Seymour was a small green frog who used to appear on the second floor balcony of Spence Manor, where I lived before I moved into the Hermitage. I was surprised the first time I saw him, but apparently frogs are better climbers than you might think. I kept cigars on the balcony, and whenever I saw Seymour I would light one and puff on it while I spoke to him.
Okay before we even get started, you need to know that I am not going to adopt Cheech, Cheech being the dog you see in the photo. This is not going to be one of those stories where a cute dog thaws a lonely man’s heart and the two become best friends. That’s a great story, but it’s not this story. I wish I could give you that story, but I can’t.
The hermitage, where I live, has windows over the kitchen sink that provide a view of the backyard of Spence Manor, which has a landscape of limestone, native plants, and one dead palm. The palm lived quite a few years, but the big freeze of 2021 killed it, along with the gorgeous ivy that used to drape Engelbrecht Inn, Spence Manor, and the Tower. The palm is twenty-five feet tall, so it looks pretty much the same now as it ever did. You only realize it’s dead if you look up.
I was on the East & West Trail that runs behind the Village of La Mancha, right where the road turns north to the Wizard’s Tower. I saw a flash of bright, luscious color. It was a wildflower. In full bloom. And not just any flower. A purple and yellow one, which are common in April and May, but don’t typically make it through the Summers.
There is something compelling about reaching the end of the line, going to the place where civilization ends and wilderness begins. Behind is the safe and familiar, all you know and everything you have survived. Ahead is the mystery of possibilities and the birthplace of the stories you will tell when you return from that far country.
I captured a dark moth tonight as he thrashed about the globes of my lamp. He was the darkest purple there is, the last color on the spectrum before the whole thing falls into black. Within my cupped hands I felt the powdery softness of his abdomen as his velvet body rubbed against my fingers.
Beyond Engelbrecht and the Lost Boys, where civilization ends and the Western Wild Lands begin, there is an enchanted gravestone embedded in the ground and designed specifically to be urinated upon. This arcane ceremony is generally performed by inebriated wizard students after their long days of study at the Tower.
And now a blazing and muscular Summer has fallen over La Mancha. The locals say it’s going to be a bad one. When I open the door to the Hermitage it feels like I’m stepping into an oven. The sun throbs and shimmers and drains the colors of the landscape, leaving everything looking like an old polaroid photo. People avert their eyes from the sun, hide beneath broad brimmed hats, and scurry from one spot of shade to the next.
I have found solitude to be beautiful and terrible, uplifting and overwhelming, nurturing and destroying, a source of joy and of pain. There is a heaviness to solitude when it comes rolling at you low and hard and constant. When it is every night. When your life has called you to it and you must obey. When you long for human contact but there is none to be found.
Few people know there is a secret entrance into La Mancha from beyond the Western Wild Lands. The old road behind the Lost Boys drops sharply downhill and then turns, ending at a chained gate. Beyond the gate is some sort of beatnik community, as best I can tell. Roxi lives out there somewhere. And I’m guessing so do the people who play the drums at night.
Across the Valley the tree canopy rises and pulls your eyes upward to the Modern Wizard’s Tower atop the opposing hill, a sleek and shiny thing of metal, glass, and stone. At night muted blue flickerings in the windows bear witness to the omnipresence of the media gods.
There are two boys from the Valley who sometimes take a shortcut through La Mancha. The other day I saw them meandering down Gallagher Lane, talking and laughing and jostling. Stones were thrown into the Valley. Rocks were turned over for examination and discussion. En garde was proclaimed, followed by a brief sword fight with sticks.
I keep thinking about Foxy Brown’s den, which I found on one of my walks and greatly admire. You’ll find it at the end of the gulley that plunges into the Deep Valley behind Engelbrecht Inn.
The pilgrimage involves two acts of physical discomfort. These are not acts of penance. You are not being judged for things that happened before you were born. You are embracing discomfort so that your soul can understand why our culture remains at odds with creation.
I was hiking deep in the northern part of the valley, down near my humble place of beginning. My eye was drawn to a smooth river rock lying near a jagged limestone outcropping. We have gullies but no rivers in La Mancha. There are no smooth rocks native to this land.
The rock’s story isn’t hard to guess.
I walked the Camino late at night, hoping to find her eating bugs at the lights. But there was no sign of her. I was in denial for a time. I told myself you can’t plan for a fox. You run into them when you run into them. Perhaps, I told myself, I’d just had a run of bad luck.
The famous Bells of La Mancha are embedded in the wall that separates the villages of La Mancha and Engelbrecht. An inscription in the wall offers a glimpse into its history. At some unspecified time in the past, a woman named Michelle gifted the wall to La Mancha. “These are the bells that helped her” is all the inscription says.
Beyond Engelbrecht Inn & Tavern and the Lost Boys is a crude trail leading westward toward the Gully of the Wild Things. There are some painted rocks along the trail. If you come across a collection of animal bones on a crude shelf wedged in the branches of a tree you are getting close.
Our blessed Lady Dulcinea granted me this beatific vision and assured me that others may see something similar. I hope you also receive this vision, pilgrim, for the Land of La Mancha came alive and opened herself to me as if I had walked through a portal into another world.