Every year around my birthday, I start to think about my life. All of it. Almost like an annual existential crisis of sorts. And these are a lot of thoughts, just swirling around my head like some heavy fog overpowering a city.
And the fog gets heavier and thicker, until suddenly it’s 3 am and I’m still awake just thinking about stuff.
Where I’m at currently and what I’m doing…
What I wish I was doing with my life…
What I realistically should be doing with my life…
Where I wish I was living…
Something dumb and embarrassing I did like 5 years ago…
Choices I wish I’d made differently, and how my life might look today if I had…
The lyrics to If I Could Turn Back Timeby Cher…
Who I was 4 years ago on my birthday…
Who I was even just last year on my birthday…
What are my passions…
Are aliens real…
I mean, clearly the list goes on and on in a never-ending swirling circle of chaos. This is why I only got about 3 hours of sleep.
But, the good news is that there is something constructive that comes from this annual existential crisis. Every year when I get into this little funk and start over analyzing my life, it helps me see more clearly that there are thing I do want to change in my life, and I start trying to plan what I can do to make those changes.
While I was lost in my thoughts last night, lying awake in my bed, my mind drifted to a place I hadn’t thought of for about two years. Scotland.
I went on an amazing bucket-list trip to Scotland; something I had been wanting to do for years. Unfortunately, I went with my ex as a sort of “last effort thing to try to save our marriage.” And if I can give you any advice, it’s to definitely not try to save your marriage with a vacation. (Because that’s just horrendously stupid! And yes… I admit it was a stupid choice to go with him.)
Soon after we came home was when the s*it hit the fan and I ended up finally breaking away from the toxic relationship for good. However, because of the timing of everything, some of my incredible trip to Scotland got a little lost in the chaos and hidden away to find as fun little mental Easter eggs that I will probably continue to find over the next few years as they resurface into my consciousness.
That trip to Scotland, as cliche as it sounds, was exactly what I needed though; because certain events and experiences there helped me realize that I did need to end my marriage. And honestly, in ways changed me forever. I think that’s what real travel shoulddo though… it should change you!
Now, I won’t go over my entire 14 day trip in one post because it’s just too much to take in with one sitting. But, I will showcase 2 stories I thought of last night that randomly happened to pop up into my chain of existential ponderings, and the “how did I get where I am?” and the “where do I need to go now?” thoughts.
The Sheep and The Mud
One of the places I had been looking forward to the most of my Scotland trip was the Isle of Skye. I had researched it for months, drooling over the gorgeous photos and just finding it so unbelievable that this place could be real. (And for the record, pictures do not even come close to doing this place justice…)
Quite literally, as we drove across the bridge connecting Scotland to Skye, we entered a place of my dreams. And I say this because, since going there, I constantly dream about it. There are several reoccurring dreams with the same locations that I have (I’ll have to do a post sometime about my dreams in general…) and Skye has become one of those places. So I figuratively and literally dream about the Isle of Skye!
We only spent one day there, and packed in everything we could in those precious hours. After starting off exploring at the ruins of the Clan Donald castle called Armadale, we wanted to do some hiking.
Studying a map, and doing some research online when we found wifi at the castle visitor center, we found some close by castle ruins we could hike down to, starting at a beach called Tarskavaig. Driving along a dirt road for about 17 miles, that we came to realize was used for herding to millions of sheep that apparently live on Skye, we found what we believed to be a good spot to park and start walking.
The thing about Scotland that is cool, is that you can literally hike wherever you want to. If it’s open land, it’s open for hiking. The bad part about that, though, is unlike here in the US, trails are not really marked so you kind of have to just find your own way.
The result? Most people get horribly lost.
The silver lining in us getting lost was I didn’t mind so much where we got lost. We started on a rocky secluded beach, and made our way towards some green cliffs, which we climbed up to get to higher ground. Up there, we ventured through fields of sheep, passing a small abandoned home, and finding some cool caves along the way. Every where we turned was picturesque and wonderful.
After walking for some time, my hiking partner was becoming frustrated that we were lost. I was lost too, but more so in my thoughts and in the scenery around us. There was literally no one else around, it was as if we were in a completely isolated place in the world, and the only other living things were sheep. I kind of wished it was just me and the sheep though.
We were up pretty high, and I thought if we walked towards the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean we could maybe spot to castle ruins we were trying to find below us somewhere. As I walked towards it, I happened to step with my right leg into a deep pit of mud, which went all the way past my knee!!
So after I got pulled out, and I laughed hysterically about the fact that my entire right leg was covered in mud and my boot now weighed 20 pounds, we looked over the edge of the cliff and still saw no signs of this supposed ruined castle.
Feeling defeated, we started to circle back towards where we thought we had come from. However, we did not and ended up even more lost and turned around. Magically, as if summoned by our need for help, a man came walking down a hill in the distance. From the looks of him, he was a sheep herder. A bunch of the cute, fluffy little sheep were frolicking behind him as he walked right towards us. Waving us over, we walked towards him too.
Quickly we realized he barely spoke English. He had an incredibly heavy Scottish accent, but he mostly spoke Gaelic and we could hardly understand him. What we did understand immediately, though, was his warm friendly smile! He just beamed with joy! He seemed like one of the jolliest and friendliest humans on the planet.
I was super stoked about those sheep of his, they are these adorable little sheep with the cutest black and white legs and curled little horns:
I tried to pet a few of them and they scampered away. The farmer laughed at me, calling them, “wee little beasties.” I just wanted to pet the wee little beasties so bad!
Realizing we were very much not from around there (sassenachs as Scots call them, which means outlanders, or outsiders) he spoke slower and was very patient with us. He waved his arms around as he talked with us, and we tried to tell him where we were trying to go. I showed him on my phone the castle ruins and he started laughing. “Ach… it’s weeeee over there!” he explained, pointing towards the far shoreline in the distance.
I managed to get some of his story of of him (from what I could understand anyway.) He had been born and raised on Skye, and had been a sheep farmer his whole life. Married to his wife for over 40 years! I I commented, meaning for it to be in my head but it ended up being said out-loud, “You must love your life here!”
He nodded actually understanding what I said, and replied with a giant smile, “I kenna the mud and the wee beasies!” He laughed and pointed at my mud soaked right leg when he mentioned mud. (Which I figured his comment loosely translated to “I know the mud and the sheep!” or maybe “All I need is the mud and the sheep!”)
Eventually, we decided to give up on this particular castle adventure, because there were other things we wanted to see on Skye before night fall came in a few hours. We said our goodbyes to our farmer friend, and started walking in the way he told us to go back.
I looked back and watched him round up his wee beasties, and continued merrily on his way. I envied him. Honestly, I did. I felt this immense jealously of how happy this man was, with the simplest life on this unbelievably beautiful island. It’s all he knew, but apparently that’s all he needed.
We climbed back the cliffs and made our way back to our car. As we began the drive to our next hike to the Fairy Pools, my thoughts remained with the sheep farmer for awhile. I wished my life could be less complicated, less out of my control, and less sad. I wanted to feel the joy that farmer felt every day. He loved his life! He literally radiated with joy! And those sheep were joyful too, frolicking and dancing all around him!
What I wouldn’t have given in that moment to feel that kind of happiness. I tried to think when I truly, really, felt that happy. It had been months.. maybe even years. It made me sad, and I started crying in the car.
He asked if I was ok, and I said I was just feeling tired from all the jet lag. It wasn’t a complete lie though. I was feeling emotionally jet lagged from years of unhappiness.
I managed to pull myself back together, to just try to enjoy the beauty of this place I had been waiting so long to see.
But deep down I knew that eventually, I needed to find my own version of wee beasties and mud that made me happy. I will never forget that farmer; he will never know what an impact he made on a sassenach visiting all the way from Utah.
Dierdre of the Sorrows
Heartbreak and despair are two very common themes among Scottish folklore, I came to discover. I think that happens in almost every culture, though, because we as humans always look for stories we can relate to, to help us through our own mess.
Well, Dierdre’s story happened into my life right when I needed someone to relate to.
It was close to the end of our trip, and we had honestly been fighting quite a bit that day.
Despite it all, we were in Glen Coe which is one of the most beautiful places I have seen in person, second only to the Isle of Skye, and that made things better for the moment (a bandaid on a bullet hole so to speak.) The rolling, green hills and expansive valleys are simply stunning. No wonder so many movies and shows are filmed here! (including scenes from Harry Potter, Skyfall, Braveheart, Game of Thrones… just to name a few notables!)
We had finished visiting the historical site of the Glen Coe massacre(which I will have to do another post about that whole place someday…) and we decided to drive eastward through the Glen Coe highlands towards our next destination of Dalmally.
After we went on a brief climbing adventure to see the shooting location of Hagrid’s Hut in Harry Potter (on which I ended up rolling down a very steep hill and sprained my ankle…but it was so worth it!!…) we pulled out a map and were deciding where to go next. Since my ex was a very stubborn person when it came to figuring out directions, I left him alone and hobbled towards The Claighaig Inn where our car was parked, to explore a little. There was some information inside the gorgeous wooden lobby, including an array of pamphlets.
I managed to grab a few random ones before I was summoned to head back out on the road. The driver was still upset with me about something I can’t even recall, so as the passenger I silently enjoyed the scenery surrounding us on the road, feeling mesmerized by the intense beauty of it all.
Remembering some of the pamphlets I had grabbed, I happened to pull out one describing the folklore surrounding Glen Coe, including Deirdre of the Sorrows. The name itself pulled me in, because in that moment I was feeling like Aly of the Sorrows, so I quickly read through her story. To paraphrase:
Deirdre was the daughter of a famous story teller, who served in the court of King Conchobar Mac Nessa in Ireland. When she was born, the high druid of the court (a magical priest of sorts), prophesied that she would grow to be so beautiful that kings
and lords would go to war over her.
Intrigued by this, and clearly doing the kingly thing, Conchobar tore her away from her family and sent her to live in isolation until she was old enough for him to marry.
Well, Deirdre had her own ideas. As she grew close to the age of marrying, she was out hunting one day and happened to meet the handsome young warrior named Naoise. Falling deeply in love, the two defied the king and fled to Glen Coe in Scotland to be together. They made a life there, living among the valleys and the mountains
in Glen Etive.
I wish the story had a happy ending, but it doesn’t. The king was furious and sent his army after them. It took them awhile to hunt them down, but eventually they found them and in the end Naoise was killed.
Heart broken and inconsolable, Deirdre took her own life to be with her love, right by the river in Glen Etive. However, the legend says that she was never able to find him in the afterlife, because King Conchobar wanted to keep them apart forever; so sometimes her sorrowful cries can be heard in Glen Etive by the river. Some people even see her wandering around searching for Naoise. She never stops searching for her true love.
I had been so consumed by this story, that when I happened to look up at the road again I saw a sign to turn right for Glen Etive. “TURN RIGHT!!” I yelled dramatically (even though the turn was still another 500 or so feet ahead…)
Something was just pulling me to go there, to go see where Deirdre had spilled the blood of her inconsolable sorrows into the waters of the river. Maybe Deirdre herself was pulling me there, who knows!
Glen Etive definitely did not disappoint us one bit. The road led us into a small canyon, carving into the wet green hills and into some unearthly beautiful terrain. I was silently staring out the windows again, just intensely taking it all in.
We pulled over eventually, stopping in two different places. The first was here, by this small but incredible waterfall.
Then we stopped here, at the iconic Skyfall location from one of the more recent James Bond films. (Everyone raise their hand who wants to make out with Daniel Craig!) (And for the record I’m raising my hand.)
I didn’t hear Deirdre’s cries, or see her, but I think her story resonated somewhere deep inside me. I was wanting to leave a controlled life to find my true happiness, to experience the real joy I knew was out there for me. I remember standing back and watching my ex as he walked further down the road from where I stood and took the last photo, and I realized he was not my Naoise. My Naoise was still out there. Fighting back tears, I blamed it on how beautiful the scenery was, but really I didn’t want to admit to this man that I realized I was probably going to have to leave him to save myself and go after what my heart really wanted and deserved.
It was a difficult thing to come to grips with, and having those thoughts terrified me. Guilt overwhelmingly rose within me, telling me I was a terrible person and wife for even thinking those things. But at the same time, I was miserable beyond whatever sorrows haunted Glen Etive; and I thought if Deirdre was willing to risk it all to find her true happiness than maybe I should too.
I think I spilled my own sort of blood there on those river beds; feeling the beginnings of my new life path forming inside my heart that led me away from who I was with. I’ll never forget that pivotal and important moment, and a part of me will forever be left there in that beautiful wilderness. Just like Deirdre, I never want to stop searching for my true happiness.
The Golden Birthday
So here I am, on what I am dubbing my Golden Birthday (turning 33 on the 3rd! Or is that a ‘double golden’ birthday?). Since I was only a toddler on my real golden birthday, I’m pretty sure this one counts because I don’t remember my real one.
Supposedly your golden birthday is supposed to be a lucky year. I’m hoping that can be the case for me. I feel good about 33! I really think 33 is going to be a magical year for me.
I feel healthier than I have in a long time, and I’m still working towards the happy part… but that doesn’t mean my life is not full of joy! I have so much to be thankful for and everyday I realize how incredibly blessed I am for everything I have, and for all of the amazing people in my life who I love.
The good news is, I still have plenty of time to figure out my life. So despite how many more sleepless nights I may have ahead of me, thinking about everything, at least I find comfort in knowing that I still have time to sort it all out. Everyone is continuously progressing, learning, and growing; so I’m not alone on this strange road of life. So I know one day I’ll find my own Naoise, and my own sheep and mud too.
So cheers to 33!