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  • Erin Lair

Grafting History

We all yearn for a sense of connectedness. For belonging. It seems this is often linked to a desire to be from somewhere, or something. Consider the surge in services like "Ancestry.com" and "23 and Me." People want to know the unknowable; they especially want to know the unknown about themselves. I have sat in countless professional learning opportunities with community building portions asking participants to tell their story. These questions come in so many forms: where is your family from? tell about your traditions? There are those who can rattle off their family history dating back to relatives coming to America from foreign lands. There are others, like me, that haven't grown in a family that had a rich oral history carrying forward the stories and people. My husband was much the same. A few anecdotes here and there, but not a fabric woven by tales of the past. I've always felt a longing for the storytelling.

Being both from and currently living in Eastern Oregon creates an odd paradox. While we are here and have that unwritten qualification of having grown up in this part of our state, we aren't really connected to this valley in family history. Our family stories do not link us back to a homestead or even to this part of the state. It is only in recent generations that we find ourselves here. Even within our own generation, we haven't always been local. We started further east, left for a decade or more, and came back with a renewed confidence that here is right where we needed to be. Yet, fitting in and being literal salt of the Grande Ronde earth are not the same.

Walking into this orchard has had the unintended and unexpected beautiful consequence of a rush of connectedness and history. In the last two weeks, I have learned so much about the life of this orchard- from the first trees planted around the turn of the 1900s to our family establishing Forest Cove Acres in 2021. Suddenly, we are connected in a story that has over 120 years of life and love and loss and hope and wonder to tell. I am excited to share this story, a piece at a time. A family at a time. Ironically, the very first orchard family- the McNeill's- is linked to my childhood and a very dear woman we considered as close as family. Uncovering this connection has stirred up a most wonderful email "penpal" exchange that, regardless of the orchard component, I will hold to tightly and cherish.

I have often, over the years, found myself awash in nostalgia. Certain smells, seasons, and flashes of familiarity can send me into a contented moment of reflection. I welcome it and try to sit in it as long as I can. It seems that it is possible to feel this nostalgia for a time or a place you, yourself, did not live or experience. Maybe it is that grasp for connectedness, fabricating the sensation of having been part of the story all along. Whatever it is, each page of this orchard, written in memories and pictures and people descended from its branches, has been written as chapters in a story that is now ours to continue authoring. We are all inextricably linked; our story now merging us with strangers that combine to share a history.

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