Day Fifteen. Power and solitude. Power in solitude.
Today God again gave light and hot sun to the region of Galicia, and after a delicious breakfast of local cake, coffee, and fresh tortilla patate, I headed back onto the hilly route towards Santiago.
I only saw one pilgrim today, and only for a brief time. We noticed one another in the 11th century Cathedral of Mondonedo, and then on the way out of town, we were both confused about the direction of the Camino. She discovered the route, and then showed me through gestures (because I didn't understand her Spanish).
I'm guessing she was in her late 60's, and for the next half hour or so I tried to keep up with her as we walked up a pretty long and steep path away from the town. She was like an Amazon woman, strong and sure, and she never stopped for the entire climb, while I was panting and hesitating and pausing. She finally got away from me and I was on my own, until I saw her at the top. She was eating a snack and drinking some water, a reward for her fierce push upward. I raised my arms and gestured that she was amazing, and then I think she said that she didn't have the weight of the backpack that I did. True enough, but still. I continued on, but of course she passed me again with a smile, and that was the last person I saw ALL day until I arrived at my destination for the night.
The terrain here is now all mountainous and hilly, with lots of trees, shady unpaved roads and occasional fields filled with cows. For approximately 7 hours the Camino took me through virtually uninhabited areas, and after Amazon lady, there were no humans anywhere to be seen. I enjoyed the sunshine, the lush greenness of the hillsides, the cloudless sky, but I began to feel a little like I was the last man on earth. I was distracted a bit when I turned a bend and saw a mountain range of huge whirring windmills, spread for miles ahead. Spain has taken the lead on windpower, with over 24% of their electricity generated by these giant windmills. I was basically traveling the entire length of the mountain range, and I couldn't stop looking at the things. I was reading that these windmills have been criticized (by the Spanish) for ruining the landscape and discouraging tourism, but I think they are cool. In one sense, they remind me of Don Quixote's famous battling of windmills that he thought were dragons, and they do have a kind of monster quality to them because they are so big. But there is also a graceful and even soothing effect as you watch the gentle and silent (at least from a distance) turn of their three blades.
I passed a huge power line that seemed to originate up on the mountain range, and assumed that it was delivering their power to many thousands of houses and communities in the region. Those power lines themselves were deceiving. They seemed harmless, until you realize what they carry within their wires, and if it were released without care, what destruction it would cause.
The power of energy, underlying everything, even my weary limbs moving slowly across this empty and spectacular countryside. I suddenly had this immense appreciation for the mysterious source of it all in the universe. We think of it as practical: how to get our cars racing down the highway, how to keep our Ben and Jerry's from melting in the freezer, how to heat our homes in the frigid winter. But this force is so much more, the very engine of all life, of all movement, of all matter. And here it is being harnessed by these monster windmills in the otherworldly landscape of Spain. Pilgrims from other eras would be baffled by our energy technology, but in their simpler minds, they might have understood a lot more than we do of the majesty of the force ruling us, the sun, the moon and all the stars.
One other thought occupied my mind most of the day. The solitude of my walk. First of all, that it was even possible to walk for 7 hours entirely alone in a developed European nation--it kind of blew my mind. It was at once a little lonely, and simultaneously wonderful. I mean I wasn't really alone alone. I was surrounded by life on all sides: lush green trees, bushes, wild flowers; animals wild and domesticated; insects working the earth and flying the skies; birds flying and calling out everywhere. I was alone in nature, which does not have to be lonely at all. At one point I sat down to take a break, and I just sat and looked and listened and smelled. It was really great, I mean,
a gifted moment. And I thought about the world we live in now, in which we surround ourselves with noise, and distractions, and however much we are social beings, we are encouraged to never be alone, never be silent, never be still. It's very obvious to me on a college campus, but of course it's everywhere. The damn phones, the texts, the commercial distractions, the surface level living we are sold.
Thomas Merton was a famous writer and a Trappist monk. He wrote much about living in our world with solitude, and the authentic power that gives us. One of his books is a favorite of mine, "No Man is An Island". Here are two quotes:
“Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else. They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea. They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness. The urgency of their swift movement seems to ignore the tranquility of nature by pretending to have a purpose. . . . It is the silence of the world that is real. Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all out fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion..."
And he said,
"The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God."
I am grateful for the power inherent in silence and solitude.