I live near a golf course (not on one, I feel compelled to add). Neighborhood residents are allowed to walk on the course all day Monday, when it’s closed. So this past Monday I decided to train by walking the whole course twice, a total of nine miles.
Let me count the ways that walking a golf course in Arizona differs from walking the Camino — at least, the Camino I know about so far from books, web sites and movies.
There are the obvious topographical and geographical differences, for one. I walked on paved golf cart paths. Though portions of the Camino are paved, there are also large sections on trails and grassy paths. In northern Spain we will have left behind the saguaros, which are just now beginning to sprout their odd, white flowers that sit atop the branching columns like so many ladies’ hats from the Fifties. We won’t see Gamble’s quails, hear Gila woodpeckers or glimpse the red streak of a vermilion flycatcher.
The western Pyrenees will be a dense, dark green, not our rock-strewn Santa Catalinas, Santa Ritas and Rincons, sand-colored beneath a pale green veil of saguaro and creosote.
There will actually be rain, steady at times, and days that are likely to seem cold to Arizonans acclimated to the intensifying sun of late spring.
On Monday I trained in a city that barely existed at the end of the nineteenth century. On the Camino we will walk through centuries-old towns and cities.
But what struck me most on Monday was that I was training for the Camino in a preserve of the privileged: the golf course I walk on belongs to a country club. True, it is also the preserve of cottontails, quails, hummingbirds, roadrunners, coyotes and the occasional bobcat and mountain lion, snakes and lizards, great blue herons, cormorants and all sorts of other migrating waterfowl. For them the golf course means water and protective habitat.
But where humans are concerned, my practice camino is not welcoming, as the citizens along the Camino are reputed to be. With all my new technical gear (and I’m walking only a small portion of the Camino!) I am a true denizen of the small community of the comfortable, some few hundred feet above Tucson and its real-world problems. And however uncomfortable my realization of these contrasts may be, my very discomfort is itself an unearned privilege.
Still, in these parts I may have made for an anomalous figure, walking briskly up the path with my small backpack and hiking hat and carrying the still unknown Camino inside me.