At home, on weekends, during snow days, or really whenever the mood strikes her, my mom will wake us up by singing.
Some days she’s Glinda the Good Witch beckoning her munchkins to get up and “meet the young lady who fell from a star”. Other days we’ll wake up living in the Age of Aquarius or another Broadway musical with the smell of pancakes and bacon wafting. Every once in a while, my mom hits a more ancestral tune, lulling us out of our dreams with “I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road.” With that, I’ll get out of bed, put my slippers on and follow the echoes of “and I’ll get to Scotland before ye” down the hall.
Last weekend when I woke up hearing this exact same tune, “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond,” I was utterly confused. I most certainly was not in my bed in the States; this was most certainly not my mom singing to me. This foreign voice belonged to a man and was deep and worn from decades of use, yet it seemed hauntingly familiar. I stretched and looked out of the window of our tiny bus only to see the singer’s melancholy tone reflected in the stark, barren landscape. Minute by minute, mile by mile, our tour bus was being swallowed by the raw, looming scenery of the Scottish Highlands and our guide was providing the customary Scottish soundtrack.
In Scotland, “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond” is traditionally played after a night of revelry as the final song before people head home. I’ve heard it streaming out of pubs in the wee hours, no matter what day of the week it is, and have gone to sleep with its rollicking tune stuck in my head. On this tiny bus with a serenading driver, maybe we too were heading home: home to the land of tartans and clan warfare, of ancient myths and battles, of Lochs and glens. Home to the heart of Scotland.
Our driver must have sensed the dark irony of having chosen this particular tune, however, as we pulled over into Glencoe, the largest and most famous glen in Scotland. In this gorgeous landscape, tucked away in the Highlands amid sweeping valleys and harrowing cliffs, the British troops of King William II brutally massacred the clan MacDonald in 1692, forever staining the desolate countryside and Scottish–British relations. The MacDonald clan would never see the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond or any of the other Lochs again, but their memory lived on in the lonesome drone of a bagpiper standing on the side of the road.
This lone bagpiper was as authentic as the steep crags and bluffs around him; he was not a relic of bygone times or the plaid-wearing puppet of some kitschy tourist trap. Much like our driver’s familiar melody and the associated visuals of tartans and kilts seen in shop windows across the country, this bagpiper was part of Scotland. With his lamenting song and conventional dress, he commemorated the yesteryear while reinforcing the importance of history today.
Even in Edinburgh, it is not uncommon to see people in kilts carrying bagpipes at the grocery store, or even in class. Scottish culture, to me, isn’t just produced and sold to tourists in stores lining the Royal Mile; it’s living, breathing, and constantly evolving.
Witnessing this constant intersection of tradition and modernity— whether seeing my fellow classmates in kilts, talking to the university’s Gaelic language society or hearing bagpipes mixed with hard rock in Edinburgh clubs — is what makes Scotland come to life.
Although my iPod isn’t full of Scottish songs and my uniform of flannel isn’t from my family tartan, I can’t shake the feeling that despite all of these cultural differences, this effervescent culture is somehow familiar to me, almost as if I heard it through a dream.
Margie Fuchs is a junior in the College. Life On The Fringe appears in the guide every other week in the guide.