The Scotch Highlands
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
On the slopes the violet heaths are spread like a silken carpet under the scanty firs. Higher still are large patches of evergreen wood, and, as soon as the mountain is approached, a brown circle of barren eminences may be discerned toward the horizon. At the end of an hour the desert begins; the climate is inimical to life, even to that of plants. A tarn, the tint of burned topaz, lies coldly and sadly between stony slopes whereon a few tufts of fern and heather grow here and there. Half a league higher is a second tarn, which appears still more dismal in the rising mist. Around, patches of snow are sprinkled on the peaks, and these descending in rivulets produce morasses. The small country ponies, with a sure instinct, surmount the bog, and we arrive at an elevation whence the eye, as far as it can reach, embraces nothing but an amphitheater of desolate, yet green summits; owing to the destruction of timber, everything else has perished; a scene of ruined nature is far more melancholy a spectacle than any human ruins. On our return across the lake, a bag-piper played his instrument. The music is strange and wild, its effects harmonizing with the aspect of the bubbling streams, veined with striking or somber reflections. The same simple note, a kind of dance music, runs through the whole piece in an incorrect and odd manner, and continuallv recurs, but it is always harsh and rough; it might be likened to an orange shriveled with the cold and rendered bitter.
These are the Highlands. From Braemar to Perth we journey through them for many Iong miles. It is always a solitude; sometimes five or six valleys in succession are wholly bare, and one may travel for an hour without seeing a tree; then for another hour it is rare merely to see in the distance a wretched twisted birchen-tree, which is dying or dead. It would be some compensation if the rock were naked, and exhibited its mineral structure in all its fulness and ruggedness. But these mountains, of no great elevation, are but bosses with flabby outlines, they have fallen to pieces, and are stone heaps, resembling the remains of a quarry. In winter, torrents of water uproot the heather, leaving on the slopes a leprous, whitened scar, badly tinted by the too feeble sun. The summits are truncated, and want boldness. Patches of miserable verdure seam their sides and mark the oozing of springs; the remainder is covered with brownish heather. Below, at the very Nit tom, a torrent obstructed by stones, struggles along its channel, or lingers in stagnant pools. One sometimes discerns a hovel, with a stunted cow. The gray, low-lying sky, completes the impression of lugubrious monotony.
Our conveyance ascends the last mountain. At length we see a steep declivity, a great rocky wall; but it is unique. We descend again, and enter a habitable tract. Cultivation occurs first on the lower parts, then on the slopes; the declivities are wooded, and then entire mountains; forests of firs spread their somber mantle over the crests; fields of oats and barley extend on all sides; we perceive pretty clumps of trees, houses surrounded by gardens and flowers, and then culture of all descriptions upon the lessening hills, here and there a park and a modern mansion. The sun bursts forth and shines merrily, but without heat; the fertile plain expands, abounding in promises of convenience and pleasure, and we enter Perth thinking about the historical narrations of Sir Walter Scott, and the contrast between the mountain and the plain, the revilings and scornings interchanged between the inhabitants of the High-lands and the Lowlands.