Riff on a tree along the camino
She's not an easy tree to find.
She stands clinging with everything she's got to the rocky slope of a painfully steep hill called the Alto de La Cruz, some 8 or 9 kilometers from the village of Monreal, in Navarra. It's not easy to put a label on her, figure out what species of tree she was, when she bloomed and grew and sprouted green. In a look you decide what sort of tree she is: proud. Tested. Generous. Strong. What sort of being could hold on to that tiny a parcel of earth with a pair of long dead roots? What sort would want to? Long after her sprouting life has ended, she is eager. Eager to play and participate, eager to share a bit of the road with each traveler who passes.
You see she did sprout green sometime; it's there in her confidence and the graceful wishbone reach of those two surviving branches. Is she long dead, you wonder? Did she have company - tree company - on this lonely summit when she lived and breathed and cleaned the mountain air sweeping down from the Pyrennees? What fragrance of her own did she loan the breeze that passed by then? Did she welcome birds? Mice? Maybe a pueblo of bees helped itself to her generosity. Has she met many villagers during her long stay atop this hill, you ask? Did her branches serve as fuel or fodder for homes and barns and necessary farm tools?
Now she greets you as a signpost. On her dry grey trunk someone's painted the red and white marks of the GR trail that crosses Spain, and below them the simple yellow arrow of the Camino. She has to hang on, she tells you; she's guiding pilgrims. As the only distinguishing feature of this harsh, scrub covered alto, she has work to do. No one walks the Camino Aragonés without climbing this hill. And so she clings. And waits.
As you watch, she leans hard over the edge of her stony cliff, bending her two stubby branches toward the green, flat valley below. Is she struggling to hold on, you suddenly ask yourself. Is that it, or? Could she be trying to free herself? She twists and bends like a pilgrim preparing for the day's hike. As if to say she'll be with you in just a moment, yes in fact she will join you on your walk to Santiago, if you go on ahead she'll be right along. It's that way you know, west. There. Have you spotted her arrow?
When you've finally left her alto behind you, you're genuinely surprised not to hear the dull scratch of wooden feet lumbering in your footprints.