Commentary: while the mainland sleeps: learning "green" the hard way.

Author:McAlister, Michelle
Position:COMMENTARY - A volunteer helps create solar water heaters in the Isle of Eigg, Scotland

I wouldn't exactly call myself selfless, or 'eco-friendly' for that matter. Apart from recycling my old salsa jars and scrunched Diet Coke cans, I really can't be bothered with the latest "eco-mandates" or what "trading on carbon offsets" is supposed to mean. It all sounds like white noise to me. I tune it out--definitely somebody else's problem.


But after spotting an ad for international volunteers to help with the construction of the burgeoning Earth Connections Sustainability Center on the remote Isle of Eigg in Northwestern Scotland, I knew I had to go. But don't get me wrong. I didn't have a sudden change of heart in an ecologically gung-ho sort of way. No. I signed up because I figured participating in the work camp would be a good way to explore the land of my ancestors--on the cheap. Plus, what's a little hard labor? Sure, the work would be a distraction, but I was positive I could find a way around that.

Arriving at the Isle of Eigg, my local contact, Norah, meets me at the ferry dock with her three young boys. Earthy, braless and barefoot, Norah's confident eye contact unhinges me as she approaches, her boys hanging off her every appendage. Norah suggests we sit on a grassy knoll and get to know each other before meeting the other volunteers.

"We're really looking forward to making progress on the solar water heaters," Norah tells me.

Already I'm wondering about the breadth of the labor, and exactly what it is that I will have to do. I look longingly out toward the green hills of Eigg behind Norah, wishing I could sneak away and explore the rolling valleys full of strolling sheep and their young twins crossing ravines, bleating with newborn anxiety.

"What sorts of tasks will I be doing?" I ask.

"Well, let's see," she says as she scans the Scottish sky for her list of chores. "There's planting crops to be done, soldering the copper pipes, then there's clearing out the hydro-electric tubing and countless other chores."

Soldering pipes? I don't even know what it is but sounds real blue collar. Dread descends.

"Yes," Norah adds. "Loads and loads of work to be done if we're to get this center up and running." Norah declares.


As I push for more specifics, Norah raises the corner of her turquoise top and her ample milk-white breast drops down into plain view. Clyde, her one-year old son, vigorously latches on. I try my hardest to connect with her eyes but my eye sockets, like some renegade...

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