Round and round the rugged rock of Rum the shearwaters flew..

Things feel different, somehow something has changed, coalesced perhaps...and I wonder what has caused it.

The Small Isles Games were part of it - realising that we can all work together as a team, or perhaps just that I am now, to the outside world, "from Rum" - meeting people who didn't know me from anywhere else but just saw me as part of the "Rum Team" which made me realise: that's what I now am.  Somehow, living somewhere for a while, if you engage with it, you do become part of it, without even meaning to.  Then it's strange to realise that you've become part of something you saw as totally alien, that your "way in" may be totally unlike other people's, but somehow has got you to the same point.  (Even if you do then get over-confident and end up telling someone off in a meeting...but that's another story.)

Perhaps it was just that recently, I've looked at Rum literally from the outside, from a different place than just from within myself and my own emotions. Standing on the deck of a ship with other Rum people looking out to sea on the one side, and up to the mountains of Harris on the other, was an amazing experience; seeing Rum as an island in the Hebrides, northern, sea-locked, completely different from the other Small Isles, its own place: next stop the Uists and St Kilda, next stop Iceland.  Not somewhere "too far away from England" but somewhere in its own right.  Somewhere I would have liked to visit if I didn't live here.  To see Rum as a place in itself, not just as a symbol of what we feel - that is quite an achievement too.

Rum in the evening light - Hallival (right) and Askival (left) hidden in cloud
Eigg from the sea
This wasn't just the Games, but a couple of other things that can only happen in summer - that I didn't experience last year.  At the end of July we booked on to the "Shearwater Trip" - part of a three-day event with shearwater boat trips, climbs up the mountain to hear them at night and general shearwater madness.  We were too cold and sleepy to go up Askival again in the rain and at night (not to mention coming down again at 3 am next day), but we just had to go on the boat.  The idea was to go out in the evening - around sunset - and sail round to the Askival side of Rum, where the birds form great rafts sitting on the water, before darkness falls and they head inland to feed their chicks.  The rafts themselves are an amazing sight - thousands of shearwaters gradually coming in to land on the water, bobbing up and down in the late sun, with the Rum mountains looming in the background.  But as we traversed the coastline, we came to a dark cliff full of kittiwake and fulmar nesting, their cries almost deafening as we drew closer. Amidst the white snowfall of birds swooping in and out of the rocks, a darker shape flapped through them, causing havoc - a sea eagle, hoping to pick off ailing or dead chicks while the parents weren't looking.  It was huge, careless of our presence, intent on its own evening meal - but it wasn't to be. Perhaps we disturbed it after all, as after a few minutes, it flapped slowly back up the cliff, coming to rest on a rock where it was instantly perfectly camouflaged.   Meanwhile, we headed back out to sea, looking for more shearwater, as the evening sun disappeared and big dark clouds came up on the horizon...

Shearwaters gathering

This was another situation where a group of Rum folk got on a boat and were viewed somewhat doubtfully by the more professional-looking "outdoorsy" people, with their new waterproofs, Tilley hats and huge cameras to pap the birds...we must have looked very strange in contrast, with our things covered in mud and giggling at the rain...but it was nice to feel part of a group and to know that despite our odd looks and irreverent behaviour we do actually know something about this strange landscape - we do actually manage to live in it, despite everything.  So contemplating going away in the near future for a while isn't, this time, a matter of wanting to escape - it's a practical thought, but one that carries a lot of questions.  Will I really be able to write when I am away?  Will I be able to finish off this "book", turn it into a book is more like it?  Will I be able to study at the same time?  Most of all: will I be homesick for the castle, for the island? That's quite a new feeling.

I feel an immense sense of loyalty to the castle, and I feel I have something to complete here - a process that isn't tidily bounded by exams or a job or a payment for something; something less tangible but just as important.  It's nice to think I might miss Rum. Perhaps it's also because we went up on the turret the other night to look for the "supermoon" and saw not the supermoon but some meteor showers and heard the silence of the island: "This is what we'll miss".  And I've wondered for the first time why I have felt so close to Lady Monica, so needed to identify with her, when clearly, she and George loved the island and I, to start with, really didn't.  Perhaps that's exactly why I needed her or the idea of her to help me through...

Heading homewards - Rum folk and their outdoor wear

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