This morning, like every morning since day two, the wounded gather to have
their feet, ankles, and sore knees tended. Blisters on heels, toes, and the
bottom of feet. Already one hiker backed off the trail due to an open wound
on a heel. I wondered each morning how others kept going. Today, though, I
heard a few odd comments as they sleepily stumbled into the tiny hallway
One voice said, "My blisters are getting better."
Another said, "I think mine are too."
Once blisters form, they don't get better as you walk a 100 mile hike. At
best, they are managed and hopefully don't get worse. But better? No.
Curiously, though, as I bandaged each blister and taped a few ankles,
indeed, there was some healing. I began to wonder about that as I walked
The sixteen mile hike over White Hill, the highest point in Western
Ireland, taunted Vox like a playground bully. Dangerous enough to fear. But not
enough to keep them from their destination.
A prayer was said each morning before the hike. This morning's words were a
humble plea for Father Sky and Mother Earth to be gentle with us. I've
hiked over White Hill three previous times. Twice in a bone soaking, wind
whipping rain. Last year the group I hiked with was embraced by quick
moving mist filled clouds. In all the times I have walked Ireland, I had
yet to experience a cloudless day. Today would be the first.
After walking six miles to get to the base of White Hill, the cloud cover
blew passed us and we were left, fully exposed to Brother Sun and the Irish
wind as we climbed. A paradoxical pair, sun and wind. Unprotected by
friendly clouds, the sun can bring a blistering sweltering summer heat in
Ireland. The strong wind, however, on this day, kept the temperature
bearable. We climbed to the point where we could see the water rippling
across Guinness Lake far below. Indeed, the shape of the lake, its black
surface and white beach looks exactly like a perfectly poured pint of the
famous Irish beer. From our vantage point, we could see the huts left
behind from the filming of the History Channel's "The Vikings." A reminder
of some of the darker days of Ireland's history.
We pushed long past our normal lunch time in order to reach a perfect
resting place at the peak of the Hill. There, hiding from the wind behind a
quartz outcrop, we dropped our packs and weary bodies on the grass. The
cloudless sky delivered a brilliant view far into the sea. I could see a
ship floating on the horizon. I wondered if Vox would try to sing against
the wind and their exhaustion.
Our Australian friends, Mark and Roz, wandered by as we ate lunch. They
dropped their packs to join us. I took the opportunity to ask them about
their walkabouts. England, Portugal, and of course their home land
Australia. Retired teachers, they had enjoyed a lifetime filled with
hiking. Amidst all their travels though, they were smitten with this
singing group like no other experience.
Lunch came and went. No lunchtime song. John was planning a long rehearsal
that night at the Knockree Hostel. We had many miles ahead of us. As we
headed down the backside of White HIll, one our group suffered what I
thought to be a serious knee injury. A sharp pain on the outside of her
knee. At one point she appeared to have buckled and sat down a large stone.
I was worried she might not be able to finish the hike. It was three miles
to the bottom and six to any crossroad. There are only two ways off the
Hill. Walk under your own power. Or call Mountain Rescue. It would take
them as long to reach us as it did for us to climb to that point. Long ago,
I had made peace with myself that if I had a heart attack or life
threatening injury on that hill, I would most likely die there. There are
posted warnings about the dangers of hill walking in Ireland and this could
have been one of those moments I knew was a possibility.
Fortunately, one of our guys produced a knee brace he had been carrying.
The brace fit her knee perfectly. Slowly, gingerly she moved down the hill.
I called ahead to find some possible pick up points at the bottom. But, by
the time we reached the bridge over Powerscourt waterfall, she was
committed to finish the day's final five miles. Her will and the group's
support carried her.
Just before reaching the Knocree Hostel is my favorite tree in all of
Ireland. Not the tallest tree. Surely not the oldest. Maybe not the most
unique in shape and form. But truly the most inviting. Over at least the
last century, the tree has grown around a trapezoid shape stone six feet
long, over three feet high. The rests at an angle inside the tree. Growing
around the stone has created a womb like opening at the base of the tree.
Standing on the stone, a person can almost disappear from view inside the
tree. There I have left mementos as tributes to past lives. A few sat on
the stone in the tree for a picture. But as I took a picture of our pilgrim
with the wounded knee, I could feel the tree offering her some healing
grace. She finished the day. Tomorrow she would re-evaluate the possibility
for the final hike.
After dinner that night, Vox Peregrini would rehearse for the final time
before their concert at Christ Church Cathedral in two days. John
encouraged them, challenged them, pushed them, and thanked them. They
responded each time to his subtle changes with a beautiful sound.
Our Australian friends, Mark and Roz, were also staying at the hostel.
Other guests and employees of the hostel listened in for the 90 minute
session. Some even hung around after to chat. Mark said the music felt like
it was shaping his soul. Vox Peregrini is gaining confidence and with it,
power of voice. They have been together only eight days, yet it sounds as
if they have spent years together honing their sound. I wondered if the
pilgrimage itself was adding her voice and refining them into gold? At the
very least, it appears the pilgrimage trail is providing some healing for
The Rev. Dr. Gil Stafford
Canon Theologian Episcopal Diocese of Arizona
Assistant to the Rector, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Litchfield Park, AZ
"It is I who ask, was the pilgrimage I made to come to my own self, to
learn that, in times like these, and for one like me, God will never be
plain and not there, but dark rather, and inexplicable, as though God were