For though we often need to be restored to the small, concrete, limited, and certain, we as often need to be reminded of the large, vague, unlimited unknown. A.R. Ammons
It was not raining on that third morning of our Camino pilgrimage. In fact, the sun seemed to be breaking through the dark clouds as we slung our packs over our shoulders and headed out of our hotel onto Castro-Urdiales’ seaside boardwalk. My husband Cam and I were feeling downright buoyant as we followed country roads and an ancient path along grassy meadows high above the sea. The freshness of spring filled the air with the smell of sweet grass and roses — a whole field of roses — and the views of lush valleys and the sea beyond set our spirits soaring. We sang out our “Bon Camino” greetings to the farmers working in the fields, to the occasional pilgrims we met on our route, to the donkeys, the cows, the goats and the sheep who were our curious companions along the way. Yes, we were feeling chipper, a slight bit cocky even, as we made our way westward following the Camino’s yellow arrows and scallop shell tiles through villages and along country roads. The predicted rain was holding off and the morning was unfolding with a welcome ease. When our stomachs began to growl with hunger in the late morning, there it was, a bar on the outskirts of a tiny village. And when the man behind the counter at the bar did not understand a word we were saying in our pitifully-broken Spanish, there she was, a young mother with her eight month old baby, eager to practice her crystal-clear English and translate for us exactly the sandwiches we were craving on that crusty good bread.
Yes, we were in the flow on Day Three of our adventure. And so what if the sky was seeming a bit darker when we left our village bar at noon — and the wind, well, there might have been a slight gust of wind as we got ourselves back on our pilgrim’s path, but our bellies were full and our bodies replenished and the moisture in the air was too fine to be called a sprinkle and certainly wasn’t going to dampen our buoyant spirits. And an hour later, when I reached down to pluck a mint leaf from the weedy-lush hedge at the side of the trail, and my hand skimmed across the nettle plants that mingled with the mint, and a pain shot through my finger tips, I laughed it off. No, it wasn’t going to get to me, a little sting, from the stinging nettle. And the rain — because now there was no denying it, that fine mist had turned heavy on us — well, it was bothersome, for sure, but manageable. We slipped into raincoats, stretched the waterproof covers over our packs, and I changed from flip flops to running shoes. And okay, I admit it, I was feeling a bit judgmental. Cam looked ridiculous in his thirty dollar rainy-weather get-up from Walmart, the pants slopping around his legs, the jacket hump-backing over his pack, but I kept my mouth shut. I really did. And when we traced the tidal estuary on a back road with the slimmest of shoulders, I focused my attention on the the egrets standing in the tall grasses of the river marsh and the cars rumbling toward us, not even listening to Cam, who might have been grumbling as he walked at a steady clip in front of me.
I kept it together, my kindness, my sense of wonder, my pride in being able to uplift, and it all seemed genuine enough, as we once again found ourselves in the woods, this time in a eucalyptus forest, on a paved path. I commented out loud at the sinus-clearing smell of the trees on a rainy day. I pointed to birds, small birds and large hawk birds, birds that were new to us. And when we approached a town with a market where we could stock up on snacks and pockets full of clementines, I let out a whoop and a holler — and I might have been coming on a little strong, a little loud, a little too verbal to someone in a thirty dollar rain coat with wet socks just trying to hang on. But he, my Camino buddy, needn’t have worried because it was the hill that quieted me down. It wasn’t a hill. It was a mountain. And the road, a paved one-laner on the other side of the town with the market, shot right up it, no switch-backs in sight. I huffed and I puffed and I assumed that Cam a few feet in front of me was doing the same. Who cares about the smell of eucalyptus when you can barely breathe a short little mouth breath. It was my Everest and it took my full-bodied effort to make it to the summit. But make it, I did, and my guy did as well. And up there on the top of Everest were cottages, and farms with large lumbering dairy cows, and a tiny stone church. And it was charming and we were wet and the path we were following had turned muddy, and that’s when Cam lost it, up there on top of the mountain, the mountain that we were going to have to descend at some point to make our way into the town of Liendo and our sixteenth century pousada where we’d be sleeping that night. He just stopped up, up there in the rain, refused to budge, said he could not go on.
And that’s when I turned tough. I found my inner drill sergeant, told Cam to buck up, told him he didn’t have a choice, that we had to keep going. I was stern. I was mean. I was relentless. The uplifter had become a tyrant. And lo and behold, it worked. My guy swigged a gulp from his water bottle and started walking again. And that’s when I decided that I wasn’t so buoyant anymore, that I was feeling a bit heavy myself, that I could use my own dose of uplifting, and I certainly wasn’t going to get it from the guy in front of me in the ridiculous rain gear. So I called upon my dad. I don’t do it often, but there is something about the Camino that opens us up. Maybe it is the exhaustion of having already walked twenty kilometers in sopping shoes. Maybe it is the holiness of the path on which you are walking. For whatever reason, it was my dad who I asked, on the high ground in the late afternoon, to uplift me, my dad who had died when I was seventeen, my dad who was my childhood uplifter. And maybe the airwaves are a little less clogged on the high ground of a pilgrimage because he came through to me, loud and clear.
I heard his voice in my head and I felt his essence. He told me how proud he was of me. “Just look at what you are doing!” he said. “You are amazing!” he added with enthusiasm. “And so is Cam! I’m so proud of you both!” And that’s when I looked in front of me at my guy, saw him in his Walmart rain gear, placing one foot in front of the other, making his way downhill now on a more windy two-lane manageable mountain road. My dad was right. We were amazing. And that’s when my dad added the clincher “Be nice to your husband,” he said. He wasn’t stern, not a drill sergeant at all. He said it with kindness. “Be nice to your husband.” And I want you to know that I took my dad’s words into my heart — perhaps they were always in my heart — and I caught up with Cam, told him my dad was proud of us, told him that I was proud of us. And it didn’t matter that it still was raining as we walked into Liendo and found our sixteenth century pousada. It was a good day and we were in the flow.
Day Three of our Camino pilgrimage, beginning in Castro-Urdiales and finishing our 27 kilometer day in Liendo, joining many other pilgrims at a sixteenth century pousada in the early evening.