I didn’t mean to fall off the face of the earth… though geographically speaking, we came fairly close this summer. Exactly five weeks ago, I was steaming my waterlogged feet at a campfire in the same Highland glen where Hagrid’s hut, James Bond’s Skyfall estate, and Monty Python’s Bridge of Death were staged. Wind-worn mountains surrounded our tent, their crags still faintly green at midnight. If not for the peaks, we might have been able to spot the Northern Lights. I felt like I was living in a medieval fable, complete with the short, shivering nights and the venison roasted on sticks.
I did not write a single day of our six weeks on the road from Italy to France to home by way of Scotland. I’d intended to, of course. I’d held onto my hope that this half-business/half-pleasure road trip would loosen the time demands clenched around my ribs until I breathed big gusts of words. It turned out, however, that what I had clenched to me were anxieties, and well… you know the saying. Wherever you go…
We drove all the way to the Scottish Highlands, and there I was too.
This has been a hard year, which you may or may not have guessed from the dearth of blog posts around here. The first quarter of 2015 brought the dissolving of three different communities that were dear to our hearts, one isolation lined up after another. I will write about them one day, but I haven’t entirely figured out how to begin processing them within myself. For lack of any more conclusive results (according to a litany of medical tests, I’m fit as a fiddle), I’ve chalked my confusing health issues up to anxiety. I don’t think I’m wrong.
This is a growth spurt year, the kind that moves in drastic lurches and tangled limbs. It aches down to the bone without any obvious cause or cure, and I know we will look different at the end of it even if I can’t imagine the specifics. Truthfully, I can’t even imagine the specifics of next week at this point. My mind is a murmuration of birds shapeshifting in and out of the wind, directed by instinct rather than destination. You’ve heard the motto “Do the next right thing”? It sounds so simple, yet it also assumes you have a single clear direction. What is the next right thing when you’ve fallen off the map?
Generations of soul-searchers before me would answer, “Hit the road!” and we certainly did do that over the span of June and July: eight countries, six campgrounds, two apartments, two hotels, four friends’ houses, 4,100 miles, and a freakish 67°F temperature range that has left me unable to tell whether I’d prefer a fan or a blanket at night. (I’m currently opting for both.) Dan had two different work conferences across Europe, so we packed our car like Tetris wizards and made it a family affair.
We swam in pools, waded rivers, hiked mountains, and invaded every hands-on museum we could find. We went on treasure hunts, followed in the footsteps of Harry Potter, and foraged for our own s’more sticks. We got caught in not one but two transportation strikes and ended up crossing London in a double-decker bus. Completely unrelated to the strikes, we also managed to get ourselves stranded ten miles from our car after a long day at a French theme park. There were bagpipes and goats and crepes and a new tattoo. We ate either croissants or English breakfast every morning because we could. We gained weight, though I am steadfastly refusing to check how much. We forgot what day it was on a regular basis.
You can also check out our #franklyscotch trip posts on Instagram.
(France + Scotland = #franklyscotch)
The girls had a blast, though I’m sure they were ready before the end for us to stop referring to every missed bus and rained-out hike as “an adventure.” (Parents gonna parent.) Dan worked like the Energizer Bunny on caffeine and had his mind lit up with possibilities. I vacillated between weightless happiness and abject frustration as the writing-less days slipped by, each one a reminder that travel doesn’t transmogrify us into more capable versions of ourselves. I played hard with my kids and worried hard about what we’d return home to. I was there, and now I’m back here.
I wish I could say what one does with a growth spurt year after the trip has been traveled and the bags unpacked. It seems unfair somehow to return from a long journey without any revelations. Or perhaps that’s my next right thing—to winnow out the wisdom of this summer and let it draw me back to earth, watch it corral my flock of anxieties slowly toward a roost. Growth is no respecter of schedules, after all, any more than it is of geography. This is my gangly attempt at presence then, my place card in the rib-clenching unknown. Wherever in this process we may be, whoever this year is stretching us to be, whatever will emerge from the distances we’ve traveled, here we are.