Day 16: Sustenance
Astorga to Rabanal del Camino: 20km under tree cover and alongside grassy fields, with a 250m rise.
And this warning from caminoadventures.com: “Take food and fill your water bottle before leaving Astorga. It is only 20.2km to Rabanal; however it is 20.2km uphill all day. Make sure you have money to last two days until Ponferrada. There are a few villages where you will certainly get water, but food cannot be guaranteed until Rabanal, except during the summer months.”
There are some cardinal rules for pilgrims on the Camino: Don’t pack too much. Bring earplugs. And of course: Always fill your water bottle.
In the second week of March, when the United States suddenly began to take the pandemic very seriously all at once, I started making a grocery list. It was a rough plan for three weeks or so of meals, and I double- and triple-checked it, to make sure I hadn’t missed any essential ingredients. Will and I decided we would go together on Friday night when he was off work, a sort of divide-and-conquer approach.
And then Friday morning I was in a Zoom meeting with my colleagues and shit suddenly became very real. Pardon the French, but that’s the best way I can describe it. I logged off, put on my shoes and sent Will a text: Can’t wait until tonight. Going now.
Unless you were on the moon, you know what happened. The Winco Foods near my house was crammed with people; the check-out line stretched to the back of the store and wrapped back around. Forget about getting any toilet paper or ramen noodles. There was a high level of panic lurking behind each exchange. This was before masks and social distancing; up until that point “social distancing” had been something I’d seen only on a meme. Everyone was stressed and desperate and scared and on their cell phones at the same time, taking food orders from their families.
Somehow, I forgot the carefully made list in the car and once inside, I started throwing everything I could find in my cart. Chili beans? Sure. Pinto beans? Why not. Garbanzo beans? Obviously. We hadn’t made pancakes in years, but I threw in pancake and biscuit mix, popcorn kernels, oyster crackers, instant oatmeal, ten kinds of soup, five kinds of cheese. I grabbed giant packages of chicken breasts and elbowed my way toward the ground turkey.
If I hadn’t spent my life reading dystopian literature, I wouldn’t have understood what was happening.
The pandemic isn’t gone, but we’re thinking about it different now, three months later. I’m back on weekly shopping runs at Winco, early on Saturday morning before non-mask-wearing people are awake and mobile. (On the DeBoard’s menu for June 15-19: blue cheese burgers; creamy chicken taco soup in the crockpot.) We have enough, and then a little more—especially if you count all the cans of beans still stacked in the garage.
When I started writing this #TheOtherCamino blog, it didn’t seem like that overwhelming of a task. I would have taken snapshots in Spain, of course, and uploaded them each night we had wifi access. There would be an endless stream of new material—the people I met along the way, the peculiarities of each albergue, the bite of something that made me sick. (If anyone on the trip was going to be sick, reader, it was me. See also: throwing up on my visit to the Oracle at Delphi in 2002. See also: me vomiting on a crowded bus to Bilbao in 2007.)
But I’m not in Spain, and life is definitely quieter. If I took daily snapshots, they would be of the same things: my summer-lazy dogs, my backyard, the reclaimed space in my writing room.
As a writer, there have been times that I worried the well would run dry, but somehow it keeps filling, tapping into deeper sources. It’s there, dormant, until needed.
This is the effect of keeping an ear to the ground, eyes open, curiosity primed. Overhear something interesting in line at the post office, write it down. (This is theft, yes, but falls under the fair-game exception.) Click on a crime story, follow the links, lose an hour of time but end up with an idea, nebulous and nagging. Join a Zoom writing group, find a spark of something--genius? trash?--and fill three pages in ten minutes.
It’s pretty amazing how that happens, this little miracle.
It’s amazing that I only need a few basic things to keep going: food, water, shelter, love, hope, a Zoom with seven women from all around the country laughing over a funny line.
It’s less than you might think.
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Paula Treick DeBoard