As we hurtle through our fourth year here we are having to come to terms with challenges bigger than winter and the infamous ‘Rum Factor’. Every year in the winter you slip and slide down the muddy, waterlogged croft hill and can’t quite believe it will ever dry out again and you’ll be able to leave the caravan without wellies. Then every spring it does and come June you are happily walking around the croft in your flip flops.
Except this year. When on the 1st of August we are sitting here having worn waterproofs down to work in the village this morning, having waved off our volunteer a day early yesterday as the possible winds forecast for today threatened cancelled or disrupted ferries. When at least three of the last ten days have been too rainy to work outside.
This year our Big Thing to come to terms with has been the cob project not happening ready for the winter, but not even the ground works back up to ground level. Currently we just have a big hole. Of the five volunteers so far two have not even lifted a spade on the project (they were busily employed elsewhere on the croft, but the fact remains progress on the cob build has nothing to do with cob or building at all yet). It has meant the four of us have had many conversations about how we make this work without a more stable roof over our heads. During the course of this year several houses have changed occupants down in the village which has had us questioning whether we should be rethinking how we live here. But we keep coming back to our reasons for starting this journey in the first place – to live a lower impact life, to tread more lightly on the land, to move away from being wage slaves, to live closer to nature, to do what we love and love what we do. It was never on our list of life ambitions to build a house and whilst the idea of the cob project coming literally from the ground and being built by hand speaks to us on so many deep levels we don’t necessarily have a big desire to be the ones to make that happen with our own hands. Any sort of build would struggle to be done by just four people, with no previous experience and many, many other things to do.
What we have not yet discovered is the balance somewhere between the two, but I think we are getting towards working it out. Initially we thought moving away from the usual volunteer expectation of providing all meals and accommodation by reducing the expected work load and asking people to provide more for themselves would work. And it has, to a degree, we have had a lot of interest and five very good volunteers so far this year. But we’re learning all the time, reshuffling the order of things and reforming the plan as we go along. It turns out that we’d be better investing time and attention in getting our hosting facilities as sorted as possible and then working out a more structured volunteer programme.
What we did come here to do, the big plans that drew us here in the first place need to be protected and remembered lest we get distracted too far. We also didn’t plan to move to a remote island, so while the many amazing realities of life here are to be celebrated and enjoyed we need to ensure that the challenges and logistics of that, and the overcoming of them do not become the be all and end all of our day to day lives. If all we ever wanted to do was build a house on an island then I suspect we’d have made greater progress, or at the very least found it easier to come to terms with what that dream entails. But we didn’t. We started a new life here because it ticked our boxes in the following ways: to live somewhere beautiful, to have land to grow food and keep animals and to live somewhere with a sense of community. I have never known anywhere as beautiful as Rum. I appreciate the beauty of our landscape here every single day, rain or shine, hot or cold, calm or wild, I love every single facet of Rum’s full on personality. The community both with a small and a large C brings both the greatest of joys and the deepest of lows and quite possibly has consumed more of our lives here than it should, certainly more than we ever expected but it has given back easily as much as we have given it and none of us can imagine living somewhere were everybody doesn’t know your name. And your business. And the ins and outs of your lives…
The biggest thing though is the land. Our 8 acres with which to do pretty much whatever we please. No one ever coming to inspect or check, to tell us we’ve done it wrong. Freedom to decide what goes where and how to arrange things. It’s been a three year adventure in playing camps, or a real life version of one of those simulated computer games Zoo Tycoon or The Sims. Putting things up and taking them down again, moving resources and creatures around, learning and understanding and making progress. I’ve been reading stories of people who started like us, but are a few years further along their journey. Colette at Bealtaine Cottage who started 11 years ago, The Pillars of Hercules who started out with less land than we have just over 30 years ago and are now doing pretty much everything I’d love to be one day doing (shop, cafe, volunteer hosting, veg boxes, camping etc). I try really hard to take heart from these stories, to realise that we really are just starting out and should be celebrating what we’ve already achieved while continuing to dream big and spend every day doing what we love.
and it really made me smile and talked to me. It made me realise what we’re doing is putting down roots, building a strong foundation. Just the same way as we created a strong, loving and supportive environment for Davies and Scarlett, enabling them to grow as individuals until they are ready to reach for independence. The same as we look after our young animals or tiny seedlings here on the croft, keeping them safe and preparing them for the world. The same as we have slowly criss crossed the croft with running water, pipe buried under the grass but there ready when we need it, the same as digging out ditches to improve the drainage on the land, the same as digging out that cob project footprint to back fill with gravel and drainage pipe to ensure safe, secure foundations for our one day home. Putting down roots, probably the most important thing we could have spent these first few years doing.