Sure fire way to break that spell of dry weather number one – have people stay on Croft 3 to volunteer with tasks around the place. Obviously, living in a caravan we don’t have much in the way of indoor jobs for people. Infact the four of us struggle with a caravan-bound 24 hours. The bookcase has been tidied, the kitchen re-organised, the cat and dog swept… The polytunnel is a space that one person has to sidle in, the shop requires no input, the woodshed is a crouching only space. You get the idea, there are no indoor jobs.
The way to cement that promise of rain is to house said volunteers in a tent. And have them plan to cook outside. It also secures a side order of high winds just to ensure the poor folk not only have miserable days working outside and miserable evenings cooking and existing trapped in their tent but to ensure they get a pretty rubbish nights sleep too.
I feel bad. I would love to be in a position to offer more than we can but we are very clear about our limitations as hosts, the work folk will be doing, the conditions and the reality of life here. We ourselves live in a caravan in cramped conditions.
You can luck out on a visit to Rum and come during a period of amazing weather. See wondrous wildlife, experience all the very best of island life and go away with a skewed view of the reality of what existing on Rum is like. Indeed every single summer in our time here folk have come and done just that. Equally you can come at a bad time; be eaten alive by midges, have your tent blown away in a gale, get your ferry escape route cancelled by bad weather and feel like this is the very last place on earth you would choose to return to. Again, we have met people having just this experience every year too.
It is why we visited Rum for the very first, lasting impression making time in November. Why we have never based our love affair with this island on the snapshot glorious days. It is why we are brutally honest about what to expect with volunteers before they visit us here.
So our current volunteers arrived on a gorgeous day, had a couple of days off in mostly nice weather conditions. They have done an amazing job of the tasks we asked of them, working really hard and making a real dent in the workload here, taking on the jobs we were struggling to get round to in the non midgey, non rainy, non chicks hatching everywhere moments. They have done so in very inclement weather conditions, sleeping at night between their own tent and our bell tent but struggling with the winds flapping the tents about. It is why they may very well end up calling an early finish on their stay with us and leaving on the next ferry. I totally understand as we are able to offer nothing more than we have already provided.
It has reminded us of our own WWOOFing adventures five years ago. What our expectations and experiences were, where we felt tested, where we felt challenged. Which bits were rewarding, which bits made us simply vow never to take on that sort of task ever again. I recall hours and hours and hours of weeding, lots and lots of cleaning out chicken houses, rather a lot of carrying things up hills, I recall being served up food I didn’t really want to eat and doing a lot of washing up after meals. But only because I have been dwelling on the tough bits today in empathy with our poor soggy volunteers. In the main I recall being tested and challenged and rising to meet those challenges, finding inner reserves I had no inkling I possessed. I remember being knackered, cold, wet, tired, hungry, grumpy and questioning what the bloody hell I was doing and then meeting the eye of Ady, or a fellow WWOOFer, or one of our hosts, or the kids and grinning, exchanging a joke, a knowing look, a feeling of solidarity. I remember the joy of snuggling up in our sleeping bags in Willow – our home no matter what the view was outside, the delight of a bath every few weeks, the odd host where a glass of wine was poured with dinner or a chocolate biscuit offered at teabreak time. I remember the exhilaration of meeting someone with a likeminded philosophy, or even more exciting a new perspective which resonated and taught me something new. I remember the thrill of mastering a new skill, realising I could do something I would previously have not even attempted. I remember that pit of the tummy nervy feeling of pulling up at the home of new hosts, that teary eyed farewell a few weeks later as we drove away having shared so much more than a few meals and a few hours each day.
I hope that despite the wind and rain, the only offering lunch and the not very exciting jobs of filling a hole in the track with stones and weeding a raised bed ready to plant up strawberries we will remain one of the memories that our volunteers take away as good. That they will recall the first time they picked up a chicken (come to help while they were weeding), cuddled a duckling (resident in the house while they were eating lunch), saw an egg in the middle of hatching and heard the tale of how the caravan did get across a river, down a track and up a hill while they sit and drink tea in it four years later.
WWOOFing, volunteering in any capacity is about so much more than doing something for nothing. It’s about giving something you can afford to give just for the intrinsic reward of having given. About knowing you made a difference and were a part of something bigger than it’s components. It’s about taking something away that is not money or material offerings. About exchanging ideas, philosophies, about learning and growing.