here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.
When you last heard from this intrepid reporter I was dozing off in the boarding area at PIA in Toronto, waiting for my flight to be called. This big bruiser pictured on the left is the KLM jet I eventually boarded for the 6.5 hour flight from Toronto to Amsterdam, where I would catch a connecting flight to Aberdeen.
This plane looks very cool but it was an accursed monster that tried to swallow me whole. I didn't realize I was going to be stuck in a middle seat between two heavy sleepers who hardly moved the entire flight. Understand, I'm 6'2", 220 lbs. I'm a big boy, and while KLM provides excellent service they have built their aircraft for elves. I was able to get out of my seat only twice to relieve the cramps in my legs. Sleep? Ha.
Arriving at Amsterdam, however, was worth it. It was a beautiful, sunny day as we spiralled around and made our final approach to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Everyone on board suddenly began speaking Dutch! On the flight from Toronto I heard mostly English, but as soon as Holland hove into view it was a different matter entirely.
I understood it was going to be flat, but the flatness has to be seen to be believed. And straight lines, everywhere. The coast over which we flew was the straightest coastline I've ever seen. Miles of beach so linear it might have been plotted and laid by a geometrician. We flew over a main highway that ran as straight as an arrow as far as could be seen in either direction. I saw canals: straight. In fact, I may be misremembering but I think when the canals changed direction they did so at right angles. The horizon, very distant, was straight. Featureless and straight.
I found this remarkable because where I come from, central Ontario, is anything but straight. There are hills, drumlins, eskers, moraines. Winding rivers. Lakes with jagged shores.
It made me wonder how much our geography shapes us as a people. Although I've known several Dutch families at home fairly well and have a pretty good sense of how the Dutch character might be described, I wouldn't dare to generalize about Dutch society overall. I can, however, generalize about Canadians with a little more confidence.
Let me give you a quick example. I have seven acres of forest property attached to my home. Over the years I've cut a few walking trails in back so that I can take the dogs for a walk and enjoy the solitude. I've shared some pictures with you in blog posts along the way. When cutting these trails, I've always picked my way along, cutting down saplings and what not in some cases while sparing others. Some trees just appeal to me when I come across them, so I bend my path around them. As a result, my trails are anything but straight. I do this not only to create a sense of aesthetics but to compromise with nature. Our roads and highways are often this way as well. They've been engineered to avoid certain obstacles while overcoming others. We Canadians pick our battles, we compromise, and we like to seek consensus. With people, with nature. While the Dutch had no choice -- it was either defeat the sea or drown -- we Canadians inhabit such an enormous expanse of wilderness we have been selective in our campaigns to establish order in the wild.
That's as much as I dare generalize right now. I'm sitting in my hotel room in Aberdeen, having flown across the North Sea from Amsterdam earlier this afternoon. I'll talk about my first impressions of Scotland (omigosh) tomorrow, but let me leave you with this final note. As the little KLM Fokker puddlejumper landed at Aberdeen and taxied up to the terminal, the PA system switched over to music, as they usually do. What was playing? Neil Young's Heart of Gold. What better welcome to Scotland than to hear one of Canada's best singing one of his classic hits.
I've been to Hollywood
I've been to Redwood
I've crossed the ocean for a heart of gold.
I've been in my mind, it's such a fine line,
That keeps me searching for a heart of gold,
And I'm getting old.