All Ben Lindstrom-Ives wanted was an action-packed spring break, a respite from his master’s degree pursuit at the University of London, one that promised far-away lands and great adventures.
It was, as he’d soon find out, an extremely tall order.
First, he set his sights on a month-long trip back to the Middle East — the focal point of his current studies, and his previous home — but this time with his parents, who raised him for 14 years of his childhood in Sag Harbor.
“I can tell you that pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19, as we well know, are two very different worlds,” the 30-year-old grad student said during a recent telephone interview.
“Plans were derailed and my parents decided not to fly to Tel Aviv because they were nervous that the borders would close and they would not be able to return.”
Next, he planned to backpack through the Balkans, taking him from North Macedonia to Kosovo to Bosnia and Herzegovina, then Montenegro and finally Croatia.
“Those plans spoiled for two reasons,” he said. “One, I heard the borders were going to close in the Balkans to the rest of the outside world. Two, I was heavily advised not to get on a plane. I thought to myself — being quite the adventurer — ‘What am I going to do now? I simply am not willing to sit in a flat and stare at a brick wall every day and buy groceries.’ So I thought, ‘Well, why not get up to Scotland?’”
He boarded a train from King’s Cross Station to Glasgow, where he stayed for five days touring the national cultural hub, visiting museums, restaurants and cafés, and absorbing its way of life before the novel coronavirus shut the port city down, sending Mr. Lindstrom-Ives deep into the Scottish Highlands.
His first stop was Glencoe, now famous as the scenic backdrop of the James Bond film, “Skyfall,” before visiting Clydesdale and, finally, a small village called Drumnadrochit, which sits on the western shore of Loch Ness — a long, narrow lake said to be home to a fabled eponymous monster.
He arrived about two months ago, and plans to remain there while riding out the international pandemic.
“It’s happened to turn into one of the happiest possible accidents imaginable during this incredibly difficult time,” he said.
Named after the Gaelic phrase “druim na drochaid,” which means “ridge of the bridge,” it was the bridge over the River Enrick that first brought settlers to the area in the early 17th century. And while the sheep and cattle market once at the center of the village is a relic of the past, Drumnadrochit still feels like a place that is far removed from the rest of the world — not to mention COVID-19 — as are its 800 residents.
“Honestly, being in Scotland has been a beautiful, temporary odyssey for me,” Mr. Lindstrom-Ives said. “I feel very, very close to this land and to its people. I actually have lots of Scottish ancestry on my father’s side of the family, and it’s one of the most intensely beautiful places I’ve ever seen. There’s something very special about being in a region of the United Kingdom that is the last area that significant wilderness is all around you.”
Sitting at the intersection of the Great Glen Way — a beautiful, dramatic mountain pass — and the Affric Kintail Way, home to many animal species, there is no shortage of natural splendor for Mr. Lindstrom-Ives, who is an avid bird watcher and outdoorsman. He has kept a low profile since arriving, as he typically does while traveling, only stopping to greet his neighbors and familiar faces at the grocery store.
He has led a largely solitary and anonymous existence there, he said, and he mostly doesn’t mind.
“I think if there have been any struggles, in the beginning, it was trying to keep productive every day,” he said. “There were some days, in the beginning, when I was here, when the environment and time seemed to have very little meaning at all. And I was trying to figure out, being by myself, how I would spend days productively.”
In time, the goal-oriented dreamer reconnected with his passions, filling his days with hikes through the Highlands, viewing wildlife — from Scottish red and roe deer to golden eagles, capercaillies, and buzzards — and video chatting with his family and closest friends.
“I suppose the other remedy is being a self-confessed, obsessed traveler,” he said. “I’m always thinking about where I’m going to live and where I’m going to go next.”
While Mr. Lindstrom-Ives strives to live in the moment, he is currently preparing for his next series of adventures through job applications. His sights are set on China or Vietnam, where he aspires to teach English after completing his master’s thesis.
“At first glance, perhaps it does seem like a strange thing to do,” he said of moving to COVID-19’s region of origin. “But on the other hand, I think we all just have to move ahead in this crisis, in whatever the best ways we possibly can. And moving ahead means pursuing your dreams, continuing to do what you need to do to survive, and moreover, and continuing to do what you need to do to be supportive and kind and understanding to others during this great challenge.”
Before his professional life begins in September, he will return to his flat in London to pack up his home of the last two years — while undoubtedly reflecting on his journey thus far.
“I understand that this epidemic has been paralyzing for many and it’s perhaps halted the dreams of people to think of any given future. But for me, I think I’ve done rather the opposite,” he said. “I’ve kept myself extremely busy, extremely motivated and always devising strategies to eventually find a way out and move ahead in the world, when possible.
“Just remember that, as Buddhism once said, nothing lasts forever, nothing is bad or good, it just is what is,” he continued. “And just remember the importance of always living in the moment every day that you can — and always, always, always keep an eye on your goals and dreams, and never cease them from unfolding, no matter what happens.”
As published in the Sag Harbor Express and the Southampton Press