We Lived By Footsteps
by J. Dominic Patacsil ’19
A few weeks after his second-place finish in the 5,000 meters helped the Little Giants earn the 2017 NCAC Outdoor Track and Field title, Dominic Patacsil ’19 joined his classmates and professors in Spanish 313: Pilgrimages New and Old to hike a portion of El Camino de Santiago, one of the oldest pilgrimage routes in Europe.
WM asked the English major for some reflections from the trail.
5/16/2017—Barajas Airport, Madrid, Spain
Being abroad, it’s so very easy to take on that “tourist gaze,” as Arthur Asa Berger calls it—the sense that all which is new and foreign is picturesque and perfect in comparison to the normalized environment of home.
5/18—Villafranca del Bierzo, Spain
It is the night before the hike, and I’m sitting on river stones listening to the rush of water.
The concept of “home” confuses me. We move around, we sleep wherever we can. Is that not a “home?” It seems so arbitrary to call one place home when there is land full of buildings with rooms with beds in a myriad of forms.
The sun is in my eyes and the coffee must be kicking in.
5/19—In Montán, after a conversation about college, career decisions, and “trying to make it.”
From an Australian hostel owner named Simon: “We are always worried about where we are not. On the Camino, you meet people where they are.”
I talked with a vasco (person of Basque origin) who now lives in California. The conversation wound in and out of Spanish. We shared a common Roman Catholic background and now, both of us having grown apart from the church, are trying to understand where we stand with Catholicism and how spirituality discerns itself from religion.
Everything on the Camino ends up being spiritual. Whether you think the Church is group of mobsters or grounded angels for the human expansion, the act of walking and thinking is spiritual. It is as if you can displace your body and look at yourself as some third party, how your face wrinkles at the sight of another colina [hill]. Siempre tenemos que subir en esta vida. ¿Pero adonde estamos andando? El pensamiento reina sobre la mente, los pensamientos peligrosos. Ten cuidado mijo.
5/22—Walking into Arzua
The trail is busier today, which means double, maybe triple the number of interactions compared to the previous day. Always the same questions: Where are you from? Why are you walking? Trump, huh?
It made me realize that my sense of self, all its importance and embellishment, only exists in my mind, to me. Everyone has their own experience, their own reasonings, their own importance. The special thing about the Camino is that each person has their own autonomy, each walk is so singular. The sense that my perspective, my opinions, and my world are more valuable is diminished. It is just a one in seven billion, a small file with a clean plastic label.
5/24—Walking into O Pedrouzo
I just want this to be done. To pass the time, I’m looking out at the pilgrims ahead of me. I try to guess their nationalities, what their motives are, imagining odd and interesting ways we would converse if we talked: I wonder who you are. And you. Why are you here? What is your story?
Each of us has something to say. We piece it together in shreds. I hate to think of myself as a collage. I just see veins of glue running down my ribcage, my hair a mess of El País articles (you must acclimate with your settings!).
No, I would rather look out and make a story for everyone else.
On the Camino, introversion weighs heavy, like lead-soled shoes. They leave a mark on the floor.
As we walked the final kilometers of the trail, we began to recount our favorite memories or interactions from our week of hiking. What I observed as stories floated from mouth to mouth is that all of us had a hard time pinpointing when the events had taken place. Our time on the Camino had bled together among cyclic stints of walking, sleeping, and eating. It was so simple and monotonous and life felt deconstructed of abstractions, like time.
We lived in footsteps.
There is no concept of time on El Camino de Santiago. The hours, the days, they become irrelevant, an arbitrary byproduct of the human need to feel control. Why should time matter?
On the trail, you are where you are at that exact moment and that is okay. You may walk, step step step step step, for “hours,” and you lose yourself among your thoughts, among the verdant hillsides, the various gaits and foot strikes of the pilgrims ahead. Time is so silly and yet is the quantifier of all that we are, the most precious gift we are given.
Listen to Dom’s final project in Audio Rhetoric—a conversation about the similarities between writing and long distance running—at WM Online.
Photo by Dan Rogers