Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Day 25. Ruesta to Sanguesa (22.4 kms)

5 May, 2011

The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.

No birds were singing as I left the gite this morning, perhaps because I was walking in a pine forest. It was unusual not to hear them. And it's so dry here that the sedge has probably withered from the lake as well.

But as I walked up a wide forest road where deciduous trees lined the edges, the birds returned, and I stopped to record some of their calls.

After climbing for two and a half hours, I came out of the forest onto a plateau, some of it cultivated with wheat, the rest, moorland really, with heather, gorse, and lots of blue-eyed grass. A tractor was working in a field.

It was on a day like this, almost ten years ago, on the high path out of Triacastella, one of my favourite parts of the Camino, that I saw two oxen ploughing a field, probably the last of their kind.

On the distant hills, I could see a hundred or more wind turbines standing like bleached tree trunks of an ancient forest.

I walked on and climbed up to Undues de Lerda, another little village on a hill. For the last 100 feet or so, I walked on a Roman road, the stones perfectly aligned to direct the rainwater to the sides. I ordered a coffee at the bar.

Leaving the village, I walked down a dirt road and would have missed a path leading off to one side but for a cairn that marked the spot.

All along the camino you see piles of stones. Sometimes they are markers like this one, but more often they are simply symbolic of the Camino. Wherever there are loose stones, they have been piled up. Mileposts and other markers have little piles of stones on top. Crosses and calvares (shrines) have piles of stones around the bottom. Yesterday, I passed a dry riverbed where the stones had been arranged into hundreds of piles, often quite artistically.

All of these piles of stones anticipate the cross of iron before Pontferrada where stones have been piled many yards high around the cross. This is a symbolic moment on the Camino where you deposit a stone you have bought from your home country.

I made another recording of a bird song during the afternoon. Ever since I first read the famous poem by Keats, I have been searching for the elusive song of the nightingale. This is the time of the year to hear them. I had always assumed that they sing only at night, but I have learned that they sing during the day as well.

I have been hearing songs with a characteristic sound like a dog whine in the middle of the sequence, and I wonder whether I have been listening to the nightingale all along without realising it.

Once when I was walking the Cotswold Way, I asked the hostess of the B&B where I was staying if she heard nightingales in her garden. She did, and she told me a sad story. Normally they (the males) stop singing in mid-May, when they find a mate. That year, however, one had continued to sing much later than usual because he hadn't found anyone.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird.

So I have recorded several bird songs to see whether I have been listening to a nightingale during the day.

A word about what gadgets to bring.

Bring a camera, of course, with a large enough memory chip up last the distance.

Almost everyone carries a cell phone. In France, these are necessary to make reservations, but in Spain you can't reserve ahead.

Obviously, an iPod Touch is useful for picking up and sending email. Wifi can be found almost everywhere. I was glad to be able to follow the Canadian election results, bad and good. And, of course, you can record birdsongs.

I used to bring a little flashlight, but I find that there's usually enough light coming from outside or from the emergency lights within. Otherwise, at a pinch, you can make your way around in the dark with the light from the screen of any one of your digital gadgets.

Sometimes things turn out better than expected. I woke up only once last night to the sound of the snorer. And then a strange thing happened. Someone started whistling, long notes at the same high pitch. It seemed to calm him and he stopped. Perhaps it was one of his mates who had discovered this effective technique.

At Sanguesa, we were delighted to meet up with Patrick who had taken a day off to recover from a bout of tendenitus.

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