Pilgrimage in Pieces

By: Walk2Connect Co-op Member-Owner, Sarah Massey-Warren

Probably the sacred grail for the lone walker is the pilgrimage. Many walkers or would-be distance walkers aspire to complete long, challenging journeys like the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Walk2Connect Founder Jonathon Stalls began his walking journey with a solo trek across the United States and kept on striding to discover his life’s path. Pilgrims from Chaucer’s time and earlier committed themselves for the distance journey.

Doing so demands a major dedication of time and often outlays of money, depending on whether the pilgrim wants to rough it, or do a cross-country hike with an organized tour group that arranges to carry bags and provides accommodations. Even at the lower-cost end of the spectrum, not everybody can afford the time away from work, responsibilities, and the finances involved in international travel or long-distance hiking. So what options do the rest of us pilgrims have?

Day by day, step by step

Ever since I read Rosemary Mahoney’s book, The Singular Pilgrim: Travels on Sacred Ground, like many aspirants, I have wanted to walk the Camino in Spain; however, my reality as a single working mother for years with very limited financial means didn’t make this look likely—and still doesn’t, although it’s on the proverbial bucket list.

Instead, I have completed a multitude of pilgrimages, stacked up far longer than any camino. In pieces. Day by day. Step by step. In daily walks of two hours, taken early each morning, before work and other commitments.

For years, I did this alone. Now, I walk with a dog. Still, some people seem to regard walking as suspect, asking, “Why do you walk? How far do you walk? Do you walk every day?” The questions get very old, but the walking never does. In fact, with each morning, regardless of weather—and I’ve walked in Dallas heat and humidity and Canadian cold—come new revelations, none of which I would have observed as closely walking in the company of others.

Walking daily with attention and intention

Throughout the year, I am a walking gardener. Winters pass with daily checks of snowfall level from my sidewalk vantage point, wherever I happen to be. In semi-arid states, the question is: is it adequate? And in northern states: did the sub-zero temperatures kill the roses? My eyes glue to tiny cues: wet or dry snow, no snow, frozen tundra, frosted branches that provide photo ops and eye candy, slick sidewalks, waves stopped in motion.

Come spring, the hungry eye checks daily to see what comes up, and each year, there’s new terrain. A volunteer iris. A recovering euonymus. Crocus buds—or their lack. Summer brings full blooming roses, peonies, perennials in the ground, and annuals in pots. Then there’s the sequence of veggies to observe: spinach, lettuce, beans, carrots, tomatoes, and squash.

Come autumn, and the colors rain down on the solitary walker. Yellow aspen leaves in Colorado, and exuberant rainbows of maple, oak, and birch in the Northeast. Walking alone rivets the eyeballs to gifts otherwise often overlooked.

It’s not just garden freaks who can exult in the diurnal pilgrimage. For architecture and art lovers, there’s that cornice or mural that never gets noticed when deep in conversation with others. What about observing wildlife? On early morning walks, I see water birds, birds of prey, and this spring, I spotted my first black fox ever at 7 am (they have white tips on their tails and are gorgeous, soulful animals).

Piece by piece

Just as the long-distance pilgrimage assembles piece by piece, so does one’s own state of mind. Anxiety-ridden since childhood, I have managed to keep myself, if not sane, certainly functional by walking to clear my thoughts, calm my emotions, gain clarity, and find some modicum of peace. Walking through pain, walking through poverty, walking through single parenthood, walking to health. At times, I resonate with walking for “spiritual growth.” And isn’t that what a pilgrimage is for?


Author: Sarah Massey-Warren, Walk2Connect Co-op Member-Owner

As a daily walker since high school, a writer, and a landscape architect, Sarah Massey-Warren has explored diverse environments for decades. Her explorations have allowed her to push boundaries in places as diverse as the California High Sierras, the Maine beaches, Michigan lake country, New England and Colorado mountains, Texas plains, Omaha bluffs, and urban areas in the United States, Canada, France, and the Czech Republic. She brings creative ways to explore the land, promote walkable environments, and to write about the importance of walking. Sarah’s full profile page will be coming soon! Contact Sarah MW at: [email protected] (303) 921-8334