What do you do when you feel like the path you are on isn’t right? And you don’t know what to do because there doesn’t seem to be any other way to go?
What do you do when you have these dreams of where you want to be…these great ideas and passions, but absolutely no idea how to get there? When you can see where you are now, and you can see your goal, but it doesn’t feel like there is any clear road to get from point A to point B.
I imagine this is a pretty common experience, especially nowadays–after the economic crash when so many people lost their jobs just-like-that, and were (are) faced with a massive Now What? staring them in the face. And in our society where there is a whole lot of rhetoric about fulfilling your dreams, about just ‘putting the intention out there’. As if in our new age, wishing really can ‘make it so’. It’s certainly a familiar feeling for me as I wade through the swampy, seemingly path-less, waters of my own life as a stay-at-home parent, and a ‘trying-to-make-it’ writer.
So, what do you do when you can’t see any clear path that leads to where you want to go? Faced with this situation–literally–a man named Calum MacLeod built his own road.
Calum lived on the island of Raasay, off the coast of Skye in Scotland, and over the course of his grandparents’ and then parents’ lifetimes, his community was deprived of their farm land and driven to the margins (a time aptly named the Highland Clearances). Families abandoned their homesteads due to such extreme hardships until by the time Calum was a grown man, his community on Raasay consisted of a few small villages on the far north of the small island. The island that he loved, his home and his culture were disappearing.
And Calum found himself without a road.
Only a single cart track linked north Raasay with the rest of the island and the ferry crossing, which meant that many things of the modern age became impossible. Cars could not drive within two miles of these villages. Children could not reach the high school and had to leave home and attend boarding school on Skye. One family after another left, until Calum and his wife were the only family remaining in their village.
What Calum valued was his community, his island. And he knew without a road connecting his village to the rest of the island and the mainland, his community would not survive. When it became clear that the Council in Edinburgh in charge of such matters wasn’t never going to build a road, Calum decided he couldn’t wait any longer for someone else to build the road. He would build it himself. And so, as his biographer Roger Hutchinson writes, “One spring morning he set off with a pick, a shovel and a wheelbarrow, and alone in an empty landscape began its his bare hands a romantic, quixotic venture that would dominate the last twenty years of his life.”
I first heard the story of Calum’s Road through the beautiful piece of Gaelic folk music inspired by this story.
I visited Calum’s Road in the summer of 2011. Having been inspired by the story of ‘the man who build his own road’, my husband and I crossed over on the ferry from Skye in our campervan.
I was interested to see this road which had been built by a single man, and I don’t honestly know what I was expecting…but I guess generally it was a straight-ish, short-ish road. Even building a short, straight road over boggy rough terrain would have been impressive enough. But I never expected to find this.
Calum’s Road winds and curves and grows so steep in places that our VW camper was occasionally somewhere between serious strain and holyshit mode. (There are no pictures of the steepest bits because I was too freaked out to remember the camera!) And it went on…and on…and on… And we were DRIVING.
It is one of the most impressive, humbling places I have ever been to. Knowing that, although the day we were on Raasay the sun shone in rare spectacle, in fact most of Calum’s days on this road would have been spent in the cold driving wind and rain. And for twenty years…TWENTY YEARS, he kept faith and worked with his pick axe loosening rocks, and with his wooden wheelbarrow shifting earth to create a 9 ft wide, smooth path that could potentially be paved. So that he could achieve his goal and save his community.
In his famous poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost gave us a beautiful image: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…And I, I took the one less travelled by…” But I find my life calls for a different metaphor. Because for me, the difficult moments in life are not those where two clear roads diverge and we have to chose one over the other. The really tough moments for me have always been the times when there seems to be no path to follow and I have to make a road on my own.
Building your own road isn’t ever going to be easy. Not many people would choose to do it…and certainly Calum built his own road because he HAD TO, not because he wanted to or thought it would be fun. So, yes there will always be plenty of stones to clear and earth to shift. Plenty of days working through the wind and rain when we wish we were home on the couch with a cup of coffee and some cake. Plenty of times where we will wonder ‘What am I doing?’ and ‘Will I ever succeed?’ But rather than getting discouraged when there are stones, we should simply know to expect them. When building your own road, expect stones to be there. Expect to have to shift massive amounts of earth. Expect days of wind and rain. And sunshine. And if you stick with it, success.
Above all else, the Story of Calum’s Road reminds me that it is possible. If you are true to your vision and remember your larger goal while you work at that single patch of earth in front of you. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BUILD YOUR OWN ROAD.
Does this feeling resonate with you? If so, I’d love to know what road you’re building for yourself and how it feels to build it.