Andrea Rossiter

Andrea Rossiter


Somewhere on the train back from St Andrews, I watch the black clouds, the pouring rain, the shadow of Arthur’s Seat. It’s a striking contrast to the sun on the water, the idyll of the Fife Coast, my gentle contemplation of gentle waves. I think about how this moment resembles the excruciating trail of my life through storm, after storm, after storm. Now, finally, I sit somewhere in the distance, watching the storm and shadow from afar, settling into the curve of my own gentle wave. I consider how nature does that – the way it imprints its image onto my soul and suffering, and helps me carve a path through pain, how it helps me make sense of my wounds. 

For example: 

My grief for the Earth is a tsunami, always ready to rise suddenly out of nowhere, yet ever present, tucked behind my ribs. Last year, I watched a woman lift a dying swan out of my loch, near the place where I sit to find peace, to calm my tsunami. I have felt nausea thinking of the collapse of seabird populations. I observe the loch and all its birds and I know home when I see it. It is beauty and peace and tranquillity, even though it’s terrorised by pollution and disease. I know my home lies somewhere in my sense of the future. My future used to be a storm at best and a dark void at worst, but now I must insist that it break like dawn, like a sunrise on the loch of Linlithgow, like bright pink-orange clouds.

My future is nothing like my past, but they bleed into each other and I zig-zag across the boundary between storm and dawn. I am sitting on a bench on the Fife Coastal Path, watching the storm from afar. I am in the eye of the storm, standing on Arthur’s Seat. I am watching sunlight glint on water. I am watching the tsunami rise towards me. Sometimes I am at peace, and sometimes I am in pain, and I stumble along the boundary, trying to learn from both. 

When I am in my backyard, I dream of turning it into a garden. Now, an image of blood red intrudes and I wonder: if I tend my garden, am I ignoring how hell unfolds just over the wall? There is hell over the wall, but there is also hell somewhere between my ribs, there is hell and sunlight and tsunami pouring out of me. How can I be both observer and sufferer? How can I drown under the storm shadow at Arthur’s Seat, even as I watch it from a distance, humming a tune along the dance of sunbeam on sea? How can we aspire to tend our paradise gardens while the insects reckon with an apocalypse not of their own making? 

I visit Dunkeld where the air smells clean and fresh and the world is calm. In Dunkeld, there are flowers laid on the suicide wall of a bridge, and I am reminded of the bridge in my dream, which held flowers of red and yellow. In my dream, these were not mourning flowers. These were not post-suicide flowers. These were not flowers to mark self-destruction, though I have wished for the peace of that too. These were flowers of self-creation and some part of me placed them there. Some part of me laid flowers along a bridge, and grew a dandelion out of despair, and this is what nature has taught me. 

My future is nothing like my past. Scotland is nothing like Egypt, the place of my childhood. I used to know a place of desert and palm trees and endless sky. I have seen orange-brown smog on the horizon and smelled the sour burning of garbage. In Cairo there lies Mokattam, the City of Garbage, and I have known of it all my life. I have been there, the place where people live among the city’s waste, and recycle it better than anywhere else on Earth. I have loved the Nile and its feluccas. I have sketched the Aswan Dam. I have danced with Nubian friends in a home with no roof, under the night sky. I have studied the effect of human engineering on water quality and on human culture. I have sweltered under the oppressive oven-feeling of a 50-degree summer. There, I walked streets lined with garbage piled high and it paralleled another patch of my past where I walked through a corridor of snow piled high. In Canada, I slid over black ice and walked through snowstorms. Over there, I knew chapped lips and numb thighs and frozen nose hairs. 

Scotland, with its lovely, gentle saunter between seasons, is not quite like Canada, and is nothing like Egypt, where the extremes rule. I have known fear of the extremes. I have pictured the hypothetical effect of a 4-degree average global temperature rise on people and nature, and briefly lost contact with reality, at the horror of it. I have known extremes, and I have feared them. I fear them still and will fear them always and I know they will visit Scotland too. I am afraid of the storm. I am no longer afraid of the storm. The storm surrounds me. The storm is on the horizon and I am a wave collapsing gently back into the ocean.

Since making Scotland my home, I have tasted the clear mountain spring water of Slovakia and swam in the cold river water of Latvia. Afterwards, I came home and mourned at the brown-green of contaminated lochs and canals. I have longed to be able to dip into the loch five minutes from my house, but it is too toxic now. I have loved the canal in front of my house but I have turned on flood alerts.

I am body buried in the ground, listening to the echo of manufactured silence. I am body tending garden, listening to the background screams of hell. I am a petrified human, and I am a fraction of God. I am the spider hibernating on the ceiling of my home’s entryway. I am the pillbug lost in my bathtub. I am the duckling on a canal which could flood one day (I have flood alerts on). I am the apple tree in my backyard which produces apples with rotten cores, but so many of them, so many we must give them away because you can still make apple pie from them if you cut around the dead parts.

I want to prepare for every extreme. I want to face the future. I want to face my fears. I also want to tend my garden. I want to build the closest thing I can to paradise on Earth.

Somewhere on a train back from St. Andrews, I observe the storm near where I live. 

Somewhere along the Fife Coast, I observe the sunlight on the water.

Somewhere, finally home – I am ready.

Andrea Rossiter
Andrea Rossiter

Andrea Rossiter works on climate and environmental issues, and writes creatively in her free time as a way to process and make sense of these things. She is based in Linlithgow.