Fly into Santiago de Compostela and meet up with some jolly, fit former pilgrims in the final days of November.
Head out onto the trail to Pedrouzo, walking backward up the camino, picking up litter all the way. Meet another cleanup team coming the other way.
Everybody jump into a van loaded with trash bags, picker-upper arms, shovels, rakes, and snacks, and head east along the Way to the next good-size town. Repeat.
Stay overnight at whichever albergue is open when everyone feels tired.
Eat, drink, be merry. Go to sleep.
Then next day, do it all again. Hit the first two or three kilometres west of each large town, places where litter happens most. Do this for five days max. The whole Frances will get a real facelift.
… Or perhaps do the same, but southward, down the Camino Portuguese?
Trail demographics are shifting this year. Fewer pilgrims are traveling the classic Camino Frances, and relatively more are taking the Camino del Norte and the Portuguese path from Oporto. Ditch Pig volunteers have been picking up trash in Palencia for TEN YEARS now, so it´s time we looked farther afield for more target-rich pickings, places where a litter team may not have fearlessly tread! We will do our usual maintenance on wayside memorials.
Taking the Pigs on the road will require more planning, and probably more money, too – we shall have to raise more funds, drive farther, sleep somewhere, and eat our dinners away from home. We all know how to travel light and cook pilgrim meals, but we´ll still have to buy ingredients.
So, if you are a veteran Ditch Pig, or a wannabe, share your opinions and reserve your place. Unless we rent a bigger van, space is at a premium! And if you´d like to support this effort, you know what to do – hit one of the “donate” buttons and you´re on your way!
Do you want to be a volunteer hospitalero?
I need someone with Spanish and English skills, and experience, for the first two weeks at Albergue Villa de Grado.
Do you want to pick up trash, clear ditches, and remove grafitti from the Way to Santiago? Do you have logistical skills?
Get in touch. We´re going to need your help soon!
Do you dream of opening your own place in a charming Camino village, hosting pilgrims, cooking great meals, becoming a part of the scene? How about helping out someone who's making that happen right now, for real? Do you have carpentry, electrical, or scrubbing-down skills you can share, or would you consider a GoFundMe donation to help take this project over the final startup hurdle?
If you answered Yes to any of the above, get in touch!
See, there are projects simmering away on the back burners. Everything here in March is in its “hurry up and wait” phase, while we wait on the US Internal Revenue Service to approve our national non-profit status, while we finish up the remodelling in the new B&B up on the mountain, while we line up plane tickets and people to keep an eye on Peaceable while one or the other of us is away. While other well-placed, good-hearted people start other important enterprises and projects from places all over Spain and UK, Holland and the world…
Meantime, I intend to go right off the grid for ten days. I plan to hole-up and meditate in total silence, down in the mountains of Avila. That oughtta put me right, for when all this waiting turns into real activity.
I will be in touch!
Quiet things are happening, under the ground and behind the scenes. Angels are being born.
Important people are meeting up and hatching plans. Accountants and lawyers and concrete-mixers are being consulted. Prayers are being prayed, and decisions are being made.
I don't think any of us likes to wait, but that's where we are right now, here in the bowels of February. I do things besides the Peaceable Projects Inc., in the long, quiet spaces between the mad rushes.
Today, Alma Hospitalera, the little team of volunteers that keeps things running at Albergue Villa de Grado, gathered together and drove down over the mountain to visit Peaceable Kingdom. We discussed business, we argued the wisdom of dispensing souvenirs, we went to St. Nicolas and ate a huge paella. A good time was had by all.
I am supposedly in charge of this gang, but they truly do just about everything up there without any kind of oversight from me. (All I do is recruit volunteers to keep it open, March through October, and tell the FICS board what they´re up to.) Anyway, these guys live and work in Asturias, three hours from here. Milio, Elidio, and Helena are longtime, hard-core volunteer hospitaleros, known all over Spain and Portugal. One, Elena, is kinda new, but she has already more than earned her stripes in the past year, stepping in when the needs are great. (She´s a pharmacist, experienced at organizing. She´s going to rationalize our daily bookkeeping, hallelujah!)
These people don't just fill in when they´re needed. They count the money and deposit it in the bank. They liaise with the Guardia Civil, the town council, the guy repairing the tiles in the bathroom. They are called-in to cope when the drunken pilgrim falls down the stairs, or the toilet won't flush, or somebody´s wallet goes missing. They make sure the volunteer hospitaleros know how to use the de-humidifier, the color-coded cleaning rags, how to make sure the bossy sheep don´t get all the vegetable scraps before the lambs arrive.
November through February, when the albergue is closed, they get a municipal crew in to do repairs. They fill the downstairs with boxes and barrels of donations for a charity in sub-Saharan Africa. They team up to visit the old peoples' home down the street, and take the grandparents on a “virtual camino” with credentials, videos, songs, and snacks.
They go together to visit other Primitivo albergues, places like Bodenaya, Tineo, Grandas de Salime, to see the hospitaleros there, to have cakes and chupitos, to keep the lines open and wheels greased.
Alma Hospitalera is not a Peaceable Project. It's not even a formal non-profit, or community association. But it is the kind of group PPI was created to love to support. They are just one of many little nests of goodwill and positive energy that sparkle and shine along the Caminos de Santiago, even when there aren´t any pilgrims around.
The earth sleeps.
The sun is eclipsed by its shadow.
January, which used to loom so large on the calendar, is in its final day. We´ve survived another one! Only 29 days til the end of February, and March is practically Spring. And so we move through winter.
Compared to planetary movements, my little busy-ness is squat. But I´ll tell you about it anyway. Winter here is not so bad. Fields are green, skies are blue. So different from Ohio and Pennsylvania, where fields are brown and skies are grey for months at a stretch, with ash-blackened snowbanks and 4 p.m. dusk thrown in for added despair. We´ve got nothing to complain about, here in northern Spain. God forbid I appear ungrateful!
We push on. A new memorial plaque has arrived for the Pilgrim Memorial Grove, this one for a man who was a friend and co-laborer in the Fields of God and the Camino Chaplaincy. The Rev. Gerard Postlethwaite, a missionary in South America and parish priest in his native England, died suddenly while leading a pilgimage along the Camino Portuguese last September. He was a jolly man with a tragic sense of life, a true pilgrim. I hope someday to see him again.
I´ll meet with Rennie Archibald, a stalwart volunteer expat who lives in Ponferrada, to set the stone, soon as the weather breaks. We have two more memorials on the line.
Kim, aka "soulful road," "Alma," and "Salt," is realizing the dream of many years: She´s bought a little bed-and-breakfast inn up in Rabanal del Camino! I will not steal her thunder here, but if you want a snug room, hot shower, vegetarian meal, and caring English-speaking spirits atop that mountain, Kim´s the woman to see! I will post more as the dream unfolds, and will make an occasional appearance there myself, as hospitalera.
Meantime, back in Moratinos, Daniel of Hostal Moratinos became a dad once again, and finds himself over-subscribed. He´s let his business to an ambitious young couple from Malaga, who hope to offer "something better than the best" to passing pilgs in Moratinos in the season to come. We wish them good fortune... because soon as someone else opens their doors in town, the pressure is off us here at Peaceable!
Oliver continues here with us, which opens new possibilities. I took a long weekend holiday and flew to Belgium, to visit Filipe and Kathy, to try on splendid fashions at the Jan Welvaert atelier, to eat weird Conceptual Cuisine and visit beautiful old Beguinages... in short, to spend entire days doing things that have absolutely nothing to do with the Camino de Santiago! How refreshing!
(I bought a fabulous antelope-skin handbag at Jan´s store. I shouldn´t have, but I love it. Life is good.)
My friend and longtime literary collaborator Mitch Weiss is fighting hard against throat cancer, spending every minute at his mom´s bedside as she fades away, inscribing her story of immigration, heartbreak, betrayal, and vindication. Mitch is an investigative reporter for the Associated Press. If you are American you´ve doubtless seen his work -- he won a Pulitzer Prize a few years ago, when we worked together at the Toledo Blade. I´ve sinced helped him write four books and a screenplay, but his one´s a real cracker. Pray together with me that Mitch survives, and thrives, and makes this his masterpiece. It´s got all the makings of a Great American Tale.
January´s been taken up with writing up grant proposals for a couple of possible projects. I am happy to say both were sent-in on time, with all the t´s crossed and i´s duly dotted. I thought about relaxing for a little while, but then the lads from FICS got on their Whatssup app and started trying to hash out a date for our next board meeting... Jeeez! If you ever want to get something done, go look for the people who are already scheduled up to their eyes! I think I am busy... these people put me in the shade. Some of them play bagpipes, and run hostels, and are raising small children. Some of them hold down full-time jobs! Just imagine!
The architects sent me their drawings for the new hospitalero hut at San Anton, and we hashed out where to put the place, and now we just gotta wait and see if the money arrives. I trust that San Anton, and maybe James, and perhaps even my patrons Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. Benedict, are all calling in a few favors with the Eternal Treasury, just to get PP off to a healthy start.
Or just to get the hospis at San Anton into better-than third-world sleeping quarters. They are saints, after all. Let´s see what they can come up with...
(Oh, and Jan Welvaert, the fashion designer from Ghent in Belgium, also happens to be a noted garden designer! ... We may see him soon at the memorial grove in Valdeviejas!)
The earth sleeps, sure. But we don´t gotta.
After all the chatter is finished and the dishes are put away and the pilgrims go to bed, I write about the ruined monastery at San Anton. Then I throw it away.
I am tired of thinking about San Anton. I am tired of the Camino de Santiago, and pilgrimage, and pilgrims, too. Instead I read a chapter in “The Barn at the End of the World,” a spiritual book written by Quaker sheep-shearer. I realize I am tired of homespun mystics, too. And jealous. I am jealous of her clarity. I am jealous that her book is better than mine. Her book is clear, and wise. And it is published.
It’s January. This happens in January. This is why the days are so short. So we can go to bed when it’s dark, and sleep long hours, and survive.
When it’s 11 p.m. at Peaceable, it’s 5 p.m. in Boston. Sometimes, late at night, my mobile phone and my computer will make a tiny, simultaneous lowing. it’s Philip, my son. He’s in his car, on his way home from one of Massachusetts´ many courthouses. He’s calling me on his hands-free phone.
He is calling me on the telephone, but the program he uses does not trigger a ringing on my end. Once in a while, late at night, I’ll see a weird pulsing glow from my purse, on a chair across the darkened room. It’s my telephone. I step over to grab it before the caller hangs up, and from the bottom of my handbag I can hear a tiny voice. It’s Philip’s voice: “Hello? Mum? Can you hear me?”
I’m always smiling by the time I answer him. Not just because I like him a lot. Because I imagine him shrunk down and tiny down there in the leathery dark, among the crumpled shopping lists and pennies and mints, calling out to me.
Philip is a lawyer. He incorporated Peaceable Projects Inc. in the state of Massachusetts. He has the keys to our post-office box, and the passwords to all our accounts, because he’s the one who set them all up. He’s shepherding our 501c3 application through the Internal Revenue Service approvals maze. He’s a good boy.
He’s a good man.
He gets that ennui in January, too. He works himself into the ground five days a week, working in the slave-galleys of the American legal profession. He´s looking now for some kind of volunteer gig to do on weekends, something charitable, something interesting to someone with an affection for history and stories, but perhaps something outdoors… he’s inside all the time. Pale. He needs some fresh air, he says.
He gets tired of law and lawyering, even though it’s what he aimed his life at for the past six or seven years. He stayed up late last night, preparing a cross-examination. The witness didn’t show up today to testify. He will not say this, but I can hear it. He is tired of endlessly smiling, glad-handing, watching for the phone call, hoping for the interview, waiting for his turn at Motions court. Casting, casting, casting his bread upon the water.
He calls his mum on his way home, and he talks about medieval Italy, and podcasting. He thinks I should do a podcast on local legends and lore. Iconography. Tall tales. The crazy things pilgrims say. Use those old reporter skills, get the geezers talking. Put it up here on the website. People love that stuff!
I don’t tell him why it won’t work, that my Spanish is not up to it, that geezers here don’t usually tell their tales to strange women, that I don’t know how to use an MP3 recorder, that I don’t have the drive to do all that research. Not on top of everything else I have going.
And he doesn’t tell me many of his “why nots,” either. He stopped a while back telling me about job interviews and offers, when too many rugs were pulled from under his feet, too many wells ran dry. He is waiting til something comes good, til it’s a sure thing. Then I will be the first to know.
We are coping. We’re working hard and doing our best, hoping somehow it will pay off someday, the good job will happen, the grants will be awarded, the dreams turn real.
At the end of the working day, we can call out from the bottom of the handbag, from the dashboard of the car on the road north of Boston: I hear you. I’m here for you. I’ll love you even if we never win.
It’s January, which usually is, historically, the lowest point in the year around here.
It’s gray and misty and cold. The fields are just barely green, the animals are shut in the barn, the bar is closed, and the people of Moratinos only come out for church or for plowing. Few pilgrims straggle through, hunched under their ponchos.
But this year is different. This year, all the albergues in Moratinos closed, and all the pilgrims who usually fetch up at Bruno’s or the Hostal are fetching up here at Peaceable. Happily for us, our perennial hospitalero helper Ollie fetched up here too, in mid-December, and is hanging around long as the pilgrim traffic stays steady.
Christmas and New Year’s and Epiphany meant most of the other pilgrim shelters around here closed, too. Things got a little wild a couple of times, but finally the traffic is down to one or two pilgrims per night. It’s manageable. They’re paying their way. And they´re decent pilgrims, most of them.
With this website now up and operating, and our dear friend Kim floating on air as she sees the dream of several years begin to come true, spirits are a lot brighter than usual this January.
I am writing grant applications, for the archaeological dig and the hospitalero hut at San Anton de Castrojeriz. I am rounding-up budget numbers, recommendation letters, translating them, sending text messages in what is apparently incomprehensible Spanish. This week I drove over to the ruin and met the architect, collected the keys and snapped pictures and drew up some things that needed drawing. It’s all a little overwhelming.
I am praying that St. James sends me an accountant, or at least a bookkeeper.
I am just praying. I am praying a lot. Maybe that’s why I’m feeling well.
I feel better this January than I have for a very long time. I am almost afraid to admit this, for fear this break in the clouds is just a “sucker hole,” a moment of sunshine before the sky goes grey again. But my vision and thoughts and spirits are much clearer now than they were a month ago. Something’s broken loose.
Something good is happening. I believe in what I am doing.
Which is good.
If you want to be a volunteer hospitalero for two weeks at Albergue Villa de Grado in Asturias, get hold of me soon. We have six slots left to fill for the coming season, in March and May, September and October. (I do this staffing as part of FICS, the Fraternidad Internacional del Camino de Santiago. It’s not a Peaceable Project, per se.) You need to have some Spanish skills, and be healthy and flexible!
Likewise, if you want to volunteer at any of a long list of donativo albergues on trails all over Spain, don’t wait! Anai Bereda, the volunteer coordinator for the Spanish Federation of Amigos groups, is right this minute doling out assignments for 2018! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope to post volunteer opportunities, building projects, upcoming events, etc. here as they develop. Watch this blog to keep up with Camino news … not all of which is cheerful.
This, for example. A mega strip mine is being proposed on the site of an old copper operation between Santa Irene and O Pino, right outside Santiago de Compostela, within a mile of the Camino de Santiago trail.
All the local towns are opposed… except O Pino. The mayor there has a long, Trump-like adoration for big business, and apparent disregard for silly things like ground water, air quality, noise and erosion. FICS is all over this, I will do my best to keep you up-to-date.
Ollie, Paddy, David, Kim, and me. Very different people from all different places, brought together in one place with a common purpose. We did Christmas together, and almost New Year´s Eve (midnight is too late for most of us, and David had to go to Astorga to fix an engine.)
We had some big jobs to do, at a season when Peaceable is often overwhelmed with pilgrim traffic. We called in our old standby friends, and they did not disappoint.
Kim holed-up by the pellet stove in the Little Kitchen and designed web pages, and plotted her next big move. She shimmered in between, and made salads at dinnertime.
Ollie buzzed around the house with mops and sheets and spoons, cleaning up and feeding and coddling the steady flow of holiday pilgrims.
David made the electric bike work. He fixed the solar light on the patio steps, and made my IPad play jazz radio from Bordeaux on our little stereo, indoors and out. He tuned the guitar, put on a new E string, and sang “Over the Rainbow.”
I can´t say just what I did. I cooked a few meals, did some laundry, wrote some copy and some emails, paid some bills. I bossed people around, I washed the cat.
Somehow, over the 12 days between the Winter Solstice and the end of the Mercury Retrograde and today, we got it all together at Peaceable and made it happen. We hosted 28 overnight pilgrims, three holiday dinners, and seven drop-in guests. Judy dog had emergency surgery. Jim, the newest Peaceable stalwart, brought a carload of supplies from the restaurant supply warehouse in Madrid, and buried Kim´s little kitchen under tons of pasta, Cheerios, tomato sauce, and toilet paper. He left with Goldie, a feral kitten we´d been trying to tame. We opened the church and rang the bell for a series of Masses, handed Christmas candy bars around the village, and received homemade delicacies in return: This year´s favorite is a half-kilo block of homemade quince paste wrapped in psychedelic cellophane.
Much was given. Much is given still. And today Kim´s little masterpiece was unveiled: this website, the work of weeks.
And as the emails and testimonials rolled in today, I realized how many people I need to be grateful for… old friends who´ve walked with me over miles or sat with me over glasses of Ribeiro, listening while I hashed-out this vision. Family members, professionals who offered good advice, cut me big breaks on the price, or just did the heavy lifting for nothing. Colegas who puzzled out what I was trying to say after a long day of Spanish left me babbling.
People who saw I needed some space, and left me alone. And people who saw I needed help, and stepped up. People who helped me forgive myself for being less than perfect. People who love me, or just like me an awful lot.
And people who see the website, and the vision, and open their wallets to support the cause. Some people who don´t have a lot of money, and a few who are pretty comfortable. People from Sweden and Ukraine and Washington, and Waterloo, Ontario. People I don´t even know. Generous souls.
People I´m going to keep hitting up for ideas and manpower, influence, letters of support, advice, or collaboration. Or money!
People I would owe so much to, if I didn´t live in this strange and wonderful economy of grace.
The more you give, the more comes back to you.
Just watch us. We´ll try to show you how it´s done.