Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Auld Meer Turf

I didn't mean to, but I left Germany in a blaze of glory. I slung my self around the country on a merry-go-round of cities just to get up enough speed to get launched into Britain. I let go at Frankfurt, bounced at London, and skidded to a halt somewhere north of Edinburgh. County Fife is full of verge that would do serious damage to the ego of any continental lawnmonger, so it was a reasonably cushioned landing.

The windup went like this: Bavaria-Dresden-Berlin-Hamburg-Heidelberg, in about as many days. More accurately, nights. Each place had a friend, and each friend had a plan. If I were to mime my progress from the hinterland of the Alps around via the Baltic Sea and back down to Hessen, I would have to break my silence for something like the sound of a rapidly accelerating zipper.

Skipping over that time on the Saxo-Czech border when I got charged with fraud because Eliza is so sketchy, the whole thing went surprisingly smoothly. But by the time I was supposed to be in control of my mental faculties for a calm and collected exit and immigration, accidental calmness was my only virtue, and mental control was out of the question.

I essentially staggered through that day of train-plane-foot-stamp-plane-foot-bus-train-bus-foot-doorbell blessedly unaware of the mistakes I made, content in the autonomy of my well-entrenched cattle travel reflexes. The best way to stay ahead of the game in modern air convenience is to chew your cud with contentment.

I didn't arrive in St. Andrews with much luggage, but that was beside the point. Tri(Sarah)tops Keenan had a welcome waiting, and I sat down without a ticket for the first time in what seemed like several days. We caught up in a flurry of talk non dinogeeks would never understand.

When the sun appeared, we went to the sea. Just some oil rigs between here and Norway. The impeccable green carpet stacked along the waves is the icing on a fantastic cake. The town is built upon and of Carboniferous sandstones. It is an elder of Sewanee's own forms. The family resemblance is striking when seen in blocks and arched ruins. For 600 years, there have been cathedral walls here. Shadows are long, grass glows and spray glitters because that sun never gets more than two hands into the sky. It doesn't go up at this latitude, it goes across.

Lava has punched its way through further along the dented coast. Between warps and gaps, it takes over in a confusion of dark shapes sprouted in seaweed. The necks of volcanoes can stand when the rest is gone. This is how the rock and spindle's tower stays above the tide. The congealed rock is frozen in the act of pouring from the spout of a lava hill. But the hill is gone. All that is left is a branched tube molded in the shape of an old exit. The spindle, a cartwheel of basalt with radiating cracks, is what you see when you stare at the side cylinder head-on. Molten rock everywhere can take this shape when it is cooled from a surface, and when the surface is circular, the cracks run to the middle point.

A Richard Candler once gave a piece of advice for friends going to Britain. He waxed: ''People are going to speak to you. And they're going to use English accents. It's important to remember that they're not joking.'' The happiness that results when taking a bite out of a mince pie can cleverly mask your sheer delight with the Scotch tones coming from the lady who sold it to you.