Mere Coincidence or Confluence?

31 03 2019

Today is my anniversary of Day One of walking the Camino de Santiago. It wasn’t very epic. Not that it was bad but it just was. I went to work setting up my new retail space after a gift shop renovation where I am working here on Namtucket. It was a beautiful day and half of me relished the sun while a little but of me registered concern. This warmth means summer is coming. To most that’s a welcome respite from the winter, but this island life is very unique and the height of the season is exhausting. Add the fact that this year I need to find a new Suzy. You see my Camino walking partner came to live with me and my husband post Camino to help with my other endeavor, The Hungry Minnow a snack bar at Children’s Beach and she also helped with our Airbnb rental unit. I don’t know what I’ll do without her. Both of us spoke last night about what it meant that is was the eve of our first day walking…

Our connection is strange in some ways but clearly meant to be. Suzy lives in Morocco and we met after our mutual circumstances had already swirled together cosmically I like to think. She must be a sister from another lifetime I think, because our lives intersected in such an interesting way.

I first went to New Orleans after Katrina to sell wine as a national wine rep. It was my last stop on a multi city tour… Dallas, Houston and then NOLA. I remember how the city seemed to fit me. I had never been one of those people that was interested in going to New Orleans, and I’m not really all that into the south. I hate heat and humidity, and all the foodie talk about the best cuisine down there was still confusing to me as I’d only tasted shoddy attempts at jambalaya or gumbo. It was so strange how upon landing at the airport I was welcomed by the swampy slightly moldy smell and feel of the air, yet something about this place as I walked it’s streets seemed familiar. I keep referencing previous lifetimes, and I don’t know what I really feel about that, but sometimes there are coincidences in life that are too much. Sometimes you’ll see a face and know them I instantly, basically recognizing another soul intimately. If they do exist then I lived in New Orleans lifetimes ago. She welcomed me back. That first trip was so poignant and difficult. I sobbed in the airport heading home after viewing the devastation on a private tour with my taxi driver. More than two hours of him showing me what happened and my heart ached for the city and its people I felt so tuned into.

So I went back, as much as I could, and eventually a plan was hatched to go for Mardi Gras. We were a group of older folks, mostly close friends from San Francisco but also my brother and some local friends were part of our mini “krewe” as well. We planned on walking with the krewe of St. Anne. My dear friend Jane heard I was heading down and has a lot of friends down there part of the Society of St. Anne so she told me I needed to go to the Purple Party, a fete on the Monday before Mardi Gras. We all made plans to bring purple clothing in addition to our Mardi Gras zodiac themed costumes. Another friend, Reby, separately told me I needed to attend the Purple Party as well. Jane also made me promise to visit her artisan hat maker friend Tracy Thomson at her coop during the trip.

I landed after everyone else that Sunday around six breathing in that swampy airport air, happy that my purple peacock feather tail for my party costume had made it on both legs of the flight. I headed into downtown in a taxi not knowing that parade traffic is a big deal. He had to drop me a long way from my hotel and I had to avoid all sorts of debris to get my suitcase around.

I dropped my things and got distracted as a parade was just ending but eventually got into another cab to meet my friends outside of downtown. By the time I got there some had already called it quits as they’d been at a parade, the rest were nicely buzzed. I grabbed a six pack of Anita from the liquor store next door and set in to enjoy some pizza at this BYOB place. Andrew started in on me first.

“So what’s the deal with this purple party?” He promoted.

“Well we just have to wear purple.” I said between bites and gulps as I tried to catch up to their level of exuberance .

“But where is it and when? What are the details?!”

I was getting slightly irritated. I’d been traveling all day and wasn’t even through one beer and frankly I had no clue about the details and now I’d made this stupid purple peacock costume that was probably better than my Mardi Gras costume and how was I even going to wear it if I didn’t know where the party was and I’d told about eight of my friends that we could go to this party and…

And that’s when the woman approached our table.

“I’m sorry but I overheard…” of course they were the only other group in the place and my friend’s voices had been elevated by the Bacchus parade, “but were you talking about the Purple Party? That’s my friend Stuart’s party!” She pointed to a tall man with glasses at their table and he held up his hand and waved.

My face immediately flushed as I addressed her. Now I’d done it. I’d managed to invite an entire group to a party I had not technically been invited to and I’d been caught. She didn’t seem upset with us, but I felt ridiculous.

“Um my friend told me I should go?”

“Really? Who was that?” She asked in a non threatening way.

My brain went blank for a second.

“Well, this girl Reby in San Francisco…” I started to say. It didn’t ring a bell with her and suddenly it struck me. “Oh my God are you Tracy Thomson?! It was Jane who told me too and she said I had to go see you!”

And lo and behold just an hour or so after landing all the information was provided for us. Tracy and Stuart said it was absolutely great if we wanted to join the Purple Party and that was the first of four Purple Parties and Mardi Gras for me. The tight little group embraced me and my friends and even when I’m not near them I feel their connection often.

Fast forward a few years. I was heading to Nashville for a songwriting conference with Darrell Scott who I met back in the day here in Namtucket and once again Jane had a tip for me. “You won’t believe it but Suzy is going to the same conference!” Suzy was part of the circle of New Orleans Purple People. An artisan as well she had never been there on all my visits because she was living in Morocco.

I loved Suzy from the moment we met. Only five days spent together but she has an infectious energy. We, like the rest of those NOLA friends, keep in touch on the book of Faces, but never met again.

I’d been hearing about the Camino for years, but it happened more often and became more urgent. And winter in Nantucket can be rough. I felt like I needed a reset but couldn’t make the connection as to the solution until my bleary eyes squinted at my phone to see Suzy’s post. Something along the lines of, “I’m walking the Camino this spring. Who wants to join me?”

It was like crickets out there but I chimed in.

“Me. I want to go. I’ll do it.”

Last year’s post:

Hiking with Toddlers

30 03 2019

If you are worried about the Camino de Santiago, I would recommend an outing with a 27 month old child in Big Sur. It will make the Camino seem like a cakewalk.

A few weeks ago I took a trip to San Francisco for some rest and relaxation. I’d been working way too much during what us normally for me a quiet winter.

As luck would have it, a friend was finally invited to walk a privately owned area in Big Sur. This 8,000 acre parcel at Big River is only open to scientists and researchers but she had joined the Pacific Grove Museum in the hopes that one day she would be invited to visit. And she was able to have me join her! I was thrilled since B. had also helped me in one of my training walks for the Camino. And I was going to see her little daughter M. who upon our last visit at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was an utter angel. I don’t like kids honestly, but from the moment I held baby M. we had a special bond…

So I was excited. But with my “Camino mind” I didn’t have any preconceived notions about what this trip would be like. This is good practice I found because all along the way you have expectations and most often things do not turn our how you think they will.

I set out from San Francisco super early so I could meet the duo in Salinas, we would drive down together. Upon entering the house I was greeted by baby M. running around naked, their big dog and my friend’s husband thrust a very welcome cup of coffee into my hand while they tried to wrangle the kid into some clothes. This is apparently the stage where everything is “too tight!” And baby screamed and protested, really all she wanted to wear was a pink faux fur vest. Eventually the couple coerced some stretch pants and a shirt on her and then the battle with the car seat began. It reminded me of the Turtle man (“live action!) wrangling a writhing possum. She flailed and screamed as if her father was stabbing her and B. Just looked at me saying, “This is my life. Every. Single. Day.”

I sang to her a bit as her parents desperately tried to find the Choo choo. But it was the Choo Choo (train) book she wanted not he train so there were more tears and frantic searching. After singing a bit she stopped sobbing and once we hit the road she was an angel. It’s so great being a passenger sometimes. I also love driving down winding Highway 1, but it’s relaxing to really be able to look out the window rather than have your eyes peeled on the road and take furtive glances… sometimes the scenery is so mesmerizing I wonder if I could get so caught in its magic that I drive right into the Pacific, Thelma & Louis style.

We had plenty to chat about and soon we pulled into a turnout across the highway from the private parcel of land. The coded gate was opened for us and in we drove, parked and met the other eight or ten people who’d been able to join the walk.

The weather had been frenetic along the way, lots of downpours but I kept envisioning the mists and clouds parting for us and lo and behold they were. Bright sunshine was dappled by the redwoods that still dropped a bit of water from the rain. The area was infused with the fresh smell of that ozonated air and their needles and. Hint of the saline sea so close by.

The group was mostly park managers, scientists and the like, all very smart it seemed as we introduced ourselves but meanwhile a debate was going on in the trunk of the car over the clothes. Baby M. was tearing at her pants and shirt, while one would go on she’d be pulling the other off. This went on for a while as she continued to scream “too tight!” Making it hard to hear the guide introducing the hike.

Eventually we got her distracted enough and she took some interest in some of the people for a moment… but then it was time to put her into the walking pack carrier. Let’s just say it seemed as if B. was torturing her and dropping her into a bag of stinging nettles. The shrieks seemed to shake more raindrops off the trees. The birders of the group clutched their binoculars in terror as every avian creature no doubt shot out of that forest. The Big River was swollen from an incredible amount of rainfall recently and was rushing and flowing loudly and fiercely, but it couldn’t drown out the shrill high pitched sound of her fury. Her face was red and tears streamed down as she kicked and fought, using all the effort of her 30 pounds. This kid was strong! We got her in the pack and got the pack on B.’s back and headed on a few paces behind the group.

I tried the songs again hoping to distract her, and that worked for a second but soon she was writhing out of the straps in the pack threatening to leap off it and pummel onto the ground. We had to stop. Now it was full on tantrum time. She dropped into a pile of mud and once again focused her energy on tearing off her clothing. Shoes, socks, pants and than the diaper all strewn onto the soft damp trail. She wouldn’t go forward and tried to go back to the car. She stood in puddles left by the rain. We tried reasoning with her. B. walked away and I tried to sing with her as I held her hand and walked her barefoot and naked through the trees.

No matter what we did she refused the clothing. Something like “abble” was screamed hundreds of times. An apple was offered and promptly thrown on the ground. B. Begged M. to behave. “Mommy really wanted to come on this hike! She’s been on the waitlist for this for years.” Then she tried threatening, “Mommy is considering leaving you for the condors.” I just stood there in awe. I opted not to become a parent this lifetime. I was trying not to be smug but I was really feeling good about my life choices at that moment. That said I was in it now, there was no way out, I was in this battle alongside my comrade.

Finally a lunchbox was offered and there was utter rage due to the lack of cheese in the metal provision box. “Cheese! Cheese!! Cheese!!!” She wailed. “M. You told me to take the cheese out.”

Negotiations ensued and a half sandwich was offered while the naked baby was hoisted again into the carrier. “Please tell me before you need to pee…” Mom begged.

We tried to strap her in but with her now bare shoulders thrusting against the straps she was hurting herself, her tender skin growing red and angry. If I latched one side she was unlatching the other. So we made her promise to just sit and left her loose in the pack.

We met two of the team at the fork in the trail. . Thankfully they’d waited because this is an unmapped area. Our only other option was to go back to the car but we would not have been able to get out the gate. With no cell service there was no way to let them know if we’d wanted to bail, so we had to keep on going.

Luckily the sandwich distracted her enough for the steep ascent on a narrow and somewhat slippery surface up from 0 to 1000 feet elevation. She liked the scenery and was even laughing and smiling and reached out to give me a hug from her carrier as if she was the best behaved girl on the planet. At the top we all rested looking out on the Pacific to have our lunch and snacks. She sat her bare bum on the bench gazing out on the ocean as we looked for whales. We saw whale spouts off shore moving North on their migration. A few birds even returned so the birders breathed a sigh of relief. Mind you everyone else was in sweaters and windbreakers and such.

After the break clothes were once more offered but to no avail. A diaper luckily was agreed to and baby began the remainder of the walk barefoot on what was now a rocky service road. At a certain point baby decided she needed to be carried, but refused to get in the pack. I had her right leg and shoulder and B. had her left side. We tried to gently wrestle this 30 pound child who was writhing and screaming as if we were taking her to the gallows. With all my effort I could not hold her in there. It crossed my mind for a moment how frustrating a two year old can be and how they could drive you to the edge. I looked at my friend trying to hold it together with a mixture of incredible respect, pity, and amazement. Parenting is not for the faint of heart or will.

I’m 98% sure that if we’d been in public at a mall for example we would have been arrested for child endangerment. Her screams were so blood curdling. We did everything we could but to no avail, and once again we were lagging behind so B. Just picked her up in her arms and carried her in front of her body, The now empty pack on her back and body completely off kilter. Luckily I wasn’t quite as steep or narrow as the ascent , but consider carrying a case of wine in your arms for three miles. She tried to explain to the child how heavy she was and that Mommy couldn’t possibly carry her the entire way but M. was not sympathetic.

We stopped a few times to debate with her and I even took a turn for about 20 minutes. The kid was HEAVY and awkward! I kept telling her to pretend she was a monkey and I was the banana tree. “The banana tree is swaying!! Hold on tight! Cling!” And she’d laugh. She rested her head on my shoulder, meanwhile I was just trying to be sure I didn’t trip and fall and drop her off a cliff or into the rushing rapids next to us.

The dappled sun was fading a bit and baby M. was finally starting to shiver but no clothes would touch her body until we reached the car and she grabbed her beloved pink faux fur vest. The hike ended up to be about six miles and six hours!

We bid adieu to our co-hikers, nice people but they honestly seemed relieved to say farewell. We headed back north, exhausted both mentally and physically.

A stop at Nepenthe, a plate of hot French fries and shrimp BLT and things were looking better. The sparkling Anjou and warm hugs from our friends who work there made for a large sigh of relief as we eased into the atmosphere of that comforting scenic restaurant. Whales in the distance were once more spouting. The best part was the feeling that you get after easing in after a long day’s hike. I had a big smile on my face. It was between the lunch and dinner shift there, mostly empty so it was fine that baby was walking around the tables near the banquette.

B. was engaged in conversation when I noticed a quizzical look as the baby said two words that instill horror in us non-parental types. “Poo poo.” She said quietly… and then repeated it once more.

In disbelief I got B.’s attention. “Um… I think she just said ‘poo poo'” I said. B. finally had a chance to relax so she calmly told baby how if she’d just told us in time then she could have gotten her star and maybe a gummi bear or whatnot and then said, “it’s ok, we are going to take care of it.” But she didn’t immediately jump to the task as she was finishing up her chat. Just to provide confirmation baby M. thrust her a hand into the stretchy leggings and held it in the air as if for a timid high five saying those terrifying words once more…

I backed away from the scene up as if negotiating a hostage situation. “Stay where you are!,” I implored the tot. I tried to create a barrier from the whole situation wielding the burgundy napkin attempting to protect myself from a charging bull. Our friend the manager, had just come over to check on us. I kept the suspect firmly in my sights and muttered from the side of my mouth, “Adam, I think we’ve got a Code Brown.”

Needless to say the day wasn’t exactly as I’d imagined, but the funny thing was it was great. I let almost everything roll past me. I didn’t get hung up on expectations because I didn’t have any. I let life happen and adapted as needed. This is how I try to live daily. Sometimes it is harder than others, and of course I don’t mean to say that you should just let life “happen to you” without intentions and trying to create goals and aspirations, but if you can realize when and where your efforts can be fruitful and when they cannot you’ll be much happier. And seeing the fun in a difficult situation is part of that.

I look forward to when baby M. Is sixteen and her mom and I embarrass her with this story. I’m so glad I was there to share this day with them but I think I will wait til she’s four before we try this kind of excursion again.

Fresh Paint

29 03 2019

Stories about my father and his unique and infectious personality still linger many years since he has left us. I don’t know if it’s true, but he once told me about the time he painted his apartment in NYC. He didn’t have a lot of money and it may have been during the time he worked at the doll factory where the caustic smell of plastic filled his senses daily as the newly molded doll heads came off the line waiting to be united with a body.

As the story goes when it came to painting his apartment he painted right over the crunchy carcasses of cockroaches that had died clinging to the stucco walls. Put up a fresh coat of paint and ignore the nubs.

I am this kind of painter.

At my new job as a gift store manager here in Nantucket we have been undergoing a major renovation and I’ve been watching the maintenance team carefully. Apparently this is not the preferred way to paint. Proper preparation prevents poor… something, they tell me. And it’s fascinating to watch. They tape up around the wall or item and then they spend time filling little grooves and holes where there has been damage. Then they sand all that down and then prime the item. They wait till it dries which is surprisingly not that long. Then they paint and paint maybe another coat. Voila! A blue cabinet becomes white! A wall is transformed from white to red and then back to white once more before my eyes.

I don’t think my father painted over the roaches because he was lazy, I think he just had a different way of looking at an obstacle than most would. Maybe that is how he was able to process his childhood as a migrant farm worker.

I don’t remember him ever complaining about the hard times. He was matter of fact about it. He told me that lettuces were really hard on your back because you had to lean over so far and if the foreman looked ‘cross the field and you were upright you’d get in trouble. Cotton. That was the worst. The rough husky leaves and seeds would tear into your hands and chafe and cut them.

He told me about the time he and his brother saved all their money to go to the movies and snuck into the white section of the theatre. It was a big day out when normally your dollar a day for labor would have gone towards food for your family of fourteen. My father struggled to keep up with the storyline whispering furtively to his older brother trying to understand what was going on. Someone overheard the boys talking in Spanish and they got kicked out of the theatre.

He didn’t belabor these hardships and he never seemed to carry a grudge. He just carried on. He was the only one of that generation to finish high school and then went on to the US Air Force stationed in Germany and through that he and his friend opened up Pancho Villa’s Mexican Restaurant in Manhattan eventually growing it to a chain of for restaurants.

He didn’t live as long as we would have liked, but who does I guess. Maybe his heart knew he’d be ok with a quicker paint job. If he had lived longer I wonder if all the fresh paint would have eventually chipped away leaving the exoskeletons exposed. I’m realizing that while I’m a similar painter, it may not be serving me so well. It might be time for me to learn how to paint the right way. If I prepare things the right way I am told that the new paint will stick better. Suddenly the back stairs of my childhood home rush into my mind. They were metal leading from near the garage to the back door. I remember the sound of heavy feet up those stairs when my boyfriend would come to take me on a date… We did a ton of renovations at our home, maybe that’s why I feel so comforted by construction workers and enjoy watching this process. I came home from school one day greeted by bright orange stairs. My mother reassured me, “Don’t worry that’s only the primer!”

So my point is, with enough preparation you can change yourself. You can prepare yourself to undergo a complete transformation. You can change like a chameleon as you adapt to your life. But you just have to realize that if you change too suddenly and without preparation you may find that soon you’ll need to patch up those chips. The patching and spot painting becomes tedious. Eventually, if you’re lucky enough to have the time, you can give yourself the gift of renewal. Sand down those spiky bumpy places. Appreciate the cracks and thank them for making you who you are but then fill in those fissures.

No doubt the minute you’re fresh and painted clean someone will come and scrape a huge gash across you, but that’s ok.

a year ago today I was all primed and ready. I left behind those tenets that I held to be true about myself. Things others had told me and things I’d convinced myself.

“I’m out of shape”

“I’m not athletic”

“I’m afraid of falling”

“I don’t have good balance”

“Without my contacts I’m legally blind”

“I am used to fine accommodations and have never and couldn’t possibly ever stay in a hostel.”

“I’m not a hiker”

“I don’t backpack”

“I don’t have the right clothes”

“I can’t afford to be gone that long financially”

“I don’t have time”

“I don’t want to leave my husband and dog for so long”

“I can’t be without my computer that long”

“People need me I can’t be off the grid”

“I can’t possibly fit everything in just one backpack”

“I don’t travel light”

“I don’t know how to use hiking poles”

“I will probably get blisters”

You get the idea. This monologue ran through my brain for many years without me even realizing it, it hummed there barely audible when my brain would think, “Someday I’d like to walk the Camino de Santiago!” It would murmur under its breath.

As my walk grew closer and the signs no longer allowed me to deny I was going to do it the most amazing thing happened. Those misgivings and constant naysaying “voices” got louder and louder trying to change my mind.

It takes faith to do this.

Imagine what you could accomplish if you knew you could not fail. This is what you must believe to go forward on the Camino and then for the rest of your life. So if you want to go just know that you may find peace in the process but you’ll also never paint your life the same way again.

The Camino One Year After

28 03 2019

It’s so hard to believe that my Camino began one year ago today. One year ago today I finished cramming the last items into my backpack. Despite the days, weeks and months I spent hemming and hawing over what to bring, weighing and reweighing each and every item both literally and mentally, I had to finally bite the bullet and get on with it.

Despite all the weeks of prep there were still piles of papers and tax paperwork leaving their residual husks lying there on the table like a guilty secret that needed to be swept under the rug. But there was no more delaying the journey. No matter the best of intentions there were things undone, and these included my mental state. The stress of heading out for five weeks had been looming like the low hum of a light bulb about to burn out. The buzzing was audible but most of the time I could ignore it. But now it was making me anxious. The adrenaline coursing through me had me trembling as I rushed about the house trying to tidy it as much as possible so that my husband wouldn’t have to stare at the detritus strewn about for more than a month. There was excitement at the core of the anticipation, but it was iced with doubt and fear. Happy would not be how I’d describe it.

You would think taking the first steps of the Camino de Santiago would feel empowering. I keep hearing a running loop of quotes about steps, those you’d most likely find on a paperweight or inspirational poster at your doctor’s office. I cannot seem to think of the ending of any of them… “One small step for man…”, “The journey of a lifetime begins…”, but I don’t feel particularly inspired and I am sobbing as I walk to the first leg of my long journey. It feels more like I’m being ripped from the comfort of my daily life. I ponder why am I doing this. Where’s the “abort mission” button? How can I turn around? Maybe I’ll just fly to Barcelona as planned and spend a few weeks traveling throughout Europe. I’ve got connections from being in the wine business. I could just go visit all my winemaker friends, villas in Tuscany, chateaux in France.

But there’s my friend Suzy who’ll be waiting for me in Barcelona. Mind you I’ve only actually met her once at a songwriting conference in Nashville. And then there’s this pack and gear that I’ve spent countless hours collecting and obsessing over. Hours and hours of reading chats that debate how many pairs of socks and underwear I’ll be allotted (I’ve exceeded that with three each). And there are all my friends and supporters I never knew I had who I’ve been bragging to about this grand journey. I’ve told them I’d walk for them or their loved ones. Some have sent monetary gifts of support and some have sent photos of loved ones.

But most importantly there are those out there that I couldn’t promise I’d walk for them, at least not in person. I will walk for my loved ones who have passed so that they will find peace. I walk for troubled living souls so that they are soothed. Most of all I will walk for myself. May I find peace with these souls departed and near.

I understand that somehow I’ve found myself lost and must walk through the undergrowth and brush to get out. It would be easier to stay in the little fort I’ve created. Covered in spiny thorns and branches it protects me, but it’s dark in the safety of that cocoon. It gets tight sometimes when I struggle and sometimes hard to breathe. So I will walk.

I expect that the sun will warm me, the rain will cleanse me and the fresh air will fill my lungs and come forth with song. So no, it is too late to give up now.

I get some hugs from friends and compose myself as the ferry pulls back from the dock. I’m comforted knowing that there’s no turning back now.

Incredible in retrospect to see myself that day, a mere child so naive to what was just around the corner, fresh and wide eyed and yes very scared. With one year under my belt here I laugh to myself thinking how different my outlook is. I know now that this journey will never be over, but the Camino was the realignment I needed. It’s like I’d been trodding along for 46 years until someone grabbed my shoulders from behind and turned my body 180 degrees towards them. They held me and looked me right in the eyes as I looked at them in surprise and they said,”Hey not there, there…” and pointed off to my left shoulder. A little reset that took 33 days and more than 500 miles. But really the hardest steps were those before I got to St. Jean Pied de Port. The fact that I didn’t turn to that spirit guide and say “No buddy, I’m all good” and turn back to my previously selected route.

That was the hardest part, to tell my rational, logical mind “So I had this crazy idea! A really quiet thought has been tiptoeing around up here and whispering to me and I think it’s my calling or purpose or something so you’re off duty for the next few months cuz we are dropping everything to walk across Spain.”

Some days it still feels like it was a dream. Or was I awake on The Way and in a dream now? When I can I try to bridge the chasm between Camino life and my life today as much as I can.

I wish all the peregrinos of 2019 the very best. May you travel safely and receive the gifts that wait for you along your journey. Buen Camino!

Read blog post from a year ago