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Alternative Culture Magazine

Finding Water

A Travel Journal from Spain and Portugal
- by Nowick Gray

2 September

Oiseau and I made a pact at the very beginning of our journey to Spain, to begin each day by finding water.  Water had long held a sacred place in Oiseau's world of ritual, her inner terrain.  It symbolized life, the flow of universal energy, the blood of the goddess.  A few droplets of it on an anxious brow, or a few moments of fingertips trailed in a mountain creek, could serve to bestow grace and transcendence upon the most disturbed or congested psychic condition, could liberate corresponding tears from an emotional reservoir needing to burst.

In Nelson before leaving we took a walk in the morning down Bealby Point Road, all the way to the end.  Through a crumbling rock wall we entered the woods.  She cupped her hands under a trickling waterfall and brought water to my lips to drink.  I traced droplets of the sacred element over her closed eyelids.

Later that day, walking in the salt-fresh air outside the Vancouver airport, already we felt the absence of the things we were leaving behind, including parts of ourselves.  I had the sensation of passing through a membrane to the future.  Out of reach now are children and books, friends and music, projects and jobs.  We have chosen to live for the next three months with nothing but what we could fit into thirty-pound backpacks.  We would compensate for a lifetime of overabundance with small bites of chocolate, moments of soft touch.  Along the way we would discover Spain, southern France, and Portugal.

Dark clouds roiled the open horizon, covering mountains which loomed grayly behind.  Oiseau and I sat down with our packs, awaiting our departure, on a long green traffic island on the busy airport boulevard.  We stretched out on the grass, idly reading, eating, leaning up against a big shade tree like kids out from school.

It felt to me as if I were living out the New Age cliché, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  In three hours I was to take off on my first trip to old Europe.  My longtime dream was to cross the Atlantic by ship; but that was more for the journey than the destination.  In fact I had spent most of my adult life avoiding a tour of Europe because of the negative judgments I gave to its oppressive, imperialist history.  Western civilization itself was a suspect concept; though I had long grown to acknowledge and accept its undeniable role in everyone's life in the contemporary world - whether we liked it or not, whether it was politically correct or not, and no matter how "natural" were our ideals of alternative ways of life. 

The contrasting freedom embodied in North American history was deeply rooted in my value system and backwoods lifestyle; and so, while newly open to the possibility of enjoying a trip to the Old World, I was curious as to how I would handle the inevitable clash of values.  In this respect, Spain and Portugal, and the plan that Oiseau and I had made to travel on foot through the undeveloped coasts and mountains of those countries, were well-considered choices.  Engaged in such a journey, we were bound to feel somewhat at home, while still enjoying new vistas both geographical and cultural.

The plan was to start by washing our skins in the Mediterranean, then to walk west up the height of land between Spain and France, into the Pyrenees.  Hiking the dry high ground between villages, we’d be cold at night, perhaps - but not as cold as the English author Laurie Lee who in December of 1936 took a twenty-pound rucksack with no tent: just books, a blanket, and a violin. 

The poet Ryoko, our friend Dale had advised us before we left, knew how to do it:  "A robe, a bowl, that's all I have."

Before boarding the plane, I jettisoned a boring paperback book.  Better nothing, I thought, than to fill one's mind with trash.  Oiseau threw away her battered old daypack, and replaced a worn money belt. 

In an ambience of opening, we left the ground of our old world behind.  We felt ourselves to be parts of a melody singing itself, a new rhythm already drumming in our moving bones.

. . . from the novel, Red Rock Road, Light Blue Sea, by Nowick Gray

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