I step off the path on the backside of Calton Hill and stand in the wind as it flows among Edinburgh’s seven hills. The sun has come to Scotland, and there are people traipsing in the greens like ants upon the hill. The Palace of Holyroodhouse, the ancient seat of the kings and queens of England in Scotland, bookends the Royal Mile opposite its loftier counterpart, Edinburgh Castle. The light turns beige and gold and a rainbow of browns on the palace’s stone. Like an oil slick going pearlescent in the setting sun, it is a beautiful, ugly thing.
I only know what I don’t feel as I look down upon Holyrood Palace. I don’t feel that balloon of awe in my chest that Scotland’s scenery evokes. I don’t feel close to something buried and powerful. I don’t feel the justice of the landscape. I don’t feel the weight of nine centuries. I sit down among the gorse and grass and watch a calico cat saunter by on a railing. Why does it feel like we are interlopers, a bad stitch in the otherwise perfect quilt? Am I just a misanthrope? Or is some kernel of truth wheedling to the surface, pressing against the permafrost, and aching to blossom?