Where My Father’s DNA Roams

My life just came back around. We can leave “home”, however, “home” will always have a piece of us, like it or not.

One might have worked in four different countries, lived in a different province,  speak two languages and a smattering of two others, have been immersed in radically different cultures and religions; yet, to this day (especially as you get older) sometimes you find yourself pausing after you speak, having realized you spoke the exact same phrases your mom, dad or grandfather used to speak to you.

White Spruce

It took a wind storm to remind me just how connected one can become to a place, the people, the land and the nature that surrounds such a habitation.

I often hear city folks being a little smug toward rural people who have set deep roots in one place. You know the joke; those people who all grew up together and never went anywhere, inward, redneck, slightly unsophisticated ( or unintelligent) or whatever.  Naively, they haven’t a clue what they have lost, or never had. Or maybe they do know what they never had?

Some families are certainly so dysfunctional children will never come “home”. This race “away” can be mild or extreme. Children leaving because we felt it was a hopeless place, few jobs, no money, few prospects for getting ahead, owning a home, or not as many pretty things or fine specimen men as potential marrying partners to love as our own for a lifetime. Any of these factors could drive us away from “home”.

Or, home could be a place of pain, dysfunction, abuse, fears, and triggered memories that have caused us to develop very complex coping mechanisms in the hope to avoid pulling the trigger on those memories ever again.

For most, we just had to move on and find our own place in the world.  It is part of life for many of us.  However, never associate leaving home with growing up. People who stay in a community grow up just like we do too. They have learned just as much, though maybe different things.  They found a way to make life work too. They, in fact, grew, also. So no reason to be smug.

After life in another province, and two countries in French West Africa, I never thought I would come home.  But what choice did I have?  After we finished our first five years in West Africa we had no job, and my first small home was there, so we could live rent free. I was able to pick back up and work with my dad on the fishing boat to make ends meet until a new opportunity was found.

The church I grew up in was looking for a part time minister. how could I not accept, with a theology degree, and ten years of ministry experience, so how could I say no? And there I was, fishing, and a part-time minister. One year went by, then another, and another, and it all worked for a time, I never looked at other offers (And we had many). We came to the place my home church didn’t want me any more. Which was not a bad thing. As we both needed to move on. Great folks, but I was dying inside slowly at a church locked into the 1970’s, and I had a total lack of desire to bully them into being some modern thing they didn’t want to be,and I could not be their typical old fashioned rural minister

I began going back to Africa for a month or two during that time, and it helped.

Then my wife and I  began to serve in Africa every winter for 3/4 of a decade, as I fished the rest of  the year.

And yet, I am still here. Eighteen years later, I am home, in the area I grew up in.  I didn’t plan this.

A huge wind storm arrived to Prince Edward Island with gusts of 105 KPH. This wind knocked over almost fifty trees in my five acre wood. I spent much time cutting up the mess. Trees where leaning in every direction.  I felled, limbed, and blocked wood long through the week.  In the end I got my little hiking trail opened up (and safe to walk on again), with enough wood hauled out to heat the workshop for the next three years, and another two to three years blocked and piled up in the woods.

I blocked up a tree (not even one of the larger ones) and I decided to count the rings.

54 year old white spruce

Near as I could tell (the outer two inches of rings are so close together it is hard to tell) this tree was fifty four years old.

Last evening, I went across the road to visit my dad and was telling him about the age of the tree I had inspected. He commented that the trees by the road would be much older than that, as he is 75 and the trees by the road were tall when he was a small boy. He explained how he and his brothers and sisters used to play hide and seek and tag in the trees on the five acres, as the trees back from the road were just taller than their heads and it was fun to chase each other other around in there.

This story really impacted me.  I was out there cutting trees, thinking they where just trees. These tress are standing stories. Stories of life, games, growth, hopes, dreams, joy, and family.

I am cutting trees I played around. Trees my kids played and built forts among; and even more, my dad, aunts and uncles all  touched these very same trees seven decades ago. Imagine, seven decades ago!

The branches that brushed and scuffed my dad’s cheeks and face as he played as boy, seventy year ago, are now fifty feet in the air. However, now toppled over by a wind storm, I realized I am cutting limbs and branches with my fathers seventy year old DNA on them. My grandfather plowed the fields around these five acres, he and my dad hunted in this woods, as did I take many a grouse here. My life just came full circle, and i didn’t even know it. I thought I was clearing leaning trees, I was clearing my families history, my families story. The realization never even crossed my mind until I told my dad about the counted tree rings. It prompted him to share his story.

I feel badly for people who have family and children scattered all over the province, the country, or the world. In this globalized world, there is an aspect of “home” (living near relatives, brothers and sisters, and the land you played on) most will never be able to come back to, (Or because of family breakup never want to. I am sorry you have to experience this).

I didn’t intend to “come home” forever. But here I am, still, eighteen years and counting.

Go ahead and make fun of me. But I am starting to be at peace about “home” (It took me 15 years). I am living where my, and my father’s, grandfather’s,  and my great grandfather’s DNA roams. The ropes of my own grown adult children’s forts still hang from the tree branches too.

This woods is full of ancient, and not so ancient Rayner DNA. My four year old grandson walked my trail with me this past winter and  summer. His DNA is also on the trees, sticks and branches now.  Four generations of history in this forest so far. I did not plan this. I could never have made such a good thing happen at my own direction and decisions. Is it possible that we sometimes fight to hard to build a life somewhere else, when the real struggle is not the place, or the people at all, rather the struggle is just in us? That the struggle is just life everywhere and anywhere. Then, I realize I grew by leaving, I grew by returning, and I probably, like everyone else around here, could have grown by staying, too.  I didn’t stay. But I am back home now.

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