I am a walker. Boring, right? It isn’t glamorous or high powered or sexy as exercises go. I’m not dashing across the finish line of a marathon or a 5K. I’m not getting my black belt in taekwondo, like my friend Brenda Hiatt.
I just love to walk and hike, which is just walking in better shoes. It started in childhood, when my grandmother herded my sisters and I out for a walk from our house to hers, a distance of several miles. We were four and three. Merry, the youngest, rode in the stroller. No one ever told me it was too far for a little girl to walk, so I never minded. I was with my grandmother, aka My Favorite Human on the Planet, and the air was dry and clean, and life was good. My memory gives me pictures of sunlight shining through tree branches, and a creek running fast through the city, and houses with front porches in the old part of Colorado Springs.
As a teen, my BFF and I meandered all over the city, walking miles and miles to peek into houses under construction, to picnic in a park, to go to the mall. We paired up to complete Walk-a-Thons, 20 miles in those days, and I loved the sweaty, exhausted exhilaration at the end of the day, my feet tingling and weary. Many years later, this same friend and I tackled Pikes Peak, the mountain that loomed over our childhood, when we were heartsore and worn out from our divorces, each from 20-year marriages.
A couple of years ago, my friend Mary Strand asked if I wanted to walk a portion of the Camino de Santiago de Compestela. (That’s Mary, above, on the Camino.) I leapt at the chance. We would only be walking the very last section, 100 miles, enough to qualify for a pilgrim’s certificate, but that seemed a like a great start. We would walk with a group of other women, in a holy year (when all the pilgrim’s sins are washed clean.)
It was a striking, profound experience. I didn’t know then that the Camino calls you for a reason. I thought it would just be a walk. But there you are, putting one foot in front of the other, in the sunshine and the rain, with frogs singing, and sometimes a trio of Italian teachers, and drinking cidre and waking up to roosters in the soft light just before dawn, and–something shifts.
In that week on the road, a book was born, The Garden of Happy Endings, which is out today. It is about a pair of young lovers who set out to walk the entire Camino as a lark before they begin their lives as a young married couple. What happens there turns everything upside down.
A saying on the Road is, “When the road ends, the journey begins,” and that proves to be true for my character, Elsa Montgomery, and her fiancé, Joaquin, who is called to be a priest on that fateful journey, and leaves Elsa with a monster of a broken heart.
Twenty years later, he offers her refuge when she is reeling from a murder in her community, and Elsa finds herself falling for a sexy landscaper named Deacon. To fully embrace the next step of their lives, however, both Joaquin and Elsa will have to come to grips with all they left unfinished long ago, and what might lead the way forward. There is a community garden, two sisters, a trio of charming little boys, pots of soup, good dogs, and a very dangerous force opposing the happiness of gardeners. I hope you’ll take a look.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, there is a good dog who insists it is time for his walk this morning.
I am giving away a joyful little basket of garden goodies to one reader who responds to this post. This is what it looks like.
Do you like to walk? Have you ever undertaken a journey that turned things upside down for you? And in honor of the book: what are you planting right now?