Saturday, June 24, 2017

Diamond Hill in Connemara Park, the Pilgrimage Lessons Begin

We made our way north of Galway to the Connemara National Park. The tiny road into the park is nestled at the base of stark limestone mountains covered with short grasses. The road travels along a stream that feeds into a series of dark lakes. Sheep make themselves at home along the tarmac, never moved by oncoming traffic. They are often nestled in the tall grass alongside the road or against short rock bridges. The new born lambs are never far from their mothers. One rather large horn adored sheep relaxed in the very middle of the narrow road. He never moved an inch as we slowed to move pass off the far edge of the road.

We traveled past the Elizabethan Kylemore Abbey, now a tourist attraction and home to a Benedictine Community. Our GPS led us to turn off our narrow two lane road onto a gravel road, which took us up to a grey aging building that looked like an old university dormitory. There were a handful of cars parked in front. As we drove up the entrance, Cathy saw some nuns sitting by a window. As we stopped, a nun in full habit came out the door and up the car. I rolled down the window and she asked if we were looking for the Connemara Park Center. She nodded to Cathy who was holding her phone, "The GPS always sending folks our way. We meet them from everywhere." We told her we are from Arizona and then she gave us directions to the park. Their Belgian order was founded in the 16th century and made their way to Ireland after World War I. They moved to their current residence near the Abbey in 1920 and founded a girl's boarding school. In recent years they closed the school and, as many orders, discerning what is the best future for their order.

With our new directions, and without the GPS, we found our way to the entrance of the Connemara National Park. I am always reminded by the free admission to the parks of how important these sites are to the Irish and how much they want to share their life and history with the world.

The Connemara is the world's largest outcropping of limestone. The hills are covered with low grasses and bog and barren of trees. We walked the 5 mile trail up 1500 feet to the peak of Diamond Hill. The trail was made possible by picking our way up the winding limestone wind swept "stairs."

Halfway up the hill, we stopped for a breather and a drink. A young man in his thirties nodded and walked past. Later we passed him as he was facing the mist that was rolling in off the Atlantic with arms outstretched. In broken English, with what sounded like an Italian accent, he said, "The smoke is the best." He moved on passed us again. We would trade spots with him a half a dozen times in our ascent.

As I neared the top, the young man seemed to be waiting for me. When I approached him he said, "Can you give me some advice." He came face to face with me. "How do you handle baby?" I told him we have two adult children and they have grown to be truly wonderful adults. Just be yourself, I told him. "As babies, they were ok?" He asked. "How?"

Be present to the baby with your mind, your heart, your body, all of yourself. "My whole being?" He said. Yes, all of your being. We introduced ourselves. He name was Stephan. I blessed him and told him all will be well. He thanked me and we departed. I didn't see him on the trail again.

This day started out simply as the desire to take a bit of adventure to see some new landscape and walk an unfamiliar trail. But it wasn't long before I was gently reminded that everyday is day of pilgrimage. Every step, every hill, every stone, every animal, every person on the pilgrimage is a guidebook with tiny maps for the way of life. The opportunities and markers are often subtle and easy to miss. Other times, they just step out and confront me face to face. And today's journey has made me happy to imagine what tomorrow will bring.

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