Friday, December 17, 2010
Dear Friends and Family,
What a year this has been! Here it is 10 days before December 25, and I am just beginning to write.
The year started out intensely in January, with my work on the Newbery Award Committee, which met for many hours in the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston before coming up with a wonderful array of winning books, including winner Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me. The day after we finished our deliberations, I walked for hours, all over Boston, so glad to be out in the fresh air to wander through history from the Commons to the North End to Charlestown. Later, after the announcements and press conference, I spent time with college roommates Mary Kay and Jane at Jane’s home in Lexington.
When I returned home, it was the first time since I had retired the previous June that I had time to think about things other than work and Newbery reading. In February I went to Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico (last foreign trip with Ed was there in 2007) for two weeks, a lovely, quiet resort and spa south of Mexico City, meeting friends Herb and Gloria Thompson from State College, PA.
I also began reading about the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, which when Ed was dying I’d promised myself I would walk. The IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) meetings would be in Santiago in September, so I knew this was the year to make the walk. (I learned later that 2010 is a Holy Year and what this meant.) Initially I had thought I would walk for perhaps 3 or 4 weeks (I couldn’t imagine walking longer), and that I would walk as much of the Camino I could do in that time.
However, reading Conrad Rudolph’s Pilgrimage to the End of the World (see my blog: http://caminobleu.blogspot.com/) fired a desire to begin walking in France. With relatively short notice, and with Susan, who lives in the guesthouse, agreeing to look after “the farm” while I was gone, I gathered some guidebooks, bought a backpack, made plane reservations, and flew to Lyons, France, on April 10. I began walking on April 13 from Le Puy-en-Velay. I was frightened and alone. No one spoke anything but French, and the weather on those first days was cold and snowy. Walking 20 and more kilometers each day with a pack was hard, and I slept long hours at night. My head was full of thoughts as I walked: of friends and family past and present, of life and death, and of Ed. Sometimes I cried, and sometimes I laughed with joy. I also felt full of gratitude that I had the health to do this walk through such incredibly beautiful country. I learned to live with the unknown, and trust that I would find my way and a place to eat and sleep each evening. Despite the language barrier, I made friends. After about 10 days, the weather improved, and I experienced the joy of walking in the glorious spring countryside. I also met Lisa from Germany and Steven from Flanders, and we became a Camino “family,” I was “mom” to these two young people who were the same age as daughter Psyche. We separated at a snow-blocked pass in the Pyrenees, but later reunited briefly in Pamplona, Spain, where I ended the first part of my walk, while they continued on to Santiago and Finisterre. My heart went with them.
I returned home on May 22, celebrating my birthday and honoring the anniversary of Ed’s death with a Memorial Day picnic atop the Sandia Mountains a week later. The summer was filled with meetings (Children’s Literature Association in Ann Arbor and a heady round of dinner parties in Washington, D.C. with the Newbery-winning authors, publishers, and our committee members). Then there were five Wednesday evenings at the Santa Fe Opera, and several hikes in the Sandia mountains, some with Kent Kedl, a widower from Las Cruces, whom I’d met briefly at Jeanne and Ross’s last Christmas Eve. We’d gotten together a few times and had emailed fairly frequently during the previous months. He came up to say good-bye before I left again to finish the Camino in Spain on September 1. Susan again looked after everything at home, or I wouldn’t have been able to make this trip.
After vacationing with friends in Bilbao and attending the IBBY meetings in Santiago, I returned to Pamplona and resumed walking, heading back to Santiago and on to Finisterre. It was harder to make friends in Spain, as I often seemed to be out-walking the people I encountered on the way, so I was alone more often, although one is never really alone on the Camino. About 10 days before reaching Santiago, I began walking with Eva from Italy and Yoko from Japan. We continued together for the rest of the trip, finishing in Santiago on October 10 – 10/10/10 – a day to remember! Yoko continued with me for three more days to Finisterre, the End of the World on the Atlantic coast. (Photos: flickr.com/photos/manga_mom/)
I returned home on October 16, and Kent was here to meet me. I later visited him in Las Cruces, and we took a whirlwind trip through Indian Country, attending Zuni dances, celebrating a Halloween wedding anniversary with my college roommate Carolyn and her husband Ben at the historic La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, hiking to the White House Ruin in Canyon de Chelly, and even making a quick circuit of Chaco Canyon. It was Kent’s idea that we should take a longer trip to see if we could get along: to Peru! Thus, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we flew to Lima and then Cuzco, and spent 4 days and 3 nights (in tents), on the challenging but incredibly beautiful Inca Trail (Camino Inca). We ended up at Machu Picchu in clouds and rain – another kind of pilgrimage. We returned to Las Cruces on December 9, still getting along.
A few years ago in my Christmas letter I quoted from Ruth Duck’s lovely hymn, “Warm the Time of Winter.” This Sunday as I walked into the Aquinas Newman Center, the congregation was once again singing this Advent hymn, and the words took on new meaning, especially the lines, “from the ashes may there rise phoenix of our growing.” I have walked over 1000 miles this year, one step at a time, from darkness into light, from grief (which is still with me), into hope, joy, and love.
I look forward to spending Christmas at home with friends (including Kent) and family. Jesse lives nearby (and continues to make a living from his art), and Psyche will be on vacation from her nursing studies at Yale. Who knows what the future will bring? I have faith that “all will be well” (Julian of Norwich). I travel one step at a time. Thankful for your friendship, I send a pilgrim’s prayer that we may all be blessed in our life journeys this coming year.