Hoofprints of the Stag

Hoofprints of the Stag

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Equipment Search and Training: April 28-29

As the pilgrimage approaches (my flight leaves June 17 from Portland), I have begun purchasing equipment and organizing the equipment I already have.  At the same time, I have been trying to physically train for the trip so the first week is not absolutely dreadful.  In this particular post, I'll describe how a simple trip to REI to examine equipment turned into a moderately interesting training adventure.

So on Monday, I went down to REI to look at two things: backpacks and shoes.  I have some old hiking boots, but they are simply not adequate for what we will be doing (and they're coming apart as it is).  And the only backpack I have is a day pack I got from my dad for Christmas one year.  It's a great pack, and I use it all the time, but it is obviously too small for a month+ long journey across Europe.  I brought my book, "The Backpacker & Hiker's Guidebook," which has thus far been very helpful in planning for the trip, to aid me in remembering what to look for in a pack and especially in boots.

Osprey Aether 85
First, I looked at the backpacks.  The customer service rep helped me try on a bunch of different packs based on the information I gave him.  When I told him what the trip was for, he thought it was awesome (he was also one of the few who didn't assume 'month long pilgrimage in Europe' meant El Camino de Santiago de Compostela).  My favorite pack that I tried on was the Osprey Atmos 65, though after talking to my dad later on, I decided I might get a comparable one that is bigger, like the Osprey Aether 85.  There was another one I liked, but I can't remember what it's called off the top of my head.  I'll need to make my decision soon, so I can start training with it.

My La Sportiva Boots
Then I moved on to the shoe section.  It was there that I ran into one of my colleagues: the vice principal from my school.  I told him about my trip, and he got all excited and started offering to lend me all sorts of gear, and then he proceeded to recommend to me some various boots as well.  After trying on many different pairs, I selected the La Sportiva hiking boots they had.  They were very comfortable.  So excited was I to own this pair of shoes, that I wore them the next day at school, juxtaposed with my slacks and suit coat and tie (much to the amusement of my students). 

Sancta Catherina, ora pro nobis!
Incidentally, it was also the memorial of St. Catherine of Siena (April 29), whose city and shrine we will be visiting along the way.  We had Mass in the school's chapel and I made a little silent prayer for the pilgrimage through the intercession of St. Catherine.

Unfortunately, during the school day I realized I'd made a critical error: I'd left my book at REI at the cash register the previous day.  I called to see if they'd saved it for me, and they had.  I thought that I might drive there after school to pick it up, but then I thought, "Well, I'm in my hiking boots; what better way to begin breaking them in than by walking all the way to REI to collect my book."  I mapped it out at a 6.5 mile hike (one way), a little over two hours at a decent walking speed.

St. Ambrose Catholic Church
And so I walked.  I experienced a delay by getting distracted first by my school's boys' soccer match, and then I stopped by the girls' softball game, which was on the way.  So I didn't really get going until 5PM, an hour after I'd intended to leave.  I happened to pass by a Catholic Church, St. Ambrose,which I've only been to once.  I always enjoy passing Catholic churches on my way, and I'm sure Europe will oblige.

Graffiti Rock
On the walk, I spent my time on the phone with many people, catching up and reminiscing (but mostly just planning my visit to Portland this coming weekend).  On the way, I came across the rock with all the graffiti.  I don't know what it's called, but I call it simply Graffiti Rock.  Stymied by a couple of interstates and misleading 'shortcuts', I finally made it to REI.  My boots had given me minor trouble, so I spent some time asking the customer service rep about it.  I decided to keep the boots anyway.

On the way home, I decided to eat at a restaurant called 'Shivers.'  It's a burger and shake place.  I went in and felt very much like I was on one of my Small Town Adventures, which I one day hope to blog about here.  I asked my new one-time-only-restaurant-question of the server, "Let's suppose I am a traveler and this will be the only time I will be able to come to this restaurant.  What is 'the thing to get'?  If you could only eat here one time, what would be the thing you would have to order?"  It's a great question to ask because you quickly find out what food they're famous for or what food they make
So delicious it gave me the Shivers
best.  The server gave me an adequate answer, and I decided to order the Bleu Bacon burger with a shake (butterscotch), but they didn't mix the flavoring in very well at all.  Oh, well.

I didn't leave Shivers until 8:15 or 8:30, and the sun had only just set.  I talked to my dad about the various backpacks for a good while and a couple of other people on the phone, which made the journey seem much faster.  As I continued, I realized about an hour later that I was actually in my friend Peter's neighborhood.  I decided to stop by (after calling and checking with him first), and spent some time talking to him and his wife Katie.  After learning I'd walked, Katie insisted that I not walk the rest of the way home so late, and I, having not taken any 'Bellocian' vow to 'take advantage of no wheeled thing,' decided to let Peter drive me home.  Weary from my journey, I fell asleep quickly.

What a pleasant afternoon it was.  My boots held out well, and my feet were in decent shape in the end.  The walk gave me a great opportunity to catch up with friends and family and to enjoy the city of which, even after three years, I have seen so little.  But at least now my hoofprints have been left in a few more places.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Primary Purpose of this Pilgrimage

Many of you who are reading this have probably already been told by me about this pilgrimage in conversation at some point, but oftentimes I neglect to share the general purpose of the pilgrimage due to lack of time (since there is much to explain).  In my first post, I briefly described the origin and purpose of our re-creation of the Path to Rome, but I wish to describe its purpose in greater detail.

I should preface this by saying that this is merely my view and that I cannot claim to also speak for Ed.  His take on our journey may be quite different from mine.

Sancta Gemma, ora pro nobis!
While the origin of this pilgrimage is literary (as the impetus for it came from a book), its primary end is spiritual.  In essence, it should be a means of growing closer to God and opening ourselves up to grace.  Right now I am in the process of coming up with a theme of sorts for our pilgrimage and selecting patron saints for the trip.  I'd like to pick a saint or saints to be our overall patron(s) along with saints who are also on the 'team' for various reasons (e.g. a French saint for the French part of the journey, a saint for me, a saint for Ed, etc.).  I have some preliminary thoughts, but we'll have to see.  I do know for certain that one of my special patron saints for the trip will be St. Gemma Galgani, who is one of my special patron saints in general and whose shrine we will actually be going to in Lucca, Italy.  One of the remarkable things about Belloc's journey is that he actually passed through Lucca while Gemma happened to be living there.  He even says in his book, "Everything in Lucca is good."  How very right he was in this case.  I intend to visit the shrine and spend some time there (one of the few places we will be stopping for an extended period).  When I've decided on a theme and on the rest of our saints, I will make a post about it.

I think it goes without saying that Ed and I will be praying.  In addition to attending Mass as often as we can, we will also be praying along the way.  Ed has expressed that he is not a huge fan of the Liturgy of the Hours (with the exception of Compline, which he loves), and I am not sure that it will be practical to bring a large breviary with us.  I am therefore considering sort of creating my own mini-office with a one week psalter and readings, drawing elements from various parts of the LOTH to complement our journey.  After all, there is the 'Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary,' right?  I think I might call ours the 'Little Office of the Pilgrim.'  It will have all the psalms with mountains in them ("I lift my eyes to the mountains, from where shall come my help?  My help shall come from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." "Who shall climb the mountain of the Lord, and who shall stand in his holy place?  The man with clean hands and pure heart, who desires not worthless things, who has not sworn so as to deceive his neighbor," etc.).  Perhaps we will publish this as an appendix to our book when we're finished.

One of the big things I'd like to incorporate into the pilgrimage is a sort of intention book.  Before we leave, I'd like to compile a list of prayers people would like us to pray for on our journey.  Anyone will be able to send us an intention and we'll write it down in a notebook and carry it with us and pray for the intentions daily and in the end make our pilgrimage as an offering for those prayers.  And on the flip side, we also hope to enlist the help of a sort of 'prayer team' who will be praying for us back home and offering Masses for us.  If I can find a cheap place to do it, I'd also like to print a whole bunch of prayer cards that we can give to people to pray for us.  I'm going to compose a particular
Very tempting to use this image for the holy card
prayer for people to pray on our behalf (and of course translate it into French, German, and Italian to give to people we encounter in Europe).  On the card would have a picture of our patron saint(s) or Rome, and on the back would be the prayer and a small picture of us.  That's the idea anyway, I don't know of a place to get prayer cards made on the cheap.  If anyone has any ideas in that sector, let us know.  Where do priests get their ordination cards made?  Or funeral cards?

In effect, this pilgrimage should wind up not just involving the two of us, but lots of people.  This will be the first of probably many Lord of the Rings references, but just as Frodo and Sam carry the Ring on behalf of all the people of Middle Earth, Ed and I will be carrying the prayers of others on their behalf (and prayers are much more wonderful to carry than the One Ring).  Meanwhile, everyone else will be praying for us.  Our fates will thus be tied together.

One thing that ought to be clear is that we are not doing this simply for leisure or as a vacation.  The purpose of this pilgrimage is not leisure, though certainly leisure will be one of its results, just as the primary purpose of performing in a play is not for fun but for the purpose of creating something beautiful and communicating a message, and if executed well, one has fun (hopefully) in the process.

As I prepare for the trip on my own, I've been trying to do a lot of prayer and spiritual reading to prepare myself for the journey.  While I realize that the pilgrimage itself will provide ample opportunity for spiritual growth, I am trying to do as much as possible right now in order to, so to say, open myself up to grace as much as I can while we are on our trek.  The idea is to be able to offer to God our utmost effort so he can take the best we give Him and transform it.

We are going to come back new men.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Reason Behind the Name of this Blog and Its Remarkable but Veiled Importance

As you can see, the name of this blog is "Hoofprints of the Stag."  There is a meaning behind this name which, at least for me, has some significance.  Hopefully, you will enjoy this verbose explanation of its origin.  As you may have noticed, so far the first two posts of this blog have been self-referential and have not actually described anything concerning the purpose for which this blog has been written.  But those who know me know that I always feel I must give the proper context to any story before telling the actual story (which is why my stories are generally so long).

Sts. Hubert and Eustace, pray for us.
To begin the tale, I should mention that one of my nicknames in college was "The Stag," which is derived from my last name Stager (though it is pronounced 'stayger' not 'stagger').  I always thought it was one of my better nicknames, considering that a stag is a pretty cool animal (it makes me hearken back to the White Stag from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which was the first time I'd ever encountered the word 'stag'), and also considering it just seems like the kind of nickname that lends itself to cool sunglasses: "They call me . . . The Stag."  Interestingly enough, one of my other nicknames, 'Stagermeister,' is a play on Jagermeister, whose logo has a stag with a cross above it.  If only I could claim that logo as my own (without alcoholic connotations).  Further research as I write this post has revealed that the logo has origins in the legends of St. Hubert and St. Eustace, who both reportedly saw the image of a cross/crucifix between the antlers of a stag.

Hey, that's the name of this blog!
My signature card
At any rate, some time after the inception of this nickname, the Lorwyn block of Magic: the Gathering came out, and it contained a card named "Hoofprints of the Stag," which I fortuitously received in one of my booster packs.  My friends Ed and Mike decided that this card ought to be my 'signature card' as an homage to my nickname.  And so I built a deck around it (which, as of the writing of this blog, I still have).  I consider it to be one of the better Magic decks that I've built.  My other favorite card in that deck is Supreme Exemplar, which is awesome for reasons besides its supremely exemplary name, but I digress.  You would think the story would be over right about now since we've seen the origin of this blog's namesake, but it continues on (as most of my stories without much of a point usually do).

Fast-forward a couple of years to my first year as a teacher when I happened to be reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince over again.  I had never been the kind of person who approved of writing in the margins of books or underlining quotes, etc., but I saw that the half-blood prince's marginalia were very real communications to a person in the future (Harry, in this case).  I was inspired by the fact that anything I might write in a book might be read by someone else in the future for their edification or enjoyment.  As it happened, the first book I actually wrote in was "Educating for Life", a rather anti-climactic first book to be writing in, but it was my first book nevertheless.  I remember writing a response to one of the reflection questions in one of my assigned readings during my first year of teaching.  The question was something along the lines of, "What does it mean to you to be an educator?" or something like that.  I wrote, almost without thinking, "To Conquer Apathy."  Later on, I went back and read my responses to all the reflection questions and I came across that answer again.  I thought about how in education, a teacher must conquer the apathy of his students 1) so they will care about what they are learning and 2) so that they will care about the world and use their knowledge to fix it.  I also realized that in order to be a more effective teacher, I must conquer the apathy within myself; I had to care about what I was teaching, and I had to care about who I was teaching.  Then I broadened my idea about apathy to the world beyond teaching.  I saw that many of the conflicts we encounter in our lives and in the wider world are sometimes caused (or at least are allowed to happen) simply because people do not care.

Okay, so what does this have to do with the Hoofprints of the Stag?  I decided that if I was going to write in my books, that I should have some sort of message at the beginning of my books akin to "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince."  After much thought and many attempts and revisions (with some help from Ed, by the way), I came up with the statement written below.  I suppose it seems silly, especially since it is much longer and more ridiculous than the HBP's message, but I felt it communicated what I wanted the future readers of books I'd owned to understand: that perhaps my comments or the quotes I'd underlined would awaken some feeling in them, that perhaps what they read, whether my words or the author's, might spur a change in some way in their mind or heart as they had in mine.  I have written this preamble in every non-fiction book I have read (that I own) since I started writing in my books.  This is what it says:

This book has been marked with the hoofprints
The Stag

To track these prints is to embark on a journey,
to undertake a solemn quest.

Will you follow?
Will you dare to tread this path?

For this quest has but one goal,
one ultimate end:

To Conquer Apathy
Lentitudiem Vincere

That phrase at the end, "Lentitudinem Vincere," is what my initial research had shown me to mean 'to conquer apathy' in Latin.  More accurate translations in Google translate have since shown me a more accurate Latin word for apathy would be something like, 'accidia' or better yet, 'apathia.'  Lentitudinem means something more like passivity or hesitancy, apparently.  At this point, though, I have not decided to go back and rewrite it in all my books.

The idea of the book being 'marked with the hoofprints of the Stag' is that my writings are the 'hoofprints' that I (as the Stag) am leaving behind.  The reader doesn't see me (or perhaps even know me), but can see in some way 'where I have been' in my writings and underlinings.

So we come to the point at which I began to ruminate over what the title of this blog should be.  I realized that "Hoofprints of the Stag" was the perfect title for this blog not only because the posts are my hoofprints (since it is still my writing), but also because the blog's purpose, in a roundabout way, is the same as the purpose of my marginalia, that of inspiring the reader in some way and inciting a feeling or spurring a change of some kind.  Perhaps the beginning of the book Ed and I write will have this same preamble (pending Ed's approval, of course).  Perhaps Ed will also have a preamble of his own.

Though you, the reader, will not be joining Ed and I physically on our pilgrimage, you are nevertheless a part of our journey, and you are indeed compelled to undertake the same solemn quest to conquer apathy.

The question is: Will you follow?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Reasons for the Creation of this Blog

My namesake
Since none have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that will be fulfilled among us, just as those who were pilgrims from the beginning and authors of the books have handed them down to us, I, too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to blog it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which, up to this point, you have not been instructed.  (cf. Luke 1:1-4)

In the Lukan tradition, I have begun with an address to you, Theophilus ("Friend of God"), to commence this blog about a pilgrimage that my friend, Edward, and I will be making this summer from June 17 - July 31.  The basic idea is that we are going to recreate the pilgrimage Hilaire Belloc made and wrote about in his 1901 book "The Path to Rome," considered by Belloc and many others to be his greatest literary work.  Belloc began his journey in the northeastern French town of Toul and proceeded to journey in as straight a line as he could all the way to Rome.  It took him a little less than a month.

Hilaire Belloc

Our planning for this pilgrimage is progressing as Ed and I train for the grueling ~25-30 mile a day hikes we will endure and as I try as best as I can to acquire a minimal vocabulary in German and Italian and refresh my knowledge of French.  That is coming along rather slowly.  I have gathered maps and made note of most of the towns that Belloc mentions in his book.  No doubt much of the landscape has changed since Belloc's time.  And of course Ed and I are both beginning to research and purchase the gear we will need for our arduous journey.  Unfortunately, Belloc makes little note of what he takes with him in his book, which leaves us very little to go on.  I do recall that Belloc brings with him two pipes because he mentions that he gives the lesser of his two pipes away to someone who guides him across a river.

Here is a link to a google map in which I compiled the various cities and towns Belloc mentions in his book: Google Map of the Path to Rome

The purpose of our pilgrimage is twofold; it is both a spiritual and a literary journey.  When we return from Rome, Ed and I plan on 'writing the sequel' to Belloc's work, which will catalog our steps, our musings, and our prayers along the way.  No doubt this blog will eventually serve as a frame for our book later on (though the book will certainly contain more).  How very like Bilbo we shall be as we travel there and back again.

Ed and I
In the course of doing research for this journey, I came across another instance of someone recreating Belloc's quest.  British author Peter Francis Browne completed the journey in the 90s and wrote his subsequent book, "Rambling on the Road to Rome."  His book is much different than Belloc's both in style and in general disposition.  Nevertheless, it has served as an invaluable guide for me, not only as simple evidence that such a trek will still be possible today, but also because Browne provides many more details about his stops and encounters than Belloc does.  His attitude toward Catholicism and religion in general is very cold, but his writing is so enjoyable that I was compelled to overlook it.  At any rate, it seems Browne may have beaten us to the punch, but our book will not only be a travelogue as Browne's is, but a spiritual account as well, which will set our book apart.  Actually, Ed will be more the literary executor, so I can't really claim to know how exactly the book will turn out.

Some will call us crazy (and some have already done so), and it is true that we could probably find many reasons not to go on this journey.  But as we are young and have few external obligations and as we finally have free summers that coincide, now is the time.  As Jan from The Office says in response to Pam's excuses not to pursue art school, "There's always a million reasons not to do something."

What reasons are preventing you from doing that wonderful thing or going on that wonderful adventure or pursuing that unique hobby?  Those reasons will always be there, but the opportunity may not be.