pilgrims among them.  Gotta run,
I continue onward, smiling and with the west-facing hemi-burn known to pilgrims on the Camino to Santiago.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bountiful History

Rolling along the hillsides and farm fields of the Santa Fe Trail has proved more interesting than the flat rail bed of the Katy Trail.  These pilgrim days have been a lovely slow-moving roller coaster ride in a fascinating amusement park of history.

Leaving Boonville (there I am to the left) and the Katy Trail behind after the soggy snowy rain, the scents of the moistened flowers and blossoming trees have made up the pleasantness of days, truthfully interrupted by the more acerbic aromas from the freshly manured fields.  A late spring has made for delayed field preparations for what will be in a matter of months oceans of corn and soybean.  To keep company with the workings of the nose, the ears are assaulted with the orchestra of tirelessly busy birds and ground critters.  The European look of the land - green and rolling fields and forests, streams and rivers is soon to give way to the enormity of the foreboding 'West' that the pioneers in their oxen-pulled wagons faced 150 years ago.  The anticipation builds with each mile toward the afternoon sun.

Traveling in the method I do, I focus little on the details of the daily stage and let the more global scale guide me.  Consequently, arriving in a village - no, more curiously and correctly, a 'city', population 56 - like Arrow Rock makes for a delightful surprise at the end of the day… quaint, clean, spacious, adorably maintained with pride and care… like a thoughtful pillow mint in the finer establishments that says 'I care.'  Go off the beaten track by whatever means if you ever find yourself in central Missouri and see it.  Lexington was bigger, but similar.  Scattered around the path I've been taking have been stone monuments that I admire greatly - placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution society in 1909 to mark the defunct Santa Fe Trail lest it fall into obscurity.  That was only 35 years or so after the  railroads made the Trail obsolete.  What foresight they had.  Although there's no actual continuous footpath, I know I'm going the right way, and like the early pioneers, the right way had broad latitude.  I avoid the highways by taking the slightly longer and incredibly linear dirt farm roads between fields - tranquil, pretty, full of kind animals, and passing by plenty of farmhouses where I can ask for water.  Simple pilgrimin'.

In response to some comments, I can provide a few details of how I've actually gone about finding places to sleep traveling as the mendicant pilgrim I am… In larger towns, I look for a Catholic church, then some people of the church to explain my pilgrimage to Chimayo.  In St Charles, the very young religious sister who answered the door at the convent of schoolteachers for the adjacent Catholic school, was too timid to open the door for me, and even more timid to take my advice and call the local Archbishop to find out how to handle the situation she'd never encountered.  Without much concern, I simply waited for one of the priests to return, explained everything to him, asked for a stamp in my credential and spent the night on the sofa in his office since all the rooms of the rectory were occupied.  Patience of older people trumps timidity of young.

The next day's walk ended in the small wine-producing hamlet of Augusta where the local Catholic church was miles down the highway, the local Buddhist monastery was similarly miles off the trail, and while a woman I spoke with was calling around to find someone involved with the local United Church of Christ, her elderly mother spoke up that I could stay in her spare room as a favor of keeping her company for the evening.  Everyone's happy.

The next night brought me to a much larger town of Hermann with pleasant Catholic community who adored their priest; the priest, though eager to help and delighted to hear of my pilgrimage, was hesitant to invite me into his spacious home because of perceptions of propriety - pilgrim girls and pilgrim boys have different experiences.  A woman of the parish stepped up and got me settled into the local motel, which happened to be run by a kind Hindu family who fed me dinner, washed my clothes, and set me up with breakfast and fruit for the way… pilgrimage is a huge thing for the Hindus, who know it's poor juju to leave a pilgrim wanting.

Off I went to Mokane, a friendly village with limited offerings, and a Catholic church without a resident priest.  Finding a small meeting of parishioners breaking up, I explained the situation and offered that I could happily sleep in the parish hall where they were meeting - standard kitchen with tables and chairs for fishfries and socials.  They agreed casually, however, to improve upon the option, the woman with the key was also the local lioness and she thought I'd be more comfortable in the Lions Club hall - help yourself to what's in the fridge.  Hotdogs and buns for dinner and again for breakfast, and a few for the trail.  And plenty of coffee.

Thus it goes.  Every day's a new day.  None can be predicted or pre-arranged.  A night at the United Church of Christ basement hall (they don't even lock the door); another at the Methodist Church hall; another at the Baptist Church.  It doesn't matter.   Some priests let me sleep in the guest room of the rectory; others are more persnickety and find an alternate solution to the very simple condition of where the pilgrim will sleep tonight.  I'm never worried.  People are people; people are good.  A credencial is important.

Monday, April 14, 2014

It's already begun...

I've been walking for a week and this has been the first opportunity to update this blog, really.

The Annual Gathering of American Pilgrims on the Camino was a hoot and a half from April 3rd-6th at Our Lady of the Snows Shrine in Belleville, IL.  I began walking on the pilgrimage back to the Santuario de Chimayo on Monday morning along the Katy Trail, an old railbed on the north bank of the Missouri River.  Today, on Day 8 and 170 miles of the pilgrimage, I arrived at the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail in Boonville, Missouri.  The plan is to take it to the end and then another few days to Chimayo by the end of May.

To have a couple of hundred pilgrims send me off on the pilgrim trail was a fabulous start.  I've stayed a few nights with families, other nights in church halls - Catholic, Methodist, and United Church of Christ.  Yet again, my experiences clearly demonstrate that being a pilgrim here in the USA is as rewarding as in Europe.  The idea of walking to a pilgrim destination may not be as common here, but helping someone out by offering a dry, warm, safe place to sleep and a meal is an ingrained commonality of humanity.

The Katy Trail is a wonderful asset to Missourians - harmonious nature and wildlife... I've seen various chatty and colorful birds and waterfowl, sundry ground rodents, deer, turtles, plentiful young snakes some no bigger than a Number 2 pencil, and this morning a noisy skirmish between a large bobcat and redtail hawk.  Episodes of American history are thoroughly explained on information kiosks.

The ease of a well-marked gravel-packed footpath is over for me now; the Santa Fe Trail is a list of historic placenames with the original path paved over or plowed under.  There are markers along the highways stating that the Santa Fe Trail passed nearby, but not having an interest in walking on highways, I'll just find my way across farmfields, so is the plan.

Great shout-outs to all those who have helped me so far, to the ladies at Abigail's Cafe in Rocheport who fed me while the search was underway to find the guy with the key to the church where I slept; to the lovely family at the Hermann Hotel who offered delicious southern Inda-style food and a comfortable bed as an alternative to spending the night alone in a house with a priest; to everyone, of course - everyone who helps a pilgrim becomes part of the pilgrimage.  The world needs more pilgrims!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Another and Yet Another

While my resolution to be a more consistent blogger hasn't proved effective, I have been off a-pilgriming.

A charming, respectful, and delightful group of of high school seniors from Bishop Machebeuf Catholic High in Denver met me (with their chaperones) on the Southern Ute town of Ignacio last weekend and we walked a total of 113 miles of the Old Spanish Trail.  This is the trail I explored in January and now took to the next level of testing as a proper Camino to Santiago.  Despite the expected assortment of blisters, a positive experience all around, and we even had the pilgrim bonus of meeting someone along the way who spontaneously joined in... always carry an extra credenciale for such an event.

Today, I'm beginning the journey to St Louis where the Annual Gathering of the American Pilgrims on the Camino will start tomorrow evening.  The gathering of several hundred pilgrims can't not be a good time.  The energy and excitement is mounted as the season waxes.  Another film - Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago - has been released about pilgrims, generating even more interest in the growing pasttime of pilgrimage.

I couldn't help but notice when looking into the Gathering, that the venue of Our Lady of the Snows Shrine is just down the road from Franklin, MO - the eastern terminus of the historic Santa Fe Trail.  Interested in exploring caminos to the Santuario de Chimayo as I am... how fortuitous.  As the Gathering buttons up on Sunday afternoon, I'll begin the new exploratory pilgrimage back to the Santuario.  My hope is to take the Cimarron Cut-Off, highlighted in several Westerns, and return to the Santuario by the end of May.  As usual, I'll try to update the blog with my route and a smattering of adventures every week or so.  With the reputed flatness of Kansas, I've prepared myself for monotony of terrain, but open to be surprised.  I crossed the flat pampas of Argentina last year, how different can it be?