St. Andrew’s is a creative piece I wrote for my Intro to Creative Writing Nonfiction 300 class. The piece defines a memorable moment that I experienced while I was on the JMU summer semester abroad in Scotland. I stayed in Macintosh hall at St. Andrew’s University for a month and was immersed in Scottish culture throughout the summer. I wish I could go back every day.
27 April 2017
I blinked away the water residing on the tips of my eyelashes to see the outline of the town in the distance. Clear crystal droplets fell from above, creating ripples on the water. Small circles appeared across the ocean spanning in different places, creating an asymmetrical rhythm. Leaning over the side of the canoe, I watched as a ring of ripples formed around my fingertips. My canoe tipped over the waves, rocking back and forth. To propel myself forward I needed to keep rowing. One dip to the left, one dip to the right. Left, right, left, right, left, right. My arms were growing weak. As I paddled, water droplets continued to sprinkle all over my hands, magnifying the cracks in my skin from the cold weather.
I kept my head tilted up as I paddled forward along with the rest of the group. We were all struggling to continue on towards the skyline. The tops of my arms wielded a fire that burned from the lack of oxygen flow. My muscles screamed for me to relinquish them from the agony but I persisted, ignoring the feeling.
There was a constant flow of water droplets spraying into my eyes making the eggshell colored buildings glitter brighter than before, even in this dreary weather. They were illuminated by the small rays of light that peaked their way through the grey clouds. The darker blue, black clouds were overhead to the left moving in clumps. The wind above pushed them gently like sails blowing in the wind on the water. The sky continued to grow darker over the sky yet the sun peered through the cracks in the clouds illuminating parts of the town that lie ahead. Seeing St. Andrews at a distance on the water was like a dream I thought I would never have. It looked unreal yet I was there.
When I had first stepped on the airplane to come to Scotland, I was hesitant, a bit fearful, but excited. I embarked on this journey for once without my parents or my friends; cut off from the life I had lived my whole life to experience a new culture, a new world. I journeyed back to Scotland, back to my heritage, to find out what it was like to live there. My flight to Scotland lasted seven hours through the night. I sat next to an older man trying to return to Austria.
Before our departure, he asked, “Aren’t you a bit young to be travelling to Scotland by yourself?”
I told him that going to Scotland had been my dream and that I had never been before. I wanted to have an adventure, to experience a new part of the world. We chatted for a bit.
“If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?”
I hesitated. “Well, I am only eighteen but my birthday is in two months! Soon, I’ll be nineteen.”
He looked at me with wide eyes, shaking his head a bit in shock.
“Wow that’s young. Next to you, I feel so old.”
He chuckled a bit realizing that although he wasn’t much older than me, he had already seen more of the world because he had been alive longer.
He was only thirty-five with a wife and kids but I saw what he meant. I was young, adventuring out into the world of the first time. I was stepping into a new light not knowing what to expect on the other side.
I focused my eyes once more on the skyline to get a good glimpse of Scotland, the land of my ancestors. They had once travelled on a ship across the water toward America to create a new life. Now I was doing the opposite, canoeing on the waters of Scotland creating my own adventure. I set out on a journey to fulfill my dream just like them.
A spread of wide green grass covered the area in front of the buildings. The ongoing rain made the grass look even more vibrant than before. I kept my gaze up, straight ahead, staring at the red brick hotel that resided on the far left of the golf course. The Hamilton Grand Hotel stuck out from the rest of the town because of its color, stature, and tower in the front, which had a white triangular dome on top. All the other light grey buildings were to the right of it, clumped next to each other like apartment buildings, separated from the hotel.
I had been at St. Andrews for a month and had walked the golf course. The green grass I saw in front of the Grand Hamilton Hotel was the eighteenth hole. To connect the last hole to the rest of the course, there is a small stone bridge in the middle. Swilken Bridge was built seven hundred years ago used to help shepherds get livestock across, but today it was solely for picture purposes. It added that ancient character to the course. I had taken a picture on the bridge with two people I had met on the trip, Courtney and Jordan. I didn’t know Courtney and Jordan before the trip but over time, the three of us became friends. It’s hard to say why people become friends but we just did. It’s the people that are similar to you, that you feel comfortable around. Courtney, Jordan, and I were known as the nice people. We had been the one’s to help everyone out within the group if there were problems or if someone wasn’t feeling well. Most people wouldn’t take the time to help someone else but we did because we cared.
“Dana!” Courtney called. “Come on.”
“I’m coming.” I tried to say back to her but the wind swept my reply away into the air.
I realized that I had fallen behind. I dipped my paddle to my left, then to my right, forcing my arms to paddle faster to catch up with the rest of the group. The rain came down tapping on the yellow helmets of my friends in front of me. The rest of the raindrops scattered, missing their target. They melted into the waves and blended into the water below, hiding beneath the surface. I continued to propel myself forward catching up to the rest of the group.
“Dana, come try the paddle board now,” Julia shouted paddling towards me.
I glanced around and to my left, I saw Julia standing tall on a white board that glowed on the surface of the water.
“Aren’t your feet cold?”
“They are.” She shrugged. “After a while, you kinda just get used to it.”
“Okay, I’ll trade ya.” I tipped myself to the right and flopped into the brisk water. I held my breath as my face experienced a tingly feeling, a rush of cold.
I emerged from the dark, murky ocean to see that Julia had fallen off the board. She pushed it over to me with just a tap. It glided easily on top of the water. I took hold of the side of the board as she climbed into my canoe. Using my remaining strength to hoist myself onto the thing, I stood up, my legs shaking a bit. We traded paddles and I started paddling to the left, gliding the board forward with ease. I was slow at first but once I got the hang of it, I could row at a steady pace like to the beat of a song. Julia trailed next to me over the small waves. We had reached our destination in the water where it was time to turn back.
The rain subsided as the group turned around and began to row back through the water to our starting point. There were twenty-four people in our group, all from James Madison University. All of us wanted to be there, to experience the beauty Scotland had to offer. We were staying in Macintosh Hall attending classes at the University of St. Andrews for a semester.
I kept my eyes up, paddling myself forward. My arms burned from the constant repetition of paddling from one side to the other. The consistency of the cloth of the wetsuit clung tightly to my skin, weighing me down. The added weight made it hard on my arms to continue rowing but I kept on going.
I was behind the group but could see everyone in front of me. I heard small high pitched squeals coming from my friends. Savanah, Elyse, and Sam were trying to splash Jared. Albert was pulling the frustrated Mackenzie along in her canoe. Courtney and Jordan were off to the right of the group trying not to drift away from the undertow in the current. I noticed a few of the others were farther ahead. They had made it a race to see who could be the first one back to the shore. As much as I would have liked to join in the race, I was contempt away from everyone else, cruising along on the paddleboard without being bothered, enjoying the views from above the water.
I didn’t know anyone before I had embarked on my journey. After meeting everyone in my group, I began to hang out with Courtney and Jordan the most. We became a trio of three that stuck together. Sometimes Julia would join us too but her mood changed throughout the day. At times she would be silly, putting energy into group activities but at other times she wouldn’t want to talk to anyone. She would seclude herself to her room, away from the world. Mackenzie was the most stubborn out of everyone. I had never met someone willing to voice her opinion no matter what the cost. She didn’t care what everyone else thought. If she was mad or unhappy, you knew about it. Albert was the one always there to calm her down. They hung out often. Everyone within our group of twenty-four had their own friends. We intermingled with each other. We were all still friends, saw each other every single day, but some people’s personalities clicked more with others. Those were the people you would gravitate toward and end up hanging around the most. The people most like you.
“Dana look at me,” Julia called to my right.
I made the unfortunate mistake of looking at her. When I saw her from a far, I looked down at the water, then at my feet below me. Number one rule, don’t look down in front of you. Uh-oh I thought. I realized too late. Never look down at your feet when you are on a paddleboard or you will…I saw my vision turn sideways as I lost my balance. Closing my eyes, I braced myself for the impact. The cold rushed over my face when I broke the surface of the water. When I resurfaced, I waded toward Julia. She knew I was trying not to get wet again. I intended to get her back for making me fall. I splashed her, grabbed hold of her canoe, and tipped her. I had no remorse when she too fell screaming over into the water.
“Guys come on,” Mackenzie said. “We got to pull our canoes back in.”
I pushed the paddleboard back over to Julia’s resurfaced body. Taking ahold of the canoe, I glided it over the water toward the shore like everyone else. Our group emerged from the ocean pulling our canoes onto the sand like pirates hoisting our boats out of the water. The canoes were heavier to retrieve because of the weight of the water in them.
Exhausted, hungry, and cold, we set them down near the blue tent on the dunes. I raised my head to see my group gathered around the tent taking off their yellow wetsuits. I was so ready to peel off the ugly banana like wetsuit from my skin.
Taking the wetsuit off was like being freed from a layer of skin that is too tight. I was no longer restricted to the fabric of the wetsuit that clung to my skin. I was surprised to find that underneath, my skin was only a bit damp. A wave of warmth rushed through my body bringing feeling back to my hands and bare feet. There was no point in putting my layers of clothes back on. They were wet. I hated the feeling of wet clothes stuck to my skin. It reminded me of a time when I was a girl. I would be lifted from the bath tub, sopping wet, dripping with water. My grandma would attempt to dry me off with the towel but I would never be fully dry before she forced a shirt over my head. The clothes stuck to my skin because of the left-over water residue still on my body. I hated that feeling and will forever hate the feeling of wet clothes. I did not put the socks back on my wet feet because I knew the feeling. It was an unwanted one that could be prevented by just walking barefoot.
I threw my plain purple t-shirt on with my black spandex, flung my string backpack over my shoulder, scooped up my Nike shoes, and started down the beach ready to take on the thirty-minute walk back to MacIntosh Hall. I could not stand being cold any longer.
A few people from my group walked back with me too. The rest of the group had already gone back or were still peeling off their wetsuits back at the tent. Complaints about how cold we were came from their mouths but we all nodded our heads in agreement that it was still worth it.
I watched my bare feet as they moved underneath me, every step was made without thought, mechanically. My hair fell in a wet, frizzy mess over my shoulders but at that point, I no longer cared. Drops of water dripped off the ends disappearing as they touched the sand. The humid air enclosed around me like a vacuumed shut plastic bag, forcing the smell of sea-salt right up my nose. My face felt warm but my body was cold from the water.
A light patter of rain began to fall from the sky. The sunlight peeked through the grey scattered clouds. They were stretched out like pulled apart cotton candy fluff. The darker clouds still floated overhead but the sun wasn’t entirely hidden. It was off to the right, visible, glowing ever so subtly. It illuminated the zig zag lines on the white sand below our feet which felt hard like a patterned, rough carpet. As I walked down the beach, my feet slanted to all sides from the zig zags imprinted over the sand. Raindrops glided down from above onto and over my face. I raised my eyes to the sky and looked directly at the cause before I glanced over my shoulder at Jared who was six foot two. His long legs allowed him to walk faster than the rest of us.
“Jared,” I said.
He cranked his head to the side smiling at me. “What?”
“Wanna run back? It’ll cut down the time and only take about fifteen minutes instead of thirty.”
He gave me a wide grin. “Sure, race ya.”
We both took off running.
“We ain’t comin’ after you,” Savannah called after us but her words were muffled by the wind.
I felt the urge to run back. I hadn’t been able to run free like that since before my trip to Scotland. I was a runner. I loved the feeling of exhilaration, the speed, and the wind pushing back the loose strands of hair from my face. The real reason Jared and I wanted to get back though was to beat everyone else to the showers. We each got a room to ourselves in Macintosh Hall but the downside was we had to share hall style bathrooms. There were only four showers for the girls and three for the guys. Jared and I were both determined to be one of the first few back to grab a shower or else we would have to wait in a wretched line.
I flung my hair over my shoulder, forcing my legs to hit the sand with force. I felt my heart jolt in my chest. Each step I took on the jagged sand hurt the soles of my feet but I kept going. I loved the feeling of the drizzling rain softly falling onto my face and into my frizzy hair.
We ran down the beach with vigor. The wind pulled me along scooping me up off the sand as if I were walking on air like a free spirit. I forgot that it hurt. I raised my eyes to the sky, my line of sight moving up and down with every step. The sky was hazy, a slight grey with bright light sinking down through the slivers in the clouds. Looking to the sky, I felt like an angel running back to God relinquishing myself to be taken away to the unpredictability of what was yet to come.