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Some of them have humped backs; some do not. Some have hairy faces; some do not. Most are wearing tartan berets.

All are smiling. We drive down to what the Scottish call a lay-by—a paved roadside area that offers elevated, photo-op views—for our first real look at the loch. On the way there the sky seems as volatile as a Mediterranean deity. To the west the clouds are moody, low-sailing changelings, while to the east big puffy cotton balls roll contentedly along a blue backdrop of friendlier meteorology. A frozen green forest fire of pine-shaped flame covers the sometimes sharp, sometimes rolling hills around the loch.


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We pull off into a lay-by empty but for a Scottish man decked out in full Highlander regalia: knee-high socks, red-and-green kilt, black coat covered in silvery buttons, big white Rollie Fingers mustache, tartan beret. He is smiling and cradling his bagpipes but not yet playing.

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The man then begins to play. The bagpipes, I have always believed, are beautiful. No longer. We go the edge of our lay-by and look down onto Loch Ness. The water moves in a glittery, sidewinder way.

Below us the impossibly black water has a severe, pebbled surface. Farther out it is as smooth as sheet metal. There is something about this water. It seems thicker than normal water.

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The shapes it makes, the manner in which it reflects sunlight: it is as though it holds the light for a second or two longer than it should. A line of paddling ducks suddenly comes into view. A car pulls into the lay-by. Char asks where they are from. She then asks him if he believes in the monster.

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He nods his head solemnly. Or here. The woman asks Char if she believes in the monster. Char seems surprised to have been asked, and hesitates before answering. She asks Mandy, who smiles and shakes her head. The woman then turns to me. She is small and formless in her yellow sweatshirt and straight-legged blue jeans, her short hair a peppery gray. It is hard to look a believer in the eye when you are about to reject her belief, but I hold her gaze. Good question. Pheasants Forever, who I have just noticed is wearing a large diamond earring, brings up the coelacanth, a fish thought to have been extinct for 70 million years—until , when one was caught in the Indian Ocean.

I aver that there is a large difference between failing to find a monster people have spent decades looking for in a closed marine system and the accidental discovery in the open ocean of a relatively small fish that no one knew existed. Pheasants Forever looks out at the water, and my eyes follow his. It has not yet been located. While I sit and stare disconsolately at the screen, the large, thick-forearmed man behind the counter asks me what brings me to the Highlands, and I tell him.

We head back to Drumnadrochit as ovals of dusky golden light drift across the countryside, lighting up trees and valleys like Tiffany lamps. The cumulus clouds have the look of impregnable white castles, the hills before them serrated green ramparts. Char is entertaining me with her many accents—highborn Brit, Scottish Highlander, German baroness, Irish drunk, American know-nothing—when Mandy shushes us and turns up the radio. Mandy twists off the radio, and after a few minutes we have all established where around this issue we sit on stakeout. Char argues that in practical terms there is little to no moral difference between suicide-bombing airliners and shelling areas in which civilians live.

We used to go out there with bolt cutters and wreck stuff. Now all we do is paint our bedrooms beige. Have you heard of it? Their boys, for whom they have made this trip, are farther down the beach. They seem a little old to be interested in the Loch Ness Monster. Soon enough they walk over and come fully into view, and I understand why the Loch Ness Monster has retained their teenage interest.

Neither of these tall, fat, pimply, long-haired Bavarian boys is going to be getting laid anytime soon, unless he learns how to play the guitar, and even then I have my doubts. They are nice kids, though, and we try to skip some rocks together. Unfortunately, the rocks here are not skippable. I am unable to find a single flat, smooth rock—owing, I suppose, to the utterly different geological history than that of my rock-skipping homeland in coastal Michigan.

The only nice thing about these rocks is their colors: pink, slate blue, light orange, lilac. The boys rejoin their parents, who greet them by holding up two enormous beers. We walk on down the beach and eventually come across a huge scorched log washed up on the shore. Seized by an idea, I begin to push the log deeper into the water. Char, going above and beyond, takes off her pink sandals and rolls up her pants and wades into the water—which she says is warmer than she was anticipating—while dragging the log out with her.

Our log—with a curve that vaguely resembles a plesiosaur neck—sails out to its destiny.

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Meanwhile Mandy takes pictures of it, already enumerating what she will buy with the tabloid money. I then notice Char inspecting a nasty bruise on her calf, which she earned moving the log. I stare down the neck of the loch, wondering how far our log will travel.

Although the loch is only a mile wide, it is 52 miles long. It is a calm day, a monster day. Maybe it will float all the way to Fort Augustus. Walking back, Mandy spots something on a shoreline rock.

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We watch her approach the rock and squat down, a position she maintains for several seconds. In an aggrieved, weakened voice, she calls us over. When we are halfway to her she stands and turns, holding a bouquet of sunflowers. She hands Char the note that was attached to the flowers, and then Char hands it to me. With love always, Trudi. Right before the beach is out of view, I turn and look back on it. A man has set up a tripod and is photographing the loch. On the walk over the Highland air has a dense coolness to it not unlike chilled meat. Char says this is not normal for August.

We enter the Loch Ness Cinema.