During the planning stages of the trip to Scotland from which I just returned, I made mental lists of the things I wanted to see and experience. I studied travel books, talked to people who had been there, went on-line. Then I threw all of my wants to the wind, wanting to trust that I would have the biggest and best adventure with the smallest amount of expectation.
I went over the ocean with only one non-negotiable desire. To see Loch Ness. I knew it was a silly thing to want, but it was the want that would not be denied. I had contacted our hosts and been assured that a day trip would get me the glimpse of the home to a monster who has lived happily in my imagination since I was ten.
Our first night in Edinburgh, as we planned the week, I mentioned Loch Ness and how excited I was that we were going to get to see it, even though we wouldn't be traveling its 25 mile length. Toni, who in an earlier e-mail had assured me that we would find a way for me to see this myth-misted lake, blanched and said that I must have misunderstood, or she must have miscommunicated. Loch Ness was too far north for us to do comfortably in a day trip.
The vacation had barely begun, and the denial of this one thing I had been promised had the potential to render it stillborn. How many times in my life has disappointment dashed expectations, not only for vacations but also for relationships? How many times have I lost what was on the other side of that darkness because I could not release what I held in my head and heart and hands? This was not going to be one of those times.
I swallowed, hard. I smiled, a small polite reassurance. I released - Toni from her promise and myself from the prison of disappointment.
Here is what waited for me on the other side of No Loch.
Toni and Dave, the thirty-something couple we stayed with, are Americans choosing to live overseas. They love Scotland and its simplicity and the warmth of its people. They've been there for over six years and have made it their mission to explore their new home fully. They are writers, artists, dreamers. Toni has a Master's Degree in Creative Writing. Dave has a degree in furniture making and has won awards with his craft.
Toni answered every question I had about the language, the people, the history of Scotland. Our comfort and enjoyment were her primary concern for the whole week. She has an infectious laugh, a huge and generous heart and the energy of a hyperactive adolescent. She drives Scotland like she's lived there forever. Dave is quietly kind, gently funny and was an amazingly good sport about having his life and his wife hijacked by three rambunctious women.
Leora, a beautiful and talented artist from L.A. who was staying with Toni and Dave before we arrived, accompanied Toni and Pam and I for most of our adventures. Not yet thirty, she brought a sense of wide-eyed wonder and unrestrained fun as well as a dagger-sharp wit to every outing and conversation.
Those three, along with my traveling companion Pam - a gifted musician and songwriter - were a small artists' colony any time they gathered together. A colony that I got to be an active member of.
I didn't get Loch Ness, but I did get three new friends who happen to be fellow seekers and deeply creative spirits.
Our days were packed with sight-seeing and fun. I was well and energized and absorbed every moment of every adventure. We saw sheep and cathedral ruins. We saw Highland "Coos" and centuries-old watchtowers in the middles of fields. We watched a Border Collie herd sheep, helped by a farmer on an ATV - then tickled ourselves with the realization that Border Collies are named for the Borders region of Scotland.
We walked cobbled streets, delighted in cobbled homes with Hobbit doors, and hummed along to the music of English spoken in brogue. We walked a bridge built by the Romans and toured a castle where my childhood hero, Mary Queen of Scots, lived. We walked the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace where the current Queen was in residence.
We watched a Japanese woman who went to school in Portland work on a tapestry reproduced from a 15th Century French weaving now owned by the Rockefeller Foundation in NYC. The finished tapestry will hang in Stirling Castle in Scotland.
We sat in a hotel lobby having drinks and watched a wedding party in full formal Scottish attire. Kilts of every style. The mother of the bride in a hat that would have made the Queen weep with envy. Babes in arms in kilts. The conversations floating on the air made magical by the lilt of the brogues embroidering each word.
We wandered Sir Walter Scott's home, explored ancient graveyards, stood at the birthplace of golf.
The food was an adventure as well. Toni introduced me to Millionaire's Shortbread, a decadent combination of shortbread, caramel and chocolate. I ate haggis, neeps and tatties - the national dish that has gotten a bad wrap. Spicy sausage, mashed potatoes and turnips in a brown gravy. The turnips I could have done without. The rest I devoured happily. Fish and chips. Amazing cheeses. Heather honey and ginger ice cream, eaten while strolling through a postcard perfect beach town on a rare sunlit day.
We saw the North Sea, the Firth of Forth, the Tweed River. No Lochs.
If I had gotten Loch Ness, I would not have known without a doubt, for the first time fully, the unutterable joy of embracing adventure without control. I would have missed all of the connection and love that filled the place where I might have held disappointment and resentment. I would not have discovered that whatever space in the world I occupy - as long as my heart is there with me - I belong.
No Loch. Freedom instead. Brilliant trade.