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Tranquility in Scotland

Now that I'm nearly a full-time Scot, I'm adapting, even though I never anticipated chasing bats in my living room with an industrial-sized broom or watching helplessly as moles invaded my yard, leaving behind dirt mounds as big as pumpkins. I've tried the patience of many with my troubles using the metric system. "I'll have five hundred kilos of minced beef," I once told the butcher, proudly. He stared at me, then smiled and said: "Are you sure you want half a cow?" Understanding the accent hasn't been a picnic, either. Once, a competitive game of Scattergories got ugly when my friend from Glasgow had to think of illnesses beginning with the letter H. The conversation went something like this:

Friend: "Hairpiece."

Me: "What do you mean?!"

Friend (firmly): "Hairpiece!"

Me (voice rising): "Having a hairpiece isn't a disease! What are you trying to pull?"

Friend (exasperated): "I'm not trying to pull anything. You must have hairpiece in America."

Me: "Spell it."

Friend (shouting): "H-E-R-P-E-S!"

That learning curve was minor compared with the hard work of building a new life abroad, especially for someone single. I've seen those TV shows where people go tra-la-la–ing off to Italy or France to meet Mr. Right and live happily ever after. But this move was all about me. The point of relocating was to slow down, to meet new people, and to venture out of my comfort zone, where a support system of friends and family was always on alert. Scotland, it should be noted, is not a Sex and the City place where single women go solo to the movies or dine alone. I would have to forge new relationships from scratch. So I resorted to the same tactics I had used in my twenties, when I moved from city to city for my career. I joined a women's networking group in Edinburgh, where I met dozens of interesting professionals. I signed on with a speakers' bureau and regaled assorted audiences with tales from my reporting days and the cultural differences between Manhattan and Aberfeldy. It helped that I was a U.K. media It Girl for a spell; the press were fascinated that a magazine editor would leave New York at the top of her game to move to rural Scotland. Those newspaper stories led to more telephone calls and invites, and a minor celebrity status. My 70-year-old mole catcher even asked me out for an evening of country dancing. I politely declined, having not yet attempted those jigs and reels.

When I bought my place I didn't know what to expect of my neighbors. But soon after I arrived, a farmer knocked on my door and presented me with a homegrown cauliflower as a welcoming gesture. Once referred to suspiciously as "that American lady," I am now on a first-name basis with shopkeepers, bank clerks, and the local policeman. Two years on, I'm greeted by locals as if I were a native. (It doesn't hurt that my last name is the same as Sir William Wallace's, the national hero whose life was depicted in Braveheart, though I am not of Scottish ancestry.) When I leave my door unlocked, I am no longer afraid when I hear it opening; it's only the postman dropping off the mail on my kitchen table. And I'm still shocked by people's willingness to help. After I had a minor road accident, the first person to stop was a doctor who gave me a quick neurological exam; seconds later another stranger offered me a lift to a telephone. When friends come over from the States, one Aberfeldy acquaintance always hosts a lively barbecue to welcome them. To this day I remain touched by the calls I received from neighbors checking on my welfare after an operation I had in New York last winter.

I'm always asked if I miss my chaotic life in the big city. No one believes me, but I really don't. I loved doing my job, and I love not doing it. I miss the office camaraderie, and there are times when I wonder how I would have chosen to play out a big story in the magazine, but those moments are fleeting. To remind myself why I turned my life inside out, all I have to do is glance at the hills and riverbanks outside my window and look at next year's to-do list:

1. Go white-water rafting.
2. Learn ceilidh dancing.
3. Memorize the constellations.
4. Check condition of industrial-sized bat-chasing broom.

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