Along the Chemin du St. Jacques so far, almost everything has been touched by humans in some way, but even though the environment is partly constructed it is nonetheless incredibly beautiful. The environment is especially filled with farmsteads dotting the lands here and there. The farms consist of a grouping of buildings, barns, storehouses, clustered together–sometimes, an entire village seems to have sprung up over hundreds of years around one or two farmhouses and now comprises perhaps 20 people. Here is one example of a farmhouse on the third day shortly after leaving the town of Saugues. These clustered buildings are everywhere along this path.
The primary form of farming in this area seems to be predominantly cattle, which graze freely and happily among the grasses and hay, as happily as cattle could possible graze. At one point while we walked through, these particular cattle were auspiciously traveling from one field in the village of La Clauze to another field using the same path as us.
Bundled hay rolls both wrapped and unwrapped dot the landscape everywhere. This particular freshly cut hay field was a unique beauty then, in contrast to the frequent hay that had already been processed, allowing me a rare view at the waving forms and perfect patterns formed by its cutting.
On day 5, as I crossed by several fields on the Aubrac Plateau displaying every step of this process of haymaking: cutting; drying in the field; and then a large machine trailing behind a tractor that swallows up the hay in a line and then pops out a giant roll after some short period of time.
Although farming seems a huge part of rural France, there is little other evidence of any other kind of farming aside from cattle and hay except the personal garden, a coop of chickens, or a few goats here and there. In a few cases, horses graze lazily in fields and in one place an ATV directed a group of 10 horses to places unknown in the hamlet of Le Sauvage.
Here is a pretty pond I saw near this area.
Although living out of a backpack seems like an adjustment of major proportions, one quickly adjusts to the routine of any new way of life, and meeting the day’s tasks and demands is no more easy or hard than for the person who has a house with a room and closet to meet every single need. Humans seem uniquely suited to this task of adaptation and are able to adjust to any number of circumstances within a week or so–for the first several days things seem difficult or at times frustrating, but then they normalize. In walking this path the routine quickly becomes not only the meals and walking, but also the occasional beer following the day’s journey, the shower and washing of clothes worn that day, the exploration of the village or town. I can imagine over the next two months the days becoming indistinguishable from one another, the miles within each passing easier and easier as I begin to reach a flow.
Interestingly, I’ve found that time takes on a new meaning too: the time of day gains a little less importance, and the day of the week becomes meaningless. This reality makes me wonder about the oddity of how we structure our lives around a revolving set of 7 days, with certain activities beginning and ending on certain days. In walking, there is no sluggish Monday to get through as the work week begins, no anticipation of Friday to end, just the same task each day, new trees and grass and towns to pass through, new sunsets and sunrises.
With internet being an irregularity, so too is my disconnection from the news of the world. Yesterday, when talking about terrorist events with someone, I was told that another had just happened in France without me even knowing so, in this case a priest that was beheaded. Although it was a sad event, to me, walking, it was as though nothing had happened, and only became a reality in my mind some time after it had occurred when I was informed of its happening. Although it is a rarity anymore in our hyper-connected world, time stands still while you disconnect from society in a way and hike, camp, go away–time and events exist in one way at the beginning, and they exist some time later, say, when you return to the world and check the news, but in between the events that transpired disappear and never become our reality while away. This is a very abstract thought I have, hopefully it makes sense to someone else.
Although it’s been easy and a wonderful change to be less involved with the news, the presidential election, the threats of terrorism looming everywhere in the world, the challenge will be continuing to avoid paying attention to those things once I finish walking. Perhaps the solution for me is just to keep walking. When people ask me about myself, this is the general gist I have given them–that I wish to just keep walking even after reaching Finisterre in Spain, at least for this trip, if not after too.
Towards the end of day 4, until which the landscape comprised swiftly rolling hills and pine forests and far of landscapes and rivers, I entered the plateau region called Aubrac, in which the trees give way to rocks and gently rolling hills and cattle of every shade of white and brown live their lives in every direction as far as the eye can see. Calves born perhaps a couple months ago cluster carefully around their mothers, still suckling for milk. Rocks as old as time are sprinkled across the landscape in every direction, sometimes their paths interrupted by humans to form stone walls walls that separate pastures and fields from one another. The landscape is hot and barren, relatively flat and shade is precious, but it is awe-inspiring to walk through in its own unique way, almost alien when viewed from a certain perspective.
A few more pictures require explanation. This one shows me next to a waymark stating the distance remaining to Santiago de Compostela, in this case only 1477 Km.
This picture was one I took from the room I stayed in at the village of La Roche at sunrise. Not too shabby!
This shoe was abandoned at a marker. Perhaps someone set off barefoot afterwards.
And this is one of many crosses that stoically stand as a reminder to pilgrim’s along the way. This one was before I entered the Aubrac region.
I write this early in the morning before a big day, some 34 kilometers, 20 miles or more. The landscape will likely shift again, perhaps the region completely different. I will write again in a few days.