Stork Lessons

Because churches tend to be the tallest buildings in Spanish towns, the bell towers are a favorite location for white stork’s nests. These nests are huge––four to six feet in diameter, three to five feet deep––and can weigh up to 500 pounds! They are likely more comfortable than most of my bunks on the Camino. The birds live in loose colonies, so four to six nests often cluster on each belfry. While I had seen hundreds of these nests along the Camino, Burgos stands out because I saw one with an inhabitant. It was a spectacular bird with long red legs, standing in its domain.

The nests got me thinking about the generosity of the residents along the Camino. For hundreds of years, they have given over space in their communities to travelers needing “nests” for a night. The pilgrims they house are like eggs, in a way, hoping to hatch new lives for themselves as they walk the Way.

My sighting of the stork was another example of all the luck I experienced on the Camino. From day one, things just seemed to tilt in my favor. While I have always appreciated the good fortune of my life, I began to build an inner faith that no matter what happened on this journey, everything would be just fine. The more I let go of my worries and things beyond my control, the more things fell into a perfect and satisfying order. I wondered if I was actually losing my ability to worry. What a glorious thought!

I exited Burgos through a wonderful park. At one point, I was surprised by the sight of two pilgrims walking toward me, alongside a donkey loaded with gear. That was in stark contrast to the 22 pounds of baggage that I was carrying.

For several days, I had been playing a mind game based on the contents of my backpack. When planning the trip, I had been careful to keep the weight of my pack below the recommended 10-15% of bodyweight (without water). Still, on the first few days, I eliminated a book, a silk sleep sack, and an inflatable Big Agnes memory foam pillow. In the early albergues, there was always a table loaded with excess items below a sign that read, “Take what you need; leave what you don’t.”

My new exercise was to mentally go through the contents of my pack and determine what was really needed to complete the trek. Did I really want my journal or could the memories survive in my mind? Obviously, my shoes were required, but did I really need three pairs of socks? Would the trip end if someone stole my camera? Were fingernail clippers required? Living with minimal material items was one of the many liberating features of this pilgrimage. Even though I carried little, I still endeavored to determine what I really required.

That thought process led me to the deeper question of what is required for me to be happy on my larger journey through life. What material items do I need to carry with me, but more importantly, what do I want to carry in my emotional backpack? Do I want more family time, more friends, more physical strength, more power? What are the true emotional necessities of life? Are events or people taking up too much space in my emotional backpack? Do any need to be cleared out? And the bigger question: what is missing that could truly enrich my life?

With lots of time and an uncluttered mind, I found it quite challenging to try to prioritize and apply weightings. It was much more difficult to imagine eliminating certain items from life’s backpack. I felt like one of the stork chicks, cracking out of my shell of now useless baggage.