Less than ten minutes after descending from our hilltop perch with the Sacramentine sisters, we ran into Hans the Swiss hiker again. Andrew had seen him last night while visiting with Massimiliano and his hiking crew (and from which people he learned, incidentally, that a pilgrim to Compostela is called a pellegrino, and a pilgrim to Jerusalem a palmiero, but a pilgrim to Rome a Romeo!). So Hans joined with us the next 21 km into Bolsena.
It was another rainless rainy day, to our relief and delight, though the morning sky sported dark gray clouds and chilly winds. We started out through uninteresting fields but on the far side of San Lorenzo Nuovo we came to the north shore of the Lago di Bolsena, a lovely blue lake formed ages ago by a volcanic eruption, just small enough to see to the far shore and with a few islands of craggy stone jutting out in the middle. The rock along the roadside was either crumbly dark brown pumice or polygonal columns of basalt. The trail zigzagged along the east side of the lake, next to chicken coops and a few alarmingly protective dogs on and off leashes and once past a parade of equestrians. We got peeps of the lake now and then between the olive and chestnut trees.
Bolsena is a kind of resort town, though generally we were happy to see how untouristed the whole lake area seems to be. The town is all stone buildings stacked vertically with steep staircases making sharp switchbacks from the top to the bottom. At the center of town we said goodbye to Hans (though we may well meet up with him or the other hikers before it’s all over!) and then pressed on since the weather was fine and tomorrow’s stage to Viterbo as indicated in our guide book is unusually long. After a short stretch on a blessedly empty highway, we turned back up into the hills, through lovely cool forests, until we had reached the south shore of the lake. Then we finished off the last bit of highway during the light Sunday traffic, so tomorrow morning we can start again in safety on the secondary roads.
We are down to five days left now, hard to believe after 65 on the road, and I don’t know how many pilgrim lessons are left to us, but this one in particular has been buzzing around my mind in the past week. While on pilgrimage it feels like nothing ever happens by coincidence. The people you meet are not just random people but somehow or other have been put in your path by God. Maybe they are the angels you are to entertain unawares, or maybe they are angels entertaining you unawares. Maybe they are people who have something to offer that you need, and maybe they are people who need something that you have to offer. One way or another, every encounter seems not like happenstance but like a visitation, and you learn to receive these visitations with an open heart attentive to what will be given and gotten.
It’s probably too much for us to live our ordinary lives like this every day, but I would like it if I could carry back to normal life the conviction that all the people I meet with day by day are not interruptions or accidents, but visitations from God to serve or be served by.