I am planning a car trip through the Scottish Highlands from next May 1 to Sept. 1, but I would like to stay clear of that ferocious pest, the midge.
Which times and places should I avoid?
Although there are 34 known midge species in Scotland, one particular type, Culicoides impunctatus, which inhabits the west Highlands and islands, is a persistent pest that is responsible for most of the bites to humans.
These tiny insects, with a wingspan of only 1.4 millimeters, live and breed in bogs and can cause real misery in June, July and August, and sometimes, according to the local people, as early as May and as late as October.
They are most active in still conditions at dawn and dusk and on cloudy days. They dislike wind or sunlight. Their bites cause itching and, to those who are most sensitive, a red rash and severe swelling.
Last summer Loch Broom FM, a radio station that broadcasts within a 20-mile radius of Loch Broom, an area badly hit by the midges, issued a daily midge report with its weather forecast, warning when high levels could be expected.
The problem is not new to Scotland: Queen Victoria wrote in her journal that midges had made her stay at Balmoral in 1872 intolerable.
One of the earliest references to Scottish midges comes from a 14th-century tale of three traveling monks who resorted to swatting midges with birch twigs.
Various repellents are available locally, including a cream introduced last year, Callanish Myrica, developed especially to take care of Scottish midges. The pharmaceutical company that sells the preparation reports excellent results.
Another form of protection is the midge hood and other protective clothes. A mail order company, Bugwear, launched a range of garments this year designed to keep the insects at bay. A Bugwear jacket, made of cotton polyester with panels of fine mesh, costs $75, including overseas postage and packing, calculated at $1.63 to the pound. Information: Bugwear, Drummond Street, Perthshire PH6 2DS, Scotland; telephone (44 1764) 670033, fax (44 1764) 670958.
A reader writing to a British newspaper said a remedy suggested by her local pharmacist was extremely effective: Take two brewer's yeast tablets with each meal two weeks before a visit to the Highlands and during the trip itself.
There are even books devoted to the subject.
"Midges in Scotland," by George Hendry, is available in many Scottish bookstores and from Mercat Press, 53 South Bridge, Edinburgh EH1 1YS, Scotland; (44 131) 556 6743, fax (44 131) 557 8149. It costs $6.40.
"The Flight of the Midgie: Stories of Scotland's Tiniest Biting Beasties" is published by Lang Syne, the Clydeway Center, 45 Finnieston St., Glasgow G3 8JU, Scotland; (44 141) 204 3104, fax 141) 204 3101. It costs $8.
An elderly relative in England is devoted to Ralph Waldo Emerson. What tours are available in Boston to accommodate a 70-ish gentleman and his wife?
The best way of pursuing an interest in Emerson is to take a train from Boston 20 miles west to Concord and plan on spending most of a day there.
The train, which takes 41 minutes and costs $3.25 one way, will leave you about a half-mile from two key Emerson sites.
The first, where the essayist, philosopher and poet lived from his marriage in 1835 to his death in 1882, is Emerson House, (508) 369-2236, at Lexington Road and Cambridge Turnpike. It is open mid-April through October from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and Sunday from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $3.50; children 6 to 17, $2.
Directly opposite is the Concord Museum, (508) 369-9763, which among many other exhibits contains the original study from the Emerson House.
The museum is open January to March from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays, and from April to December from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $6; $5 for seniors; free to students under 18.
About a mile from the museum is the Old Manse, where Emerson lived at various times before his marriage and where he wrote his essay "Nature." The house, (508) 369-3909, is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed Tuesday) and Sunday 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. from mid-April through October. Admission this year was $5; $4 for seniors and students; children $2.50.
Your final stop could be the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, halfway between the museum and the Old Manse, where Emerson is buried on Author's Ridge, along with Henry Thoreau and Louisa May Alcott.
How may I obtain information on the film festival held each year in Park City, Utah?
For information on the Sundance Film Festival, to be held Jan. 18-28, you should contact the Sundance Institute, P.O. Box 16450, Salt Lake City, Utah 84116; (801) 328-3456.
You will be placed on a mailing list and be sent information as it becomes available.
Tickets, sold in packages, cost from $250 to $1,500 last year and are expected to be similarly priced next year.