Pilgrims carry a heavy paradox in their packs on the final day of any walking pilgrimage; the celebration of having completed a planned journey mired with the grief that the community has come to an end. Bonds form quickly among those who spend hours together walking the mountains and rugged terrain. Being openly vulnerable about one's aches and pains, sharing the stories of a blistered soul, and acknowledging living with the reality that the only privy is behind the next tree, builds community that comes with the cauldron's heat of walking. Pilgrimage creates fire that transmutes.
We were given a special blessing this particular day—an Irishman walked with us. He was an acquaintance of one of our group and wanted to join us for the ten miles from Roundwood to Glendalough. It would be half of his day because he would travel on to Glenmalure, another ten miles. His gentle brogue, Irish whit, and lovely stories made the miles pass too quickly
It was a perfect day to walk through the Wicklows. There was a high soft grey cloud cover, a gentle breeze, and even a slight mist at just the needed moment. After a brief climb through the forest, the Way opened onto a sweeping fern covered hill. The soft light green leaves hide the harsh and thorny grose, whose razor stickers leave a burning cut on exposed skin. Hidden away from the path was an odd circle I was familiar with, where the unaware might walk by. But there, among the ferns, was an open space, twenty-five feet in diameter where a stone circle once stood. The four directional stones are still in place, the others have fallen to the side. One of our pilgrims ventured into the vortex of Irish lore and there discovered the thin place. Moving among the stones, the imagination opens and time stands still—everything is "different."
Leaving the top of the Wicklows, we dropped down into the forest again preparing to cross a bridge over the bubbling river fit for a postcard. The pause is necessary because there is one last climb to the eastern ridge of the Glendough Mountain. There we can see down into the picturesque Valley of the Two Lakes, home to St Kevin's Kitchen and 1500 years of ancient ruins and graves. To this day, the dead are still are being buried in this sacred ground.
As we dropped down onto the hill, the ruins disappeared among the thick forest. Dark alley ways, pine covered paths, and stones covered with green moss bring all the senses alive. Here in the world of the Irish mythology the symbolic unconscious speaks to the soul. The pace of the walkers almost comes to a halt, as if by leaving the forest, life would end. Without care, tears are wiped away from quivering lips. Souls has been altered but only silence can announce the tune of the next unknown hymn. To leave the forest is to begin living into a new normal; one the world and our families may not understand. The tune might sound familiar but the words have all changed.