Jean has been blogging about pilgrimage — beautiful, moving posts. They are especially interesting to me because my family also went to Santiago de Compostela on a vacation back in 1978, traveling the old Pilgrim Road by car from Paris, with lengthy detours to take in sections of the other branches before they all converged south of the Pyrenees. We didn’t do it for religious reasons, but simply as a way to try and experience the world of the high Middle Ages. Aside from Dad, who planned the trip, most of the rest of the family grew quite tired of musty Romanesque churches, except me. I’ve always loved dark, quiet, cave-like places. Throw in stone carvings of monsters, yet, and I’m in heaven.
Heaven: where the wild things are.
I can’t say the experience changed me in any profound, spiritual way, though I know I wanted it to. It’s hard to get all spiritual when you’re crammed into the back seat of a Renault with both your brothers. I remember one stop in the mountains — one of those small sierras in northern Spain — where we all exploded from the car the moment Dad pulled over, everyone heading off in a different direction. My father came close to losing his temper, I think.
I was twelve years old, just hitting puberty. I had recently started my own vegetable garden, and missed it terribly. It was perfectly circular, and consisted of a single, three-foot-wide, double-dug bed in the shape of a spiral. At the center of the spiral stood a tepee of locust poles covered with Kentucky Wonder pole beans. My dream was to sit there, under the beans, and be content, but I don’t think that ever actually happened.
Our trip lasted six weeks, beginning in late April. Freshly plowed fields and gardens were everywhere. I remember the longing I felt — especially in the French Massif Central — and the promises I made to myself that I would come back someday and sink my spade into that soil and never leave.
I’ve been working on a think piece, but it’s hard to think in 80 percent humidity. So instead I fritter away at minor tasks, and the crickets outside my door chirp faster and faster as the afternoon wears on. I gulp a cold beer and get the hiccups. Chirp hic chirp hic chirp hic chirp…
The first two lines of the second stanza of Confession were a translation from the Shakespearean, “Hoist by [one’s] own petard.” I figured that, familiar though the phrase is, no one would actually know what a petard is. I didn’t. The dictionary said,
Etymology: Middle French, from peter to break wind, from pet expulsion of intestinal gas, from Latin peditum, from neuter of peditus, past participle of pedere to break wind; akin to Greek bdein to break wind
1 : a case containing an explosive to break down a door or gate or breach a wall
2 : a firework that explodes with a loud report
Or (3) an IED, I’m thinking.
In my cellarless house, one of the few cool places in which to store bottled homebrew is on the concrete floor of the bathroom, right beside the toilet. The beer doesn’t have far to travel.
Or rather, it goes out and comes back, much transformed.
What do you do when you reach the goal of the pilgrimage? Continue to the Cape of the End of the Earth: restless ocean, yellow flowers bobbing in the wind. Then south into northern Portugal, the best forests of the whole trip. I hear they’re burning now, every summer, thanks to global warming. And a couple years ago, Cabo Finisterre was awash in oil after a tanker crashed offshore. I wish I remembered more, so I could eulogize it better.
Yesterday afternoon around 5:30, a very tattered giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) appeared on the butterfly bush in my front garden. This was a new record for the mountain. I signalled my mother on the intercom and she came down from the other house to watch it, too. Its yellow-and-black wings were in constant motion, backlit by the low sun and glorious despite their bedraggled state.
After about ten minutes, Mom said, “Listen! I think it’s making noises!”
“What kind of noises?”
“Uh, no. That’s my camera, Mom.”
This was a species we only knew from books and blogs, so neither of us could place it right away. When it finally flew off after fifteen minutes of nectaring, Mom dug out her butterfly guides and identified it almost immediately; there’s nothing else like it. I found the following on eNature:
Known as the “Orange Dog” by citrus growers, the Giant Swallowtail is sometimes considered a citrus pest and is subjected to massive spraying. It is capable of flying long distances and often strays into northern and midwestern districts.
“Orange,” my foot! It’s as yellow as orange juice. But a brave traveller, nonetheless.
Chilling to consider the beautiful things that are murdered for our breakfast.