mountains, poetry, Scotland, travel & adventure

the hebrides

Last summer, I spent a little over two weeks living and gardening on the Isle of Canna, an island off the west coast of Scotland. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I also enjoyed a traverse of the Rum Cuillins plus a little extra, a bright and sunny day which gave me over 1900m of ascent and 20 miles when I’d finished my fun. These two islands are part of the bigger group of Scottish isles that make up the Hebrides, and these islands haven’t left me yet. Here is something I wrote about them months after my experience there, plus some shitty phone pictures. 

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chasing summits and miles on the Isle of Rum: my Rum Cuillin Traverse of last summer

the gods hid in those islands—

between the scheduled ferry trips—

between mainland and empty Atlantic—

they hid in the rocks that crumbled into surf

they hid in the wool of sheep caught on brambles

they hid in me as I plunged, naked,

into the clear cold of the vein-blue sea

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the Isle of Canna

I could taste them in the punishing rain

but I could never quite see them

they never told me their names

they denied my prayers, they laughed

at my hymns and pleas—and why should

a naked traveller splashing in salty shallows

be allowed even to grovel before

the hidden gods? hush—remember,

here be monsters—

they feed on secrets.

 

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the Isle of Canna

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love, personal journeys, Scotland, travel & adventure

twists, turns, and a love story

I don’t often share everyday details of love, family, and friendship here on this blog, but I feel like I should tell the story of Nick and me–simply because it’s a good one and has contributed to so many of my recent thoughts and adventures.

We met on Tinder, of all places. I was about to delete my account given the state of the average American male, while Nick’s friends had just talked him into making an account. I was his first match, and two days later we met up for dinner. I’d just finished work at the stable and I wasn’t sure about going to meet this stranger, but I went.

It was, quite simply, the best conversation I’d had in months. He kissed me in the parking lot, we parted ways, and, like a goon, I couldn’t stop smiling.

We met up two days later, then the day after that (Valentine’s Day), then the day after that. The day after Valentine’s Day, he drove out to rescue me when my car died and I was stranded. I got him into healthy(ish) eating; he got me into rappelling. The relationship unfolded from there like a river unfolding into itself: climbing, hiking, camping, kayaking, bad decisions and hilarious adventures.

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Nick and I climbing at McConnells Mills the day before I left for the UK

Then, on April 1st, I left to guide a family for whom I tutored around England and Scotland for several weeks. All of a sudden, a place I had wanted to leave for months–Pittsburgh–felt so difficult to leave. No matter how I happy I was to be back in the UK and to see my dearest friends, I was continually surprised by how much I missed this recent stranger.

That UK trip was full of surprises. I frequented an awesome climbing gym while in London, got horrendously sick (perk of working with small children), and then my parents kicked me out because I’d left my room messier than they’d wanted. This sent me reeling–it was my parent’s home, of course, and it was their decision, but it did leave me feeling incredibly stressed and homeless. The tutoring family’s grandmother passed away while we were in Scotland, which meant they decided to go home early. Plans I had with my UK friends fell through given the rather drastic logistical and financial changes that had just hit me. I felt unprepared, childish.

In spite of this, I was fortunately able to make the most of my time in Scotland and St Andrews. I ceilidhed with the hillwalking club, helped friends with dissertations, had coffee and dinner with my practically-a-sister friend Antonia, laughed and gossiped with Maryam, enjoyed my favourite coffee shop, attacked Irma with a hug, jumped off the pier, ran through Glen Shee, and more. But then I had to go home. This time, home meant going back to Nick and his family.

On one hand, it was scary to move in with someone I’d only known in-person for six weeks. It seemed a little mad, even for me. But underneath all the confusion, I felt a sense of peace and excitement that didn’t make sense given outside circumstances. I already knew I loved Nick. He felt like home for me, and his family soon came to feel like home for me as well. I started doing the family gardening (commandeering the entire yard). I changed summer jobs from high ropes course instructor to farm and greenhouse worker while the tutoring season was at a bit of a lull.

Meanwhile, Nick and I kept climbing, kayaking, and camping. It was ropeswing and swimming season all at once, and I went to my first music festival. My life suddenly brimmed with new things in a place that had once seemed a little mundane. Sometimes it was overwhelming. Often, it was exciting. But I always felt that, in spite of the craziness of the past few months, I was on the right path.

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back in my favorite St Andrews coffee shop, Taste, and sleeping on the sofa like my old self. photo by ILinca

I don’t know what the future will bring. It’s been a crazy few months, but I do know this: I have an acceptance to the University of Glasgow’s Celtic, Pictish, and Viking Archaeology Master’s Programme, which I’m deferring until 2019. I have an idea of how I want to combine archaeology and anthropology in the future. I have someone with whom to explore the world. I have relationships to mend with my own family, but I also have another family that has come to feel very much like my own. Lastly, I have hope that this unforeseen road will take me better places yet.

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sometimes this is about as professional and put-together as I feel. Photo from a Dublin adventure with Antonia in March, 2017.

My path isn’t looking like a straightforward undergraduate to master’s to PhD to an academic career path. But maybe a life of radical challenges is exactly what I need in order to conduct research and exploration that will have a powerful impact. These days, I’m reading anthropological articles while the bread rises, thinking about landscape theory whilst weeding in the garden, muttering Scottish Gaelic in the shower,  and thinking about Scottish mountains while I walk to the gym. I keep repeating my old mantra to myself: anthropology starts at home, no matter what home looks like. 

Beyond that, these twists and turns have opened me up to so much love. It’s shown me how little I actually control in my life. Five months ago, this new and lovely world I now inhabit didn’t exist for me. It didn’t come to me because I planned or earned it. Rather, it fell into my lap: a gift wrapped perfectly in muddy adventures.

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travel & adventure

The Coastal Path, pt 1: Lower Largo to Ellie

A dear, dear friend of mine and I started a mission last semester, towards the very end of the year. We decided that we wanted to walk all of the Fife Coastal Path together, and we started with the beautiful, somewhat randomly chosen stretch between Lower Largo and Ellie, in East Fife. (We’d both done the obvious bits nearer by St Andrews, but not together.) Our day was sunny, windy, very green and too chilly to stop for long. We found a farm shop, and I fell in love with a truly stunning aubergine. It was just really, really purple and gorgeously shaped. I took it home with me, and I ate it. I sadly do not have a picture of the aubergine.

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The Fife Coastal Path in its entirety stretches nearly 120 miles all along the Fife Coast. It starts up north along the Firth of Tay and then winds down, along the sea, and curves in by the Firth of Forth. It goes by all kinds of places–historic fishing towns, ancient Pictish stones, industrial towns, forests, hills, ruined castles, WWII bunkers, fields, and the strange sort of ancient university town that St Andrews manages to be. We want to complete the entire path by the end of this academic year.

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This, I believe, is what really started to get me interested in Fife. When we started our mission, I was mostly in the Fife Coastal Path because a) it’s pretty b) it’s long and c) it’s a cheap way to get out of St Andrews. Obviously, interest doesn’t often stay simultaneously shallow and alive, so my reasons have grown. But I still mostly love the Fife Coastal Path because I have amazing days with a beautiful friend.

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travel & adventure

on the openness of sea and sky

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St Andrews.

For many here, it’s a bubble, a small place where kids (though a lot of us would hate to be called that) are trying to transition to be big people, with big-person hats and big-person CVs and big-person laptops. It’s a place of student events and practically student-run, student-funded coffee shops and student residences and lecture halls. It’s beautiful, it’s vibrant, it’s frustrating, it’s full of some real talent.

These things are St Andrews to me, a student, but they’re not St Andrews, Fife. They’re not the physical, hard, geographical location of St Andrews: they’re not the place strung out along three streets between three beaches. They’re not the place that sees tides roll out and the stars slowly come out earlier and earlier as the winter piles layers of jumpers onto us all.

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St Andrews is somewhere along the coast in the East of Fife. You can see the curve of the coast as it heads up towards the Firth of the Tay and Dundee. You can’t see very far towards Crail or Anstruther, but they’re there, down along the Coastal Path.

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The tides are extreme here in Fife, and here in East Fife it’s flat enough to get a huge scope of sky. But you only really feel that scope near the edges, along the beaches or along the roads leaving St Andrews.

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This is the first year of being in St Andrews that I’ve really begun to grow curious about Fife. I’ve always been curious about the Highlands and the rest of Scotland; I’ve made it a point to explore. But for some reason I’ve neglected following the edges of the sea or leaving the town but not the Fife sky.

This is one of the dangers of being in a beautiful place. You get stuck there, and you search for the next big thing–you look for the next munro or the next ‘cultural centre’ but maybe miss the next town over.

This is one of the secrets of being in a beautiful place: you head to the edges and realise it’s beautiful, and then you realise the edges go elsewhere. You realise that the geographical location of a sometimes seemingly disconnected place ties the town to a broader, more complicated landscape.

words and photos by me.

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