On my last day as Ranger 2010, I write my last blog entry from Devon. Looking out on the ancestral home of Thomas Dyke Acland at Killerton, the famous oak trees are turning to autumn hues. It feels a long way from here to St. Kilda but the connecting thread flows strongly. Nearly two hundred years ago Thomas Dyke Acland visted St. Kilda finding the self-sufficient inhabitants living in what he thought primitive accomodation.
With a cash donation he began the modernisation that led to the eventual failure of St. Kildan society. The islands emptied of 4000 years of human habitation feel far from empty. Myths, legends and hard archaeology abound. Layer upon layer never quite erasing its predecessor. There is no clean slate upon which to write any new St. Kildan story. Resettlement is once again appealing in certain idealistic quarters. We have to remember why St. Kilda declined - Utopia is an imagined land existing on sunny days and dare I suggest discussed over good food and drink.
Without the MOD my job would be very different. Back to an older reality - no regular post or food supplies, no easy access medical facilities, a three hour rough boat trip to Harris depending on the whims of the sea. St Kilda's visitors would come a lot closer to understanding why the community asked to leave 80 years ago. Survivalists might relish the challenge but the landscape is embedded with psychological perils ready to work again on the human condition. Utopia would strain under the realities of hard work, leadership and ego contests. St Kildans had their 'Parliament' but was it so egalitarian a council? We like to think so but recent works by elderly St Kildan emigres suggest these were occasional events, island staff meetings to allocate work rather than altruism. At the end of the day they had to work to pay their rent; at the end of the day this became impossible for the elderly population and only the philanthropy of their Macleod landlord kept the community together as long as it did.
So as I sign off for 2010 I realise what a gold fish bowl, pressure cooker or whatever analogy you care to think of, such a closed island community becomes. In that knowledge, I hope to meet you all again in 2011, welcoming new and returning visitors on the Jetty alike and learn more about myself in the process.