Nanowrimo 2017: Not Precisely the Halfway Mark

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My novel is not a novel, but a non-fiction multi-genre exploration. It is part memoir, part travel guide, and part spiritual journey. It will include photographs and history, both of myself and the land. I haven’t been this excited about a writing project in a long time. I’m very glad that I took up the challenge of Nanowrimo in order to jump into this book and get it started. I’ve been talking about writing this for at least two decades.

As you can see from the above graphic, I’m about 5,000 words short of where I’m supposed to be at this point.

But that’s okay.

I’m also 20,000+ words ahead of where I was on November 1st.

There were a couple of days when I wrote 0 words, but I was also writing other things, like pieces for here and my writing group. There was one day when I wrote 3,313 words.

Currently, I have 18 saved documents of varying lengths from 75 to 2,468 ranging in topics from the dreaded GPS of 2009 to Driving and Comfort Zones, two topics that don’t really go together. At all.

I had decided to simply write about what I felt like in relation to my book on my journey through Wales, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m very happy with my progress. Some of it can be repetitive, although not as much as I feared. Some subjects overlap with different years and places, and one of the hard parts is going to be gathering these writings into a cohesive form that flows but also stays true to my experiences. I’m planning on putting together an outline sometime in December as I read and edit what I will have at the end of November.

For those of you also writing for Nanowrimo, there is good news and bad news. They are both the same: we are halfway through. If you’re doing well, great; keep going. If you haven’t started or have slowed down, that’s okay; you still have time. Keep going.

Incense

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This was in response to a free write for the prompt scent in the theme of comfort. In other words, write about a scent that gives you comfort.

​I would not have expected to be writing about incense being a comforting scent. I was never a fan of incense. Perhaps, it was the specific scents that I was exposed to. Perhaps, it was Allan, who lived across the hall from me in my first year in college who used it to mask his pot smoking. At the time, I was so naive that I didn’t realize that’s what it was for. I thought he was just kind of dopey and laid back, and the incense was just him being a late blooming hippie.

Either way, the smell of it was enough to put me off both pot and incense.

When I visited church for the first time that they used incense was probably around Advent, maybe Christmas Eve. I remember the sounds of that day more than I remember the smells. Our music director is an amazing musician, and it is a joy to listen to his carols before the Christmas Eve Mass. I don’t know if there was incense that night, but I know that it’s been there as the liturgical season warranted.

Every Tuesday, the Host is incensed and a hymn is sung before adoration. I try to watch the smoke rise until it dissipates on its way to the skylight. I try ot make sense of the shapes it makes and the directions it flows in, but usually it just goes, and I continue to meditate on it.

After the Mass of Christian burial, the casket is incensed on its way out of the church to the burial or interment. 

The incense is carried in a bowl through the church during the Sunday procession during Lent. I know it is offered up with a solemn hymn that just touches me deeply. The whole process of the incense rising, the low singing of the prayer, the hush that falls over everything. It is very similar at Advent.

During one of the RCIA rites, I was standing in the back with the other catechumens while we waited together for our time to bring our oils to the altar. It may have been the rite of welcome, or perhaps, during the Holy Thursday Mass. I can’t remember at the moment, but I do remember looking to the front of the church where the incense was being carried, and i distinctly saw the smoke rise and form the shape of a Jewish Star of David. It was one of many signs that I received that I was making the right decision to go down the path of conversion.

While at first, the smell bothered me, the more I became engrossed in the Catholic liturgy and ritual, the more comfortable I became with the scents and the smells of the church and the incense.

I would not expect it during a service, and then I would smell it, and a warmth would come over me, a comfort, and it reminded me of what I found in the church, but not so much in the building but in the pews.

As we are often told, we are the church, and I find a small part of myself floating through the air along with the incense.

Healing: Near and Far

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​One of the wonderful things about visiting a place steeped in saints is finding a new one; an unheard of one, at least unheard of by me. When I mentioned to our cousins about traveling to Wales to pilgrimage at my confirmation saint’s holy well, he immediately scoffed. “Ach, why ya goin’ there? We’ave one just up the road; that way, then left.”

When we returned from Wales, we indeed went right up the road and discovered a place of quiet beauty, spirituality pressing down from the clouds and whispering through the grass of the graveyard. Set between a field of sheep and a tremendous lake – Lough Neagh – and just below the ruins of an old church was the holy well of St. Olcan.

St. Olcan was a contemporary of St. Patrick. It is said that Patrick found Olcan as a baby with his deceased mother. He became a disciple of Patrick’s and founded the Armoy Monastery in Antrim, very near where his well stands today. After travels to Rome and Gaul, he was ordained by Patrick and became the first bishop in Ireland. Another story is that his mother was Patrick’sw sister, but of course, there’s no real way to verify that. Patrick did have a warm spot for Olcan, having taken him under his wing, becoming his mentor and in addition, gave to him some of the relics of Sts. Peter and Paul that had been in Armagh.

St. Olcan’s feast day is June 29, which corresponds with the pilgrimage to his shrine between May Eve and June 29 and the day that the water has risen so far that the amber pebbles overflow onto the land, making them easier to access. Pilgrims would come during that time for three consecutive days, walking the stations, bathing in the well, and praying for healing.

L-R: Holy water from St. Olcan’s well, two pebbles from the well and one stone from the Cranfield Church. (c)2017


Olcan blessed the well with healing properties.
The rising water brings the stones, and swallowing a pebble protects one from drowning, women in childbirth, and having them in homes protects them from fire and burglary.

I was told to bring a rag or some sort of cloth, dip it in the well, and wash the area on my body that needed healing. Then I was to tie the rag onto the tree (where there were dozens of other rags), and when it deteriorated, my affliction would be healed. While some holy wells are meant to drink, I’m not sure that this is one of those wells. Certainly, the directions do not include drinking or ingesting, and when I collected some for my ailment, it was brownish and had sediment floating in it. By contrast, the two other wells I visited were much cleaner and were meant to be drank.

He is also said to be buried at the church on the hill above the well. What’s left of the Cranfield Church is the ruins of a 13th century church, but that church was built and stands on the site of an earlier church.

Saint Olcan’s Well and Shrine on the shores of Lough Neagh adjacent to a sheep farm, just below the ruins of Cranfield Church. (c)2017


One of the things that amazed me about this church, and really many of the medieval buildings that I’ve visited is the sturdiness. Most are without roofs, and Cranfield was no exception, but the walls stood tall; sturdy. I am a toucher, and I ran my fingers along the cold stones, and leaned through window spaces and on walls to get just the right pictures at just the right angles, and I never felt unsafe.
Today, I was reminded of St. Olcan and his Holy Well when I attended my parish’s semi-annual  Anointing Mass. It was well attended. There is Scripture, music, a blessing and the anointing of the oil of the infirm and receving the Eucharist. There is also a community lunch. Today was turkey and mashed potatoes. I could eat turkey and mashed potatoes every day. I find the camaraderie and the fellowship of the meal as well as the coming together of our community just as healing as the prayers and the anointing.

Clockwise: From the anointing mass: Turkey luncheon, Music: I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Ornament table favor. (c)2017


Tomorrow, I will post pictures of St. Olcan’s well and the Cranfield Church. For now, take a few moments, and just be with your thoughts or no thoughts. Take a few breaths, and recharge. Don’t forget to exhale.

41/52 – The Centennial of Our Lady of Fatima

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Today is the 100th anniversary of the Holy Mother’s final Visitation to the children at Fatima, Portugal. In the photo is a book I recently read, and a rosary given to me by a member of the RCIA team when they taught the lesson on Mary. It is from the Shrine at Fatima, and I will use it today, and on Tuesday when I participate in the LIving Rosary. (c)2017

39/52 – Three Days in Wales

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I didn’t do the spiral journaling while I was overseas, but I thought it might be a nice idea to go back and just do the three days I spent in Wales. Some of it is the basics of where we were and the towns we visited, but there were also some reflective moments that came through despite the small writing space. It was also amusing to find that I wrote more as the days went on despite not really having done more. I think I got more comfortable in describing my thoughts and feelings, and on the last one, I really ran out of space. Continue reading

38/52 – Pen-y-Pass, Thirty Years

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​Thirty years ago, 7 January to be precise, I arrived for the first time in Wales. This was a momentous event for several reasons, even if I didn’t realize all of them until years later. It was one of the most spontaneous things I’ve ever done, and had life given me different circumstances, I may have missed all that this gave me. Our trip could be divided into three parts – England, Wales, and Scotland. We had lots of time, and that still wasn’t enough. If I recall correctly, after London and about a week in England, we took the train from Wolverhampton to Llanddudno Junction, and then on to Betws-y-Coed, where we would need to walk or hitchhike about twelve miles to the hostel in Snowdonia. The hostel was in Pen-y-Pass, which is about the middle of the Pass of Llanberis. I know all of this now more than then. Then was thirty years ago, and I was following my college roommate wherever she was taking me with little complaint. It was not an easy trek, and although I am much more out of shape now, this most recent time (and the time before this one) I had a car to get around.

Since it was January on that first excursion, Pen-y-Pass was not very crowded. This really isn’t the season for hikers up and around the mountains of the Snowdon National Park. There were only a few of us at the hostel, but we made friends quickly, and ended up traveling together to Bangor and then eventually split up, the boys, Neil and Hugh, fifteen or so to our twenty were heading home to London, Gunnar, 20-something to West Germany, and Liz, 18 was traveling with us to Kendal in the Lake District, where she lived, and where we would be spending the night (at another hostel) before we traveled to the Scottish Highlands the day after. Gunnar was kind enough to add to my collection of money, remembering to stop me in the morning to hand me two German coins.

Youth Hostel at Pen-y-Pass, Snowdon National Park, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

In order to write this, I am re-reading my journal from those days, and I must admit – it is atrocious. It is very much “we did a, b, and c, and then this happened, etc.” I read my journal from 2009 as well, and it is not much better. At least I’m conscious of it as i try to journal from my summer visit a few weeks ago and I pray that my writing has improved.

“7pm

We are at Pen-y-Pass. We got here at around 4:30. We got two rides from Betws-y-Coed, and we walked a bit less than a mile (although it seemed like forever.) This is a beautiful region filled with mountains. Not like the Oneonta [where I went to college] mountains, though. There are less trees. These are huge stone slabs against the sky. We walked towards the sunset, so it looked really great. There are lots of sheep. The view up here is absolutely wonderful. There aren’t enough adjectives to describe it. I’m sitting next to a nice, warm fire. This is really a nice hostel. We’ve changed some plans: tomorrow, we go to Bangor; then Kendal, then Pitlochry for two days and finally Edinburgh.”

“8:50pm

[I drew a little diagram of the constellations I could see.]

Just got back from a night hike up the mountain. The moon was out, and the stars as well, of course. It wasn’t too cold. We saw some sheep and heard some streams.

Kathy [my college roommate] & I are going to go up again tomorrow morning.”

I believe this was a trail called the Miner’s Track.

Snowdon National Park at Pen-y-Pass, near the Miner’s Track, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

One of the amazing things my husband noticed on our trip simply confirmed what I had learned so long ago. Ireland has a lot of sheep. A lot. They don’t have nearly as many sheep as Wales. The Welsh sheep also have this knack for defying gravity. The can stand perfectly in any clump of grass, rocks, dirt, no matter how steep. They also seem to be like the Harry Potter Knight Bus, at least the ones we encountered on the roadways, in that they were there suddenly, but miraculously made themselves small enough to not get run over, or push your vehicle over a cliff. We were very grateful for that.

Our visit this time to Wales was for one simple reason: my pilgrimage to my saint’s holy well. Everything else was like icing on the cake, actually it was like the ice cream next to the cake since for me the icing is the best part. So the well would be the icing, and the rest of the visit was the ice cream.

I have always found many of the well loved places in Wales through other people’s suggestions for me. This time was no different. I had driven past my friend’s family home near Bangor on our way to the hotel in Dolwyddelan, and he suggested we go for ice cream in Beddgelert, so we did. Well worth the trip (and worthy of its own post).

In our driving around Wales, we discovered many things, and rediscovered several things from my second visit that I could share with my family. It’s funny because when I returned home in 2009 from my solo adventure, I did not want to share any of this with my family, but after bringing them this past August, I was really excited to share with them the very things that at first frightened me.

While we were there for just over forty-eight hours, we did quite a lot of driving. 

We ended up taking a quick break where ther were a lot of cars parked, both in the car park and on the roadway, and a phenomenal amount of walkers and hikers, all sporting various hiking equipment and gear. My family decided to stop here to take a couple of pictures and grab a couple of drinks for the rest of the drive to wherever we were going at that moment. By this point in our trip, I was exhausted, so I waited in the car.

I looked around from my vantage point, and thought things seemed familiar, but of course I told myself that I must be imagining it. I mean to someone who is not a hiker/mountain climber, one mountain is pretty much the same as any other. It was a grey sky, and slightly overcast; chilly and the sky was darkening into evening, but still, there was something about this place.

The road between Pen-y-Pass and Llanberis, North Wales. (c)1987-2017

I looked around some more, and as I stretched my neck and turned my head, a woman sitting on a picnic bench moved ever so slightly, and I could read the sign that had been directly behind her head: Pen-y-Pass.

PEN-Y-PASS.

I got very excited, but couldn’t leave the car – I hadn’t known where my family went, and I didn’t have keys to the car, but I was frantically trying to see more of my discovery.

When my son came back, I excitedly asked him if there was a youth hostel there, and when he said yes. I handed him my phone and asked him to take some pictures. He asked no questions and did as he was asked, and it was in looking at them on his return that I realized that it had literally been thirty years, and I was back.

Pen-y-Pass with 30 years of changes. North Wales. (c)2017


I was astonished. I had no plans to come back here or to bring my family despite this spot being so integral to my attachment to Wales so long ago. This was where on a cold, sunny hilltop in the Snowdon Mountains did I encounter that feeling that isn’t deja vu as much as it’s deja vu times a lifetime. It has been mysterious and has led me back twice more, and it can’t be explained to anyone who’s never experienced it themselves.

On that day thirty years ago, we set out on our hike. It was January in the UK, and I expected Wales to be the same as England. Gray, overcast, damp, misty, cloudy, etc. and so on.

It was not.

Oh, it was cold. Not as cold as the Cotswolds, but damn it was cold.

No clouds, though. Just a brilliant blue sky with the snow-capped mountains set as a backdrop against the sky. There were sheep – I still can’t figure out how they managed to stand at a 45 degree angle and not roll down the hills. We walked, we stopped, we walked. And I was home.

It really was unexplainable. I felt this incredible sense of awareness of every blade of grass, the sunlight reflecting on the water, the cold snowy smell, and just the feeling that I’d been there before. This is where I was meant to be. I was supposed to be there because I had been there before. It was overwhelming and unforgettable.

It remains so.

It’sf spiritual.

And holy.

And it drew me in, and has kept me searching, even when I wasn’t looking.

It was only two months ago (and thirty years ago), and still, I can feel what I felt both times.

In that most recent time, I had this incredible feeling come upon me. This was another time that seemingly unrelated moments connect as they have between 1987 and 2017, and I wonder how destiny works, but know that it does.