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Walking to Lübeck

On the recommendation of Ken Wilson, I’m reading Something of his Art, a 100-page book by English-Welsh author and broadcaster Horatio Clare about a walk from Arnstadt to Lübeck, Germany. In October 1705, at the age of 20, a rebellious young Johann Sebastian Bach headed north on foot to pay a surprise visit to the elder organist and Baroque composer Dieterich Buxtehude. Clare and two others from the BBC recreated that walk, also setting out in the fall. The record of their trip – you can listen to a BBC podcast series about it – contains Clare’s reflections on everything from Bach’s temperament (students of the day carried rapiers to defend themselves) to ways that the autumn countryside – and our world – have changed because of climate degradation.

Ken loved the book; he told me I would too. He was right.

Clare walked 230 miles, roughly the distance we’ve covered in our treks on Treaty Four and Treaty Six territories. I’ve had the pleasure of singing works by both Bach and Buxtehude in various choirs over the years. And I’m a Lutheran, affected by years of hearing Bach, and by some of the same theological worldviews that inspired the composer.

But you don’t have to be musical or a Lutheran (or even a walker) to love this book: Horatio Clare is a rare treasure of an author. His rich descriptions will have you hearing the sound of their feet “through thick cushions of beech leaves, gold and bronze and red,” and seeing Lower Saxony “intricate and melancholy in the rain.” You’ll learn about Bach. More than that, you’ll find yourself walking along Thuringian trails greeting local farmers, or entering old-town Erfurt in the golden twilight. Anyone who has ventured on long treks will feel a thrill of recognition in Clare’s words: “Coming into town as night falls is a wonderful feeling after a day’s walk. You move through the streets, your eyes sharpened by the length of the day’s views, your feet tired and your muscles worked, alert and fatigued at once.”

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How the Meaning of a Pilgrimage Never Stops Changing (even when the walk is over)

Have you ever had nagging doubts about whether you behaved properly at some event? Or thought back on an experience, only to realize you now think about it in an entirely different way than you once did? It can happen in pilgrimages too. It was enlightening to check back with Ásta Camilla Gylfadóttir about our 2016 trek with her and a group of other Icelanders from Bær to Skálholt. I’ve been worried that with our English-language needs and our massive tourist luggage we eight Canadians “spoiled it” for the Icelanders that year. But for Milla, our walk is only a bright memory. For her, the fact that there were Canadians along on the Pílagrimar only made it better. I can’t tell you how liberating our recent Zoom chat turned out to be.

Gabriel from back making wings day twoWhich makes me realize once again that there are many parts to a walking pilgrimage: the journey is only one of them. A big part of any pilgrimage is narrative: the stories that gave rise to the pilgrimage (at Lourdes, for instance, the Marian appearance to Bernadette), but also the stories that come out of the experience of the pilgrims. Like the dozens of crutches left in Brother André’s chapel at St Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal, or the hundreds of pilgrim blogs, videos, books, and poems arising from the Camino de Santiago in Spain, these later stories “layer on” to the original narratives, making the original journeys richer, more complex, and more about the present. A pilgrimage stays ever-present – and ever meaningful – in its re-telling and sharing. For that I’m thankful.

My pilgrimage podcast is now available on Spotify and on TuneIn, as well as Apple Podcasts (some episodes missing) and it’s hosted on Podbean!

Iceland from inside church day one

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Meeting Saint Clare on the way to Holy Island

I just posted the second episode in my podcast series “Pilgrimage Stories from Up and Down the Staircase”! In these 20 minutes you come along for the first part of the walk along the St. Cuthbert Way from Melrose Scotland to Holy Island, England. You’ll meet Chris and Clare, and find out why she’s Saint Clare, to me. I hope you enjoy the show, which you can find on Podbean here, and on Apple podcasts, here!

walking to Holy Island

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Pilgrimage Stories From Up and Down the Staircase

How do you walk a pilgrimage during these months of restricted travel? I’ve been walking up and down my staircase in Nottingham England, and dreaming of pilgrimages past! To share those stories I’m releasing my first-ever podcast, “Pilgrimage Stories from Up and Down the Staircase.” Each episode features a different trail, or a different character I’ve met. psuds logo finalI’ll introduce you to enthralling paths in Norway, Scotland, England, Iceland, Canada and Indigenous territories, and provide some of the resources you’ll need to walk them. All the while I’ll be telling the stories of the fascinating individuals I’ve walked with and met along the way, and sharing snatches of our conversations, songs, and experiences.

Alpine shelter

Thursday, July 30, 2020, at 5 pm Montreal time, I’m releasing the first episode: “Walking the St Olav Way.” In the 17-minute episode you’ll hear snatches of our struggle up and down mountains and jumping late-spring run-off streams and boggy marshes. You’ll meet a friendly Norwegian border agent and a marathon German pilgrim struggling to understand his life. You’ll sit with us in rustic Budsjord Gård and hear fellow pilgrim Kathryn singing as we walked. I hope you’ll listen in to this first episode, and to the others as they come out every Thursday! The series “Pilgrimage Stories from Up and Down the Staircase” will be available wherever you find your podcasts.

To find out more about St Olav before listening to the episode, why not check out some of these resources?

  • The official St Olav website, which you can find here, is a wealth of beautiful images and practical info (look for the English-language option)
  • In 2011, Alison Raju wrote The Pilgrim Guide to Trondheim, available at this website.
  • For my article about the history of the Trail and its modern-day recovery as well as some photos of our 2013 trek, see the International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, here.
  • For an article about the health benefits of walking the St Olav Way, written by a Norwegian scholar of pilgrimage in the same journal, see this link.

I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences with you on the “Pilgrimage Stories From Up and Down the Staircase” podcast!

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In the footsteps of a missing saint…

Tomorrow, September 16, is the feast day of Saint Ninian. In July, together with Christine Ramsay, Ken Wilson, and Sara Parks, I walked the Whithorn Way in Scotland, the medieval Royal pilgrimage route to St Ninian. To honour Saint Ninian Day here’s a short video of that pilgrimage!

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Like Being There

Matthew hiding out

Matthew seeking guidance
Matthew Seeking Guidance

See this stuffed prairie dog? Apparently, it has a name: “Matthew”. I just received photos of this mascot all along the route of the Humboldt-Fort Carleton Trail Walk in 2019. Each of them with cute little captions. In 2015,  Hugh Henry and I began this tradition by trekking the 350-km Traders’ Road, or North-West Mounted Police Patrol Trail (NWMPT) in Treaty 4 Territory, SW Sask. It was likely the first time the trail had been walked in over a century.

Matthew in the bull's eye
“Matthew in the Bull’s Eye”

In 2017 we walked the Swift Current to Battleford Trail, another 350 km; near Battleford there were lots of issues with access and trespassing (see above). In 2018 we walked the Frenchman’s Trail, from Mortlach to Gravelbourg. I was surprised that there was a Welsh couple serving Fish’n’Chips in Mortlach (see photo below).

Matthew passed out
Matthew Passed Out

This year, Hugh and the Saskatchewan History and Folklore Society (SHFS) planned a journey from Humboldt to Fort Carleton. I’m still in England; this was the first year I just couldn’t make it. No country bars and pool-tables for me this August. But apparently I was there in spirit.

Matthew rack-em
Rack-em Up Matthew

If you’d like to read more about the walk they took – without me – you can read a great day-by-day description (I did) on Ken Wilson’s blog at https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/.

Matthew medical distress
Matthew: medical distress

The photo I found the funniest is just above. I had quite a bit of foot trouble on the way to Battleford in 2017, culminating in a full-on leg infection. I was using duct-tape for my blisters, in the vain hope it can fix EVERY problem! Live and learn! Mostly, I’m thankful for good friends and for being remembered on a pilgrimage I couldn’t walk. They knew I was thinking about them. And how wonderful, to be thought of in return.

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Anticipating Walking

Matt and Rick by NWMP trail post Pinto Butte July 23
Richard Kotowich and I walking near Pinto Horse Butte, 2015

For years I dreamt of walking Treaty Four territories, what is now south-west Saskatchewan. Only in 2013-2014 did I find a trail (the Traders’ Road, or North-West Mounted Police Patrol Trail), a guide and fellow walker (Hugh Henry, of the SK History and Folklore Society), and feel in my bones a reason (un-settling Settler narratives) to make it finally happen. Ken Wilson is also interested in Settler preparation for reconciliation; he and I walked together from Swift Current to Battleford in 2017 and from Mortlach to Gravelbourg in 2018. Ken recently set his scholarly lens on an article I wrote for a volume in pilgrimage back in 2013, just before that first 350-km journey across the prairies. A serious academic, Ken has highlighted the article’s best parts. In case you’re interested, I’m posting his post, here:

https://readingandwalking.wordpress.com/2019/05/17/46-ian-s-mcintosh-e-moore-quinn-and-vivienne-keely-eds-pilgrimage-in-practice-narration-reclamation-and-healing/?fbclid=IwAR32NXXowAOTwQbyvGVJ448lhAfaYuy8vqlsgZKVlkGnYLS1dDI9QcjmbLE

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The St. Olaf Way Norway

Allen pondering
photo by Matthew R. Anderson of Allen Jorgenson, 2013

I’m SO happy to see this article finally in print! In May 2013 we began walking this incredible trail only weeks after I had had surgery for prostate cancer in Montreal, and so soon after Norwegian spring thaw that the train to take us to the trail head was washed out, and we had to ford more than a few run-off streams on our way! Find out more here about the extraordinarily beautiful St. Olaf Way, as told from the perspective of a group of Scandinavian-background Canadians who walked a long portion of it in 2013. Pilgrimage, diaspora, national memory, political sainthood, therapy walking, history, church-state relations, and stunning views of mountain-top Norway….they’re all here!     https://arrow.dit.ie/ijrtp/vol7/iss1/7/

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Luther and Pilgrimage

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doodle by Matthew R. Anderson during a meeting

I just published an article! If you’re interested in a/pilgrimage b/Luther c/European early modern history d/romanticism e/the Grand Tour e/tourism …. or just about any combination of the above, or just in some interesting academic reading, have a gander! Here’s the URL – free for reading or download!

https://arrow.dit.ie/ijrtp/vol7/iss1/6/

Matthew

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Jokamiehenoikeus: Why Canadians need to think Finnish about Nature

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As different as they are in other ways, most Finns I’ve met have the same attitude toward being outside. It’s where Finns belong: “let’s get out into nature, as often as possible, and as soon as possible!” Whether it’s picking berries, or cross-country skiing, or walking, or a swim and sauna, Finns LOVE the outdoors. The land is their birthright. “No trespassing” signs are odd and out of place. They just don’t seem patriotic.

I knew this about Finns, but until recently I didn’t know the word behind this attitude. It’s jokamiehenoikeus, “Everyman’s Right.” I first discovered its parallel in England and Scotland. There it’s called either “The Right to Roam” (UK) or, more accurately, “the right of responsible access” (Scotland). But whereas in Scotland and in England the laws that allow public access to private land for recreational activities are a recovery of the ancient “commons” understanding of land lost hundreds of years ago, in Finland the practice was never abandoned. There, it’s so much a part of culture that it never had to be made (or re-made) officially into law. Everyman’s (everyperson’s) right is just assumed. In Finland, as one website says, nature is both wild and free. If you’re English-speaking, as I am, you can find handy explanations of  Everyperson’s Right here: http://www.nationalparks.fi/hikinginfinland/rightsandregulations and here: http://www.jokamiehenoikeudet.fi/en/

fullsizeoutput_28daAs a Canadian who knows and loves Finns and has enjoyed the few times I’ve travelled through Finland, I’d like my country to have the same healthy attitude to the outdoors. Unfortunately, we don’t. There are many, complicated, reasons for this, including our proximity to the United States (whose narcissistic, individualistic culture of ownership affects us whether we like it or not), our legal heritage mostly from British background, and the incredible fact that much of western Canada was once the private domain of the Hudson’s Bay Company granted to that company by the British King (without asking the First Nations of course), and then sold to the young nation of Canada to develop in part by pushing its original inhabitants onto small, poverty-stricken pieces of marginal territory.

We Canadians have a complicated relationship to our land. We stole it, many of us didn’t come from terrains that look like it, and most of us live in cities with little access to it. Our laws tend to favour private ownership to the detriment of public access. I was stunned, when I first moved to Quebec in the 1980s, to find lakes with seemingly no public swimming allowed, anywhere. “How could this be?” I thought, with two young children in their swim suits in the car and nowhere to swim or picnic. And yet, it’s my belief that many Canadians would change this inherited, selfish attitude to land, if we could. This last summer I wrote an online piece titled “Why Canadians Need the Right to Roam.” It has since had 33,000 views. It was reprinted in the Huffington Post, the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post, and the Narwhal, and led to my being a guest for interviews on three different CBC radio shows about the topic. For Canada to have anything like jokamiehenoikeus, we would have to change much about ourselves. Because it’s not just land-owners who would have to evolve. We, the general public, would have to learn to be more responsible. Land-owners will only see the benefits of allowing limited public access if there ARE benefits, and if littering, vandalism, theft, and other problems don’t arise. The Canadian public must grow up learning to be be as respectful of nature as Finns are. It can happen. But it will probably take a generation.

It’s a worthwhile cultural project. Maybe, in the coming years, Canadians will be asking Finns to show them how to live with nature in a more symbiotic, respectful, and spiritual way. We should be asking our First Nations the same questions, right now. In this way, we will learn and grow. And then perhaps, some day, we too will enjoy Everyperson’s Right.