RACHAEL BERMAN MELVILLE: Self-Directed Residency, 2015

Day 1 – Monday, March 23, 2015. It was dark before, unseen. Now it is morning. Blue skies, the ocean. Two waking hours on Mallaig and I felt I knew the place. It is a beautiful little port town with much seafood to offer. After a rain shower and a rainbow, I return to my tiny, clean hotel room and gather my belongings.








Off to Eigg. I ride the ferry in awe.






Upon arrival I’m met with six border collies, a bustling pier full of locals, and Neil, who helps me with my bags and kindly drives me to Sweeney’s Bothy.  He shows me around, explains the composting toilet, the wood-burning stove, the solar powered electricity, the water pump system, and then lets me be; assuring me if I need anything, to simply walk down and knock on the door.


view from inside outhouse
view from inside outhouse












I unpack and organize while looking out the window.  The Isle of Rum is in direct view of the bothy’s window. I have a feeling I will get to know Rum.




Rum commands its place
A falcon flies overhead,
shadows dance with light


Blues, yellows, greens, reds
The sun changes everything
minute by minute


In the afternoon, I meet locals on my long walk to and from the pier. Everyone I meet is helpful and kind. I notice a relaxed yet determined demeanor with residents here. There is something different about people living far from the city.  Strong hands, skin that has seen the sun, practical clothing, boots for walking and working, and a glow that can only be emanated by something from within (not makeup, beauty products, or sunbeds). They look different because they live differently. There is a natural roughness to them. It isn’t that they don’t take care of themselves; in fact, it is more evident that they actually do. They look like they are living with the land, not just living from the land.













I am offered a ride back to my bothy when shopping at the local store. I thank the store owner kindly but decide to haul my heavy backpack back the way I came, on foot. I am glad that I did as the walk back was congruent to the sun’s last hours. As I arrived back to the bothy, I had just enough time to set my belongings inside and return to the front porch to watch the sun disappear below the sea.




A lone sheep appears at the top of a hill to my left. I try to photograph its silhouette but it seems to be playing a game with me. Each moment I re-focus and re-frame, it moves so that I cannot catch it. I eventually give up and set my camera down. Time to disconnect.


How did I get here?
The pieces fell into and
then out of the grid.


I struggle with time.
I think – outside or inside?
Weather, you decide.


The sea moves me in
Pushing firmly, pushing each
foot into the earth


Day 2 – Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Today I set out to climb the ridge that sits behind and above the bothy.




I follow the directions of a neighbor, who instructed me to find the path beyond the washing lines of the big house down the street. I crossed the washing lines and hiked up and up past the sheep.


berman_bothy road




When I reached ‘the top’ I realized I was nowhere near ‘the top’, yet the views were tremendous. I continued to hike until I reached a large stone that I had seen from the door of my bothy. The rock is much bigger than I thought, more like a formation.  I realized I had hours of hiking to do if I wanted to follow the ridge and reach the end of the island. I stopped to eat my peanut butter sandwich. Recharged, I began part two. Photographing frantically along the way, I could barely believe my viewfinder, or my eyes. The beauty I experienced I cannot describe. Look at the photos. Better yet, come here sometime in your life.












After hours of hiking, a serendipitous phone chat with my husband, battles with mud, rain, snow, sleet and hail, I came to the end of the ridge. I was met with one more spectacular view and a rainbow. I got what I came for and more. What I didn’t get though, were details on how I was to return. I tried a few trails from the ‘end’ point, but one nearly led me off a cliff (during a windy, sleet-filled half hour) and the other trail I lost after ten minutes. I then attempted to scale downward from another path, but soon realized I was, again, no longer on a trail. I chose to re-trace my steps and head home the way I came. I was met with crazy weather once more. I retired my cameras and diligently hiked onward.




The hike back was very different from the hike there. I got into a zone and became determined and calm. The sun broke through and guided me down to the clothesline starting point. When I reached the very bottom, I photographed my boots on the tarmac road just off the property. I was relieved to be on solid ground.




The mountain taunts me
I give in and hike all day
I return with joy


Amendment to “I struggle with time” (one day later):

I struggle with time.
I think – outside or inside?
Weather, I decide.


This evening, while cooking my dinner on the stove-top and warming up for the night, I decide to use the oven for the first time. I bake an apple with a sprinkle of brown sugar and a butternut squash with salt, pepper and a drop of olive oil. I leave all the windows shut as I know it will get cold later at night. The bothy heats up. It continues to heat up. The oven is producing some kind of heat! I open a window, but it doesn’t make a difference for hours. Eventually I adapt.


Sitting sweat naked,
flames hot, I refuse
to put the fire out







Day 3 – Wednesday, March 25, 2015
My walk to and from the pier took me through forests, fields, hills, near rock formations, the sea, past houses and historic building remains. Moss and lichen cover everything. I have lunch with a border collie, watch ferries come and go, see the locals rush in for their grocery pick-ups from the mainland, and buy some local eggs that I literally saw delivered moments before my purchase. A military fighter jet flies low over the island and shakes me to my bones. I roam with the sheep, get my feet wet in sea, search for arrowheads, and take my sweet time doing everything.

I find a stone that resembles the shape of Rum; the shape I see from my window in the bothy.




I collect strands of sheep’s wool from branches and twigs.

I see baby pheasant scurry into bushes, falcons soar above, calves and cattle feed and wait, the sheep are still staring, chickens, roosters, goats, robins, seagulls, herons, pewits, pheasant, eagles, blackbirds, more birds unidentifiable, plants I’ve never seen, plants I know from my childhood, waterfalls, streams, the sea, cloud formations, mountains, rocks, stones I’ve only seen polished in shops, moss…everywhere.


































The sun is out for most of the day, as is the cold and the wind. On my return to the bothy I look in the mirror and see a reddened face, fresh from the elements.

My hands are dry and my skin begins to crack. I do not mind, as it seems unavoidable and natural while here. I have cuts and bruises from adventuring through forests and fields of thorns and branches. My muscles warmly ache from walking/hiking 6+ hours a day. I love this feeling.


berman_bothy self1


The day ends with darkness and strong winds. The stars will not visit me tonight. I look forward to tomorrow and welcome rain in the afternoon, as I wish to spend my last hours on the island, in the bothy, creating and reflecting.


Rain struggles to drop
Flying up from side to side,
it swirls and lands where?




Day 4 – Thursday, March 26, 2015


Rum is hazed with snow,
glazed with icing of the sky
Morning sun’s dessert


I awoke in the loft bed in twilight. I decided not to keep my watch near the bed; I had no idea what time it was. I stay in bed for some time, looking out the window at stormy weather.


berman_self 2


The wicked weather ensued and I dug my heels into some homework. I took breaks making rose and cardamom tea, fresh coffee, boiled eggs, sandwiches for later, honey on toast, and even tried my hands at baking some bread from scratch with bits and pieces left over from past bothy dwellers.


My surroundings de-clutter as I use up the last bits of food and materials I brought with me for the week. I also begin using unneeded notes to feed the fire. I am not worried about completing anything today. I burn my ‘to do’ lists and let the bothy and the landscape seep in.

I have grown fond of the songs of the birds, wind, rain, and the crackling fire – I haven’t listened to music or the radio since day one.

I am still determined to see the beach again and decide to venture out with minimum gear to brave the weather.


Clouds break, blues emerge
Night’s storm of wind, rain and hail
now merely a dream


The sun is out, quick!
Time to play with ornery wind
Hurry to the sea


The journey to Singing Sands was muddy and boggy. A neighbor confirms that I am on the right path and I am introduced to his young daughter and I am reacquainted with the border collie I had lunch with the day before.

I am overwhelmed with beauty and stunned by the power of the wind. I take photos until my film runs out and my battery dies. I am left with my eyes and my memory. I take the long way back to the bothy.








I finally get a chance to chat with Eddie. We speak of life on the island and elsewhere. He tells me of a bird, the shearwater, which comes once a year from Brazil to nest in the cliffs of Eigg and Rum. He attempts to mimic their song, but stops shyly and describes it as ‘ghostly – but not spooky’. He says they fly in at night and you can hear them from the croft.

He shares a tale of Nordic sailors, coming to Rum for the first time. When they arrived, they heard mysterious calls from the mountains. They believed the island must be inhabited by trolls and resist landing. A few days later, they spotted shearwaters and realized these were their ‘trolls’ and finally docked their ships without fear.
He also tells me that there is another bothy on Rum – Dibidale Bothy. If you look closely you can see it from his window, and the bothy’s window. Dibidale means ‘deep water’ in Norse. The bothy sits on a crevice in the land that extends deep into the sea.
I ask questions about the residents of Eigg, especially wondering how people react to visitors and tourism. We speak of small-community life and how it differs from city life.  We share past experiences and look out the window. The sunset will be beautiful – time to grab the camera.






I spend the evening organizing my things, preparing food, beginning to pack, and deliberating about painting before I sleep. It is already ten and I wish to wake early to go back to Singing Sands upon sunrise if the weather permits.




Day 5 – Friday, March 27, 2015
Last day, last entry. I am exhausted with pleasure. Last night I packed, cleaned, and organized. I began sketching around 10pm and finished sometime around 3am. I could have been dreaming, but I’m sure I heard the shearwaters Eddie spoke of as I drifted off to sleep. I awoke to a pheasant squawking at my window and noticed two calves wondering on the hill above the bothy. They moo-ed for their mama as they had lost their way. Busy on the croft at 6am – guess it is time to get up.

I build a fire and head to Singing Sands without any backpack or even water; just one camera, a plastic bag, and some paper to make some charcoal rubbings of the rocks, some of which are Jurassic. Delirious from lack of sleep, the morning was like a dream: Singing Sands at sunrise, chats with neighbors, dogs and sheep, bird sightings, sun, wind, rain and hail.
























I make it back to the bothy in time to leisurely make breakfast, pack up my belongings and clean for the next visitor.  I finish just in time to meet Eddie to take me down to the pier. I had been looking forward to this ride, as I would have the opportunity to chat with him once more. He helped me identify some birds I spotted this morning near the beach (pewits) and also informed me that the mysterious twig figure I discovered on the hill just above the bothy is Sweeney himself. An artist named Trevor Leat created him. A stunning outdoor sculpture that I will not forget.










I love that things weren’t mapped out for me. There isn’t a list of ‘things to do’ except for the writings of other Bothy dwellers and their suggestions. Even these are vague and you’d have to venture and ask around to figure things out. This is part of the bothy experience, to explore, get lost, get found, and find out.


No more musings, here’s the most important bit of this blog:


Many thanks to Eddie, Lucy, Bobby, Neil, all those who greeted me, and those who gave me essential directions/information during my stay. Thank you for sharing your island. Thank you Sweeney’s Bothy for your warmth and handsome utility. Thank you past bothy dwellers for leaving me with set honey and other bits and pieces for use or interest. Eigg, thank you for your beauty, your wildness, your might, and your spirit. Thank you for the stones, the tree branch, and the photographs I captured. Thank you for an unforgettable adventure. I am leaving the island with a smile and a very heavy heart…


bothy drawings