The Camino offered opportunities to experience the full arc of a day, a subtle but profound satisfaction I’ve been missing. When I began the pilgrimage in early October, the sun didn’t rise until after 8 a.m. That it was still dark so “late” was, at first, disconcerting but it meant I was already moving when the day was born, its birth accompanied by a colorgasmic burst that unfurled across the sky or more muted rays of yellows and blues that penetrated layer upon layer of clouds. That initial technicolor display was easily overlooked since we were walking west. And, just as quickly as the breathtaking colors appeared, they dissolved into the ether, returning the sky to a blank, blue canvas on which clouds and contrails commingled. There were many times I wished I could have stopped to observe the changing angle of the sun’s rays, the subtly shifting shades of blue and the final fireworks of red, pinks, oranges as the day died.
Catching the sunrise, some of which reminded me of impromptu abstract paintings, was what often motivated me to leave the albergues before others did. Usually they passed me as I, facing the opposite direction, snapped photograph after photograph, trying to freeze the ephemera for eternity while absorbing the beauty, like a nutrient, into my bones. Sometimes I gawked and pointed and proclaimed that they, too, should Stop! Turn! Look! Perhaps they thought of me as some kind of zealot, a passionate but pulpit-less preacher proclaiming that a new day had been born, a day unlike any that had come before and unlike any that would come again.
If I had a ministry, my message would not have been that the sun was the messiah whose daily death and rebirth was for our benefit, and they should at least get up to meet it, if not genuflect or prostrate themselves in front of it. Had I stepped onto a rock or one of the Camino’s many cement way marks and offered a sunrise sermon, it would have been a reminder — for myself, mostly, if not exclusively — to inhabit the moment, acknowledge nature’s fleeting beauty, and to remember that this, too, shall pass. If we’re not present, paying close attention or moving slowly, we might miss not only the day’s trajectory, but also our deepest intuitions and inklings. These, like the stripes and splotches of the morning sky, are revealed for short periods of time and, if we’re not there to receive them, can quickly fade or be eclipsed by our need to “get somewhere”.
Indeed, that the sky looked different each day, that nature (with some human collaboration) did not repeat herself or try to replicate previous successes, was what made it worthwhile to get up, don my headlamp, and walk in darkness until the day’s canvas was revealed. Sometimes it looked as if a child had accidentally, and maybe gleefully, knocked over buckets of paint, the colors splashing across the firmament. Other times the design seemed more deliberate and sophisticated, with exquisite shading, or clouds that glowed pink and orange against a blue background. The result was always a surprise. When the show was over, I stowed my camera, turned around, and kept walking.
Often I wish I were like the sky, born again each morning as a blank canvas, untouched by the day, week, month, year or decade before, able to both willingly receive whatever is in store and then, at the end of the day, completely release it. Instead, I feel as though my work-in-progress canvas is, at times, not painted with bold enough colors or gestures, that layers of pale, timid strokes have built up into unsightly ridges and lumps. One of my attempts to “talk my walk”, to risk vulnerability in my expression, felt like digging out a rusty and dented paint can, shaking it and, upon prying off the lid with a screwdriver, having it splatter all over the place. Definitely not neat, and certainly not a masterpiece. I felt some shame that not only had I not been as eloquent as I had hoped, but also that I had waited two decades to express this one particular truth, as if I had violated a tacitly understood statute of limitations on revelation. For a few days I wondered why I had decided to communicate with this person, now a born again Christian, whose response to my overture included scripture (to his credit, for this Jewish gal he chose some Old Testament passages). And then I berated myself for forgetting that, in some respects, the person I once knew has been “dead” for awhile.
After composing a draft of this post in a tea house yesterday afternoon, I drove back to my temporary home as the sun was setting. I kept glancing in my rear view mirror to watch the colors change. Eventually, I pulled over to enjoy the spectacle unfolding above the glistening Rockies. A few clouds, like random and spontaneous dabs and dashes of pigment, hung boldly against the clear sky. I rolled down the window and snapped a photo as they blazed orange, then pink. I waited until they darkened to ash before driving on. To bear witness as the sun dipped below the horizon took only a few minutes, but it brought a measure of peace that had eluded me in recent days. There was nothing I could do about the spilled paint except rejoice that this particular can was finally open, a vibrant color to augment my palette.