One unremarkable day in November, during one of my zero-hours shifts at the hostel, I suddenly knew with absolute clarity: I'm ready to leave Rum now.
From that moment, and especially for the last two months, my time on the island has been imbued with a profound melancholic longing, an acute awareness of the impermanence of everything - of life itself. My last visit to Harris, to Kilmory, to Bloodstone Hill; my last community meeting, my last night as a resident on the island. I wonder if this is how I would feel were I was told I'd only a certain amount of time left to live. Sad, but intensely appreciative of each moment. Rum has become so bound up in my sense of self, that I'm afraid I won't know who I am any more when I'm no longer here.
This is going to be a year of departures for the island; another 7 people are due to leave this year, after me, taking the adult population down to 20. My own leaving seems like the end of a long line of goodbyes; 22 people have left since I arrived here in June 2011. Of course new people have come, and will come after me, but it’s difficult to maintain a sense of continuity and development in a community with such an impermanent population.
Will the new residents be welcomed; new customers for the shop, more freight on the ferry, more rent in the pocket of the Community Trust? Or will they be sneered at behind their backs, as belonging to “them”, working for Scottish Natural Heritage, as though SNH employees are not a part of the community. I won’t miss that sneering, that stupid them & us-ness. It only comes from a few people, but their voices are loud enough and carry far enough for it to feel oppressive to everyone.
There are so many things I will miss, though, not least the Rum-ness of the place. This crazy, maddening, wonderful island. I love the sense that Rum belongs to me, to all of us here; we are the guardians of something special. What is it about this island which affects so many people so deeply? Rum remains, regardless of who comes and goes, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to live here.
Rum is a place of seductive potential – there is so much possibility, and yet everything is so much more difficult than it needs to be. Even simple things, like storing the community-owned tractor in the community-owned boatshed, seem impossible. When I took the Development Officer job, I imagined I’d be part of a tight-knit community of like-minded people working towards a shared goal. The reality feels more like a disparate group of individuals each trying to do their own thing with no real idea of where they’re going.
And yet... Everyone gets along, more or less.
And the goldfish-bowl of village life is only one tiny part of the island. So when mainland life stops being novel and becomes dull and routine again, maybe I’ll hop on the ferry to remind myself of a few of my favourite things:
|The view into Atlantic Corrie, after working my way up Corrie Dubh and over the bealach|
|The grassy top of Hallival in April sunshine, with Eigg looking impossibly small and the weird grumbling of a shearwater in its burrow beneath my feet|
|The sparkle and shimmer of Harris bay as you come down from the watershed past Loch MacIvor, when the view opens up like a vision of heaven|
|The lovely old pony path to Bloodstone Hill, beneath Orval's gloomy crags, a place where you seem to slip outside of time, into another reality|
|All the corries and glens and random rock formations that maybe nobody has walked over in a hundred years|
So I'm off in search of new adventures on the mainland. My lovely house is packed up, and as hollow and echoing as the day I moved in, three and a half years ago. There is no question of regret - I want to go. I also want to stay. The sadness will pass: Rum will never leave me.