Program Description

As we walk upon the road we meet ourselves.  And at the end, perhaps we’ll find there are no sides to take, no enemies of state, no arguments against the other.  There’s only death that waits.  But on this tiny planet, and in this precious moment, we have the chance to live in peace together.  If only we would take a walk.
John Francis, Ph.D., Planetwalker

Overview: Winter quarter, on campus, we will study El Camino, the collection of traditional pilgrimage routes that all end in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.  Spring quarter students will travel to their chosen starting points, walk the Camino, meet in Burgos a few weeks into the quarter, then in Santiago for a several days of discussion, reflection and evaluation.  Then we will walk more or less together to Finisterre, the “end of the world” and the site of the pagan altar to the setting sun, Ara Solis.[1]

El Camino de Santiago, “The Way of Saint James,” is a collection of traditional pilgrimage routes that end in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, where, under the altar of the Cathedral, Saint James the Greater is said to be buried. A monk said, “The only thing all pilgrims have in common is an interior necessity—I must go, I don’t know why….” As we study and walk the paths to Santiago, you will learn from, not just about, the Camino. It may teach you why you had to go or about yourself or how you want to live. This Walk is a “focal activity” that makes demands and requires discipline, helps you sense relationships even when walking alone, reassures you about unknown capabilities, and, as one writer put it, gives you a “glimpse of life-giving possibilities.”

Winter quarter: We will study, first, the political history and the art of walking, and, second, the art and practice of pilgrimage.  Then we will take up the historical, religious, political, and cultural background of the Camino as well as its place in contemporary Spain.  Accounts of the Camino provide many takes on why people go to Santiago, what is required—physically, mentally and financially—for walking routes that vary from 60 to more than 1,000 miles (100 – 1,600 km), what “pilgrimage” might mean in our time, and the kinds of meanings people make of their experiences.[2]  Readings will range from the mystical realm to first aid for blisters, from foot care to spirit care and everything in between.  This portion of the program will involve significant lecture time, guest presentations and seminars.  And we will—all together, in small groups, and alone—take preparatory walks.

Integrated Instruction in Spanish: Students will have the option to take 4 of the 16 credits for Winter Quarter in “Conversational Spanish.”  Students who do not wish to take this part of the program may receive 16 credits under the “Walking to Santiago de Compostela” umbrella or they may decide to take the Winter Quarter program for 12 credits and enroll in another 4 credit course.

Up to 50% of the quarter’s credit will be awarded for a substantial independent study that will be designed to give students a personal entrée to and a continuing connection to their walks.  Projects will be designed to continue during the students’ walks in the spring.  Art students, for example, might study the Christian art, funerary sculpture, or the iconography of the Camino, even the waymarks and waysides.  Students interested in social sciences might study the history of some particular aspect of the walk (e.g., the pre-Camino history of the Iberian peninsula or relationships among Moors, Christians and Jews through the Reconquista, the relationships between walkers and locals, or the worldwide network of support organizations), post-Franco Spanish politics, the producer coop movement in the Basque country, or the Camino’s economic impact on northern Spain.  Science students could look at climate, environment (including our internal “environment”: the science of awareness, consciousness, attention…), regional agricultural or fishing practices, the health effects of the long economic downturn in Spain, even the kinesiology of walking, or nutrition and physical fitness in our group.  For the musical, there is a long tradition of “walking music” and at least one full-scale music project, by violinist Oliver Schroer, of songs recorded in 25 churches along his walk to Santiago. (Schroer called his compositions “duets between violin and buildings.”[3])  For readers, there are rich literatures associated with the walk.  Some students will decide to undertake a more intensive study of language(s), Castellano, Galego, Portugués, Basque.  The faculty will support almost any serious independent inquiry that better prepares the student for her or his walk.  Students will be encouraged, and helped, to seek supportive experts elsewhere, including in Spain.

We’ll spend time on logistics.  We’ll research routes and, while students will be encouraged to walk the Camino Francés across the northern part of Spain, everyone will choose a route.  We’ll read guidebooks, select walking gear, decide on walking partners (and make group covenants about what “walking together” will mean), make travel plans, obtain credenciales (the Camino “passports” that document one’s progress and that provide access to low-cost, pilgrim-only dormitories), consider food and shelter issues along with their budgetary implications, talk about how to stay in touch while on our walks,[4] gather maps, tips, historical and cultural information, and so forth.

My programs always include significant time for reflecting on one’s work.  Students will begin an intensive journaling practice and will maintain a manual,[5] both of which will continue in the spring. At the end of winter, each of us will write a mid-program self-evaluation prompted by the monk’s comment in David Downie’s Paris to the Pyrenees: A Skeptic Pilgrim Walks the Way of Saint James: “The only thing all pilgrims have in common is an interior necessity—I must go, I don’t know why….

Going out—fasting—singing alone—talking across the species boundaries—praying—giving thanks—coming back. [Gary Snyder, from The Practice of the Wild]

The wild requires that we learn the terrain, nod to all the plants and animals and birds, ford the streams and cross the ridges and tell a story when we get back home.
[Gary Snyder, in The Etiquette of Freedom]

Spring Quarter: Everyone will be prepared to get to their starting points during the first week and begin their walks.  Everyone will check in regularly with everyone else; you will be expected to have a Spanish phone number and to make daily blog entries (and to geolocate yourself on a map) on the program’s collective blogsite.  (Winter readings will include books by people who aborted their walks, who completed their walks in stages, and who took buses for various stages.  Students should begin their walks knowing there are many ways to “The Way.”[6])

We will spend several nights together midway through our walks.  Then, most of week seven or eight will be spent together in Santiago, reflecting thoughtfully, carefully, playfully and, most important, together on our walks.  We will also write first drafts of evaluations.  Then we will walk the Camino Finisterre, the old pagan route toward the setting sun, the Costa da Morte (the “Coast of Death”) and “the end of the world.”  Some may decide that it is important to follow the route from Fisterra north to Muxía and back to Santiago (and those who do may be eligible for a second Compostela).  Some may even find time to squeeze in other walks, including the Camino Portugués from Oporto.

By the middle of evaluation week, everyone will send to everyone else their essays of an Academic Statement.  Your prompt will be derivative of Downie’s monk’s comment: We’ll begin, “Now I am here, I don’t know why…,” and write from there.  What better time than the end of a pilgrimage to reflect on the scope and arc of one’s learning on El Camino and throughout one’s entire education?  (An American I met outside El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid told me of a pilgrim’s report on his Way that encouraged this fellow to get on his own Way to St. James.  In the shade of the museum’s garden and in a grand New York accent, he said, “This guy says El Camino is like a whole life, your whole life.  You’re a baby when you start.  You don’t know what you’re doing or what you need, don’t know what to put in your pack.  You just start.  And you get over those mountains and you’re dazed; you don’t know what’s going on.  Then, after a while, it’s teenage time.  There are lots of parties and everyone is having a really good time.  You’re cocky.  Then you get to the meseta, that high plain that just goes on and on, dry, straight, day after day the same thing.  That’s middle age, isn’t it?  Then come those next mountains.  And there you find that you’re well seasoned, that the Way is new and challenging, but you have everything you need to accomplish what you need to accomplish.  Then comes the onset of the end: beautiful Galicia rolls on in front of you, reminding you every step of the Way of the frailties you’ve acquired, of the way you’ve been beaten up even though you’re still strong, reminding you that most of it all is now behind you, telling you, kilometer marker after kilometer marker, that the end is nearer and nearer.  And then you’re there.  You’re in the Cathedral that is dedicated to Resurrection.  But–and this is the best part–you’re not dead!  You get to keep going.  How ’bout dat?  That’s why I’m going.”)


The Real Work

by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

“The Real Work” by Wendell Berry, from Standing by Words.

Notes on Pedagogy and Learning: I will be in direct contact with all members of the class all of winter quarter as we prepare, individually and collectively, intellectually and physically, for the trip, and during the final week(s) in Spain.

I will be in indirect contact with the group for the weeks everyone is walking their own Ways to Santiago.  Everyone will have a phone that works in the countries students visit and everyone will have all the group members’ numbers.  Beyond that, we will likely use an Internet-based site to keep track of one another.  And beyond that, there is an “inter-personal telegraph” that develops informally, especially on the well-traveled Camino Francés where fellow travelers often pass messages about the whereabouts of one’s group members.  On safety, Carlos Mentley, of the organization “American Pilgrims on the Camino” wrote, “It is common for people to undertake the pilgrimage by themselves. On the very first day of walking, however, every pilgrim realizes that he or she is surrounded by other pilgrims engaged in the same undertaking, and a very real community of pilgrims quickly forms. They walk and talk together, eat and sleep in the same places, and they take care of each other. Medical services, should they be needed, are always readily available—this is Europe, after all—and pilgrims are especially well cared for.”

In all my programs I aim to prepare students to go their own ways and, to that end, I always build an independent project into every program.  I try to prepare students well so they can use the grounding of our common program experiences to find their ways into independent work.  El Camino tests everyone but it usually gives you the chance, often second chances, to know that you are prepared to learn from its tests.

In the winter we will focus on individual and collective preparation for the trip with a special emphasis on fostering a supportive group sense, both in class and on preparatory walks.  One has to prepare carefully and thoughtfully for the Camino.  We’ll do lots of preparation and planning, individually and together, as the Course Description says (and we’ll regularly remind ourselves that planning and preparation can deceive one into thinking he or she is ready for El Camino).  Part of our planning will be contemplating the wisdom of many other walkers that says, in effect, “Plan well and always expect your plans to fall apart!”  Winter quarter will aim to prepare students so well that they will know what to do when that happens.

It’s important for students to walk their own ways, in relative independence of the faculty.  They have to have a chance to learn what they will learn instead of trying to learn what a teacher wants them to learn.  Other Camino walkers say that your pack will become too heavy if you pack up all your fears.  If you’re afraid you won’t find water along the way, you’ll carry too much water.  You carry too many clothes because … you just never know.  If you fear getting lost you’ll pack too many maps and guidebooks, maybe even a GPS.  And any student always has a default inclination to carry along a teacher because she fears she doesn’t know enough, can’t find out what he’ll need to know when he needs to know it, or because he won’t learn anything otherwise.  Part of our collective work in the winter quarter will be learning from all the teachers we can find so that we will know we’ll be able to make our own ways when the time comes.

Coda on Miracles: In Off the Road, an early (1994) and popular book on the Camino and the source of many of the stories incorporated into the 2010 film The Way, non-believer Jack Hitt muses on miracles.  The word, he says, entered English not from a supernatural realm but from a Latin word, mirari, that meant “to look on in wonder” (and that also snuck into our language through a side door in the word “smile”).  Miracles for Augustine, Hitt says, “were small epiphanies that confounded our expectation of nature and creation” and that encouraged people to become a person “who sees and experiences things [even, maybe especially, familiar things] for the first time.”[7]  Hitt’s Camino miracles included, for example, those many times that he came to an unmarked crossroad and “a man on a bicycle pops into existence” to shout, “Pilgrim, turn right!” or when, exhausted after a long, hot day, he arrives in a village and finds the address of a local refugio on an old paper scrap in his pocket.  People who carry teachers with them often learn to think they know what to expect; the program will be designed to prepare ourselves to leave all expectations at home so we can see where we are as we go.  And to smile.


[1] Under exceptional circumstances, and with faculty approval by week six in the winter quarter, students may be admitted for the spring quarter without enrolling in the winter.  The student applying for spring-quarter entry must demonstrate to the faculty adequate preparation for undertaking the study abroad, including academic preparation (sufficient reading as well as preparing for an independent research/study project while abroad), as well as logistical and physical preparation.  The student must submit the program’s study abroad questionnaire and meet with the faculty for an interview to demonstrate his/her preparation and competence to walk the Camino.

[2] In 2013, 215,880 people received “the Compostela” (the certificate of completion) at the Cathedral in Santiago after having walked the final 100 km or biked the final 200 km (in 2014, 237,886).  87% arrived on foot (89% in 2014); 66 people arrived in wheelchairs (98 in 2014); 19% were students in both 2013 and 2014.  When asked their reasons for undertaking the pilgrimage, 40% in 2013 and 42% in 2014 said “religious” reasons, 55% in 2013 and 51% in 2014 said “religious and cultural,” and 5% in 2013 and 7% in 2014 said “cultural.”  While the Camino is associated with the Roman Catholic Church and ends at the reputed tomb of Saint James, son of Zebedee and Salome, this program will not emphasize the religious over other aspects of or approaches to the Camino.  Our aim will be learning in the sense that Evergreen Faculty Member Don Finkel articulated that term years ago: Don used to say that learning requires, first, that one have an experience and, second, that one reflect on that experience (“and,” he always added, “schools will often conspire to prevent you from taking that second step”).  This notion of learning will take students beyond the traps of “tourism,” beyond any particular understanding of their walks and into their educations.

[3] An ILC student walking the Camino in the spring, 2014, said, “Sounds like a real Evergreen thing.”

[4] One of our reference works says, “The Camino is very safe there have been few reports of violent crime on it,” but goes on to give usual cautions about walking along roadways, about using reflective clothing in low-visibility situations, taking precautions against theft, etc.  (Gerald Kelly, Camino de Santiago: Practical Preparation and Background, 2012). Staying in touch may involve the use of Spanish cell phones and an Internet-based site that will allow posting and exchange of notes and registration of one’s position at the end of each day.  Check on the possibility of “unlocking” your cell phone and replacing your SIM card with a Spanish SIM card.  In 2014, a SIM card pre-loaded with 5 euros of phone time cost 15 euros at Phone House in Santiago.  Alternatively you can buy a regular phone and pre-loaded SIM card for about 40 euros.

[5] In ancient Greece, a manual, an Encheiridon, was “that [book] one has at hand” in which one inscribed “principles, ‘dogmas,’ rules of life, or formulas which would allow a person to place himself in that inner disposition most conducive to correct action, or to accept his fate” (Pierre Hadot, Inner Citaldel, 61).  Michel Foucault says of these:

Their use as books of life, as guides for conduct, seems to have become a common thing for a whole cultivated public.  One wrote down quotes in them, extracts from books, examples, and actions that one had wit­nessed or read about, reflections or reasonings that one had heard or that had come to mind. They constituted a material record of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering them up as a kind of accumulated treasure for subsequent rereading and meditation.

One might combine the manual with one’s pilgrim’s journal/diary.  During the winter students will decide the best way to collect material that will help them remember and reflect on their journeys, that will help them choose right ways.

[6] Respectively: aborted walks: Kathryn Harrison, The Road to Santiago, National Geographic, 2003; walk in stages: Victoria Sweet, God’s Hotel, Riverhead Books, 2013, and Downie, Paris to the Pyrenees, Pegasus, 2013; used buses very occasionally on a 1,000 mile walk: Tony Kevin, Walking the Camino: A Modern Pilgrimage to Santiago, Scribe Publications, 2009.

It is possible to receive no credit or reduced credit if one does not complete the program requirements, but it is not possible to “fail” at the Camino.  There is no penalty if you do not make it to Santiago on foot; it is not “better” to finish sooner than others; you are not doing a “less authentic” Camino if, for example, you decide to hire a travel service to take your bags from one albergue to the next,.  Reflecting carefully on all the decisions that go into making your Way is far more critical to your education than doing what some people consider a “more authentic” Camino or comparing and contrasting the “facts” and “data” from your walk to those collected by others.  Everyone arriving in Santiago is greeted simply as a pilgrim.

[7] The practice of “seeing the world as if for the first time” is common in ancient philosophical schools (Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, 2002).  Learning to see this way—training the eyes to see “as if for the first time”—is an ascetical discipline that, some schools taught, freed one from habitualized perceptions, taught expectations and learned conventions. This proposed program is, for me, one in a ten-year series of programs organized around the old notion of living “a philosophical life, and of philosophy as an art of living” (Alexander Nehamas, The Art of Living: Philosophical Reflections from Plato to Foucault, 1998).  This series started with the five quarters of “Awareness” with Sarah Williams (which began in the winter, 2006) and continued through “Awareness: Writing and Renunciation” with Sara Huntington in the fall, 2007, the Native American Studies “Justice” program (David Whitener, an early leader of the NAS program, told me in 1987 “Teachers are trained to say no to students—‘No, not that book yet,’ ‘No, not that course next’ … you know.  Here we say yes to students.”), my series of solo “Freedom” programs in AY 2012-13, even the fall, 2013, “Can Science Help Me? … to be Better?” with Mike Paros.  In the year before the Camino I taught with Sara Huntington in “Silence, Solitude, Laziness and Other Pillars of the Good Life,” and with Kabby Mitchell in “Movement/Thought.” In fall quarter, 2015, just prior to this program, I am teaching with Terry Setter and Cynthia Kennedy in “The Art of Living Consciously.” With thanks and deep gratitude to all these good colleagues for helping me learn what I needed to know to go my Way…