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Milestone Moments

As April draws to a close we are catching our breath here on the croft. Last weekend we were off the island meeting up with new friends for a surprise birthday party spent in the gorgeous spring sunshine on the beach. A fleeting mainland trip taking in a music event, getting to know new friends who’s lives have criss crossed with ours so many times over the last 10 years that it is a miracle we have not managed to meet before now. So much in common meant that a few hours over a glass of wine or two soon remedied that and we felt like old friends within a very short space of time.

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We returned home on the ferry with the first two volunteers of 2015. By a quirk of coincidence it happened to be our third anniversary on Rum. A similar type of day weatherwise with sun shining, a gorgeous calm crossing and a not dissimilar feeling of trepidation. We were met at the ferry by our friend who had been Bonnie sitting so had an excited dog welcoming us home too. We loaded our stuff, our volunteers stuff and one of the volunteers into the car with Ady and the rest of us walked to the pier. Tea, cakes (mainland junk food cakes!) and chats with the volunteers before we left them to settle in and pitch their tents.

For various reasons we were not around as we had initially intended when we arranged for these volunteers to be with us this week but that certainly did not prevent them from doing an amazing job of removing the top soil from the cob house footprint. Suddenly we can really see the space where our new home may stand. It was very sad not to have as much time to work alongside and really get to know our volunteers as that is usually one of the real highlights of having people here but their presence meant our absence was negated and they did an fantastic job of replacing our labour this week.

So, onto the next phase, a little more digging and clearing and then we are onto filling it all back in again with gravel and drainage.

Meanwhile this past week has seen bright sunshine worthy of t shirts, hail and really quite heavy snow with freezing winds and bitter temperatures. Punctuated today with the first signs of the midges. Ah Rum, never allowing us the opportunity for complacency or feeling mundane.

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3 years…

It’s the anniversary of three years since we arrived here on Rum and made the island our home, our address, our business, our life, our everything.

Before we came here we knew that if we were to place such expectations on a place, an island, a group of people and ourselves then we had a huge responsibility towards making sure we did everything we could do make it happen. If we expect Rum to provide then we need to work really hard to enable it to do so.

Our lives here on Rum are a series of relationships – with nature, with our croft, with the land, the people, with each other and ultimately with ourselves as individuals. Relationships involve give and take, love and support, times of being a taker and time of being a giver. Relationships which are healthy and which work will involve being both selfish and generous, forgiving and tolerant, accepting and patient. Life here on Rum is not really any different to any life anywhere, I guess we have just been made really aware of how much your life and how it is lived is mostly down to you and how you live it. We are really fortunate to have had that illustrated to us and had the opportunity to invest so heavily in our quality of life.

Living in a small community for 3 years has been a hothouse of society in miniature – births, deaths, relationships starting and ending, rites of passage, people coming and going, leaving and moving on, blossoming and developing, learning and changing and evolving. Island politics, recruitment, volunteering, providing goods and services, counselling and supporting, friendship and romance, arguments and conflicts, formal and informal interactions, the private and personal, the public and watched.

Living on the land and so close to nature, at the mercy of the elements for 3 years, through the cycle of the seasons, finding ways to coexist with and attempt to make use of the wind, rain, sun, mud, midges, pests, parasites. Starting with nothing and identifying our most basic needs first and then building in the luxuries, the things which are important to us, taming our little corner of the wild world and working out ways to fulfil our needs without trampling and leaving too big an impact on the land, nature and environment.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride so far and it’s nowhere near over with as many challenges, adventures and lessons to learn still ahead of us as those we have already experienced and overcome. In the style of our bad, good and learnt summaries of the past the four of us have been reflecting on the highs, lows and changes to our lives in the last three years. We also tried to summarise what we are proud and protective about our life personally. Davies and Scarlett were very aware that when we moved here they were only 9 and 11 so these three years taking them to 12 and 14 would have had many changes and differences no matter what we did or where we lived. It is impossible to try and think about where they would be had we stayed in our old lives as they in particular have been utterly shaped by this experience. Having never attended school they cannot even compare themselves to ‘normal’ children of their age as their lives were already fairly unconventional. As such their changes and ‘my life’ thoughts are a bit shorter. I actually think they are all the more profound and telling for that…

Davies

Lows:

    Missing friends.
    A small personal space – I had a really big bedroom back in Sussex and having a space to make my own, surround myself with stuff, walls to fill with my art or other interesting decoration, having to consider available room before acquiring anything new is tough.
    Losing animals has been real low points over the last 3 years.
    The logistics / expense / sacrifice involved in spending time with friends – life before would have time with friends built in really easily. Life here means that any visit or even skype chat has to be planned, coordinated and offset against something else due to limited power, internet, time.
    We didn’t eat a lot of takeaways or fast food but I miss the times when we did and the way we were able to have a treat of fish and chips on the spur of the moment.

Highs:

    The Sheerwater boat trips we do each week in the summer are a huge high of my life here.
    The breeding, rearing and processing of the pigs has been an amazing experience. Seeing piglets born, being involved in their life and then seeing the process of killing and butchering them to turn them into food has been really interesting.
    The adventures Scarlett and I go on and the freedom to roam and explore when friends come over to visit. I know I would be really envious of my life if someone else I knew was living it.
    Relationships with adults here on Rum and the opportunities to learn from them. I think Scarlett and I have been able to become friends with, learn from and spent time with adults here that we would not have met and hung out with in our old life on the mainland.
    Christmasses have been really good. I love our low pressure, whole day off Christmas days we have here and how special the day feels with the low key build up, really different to how I remember Christmas back in our old life.

Changes from then to now:

    I like the stability and constants of life here. I know and understand the rhythm of the days, weeks, months and years.
    I feel able and confident. I know that while I may not need to use all the skills Mummy and Daddy have if I had to then I could.
    I feel I have had an amazing head start on most kids, an opportunity to do something big in my life. I don’t know what yet – maybe go travelling or one day get a croft of my own but I know that I have already done something different and special and want my life to stay that way.
    I don’t know what path this bit of my life would have taken if we’d stayed in our old lives back on the mainland in Sussex. I don’t think I would have gone to school but I may have stayed in some of the groups I belonged to like St Johns so life may have been more structured.

My Life:
I love the life I have here and I feel really lucky that at 14 I have so much control over it. I feel like I am not just a kid going along with the flow or having my path chosen by my crazy parents but that I am informed, educated and part of the team, one of the decision makers.

Scarlett:
Lows:

    Losing animals
    No house yet, still living in a caravan
    The damp in the caravan makes it hard to keep stuff safe
    Winter is tough when we can’t be outside as much as I like
    The midges!
    People leaving. I really miss some of the people who have left Rum over the last 3 years.

Highs:

    The freedom we have here.
    The boat trips.
    Being so close to animals (our livestock), I love all the young birds and piglets particularly.
    Learning so much from the other islanders and spending time with them.
    Wildlife, particularly the deer, eagles and dolphins.
    The access to resources – I love that we have a river along the bottom of our croft to swim in and that if I want a piece of wood to whittle or some clay to shape I can just go and grab it from the croft or the land nearby.

Changes:
I have always loved animals and in our old life we had a few chickens and my pet ducks and I used to visit zoos but here I get so many chances to learn from people who are real experts, to actually work with the animals and learn from them by watching and being with them. It’s like living in a wild life documentary!

My Life:
I feel really confident about animals and how to deal with things. I also know I can do so much more than most 12 year olds can and am really trusted and given responsibility.

Ady:
Lows:

    Unsuitable accommodation and the fear of it not lasting. Life in a caravan is not that bad but the worry of it being vulnerable is hard to live with.
    The mud in winter.
    The midges in summer.
    Missing old friends. We have made some really good friends here on Rum but I miss people who have known me for years and know where I came from.
    The trials and challenges during getting the caravan onto the croft.
    People leaving over the last 3 years. I really miss some of the people who have left.
    The sometimes oppressive nature of life in a small community. That at times there is no escape.
    Losing animals.
    Losing crops or when crops fail.
    The short days of winter and feeling trapped indoors during really bad weather.

Highs:

    Getting the static onto the croft.
    Livestock victories – successful breeding, eating our own produce.
    Events – the ceilidhs, Blasda food festival type occasions.
    The community feel – particularly in tough times when everyone comes together and Rum feels like a family.
    The island itself – it’s stunning!
    The celebrity status of being an islander when tourists visit.
    The can-do feel to life now, feeling able to attempt stuff I would not have had the confidence to tackle back on the mainland in our old lives.
    Being a host – I love it when people come to visit.
    More time with Nic, Davies and Scarlett.
    Freedom – there is pretty much nothing we can’t do here. We are less bound by rules and regulations nad red tape.
    No routine – no 9-5, structure and clock watching, no obligation to be anywhere I don’t want to be.

Changes:

    Able to be self sufficient, if not yet in food then definitely in water, cooking, heating, food and waste etc. If it all went wrong in the world I am confident that we here would survive for far longer than we would have done back in our old lives. I know how to harness resources.
    More in touch with the weather, with nature and the seasons.
    More confidence at doing things and at my own ability.
    I’m physically a lot fitter and healthier.
    Our family – we know each other better as people, are much closer and able to rely on each other.
    I have taken responsibility for learning, for researching and controlling things far more.
    I love the feeling of safety here, you can walk home in the dark without worrying, there is no crime, no risks.

My Life:
When we first arrived here 3 years ago our croft was just a bare, overgrown field. It’s been like one of those virtual reality games where things get placed and built and developed and that is all down to us. I am really proud of what we have built – a life, energy, plumbing, growing crops, livestock.

Nic:

Lows:

    No bath! I know I say it every time but it is the single thing I miss most on a daily, practical basis. If we don’t achieve anything else this year I am determined I will have some sort of bath installed!
    We live in a caravan! I can dress that up and justify why it is still so but the reality is that for the last 3 years our home has been a shaky, small space. It is home but it’s far from the home of my dreams even if the location is pretty special!
    Loss of animals. Every dead piglet over the last three years, every nest raided by crows or ravens while a broody bird dashes off for food, every gosling swooped down on and carried off by a hungry raven, every dead duck we found over this harsh winter left a mark on my heart.
    Missing family and friends in short bursts. I love having people to stay but I miss calling in on a friend for a cup of tea and a chat for an hour, or having my Dad just call in because he was driving past the house.
    The lack of like minded folk. I used to spent most of my time in the company of other home educators, other people with similar interests, passions or life philosophies to me in parenting, education, reading matter. I miss those conversations and life affirming times.
    Being at the mercy of the elements, whether it is weather, temperature or midges!
    How much logistics prevent opportunities. Whether social, educational, cultural or otherwise. Often a party or gathering invite will arrive, an interesting educational workshop or conference will be advertised or an event will be happening back on the mainland, sometimes even close by but the cost of travel, implications of time away from Rum will outweigh the benefits and mean we don’t attend.
    Life is more passive here – on the mainland I felt I was able to be a force for change in small ways, to alter the course of things and be in the driving seat of life. Here I have to accept that it doesn’t matter how much I shout or stamp my feet I probably won’t impact that much on the outcome.
    Community politics can be draining and have certainly contributed to some of my personal low times here.
    Reality checks can be disheartening. The times when life is going wrong and you have to accept that your plans will not come to fruition are really soul destroying and hit hard. There are few distractions and it can be far tougher to dust yourself off and try again.

Highs:

    Feeling part of Rum. One of the gang, a member of a community, someone who lives here and is on the inside. That is a very special feeling I regularly cherish.
    Hosting – whether it is family and friends, volunteers or just visitors. I remember walking through the village when we were first hoping to move here and imagining myself walking along with someone telling them about ‘our island’. That feeling is amazing when I do that for real.
    Writing. I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl. While I know I would not get writing work if my writing was not up to scratch it is undeniable that the subject matter of my writing is way more interesting thanks to my life here on Rum. The opportunities and contacts I have are also largely from living here.
    Seeing my family love their life. As a mother it makes my heart sing to see Davies and Scarlett so happy, fulfilled and enjoying their lives and the opportunities Rum has afforded them. I love having more time with Ady and seeing him free from the stress of his old job, learning and growing and having adventures.
    Raising animals in such natural conditions. Watching the pigs root up their area all day, flopping down and enjoying the sunshine and creating mud wallows, the wee piglets run around, the birds all dust bathing, the ducks and geese swimming on the river, Bonnie hurtling up and down the croft hill at a hundred miles an hour. All of these lovely snapshots are things we made happen and make me happy.
    The wildlife encounters and natural world experiences. We used to chase the chance to spot the northern lights, see dolphins and pay to go to Forest School or bushcraft events. These things are free, outside our window and on our doorstep every single day of our lives here.
    The sense of achievement. I have done various things in my adult life of which I am proud but few are as tangible, visible and able to be quantified as what we have done here on Croft 3 in the last 3 years. On Christmas Day we stood at the foot of the croft and took a photograph of it, the summary of the last 3 years of our lives. A caravan, sited and with wood smoke curling from the chimney. We dragged that caravan up that hill, fitted that log burner, chopped down the tree and cut up the logs. Orderly rows of raised beds surrounded by a fence next to a fruit cage. We built those, planted them, created them. Animal houses dotted about with livestock roaming – we bought those creatures here or kept them safe while they bred their young, found and foraged the materials to build their shelters. We hooked up the water from the river to divert across the land in hoses and pipes to bring water to the caravan, the animals, the crops. This is our kingdom, our castle, the essence of who we are and the evidence of our hopes, dreams, work and energy for the last 3 years of our lives.
    Living the dream – before we came here we used to go camping and grab a weekend, or a week or so of a simpler life. Cooking over a campfire, gathering our water, making do with less clothes, less kitchen equipment, cobbling together meals from what we had and could keep fresh for a week. We’d return to our house at the end of the break and wonder why we had so much stuff, so much space when we knew we could exist with so much less. We would work to earn money to pay for things that we knew we didn’t really need. We had our allotment and our few chickens in the back garden but we had other drains our time and attention – a ‘real life’. That felt all wrong and unbalanced, working in meaningless jobs to earn money to pay bills for things we used to distract us from the fact that we were working in meaningless jobs to earn money… Now we live that simpler existence where everything makes sense. We need shelter, we need food and clothes, we need warmth so we spend our time working on making those things happen. Subsistence living where everything makes sense. Added to this we are living in a tourist destination, a place where people travel to visit for holidays, where we can see amazing wildlife, the northern lights, amazing scenery. We have found a way to remove all of the unnecessary stuff from our lives and focus on the stuff we used to only have ways to fit in around life for fun.

Changes:
I had a very good work / life balance before we moved away. I enjoyed my part time job in the local library, I had an active and fulfilling social life with like-minded friends, I dabbled with my allotment and chicken keeping, held various voluntary roles including a shepherd project, a waste management advisor for the local council. I was a leader for a couple of the kids groups like scouts and rainbows, arranged and ran a kids reading group at the library. I was active in the local Home Ed groups and a member of the local transition town movement. I loved Home Educating Davies and Scarlett and spent most of my time shuttling them around to various groups, events, workshops, museums, art galleries, the beach, wildlife reserves and so on.
However I could see that our lifestyle, while fairly modest was still about consumerism, that our sacrifices were barely scratching the surface. Buying free range chicken at the supermarket and being conscientious about recycling our tins and bottles was not going to change the world or even change our world. I felt informed and educated and enlightened and I needed to use that to do the very best I could to make our lives better.
I have changed in that I now have a far bigger social conscience and am way more tolerant and accepting of people and their failings and faults. I am fitter and more inclined to try things, the kids tell me I am more hands on and less squeamish. I think I am less idealistic and strident, more able to admit defeat and ask for help. Privately I have a sneaky suspicion I might be a nicer person than I used to be, I struggle to admit that though as it makes me feel weaker as a result…
I’m way less of a princess!

My Life:
I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just knew I wanted to be *someone*. To make a difference, do something that counted, leave a mark behind, change my own small corner of the world, never just be normal.
Motherhood ticked a lot of those boxes for me, Home Education even more of them. My life now utterly meets my own personal ticklist. Meeting people from the other side of the world who have read my writing and learnt about our lives here, seeing the footprint of our creations on the croft, watching the animals in the sunshine, seeing the amazing opportunities life on Rum offers my children, my happier, more carefree husband, cherishing our place here in this community. All of these things make me feel truly alive, doing something meaningful, worthwhile. Life should be an adventure, I know that mine truly is.

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So very April

Sunshine and showers. Proper April weather here. As we draw towards our third anniversary of life here we are given alternate glimpses of the promise of spring and summer to come – long endless days outside getting stuff done, achieving, being productive, combined with winds with sufficient force to cancel ferries, blow things across the croft and necessitate tying up the wind turbine, rain and hail storms to drench us and drive us back indoors. The temperature veers between t shirt weather and requiring the fire lit in the space of half an hour.

I have personally hit one of those overwhelmed by too many things to manage to achieve even one of them walls. I need to write lists, prioritise and regain my mojo. All of the things on my list are those I love doing and enjoy but instead of productivity and merrily ticking things off I have defaulted to baking and paperwork and researching on the internet, all important but not the sort of things which net the results we need to move forward. The resultant cookies are nice though! I think the upset of our rhythm of the shocking news of last week coupled with the distraction of our first visitors of the year (my parents were here with us for Easter, lovely to see them but a distracting reminder of the life we left behind which can take a period of readjustment to come back from) plus a visit from some blog readers (*waves at new friends*) which is always a surreal but very 21st century experience. Particularly remarkable as this blog reader also knows another set of blog readers we met in real life but through a totally different avenue. A very small world with so many coincidences. We were curious for details of their life in Australia while I imagine seeing for real the world I have painted pictures of with words for the last 3 years was a strange experience.

Meanwhile back in our real world we have been getting bits and pieces done. The bird house 2015 is nearly complete – a walk in large house with nesting boxes and perches ready to pen the chickens and ducks overnight so we can collect eggs is now ready for the final touches of a fenced run. I removed the netting from the herb spiral, dug over the soil and removed the weeds leaving just the rosemary, lavender, mint, thyme, oregano and comfrey. I am planning to take out the comfrey and move it nearer to the walled garden. I am unsettled by the lack of seedlings in which is due to the loss of the polytunnel. I have been looking at geodesic dome plans and would love to build one but am being realistic about the scale of such a project while we have a cob build to be getting on with so will hopefully dedicate a day with Ady to constructing a cold frame or two this week from scrap materials we already have and get at least some stuff sown ready to move across to the raised beds in a month or so. I can then tick off growing for the time being which will be one task back in hand.

We have two broody geese sitting on eggs. One has a pen around her, the other is still in the open but both are still spending portions of the day out grazing. Goose eggs are incubated for about 5 weeks but we will need to pen the whole area before the goslings hatch to ensure a better survival chance than last year. We also have a broody duck – sitting on about 9 eggs, again still dashing off once a day for food and drink so will need penning maybe next week. We have at least one broody chicken, rather cleverly she has managed to make her nest within the fruit cage so is utterly protected from crows and ravens so we’re leaving it to it. We will need to sort out chicken proofing that cage though before the bushes start fruiting. I had high hopes of a broody turkey as I found her nest with 8 eggs in it and was very excited but went to check it yesterday only to find it empty! It seems the crows or ravens had also spotted it despite it being pretty well camouflaged from the ground. I guess a birds eye view really does help!

The piglet count steadily declined from our initial 11 to 9 within 24 hours. A further 24 hours saw another 2 lost bringing the number to 7. The runt of the litter at that point was a spotty little one who was struggling to go to the toilet. We observed this but hoped it would pull through, a day later it was also dead and with a bruised and swollen abdomen we assume was not properly formed internally somehow. This brought the litter down to 6, which while very sad seems to be a very manageable number for Barbara who is doing really well with her reduced brood. There are 4 boys and 2 girls – one pink and five spotty. The single pink one (a boy) is the current runt and is less than half the size of the largest of his siblings but is able, determined and adventurous. All six are now out and about exploring, up to mischief and very cute. While at 2 weeks old they are by no means passed the challenges of early life they are all doing well so far.

As I sit typing the wind is howling around the caravan rattling walls and driving down the temperature. The ferry tomorrow is cancelled and the river is running high. It’s hard to believe that four or five weeks from now the midges will be here.

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Life

The thing about really, really living and being close to the tenuous grip we all have (but so seldom acknowledge) on life is that just the other side of that fine line is death.

This last week or so we have been reminded of that on more than one occasion. It’s been the anniversary of a very poignant short life within a family of our close friends, we have lost nearly half of the litter of piglets, various birds nests have been robbed of eggs by the ravens and crows who seem to constantly circle the skies above Croft 3.

The really life-rocking happening this week though was the loss of one of Rum’s longest residents. Probably the first person to shake our hands and take a bit of responsibility for introducing us around the community. A stalwart regular down at the shop, drink in hand from early in the day. A regular every single Saturday morning when I am doing post office. Someone who brought me toasted sandwiches, little samples of a curry or a new pie he had been experimenting with (he was a chef). Most recently he had taken delivery of a parcel from his brother containing goodies from the local Asian supermarket and he brought along a couple of packs of prawn crackers, some super hot chilli peppers and a little tub of garam masala that he had made himself with his spice grinder. Someone who shared stories with me about Life Before Rum, told me tales of himself as a young man, a husband, a brother, a small boy being a son. Someone who’s life touched ours on a daily basis and who made up the rich tapestry that is Rum and the folk who life here, interconnected, interwoven, coexisting and codependent.

The shockwaves have rippled around our small community and beyond. Once we knew his family had been informed modern life allowed us to spread the sad news by way of social media ensuring that regular visitors, ex-residents and other friends of Rum were told the news. We saw his body off gathered at the pierside, lit a firework to send his least favoured culinary herb into the sky with a flash of light, shared memories and toasted him late into the evening. Practical matters were dealt with, shoulders were offered to cry on, various folk were strong while others crumbled and then roles were reversed as the news sunk in and the strong ones needed a hug themselves. Many of us have spoken to his family on the phone over the last few days – a strange link with where he came from and those who have always known him to those of us who knew him every day.

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Hotting up the season

Although someone could do with telling the weather that – in the last few days we have had cancelled ferries, gale force winds, hail, rain and SNOW!

Whatever Rum thinks is happening outside though we are still getting busy indoors preparing for the Coming Of The Tourists. The summer ferry timetable starts at the end of this week, we are collecting eggs from all six types of bird on the croft (duck egg not pictured as we always eat those as pancakes straight away!)

eggs
L-R Goose, turkey, chicken, guinea fowl, bantam.

Scarlett had a candle making marathon yesterday and has ordered in a load of supplies ready for the next batch, been working on some new design ideas and come up with a fab logo which is being printed off ready to make labels.

candle logo

Davies has ordered the next print run of this years postcard designs and been working on a very funny and engaging poster with some cunning marketing techniques.

DSCF1257

DSCF1266

I spent the morning labelling jams and finishing off number 11 in the 2015 range of Moods of Rum scarves. I have two more designs to complete and then I’ll be working on back up stock in anticipation of sales.

scarves

Tomorrow mornings task is bagging and labelling the dried flower pot pourri I made last autumn and making little boxes for the midges in resin. Then delivering them all down to Rum Crafts ready for opening day on Good Friday. I also need to clean out the Honesty Larder at the croft gate ready to start stocking it with our eggs and jams.

I’ve been exchanging emails with volunteers and booking people to come and help us out this year and have a couple more writing articles requested to get cracking on. Mostly though I am looking forward to the weather playing nice so I can actually get outside and start making things happen on the croft.

Finally I know that most of you are not here for the croft 3 updates at all but the cute piglet photos…

7piglets

babs