Ever since my 19th birthday, I have spent nearly every summer abroad. I was fortunate to attend a college that offered overseas programs -- I've never looked back since. Those programs opened the doors to summers in Scotland, Ukraine and England. After college, various other European outposts opened up, until I eventually ended up in Africa.
No matter where I found myself for the majority of the summer though, I usually made it to Scotland either before or after my travels. There, on the shores of Loch Lomond, friends and I converged for several weeks at a summer camp for teenagers. We worked hard. We laughed
a lot. We ate pie. We drank. We sang. And more often than not, I cried when I had to say goodbye.
Campers and staff alike refer to the place as magical. I don't believe in magic, but one night during my first summer there, several of us sat around a campfire, chatting. At some point, someone ran down the hill, and breathlessly asked us to help herd a few of the sheep back into their fenced-off area.
We proved a sight. Arms flailing, a half dozen of us ran around a sheep field in the dark, trying to round up a few of the dumbest animals on the planet.
Later, my sophisticated and well-traveled older dorm-mate sat near me by the fire and said something poignant -- I don't remember exactly what -- but in that moment I do remember thinking, 'It's true... this place is magical.'
Year after year I returned to that sheep field. Rain, mud and midgie bites couldn't keep me away. I skipped a summer now and again when I was on board a ship, and I remember missing part of a summer because a boy I liked happened to be traveling through London in the middle of camp.
But for the most part, I continued to spend at least a few weeks in Scotland, every summer.
The wellies always changed, but the view never did.
In 2009, the Sailor and I arrived from Cape Town to America to visit with my family during his study break. He returned to South Africa alone; I spent the next six weeks keeping a close eye on my mother, who had a few health issues at the time.
I had already made up my mind that I wouldn't be able to go to Scotland that summer; I figured I'd be spending the remainder of the summer with the Sailor in a wintry Southern Hemisphere. Instead, I spent the next six weeks hovering over my mother, driving her slightly crazy.
She couldn't understand why I was so batty myself. She thought I just missed the Sailor, but in truth, we spend half of our life apart. I always miss him, but this time, I was also missing Scotland. I felt displaced.
On the night that my friends arrived in the sheep field, I toasted them from far away with a double shot of single malt, and I found myself feeling a little homesick for Scotland -- or indeed anywhere in Europe for that matter.
It turns out it was the first summer since 1994 that I spent in America. Even when I missed camp in previous years, I was at least in Europe for the summer.
It wasn't terrible. But it was strange. I found myself looking at my cold-weather wardrobe a little wistfully. While locals lamented the rain that pelted Pennsylvania, I found it comforting. I wanted to wear my wellies, sit by a fire and listen to someone strumming a guitar. I learned to knit and the first real project I made turned out to be a sweater that I envisioned myself wearing on the sheep field.
I made it back to Scotland in 2010, but the sweater didn't come with me. The sleeves turned out to be a little too short, and increasingly lower baggage allowances meant I left behind anything big and bulky -- except my wellies, of course.
In 2011, I traded camping on the shores of Loch Lomond with boat camping on Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho with college friends. They had all been to Scotland at some point with me, yet despite their company, I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic about missing the Bonnie Banks again.
Last year, I made elaborate plans to return to Scotland. Afterwards, my itinerary included Ukraine for a writing project. When my brother took a turn for the worse, I cancelled all travel plans and wrote my regrets to friends I wouldn't be seeing again for a long, long time. Even after my brother recovered from his infection, and once he started to improve again, I was thankful I stayed. It turns out it was the last summer I'd have with him. No regrets, but I was still a little wistful about missing out on a summer in Scotland.
I knew early on this year that I wouldn't make it to Scotland this summer. We just relocated to a completely new city. It seemed a little crazy to pack for camp in the midst of our moving melee. I told friends that the excitement of moving to a new place has slightly taken the sting out of not being in Scotland this year. The truth is though, I'm still going to miss it.
So to all of my friends already there in that field, and to the many who have yet to arrive: Enjoy your summer... cherish the friendships you'll make and the memories you will create. Laugh (loudly) for me. I will be toasting you from across the pond, and wishing you well, in your wellies.