The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

I just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. It took me more than a few weeks to finish it because there were just too many academic things that needed to be read, but this weekend, I put all of those aside for a couple of hours and drove to the end.

I really enjoyed this book. I wouldn’t say that I could identify very well with the main characters, Harold and Maureen. they just seem a little bit too simple. Their understanding of their own lives, revealed in bits and pieces, leave you feeling  they are just missing something. Their reflection on themselves seems too shallow, there is very little fight in it.

What I did identify with was the aspect of pilgrimage that Joyce describes. The leaving, the  self-reflection, the sore feet, the folks met on the way, the relationships that come and go on the road, all rang true to my experience of pilgrimage on the Camino in the spring of 2011. It was fun to read, feeling  the author had gotten it right, hit the nail on the head. Harold is an unlikely pilgrim, but aren’t we all?

When Harold sets out on his journey, he  carries with him a vision of what the pilgrimage will accomplish, but in the end he finds  the goal  he had intended is all wrong and a whole other result is realized. Pilgrimage, as we have witnessed, begins with a goal, a vision, which, very often, is unrealized, or, if it is realized, turns out to be insignificant in the end. The relationships built, and the self realizations that come on the way, become the important results of the journey. Harold recognized this and so did we.

The book is a wonderful read and a recognition that maybe we don’t have to head to the great pilgrimage sites of the world to experience something new in our lives. Maybe its right here. Maybe even part of the journey we are on right now.


San Francisco and a Wedding, We Arrive.

We are in San Francisco now. It seems such a short time ago that we were pedalling over the hills of central and eastern Ontario (and it was). We just went from one thing to the next.

Our son is getting married to a wonderful young woman on Saturday. We have not been very involved in the planning or the preparations to this point and that is fine. Now as the day approaches we do have a few jobs to do. A rehearsal party to help out with, speeches to give, and love and encouragement to pass out. We’ll meet L’s mother for the first time over breakfast.

On the plane. J did a great job of organizing everything

Its been interesting traveling with the grandparents. My parents came with us.  J’s parents decided to drive from Ontario and are due to arrive today. They are determined not to miss anything. My dad brought his cane, something he has not used a lot since he broke his hip, and valiantly walked from our hotel to J and L’s apartment ,and back, up and down SF’s hills, often leading the way with a grim determination not to be in any way coddled. He did concede to using the elevator at the apartment rather than tackle four flights of stairs. Hopefully, if I make it to 76, I won’t need to be given special treatment either.

By the end of the day, all of us were tired.

Post Camino Reunion

This past weekend, as a way to start the new year right, we traveled to Montreal for a visit with the freinds that we made last May on the Camino. It seemed fitting somehow to start this year by remembering and reminiscing about the event of the previous year that impacted our lives in the biggest way.

From the conversations we had over the weekend, it would seem that we were not the only ones who still felt the impact of the time spent in Spain.  Some came home and made significant changes in their lives and we were glad to find that they seem content with their decisions. Others got tattoos to commemorate the event. We found that we were not alone in our struggle/quest to figure out what it all meant, what really happened to us there. The Camino, its experiences and lessons, seems to continue to live on in each of those who were part of the group.

The communitas

The one thing we know for sure is that we have developed a bond of friendship with these people that we never would have had if we had not decided a year ago to take the opportunity to join a group going for a walk. Our shared experience has drawn us close together. The internet and social media has kept us in each other’s lives.

We’re busy planning our next trip to Montreal, and hopefully some of our pilgrim friends will take the opportunity to come and visit us here in Western Ontario.

Fall Forest Harvest

We have about 40 acres of bush on the property where we live. Over the past six years that we have been here, we have cut a road/walking trail through this area. It’s about two kilometers long and provides a welcome quiet break at the end of the day.  Liia, our Bernese Mountain dog always leads the way which prevents us from seeing any wildlife. We hear the turkeys, grouse, and deer moving out of our way, but rarely get a glimpse.

While spring, with its carpet of wild flowers is very beautiful, I think my favorite season is fall.  All around, and through the bush are wild apple trees.  I don’t know why there are so many. It may be because the area was pastured many years ago and then just allowed to grow up wild. The entire south side of the bush is apple trees, one after the other.  No tree is the same as the next. Some of the apples are as small as marbles while others are as big as any that you would buy in the store. All are wormy. Some are bright red, others green, and some russet. Some seem to pick a day and all fall off the tree. Others don’t seem to have the sense to fall and rot on the tree. I’ve tried a lot of them (you can find some that are not too wormy or scabby). It’s like wine tasting…no two are the same.

The other cool thing that happens in the bush right now, is the appearance of puffballs. It’s no wonder that in less scientific times people thought that mushrooms were somehow a magical thing. The puffball seems to grow from nothing to the size of a soccer ball over very few days. they grow in different places every year. They all seem to grow at about the same time with no real indication of what causes them to “germinate” and grow. Right now there are about eight of the skull like things in various parts of the bush. We’ve eaten one this year. They are great anywhere that you would use mushrooms.

The other nice thing about the bush in fall is that the mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies, and black flies are gone!

Another Walk

I’m not sure why we do this to ourselves, but it seems that when we do something once, we need to try the experience again…right away. We’ve done it with the canoe,  the bikes, and now with our feet.  270 km in Spain should have been enough for a season, but for a number of reasons we are out again, this time walking the Peninsula portion of the Bruce Trail.

There are reasons, of course. J’s feet treated her so badly in Spain that she just needs to walk another 170 km to prove that the experience was a fluke. On top of that, I had been assigned, as part of the Pilgrimage course that took us to Spain, the task of developing a pilgrimage route in Ontario, specifically on the Bruce Trail.  I completed that task last week in theoretical terms, but, it just seems right to check and see if there was anything practical about the design.

Today we walked the first 17.6 Km (including the side trail to the parking lot) mostly in wet, misty, rainy conditions.

Typical trail surface...ankle breakers

This walk is way different from the Camino. First of all, there is no one else on it. The trail itself appears to have seen very little use this year. It is narrow forcing single file walking.  The surface of the trail is often very rough.  The Bruce Peninsula Trail Club rates the entire distance from Wiarton to Tobermory as strenuous. They’re right. The big stones in the trail are moss-covered and slippery. No one fell today, but we had some good saves.

Liia was along today. She drank  most of the water that we carried and I think her panting scared off most of the wildlife. She followed J valiantly, but I think that she thought we were just crazy. We almost had to abort the walk when she balked at climbing the spiral staircase at Spirit Rock  With J pushing and me pulling we got her started up. She stopped  part way up, but in the end we got to the top, all hot and bothered (and all smelling like the dog)

We were all glad to get back to our campground, wet and tired. It looks like we will try the next section tomorrow and hopefully over the next week and a bit make it all the way to the end.  We have set up a base in the trailer park in Lions Head so that we have a good bed to come back to every night.