Cris, Extra Special Treat

Cris, Caminoheads South America Bureau Chief.
(photo unknown)

(Our moon is in it’s waxing crescent phase, 28% illumination.)

Believe it or not: smells are related to the Camino for a neuroscience reason.

It all starts at the moment of birth… actually, it starts at the moment of mating. There is one hormone called “oxytocin” (known too as the love hormone!) which is essential in all species to get attracted ones to the others; blessed we humans who believe that we get attracted ones to others through intelligence, charm and good looking!!! Indeed, there is much more… have you ever heard about “skin”? Yes, in addition, there are lots of other molecules (hormones, pheromones, etc.) which express through the skin… (I know, are you disappointed for all the money you spent in expensive perfumes thinking they will attract the lovely match?)

Let’s move a “successful” step forward from mating: now we have a baby arriving to this world. After labor, women secrete a skyrocketing peak of oxytocin that not only helps with milk production and the recovery of the womb but now we know that its most important function is to allow the recognition between the mother and the newborn, and guess what? This recognition happens through the skin and the smells. This is how a baby will always recognize his/her mother, and this is how the first memories of our experience as humans in this earth are made through smells. But this doesn’t end with recognizing the mother, oxytocin plays a key role in the establishment and preservation of bonds ranging from friendship to romantic relationships; basically, our ability to socialize and bond to others.

And from this experience on, a lot more of our memories as humans are made through smells. We probably don’t know it when we are building those memories, but rather we will remember we made them when time has passed and we find ourselves saying things like: “That smell of apple pie reminds me of my grandmother”, or “My mum used to wear that perfume too”, or like someone at one of Annie’s Pilgrim’s table said “The smell of my childhood is horse shit… ” Why is that? All seems to come to that first hormone we are exposed to, as the receptor in the brain for oxytocin is very very close to the hippocampus, which is the place where we store our memories. And the same happens with the olfactory bulb, the place were smells are recognized in the brain.

We grew up (or at least I did) to think that Hansel and Gretel found their way back home through leaving breadcrumbs in their way, but the reality is the breadcrumbs weren’t needed had they paid attention to the smell of the trees and the plants, and whatever their neighbors used to cook (dogs do this all the time, don’t they?) And how is that possible? It is because the hippocampus (remember?) is also a brain area important for spatial navigation, and it combines information about odors/smells and movement through space to create a memory of a journey.

And suddenly, we are talking about the Camino… and we are talking about memories of our pilgrimage through places, but also memories of our stinky pilgrim-being, the smell of the crowded albergues (a sort of combination of sweat, smelly boots, dirty clothes, just showered pilgrims and shampoo), the smell of incense of the botafumeiro, and the other leg of these memories is the relationships to other pilgrims, the bonds we created and the friendship that resulted (to the point we call it “family”, as if we were related… remember the recognition after labor effect?)… Again, how is that possible? You got it: oxytocin. And oversimplifying the whole thing, this is how the smells in the Camino don’t matter anymore… and instead they become part of one of the best experiences of our lives…
And let me share one last thing: the oxytocin is also called the “amnesia hormone”… somehow after the labor, this tiny molecule creates such wellbeing and enamoring that the pain of labor is forgotten… maybe it happens the same with the blisters and the tiredness of the walk… and this is why we keep populating the earth and dreaming of coming back to the Camino again and again… (and why pilgrims like stinky pilgrims of all sorts!)
But this is just a theory!

Cris, Buenos Aires.

The Twin Topics

Felipé in his lucky shirt.
(photo Henna Volker)

Our moon is is waxing crescent, 28% illumination.

The twin topics of smells and dreams that has come along has sparked a lot of interest here at Caminoheads. Check out the Comments. All kinds of interesting stories have popped up.

Well, smells and dreams are both forms of communication. So that is what we are really talking about. They both are ways that information is being passed along. It seems also true that both are underutilized and under understood. Under understood?

Somehow this goes along with another topic and that is the synchronization that we all experienced on the Camino. Things just seemed to have continually lined up for our benefit. We would say that it was St James or St James Again. That is adequate really but maybe we could also look at it that we were connected in new and different ways that worked for our benefit. We were somehow connected better because maybe we were communicating on additional channels that we haven’t been familiar with using. Smells and dreams could be part of this and probably there is more to it, maybe much more.

That is all a guess, a hunch, that something is going on that is important to us and our understanding. Where else are you going to read about such offbeat news than on an offbeat blog like this, hey?

Well I am off. I have plenty to do yet on Jen’s doors for her art studio. And I need to scurry to get ready for Wiley’s little birthday party this evening after work.

smelling you, dreaming about you loves, Felipé.

Smells And Dreams

(photo P Volker)

Our moon is in it’s waxing crescent, 19% illumination.

Well, yesterday’s blogpost went over OK. We had a couple of great comments on the topic. I know that it is a little bit touchy but there is something there and maybe more to it than first meets the eye. I do know that we all communicated across cultural and language barriers.

So here is another one for you today. This is another slightly offbeat topic, dreams. We all dream and we don’t always know what to do with those dreams. They may seem strange and disconnected from our “normal” reality. So, yesterday friend and Caminohead Debra came to the Institute to see me and compare notes. So, here is something that she came in with that I need to ask you about. I can’t really give you this exactly and it will be without details because it is her dream and I didn’t ask permission to share it. Not that it was risqué or anything, the elements were very calm and country. But the surprising thing was that it was a message for me. The dream actually said, “This is a message for Phil Volker.” Has any of you ever heard of anything like that? I can’t remember anything in my experience to match that.

You know, I am honored to be a part of her world in this way. It just is new territory to be linked up and communicating in such ways. All semi woo woo you know.

Off I go on today.

dreamy loves, Felipé.

The Smelly Pilgrims And A Theory

Important signage on the Camino.
(photo W Hayes)

Our moon is in is waxing crescent, 10% illumination.

Here is a idea that I have been thinking about for years really. I just got brave enough to broach the topic. How many times have we heard the phrase, “smelly pilgrims”. Yea, fairly commonly. There is even a reference to it in Walking the Camino, Six Ways to Santiago.

But our point of reference, or viewpoint is from the normal world where our bodies are soaped and scoured, deodorized and powdered. And where we seldom sweat anymore with wrangling only computers all day long. We are sanitized and shined up from stem to stern. That is where we think from. We would sooner die than be smelly.

But consider the Camino and the major lack of deodorants and other related products. I can remember seeing deodorant once in a month. And I didn’t have any. No one was going to carry that. They might have a spray for bedbugs that they were willing to tote. We all most of the time had a quick shower in the evening everyday and half of that time taken up by washing our clothes in there with us.

The emphasis was not on dressing up for the prom to say the least. But what if this was a plus in a way. What if we were able to begin to communicate with each other with these normally taboo odors. I believe that there was a channel open that we were not used to. There was communication going on that maybe was only picked up by the subconscious.

Debra my friend came to the Institute to visit today. I was telling here about this crazy idea that I was writing about today. And she encouraged me to continue, saying how about the ability of smells to take a person back to the past. And yes, everytime I smell a pansy I am instantly transported to my aunt’s flower garden 60 years ago. Yes, like time travel.

And the Camino itself had more smells then we are probably used to with pigs, chickens and cows all over the place. That was the ambiance. Yea, consider the role of smells.

Off I go, ferry ride just about over.

smelly loves, Felipé.

Blog Time

Hair on Fire. Thanks Jim and Jen for help on this self portrait.
(photo P Volker)
(photo P Volker)

Our moon is in it’s waxing crescent phase, 4% illumination.

Here it is the middle of the afternoon and finally I have an hour to write to you. It is important to be with you there where you are. So happy with this technology that allows this. Not the twentieth century for us.

we are lucky to have the Zoom going also, right? What did we do without it? Visit people in person I know. But what about those faraway people? Now we don’t have to burn all that jet fuel. I know, I know it is not good for hugs. Yes but they could be working on that!

We have a walk this afternoon and many if the weather holds have a little tapas afterward. Sun on the trail now drying things out.
Bob and Elizabeth walking with us this afternoon. They are coming from out of town to get the Phil’s Camino experience. Oh, I have to get our Camino whiteboard up to date. Show folks where we are. We should cross over into Spain this afternoon!

Geez, such memories of that day with Kelly working our way through miles of history to lodging somewhere. Well, there was Roncesvalles waiting for us to get there. Man, it is fun to remember it and not actually have to do it, you know what I mean?

Well, have to go prepare for dinner. My Rebecca is expecting me to fix one of her favorites, venison heart. Wiley got a nice heavy buck yesterday, Got to brag the kid up, that’s my job.

OK, over the Pyrenees loves, Felipé.

The Next Day

Our moon is in it’s waxing crescent, 1% illumination.

Kitchen Dada by My Rebecca.
(photo P Volker)

Well, we had a terrific Hummingbird Week. On Friday Rho had a great post on Assisi with lots of activity in the Comments. And we got started moon watching.

I don’t really know where to go next but was deeply affected by a TV documentary that we were watching last night. I really didn’t see it all but what I did see was impressive. Altogether it was two hours of photos by Pete Souza of President Obama, his family and folks around him. They were all candid shots so nothing was posed. It was such a celebration of the present moment. It was enlightening to me. A very impressive collection of history. I think that it will probably be on again somewhere. It was entitled The Way I See It.

Also last evening I had a Zoom talk with a women who is in the application process to go to Lourdes with the Order of Malta, like I did in 2018. It is always a challenge to put the Lourdes experience in words but I try. Then also, it is a challenge to put the Order into words, with it’s one foot in the past and one in the present. We rattled on for an hour and a quarter and I feel like we barely scratched the surface. That trip was canceled this year because of the pandemic so who knows what next year’s conditions will bring?

OK, lunch time here. Walk tomorrow, Sunday afternoon at 4. Hope to see you somewhere soon.

rattling on loves, Felipé.

Our Rho On Things Assisi

(Our moon is in it’s New Phase, 0% illumination.)

Assisi, Italy.
(photo R Densmore)

As someone who has embarked on two separate multi week, spiritual pilgrimages in Italy, both of which were focused on the lives of Saints Francis and Clare, it may have been obvious that some aspect of letting go would be involved. After all these two came from families which were very well off and both took extreme vows of poverty. At a minimum I thought my thinking would be challenged about letting go of physical possessions, which it was, but there was another aspect of letting go I hadn’t considered.

In my journey to Italy in the fall of 2015 the pilgrimage explored the Saints lives in Rome, Reiti Valley, and my beloved Assisi. After a week in Rome, I became very sick in Reiti. Being sick was not in my plans, it was not on my agenda! As we reached Assisi, where we were to remain for 2 ½ weeks, my heart was breaking. My only other experiences in the charmed, Umbrian, hillside town was during 2 different day trips with La Romita School of Art, located in Terni Italy, where my Aunt Charlotte taught art classes for many years. One of my lifelong dreams was to spend 3 full days in this hillside town to freely explore it’s rich history as well as to observe the medieval city waking in the morning and to participate in the picturesque display of the colors of sunset.

As I struggled to rest so I could help my body heal, my frustration and disappointment must have been evident to the group. While I was just strong enough to join in the daily excursions, I had no energy for any additional adventures of exploration or reflection. At one point one of the pilgrimage leaders, Father Murray Bodo, lovingly pulled me aside and suggested that perhaps God wanted me to have an inner pilgrimage this trip. My only reply at the time was that I hadn’t spent thousands of dollars to come to Italy for an inner pilgrimage when I could do that California for free!

What I didn’t understand then, and really didn’t began to fully grasp until this year, was the process of letting go of my expectations for the reality I was being faced with. As this year has shown me and many others, we can have our plans, hopes and dreams, but sometimes reality doesn’t move in alignment with the direction we want to go. What I have gained from the experience of my time in Italy back in 2015 has better helped me to face the challenges of 2020. While this year has not been one that any of us had expected, I think back to Fr. Bodo’s words and perhaps this year we were all meant to have an inner pilgrimage. In Rachael Marie Martin’s words “sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you are actually living.”

May you find strength and joy from your inner pilgrimage of 2020!

Rho Densmore


Hummingbird Week

A not exactly a hummingbird from William. Love him.
(photo W Hayes)

This must be Hummingbird Week, similar to Shark Week but different mostly. Has a hummingbird ever seen a shark? Hard to imagine how that would occur. Barely possible. Might make a good poem or kid’s book!

Kevan from England and I have been writing in Comments about God’s creatures big and small. Amazing all the different approaches to living. And we are all in this big playpen together. What a life!

I suppose I am not going to get out of H W without running out my old faithful hummingbird story. I don’t think that I have had it on the blog in a long time. But I think that it made the cut on Phil’s Camino, So Far So Good.

A friend of mine, an engineer, was heading up a residential remodel job in the city. Summertime and our small crew was commuting and working hard. We had the use of a large garage on the property for our temporary shop in which we had moved a bunch of wood working machines to play with. So I was running back and forth from the garage to the house trying to make some visible progress to keep everyone happy. In the dusty garage was a large picture window. On one of my many trips by it I noticed on the dusty window sill a beautifully colored hummingbird lying there. My first thought was that it must be dead, it
was so still. Must have flown into the glass or exhausted itself trying to get out. Then I had the thought, yea but it is so clean and fresh looking perhaps it’s not dead, could that be? I had this idea to pour a little quantity of Coca-Cola in a bottle cap and I carefully slid the shallow metal cap under the bill of the lifeless bird and walked out back to the house. Minutes later I came back and the little lifeless bird was gone, solid gone! Supercharged on Coke and out of there! Too amazing! My good deed for the year was accomplished.

Oop, time to walk, see ya.

supercharged loves, Felipé.

A Little Bit More On Hummingbirds

Here is our feeder with a hummer to the left.
(photo P Volker)

Our moon is in the waning crescent, 8% illumination.

I don’t really know if I have anything more on hummingbird birds but… Well, I’m still enamored with them and think that they bring a certain magic that I find healing. That’s the real bottom line to it right there. Things that have healing qualities should be nurtured, right?

And birds in general have this ability to lift us out of our personal situation, to transcend it. I remember watching flocks of Canada geese high up over my boring suburban neighborhood on their adventurous migrations. Or the crows so free that lived their lives around the island where I did my boot camp. Our kind was being so intensely educated and they winging around as they pleased and taking part in the endless banter of their kind; it looked like fun. And the hummingbirds so agile and fast we can at times maybe just even temporarily live their lives with them.

And bird feeders in general are fun and comforting to watch. And the hummingbird feeders are the simplest and easiest to maintain, additional pluses. We are so lucky that the little birds are here in our local environment year round.

But don’t ever make the mistake of saying around them that they are little! They really don’t come off as little if you watch them for any amount of time. They are brave and feisty way beyond their size. So maybe we can become brave and feisty beyond our size just being around them. I think that it could rub off.

So maybe every new cancer patient should get a bird feeder of some sort as a gift at some point in their treatment as part of their treatment. I think that it is particularly strong medicine. But one needn’t have to be a malade to benefit of course.

October Wednesday loves, Felipé.

More Hummingbird Stuff

Cherry tomatoes are miniatures.
(photo P Volker)

The moon is in it’s waning crescent, 15% illumination.

Well, Kevan from England said that there are no little birds in Europe. And Cris reports that there are lots of them in Argentina all the way south to Patagonia. What about Asia and Australia?

I know one thing, miniature anything are cute and appealing. Miniature horses, doll houses, chicken wings, Phil’s Camino. Yea, we just love small versions. Well, I don’t know about bedbugs and viruses, maybe not everything. But most times it works.

Phil’s Camino is cruising along. Transition time when we are starting to feed the birds again and make the afternoon walk earlier. But folks show up. I have two folks from out of town coming this Sunday whom I have never met. But the Covid has put somewhat of a crimp on our proceedings. Maybe overall we have half as many folks as normal. But we continue.

I got some more rototilling done on the corn yesterday afternoon. Maybe I could plant the winter clover on there and put it to bed. Then this morning buckets of rain and thunder, the weather is fickle.

Also I have a dental appointment this morning maybe I should pack this up and get ready. Oh and it was Canadian Thanksgiving yesterday so we need well wishes for those guys. William sent pics of snow in his yard so…

miniature loves, Felipé.