Good morning and happy OCTOBER everyone!
It’s hard to believe, but midterms are already upon us graduate students. I can’t speak for the rest of my program, but I sure feel that they snuck up real quiet-like…like those little tree squirrels do when you’re trying to be still in a treestand.
One minute, all is quiet and calm. The next, BAM! They are upon you, chattering and making more noise in the midst of peace and calm than you thought possible.
(Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything)
It’s no secret I love to read. Even before coming to Georgetown, my monthly “book budget” always has been bigger than my monthly grocery bill. And that’s just how I like it. Stacks and stacks of books. Page upon page of audible downloads, and a *few* Kindle books in my phone, for when desperate times call for truly desperate measures.
No offense, but I can’t bloody STAND reading books on my phone or an electronic device. One of the best things about a physical book is the weight just a few can add to a book bag. You are reminded they are waiting for you each step of the way. They provide shelter to hide behind when approached by folks out and about, and in a pinch, can be used as a weapon. Just saying, flinging Clausewitz at someone could actually cause some real damage (insert a terribly witty comment about the fog and friction of war here).
All practical reasons aside, books are truly “home” to me. No matter where in the world my family lived, I found refuge and joy in the pages of a book. Not as an escape, but as a tool of knowledge and exploration. My sister and I both learned how to read at a very young age, because my mother is a gift. Truly, this woman is a rockstar. She recognized that if we had the ability to read well, and truly had passion for learning–everything and anything was possible. She empowered her daughters by giving us the tools to discover, to question and adventure far beyond the confines of this world. Our parents fostered a deep love and appreciation for history by how they chose to raise my sister and I, and books were a large part of that lifestyle. We didn’t just live in Scotland, we read about its warriors and queens while tromping through the highlands. We didn’t just read about caves and goblins and fairies, we hiked through woods to caverns with no names and danced through standing stones far older than our young imaginations could fathom.
One summer, our family lived in the Scottish Cairngorms in a tent from the 1980’s. Our gear was pieced together with bits and bobs and leaked if you even looked at it the wrong way (not helpful when you live in a country with a north-western coast that has around 265 days of rain a year) and the midges would drive you mad if they didn’t eat you to pieces first….but it was heaven. It was heaven and it was a fairytale for little girls with big imaginations and books feeding adventurous souls. It was the summer I truly learned to read on my own, and the random “bothies” our family sometimes stayed in provided a wealth of learning material. If you are not familiar with the term, a bothy is a basic shelter, usually left unlocked and available for anyone to use free of charge. Typically, they are rough small shelters found in remote mountainous areas of Scotland, Northern England, Ulster and Wales. They were rugged, but DRY most of the time and a welcome change from the damp day-to-day of living in a tent. They also bore the inscriptions of decades of travelers who passed through and left their mark. I will never forget my mother and father trying to distract me from the carved letters in old wood as I attempted to sound out numerous cuss words gracing the structures.
I carried my first backpack solo that summer. I believe I was five or six at the time (my mother can correct me later today!) and my little legs thought we were traversing Middle Earth on a quest to save the world….until they wore out. Our family didn’t try to cover too much country at one time on account of me and my short little-girl legs. I would get so dang exhausted trying to keep up with my parents and Lizzy (who lets face it, has ALWAYS had incredibly long legs!) that I would begin to slow down and tucker out. I will never forget my momma walking alongside me and encouraging her little girl to keep going. Making up stories of flower fairies and the spirits that lived in the highlands to distract me. She easily made the miles fly by faster and my little backpack a wee bit lighter.
Looking back now, I realize what a gift that lifestyle and childhood was, but at the time…it was just that. Life. A beautiful and exciting adventure with my best friends in a magical place, where anything could happen. Anything was possible. My mother gave her daughters the gifts of imagination and reading, and we took those gifts with both hands and ran like hell. Fully expecting grand quests and war and dragons and life on the range to play out the same way it did in our favorite books. Life didn’t always work out as beautifully or kindly as it did in those stories, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
I always have expected magic, and it has always been there waiting for me in the most unexpected places. A gift. I continue to chase it every day.
Over the years my family lived overseas, the book collection grew. When we moved to Scotland, I will never forget the one suitcase each family member was allowed to take. My much-loved stuffed bear “Molly” and her blue pantsuit accompanied our family over the ocean, as well as the little homemade silk princess dress my grandmother sewed for me. But I remember us taking very little to our new home. When we returned to the United States years later, it was with boxes and boxes of books. I will not attempt to guess how many, but my mother (bless her soul) has kept all those old once-in-a lifetime books and it is like revisiting an old friend everytime I go home and sit down to reacquaint myself with them. I easily lose myself once again in stories that were so familiar as a child. Princesses turned warriors, pirates and fae and cowboys and indians and classics I never knew would one day be hard to find.
My mum gave her girls the gift of reading. But she and my dad gave Lizzy and I both much more than that. They gave us adventure. They gave us wildness and wilderness and hope and passion and belief in ourselves and the beauty that is to be found in this wild old world if you are willing to be brave and go out in search for it. Today, I hold tightly to those gifts while on a new kind of adventure. In a new place, with new demands and challenges…armed with joy, and stacks and stacks of books.
Until tomorrow my friends,