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Ray and Lynn Johnstone, Our hosts in Gascony, France for my May 2013 painting excursion. Here they are pictured as pilgrims on "The Way".

Ray and Lynn Johnstone, the hosts in Gascony, France for my May 2013 painting excursion. They own the Mill where we will be staying. It is a french style gite that can house 6 – 12. It is a beautifully restored 13th century mill, that straddles the Gelise River onto a secluded island with a pool in S.W. France. Here they are pictured as pilgrims on “The Way”.

The Mill where we will be staying May 22nd- June 1, 2013. Why not come and paint with us?

The Mill where we will be staying May 22nd- June 1, 2013. Why not come and paint with us?

It is funny how events can be serendipitous! One seemingly ordinary event can months later be linked in a really fantastic way to another random meeting or serious of events. That is what this post is about.

This summer as guest artist in residence at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, I found my days passed quickly with instructing art classes for park visitors, hiking and working on my own art practice in the artists’ cabin. In July my evenings were filled with jogging, swimming, exploring local sites, enjoying wildlife, golfing and visiting the newly opened observatory. (I still plan to tell you more about that facility in another post one of these days.) During my two week stay in mid September filling my evening hours was a little more challenging. Between a fire ban in the park and earlier sunsets, my evenings in the trailer were a little longer. Thank goodness I had my laptop and my new HTC cell which acted as my host spot for internet!  So armed with this and Netflix membership watching movies was one of my favourite ways to pass the evenings.

One particular movie that I would highly recommend was called “The Way” (2010 and rated PG).  It was written, directed and starred in by Emilio Estevez who played the son in the film. Filmed entirely in Spain and France along the actual Camino de Santiago in English it is most often called the Way of St James to Compostela. (Just to make it really confusing, in French it’s known as the Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle – or El Camino de Saintiago in Spanish).  Martin Sheen, Estevez’ real life father also stars as the father in this film to Emilio’s character.  Netflix had this to say of the movie, “When his son dies while hiking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in the Pyrenees, a grieving father flies to France to claim the remains. Looking for insights into his estranged child’s life, he decides to complete the 500-mile trek to Spain.”  Along the way with Martin Sheen we meet several characters from different countries, a Dutchman (Yorick van Wageningen), a Canadian (Deborah Kara Unger) and an Irish writer (James Nesbitt), who is suffering from a bout of writer’s block. Those key to the story are a  each walking the way for their own personal reasons in search of deeper meaning in their lives. Some not fully realizing the why until the completion of the full pilgrimage. Scheen’s character through “The Way” “discovers his son’s truth “You don’t choose a life, dad. You live one.”

This movie really resonated with the place I found myself  in as guest artist in residence. I don’t know about you, but for my part I have wrestled with some decisions in my life as I attempted to “choose the life” I was meant to live only to have “the way” made clear for me in the end outside of my own struggling. At other times I dove in and just “lived my life” as it opened to me; welcoming each new opportunity or relationship. I think the later is the lighter way for me to live.  This residency was a bit of a pilgrimage for me.  It included getting away out of my element on my own to explore a new path in my art, my paintings on copper.  It provided challenges (like hiking alone with cougars) and time alone to reflect, removed from familiar comforts.  A few years back, I had been part of another pilgrimage; one to China in 2008. My companions on the way were fellow volunteers with a youth and community development agency called Fusion International from Austaralia.  Among those on the trip were 300 others from 8 different countries ranging in ages from 8 months to 80 years. This pilgrimage too had many challenges for me personally and was a bit of a test run to see how I would fair in China. One of those life decisions I had been wrestling with was whether to go to China to teach English as a Foreign Language. I had even studied TEOFL through the University of Saskatchewan and rudimentary Mandarin in preparation.  Fusion was part of this 4 – 5 year struggle in my life to find my way. I even volunteered with them in Regina for 2 years. Although Fusion and China turned out not to be the way for me, I am thankful for all those who I met as I explored that path and the lessons I absorbed through journeying with them.

Ray Johnston, is the owner of the Mill in Gascony, France and the host for my May 2013 painting excursion. Imagine my surprise, when he replied to one of my emails saying that he had just returned from walking the Way of St James to Compostela! He and his wife Lynne wrote, “That Most modern day walkers begin at one of four places in France – which is also where the medieval pilgrims started out from: Paris, Vezelay, Le Puy, or Arles. These four routes converge at St Jean Pied de Port (which is a small village at the foot of the Pyrenees on the Spanish border), and from there it’s only another 800 kms to the finish line: the magnificent Gothic Cathedral Santiago de Compostela in Galicia which is in far western Spain.”

Ray Johnstone owner of the Mill in Gascony with a bull in Spain as he walked "The Way".

Ray Johnstone owner of the Mill in Gascony with a bull in Spain as he walked “The Way”.

“But, as the route in this area comes right past our front gate, we thought it convenient to start in Mezin the first time. This part of the walk covers the 210 kms from where we live to the Pyrenees. Needless to say, we had all kinds of adventures along the way, and, walking every day, carrying all your gear on your back, staying in hostels, and not using any vehicles or transport is a rather unique experience. (We had an evening meal with a big black pig in the kitchen one night.) The route goes through spectacular countryside, forests, and beautiful villages. Along the way you meet all kinds of people you’d never come across if traveling by car. Farmers, beekeepers, wood cutters, tramps, shepherds, mushroom pickers, hunters, and, of course, other pilgrims – some religious, but most just out for the challenge of walking for six weeks.”
Lynn Johnstone, owner of the Mill in France where we will stay this May 2013 during my painting excursion.  I am looking forward to meeting you and Ray!

Lynn Johnstone, owner of the Mill in France where we will stay this May 2013 during my painting excursion. I am looking forward to meeting you and Ray!

“Then, after a break of several months, we picked up where we’d left off, starting from the Pyrenees and walking west for another 200 kms into central Spain. This part of the route goes through the most amazing Basque villages and also takes in Pamplona (where we saw the running of the bulls, but that was on another trip.)
So, there is still quite a long way to go before we eventually get to Compostela, but we plan to have a crack at it sometime next year.”

Having heard all this and having just seen the movie months earlier renewed my desire to consider this pilgrimage for myself.  After all I will be staying within steps of this historical path!  One of my favourite mentors on the figurative way; Melody Beattie, author of “Journey to the Heart” says, “I Realize I’m where I am on purpose, even if it’s an accident. Sometimes the most trivial things that happen to us are more important than we believe.  When I look for the big, the exciting and the momentous – I leave empty-handed.  When I surrender to the present moment, understanding the sheer magnificence of each of these in my life – even those that suck — and then follow that with gratitude, then my wheelbarrow overflows.”  As I endeavor to live my life, I am grateful for a few companions on my way who remind me to celebrate each day, even the mundane task that make everyday the gift that is my life.  The French Impressionists used a technique called broken colour. In it separate brush stokes of different colours next to one another, rather than pre-mixed paint, work to achieve the overall magical effect of shifting light in their paintings. I guess the moments of our lives are like the impressionists’ brushstrokes.  The monumental and the ordinary (which there are far more of in most of our lives) when viewed as a whole together make the most magical story. Who knows, I may end up walking the Way of St James to Compostela or I may not. Only time will tell. But, I am sure of this. There are new adventures each day for me yet to come, maybe even right here in Regina, Saskatchewan.

More about the pilgrimage at the movie’s official web site.

The official site for Camino de Santiago.

A complete guide to planning your way and how to pack.

A book about The Way that I plan to read: The Way is Made by Walking, Paul Boers

Ray and Lynn Johnstone’s Blog on The Way. Trip 1 & Trip 2