One year on, a hundred years on...

It's gone from torrential rain this morning, to raining with that Highland glimmery rain this afternoon - much like it did when I arrived here almost exactly a year ago today.  The island disappears into the mists again, and it seems like more than just two days ago that we went to Kilmory in the sunshine, with the berries and waterfalls sparkling in the clear daylight and the Highland breeze blowing the fog and the midges away.

So much has changed in a year, yet sometimes I feel I am in the same place. Other people express similar feelings; sometimes Rum seems to carry you forward on a wave of enthusiasm and positive energy to create something new, at other times it seems to laugh in your face and take you three steps back again. Either the mud gets to you, or the midges, or the sheer bloody-mindedness of some of the people here, that can make you despair of the island ever "getting off the ground" in its quest for independence and financial autonomy.  The art of living here seems to be to ride the wave and accept the mud.  (Interestingly though, someone recently described how another of the Small Isles, having achieved its mission to set up a "proper" community and succeeded in embedding the structures and businesses you need for it to work, has totally lost its motivation now a new generation is coming up, and those teenagers are no longer interested in putting their energy into something already formed by someone else.  Would we get stuck in the same way if we stopped being an experiment?)  

We are not teenagers but we have to summon up that kind of energy to create something new, while combining it with the maturity of adults to cope with whatever Rum throws at us, not to mention coping with each other.  At the same time, there are continuous, small efforts towards changing things for the better, like drops of water on a stone.  And the size of your effort doesn't matter here so much as its effect:  "Small things that you do, the good things, they ripple on for ages," said Ady today.  I hope so. 

But the ripple effect is just one of the ways in which Rum changes shape as you get to know it. With each new experience, each new thing I learn about the island, it seems to expand and grow. Looking back at how I saw it a year ago, that picture seems almost two-dimensional compared to how I perceive it now; each bit of history and geography, even each interaction adds a new dimension, turning it from a flat cardboard cut-out of itself (a looming volcanic island with a pink castle stuck on the front!) into a place with all sorts of people, events and objects popping up wherever you look: a gamekeeper who caught influenza in Glasgow in 1926 and so couldn't bring the fish eggs over to Rum; a sundew catching insects in its greedy botanic trap; an elderly pony getting too short-sighted to notice when the others go off to Harris, and having to be taken back to find them; a cottage that burnt down when someone left a lighted cigarette in it, replaced by a caravan and boatshed; that bit of mud where I sat down rather abruptly when a turkey flew at me; Monica fishing in the burn a hundred years ago in the exact same spot where "Hamish" and "Angus", the itinerant stags, crossed over to illegally graze in our pasture every day this spring; repeated, uncomfortable ferry trips by Glasgow contractors (accompanied by vast quantities of telegrams) to install a new boiler and kitchen range in the 1920s, and repeated, uncomfortable trips by Inverness ditto to mend that same boiler now; the place where a sea eagle suddenly flew out from its hiding place among the rocks above the Third Bridge, just when I hoped one would appear; the beautiful couple in the photographs of a middle-aged Scottish lady who appeared one day in the cafe to show us pictures of her grandparents, John Stewart and Catherine Murray, who worked on the island in the 1900s. There they are, sat with their colleagues on a Day Out by the burn that rushes down from Coire Dubh in the winter and creates our electric lighting now.  So many places where histories overlap; our memories of them, their physical presence, our attempts to link up past and present, as if they weren't already linked, all the time.

Visitors often say that they take a lot of new energy from the island, inspired and gratified by its strangeness, its beauty and its (ad)ventures.  But they give us so much back, not least these added dimensions. Every time we have a visitor they get excited by something we haven't ever even noticed, whether that's tiny flowers and lichens, the engravings in the castle, the opportunities afforded by Chinese businessmen (a complicated story...), the sense of loneliness and defiance echoing still from the Clearances, the diptheria outbreak at Kilmory that killed a whole family in the 1870s, the clash between Scots and English creating conflict even today, a broken blue china cup in the walled garden that is the duplicate of one we have in the Library.  This time, Pam's empathy for the poorer people who lived here made me realise I don't think enough about them; I don't search out their history enough.  Then again, it's hard to find the evidence.  Even the Bulloughs left few (labelled) photographs of people; there are plenty of the landscape, deer and fish, but few of the actual inhabitants, including the Bulloughs themselves.   A few group portraits of guests, but not many; gamekeepers; gardeners; then, lots of pictures of the Rhouma and her crew.  Are there more photographs in the archive vault held by SNH? Does anyone have them?

Anne Metais, nee Thomas, came into the cafe with the story of her grandfather and grandmother, who met and married on the island, but had to leave service when they did so (as was common in Edwardian times).  She showed us photographs of her elegant grandmother, Catherine, then a young, straight-backed woman, a buttoned-up, dark-eyed enigma with a hint of irony and challenge in her smile, sharp square shoulders narrowing to a tiny, nipped-in waist, coat flaring out in a precise dark triangle, neat as a new pin, giving nothing away; she could almost be the lady of the house, a glittering black diamond among a group of other maids and menservants, reservedly smiling in their stiff formal clothes.  And her grandfather, John, his face difficult to make out on the old photographs, but still clearly a good-looking man. We gazed for a long time at the pictures, trying to work out where they were taken and what was happening, to see into their minds.  As if one could.  "Did she ever talk about the castle?" we asked hopefully. "No, not really.  They were a very quiet pair," said their matter-of-fact, middle-aged granddaughter. "But I do remember she was very particular about setting the table correctly.  Very. Everything had to be in exactly the right place and everything had to be shiny and clean." 

They are not in any of the other photos we've found; they must have married early in the history of the castle.  But they are as haunting and fascinating as Monica and George themselves.  And at least we know their names.  And so I know when I walk along that burn now, I will see them there too, think of them running in and out of the back door, as we do, and living with the mud, midges and deer.  As we do; but not with our thoughts or our freedoms or our politics.  I am grateful to them, for being a different dimension; for making our lives here bigger.

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