Work, Pt. 2, and Highlands, Pt. 1
Soundtrack: "In God's Country" by U2
February rolled around. My friends left, I changed rooms, and suddenly, my job changed on me. After nearly three months of work, we finished what we'd been originally hired to do: enter the archival information into the first ever interactive entomology database for Scotland. With that done, our duties changed. No longer were we entering data into the computers that had been culled years ago from entomology: now we were doing the culling, reading through countless articles such as the compulsive page turner, "A rare instance of the migration of Apias albino darada Felder (Lepidoptera: Peiridae) in south Andamon," or my personal favorite, a guide to British Lepidoptera from the National Museum of Wales, written partially in vowel-deprived Welsh.
This drove my co-worker Steve insane. Steve was not the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree, and reading difficult text all day was incredibly wearing on him. Andrew soldiered on without making a sound, as he always did. I found that the days were going even quicker. The reading kept my mind occupied, and it was always easy to sneak my own reading into the pile. The only thing keeping Steve from going absolutely mental was a group of female dancers, all apparently high school students, who took to practicing in different locations in the museum. Dancers, with the requisite dancer's body, nearly all staggeringly depressingly beautiful (depressing, of course, because their beauty just sneared, "No matter how charming, witty, or lucky you may be, you cannot have all of us, no matter how much you want it). For about two weeks, it was impossible to go anywhere in the museum without running into a group of them set up in an open space.
We noticed that Steve started taking longer breaks, and "going to the toilet" more often than his non-coffee drinking tendencies would necessarily inspire. To be honest, we all did. But I have a natural disinclination to dealing with beautiful women under the age of consent (especially when I have no idea what the age of consent might be), and have no real interest in enacting "Lolita" in any shape or form. So when an opportunity arose to accompany Keith, one of the entomologists, up to the small village of Banchory to visit a friend and co-worker and drop off a supply of insect display cases, I snapped it up.
When Thursday came laden with rain, Keith and I loaded up his small British car and set out into the Highlands. The Scottish Highlands are what people point to when they want evidence for the existence of God. "God's Country" has two meanings when it comes to the Highlands. Yes, the beauty and majesty does seem to point to divine design, but the Highlands are also God's testing ground, ironically proof of sorts for evolution. The strong, intelligent, and God-protected would survive, the weak would disappear forever. The Scots moved in to the Highlands and thrived; the Romans came, took one look, and retreated with their tails between their legs.
By the time Keith and I were out of the city, the fine mist went to rain, to sleet, to snow in the space of about five minutes of travel. The snow thickened when we hit the foothills of the Highlands, and winds picked up as we climbed. The car shuddered with every gust, and our visibility dropped so drastically that at times I could see farther by looking into the backseat than looking out the window.
I'm not sure if Keith even noticed it was snowing. He remained undaunted by the terrain and the weather. From the time we crossed the Firth of Forth, his speed wavered between 80 and 95, never dropping below 75 until the weather turned to solid blowing snow. The beautiful stark countryside sped by at an alarming speed that I at first attributed to my not having been in a moving vehicle for four months (unless you count elevators). I was--for some odd reason--converting the speedometer from kilometers to miles, thinking, "Hey, 85km/h is only about 50mph. It's just my nerves, right?"
Then Keith and I started talking about a recent court case in Scotland, featuring the "metric martyrs," a group of people who were refusing to follow the E.U. guidelines and make the switch to metric. This hit me with a blinding flash: the type of revelation that hits in the moments preceeding death. The speedometer was hovering at 90. In the English system of measurement.
Keith slowed to 60 miles per hour when we entered the hills, which was even more nervewracking on those rural roads--thinner and more twisted than a politician's promise. Keith took corners I'd be nervous to run around at speeds normally reserved for escape velocity--all the while talking amiably and informally about the country. Keith is an amazing man; an expert in reproductive organs--who one week asked me every day if I wanted to see the pickled human placenta he was carrying around--he seemed to collect knowledge indiscriminantly. A displaced Englishman who fell in love with Scotland years ago, he described everything from the recent debates on how to preserve the Caledonian pine forests, to the early highway system designed by the English to move troops throughout the country quickly and efficiently to curb peasant revolt, to the depth and jaggedness of the ravine we were driving along. "You wouldn't touch ground for awhile if we were to slide off this road. And if we survived, somehow, it'd be a ten mile walk to find a place you could safely walk out," he said, smiling happily.
Seeing my nervousness, he laughed. "I was doing insect collections down there one weekend when I heard people coming. I was fairly well hidden in the brush, and did nothing to make myselves obvious to them. Poachers come into that ravine fairly frequently to hunt and fish, and it's usually a good idea not to draw attention to yourself to those illegally carrying shotguns or fishing knives. God, I love this country!"
I was abnormally quiet the rest of the trip. In my mind, I was stuck in between "Braveheart" and "Deliverance." It was almost disappointing to make it to Banchory to visit Keith's friend, living on an assisted living townhouse on the top of a clear hill. It would have been an incredible view if not for the swirling crowd of snow. Still, it was nice to be at a place that reminded me of where I grew up.
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