Scotland is like home to me. I fell in love with the country during a road trip with my family when I was 13 and I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along on business trips back to Edinburgh throughout high school. I went to the University of Edinburgh for a semester abroad in college and when I realized that four months was not nearly enough time (…and I didn’t want to grow up…) I went back for my postgraduate degree. In the years since graduation I have taken advantage of every chance/offer/barely legitimate reason to go back. Christmas market? Done. New flat with a spare room? Count me in. Fun race? Just let me grab my sneakers. Free afternoon and a story that’s better in person? Wait right there, I’m on my way. The trips have always been a mix of old and new – revisiting my favorite people and places and finding new areas to explore – and I’ve loved every second.
Until this year, I didn’t realize how strongly I felt about NOT swimming in the Charles River. I knew it had been horribly polluted in the past and I knew (thanks to a friendly duck boat driver!) that in recent years it has gotten much cleaner. A certain kind of duck is back, meaning a certain kind of fish is back, meaning pollution levels are not where they used to be. Great! But still, it’s hard not to think of the Charles as kind of gross – it runs through a major city and has large, multi-laned roads on either side, but, maybe most importantly, the Standells’ “Dirty Water” is played frequently and sung along to enthusiastically throughout the bars, stadiums, and streets of the city. Since I first moved to the Boston area in 2004, I’ve been singing about that dirty water, meaning I’ve had 13 years of internalizing the fact that our river may be beloved, but it is best loved from a distance.