Tomorrow is my last day on the island.I’m really looking forward to getting home and seeing family and friends again, but it does seem strange to be contemplating leaving the island at the end of my 8-week volunteering stint with the Iona Community. I’ll be taking with me LOTS of brilliant memories of my time here and, no doubt, some of my thoughts will crystallise and/or develop over the coming days and weeks.
However, in no particular order, these are some initial thoughts:
1. “Carry-Out” meals (from the Abbey kitchen) with Tom in Shuna garden on sunny days – overlooking the Sound.
2. Regular “breakfast” sessions with Beth+Wendy (and Judith in the early days).
3. Walk to St Columba’s Bay with Moira.
4. Being shown the “spouting cave” by Andrew+Tom and seeing the Machair “properly” for the first time from high ground and marveling at the colour of the sea.
5. My lovely shop manager Fiona and her wonderful assistant Dagmar!
6. Hitting golf balls on Iona Golf Course on the Machair.
7. Watching the sunsets from Dun I (and from the North End and from the Machair).
8. My daily walk to work – from Cul Shuna, along the shoreline, to the Abbey.
9. The constantly-changing colour of the sea (and the sky).
10. Watching dolphins jumping in the Sound (just off the jetty) for over half-an-hour.
11. Suddenly being aware of splashes in the water in the middle of the Sound and realising they were being caused by gannets crashing into the water in search of fish.
12. Franziska’s infectious optimism/humour and Damaris’s “hats”.
13. The changing nature of the sky – especially around sunset.
14. The length of the days (over 17.5 hours of official daylight – although, frankly, you could probably have still read a newspaper outside at midnight).
15. Wildlife, especially the birdlife (and the constant sounds of corncrakes, cuckoos, thrushes, and blackbirds)… including the oyster catchers, puffins and the gannets and ACTUALLY seeing two corncrakes!
16. Being in the MacNeil Library (ie. the volunteers’ internet space) and being aware of just how dependent we’ve become on the internet!
17. The amazingly good weather over my 8-week stay (perhaps only 4 or 5 wet/murky days - while the rest of the UK seemed to be suffering quite badly!).
18. Adjusting (surprisingly easily) to sleeping on a top bunk bed for 8 weeks – including my regular trips to the loo in the early hours!
19. Listening to the improvised piano-/guitar-playing in the Abbey church (especially before the services) from Tom, Mo and Becki.
20. The “Sacristy Post-Solstice Olympics” (Wendy+Petr+my farewell “party”)! Oh, good grief!
21. The rhythm of the days and the weeks.
22. Walking past people on the “street” and everyone smiling and saying “hello”.
23. Seeing Moira for the first time for over five weeks on the jetty (very special moment!).
A: The other volunteers were an absolutely amazing group of people – with ages ranging from 18 up to mid-60s and from all over the world (eg. USA, Canada, Germany, Finland, Australia, Czech Republic, Paraguay, South Africa, New Zealand, Japan, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England!). Even though our time together was relatively short (very short in some cases – with the “vollies” who left fairly early or late on in my time on the island), we became very good friends. Lots of laughter. Volunteers AND Resident Staff members (usually with the Community on 3-year contracts) were exceptional people. If ever you needed reassurance about all the positive aspects of life then these colleagues demonstrated it in spades – creativity, intelligence, humility, generosity, sense of fun etc etc. It was a real privilege to have been able to spend time with them.
B: My little “post card project” (ie. producing 40 sketches/pieces of text on postcards and sending them to 40 friends) has been hugely enjoyable. I would never have thought of involving myself in anything like this, so I owe Ruth an enormous debt of gratitude for her initial idea and her gift of blank postcards and stamps! It certainly gave me some focus for many of my days off (it’s interesting that many of the other volunteers ended up taking up “arty pastimes” too – learning to play musical instruments, jewellery-making, tapestry kits and the like).
C: I could only afford to go to the “Bar” perhaps a couple of times a week but, after the first fortnight or so, the bar-owner John helpfully pointed out that it would be cheaper for me to buy wine by the bottle rather than a “glass-at-a-time”… and that he would gladly put my name on the bottle at the end of an evening and keep it until the next time I was in the bar. A cunning plan. However, you might not be surprised to learn that I wasn’t actually in a position to hand back any part-used bottles at the end of an evening (John reckoned that this was because I was “too generous” pouring out for other people)! Hey ho.
D: Working in the shop was absolutely brilliant (ie. my lovely fellow-workers and the nature of the work), but an unexpected bonus of this was constantly bumping into people around the village/in services/walking who recognised me (and/or me recognising them)… and our brief, friendly conversations.