This is an excerpt from the book, Boots: A thousand Miles on Foot and on Life, which will be published in the fall. I had just completed seventeen days on the Camino, averaging seventeen miles a day, and I’m worn and unsure about continuing. I edited the excerpt after leading a workshop on transformation, the heroine’s journey, and the divine feminine, inspired by the women who took the course.
Arriving in Moratinos, Spain
That night we arrived in Moratinos, a small Spanish town, and found a room for the night. Too worn to walk the next day, we weighed our options. Should we stay another night or hire a taxi? We decided to schedule a taxi to pick us up mid-morning and take us to Sahagun, a city eight miles away with a pharmacy. After that, we would decide what to do.
It would be our second taxi ride in almost 300 miles. In my mind, taking a taxi was a form of pilgrimage cheating. I wondered at what point we could still claim to be pilgrims. Who defines the expectations of doing enough or doing it right? I’d started to question the whole concept of cheating on the Camino, and if my need to do it “right” had distorted what would give me pleasure and be satisfying?
After arriving in Spain, I discovered I wanted something more, maybe different, from what the guide books suggested. Originally, I had built in two rest days, and on the second day of walking the Camino, I discovered I could walk in from France to Santiago de Compostela completing the pilgrimage, then walk on to the Atlantic Ocean. I wanted that. I wanted to walk across a country, from one side to another. To do that, required foregoing my rest days and now a taxi.
I felt an internal pull. I wanted to walk to the ocean. I also wanted to walk the entire Camino. But, if I followed my desire to walk to the ocean and started taking taxis, would I be able to consider myself a woman who had, in fact, walked the Camino? I wanted both but wasn’t sure I could have them.”?
The Saturday Morning Woman
The next morning, while waiting for our taxi, I approached a woman who sat alone drinking red wine at a table outside the albergue. She didn’t have a pack or boots but sat comfortably in a dress, her skirt draped over her knees, the hem on both sides resting on the ground. She leaned back relaxed on an all-weather chair. It didn’t look like she was gearing up for the day to make a well-planned, pre-predetermined number of miles by foot like the rest of the pilgrims. I attempted a conversation with her but she had very little interest in conversation.
Standing near her table in my boots and usual hiking attire, my back and poles left behind the restaurant bar for safekeeping, I asked, “Are you walking today?”
“I don’t know, maybe, probably not.” She took a sip of wine.
Huh… how could she not know? It was mid-morning!
“I just walk from albergue to albergue,” she continued. “I’ve walked all over Europe staying in hostels along other Camino routes. I don’t live anywhere really. Some days I walk, but a lot of days I don’t.”
Then she wasn’t a purist, not even a pilgrim. She wasn’t attempting to make it to Santiago, or to anywhere. She lived this way, alone, walking from place to place as she pleased. Was she entwined intimately with other people, woven into a fabric of a community or a family? It didn’t look like it. We were opposites attempting to see each other, or at least I wanted to see her. What did her seemingly unwoven, unconcerned about where she was going, comfortable alone, thoughts look like?
Her memory tugs at me from time to time. I see her with her early morning wine, sitting alone outside at a metal table shaded by a raised umbrella leaning back as if it’s Saturday morning and there’s nowhere to be. I think of my umbrella filled with too many places to be, so many people I love that I don’t know if I’ll ever have a great enough capacity to be who I want to be for them.
Upgrading my own thinking
I have a habit of putting too much under my umbrella and crashing along with a tendency of forcing myself to keep going, to keep putting in the miles, to be good enough, to belong, to participate. When I finally crumble, it’s not for a day, but sometimes for months. The last time was when I was teaching high school. Discouraged we weren’t doing a better job accessing the abilities of our students, I sat on state, county, and school committees. I taught a leadership program and Advanced Placement courses trying to change a system I couldn’t change and to be good enough to teach other people’s children.
Exhausted and sick, I walked away without a plan after thirteen years with back issues and a fibromyalgia diagnosis. After leaving teaching, I took a two-year break and rested. A couple of years later, I started my master’s degree in transpersonal psychology. I needed to prove, if only to myself, that we could do a better job tapping potential, but most of all I needed to upgrade my thinking and find a new way to move through the world that didn’t deplete me.
The Saturday Morning Woman, a woman without a plan for the day, even though the day was half over, looked at me dismissively and went back to her wine.
Hobbit-like Doors, Community, and Connection
I don’t need the school system or the world to be as perfect as I once did when I was teaching. In this journey, I’m practicing embracing the unknown, trusting more, and letting go of expectations of how something should be.
I left the Saturday Morning Woman to look at the hobbit-like houses across the street from our lodgings. Built into the base of a small, rounded mountain covered in green grass, the small, evenly spaced entrances surrounded the base of the hill. As I walked around and explored, I discovered each entryway was about the same size but different in style and design, some well kept while others looked tired and worn. Each entry had an alcove with a door that led into the mountain. Just like the entry, each door was unique, some colorful and others dull, but each one interesting.
Transformation and Rest
Since that day, I’ve thought a lot about the mountain and the circle of doorways entering into the safety of the earth. They turned out to be wine cellars, each one owned by a family of Moratinos. The doors connected generations and a community over time. When I think of the doorways now, and the small, feminine size doors, I think of women, connection, and an inner journey of rest, and the transformation that happens after the rest. Maybe the Saturday morning woman was resting, taking an inner journey, transforming, like the wine.