IN passing from glen to glen, a break helps one to assimilate experiences which follow so hard upon. A pause between each spell of climbing gives impressions time to print, as well as sort themselves out. Like the scene it represents, a mental picture needs space. If blurred and crowded, it is rather worse than none. Objects must stand a certain distance apart. Haste, so far from being any real gain, finds one at the end of his rambles as well informed as if he had been on a conventional tour over the Continent.
A day or two spent in training the eye to read the mountain-sides from a distance, to tell what wild plant yields that particular hue, to pick out the clump of sphagnum touched with the sundew, to trace the long-leaved cranberry amid the oval-leaved cowberry and blaeberry, is time-saving in the long-run. It absolves one ever afterward from the need of zig-zagging over many a mile in search of what he wants. One does not know birds who can repeat their names when they light on the fence; but only he who can tell them at half a mile away, by their flight and a thousand nameless traits, marking them off from the rest.
A little pure loitering even, such as a full-length stretch at midday under the black shadow of the pine wood, with a run of water and an ample supply of berries within reach; or a change of occupation, such as a twilight cast in the stream, has its uses in freshening both body and mind. Jaded energies do not profit much.
Fishing a pool lying in an elbow of the channel, where the largest trout are known to be, I find myself breast-high amid the tall purple heads of the melancholy thistle. This is perhaps about the highest reach of the most nearly sub-alpine of the thistles.
The side-burns I cross at intervals, in passing down the banks, have their edges touched with the showy purple of the livelong. This sedum is common enough all the way downward to the plain. Immediately overhead, it gives place to the yellow-flowered rose-root, which in its turn reaches nearly to the summit of the surrounding mountains.
My lodging, so much pleasanter than that of last night, is in itself a temptation to prolong my stay. It consists of a room in a cottage overhanging the stream, where the ripple sings me into dreamland, and then pleasantly fills up the intervals of sleep. If the odour of cheese is not altogether absent, it is not oppressive, and has to be tolerated in districts so apt to be cut off from supplies, that the people lay up stores against a long winter.
The haze of yesterday thickens into vapour, which passes away in rain. I make the experiment of ascending a mist-covered hill. All knowledge of direction is at once lost. Even the sense of going up and coming down can no longer be trusted. But, with a compass, perfect self-possession, and a close acquaintance with the sounds and aspects of the scene, one may find his way. Shepherds and gamekeepers are not puzzled.
On a delightfully fresh morning, in a rain-cooled and purified atmosphere, I face toward the ridge where the glen comes to a dead pause. Isla is not so mature in its majesty as Clova. It is even raw and ragged, as if the ploughing glacier had passed over so recently that the lapse of time was too short for mellowing away the effects.
The close, however, is dramatic enough. From the signs of fierce conflict scattered about, there might have been a tussle to force a way through to Aberdeenshire. Wildness has broken loose, and yet the scene is not savage. Picturesqueness is scarcely the word; it is too awe-inspiring for that. One scarce likes to be left alone in its midst, and is all the better of a companion.
The walk is not tiring. No need is there to squeeze into the narrow margin of midday shadow, nor to cool the feet in the somewhat swollen stream.
Wild flowers are even more distinctly sub-alpine than those of Clova. The turf is lit with eye-bright, as gaily as ever Lowland meadow with daisies; while alpine lady's - mantle carpets long stretches of the road.
Through a peat bog I approach the tremendous gateway of the glen, or caen, whose left pillar stands nearly four thousand feet high. I do not enter by the gate, but essay to scale the mighty wall. Turning up the hillside, I ascend into the alpine country. Trailing azalea and other early plants, which make the June hills bright, are past the flowering stage, and, in their sober dress, easily overlooked from a distance.
That pleasant scent is not of whin, but of the bog myrtle on the moister portions of the lower slopes. The shrub of the mountains is not broom, but juniper. As it struggles upward, it dwindles into a bush, which is quite needlessly spoken of as if it were not the same.
In ascending, it is interesting to watch the trees. There are only three to attract attention - the Scots fir, the birch, and the willow. The Scots fir has no alpine representative. It lessens, but is allowed to remain the same species throughout. When it has reached the minimum of size, it is still only a little fir.
The birch cowers closer and closer to the mountain-side or to the rock, until it becomes less a tree than a bush; and each step in the intervening process is represented, so that the eye can follow the passage from one extreme to the other. But the wise conservatism in the case of the Scots fir is departed from; and, as with the juniper, the stunted birch is spoken of as if it were another. The probability is that bush birches are alpines of the Shetland pony kind, which could be passed, in the reverse order, on to the full stature again.
The willow seems to be the only one of the three with truly alpine forms which would probably defy the utmost ingenuity to reconvert into anything else. I see them in increasing numbers as I ascend higher, lying against the face of the slope - little fairy shrubs about the length of a quill-pen, or even less. As one expresses it, root and all might be hidden between the leaves of a lady's pocket-book. Most of them have circular leaves, distinctly and prettily veined and netted. These are not the dwindled forms of the trees at the foot, or the bushes I passed by the way, but differ from both in very many ways.