Most early evenings now are a good time to go for a walk with Bertie. The sun is fast disappearing down into a haze over the western hills of the Aires de Serras, a mountainous national park about 25km away. We can confidently stretch our legs without the sun zapping our energy. We head west out of the village and follow the Caminho de Fatima for a while. This route takes a cut through a trail in the local forest and it has some breathtaking views along the way. As Bertie darts from one bush to the next, I am in search of fallen pine cones of which there is an abundance if you look closely, this is not the blue ridge mountains of Virginia but it is a trail of the lonesome pine. The Pinus Pinaster tree or Maritime Pine is the most abundant tree of Portugal and is native to the Mediterranean area. It can grow to 35m tall and have a trunk of up to 1.2m of thickly fissured orange-red bark in a sort of giraffe-like pattern.
The cones resembling wooden hand grenades are scattered around the forest floor of gorse and spiny shrubs. As the winds come swirling and raging from the Atlantic ocean the trees sway and loosen their cones. This causes them occasionally to fall to the ground. They stay there for a couple of years being warmed by the sun (or forest fire!) and when they are fully open they release their seeds by wind dispersal. I am collecting them for the winter nights as an addition to logs for the fires, they are good burners and give off a nice gentle aroma of the forest. We have two burners at present, one medium-sized in a kitchen in flat 1 which will take logs up to about 2 feet in length and another small one in the lounge of flat 2 which only takes pieces up to 6 or 7 inches for which these cones will be ideal as an addition. I don’t take many, I fill a small rucksack from each trip and soon enough they compliment the collection of pine and olive wood I am getting ready for the winter months.
Yesterday was the “feast of Fatima” a commemorative day in the village of Fatima which is only about 30 km from here. This little village of around 7,000 inhabitants is usually crammed with around 300,000 pilgrims at this time as they flock to this Roman Catholic Marian apparition of yesteryear. The first reported sighting was on the 13th of May 1917 followed by six more of the virgin Mary. It was seen by three young shepherdesses and is now one of the most important sites of the Catholic Church welcoming in excess of 6 million pilgrims every year. How good it would be to draw alongside any of these pilgrims, whose hearts and minds are open, searching for the answers that lay deep in all of mankind. As God said to the exiles in Babylon, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart,“ (Jeremiah 29:13) as Jesus said in the New Testament in Matthew 7:7, “Seek, and you will find, “ likewise in the book of the Acts of the Apostles 17:27 “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” These pilgrims are going slightly in the wrong direction. I am not in the habit of ridiculing others for their misdirection in following Catholicism, I am here, like all born again Christians, as a mere signpost to point the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.
My reflections and thoughts think of the seedlings of the tree, whose sole purpose is to distribute its seed as close and as far as possible. Once set free they are then buffeted and carried by the wind and encouraged by the forest fire. How true and alike is that of us, as Jesus’s final command to us in the great commission, the resurrected Jesus instructs all of His disciples to go out into all of the worlds and share the good news, make disciples and baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are set free from slavery to sin, we are, whether near or far, called to share the good news, our wind and fire are the Holy Spirit, to carry and guide us in all things. Our duty and desire ought to be praise and worship but our purpose should also be about sharing the good news.
There is no attendance at the feast of Fatima this year as yet, there are no walkers on the Caminho, but soon things will change and I look forward to the opportunities that lay ahead. I am hoping to have some rooms ready here in Portugal in the next few months where weary travellers may rest their head. In the meantime take care.