Monday, 29 September 2008

The cycle of the seasons

Cut logs are stacked on the back of a lorry in a lay-by on Sunday night, waiting to be hauled to a sawmill in the morning. They are eucalyptus logs, clean-smelling and exotic. But in every other was they could be lengths of pine or beech trees from the commercial forests we passed through in northern and eastern France. I watch the morning sun slice through the dangling eucalyptus leaves and a breeze move the fronds of bark, and behind them see the intense blue eyes of the woman in a wood in Normandy who first told us of the eucalyptus forests that accompany the last few days into Santiago. I've been imagining these forests ever since.

The last week of our walk, partly no doubt because our minds are tending that way, has offered us sights and smells that link back to so many moments in the past nine months. As my breath forms clouds around me, wrapped up in layers as we set out with the late-rising sun, the certainty of a warm and sparkling afternoon carries us back to the magical days of the Pays de Bray in February. Then, we rejoiced at 16°C afternoons. Now, we luxuriate in 28°C.

The acorns we saw sprouting red in the dark earth of February and March have reappeared on the trees and now are falling again to lie freshly at our feet, where carpets of autumn crocuses have replaced the spring ones we were so excited to see.

A few days ago in the last real vineyards of the trip the grapes were black and heavy, still covered in grey bloom as the crates were stacked ready for the harvest. It is surprising to realise how the seasons have passed since we walked through the dead-seeming twigs of the Champagne vineyards or the green but flower-less ones of Chablis.

In a rare excursion into a Spanish bed and breakfast in Samos, we once again find ourselves sharing a chatty breakfast with our hosts and, in an echo of Les Avettes, our hosts are beekeepers and serve up their own honey along with tales of bees confused by the weather and mobile phones, dying in their hives.

Echoes of the Auvergne lie in wait in the tiny hamlets behind herd of cows for whom we have to linger patiently for them to return to their fields from milking. Like in the Basque country, the old farmers of Galicia want to stop and chat with us, for the pleasure of meeting strangers. And yet the drinks vending machines and even outdoor internet points outside farmyards make me laugh at my surprise over the vending machine adaptability of France.

There's almost a third spring here in Galicia. In the Auvergne we welcomed foxgloves, honeysuckle and clover that we had last seen around the Lac du Der. But here they are again in late September in the allegedly damp and cool north west of Spain. There are raspberries too, piled on tables outside houses for a few centimos a punnet.

The season is definitely cooler. Although the maize is fattening in fields just like under the oppressive heat of the Gers, we've often returned to our cosy way of spending later afternoons and evenings under the blankets on our beds, once the sun has dipped and we're waiting for the dinner hour. No doubt the climate here helps make it feel like home: in the green, wooded hill we walk along sandy tacks under trees, between centuries-old stone walls, and spontaneously remember the lanes of the North Downs Way.

Other things are very different but still recall the year. Where French villages are so often devoid of their cafes, Spanish village bars are alive each afternoon with old men playing cards. We always thought that Spanish dogs would be even more of a problem than French ones, as they are rarely behind fences or tied up. But freedom brings wisdom: Spanish dogs, free to roam, are peaceable creatures. They rarely bark, being mostly asleep, often in the middle of the road. And in their breaks from sleeping they meet up with friends in two or threes and take themselves for walks, along country lanes or through city parks. Meanwhile, Spanish cats procreate, and kittens abound.

The biggest contrast, of course, is the people. Just once of late we have eaten in a restaurant alone, freakishly given the hundred of people still walking the Camino at this late but lovely season. Nothing could be further from our splendid isolation in walking in England and northern France in January, in February in March. And yet, just like in south west France as we approached Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, we are drawing close to Santiago de Compostela with a small, amoeba-like group of people who we've come to know, in a way, and whose company has enhanced our awareness and enjoyment of these final days.

29th September 2008

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Almost there - amazing achievement. So now you know the way, any thoughts about the return leg?