The storm rages over the island of Iona and the waves crash against the rocks. Anne and I lie in our hotel at night listening to the noise. Last night we barely arrived on the island with the last ferry. “There’s a storm coming,” the manager had said when I called him from the mainland. “Tomorrow there will be no ferries anymore. Your only option to come is today.’ And so we hurriedly left Oban, the harbor town on the mainland, to take a ferry to the island of Mul, from there by bus to the other side of the island. Behind it is Iona.
When we arrive in the dark we see the last ferry sail away in the night. Fortunately, there are six other passengers on the bus, so after some phone calls and discussions, the ferry turns around again. The boat rocks dangerously on the waves and touches the quay with the tip of the gangplank. “Hurry,” the ferryman yells. All eight of us jump on the ferry and we reach the other side while heaving.
Now we lie in the comfortable Argill hotel for hours in the darkness listening to the increasing storm. My thoughts go back to the last leg of this journey. After we left York, we set course for Glasgow, the city where the Climate Conference is going to take place. We thought it would be nice to take a look before the city would turn into a fortress where no outsider can get in or out. We found a cheap hotel in the middle of the city, the Alexander Thomson hotel. It turned out to be run by Indian people and that’s what it looked like. When we arrived at the old hotel we didn’t know whether we were in Scotland or India. A lot of faded glory, musty corridors with old carpet, high rooms with all kinds of antique frills, but in the end it is atmospheric and pleasant. Better than the gigantic skyscraper being built across the street.
After a first tour of the city, we discover that Glasgow is a melting pot of large investment companies, robber banks like the American Morgan Stanley or the Spanish Santander, energy giant Scottish Power, and in addition – closer to the gutter – many bums, drug users, drunks and beggars. Not exactly a city for a climate conference. But we soon find out that not everything is as it seems. The local Scots turn out to be extremely friendly – especially when we put up flyers about our hour of silence on 11 November. Almost everyone embraces our initiative and is looking for a place for the flyers. ‘Sure, aye,’ the bartender winks, ‘I’ll certainly spread them around.’ Neither Anne nor I like handing out flyers much, but in Glasgow it would almost make you happy. Only in the somewhat richer and more chic hotels they coldly refuse. ‘Sorry, we don’t have place for that.’
In the afternoon we walk to the Conference Grounds on the quayside of the Clyde, the river from which the port city originated. There are two science fiction-like conference buildings, surrounded by workmen, fences, signposts, trucks, dumpsters, broken sidewalks, hotels under renovation, etc. In short, it is chaos. I don’t know much about logistics or safety, but even with my lay eye I can see that if a disaster breaks out here – terrorist attack or you name it – it can lead to drama. There is no room at all to get 30,000 people in or out of the site properly, let alone an ambulance or fire engine.
The next day I read on the news that various parties are complaining that the organization of the Climate Conference is a makeshift mess. With ten days to go, it looks like a Mission Impossible to me.
In addition, I read that countries are trying to shape the draft texts of the Climate Deal to their own liking (Argentina does not want the meat industry to be named as the culprit, Saudi Arabia wants the oil industry to be spared, and so on) and that the sponsors – such as Scottish Power – are dissatisfied because they don’t get a monopoly in return for their money. And they all do their best to greenwash the whole thing. In other words, the old game of money, power and self-interest is rampant. We feel beaten. How on earth are we going to change this whole development if we keep on going in the old, rotten patriarchal way?
Anne and I walk to the waters of the Clyde and watch the circus from a distance. “Maybe this isn’t where we need to be,” says Anne. “This is the old world. More of the same. Our strength lies with nature, with the water, the animals, the trees, the devas.’ We decide to tune in to the water, and suddenly I see in my mind a mermaid emerging from the dark harbor water. ‘We’ll support you. We are here as well, just like you. Don’t give up. We are all involved…” and she dives into hiding again. Suddenly a large rainbow appears above the city. ‘The Rainbow Warriors,” Anne whispers.
Before leaving the city the next day, we visit the Arboretum, Glasgow’s botanic garden. Here it is a cheerful affair of artists, cafes, greenhouses, exotic trees, a planned light show and posters announcing an alternative climate meeting. Perhaps there is hope.
In the late afternoon sun we drive out of the city and enter the beautiful Scottish highlands. Green-red hills, silvery lakes and rolling valleys, picturesque bridges and old stone hotels immerse us in the magic of the Scottish highlands. This is what we came for.
In Glastonbury I found a book linking Tolkien’s story to the origins of ancient Norse myths like the Edda. It talks about nine worlds; the world of the elves, the dwarves, the gods, etc. I have a feeling that the further north we go, the more access we get to these other worlds. But that is not without a struggle. Odin hung upside down on a tree for nine nights and was tortured every night before he gained the wisdom of the runes. That process also seems to be taking place with us. The days are generally sunny and clear, the nights dark and heavy. That comes to a climax when we want to eat something in the harbor town of Oban in the evening and end up in an atmospheric cafe. “Don’t feel good here,” I suggest.
“But I really don’t feel like going out in the rain looking for another restaurant,” Anne argues. I’ve been feeling cut off and disconnected all day, and if I say anything about it, the conversation instantly turns into a major crisis. Both touch old and deep wounds that we have been carrying around for years and that lie dormant beneath the surface. At night we both lie in bed and look our own demons in the eye. Fortunately, we’re good at that: we don’t go after each other, accuse or blame each other, but let the pain do its work like a bitter medicine. It penetrates deep into my psyche and I see some unsavory patterns. Especially wanting to have love and connection and seeking intimacy while carrying a huge hole myself that no partner can fill. Fortunately, I also gain insight into the underlying causes, which appear to go back many lives.
Then suddenly the picture changes: I see the goddess Cailleach, the dark terrible goddess from the north. She beckons me. “The road overland ends here. The water is in front of you. It is the water of emotions, but also of death.” She extends my hand and takes me to the other side, beyond the darkness. I come to the land of the magical North. Then Cailleach turns into a young, beautiful woman. She gives me two rune stones: one for me and one for Anne. Mine is a kind of gate, which stands for masculine strength, perseverance, virility and success. Anne is given a stone that represents self-confidence, power and energy. Then I see representatives of all the Scottish Clans rise; the McKinseys, the Mac Dougalls, the MacIntosch, the Burberries, the Campbells, the MacDonalds, etc etc. They have an endless history of fighting a la Game of Thrones, but they raise their swords in the air with the points together. “You called us. We are heeeere! We will unite. We will fight for a reunification of all the nine worlds; the animals, the devas, the trees, the mountains and the people. A truly United Kingdom. All together.”
In the morning I wake up broken. What a craziness. Who still believes in this? I wonder how long we’re going to keep this madness going. When I walk outside with my drowsy head, however, I am overwhelmed by a radiant sun, clear weather, and a great view of water, sea, islands and clouds. This is Scotland’s wild force of nature. I’m awake at once. In addition, I hear beautiful music and I see a crowd of people looking eagerly over the quay. There, around the corner from the house, a goddess, more than twelve meters high, walks over the quay, made of reeds, rags and cloth. Her head and eyes move back and forth as she steps forward. “Cailleach,” I think. She exists! It’s not fantasy…
Anne also comes downstairs later, and she’s just as broke as I was earlier that morning. “I’ve had some heavy bills and my accounting doesn’t seem right,” she says timidly. “How am I ever going to get my life back on track if we live such a chaotic life?” For the first time on this trip, I see her doubting this whole undertaking. When we hear a little later that we have to leave our room, her mood drops even further. “I wanted so badly to work on a text,” she sighs, “But there’s nothing I can do about it. Chaos or not, we have to move on.” Fortunately, she can smile again fairly quickly.
I check the hotel on Iona. “Storm is coming,” the manager says. “You have to come now.” Anne and I pack up and trudge to the ferry. On the news we hear that there is also a huge storm in the East and West of America threatens. Nature teaches us a lesson. On the way to the ferry we hear the name of the giant doll that visited the town that morning. Her name is ‘Storm’ and she is on her way to the Climate Conference in Glasgow….
- To be continued –