Northern California Sunrise

In the stillness of the world at the breath of dawn, I stand upon the deck of my longest home in this lifetime. Balanced upon the edge of a mountain, this house faces South poised in anticipation for the winter sunrise. A thick layer of pearly fog lies like a downy blanket over the valley below and stretches to the edges of the world. During the depths of the night the fog poured in from the ocean like wolves running stealthily over the Western hills. Yet it all lies calm before me now, appearing as a flat field of snow in the shadow light.

I am set high above the world, my vision unobscured by the fog, like a queen in an unwritten fairy tale, with a clearer view of the heavens than the earth below. As dawn approaches the veils of night are pulled back one by one, turning the sky from midnight black to a misty periwinkle. Where the sky descends to kiss the horizon it blushes a vermillion and rose glow that spills out onto the duvet of fog and stains it a pale magenta.

In the moment before sunrise the surrounding world holds its breath. An outline of pure, molten gold appears on the fog’s edge at a single point on the horizon. A moment passes. Then two. Not until after these moments have gone does one realize the sun has already begun to rise. These brief minutes are the only time of day the sun casts its long shadows with a coral-hued light. A wide scene unfolds below as the dark curtain of night is rolled back. The sun reveals the peeling olive paint and the warped boards of the deck upon which I stand. Growing on the railing are faded lichens entangled with brown pine needles that fell long ago. Pine cones become one with the balcony wood as they are overgrown and once more return to an earthy wholeness. Each ancient iron nail that dares poke its head above the surface of the wood casts a timid shadow. Yet the disrepairs of home can be forgotten in these brief minutes at the day’s commencement.

Each needle of the pine overhanging the deck fades from teal-black to a rich green in that moment when the sun ascends above the horizon. Secret crevices in the tree bark are momentarily unveiled as light pours in to awaken any sleeping creatures hidden during the night. A solitary hummingbird rests upon a slender branch. He is an old friend; the dancing hummingbird we call him. With each dawn, music pours forth from the open glass doors of the house to act as an instrumental mirror to the sunrise. The dancing hummingbird sways in rhythm to Grieg’s “Morning Mood” from his Peer Gynt Suite. A light breeze picks up the melody while the yellow California grasses whisper back in a sighing harmony. The air is crisp and fresh with the scent of dew upon the flowing breeze.

The winds descend into a small vale directly below the dilapidated deck and rustles amongst the foliage. The breeze turns the leaves in every direction revealing their pale bellies to the sunlight. Some leaves glimmer silver in the dawn’s light, others sparkle with a gold-copper tone. The little valley rises in the South-West to meet a low, rolling hill covered in a sea of short emerald grasses. The proudest feature of this hillock is a pair of redwoods growing side by side, one slightly taller than the other, standing like an amorous couple fixated only upon each other.

The redwoods are the only obstruction to the view laid out below me on the balcony. They hide the scene that lies beyond and also frame it, giving the view both perspective and depth. Beyond the redwoods stretches the melting blanket of fog which cannot remain under the sun’s rays. It dissipates into isolated patches and finally becomes nothing more than memory. Below, the interwoven valleys stretch on, filled with layers of misty trees backlit by the new sun. Full clarity has yet to come into the scene. Just beyond the edge of the last definable tree comes the golden glint of a vast expanse of water. The sun will never reach into the expansive deep that lies below the imperceptible waves of that bay. The morning sky unifies into a pale blue and the last stars are veiled. The sun reveals the earth only to hide the heavens. Everything the sun reveals will also cast a shadow and nothing in this scene will ever be entirely visible to our eyes or our minds.

Photo by Richard Tarnas

Loch Ness: The Ecology of Myth


Myths and legends have surrounded the deep, cold Loch Ness of the Scottish Highlands for centuries, evoking fear, wonder, curiosity and obsession in the hearts of locals, travelers and readers alike. (Figure 1). Tales of the Loch Ness Monster are famous worldwide, but there are other stories of water beasts far older than that of Nessie, reaching back at least fifteen hundred years, and perhaps much further. The loch has certain properties, such as great depth and low visibility, that give it an air of mystery which might have inspired some to wonder what nameless creatures could hide beneath the waves. Humans have lived near Loch Ness for millennia, since the end of the last glaciation 10,000 years ago. They have hunted in the forests, tilled the fields, and built homes on the loch’s shores. Urquhart Castle was built on the loch’s edge due to the strategic view it offered of the expansive body of water. Myths of various water beasts have been persistent in Highland lore throughout history, but it was not until the 1930s that the legend of one particular monster in the loch began to develop. The increase in monster sightings coincided with the construction of a road on the northern shore of Loch Ness, which opened up the area to tourists and other visitors interested in the Highlands. Whether the Loch Ness Monster truly exists, or is a long-upheld mythological tradition, is still impossible to answer, because the loch itself is not easily explored and hides its secrets well.

Figure 1 – Map of Loch Ness

Creation Myth of Loch Ness

There is a legend of the creation of Loch Ness, which was passed down in Highland tradition, and finally recorded in 1914 by William Mackay in his book Urquhart and Glenmoriston. In this myth, there is a bountiful and fertile valley sheltered on all sides by high sylvan mountains. The valley was fed by a pure spring with the powerful property to heal any disease, a blessing bestowed to those who dwelt in the vale by Daly the Druid. Daly laid a protective stone over the spring and he commanded that it should be replaced immediately following the drawing of any water. He said, “The day on which my command is disregarded desolation will overtake the land.”

For many years the people followed the Druid’s advice and were diligent to replace the stone each time they drew water from the spring. One day, a woman went to the spring and left her child at home to play near the fireside. Just as she had finished filling her pail with water she heard her child cry out and knew he was in danger of being burnt. She rushed back to her home and saved the child, yet in her panic neglected to cover the spring once more. To the dismay of the people living in the valley, the spring overflowed and began to rapidly fill the long, narrow vale. The people retreated into the mountains and lamented in Gaelic: “Tha loch ‘nis ann, tha loch ‘nis ann!” meaning, “There is a lake now, there is a lake now!” and the hills and mountains echoed back their sorrowful cry. The loch has remained in this same valley, and to this day is known as Loch Nis (Witchell 12) (Figure 2).

This story demonstrates that Loch Ness has been a subject of fascination for the people living near it far back into history. The idea that a former civilization lies inaccessible beneath the waters is just one of the many unanswerable questions regarding what is invisible in the loch. The origins of the loch in human history have become the subject matter of legend. However, the actual origins of Loch Ness predate human habitation of the area.

Figure 2 – Aerial view of Loch Ness

The Great Glen Fault and the Last Glaciation

Loch Ness is located in the northernmost section of the Great Glen of Scotland, a large mass of land situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea (Bridgland 5) (Figure 3). The loch lies near the Great Glen Fault, one of three fault lines in Scotland. The Great Glen fault is the most active of the three and is the main source of most tremors and earthquakes in Britain (18). It is possible that early human settlers might have attributed such tremors to the rumblings of a hidden monster rather than to the fault line.

Figure 3 – Map of the Great Glen

During the last glaciation over 10,000 years ago, Scotland was covered by 4,000 feet of ice. Nothing but the tallest mountain, Ben Nevis, which is 60 miles to the southwest of Loch Ness, was left exposed (Witchell 9) (see Figure 3). The glaciation smoothed out the sides of the Great Glen and created landforms such as the long, thin double-basin of Loch Ness, the largest lake in all of Britain. (Bridgland 19, Jones et al. 38, Witchell 9). Strone Point, a strategically positioned spit on which Urquhart Castle was later built, was also exposed by the glaciation (Bridgland 19) (Figure 4).

Figure 4 – Strone Point and Urquhart Castle

Without the great weight of the glaciers, the landmass of Scotland rose slowly by a few millimeters a year. Fjords once connected to the ocean were eventually cut off and became inland lakes. Over time these isolated lakes lost their salinity due to rainwater, tributary rivers, burns and streams. Certain marine species, such as salmon and trout, were trapped in these lakes and evolved to survive in the new freshwater environment. This evidence of other adapted animals has inspired theories regarding the ancestral origins of the Loch Ness Monster (Bauer 11).

The Landscape

The long, narrow body of Loch Ness progresses in a line of “unbroken straightness” which is “unquestionably beautiful” to behold (Baddeley 230). Altogether the loch is 24 miles long, and yet a mere mile and a half wide (See Figure 1). Its depth is, as of yet, unknown; the deepest humans have ventured is 820 feet in a submarine, yet sonar testing suggests the loch may be 975 feet or deeper (Figure 5). In its entirety the loch is approximately 263,000 million cubic feet in volume, making it the largest in Great Britain (Witchell 10, 9). The London paper published a piece on Loch Ness in 1652 describing it as

a standing water called Lough Nesse, which hath a property never to freeze, and is foure and twenty miles long, and in some places is two miles, and in others three miles broad, and lyeth betwixt the Highlands so that she will doe excellent service by preventing the Highlanders to make their passage that way, which is frequented by them (qtd. in Bridgland 110).

The Highlanders were a great source of fear to the English, who saw them as savages, comparable to the “Red Indians” of the Americas (Bridgland 124). The aforementioned property of Loch Ness to never freeze is due to its depth and volume. The heat generated by the loch throughout the winter months is equivalent to burning two million tons of coal, and keeps snow from settling on the ground in the immediate area. This helps keep the surrounding land, which is often plagued by cold mist, storms, and few hours of sunlight, much warmer than if no lake were present (Witchell 11).

Figure 5 – Cross-section of Loch Ness

Rich woodlands of birch, hazel, oak and pine lie on the western side of Loch Ness (Baddeley 230, Bridgland 21) (Figure 6). The Ruisky Forest is known for its enormous trees; some specimens of birch have reached nine feet in girth on occasion (Tranter 121). The area is home to a variety of large or rare animals, such as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos), which is the largest bird in Britain, and the red deer (Cervus elaphus), the country’s largest known animal. The elusive Scottish wildcat (Felis sylvestris grampia) still can be found on occasion in the Highland woods, which was also home to wolves (Canis lupus) until the last was killed in 1743 (Witchell 11-12).

The woods surrounding Loch Ness rise to approximately 1,000 feet up the hills before giving way to heather moors, peat bogs, and bare rocks (Barron 233, 50, Tranter 121). Rosy hued hills give way to mountains, which rise more than 2,000 feet on each side of the loch. The River Ness issues through a gap in the mountains at the north end of the loch (Baddeley 150, Witchell 9). The foothills are close to the shore on the eastern side of the loch and the area is dominated by scree, which are small mounds of loose stones (Baddeley 230). For the most part, the shores of Loch Ness are quite steep and drop sharply off into the water (Witchell 11). Although humans have lived in the Highlands for thousands of years, the land directly surrounding the loch has been developed slowly and much of the original woodland remains (Witchell 11).

Figure 6 – Woods around Loch Ness

Early Human Settlement

Very little is known about the first inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands. They migrated in log canoes and hide-covered boats up the coasts of Britain approximately 10,000 years ago, not long after the end of the last glaciation. Evidence has been found, in the form of high concentrations of shellfish remains, along coastal areas where early humans traveled (Bridgland 19). There is also more recent evidence dated to 5,000 b.c.e. of hunter-gatherers living in the area. A hearth, along with flint, shells, and red deer bones, were all excavated from a site in Inverness, the city just north of Loch Ness (Figure 7). Another site with shellfish debris and red deer antlers was found in Muirtown, just across the River Ness, which date to approximately 4,000 b.c.e. (20) There is some evidence, such as hazelnut trees growing in a greater concentration than usual, that early hunter-gatherers managed some of the woodlands around Loch Ness as a food source. After 3500 b.c.e., when agriculture was developed in Britain, early farmers cleared some of the woodland near the loch. Little evidence remains of these farmers except a few objects made of stone. Three stone axes were found in 1892 near Loch Ness that date to the beginning of agriculture in Britain. They were most likely used to clear the woodland to create agricultural fields (21) (Figure 8).

Figure 7 – Flint tools and fragments

Once agriculture commenced in the Highlands, the farmers began building settlements, but still very little was built on the shores of Loch Ness itself. The exceptions to this were structures built for their strategic view of the loch, such as Fort Augustus on the south end and Urquhart Castle close to the north end (see Figure 1).

Figure 8 – Stone axe

Urquhart Castle

Jutting into the loch from its seat on Strone Point, Urquhart Castle is arguably the most beautiful structure near Loch Ness (Bridgland 5) (see Figure 4). The castle was a stronghold for over a thousand years and was originally built as a Pictish fort. Little is known about the Great Glen of Scotland from the 1st millennium c.e., because the inhabitants did not keep written records of their history. The first written account of the area was compiled in the 2nd century c.e. by Ptolemy of Alexandria, but many aspects are inaccurate (25). Sir Thomas Urquhart wrote in the 1650s that the castle was founded by his ancestor Beltistos Conachar in 554 b.c.e., but the eccentric Sir Thomas also claimed that he could trace his lineage back to Adam and Eve, and much of what he wrote has been dismissed. An Irish nobleman named Conachar did, however, receive Urquhart Castle in 1160 c.e. as a reward for fighting on behalf of the king of Scotland (47). The Durward and Comyn families controlled the shores of Loch Ness in the 13th century, and were each successively rewarded possession of Urquhart Castle for services to the Scottish crown (52). Alan Durward built the castle into the largest stronghold in the Highlands in the 1230s, and it was further improved by the Comyns after Durward’s death in 1275 (53-54). Its size and strategic position on the loch made it a covetable stronghold for many lords over the centuries (62). The English captain, Edmund Burt, described Urquhart Castle in the mid-18th century as having

a pleasant and romantic situation, commanding a most agreeable view of Lochness, almost from the one end of it at Fort Augustus to the other at Bona, and also of the lands woods and hills surrounding the loch on the south east and north (qtd. in Bridgland 124).

The woods near Urquhart, renowned for their deer, were kept as hunting grounds for the nobility in the castle (Bridgland 69). Some timber was harvested, however, and sold in Inverness. Urquhart became a nexus for trade in the 16th century, and goods from the surrounding area were gathered there before being shipped down river to Inverness, from which they were further distributed. In addition to timber, the furs of beaver, fox, and pine marten were sold, as well as salmon and trout catches from the loch. The trade created constant water traffic between Strone Point and the River Ness (71, 69).

In addition to castle fortresses, Highlanders used another defensive structure particularly associated with lochs to guard against attack. These are crannogs, a structure within the loch built on either stilts, or an artificial island, or sometimes a combination of the two (Figure 9). Crannogs were linked to the mainland by a causeway which could be removed if need be. Some lochs in the Highlands contained many of these, but Loch Ness is so deep only one was built on the human-made island Eileen Muireach, also named Cherry Island (Bridgland 24). The Loch Ness Monster has been sighted off of this crannog, and there is the possibility that the crannog has even been mistaken for the monster (“A Guide and Tour of Events and Places Around Loch Ness”).

Figure 9 – Crannog

Highland Myths and Monsters

Although Loch Ness is believed to be home to the most famous of Highland monsters, this creature is by no means the only one in Scottish lore. An ancient tradition in the belief of monsters and spirits dwelling within Scotland’s lochs includes denizens such as water-horses, kelpies, and water-bulls, among others (Tranter 79, Bauer 159). For centuries the animal believed to live in Loch Ness was called the ancient name Each Uisage, Gaelic for water-horse (Holiday 88). Parents told their children not to play near the shores of Loch Ness for fear of another mythical creature, the water-kelpie (Bauer 2). A kelpie is traditionally known as a sly creature that lures weary travelers from their paths into bogs or lakes where they subsequently drown (Witchell 13).

Oral traditions within the Highlands, and in many other locales around the world, speak of giant sea serpents. Celts, Vikings, Irish Picts, and even Native Americans told tales of malevolent sea monsters that would prey upon unwary seafarers (Bauer 12). Located only a mile or two from Loch Ness, on the grounds of Balmacaan House, are Neolithic carvings of giant sea serpents drawn by early human settlers (Holiday 134). Ancient ritual and symbol stones carved by Pictish inhabitants of the Highlands also depicted serpents and other monsters. It seems there was widespread belief in the Great Glen of large and mysterious loch inhabitants, for multiple bodies of water even bear the name Loch na Beiste, Lake of the Beast (Tranter 79).

The earliest records available referring to monsters in Loch Ness were written by Celtic missionaries who traveled through the Scottish Highlands spreading Christianity in the 5th century c.e. (Tranter 79). The most prominent of these was Saint Columba, who is said to have encountered a water monster in the River Ness (Bauer 159). The tale is recorded by the abbot Adamnan of Iona in his most famous work Vita Columbae, or The Life of Saint Columba, which he wrote sometime in the 7th century c.e. (Barron 51).

Fourteen hundred years ago, in the year 565 c.e., Columba saw in Loch Ness the aquatilis bestia, as Adamnan named it (Holiday 2). In one version of the story Columba came across a group of Picts burying a man bitten by the monster. Columba placed his holy staff upon the man’s chest and brought the man back to life. A different version tells of a Pict who was killed by the monster while swimming. Seeing this, Columba ordered one of his men, Lugne Mocumin, to swim after him. Mocumin did so without hesitation; when the monster reappeared, Saint Columba made the sign of the Cross, saying, “Thou shalt go no further nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” In terror the monster retreated immediately and Mocumin’s life was spared (Witchell 14). The third story of Saint Columba and the monster is one in which a peaceful agreement was made between the two. The aquatilis bestia willingly towed the Saint’s boat from one shore to the other, and in thanks Columba granted it freedom within Loch Ness for eternity (Witchell 14).

Mention of the Loch Ness Monster reemerged in written history in 1520 when Fraser of Glenvackie supposedly fought and killed the last dragon left in Scotland, yet it was also said that he was not such a hero as to have defeated the Loch Ness Monster (Witchell 15). Despite such stories, many locals living near Loch Ness are adamant that there never has been a tradition of monsters or mythical creatures living in Loch Ness (Bauer 160).

The Modern Monster Myth

From reigning of the Water-horse

That bounded till the waves were foaming,

Watching the infant tempest’s course,

Chasing the sea-snake in his roaming.

– Sir Walter Scott (qtd. in Holiday 1)

The story of the Loch Ness Monster, affectionately known as Nessie by Highland locals, was unknown outside of Scotland until fairly recently. Not until near the end of the 19th century was there any widespread mention of this particular monster, and the first official sighting was published in newspapers in 1933. To this day the existence of Nessie, or a group of Nessie-like animals, has never been officially proven (Bridgland 7).

Reasons for the recent mention in history of so large a creature may be related to the inaccessibility of the area to large numbers of tourists until the 19th century. As fear of the supposedly savage Highlanders decreased, tourists from southern Great Britain traveled through the Highlands to see the lochs and castles (Bridgland 124). The tourism of the time focused on spectacles such as Urquhart Castle rather than the beauty of the landscape. A guide to the Highlands published in 1889 described Loch Ness as such:

… after entering Loch Ness at Bona Ferry, we have Aldourie House, an old baronial mansion, on the left. On the right the hills are of a ruddy hue, and, as we proceed they gradually develop into mountains, but there is nothing specially noteworthy until… Glen Urquhart slopes down to a pleasant bay on the right hand, and the old fragmentary ruin of Urquhart Castle acquires from its position on the promontory a strikingly picturesque appearance (Baddeley 150)…. We pass perhaps the most picturesque bit on Loch Ness––the fine but fragmentary ruin of Urquhart Castle, standing on an almost isolated rock which projects into the lake (231).

Interest in the loch itself, and what might live within it, was not inspired until improvements were made in 1933 to the A-82 Highway, a 23-mile road running along the north shore of the loch (Tranter 79) (see Figure 1). A screen of trees was cleared, offering a better view of the water, which might explain the increase in monster sightings that year (“Loch Ness Timeline”). There have been over a thousand sightings of Nessie; in 1934 alone there were over twenty sightings, all on warm, calm days (Bauer 169, 160) (Figures 10 and 11). The locals do not disregard the possibility of Nessie living in the loch, and according to Nicholas Witchell it is a “real issue for which so many people have been fighting for so long” (124-25).

Figure 10 – Surgeon’s photo of Nessie

The diver Duncan MacDonald was commissioned in 1880 to examine a ship that had sunk at the southern end of the loch off of Fort Augustus (see Figure 1). Not long after he had been lowered into the water he began sending desperate signals that he wanted to be pulled back up. When he emerged he was pale and shaking and refused to speak of his experience for days. Finally when he did speak he said that, as he examined the sunken ship’s keel, he had seen an enormous animal lying on a shelf of rock next to the ship. He said “It was a very odd-looking beastie, like a huge frog.” From then on he never dove into Loch Ness again (Witchell 17-18).

Figure 11 – Nessie near Urquhart Castle

Most reports of Nessie sightings have been similar, describing a large animal with a long neck and small head, between 20-30 feet long and sometimes with flippers on the side when that portion of the animal is visible. Many disbelievers of the myth speculate about what this creature could be, ranging from giant eels to escaped circus elephants (Jordan) (Figure 12). Some believe that when the River Ness is high, animals may come in from the North Sea such as seals, otters or even small whales (Bauer 160) (see Figure 3).

Figure 12 – Elephant

Author F.W. Holiday has drawn a connection between Nessie and the giant marine Orms, or sea serpents, which the Norse called Sjø-Orm, and which inspired the serpentine form of their ships (120). Roy Mackal, a professor at the University of Chicago in the 1970s, theorizes that the monster is descended from an embolomer, a giant primitive amphibian thought to have lived 270 million years ago (Witchell 142). This theory matches Duncan MacDonald’s description of a large frog.

The most popular belief of what Nessie’s species might be is an evolved descendent of a plesiosaur. The plesiosaur was a marine, fish-eating dinosaur living in the British Isles but thought to have been extinct for the last 70 million years (Witchell 141) (Figure 13). A breeding population of plesiosaurs may have become landlocked in Loch Ness once the land rose after the last glaciation (Bauer 162). The most common descriptions of Nessie closely match the way scientists believe plesiosaurs once looked: a long neck and small head, larger body and flippers on either side. However, it seems unlikely that a group of plesiosaurs survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 165 million years ago. Even if they did, it is even less likely that their descendants also survived during the glacial cycles in Europe up until 10,000 years ago (“Loch Ness Timeline”).

Figure 13 – Plesiosaur

Although no animals have yet been proven to live in the loch, Robert Rines and Peter Scott, of the Academy of Applied Science (aas), gave the animals official species protection in 1975 under the name Nessiteras rhomboptyryx, meaning “wonder of Ness with the diamond-shaped fin” (Bauer 25). In June of 1975, the aas took a series of photographs with a high-quality, camera suspended deep into the loch. The camera was able to penetrate the murky water somewhat, and it seems its regular flashing attracted the attention of a large animal at last. Nicholas Witchell’s book The Loch Ness Story was published a year before these findings, but he released a second edition in which he describes the experience of viewing some of these photographs:

The animal was facing almost head on to the camera. Beneath the body were two clearly definable appendages. The skin looked very rough and potted, even at this range (which had been estimated at thirty to forty feet), and was a red-brown colour (Figure 14).

…The picture that came on to the screen was, without a doubt, and I make no apology for the continued use of superlatives, the most remarkable animal photograph ever taken….

It was the head of the creature, in close-up detail from a range of only eight feet…. The head occupied the left-hand section of the frame and was more or less in profile: the open mouth of the animal showed what appeared to be teeth inside it; a prominent, bony ridge ran down the centre of the face into a thick, hard-looking upper lip, one on either side of the central ridge. Most remarkable of all, there were two clearly defined stalks or tubes protruding from the top of the head (149) (Figure 14).

Figure 14 – Body-neck photograph

Reproductions of these pictures are of very low quality, which leaves them open to skepticism. The pictures provide proof to those who already believe and further reason for doubt to those who do not believe. Part of the fascination with the Nessie myth is that it never has been proven and is difficult to do so. If affirmative evidence were to be found it is likely interest in the subject would fade.

Figure 15 – Gargoyle head photograph

Ecological Inspirations of Mythology

What aspects of this particular loch might inspire and perpetuate such a myth as the Loch Ness Monster? A feeling of mystery and gloom is embedded within the landscape, from the heights of the flanking mountains to the depths of the cold loch. Edmund Burt described the mountains surrounding Loch Ness as having “stupendous bulk, frightful irregularity, and horrid gloom, made yet more sombrous by the shades and faint reflections they communicate one to another” (qtd. in Bridgland 124).

The loch itself has many qualities which might inspire myths of monsters lurking beneath its dark waters. It can flood its shores easily, making it dangerous during times of high rainfall. The catchment area is large enough that the level of the loch can rise quite rapidly (Witchell 11). As an example, Loch Ness is recorded to have risen nine feet between 1843 and 1847, and in 1849 it rose four feet in just one day and flooded the adjacent land (Jones et al. 44).

Loch Ness is oligotrophic, which means that it is deficient in plant nutrients yet has high oxygen content in the depths (Jones et al. 43). The waters have a low pH value, and the acidity combined with its steep banks do not allow for significant plant growth (Witchell 11). Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster have been attributed to a floating island or a vegetation mat, however, this is unlikely due to the loch’s unfriendly conditions for plant growth (16). The floating island could possibly have been the single crannog built in the loch, but such a mistake is doubtful.

The waters of Loch Ness are acidic because a large quantity of peat debris is washed down from the bogs above the tree line by the tributary rivers. The peat particles are suspended in the water fifty feet below the surface, making the water opaque and apparently quite eerie for divers. Although the surface temperature of the loch varies with climate conditions, the waters below fifty feet, at the line where visibility is limited, remain a constant temperature of 42°– 44° Fahrenheit year round (Witchell 11). Sediment accumulation has been increasing in Loch Ness since 1820, when the Caledonian Canal was constructed (Jones et al 44). The canal connects Lochs Ness, Oich, and Lochy, and runs for 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea (Witchell 21) (see Figure 3). Sediment deposits from the canal have further decreased visibility in the loch, as have higher erosion rates from afforestation. In the 1980s, land near the loch’s shores was plowed and planted with tree plantations, causing topsoil to erode into the loch (Jones et al. 45).

Many people drawn to the myth of the Loch Ness Monster speculate on why, if there is a breeding population of large animals, no carcasses have ever been found. There is a local saying about Loch Ness: “the loch never gives up its dead.” Due to its great depth and cold, the loch claims dead bodies and sinks them to the unknown depths of the lake bottom (Witchell 146). This feature of the loch is one that might inspire fear and curiosity as to earlier inhabitants of the Great Glen; all evidence of the past lies inaccessible on the lake floor.

The suggestion has been made that Nessie, or the population of Nessie-like animals, has been killed by pollution in the loch (Bauer 165). Nine sewage works empty into Loch Ness and have slowly been adding excess nutrients and causing eutrophication in the loch over the last few decades (Jones et al. 38). The existence of the Loch Ness Monster has never been proven to the world, but if the chance were lost due to human negligence it would be a great loss to science and mythology both. The legend of the Loch Ness Monster has been upheld by its uncertainty and its roots in oral tradition, and there is the hope that it will be carried into generations of the future as well.


The legend of the Loch Ness Monster, and of so many other mythical Highland creatures, stems from the human imagination and the inspiration provided by a mysterious landscape. The conditions of this landscape were created before humans were even present in the area. The glacial cycles and the rising land formed a steep, cold freshwater lake; centuries later that process inspired the idea that an enormous animal might have been trapped within the lake. The only observers of the loch were those living in its direct vicinity, from the early hunter-gatherers to the nobility of Urquhart Castle and the tradesmen of Inverness. The isolation of the Highlands kept sightings of Nessie to a minimum until the 20th century when the myth exploded into a worldwide fascination. Whether there is, or was, a Loch Ness Monster is not the question to ask of this landscape, but rather why this landscape inspired the myth. The gloom of the mountains, the eerie invisibility in the water, the unknown depth, and the fact that all dead bodies sink to the bottom all offer reasons to believe more lies beneath the waves than is known. Loch Ness is an ecological system perfect for the creation of a myth.

Works Cited

Baddeley, M.J.B.. Scotland (Part I); Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands. London: Dulau & Co., 1889.

Barron, Hugh (ed.). The County of Inverness. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1985.

Bauer, Henry H. The Enigma of Loch Ness : Making Sense of a Mystery. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Bridgland, Nick. Urquhart Castle and the Great Glen. London: Batsford, 2005.

Holiday, F.W. The Great Orm of Loch Ness. London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1968.

Jones, Vivienne J., Richard W. Batterbee, Niel L. Rose, Chris Curtis, Peter G. Appleby, Ron Harriman, and Adrian J. Shine. “Evidence for the pollution of Loch Ness from the Analysis of its Recent Sediments.” The Science of the Total Environment. 203(1997): 37-49.

Jordan, Mary. “Elephantine Theory Stirs Misty Waters of Loch Ness.” The Washington Post 8 March 2006 Web.7 May 2009. < dyn/content/article/2006/03/07/AR2006030701434.html>.

Shine, Adrian. “A Guide and Tour of Events and Places Around Loch Ness.” Loch Ness & Morar Project. 2000. 1 April 2009

Shine, Adrian. “Loch Ness Timeline.” Loch Ness & Morar Project. 2000. 1 April 2009 < meline.htm>.

Tranter, Nigel. The North-East: The Shires of Banff, Moray, Nairn, with Easter Inverness and Easter Ross. London: Hodder and Stougton Limited, 1974.

Witchell, Nicholas. The Loch Ness Story. Revised. edition. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1975.

Strawberries & Cream: A Brief Play

Scene I

(A long shiny wooden table is set center stage with two large candelabras filled with lit candles. Everything in the room suggests wealth. The table is set with two small crystal bowls of strawberries cut up into cream and there is a tall glass of champagne at each place. A WOMAN sits on one end opposite from a MAN. They are both dressed formally in black and eating in silence.)

WOMAN: They’re the first strawberries of the season.

MAN: (Not really hearing her.) Mmm… that’s nice.

WOMAN: Six years… we’ve been doing this.

MAN: Hmm? Oh the strawberry thing? (With false enthusiasm.) Yeah, nothing like anniversary traditions.

WOMAN: (Beat) Why do you do that?

MAN: What do you mean?

WOMAN: Like just then! Why’d you have to write off what I said.

MAN: My god, what did I even say?

WOMAN: About our anniversary. You just, just, well it’s not what you said it’s the way you said it and ––

MAN: Why do women always say that?

WOMAN: See you’re doing it again! You just… dismiss me.

MAN: What–– You make it so hard for me to talk to you.

WOMAN: What?

MAN: Everything. Every little thing has to offend you.

(The WOMAN picks up her glass and takes a sip, then starts to cry.)

MAN: What’s the matter now? That’s your favorite champagne, I bought it especially for tonight.

WOMAN: You’re such a –– (Choked back by her tears.) It just reminds me that –– (Starts crying harder.)

(Long pause.)

WOMAN: (Controlling her tears.) It’s okay. I’ll be fine. It’s just, I can’t really take much more of this. (Pause) I had a dream last night. I woke up shaking. I’m actually surprised I didn’t wake you up.

MAN: I was… exhausted.

WOMAN: Doesn’t matter. (Beat) It’s hard to remember the beginning. Always is with dreams. But it was grey and foggy, I was young again, about sixteen or so I think. I looked… too beautiful really, but I knew it was me, yet it looked nothing like me at the same time. I just knew. I was in a forest; around me a hurricane was raging. It was dark, confusing, I couldn’t see. Suddenly this long hand, it–it had no fingernails, it was the size of me or bigger. It plucked me out of the forest and just threw me… away. Into nothing. (Pause, then starts again with difficulty.) I wasn’t anything anymore, just eyes––watching. Blackness was everywhere, but it was filled with stars. In the middle of it all was this wrinkled, hairless man, with… those hands. But he wasn’t a man. He was a demon. The devil. He was there in front of me, unimaginably huge. And he was plucking at this craggy little world which just floated in front of him. It wasn’t round. It was like a floating rock covered in little trees. That’s where I had been. And he had made that world-thing. As a toy for him to destroy. And his hands continued plucking at it… relentless, harsh. But then the world, it started to turn, and as it turned it just… left. It left him alone there in the blackness. And I saw it fade into the distance. It was free. Then these words were spoken, as if by some almighty voice: “It’s not round but it can still turn.”

MAN: Where are you going with this?

WOMAN: (Beat) I can’t do this any longer.


MAN: Oh. (Starts to cry.) Couldn’t we just…

WOMAN: No. Don’t you see? We’ve been over it so many times and… it’s just not going to work.

MAN: But… I love you.

WOMAN: I do too. But…

MAN: But what?

WOMAN: I have no power. Can’t you see that? We’re just… imbalanced.

MAN: So this ends because we don’t have balance?

WOMAN: I need… I need to have my own power first.

MAN: But… aren’t you happy?

WOMAN: No. (Beat) I thought it would work, but, last night, the dream… I’m shocked you didn’t wake up.

MAN: Over a dream you had? That’s why you’re leaving?

WOMAN: It left us! Don’t you see!? Last night it left us. I woke up covered in blood. Why didn’t you wake up?

MAN: (Starting to shake.) It… what?

WOMAN: I can’t try again. It’s too hard. (Pause) I want a baby so badly. I wanted our baby so badly. (Pause) And, and… you don’t. No, don’t argue. That’s why it won’t work.

MAN: The champagne… I didn’t even think. You… drank it…

(MAN comes over to WOMAN and holds her. They are both sobbing.)

WOMAN: I love you so much. I really do.

MAN: I know. Somehow that makes it harder.

(MAN and WOMAN hold each other for a long time crying and comforting each other for an uncomfortably long time. They make eye contact, then kiss, at first softly and then passionately. The WOMAN then breaks away and looks at the MAN with a deep sigh.)

WOMAN: I’m going to go now.

(WOMAN gets up to leave, is almost at the door when the MAN gets up and goes to her.)

MAN: Just one more.

(The look at each other as though about to kiss. Or not. Blackout..)


Scene 2

(A long table runs the length of the stage. It is covered in a long, white tablecloth which goes to the floor. The room around the table is dark. On the floor surrounding the entire table are hundreds of lit candles of different shapes and sizes. There is a large bowl of cream and an equally large bowl of strawberries which are right at the center. There is a bottle of champagne on the table and two empty glasses. Giggling quietly a WOMAN and MAN, who are both dressed in loose white linen clothes, climb up onto the table and crawl towards each other till they reach the center. They sit with the bowls in their laps and feed each other the strawberries with cream throughout the entire scene,)

WOMAN: They’re the first strawberries of the season.

MAN: (Speaking with his mouth full.) Mmm… that’s nice.

WOMAN: We should always do this.

MAN: Hmm? Oh the strawberry thing? Yeah, nothing like anniversary traditions.

WOMAN: We should make it an anniversary tradition!

(MAN pours two glasses of champagne and hands one to the WOMAN.)

WOMAN: Oh, no thanks.

MAN: What’s the matter? That’s your favorite champagne, I bought it especially for tonight.

WOMAN: I know, I’m just not… in the mood. Maybe… later?

MAN: Alright… (Looks at her for a long moment.)

WOMAN: I had a dream last night. It actually woke me up it was so real.

MAN: Yeah, I noticed you woke up. You didn’t seem upset or anything though, so I fell back asleep. I hope that was okay…?

WOMAN: Yeah, yeah, no of course it was.

MAN: (Stroking her hair.) Tell me about it.

WOMAN: It’s hard to remember the beginning. It always is with dreams. But it was grey and foggy, I was young again, about sixteen or so I think. I looked… too beautiful really, but I knew it was me, yet it looked nothing like me at the same time. I just knew.

MAN: Too beautiful? (Laughing) Huh, it couldn’t be too beautiful to be you. No one’s more beautiful than you.

WOMAN: Hmm… that’s nice to hear. Anyway, let me finish. I was in a forest and all around me a soft breeze was blowing. It was pale green, like in spring, and the light was coming through the leaves. I could see everything, every detail of every leaf. Suddenly this hand, bigger than me, came down and picked me up. I thought it would be terrifying, but I felt warm and safe and… enclosed. It held me so tenderly. All of a sudden I was pulled out of the forest and I was no longer myself. Just eyes watching. Blackness was everywhere, but it was filled with stars. In the middle of it all was this wrinkled old woman, with… those hands. But she wasn’t a woman. She was a god. The goddess. She was there in front of me, unimaginably huge. Floating in front of her was this perfect little world, a glowing egg covered in little trees. That’s where I had been. And she had made that world, as something for her to love. She held her hands around it, just barely touching it, and it turned in the warmth of her palms. And then she turned to me and the world left her hands and came toward me… and then, I don’t know. It just, filled me. The world was inside me.

(The MAN and WOMAN look at each other as though they are about the kiss. Then the WOMAN takes a cream coated strawberry and stuffs it into the MAN’s mouth and bursts out laughing.)

MAN: Where are you going with this?

WOMAN: Where do you think?

MAN: I… hmm.

WOMAN: Are you happy?

MAN: Right now? Of course. I have a beautiful wife, a––

WOMAN: No I mean, really happy. Deep down. Because I know we can’t… we don’t… have a lot. (She yanks her side of the table cloth to reveal the far end. The elegant table turns out to be a long chain of picnic tables all covered with one huge cloth.) You know.

MAN: That’s never bothered me. You know it’s never… why are you asking now?

WOMAN: Last night, the dream… (Beat) I always look forward to this time of year. When the world gets warm and safe again. Strawberry season. (She eats a particularly large strawberry.) Mmm. So juicy and sweet and… it’s worth the wait.

MAN: (Inwardly) Hmm…

WOMAN: You can’t just have them when you want. It has to be when they’re ready. That’s what makes them so worthwhile. (Beat) The time is ripe, I guess.

MAN: You mean…

(WOMAN nods with a twinkle in her eye, then throws her arms around the MAN and kisses him.)

MAN: Wow. Wow. I’m…. wow.

WOMAN: I know.

MAN: The champagne… I didn’t even think. You… didn’t drink it…

WOMAN: Mmmhhmmm.

MAN: I love you so much. I really do. It’s, well… I know it has bothered you sometimes but, well there are times when I would look at you and I would picture you pregnant. Glowing. And now… (MAN reaches out and puts his hand on WOMAN’s belly and rubs it softly. The both look at her belly for a long moment.)

WOMAN: So… let me ask again. Are you happy?

MAN: Are you kidding? Come here.

(MAN pulls woman toward him and they kiss with all the passion in their souls and then the WOMAN breaks away. She picks up the strawberry bowl and takes out the last strawberry and dips it in cream.)

WOMAN: Just one more. (The MAN and WOMAN share the strawberry, alternatively taking bites from it until it is gone.)

– End Scene –

Diner Booth: A Scene

(ANA and HENRY, in their late teens, are sitting on opposite sides of a booth table in a 1950’s-style diner which is filled with people, mostly families with children. The booth seats are deep cherry red. ANA is a young woman with full, red lips and long, sleek, dark hair which falls almost to her waist. She has a slender waist and full hips and breasts. She is entirely unaware of her own beauty. HENRY is small for his age and won’t get much bigger over his lifetime. He has bright, blond hair, an eager face and a twinkle in his light brown eyes.)

ANA: Wait, wait, pH stands for power of hydrogen? What. No way. That’s super cool. It sounds like intergalactic forces or something. Powers of hydrogen: the Almighty Ones. Buh-nuh-nuh-naaahhh. (Mockingly sings Beethoven.)

HENRY: I guess I never thought it was cool: power of hydrogen. (laughs) I’m such a nerd for knowing the def for that.

ANA: Nahh… well actually yeah, but you know all of us are nerds really. Anyway, we’re like the sexy nerds, you know? Who are all into LOTR and Han Solo and shit. Not those nerds who are, like, living under rocks eating pond scum right? We’re like, badass.

(HENRY and ANA both laugh.)

HENRY: So speaking of nerd-dom, I was talking with your grandma yesterday…

ANA: Whyyy?

HENRY: I, uh, needed some advice. Figured being an “elder one” and all she’d have some useful knowledgeables in her.

ANA: Yeah, you’re pretty nerdy asking my gran for life advice. So what was it?

HENRY: What?

ANA: Yoouuu knoooww.


ANA: Dude, just tell me what you asked her about. We’ve like, known each other forev’s so just spew it out already.

(During the following line ANA looks at HENRY with big eyes while sipping from a giant coffee cup.)

HENRY: Umm, ahh… huh, yeah it sounds – well we were talking about…um…huh. Oy okay – stop looking at me like that – uh, (with wavering voice) love?? – yeah, okay, umm…

(Very long pause filled with copious amounts of blushing.)

ANA: (Staring down into her cup.) Oh. (smiling mischieviously) Nerd.

(HENRY and ANA look at each other for a long moment, breathing heavily. “Hold Me” by Fleetwood Mac is playing on the jukebox. Suddenly HENRY gets up, moves over to ANA’s side of the bench. He never breaks eye contact. Then HENRY leans in and starts kissing ANA with the deepest passion of his soul. His hand moves up her thigh and she gasps loudly. Then, without removing their clothes at all, they begin to have passionate sex in the booth.)

ANA: Oh god…god, oh god!

(People in the diner start to stare and suddenly there is a general uproar as parents try to screen their children’s eyes.)

PARENTS: (overlapping)

Don’t look!

Come here!

Grab the coats! Now!

What a disgusting place! I’m never coming back!

(A five-year-old CHILD breaks free from his MOTHER’s grasp and runs towards HENRY and ANA, who are entirely oblivious to the entire scene around them. The CHILD kneels on the seat of the opposite booth and gazes at the couple.)

MOTHER: Come back here! What are you doing? Don’t look!

CHILD: But why not?

MOTHER: Because! It’s filthy!

CHILD: No. It isn’t. (smiles and returns to looking at the couple) It’s life!

(Blackout. Lights fade up and everything is set as it was at the opening of the scene with ANA and HENRY on opposite sides of the table.)

HENRY: Well, yeah. I’m a nerd, but I’ve known for, like, ages that you’re into me. You’re not that great at hiding it. Anyway, you’re a nerd toooo….

ANA: Okay. (pause) Yeah I do. (blushes deep crimson) But don’t look at me like that. OMG you’re totally having dirty thoughts right now! (giggles heartily)

HENRY: (taking ANA’s hand and smiling) Yeah?

Emma Rose: A Monologue

(EMMA ROSE is sitting in a rocking chair holding a cup of tea. The light catches the steam rising from the tea. Her granddaughter is sitting at her feet.)

EMMA ROSE: Yes… yes… oh yes. I know what it is you’re feeling. I know… I know it’s hard to believe I was once as young as you. But I was. Oh yes… I was. I even looked like you. It’s like you were my own daughter. My own daughter… (Pause) she doesn’t look like me, your mother that is. No, she looks like her father. She could always make me smile. She has his eyes… his eyes.

But yes, don’t let me get distracted. Yes, yes… oh yes, I’ve felt what you’re feeling. I’ve felt it. I was not much older than you are, just eighteen or so. Yes, I was eighteen, I remember. And he was perfect… unattainable. He made me so nervous my heart would quiver in my throat. Yet I didn’t know. Just his subtle hints… I always wore my hair up to keep it out of my eyes. It was long then, even longer than it is now – if you can believe that! And, one time I took it down, shook it all out. Just shook my mane of dark, dark hair. It was more wild and tangled than your hair is, not so sleek and beautiful. (She strokes her granddaughter’s hair.) He saw me take down the mane and he just glanced up casually once, and said, “Your hair looks pretty like that.” Pretty like that, that’s what he said. And then he just went back to what he was doing. He later told me that he once picked a huge bouquet of wild flowers, but let them die, all hidden away, because he couldn’t bring himself to give them to me. Hmm… he was sweet indeed.

You are such a blessing in my life. Such a woman… blooming, blooming right before my eyes. What a lucky young man this love of yours is. Does he know? (Her granddaughter shrugs her shoulders.) You don’t know? Oh he knows… oh yes, yes he knows. He’s a lucky one. (Laughing) Probably terrified. Indeed… a very lucky one. Your father was lucky too, lucky to be with my beautiful daughter. And she has… his eyes… (She trails off into silence.)

I’m sorry, look at me getting distracted now. Yes, we were out one night just talking. He and I. Talking about the things in life that you feel are so serious and important when you are young. And I remember the stars that night. I’ll never forget the stars. We were lying on our backs, buried in the damp grass, staring up at them. There was a whole world opening up above us that just went on and on and on… forever. It was so big and overwhelming that it made me feel safe. Safe in how small I was, safe in how unimportant I was. Yet, hmm… I felt honored. Honored to still be a part of it. And the stars kept winking to each other, winking like they knew what was about to happen, whispering amongst themselves. I stared up at that huge expanse and gave myself over to it. Suddenly I was brought back to earth. He had kissed my hand. So softly, so tenderly and with so much longing. He kissed my hand. I could see those stars reflected in his eyes. Deep, like a reflection in a still pool. He kissed me then. Full, young lips joining in trembling perfection.

I was doomed. From that moment on, I was his. I still am his… wherever he is now. Wherever he is… We woke up in that grassy field covered in dew and golden rays. Oh yes, yes… I am his. I always was, always will be. Of course I miss him. Wherever he is. He’s part of those stars now. He is up in that wide open space. No wonder it made me feel so safe that night. I’ll join him soon. Oh yes… He’s a lucky one, your young man. Oh yes. You’re a lucky one. Yes… we were the lucky ones.


The day was grey and windy and drops of fog clung to the soft, dark curls surrounding the little girl’s face. She was holding a bouquet of golden daffodils in one clammy hand, while the other clung to the hand of her mother. Her mother’s hand was dry and cracked from washing dishes and cleaning house. The little girl bent down and laid the flowers at the base of a black marble tombstone set deep in the damp grass. Across the face of the stone were carved images that set the little girl’s imagination to work. On the left side of the stone was carved a forest of pines, while on the right was a magnificent castle perched upon a cliff. Between the images was the inscription:

Merk Malcolm 1914 – 1986

Doris Malcolm 1920 – 1990

Mr. Merwin Eldred Schlarbaum hated his Christian name. His father’s best friend protested the name and insisted the baby boy be nicknamed Merky. World War I was nearing its end by the time Merky was four years old, and his father chose to change the family name which tied them to the then-despised Germans. He shed the name of Schlarbaum, whose sound when spoken with a Canadian accent did not reflect its meaning “Tree of Paradise,” and instead adopted his mother’s maiden name, Malcolm.

By 1939 Merky, then known as Merk Malcolm, set out from his home in Campbellford, Canada and traveled with a friend to Europe. Upon reaching Scotland, the Second World War broke out and Merk was stranded for the time being. While using his engineering training as the manager for wartime projects, Merk chose to live in Wick, Caithness on the north-eastern tip of Scotland.

Wick was a tiny fishing town with its harbor open to the cold, blue waters of the North Sea. Thousands of fishing boats came in daily, bearing pounds upon pounds of fresh herring. The docks were steeped in the tangy scent of fish and the sky was blocked out by the swooping wings of gulls.

Mr. Malcolm, upon arriving, took to exploring the town, all four corners of which could be reached within an hour from any point. He stopped in front of a classy hotel and glanced up at the swinging metal sign. The letters, spelling “Station Hotel” stood out clear and gold on a crimson background. He stepped over the threshold and noticed he barely had to lift his foot, the wooden step was so worn by passing feet. Above the light-filled entrance was a glass portico with great metal arches. A chipper old man standing behind the counter greeted Mr. Malcolm with a Scottish accent thicker than pea soup. After paying at the counter Mr. Malcolm was shown to his room. The furniture had a refined but well-used look to its deep mahogany wood. He walked across the room to set his suitcase down by the roll-top desk. The brass plate on the desk said “Mackenzie’s Furnishings” in a curling script.

That night, as Mr. Malcolm lay between the flannel sheets, he realized he could not afford to stay in a hotel for an indefinite amount of time while the war raged on in Europe. The next morning he got up early and walked to the old stone church at the upper end of Wick. It stood overlooking the bridge which spanned the mossy green river that traveled out of the mouth of the harbor. Looking up, Mr. Malcolm saw the river wind its way up through thick, pink and green grasslands dotted with white sheep.

Mr. Malcolm walked into the holy stillness of the church. He had come here to find someone with whom he could stay, because he believed the most trustworthy people could be found through the church. Reverend Sinclair, also called the Reverend R. R., was standing at the back of the church with a handwritten sermon in his hand. Reverend Sinclair was known for his lengthy speeches, one of which was interrupted well before the end by a little girl yelling “Amen, Reverend Sinclair! Amen!” The slight breeze from the open church door ruffled the Reverend’s greying, patchy hair. He looked up when he heard firm footfalls on the cold stone aisle.

“My name is Merk Malcolm,” the young man said with his over-pronounced Canadian vowels. “I was wondering if you could possibly help me find a family to stay with in Wick. I’m working now as a project manager for the war effort.”

“Ach, I see,” the Reverend said, “Well, the Mackenzies are taking in officers at the moment.”

Mr. Malcolm smiled gratefully and nodded. Mackenzie, he thought. The name sounded familiar.

The following morning Mr. Malcolm could be seen trudging up the hill from the bridge carrying his one suitcase. The “Scottish mist” that had begun half an hour before had filled the collar of his coat with water and plastered his dark hair to his head. At the top of the hill the streets leveled out and he turned right onto Thurso Street. Glancing at the damp slip of paper in his hand, Mr. Malcolm double-checked that the address was number six. The house was called Wyvelsfield. 6 Thurso Street. Walking on the right side of the street under a row of beech trees he looked left until he saw the brass address glinting through the rain: 6 Thurso Street.

Mrs. Mackenzie, affectionately called Mrs. Mack, was just finishing her early morning porridge. She sat erect in her chair at the foot of the table with her red hair pulled back in a tight bun and her pale lips pursed. Her lack of working taste buds concealed from her the fact there was more salt in her porridge than porridge. A normal mouth would be turned inside-out from the taste, and children were known to bring their spoons near their mouths and then drop the porridge into a well-concealed napkin. But to Mrs. Mack the porridge tasted fine.

In an old Scottish saying, an Englishman was berating a Scot for eating oats, which the English found only fit to feed to their horses. The Scotsman replied airily, “That’s why the English are known for their horses, while the Scots are known for their men.”

Mrs. Mack was just finishing her tasteful porridge when a tall, dark-haired, handsome man walked in through her front gates. Oh, she thought to herself, it must be one of those young officers to live with us. He looks well enough, though I fear this may bring trouble. And she rose from her chair with a sigh.

At the heavy knock, Mrs. Mack opened the front door. She greeted her guest with warmth and made her introductions.

“Oh,” she said, “And I have a daughter who’s in the giggly stage.”

Mortified, the eavesdropping, nineteen-year-old Doris Mackenzie was determined to prove her mother wrong. Miss Mackenzie was not the type of girl who cared much for what people thought of her. She was rather mischievous and had been known to steal fishermen’s dinghies and to set dozens of barrels of fish rolling along the docks.

Composing herself at the top of the grand spiral staircase, Doris pinched her cheeks and straightened the fashionable dress which showed off her petite waist. She laid her hand on the polished wood banister, her hand sweating slightly. Setting her foot on the first green carpeted step, Doris began gliding down the staircase. She glanced once at the handsome stranger at the foot of the stairs and nearly blushed. His eyes were following her every movement. However, she kept her head held high and her eyes straight ahead.

Suddenly, three steps from the bottom the toe of Doris’ little black shoe caught on the carpet. Both of her feet flew out from under her and all of her five-foot-two frame went tumbling down the remaining stairs. She landed in a disgruntled heap at the stranger’s feet. With apparent perfect dignity Doris held up her hand from where she was crumpled on the floor and, with her nose in the air, said, “I’m Miss Mackenzie.”

Cupid’s bow twanged.

Standing by the tombstone on the cold, grey day I knew the story of how my grandparents had met. For years I made up fantastic stories about my grandmother who had once lived in a great castle up in Scotland. The spiral staircase to me was larger than Jacob’s Ladder, and I pictured my beautiful grandmother tumbling not down just the last three steps, but from the top of the stairs all the way to the bottom in flying somersaults. As I grew up I realized that while the fairy tales I had imagined for my family might not be quite factually true, I did come to recognize that the true love at the end of fairy tales did exist and endure between my grandparents.

The Scarlet Lady

The crimson mist a lady formed,
Who stepped out from the crescent moon,
And while my heart raged and stormed,
She turned away and left too soon.

I called to her in wretched sorrow,
And she turned and said to me:
“I’ll come back again tomorrow,
As always was and always will forever be.”

Scarlet tears consumed my sleep,
Each bloody pearl through darkness gleamed,
Splashing in a pool hid deep,
Where vaporous dreams upward streamed.

Tempting Fate: A Song of Experience

Round about the candle flame
Moths play their dangerous game.
Illuminating their dusty wings
The light tempts those flighty things.
Daringly one tests his fate,
But alas! It is too late!
The flame trapped her foolish prey,
Warning the rest to stay away.

Youth’s Sweet Romance: A Song of Innocence

As dawn breaks and lights the sky,
The trees, the brooks, and birds that fly,
I drink deeply from the world around
That’s filled with life, love and sound.
Everywhere adventures wait,
Where I can find the hidden gate
To unlock secrets of the world
That never yet have been unfurled.
Enchanted by youth’s sweet romance
Amongst woodland sprites I sing and dance.
Each living thing speaks to me,
From softest shoot to tallest tree.
Then twilight casts her spangled net
Around the blinding gold sunset.
She whispers that this day is done,
And bids farewell to the sun.
As sleep ushers me to bed
Sweet lullabies fill my head,
And I dream of time gone by,
Of trees, and brooks, and birds that fly.

Hîr I Chorvath: An Elvish Poem

Hîr I Chorvath

Sen sir am le im linnathon
Min gwanod o athra i aearon,
Uin rhovan dôr od Ennorath
Di ir silivren elenath,
Sin lach sui celair sui miriel
Thanant na i arod Gilthoniel.

I ambar ne apa i rima mornië
Mi raxalë ho i corma laurië,
Nertë nildor hehtae i lómë
Ar oantë i ambar apa undómë,
I perian oantië lá i hisië
Ar quentë ana Endórë namarië!

The Lord of the Rings

Upon this day I will sing to thee
One tale from across the great sea,
Of the wild land of Middle-Earth
Beneath the glittering host of stars,
Those flames as brilliant as jewels
Kindled by the royal Gilthoniel.

The world was on the edge of darkness
Endangered by a golden ring,
Nine friends forsook the night
And journeyed through the twilit world,
The halfling passed beyond the mists
And said farewell to Middle-Earth!