Thursday, July 5, 2007

the new world

Back in the day, Cabo Finisterre was known as the end of the world. There is a lighthouse there that overlooks the sea, and each night, pilgrims gather to celebrate the completion of their pilgrimage by ceremonially burning clothing or boots while watching the sun drop off the edge of the Earth.

Just over a week ago, I walked up to that lighthouse at Finisterre.

While I was walking up the road by the sea, I turned back and looked east for awhile. I looked at where I had come from. One of my favorite things to do on the Camino was to see where I had come from. I liked to see the cities and towns grow smaller and fade into the distance as I powered myself westward.

So as I was nearing the end of the Camino, of my journey, of the world, I paused to look back over the Camino for a final time. I looked for the cities and mountains and flowers and people and rivers and chocolate croissants and slugs, but I couldn't see them all. They were invisible now.

So, I turned and looked forward. I've enjoyed doing that, too. I like to squint into the distance and see new parts of the landscape draw closer. There was always so much to anticipate. My friend used to tell me that on the Camino, what you were anticipating would appear just over the next rise, just around the next bend. It was a surprise, but you could keep your eyes on it and your feet moving and you would get there.

But this time, as I walked up to the lighthouse, there wasn't much to see beyond it. I felt a little sad. The sea lay flat out before me, and as I gathered with the pilgrims to watch the sun sink into the ocean, I pretended that I could see my invisible country, pretended that I could see just where I was going.

Fast forward through one week (including a bus and a taxi and a train and a taxi and a taxi and a plane and another plane and a car and a car and a car--not that I was paying unnaturally close attention to my experiences in motorized transportation), and this morning, I found myself in a hotel room in Salem, Massachusetts, having just celebrated America's birthday with my family. Still jetlagged, I woke early.

I looked around my huge hotel room and pondered what to do. I climbed out of my crisp sheets in the massive bed. I didn't watch tv or read a book or take a bath. I didn't put on a new sundress. I didn't do any of the luxurious things I had been dreaming of for weeks. Instead, I dug deep into my backpack, and I pulled out my filthy hiking pants and my crusty socks. I dressed. I laced up my boots.

I went out for a walk.

I've been coming to Salem regularly since I was born, but I'm usually in a car. I didn't know quite where to go. I felt flummoxed by all of the options, and then I noticed that there was a red stripe for tourists to follow. Perfect. I'm good at following the painted lines.

Just a short ways away from my hotel, I came across a lighthouse at the end of a wharf. It was squat and small and jutted out into a cove. It looked like the top tier of a wedding cake--or of another lighthouse far away, one that I had seen just over a week ago. I had never noticed the Salem lighthouse before; in 33 years of driving by it, I had never noticed it.

So I walked out to that lighthouse, and I had a look around. I read a sign about how important the port of Salem had been to the development of America. This lighthouse might be small, but it was mighty. It was part of the world beyond the supposed end of the world, Finisterre.

I looked out at the water, but there was no flat expanse. It was mostly surrounded by land, so I looked at the water itself and thought about how it was the same water that was lapping against the shores of Spain. I imagined that I had walked to this lighthouse.

I looked eastward again, just as I had when I was walking toward the lighthouse at Finisterre. I still couldn't see my Camino in the distance. I still couldn't see all of those miles that I had walked across. I looked again for the cities and mountains and flowers and people and rivers and chocolate croissants and slugs. They were still invisible.

But this time, when I turned westward, I saw a New World, my world. It feels different, a little foreign, and kind of hard to navigate. But the Camino stretches out before me, and I am still walking.

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