The Land That Begat Me

In the moments between sleeping and waking, petal-thin and fragile, I hear the whisper of the sea. With eyes closed I am treading across the beach of West Sands, bare feet memorizing the grooves etched into the sand. I am content. Yet when I open my eyes gossamer curtains drift lazily into view, and the damp, earthy aroma of slightly burnt coffee fills my senses. For the past month I have begun each day this way, confused, momentarily unable to recognize where I am or recall what has happened. And as more days pass, the more my time in Scotland really does seem like just a dream.


Before I packed my suitcases and made that voyage across the sea for the first time, envisioning myself at St Andrews was indeed just that: a dream. Like many teenaged girls, I was uncertain of myself and what course my life would take, so much so that I was well-known for being very timid and shy in nature. And while this is difficult to admit on a forum such as this, there was little that I took pride in or even liked about myself. By my final year of high school I was so desperately unhappy that I almost could not face each day. What made this experience more painful were the constant reminders of the person that I was, the person I had lost. Gone was my love of storytelling, the simple pleasure of cold wind caressing the skin, and the feeling of always being on the verge of discovering some other world. I had lost the joy that was once so intrinsically a part of me. The summer before my final year of school I saw myself turning down a path that I knew I could not escape if I chose to follow it: attending university close to home, perhaps even living at home with my parents, never seeing the places and accomplishing the dreams I once treasured, and thus growing up to be but the hollow shell of Maggie. Yet despite this, still waters do indeed run deep as the saying goes, and I felt the irrepressible impulse to take drastic action. It was then that my mother sent me photos of St Andrews, and warmth slowly began returning to my heart.

I distinctly remember an incident with my high school guidance counselor that cast a shroud of doubt over this secret ambition I nurtured. Final year students were expected to attend three meetings with their guidance counselors throughout the year to discuss what universities they had applied to, where they had been accepted or rejected, and which university they at last decided to attend. When I revealed to this woman, someone I had had no relationship with throughout my four years of high school, that I desired above all else to attend St Andrews she had the audacity to scoff at me. She then suggested that I “do myself and my family a favor” and pursue a “more realistic” course of action, stating that attending university abroad would waste my parents’ money, that literature was a worthless pursuit, and that I would only get rejected by St Andrews and be crushed by that outcome. Even when my acceptance arrived one chilly November morning, indelible proof that I had earned a place at such a university, her harsh words infected what little self-confidence I possessed.

As my heart is not only worn on my sleeve, but welded there, her denial of my academic abilities continued to plague me throughout my first year at St Andrews as well. Each time I sat completely dumb in a tutorial and each mere “pass” I received on my coursework had convinced me that not only my guidance counselor, but the many other naysayers I accrued, were right: that St Andrews would devour me whole.

However, on June 23rd, 2016 I proved them wrong. On that day I graduated from the University of St Andrews with a high 2:1 in Comparative Literature and English, even earning a place on the Dean’s List for my work during the 2015-2016 academic year. Yet what surprisingly pleases me more than these results are the commendations I received for my dissertation, a piece of work I had convinced myself was in no way academic or even worthwhile. Hearing my supervisor — a woman who intimidated me significantly with both her intellect and her sheer presence — praise my work with genuine enthusiasm brought tears welling in my eyes. While revealing these details could be construed as a slight boast, those who know me well are familiar with my utter aversion to speaking positively about myself or what I am capable of. However, I believe that it is important to voice these accomplishments in words, and indeed recognizing them as such: achievements. In hindsight, what this recognition has made me realize is that perhaps the most powerful critic that I had to overcome was myself.

My time at St Andrews and in Scotland means so much more to me than academic achievement, though. In a strange way, I had not really factored in the people I would meet and the friends I would make prior to starting university. The beauty of Scotland and the opportunity to carve my own path was what drove me to this place; friends, if they came at all, would simply be a ripple effect. This strange mentality is the very vicious offspring of the self-doubt that has troubled me all these years. I simply wondered why anyone would actively seek my company, for what positive thing could I possibly contribute to a friendship? I remember dissolving into tears during Fresher’s Week because I wholeheartedly believed that I would spend the next four years completely alone in a foreign country, and I lamented the choice I had made. My mother assured me that I would find “my tribe,” as she put it: a raucous band of quirky individuals who shared my passions and my off-color sense of humor, and would most importantly accept me for all that I am. Four years later, I sat in the same restaurant celebrating my graduation and felt a similar rise of emotion. This time, though, it was because I did not want to leave “my tribe” behind.

Running through the thicket of Lade Braes with Daniel, iced lattes and scones at Gorgeous with Miranda, sitting at the top of the world with Molly and Kate on the Isle of Skye, and wandering aimlessly along the looking-glass waters of West Sands with Catriona: moments such as these fill me to the brim, and are truly what make my time in Scotland worthwhile. Sitting here back in Michigan, safely tucked in my armchair and amongst my books once more, I feel very much like Bilbo Baggins when he returns at last to Bagend, to the quiet and the solitude. There was a time when this was all I wanted, to be home again. But now I find it lacking, as though a piece of my soul has gone missing. There is nothing I would not give to experience one of the aforementioned memories one more time, to be amongst those weird and wonderful people feeling so welcomed and loved.

At times I think back to the girl I once was, all corn-silk hair and bruised knees, who loved nothing more than to be covered in dirt from chasing fairies through the forest. To an extent I believe that who we were as children is the essence of ourselves, that the one defining characteristic we had then will follow us through the rest of our lives. While we may experience circumstances that harden us, that make us drift apart from who we once were, I think that everyone needs a moment in their lives to reclaim that essential part of themselves. And I do believe that I have grown significantly since childhood, and indeed since I first began university; I am a bit wiser, more responsible, and more attuned to how the world at times does not live up to our rose-tinted expectations. However, since coming to Scotland I do feel closer to that little girl, in the sense that I have rediscovered what it means to be enchanted with life. Whenever I would set foot on Scottish land, I always sensed this subtle feeling, a kind of pulse coursing through the rough grey stone underfoot. Teeming, I call it. It is as if I could take a hammer and chisel to the jagged seaside cliffs, chipping away the stone to reveal an incandescent world underneath. While such thoughts may be inspired by the fairy tales I once read, the memory of the frigid winds caressing my skin and sea-brined air in my lungs has me feeling this teeming in the marrow of my soul.

On a jaunt to Edinburgh with Molly one day I discovered a poem by Sir Alexander Gray engraved in the stone of the Parliament Building. One stanza in particular resonated deep within my bones:


“This is my country,
The land that begat me.
These windy spaces
Are surely my own.
And those who here toil
In the sweat of their faces
Are flesh of my flesh,
And bone of my bone.”

It is important to recognize how throughout this post I have not referred to Michigan as “home.” Never before have I felt more at home than in the years I spent in Scotland, for it is the place that I truly belong. While in Scotland I was able to learn how to take pride in myself and rediscover all of the qualities that are intrinsically Maggie: I am a bit more whimsical, a little reckless, and altogether wilder than I have ever been. Yet that is who I am, and more than anything I am grateful for the time I had amongst the lochs and glens, hills and seas of Scotland to help me find that part of myself. More than anything, though, I am truly awed and humbled by those whom I had the pleasure to call friend over the last four years, for they have indeed become “flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bone.”


While I am beyond words to express my gratitude to have had this experience and for all the people I came to know, the pain of leaving it all behind is still visceral and raw. To put it simply, I am devastated to no longer live in Scotland. And try as I might to assure myself that my departure was not my last goodbye, a small part of me still worries that I may never return. However, I believe that the most crucial lesson my time at St Andrews has taught me is to keep pursuing adventure and to find the joy in each and every experience I have, no matter the circumstance. While my last glimpse of Scottish soil was misted by the hot tears I could not quell, there is a positive to the situation. My wanderlust is now more insatiable than it has ever been before, as I have had this single delicious drop of adventure. The direction of my next horizon as yet remains a mystery, however, I am confident that I will never stop exploring; something Tookish has awoken in me indeed.

Yet in the words of Robbie Burns, “Wherever I wander, wherever I rove, the hills of the Highlands for ever I love.” If anyone so wishes to go looking, my heart and soul are forever in Scotland.

“The Sooth”

So, Fish Meggie. The Sooth! Another big town, another big adventure for ye…”
Aye, I murmured, watching the waves far below us. The wide world.”

-Amanda Curtin, Elemental

I read these words on a train headed south through mist rolling in from the North Sea. I had picked up this novel – a story about a red-headed girl from a sheltered fishing community in the Shetland Islands – with passive interest. But what I find remarkable is how, despite the multitudes of books lining the wooden shelves at Topping and Company, I was drawn to this one. The more I kept reading, the more the tale of introspective and passionate Meggie Tulloch resonated with me at this precise moment. Like the heroine of the novel my thoughts often tiptoe toward the horizon; toward the “wide world,” farther and farther away from where they should be. And with graduation approaching, it seems that the world only grows wider. What’s next? Where will I go and what will I be doing? Who will I meet? These were questions that could not seem to quieten as I tried to enjoy my last few weeks in the United Kingdom.

This was especially pertinent given my destination, as throughout my time at St Andrews I had never made it to “the Sooth” (as a northerly Scot would say) and in particular London. My busy schedule would never permit a spontaneous trip, I could never scrape together enough funds, nobody would want to accompany me; I found that the closer my final flight back to Michigan loomed, the more these excuses seemed insurmountable. In hindsight, I realize now what it was that prevented me from exploring this part of the United Kingdom for so long. I was afraid: afraid that beyond the slow, burbling pace of mid-Michigan and Scotland I would drown in the deluge of frenetic energy that places like London thrived on. If I could not manage London in a single day, how could I ever manage to stay afloat if my post-graduate plans did indeed send me rushing straight into the center of London, New York, or Chicago?

However, I was forced to come to terms with the fact that all my apprehensions, excuses, and self-doubting was fueled by speculation. This, coupled with the immense generosity of Catriona (one of my closest friends), I was finally given the opportunity to experience what life in Southern England was like. And so I found myself boarding the train on June first for an adventure that by many standards was backwards: I was leaving the lochs and glens of Scotland for a place that, to me, was its own species of wilderness.


Godalming, a quiet town in Surrey, acted as my home base for the week. Prior to this the longest period I spent in England was a week in the Lake District during the easter holiday in my first year. The Lake District was remarkably Scottish in its pace of life and gently swelling hills, dotted with sheep. Yet being in Godalming had me feeling that, for the first time in a long while, I was well and truly somewhere new. Large Tudor-style homes lined the quaint streets with lush and fragrant “English gardens” beckoning you in. Contrary to its sleepy appearance, though, Godalming is commonly used as a film location, as one of its downtown streets featured in the 2006 film The Holiday and its outlying fields hosted the Roman masses of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. As a film buff, this bit of local trivia really struck my fancy.

On one of our rambles we stopped in the city park at a large gazebo, like something straight out of The Sound of Music, which becomes a community bandstand every Sunday. In one of those rare moments of coincidence you have to just smile and believe in the power of fate, a band called The Salts was scheduled to play for the Sunday that I would be in Godalming. The Salts are a contemporary folk music band that specialize in sea shanties, old ballads sung by sailors out at sea that often are in time to the rhythm of the various chores they had to complete while aboard. One of my not-so-secret obsessions is anything to do with the sea — pirates, sea shanties and ballads, sea monsters, sailing, and maritime folklore — and not even the June sun roasting my winter-paled skin could tear my attention away from the music. I was also awed by the sense of community wrapped in these weekly bandstand concerts, and felt as though I was privileged to experience this wee spot of local color.


However, I think what I most enjoyed about Godalming was the River Spey Walk, pictured above. While the sky was grey and there was a damp chill in the air, these conditions made the willow trees look more dramatic and enchanting. One of my favorite childhood stories was Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows; and this moment, breathing in the crisp, clean scent of the river while listening to the trees whisper to one another made me feel as though I was living that story. I felt truly content, embraced by a landscape that had thus far only lived in the world of “once upon a time” rather than my waking life. Perhaps what also made this moment so special was that it allowed Catriona to see her home in a new way, as a place of enchantment rather than somewhere ho-hum and unremarkable. At last I was finally getting to return the favor she had done for me last summer when she visited Michigan: seeing the beauty and wonder in all places, even your own backyard.

The Saturday after my arrival in Surrey was the big day: my tour of London. Both excited and nervous I followed Catriona through the maze of tube stations until we reached Leicester Square to meet up with two of our other friends from university. Our first stop was Covent Garden for a Ben’s Cookie fresh out of the oven and to see the eclectic vendors bustling under the emerald canopy of Apple Market. While I was savoring a warm and gooey dark chocolate and peanut butter cookie, the first notes of Bruno Mars’s “Marry You” drifted through the courtyard. Suddenly, a flash mob broke out before us and a crowd gathered, smiles blooming on every face. As the song would suggest, this was a grand gesture of a marriage proposal; and the first flash mob I had ever witnessed firsthand. We all could not believe our luck with having the opportunity to experience something so charming as that, and the aura of cheer and celebration from the flashmob set the tone for the day to come.

Meandering down toward Buckingham Palace, the crowds became more and more congested. All of a sudden we ran directly into a mounted guard as war drums boomed in the distance. Unbeknownst to the three London familiars I was with, the Trooping of the Colour rehearsal was unfolding right at the precise moment we decided to see the palace. The four of us quickly made our way to the main circle outside Buckingham Palace to see the procession, which was a magnificent sight to behold. I was especially partial to the regiment of Scottish pipers, their sweeping tweed capes and bellowing bagpipes conjuring the lochs and glens I left behind, a comfort in all this newness. In the words of my friend Kathryn, it didn’t get more British than this, bar seeing the Queen (which may have been a tall order for the day). However, I feel privileged that I had the opportunity to see something that is indeed distinctly British in the heart of the country’s capitol.


After making our way through St James’s Park and Westminster Abbey, Siân suggested going to Borough Market for lunch. This was probably my favorite part of London, being the foodie that I am. Borough Market is one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, with vendors to entice any palate. Egyptian koshari, Thai curry, American soul food, German würst, produce stands, juice bars, sommeliers, fish mongers, cheese mongers, and a table of baked goods too delicious for this world crowded under the glass ceiling, humming with energy. I finally settled on a “classic” vegan cheeseburger from The Veggie Table and a fresh pressed raspberry and apple juice from one of the vegetable vendors. This was the perfect light yet energizing lunch to fuel a day of gallivanting throughout London.

As the day was drawing to a close it was evident that the four of us needed to be on our way back home, as the conversations and my already meandering walking pace were slowing. When asked about my venture to London, my most common response is to remark on the sheer sprawl of the city and how densely populated it is; I am certain that I saw more people in that single day than in my twenty-two years of living. However, I found the experience to be overall a very positive one. I think what made London much more interesting and simply fun to be in was the fact that I was with three friends who all grew up around London, and in Kathryn’s case, went frequently into the city and had shown several other friends the “must see” locales. Compared to my time in Munich two years ago, when I had never been in a city larger than Edinburgh and I was expected to be the Europe-savvy guide, London was so much more enjoyable in terms of city sight-seeing. Yet as our train drifted further out into the soft green borders of Surrey, I was thankful to once more be amongst the trees and the quiet of rural life.

I have already mentioned my fondness for all things oceanic and naval. How little I knew at the time that the wee sea shanty concert we stumbled upon would portend actually getting the chance to stand upon the decks of real nineteenth century British war ships. Despite being very ill, Catriona graciously took me on a surprise venture down to Portsmouth to see the HMS Warrior and the HMS Victory. Also housed at Portsmouth harbour is the Mary Rose, a war galleon built by Henry the Eighth that sunk in 1545. Raised in 1982, the Mary Rose has been painstakingly preserved for the past thirty-four years, in which it still needed to be continuously sprayed with water to preserve its integrity. However, the exhibit surrounding the ship has been significantly redesigned as the water and chemical sprays that have strengthened its water-logged wood were turned off to begin a drying out process. Thus I could not see the ship for myself, but I was content to learn this history and see some of the restored artifacts reclaimed from the wreck.

Aboard the HMS Warrior and the HMS Victory, with the brisk sea air tangling in my hair and the gentle morning sun seeping into my skin, I felt my imagination easing itself awake after a long semester. I walked towards the bow of the ship as softly as I could, wary that my presence would disturb the whispers of the past engrained in the deck like the salt of the sea. It is a moment such as this that I sometimes feel as though I truly am the “old soul” my mother claims I am. And maybe I was even a sailor in a past life, always away at sea. For it is near the water or on the deck of a boat that I often feel most at ease, most within myself; and the chance to see, to smell, and to touch a real historical naval ship such as this simply felt like coming home.

Following these busy jaunts to Winkworth Arboretum, London, Guildford, and Portsmouth, Catriona was certain that we had exhausted her home of adventures. Yet there was one last gem tucked away in the fields outlying Guildford that demanded exploration: Loseley Park. The current house pictured above dates back to the sixteenth century and holds within its walls a rich Tudor history. Today, the house is not only open to the public for tours and is often used as a wedding venue, but still serves as the home for the descendants of the original More-Molyneux family. While I usually bristle at the prospect of guided tours, I am thankful for the one through Loseley House, as our guide was not only exceedingly knowledgable about the property, but evidently passionate about the history of the house. A father and daughter duo accompanied Catriona and I on this guided tour and both kept asking thoughtful and intelligent questions about the furnishings, various family members, and the history behind the home. These two elements really enriched my experience of Loseley House, and made me wish that I had frequented more National Trust sites to be able to recognize paintings, furnishings, and historical attributes common to these stately English homes.

The secrets of the house were delicious to discover: a rare portrait of Anne Boleyn and a “scandal” involving the daughter of the Tudor builder, Sir William More, and the rakish poet John Donne. And contrary to many Americans who flock to see the homes featured in Downton Abbey or Pride and Prejudice, Loseley House is the first stately English home I have visited, yet I do not feel that I have missed out on some grand experience after four years in the United Kingdom. Rather, because Loseley Park is “off the beaten track” a bit, I feel as though I had the opportunity to experience something a bit richer, a bit more special; to tour England as a true local might.

But what truly made Loseley Park remarkable was the sheer enchantment of the surrounding gardens. Around every bend there was a new delight to be had, such as a trellis of demure white roses or a secret bench hidden in a hollow of verdant green shrubs. The gardens were a spectacle straight out of the film Labyrinth, or a picture book I was fond of as a child entitled One Enchanted Evening. This was somewhere I could picture myself enacting one of my greatest life fantasies: running, barefoot and lithe, wearing a heartbreakingly beautiful ballgown under a clear moonlit sky.


As Catriona and I wandered deeper and deeper amongst this emerald sea, I kept whispering how I never wanted to leave. In this moment, caught between the physical completion of my degree and its ceremonial conclusion at graduation, all I wanted to do was pause and breathe it in slow and deep. I have no doubt that these four years spent in the United Kingdom will constitute some of the best years of my life, and it is because of these adventures I was so fortunate to embark upon with truly wonderful people. Without the companionship and generosity of people like Catriona I would have never been able to stand triumphantly aboard a nineteenth century war ship, nor lose my heart amongst the petals and vines of a hedgerow fairy tale. Yet just like Meggie Tulloch it was my time to face the wide world, the world beyond this dream that I had been living for four years.

As my train pulled once more into Leuchars station I found it difficult to fight the swell of emotion rising in my throat. Is “the sooth” where I would find myself after graduation, or somewhere even more foreign to me? While the time was approaching that I could no longer ignore these questions, I began to see the good in my situation. As this week in Surrey with Catriona proved to me, my time in St Andrews has meant so much more than just a physical adventure; it has been a journey into what constitutes true friendship. Over the past four years I have been welcomed into the homes of so many people — English, Irish, and Scottish — and had the opportunity to see so many diverse walks of life. This is perhaps what I am most thankful for during my time at St Andrews, forging these bonds with so many different people, yet finding a kindred spirit in each and every one of them. And while my future may be uncertain in terms of location or occupation, of one thing I can be certain: that I will always have a home with the wonderful people I have had the pleasure to call my friends.


I realize that it has been quite some time since I have last updated this blog. While I have had some wonderful adventures in the past few weeks — the Lake District and the annual St Andrews tradition of May Dip — that document I am clinging to in the photograph has consumed all of my thoughts for the past couple of months. But at long last, on the twenty-ninth of April, I submitted my dissertation for Comparative Literature!

Entitled “Is This a Kissing Book: Transmedia Adaptation and Reverse Reception in Relation to William Goldman’s The Princess Bride,” this is really just a fancy way of saying that I wanted to write about my favorite film, and how it came to be that many people do not know it is originally a novel. I have learned so much from this experience not just about how novels are adapted into film, but about myself and the caliber of work I am capable of producing if the passion for the subject is there. I am so thankful that I was matched with a professor who not only agreed to oversee my rather “inconceivable” project in the first place, but demonstrated so much enthusiasm for my research each time we met.

In our last meeting she told me that this was one of the most innovative Comparative Literature studies she has come across, and as I am not very confident in myself and am often intimidated by my peers at St Andrews, I think this compliment is the most rewarding thing I have taken from this experience of writing an undergraduate dissertation. I realized that even though I tend to be a little quirky, and my ideas are often very far outside the box, that this is something to be proud of. And by staying true to what I am passionate about, I felt a far greater sense of accomplishment than if I had done what was expected of me.

While I learned so much from writing an undergraduate dissertation and gained a new sense of self-confidence from the experience, I am glad that it is done and dusted. I can finally rest easy at night and I never have to set foot in the library again! Only two exams stand between me and that University of St Andrews degree, something I am still having a hard time coming to terms with. But as graduation is still over a month away, I intend to spend this time enjoying Scotland as much as I possibly can. Stay tuned for upcoming posts about my weekend getaway to the Lake District, the St Andrews traditions of May Dip and the Gaudie, and whatever else I manage to get up to in these last few weeks. Until then: Turas math dhut!

Saying Yes

As today marks the first day of the spring holiday I finally have a spare moment to provide a wee update on my various comings and goings throughout the weeks. To start, I have officially submitted my application to graduate, which is both terribly exciting and frightening. While I am excited to relax and celebrate, especially with my family, the thought of having the rest of my year sorted out by then is very daunting. Perhaps this break from class came at an opportune moment: I can finally get myself in gear for applications and finally be moving towards having a “next step.” But enough on that rather unsettling notion….

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. Not only have I been busy with class, dissertation meetings, cross country, and riding, I have managed to squeeze in a few more “accomplishments” on my Bucket List.


I have never really been a “yes” kind of person. I am usually very calculated, fond of planning and calendars, and never really deviate from what is expected of me. Yet just being in St Andrews has consistently reminded me of all the simple, unbridled joy that can occur when you forgo what you “ought” to do and just say “yes” to any opportunity that may present itself to you. This, I think, has been a major theme characterizing my four years in Scotland: agreeing to do anything and everything, no matter how outrageous, in an effort to experience the hidden joys of a well-lived life. Case in point: last Friday myself and three other very brave souls jumped off the pier at St Andrews as the final touch to a recruitment video the publicity representative for cross country has been working on.

I was initially a bit hesitant about jumping from quite a substantial height, as well as worried about how my body would react to the wintry waters below. However, that smile in the photograph says more than my insignificant words ever could. Spontaneity and boldness are two things I never really associate with myself, but I find that saying yes to doing things like a pier jump in March really challenge who I thought I was in the best possible way. And while a pier jump may seem inconsequential to more adventurous people, I feel that experiences such as these are merely the first steps I am taking towards that kind of life. If I had the courage  to say “yes” now, and I endeavor to make this a habit of my life, what amazing opportunities will come my way further down the line that I will have zero reservations about pursuing? So far, my Fourth Year Bucket List is teaching me to stop focusing on what could go wrong and instead on what can go right. These small moments of wild joy like my March pier jump leave me feeling more confident in myself, and as my time at university is ending, I feel as though that I will take a running leap towards my next horizon rather than a timid shuffle. And that is something truly worthwhile, no?

The day after my gleeful leap into the sea I demonstrated that I can indeed be civilized (and that I wasn’t raised by wolves, contrary to popular belief) by attending high tea at the Old Course Hotel with some of my oldest and closest friends at St Andrews. Such an afternoon of frivolity had just been idle chatter until now, when we finally decided to throw caution to the wind and celebrate the beginning of the spring holiday. As Miranda’s birthday is also in a few weeks, there was even greater cause to celebrate. With a piano trilling delicately in the background we relaxed over pots of steaming Earl Grey and noshed on whimsical little cakes. Afterward we lazily walked towards the pier under a blushing sunset simply enjoying one another’s company. I think what made afternoon tea one of the most magical moments in my four years at St Andrews, though, was the fact that I have been close to each and every one of them — Catriona, Miranda, Kathryn, Siân, Kate, Nicole, and Michael — since my first year. How we have grown with one another over the past four years is something that astounds me, and I feel so lucky that these people have chosen me to be part of something like this. This day was one of those moments that I now keep tucked away in a secret part of my heart, memories to which I will no doubt return to when I am yearning for Scotland from my newest horizon.

After this week of an exhilarating pier jump, delicious high tea, and sunsets, all I can manage to say is how warm my soul feels. I walk down the streets now with my Maggie Smile etched onto my face and I find it difficult to suppress it. While part of me is saddened that this spring break I will not be adventuring to the same extent as years past, I realize that “adventure” doesn’t always have to mean far-off destinations and daring feats. Adventure can simply mean saying “yes” to new experiences, and those experiences can be just as memorable if you are willing to say yes to joy.

The Cotswolds

Four years ago, the words “the beginning of the end” could conjure images of the first snowflakes on a pale November morning, or reading a favorite story for the very first time. What these three experiences have in common is a moment — the intake of breath and a smile — in which enchantment with the anticipation for what is to come takes hold. Four years ago, the experience of beginning my last semester of high school was distilled with this kind of breathlessness, because each passing day brought me closer to Scotland. The magic of this experience was, paradoxically, what I once thought was just a dream becoming a tangible part of my waking life. I could not wait to turn the page on this part of my story, from the prologue to the blank pages under “Chapter One: St Andrews,” too tantalizingly pristine. All I managed to do in those final few classes was daydream, picturing myself tramping through the wild Scottish glens, hair tangled with the crisp Highland air. Four years ago, “the beginning of the end” could only make me smile.

Today those words hold a different meaning, evident perhaps in the tardiness of this post about beginning my final semester at St Andrews. I almost cannot bring myself to acknowledge the fact that this is it, and there have certainly been times when I (quite wishfully) forget it. However, the things that should be the most significant indicators of this approaching end, like the words “Graduation Day!” marked brazen and red upon my calendar, actually do very little to make me remember. Rather, it’s smaller, simpler details — the last quavering note of a fiddle, the snowdrops blanketing the hills of Lade Braes, or tweed caps tipped in greeting during my morning walk — that reach right into my chest and steal my heart strings away. These are the little moments that make me remember how soon I may have to leave them behind. And for what, I am not altogether sure.

I began this semester with uncertainty, like the darkling horizon heralding a storm. I oscillated between appreciating simple joys, like a view of the sea from my favorite desk in the library or the word “aye” used in casual conversation, to remembering that this cloud was looming ever nearer, which ultimately dampened my spirits and left me in tears more nights than I care to admit. Where am I going to go when I graduate, what am I going to do, how am I going to be able to leave Scotland, will I be forgotten by everyone here: such questions were the rains that this cloud begot. In the midst of all this I stumbled upon the following quote by Roald Dahl:

I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life. If you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it full speed. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it, and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good.

These words had nearly the same effect on me as all the little details of my Scottish life: they stopped me in my tracks. For me they encompass all that I hope to accomplish in these final few months I have on Scottish soil: to give a resounding “aye” to as many experiences as possible, no matter how whimsical, messy, or outrageous they may be. As a result, I have created for myself a Fourth Year Bucket List.

Bibury, The Cotswolds, Gloucestershire: a bucket list village

There are those who think bucket lists are generally quite silly. And I confess the list that I currently have in mind is indeed absurd, overly sentimental, and ambitious. There are things that I admittedly do not have the means to accomplish, like horseback riding on West Sands or visiting all of the quaint villages and castles my heart desires while I am still in the United Kingdom. Yet just two weeks into the semester I was already crossing something off that list.

On the way home  from the annual BUCS cross country event, held this year in Gloucestershire, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the village of Bibury in The Cotswolds. Part of the reason why I so desperately wished to visit Bibury was that it was used as a location in one of my most beloved films: Stardust (this film is also the reason why I love snowdrops so very much, but that is a story for another time).

Quaint details from the village of Bibury

Tucked sleepily away amongst the velvety green farm hills of Gloucestershire, Bibury is every bit as picturesque and charming as an English village ought to be. Flitting amongst the snowdrops and the river meandering along the walking path, I felt my “Maggie Smile” stretching foolishly across my face, and found it difficult to suppress it. Though Bibury is a tourist destination, I still found myself thoroughly enjoying its quaint, quiet charm. More than that, though, the experience of seeing the kind of place that I once thought only existed in my imagination, living and breathing in what should have been a dream world, made my soul so incredibly warm.

But what I think made this adventure special was the generosity and patience of my teammates who agreed to journey with me to Bibury in the first place. I keep reminding myself how easily they could have dismissed my idea, citing Monday morning lectures, silly Maggie whimsy, or just plain and simple exhaustion as reasons not to venture out of our way. While this would have disappointed me, I could respect their desire. But they didn’t dismiss me, and instead took the time to wander those quiet little lanes while I frolicked merrily about.

This sentiment, I think, is what exists at the heart of my Fourth Year Bucket List. It’s not so much doing these things to say that I have done them, or because I may not have another opportunity to do so in the near future. Rather, it’s the joy of experiencing these things for the first time as the person I am now and feeling that joy with the people I have chosen to share this part of my life with, and they with me. The thoughts or emotions these experiences conjure for myself and the wonderfully unique people I have come to know are what I have come to value most about my time here in Scotland.

When I tell people the particulars of my Fourth Year Bucket List, some of them react by saying that there a certain points that could be accomplished if I waited a bit. There are places I could see, castles to tour, restaurants to dine in that would be more feasible if I returned to Scotland in my later adult life. While I do agree — and most certainly consider my return ticket to the States more so as a “see you later” than a definite goodbye to Scotland — I think these sentiments detract from the point of my bucket list. In essence, my Fourth Year Bucket List is my way of not being lukewarm, of embracing every inch of Scotland as widely as my wingspan allows. What I hope to remember for the rest of my life is not necessarily the doing of all these things, but the feeling in the exact moment of the experience and how it was shared with all the weird and wonderful people I have come to care so deeply about here at St Andrews as we are right now: young, uncertain, wild, messy, enchanted, and passionate. For this is the ultimate item on my Fourth Year Bucket List: to celebrate the past four years as whole-heartedly and enthusiastically as they deserve with the people who have been there through it all.

So I sign this post off eager for my next adventure, as well as in salute to the ones I have already been so fortunate enough to have. Here’s to muddy-legged, spring fed, tangled hair, damp leafed, fisherman sweater-clad joy like none other, and I can’t wait for even more.


One Remains

As I found myself gazing out the rain-spattered window at Edinburgh Airport awaiting my departing flight back home yesterday morning, I found it difficult to believe that my penultimate semester at St Andrews had ended. While I am certainly relieved to have finished all of my coursework, I find the emotions I am currently feeling difficult to articulate. “Seven down, one to go,” has been pinging around in my skull like a trapped fly, insistently reminding me that I really do only have one more semester left at St Andrews. Odd, considering as I recall the moment I first set foot in St Salvator’s Quad as clearly as the droplets I saw cascading down the glass.

As I am now sitting by the Christmas tree at home, hoping desperately for snow (instead of this rain I seemingly can’t escape), for the first time in my life I feel more like a guest in my parents’ home rather than it being myhome too. Over the past few years my family has moved around quite a bit back in the Midwest. In my Bilbo way, as a comfortable home is one of the things I treasure most, this has been a rather difficult period in my life. Yet while these difficulties unfolded back home, I always had St Andrews to return to. Now when I walk around the too-square city blocks and look at all the cookie-cutter homes, it doesn’t feel right somehow, and I cannot escape the feeling that I am really just visiting. Perhaps this feeling has arisen because of another thought simmering at the back of my mind while I contemplate post-St Andrews life: the fear of returning to the Midwest. I cannot help but feel that returning after making such a hoopla about adventure and living abroad would be anti-climactic somehow. And for someone who admittedly indulges in the dramatic here and there, there’s nothing I do indeed fear more than an anti-climax.

Such feelings, combined with the simple beauty of Scotland and the kindness of its people, has made St Andrews truly feel like home for me. The little river burbling along Lade Braes, the whiskey sun flowing over the farm hills in the evening, and the haar tiptoeing through the cathedral ruins: I have fallen irrevocably in love with all that St Andrews is over the past four years. Even looking beyond the St Andrews town limits to the craggy Highlands or the quiet lap of the waves near the cliffs of the Isle of Skye, I can see parts of my soul tucked away in all these bits of Scotland. While I am excited to see where my next step takes me, the thought of leaving these things behind has opened a small fissure in my heart.

Making the decision to attend St Andrews seems like a lifetime ago, at a time when I think I was a completely different person than I am today, yet it threw my life into a strong current that has completely swept me away. As I wrote in my previous post, I once thought that my time at St Andrews was the “big moment,” that it would be my defining feature as I returned to the U.S. and settled into a routine existence. Yet now I find routine confining, as all I really want to spend my days doing is moseying about, seeing things and talking to all the different kinds of people I encounter along my way. Rather than St Andrews being the entirety of my story, I now find myself hoping that it really will be merely one chapter in a great many. Indeed, “adventure” has become the word that I want to define who I am and the course my life has taken.

I also think that this idea, “adventure,” is what is making my attempt to plan a life after university so difficult. While going to graduate school and working towards a Master’s or Doctorate sounds interesting, and at my heart I do really love to learn, I am almost wary to spend another substantial part of my life trapped in the comings and goings of an academic routine, confined to the library and married to my work. A small voice deep within my heart keeps whispering to me as I ponder these things that I can still satisfy my love of learning out there, out in the world and amongst its people. Instead of Googling viable postgraduate universities I wander off in my searches, punching “Norwegian lighthouse jobs” or “horseback safari tour guide South Africa” into the search bar rather than what I should be looking for. Yet deep down, I think this is what I am looking for.

Lately I have been saying that my life ambition is to be an old, old lady with plenty of stories to tell. You know the type: the eccentric great aunt at family parties who occasionally comes out with true zingers, of the wild times in her youth and the amazing things she has seen. This is the heart of where this word “adventure” truly comes in. It is my hope that I will live a completely full life, that I never once regretted a single thing that I did and instead took every opportunity to learn about myself, the world around me, and the people who join me for the ride. Recently I stumbled across this quote:

“For what it’s worth … it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of…”

As I will be celebrating twenty-two in a few days, I find these words to be rather poignant for this transitional period of my life: a new age, a new year, and new possibilities as I graduate from St Andrews in June. I have no idea who I am or who I want to be, only that I want to be startled and to feel as deeply as I can, as these words suggest. And I am beginning to learn what it means to take pride in myself. This is where I think “seven down, one to go” becomes important. I have very nearly completed my degree combined with the small challenges that come with living abroad. At times I cannot believe that I, small and Midwestern, could have possibly achieved something like that. Yet not only have I merely “done” it, but done so while taking the time to explore, to challenge myself outside of the classroom, and to live in a way that I once thought was only a fantasy from my books. While I have my reservations about actually completing my degree in June, and all these speculations becoming a reality, I am slowly starting to realize that perhaps there will truly be another great adventure awaiting. What I am beginning to take pride in is the fact that I do not think that I will settle for a path that my heart is not truly invested in, and that I will work as hard as I can to do all it is that I hope to do to become that old, old lady with all the stories. Perhaps all I need to do then is relax, and let the answer to the riddle of where I will be this time next semester startle me indeed.

For now, though, I will settle into my armchair with a good book and Bear tucked by my side. After a very long semester with essays on mermaids and Sleeping Beauty, many stories written, and even a wedding attended back in October, I think I owe it to myself to stop and soak it all in. Wishing the best of the holiday season to all those who read this, and may your days be merry and bright.


Originally written 21 December 2015

The Story of my Life

I have been putting off this blog post for a rather long while now, so much so that I did not even take the time to reflect and write about completing my penultimate year at university. Time has consequently passed, and I now find myself in the thick of buying books, frequenting the library, and donning scarves against the oncoming chill for what very well could be the last time. As I saunter dreamily down what should be the familiar cobblestoned streets, I find that a new wind is blowing through this sleepy Scottish town.

For instance, I took great comfort as an underclassman seeing certain student faces around town. These were people I was not intimately acquainted with, but I somehow always saw them in passing for several years. They made me feel safe, comfortable, and like I was still at home. Yet such people, who held a special place for me as “friendly faces,” are gone, replaced by more doe-eyed and milk-skinned subjects. Rather suddenly I realized today that I have now come to fill this void left by my predecessors. It may be expressed by all manner of clichés: I’ve been around the block a few times, I know the drill, the wizened old sage, etcetera. In essence, I have reached my fourth and final year here at St Andrews and I’m left standing in a rather befuddled state trying to work out just how in the heck that happened.

While most of the sights remain the same – my beloved North Sea, the wee trinkets bedazzling my favorite coffee shop on North Street, the cascade of the river on Lade Braes – just as the faces I’m surrounded by have changed, I feel as though something inside me has altered too. Seeing the troupes of first years eagerly bounce down the medieval streets serves as a poignant reminder to what my first few weeks in this strange new world were actually like.  I spent the better part of first year wondering if I truly had made a grave mistake. I religiously scoured social media, seeing all those I had left behind seemingly have the time of their lives without me. Yet I also desperately wished to fit in with my new peers who had had such illustrious educations at British private schools, who seemed so cultured and refined compared to my corn-fed and quaint Midwestern ways. If I happened to let slip some of my more absurd imaginings or opinions I would experience the occasional backlash, yet in this environment the barbs seemed a lot more painful because I was so eager to be just like everyone else: a cool, cultured, and collected St Andrews student. Consequently, I felt more isolated and alone than I have thus far ever felt. I ruthlessly told myself that I would never be able to make friends or build a life here. Even well into my second year, doubts plagued my mind and I truly questioned whether Scotland was where I was meant to be. I couldn’t wait to return to where I thought my home truly was.

These attitudes may have improved over the course of my third year, but the most radical shift in my mentality came this summer in which I spent the entire duration of May 26th to September 6th at home. While my life was quiet (how I usually prefer it to be), I was with my dog and my parents (whom I declare my best friends), and had not a care in the world (except whether Jamie Fraser would escape his latest peril in the Outlander series), I felt a wanting; nay, a yearning for something else. And finally I realized what that really was.


I’ve begun my final year at St Andrews rather dreamily, ambling along Lade Braes with a smile dancing upon my lips and my eyes fixated upon that wild Scottish sky. I walk through the rain blissfully, all c’est la vie rather than slouching along in my heathered trench coat with eyes trained to the pavement. Now more than ever I take the time to stop and appreciate each petal, each fleck of sea foam that belongs to Scotland, as silly and romantic such attentions may seem. In fact, I find that I am rather more romantic of heart than logical of mind as of late. While most of my peers are fretting about dissertations and postgraduate plans, this riptide they have all got swept up in has somehow passed me by. And yet I am quite alright with it, for such means I am truly plunging my hands deep into the combs of this place called Scotland so I may taste its richest and most ambrosial nectar. Simply put: I am in no hurry and all I really would like to do is stop.

While to some this may not be the wisest attitude for a soon-to-be university graduate, I think this is the most significant thing I could have learned in all my time here at St Andrews: to take the time to appreciate the now, the where I am rather than the where I am going, and to soak in through every single one of my senses the essence of that place. Most of my life has been a tour-de-force of wild ambition. Though I still retain many dreams that others would deem grand, the speed at which they are accomplished is no longer a priority. Scotland has radically altered my system of values, in which I esteem adventure and living thoroughly above all else.

I recall a conversation I had with my mother this summer which I think would be relevant to this musing. Obviously I am not immune to the pressures of considering postgraduate life; and indeed, my Type-A personality still rears its ugly head to send me into panicked attempts at planning the upcoming years. However, I remember wildly attempting to vocalize this feeling that developed deep in my heart over the course of this summer, and what I finally arrived at was this:

I desire to live an extraordinary life. 

By extraordinary I do not mean “better than” your average Sally, Susan, or Sam. Nor do I need anything particularly outlandish to happen, such as being entrusted with a rather queer piece of jewelry that could alter the fortunes of men. Rather, my current life ambition is to have stories to tell, particularly when I am grey and a good deal shorter than I currently am.

I want nothing more for my life than to talk wistfully about the time I sat drinking in the whiskey-soaked sunshine on the Isle of Skye. I may or may not remember all the names or faces who existed with me there, but I will know deep in my heart they were kindred spirits. I want nothing more than to smell the tang of sea brine when I so much as hear the word “Scotland,” and be able to have a similar experience about other places in the world because I was brave enough to start here. And while I think going to Scotland in the very first place was the catalyst for this, that single step in no way made it completely so. Rather, I had to endeavor and indeed struggle to find my footing here in St Andrews. But ultimately, by really taking the time to let the essence of Scotland seep down into the marrow of my soul, I have become infected with this need to continue what I started.

So these are my thoughts on the final chapter of this great adventure called St Andrews. However, I have begun to think that maybe St Andrews shouldn’t be the entire book itself. Rather, my time in Scotland is a chapter wholly unto itself, with the rest of the pages of this story of myself waiting to be smudged, tattered, and messily covered in all the inks of life. I begin the year not counting down the days until I can return to my armchair, my books, and my Bear, but quite literally bursting out of the plane to run amok amongst the heather and the hills once more. I am most certainly not the same Maggie who wandered out her door that September day three years ago; I’m a little wilder, a little freer.

So much the better for it.

Originally written 14 September 2015