planted by volunteers in previous years. Then Mayor Schirado spoke a name that jolted me out of my head. Suddenly, I was blushing and grinning as if I had just been handed an award. Albert Alonzo Durham. My great, great, great grandfather. * Albert Alonzo Durham was born in Oswego, New York in 1814 and moved to Oregon in 1847. He claimed land and built a homestead in an area south of Portland that would be named Lake Oswego. There he built a sawmill, advertising his lumber in the first issue of the weekly Oregonian. In 1866 he sold the mill and moved to the west side of the Willamette where he built a new sawmill and a flour mill on Fanno Creek. Locals Columbia by Train referred to the area as “Durham Mills”. It was later incorporated into the tiny town of Durham. A.A. Durham, as he was known, was father to George H. Durham. George H. Durham married Satira Emeline Clark, daughter of Pacific University’s founder Harvey Clark of Forest Grove, Oregon. Their son was George C. Durham. George C. Durham married Mary Helen Josephi, daughter of Dr. Simeon Josephi of East Portland, Oregon. Their son was George S. Durham. George S. Durham married Alice Ingram, daughter of Forest Service botanist Douglas Ingram. Their son was George I. Durham. me.
George I. Durham married my mother, and had *
I knew all this, long ago. Back when Oregon was still the mystical fairyland Out West, the land of my father’s people for generations before my grandfather moved east in a reverse migration, and I was born a Yankee. Even after moving to Oregon, after visiting ancestral places and
smiling every time I saw the road sign for Durham, even after leading a restoration project in a place my coworkers and I jokingly called “my park,” my multiple familial connections to Oregon never seemed more than amusing anecdotes. We all have family from somewhere; who cares? When the Mayor of Durham spoke of the great man who founded his town and turned my insides all warm and mushy, I guess that was me starting to care. I didn’t say anything to the mayor right then, and since I was standing slightly behind him, he didn’t notice the emotional flare-up nearby. If he did, he wouldn’t have understood anyway. He didn’t know me from Adam. But after the planting started, I pulled him aside and said, “You know, I have an interesting story for you…” And then there was the mayor shaking my hand like I was the celebrity, saying I should stop by city hall sometime. It would be several months before I realized the karmic symmetry of my work in Durham City Park. How Albert Alonzo cut trees down and how I planted them, possibly in the same exact place. More Brad Gooch time would pass before I visited the family plot in the Portland cemetery that sits on a hill just across the Willamette River from where I live in east Portland, to peer at the graves of the three Georges before my father. What did begin in me that morning in Durham City Park was the new and strange feeling of an ancestral family home. This place, this landscape, this is where my people are from. And perhaps, where I belong. With belonging comes responsibility. Maybe I won’t claim land, discover new plants, found schools or towns. Maybe my name won’t appear in history books, newspaper articles or family archives. But I am beginning to believe that I didn’t choose Oregon. Oregon chose me. I can’t know why my ancestors were drawn here or what it was in them that made them stay. But they are part of the reason I am here. In Oregon, my ancestors are thick as old-growth trees. If I could condense all times to now, I’d be surrounded by family. The men whose stories I know, and all the men and women whose stories I don’t. Maybe it’s biological – something in my genes, the nature of my body carrying bits of all of them – Clark, Josephi, Ingram, and Durham – maybe stronger in me than in my father and sister pulled elsewhere by different genes, different familial blood. Maybe blood is thicker than the waters of our birthplaces. Perhaps their ghosts are still here, urging me on, as educator, as naturalist, as a worker of the land, to carry out their unfinished business.