The Past Amidst the Present

The forest drives never fail to take my breath away. The raw beauty that surrounds the roads is something I rarely experienced in suburban Southern California. Weekend drives were usually spent going coastal or to the mountains, with the surrounding landscape a desert chaparral, filled with dark brown and grey hues. On Whidbey Island, the tree variety that fills the forests creates a beautiful mosaic of greens, and you feel removed from the present. It’s the light chartreuse maple leaves or the dark emerald fir needles that transport you somewhere magical. When the sunlight peaks through, there is a mysticism that inspires.

One such drive is to a favorite café nestled in the woods, where we’ve spent many mornings over coffee and scones, plotting our day. On this particular day, it would be a trip to Oak Harbor, or rather, as we recently discovered the early Irish pronunciation of the city, “O’Carbor.”

After researching some of my family’s history on this island, I came across a story about a small, three-foot statue that had been placed along the boardwalk in Oak Harbor. A lovely tribute to sea captain and early pioneer, Edward Barrington, and his wife Christina McCrohan. I was excited to see a visual reminder of my ancestral connection to the island.

Christina was my third great grandmother Elizabeth’s younger sister. After arriving from Australia, Christina married Barrington, the Nova Scotia marine man who later became a prominent businessman in the fledgling town. Today, Oak Harbor is very different from the mid-1800s. However, small nods to its early pioneer days are a reminder of my ancestors’ impact on the community.

After searching for what seemed like a needle in a haystack, we found the lovely bronze statue. Located near the historic waterfront, Barrington and Christina keep watch over the town that they were an integral part of founding. Approaching the three-foot bronze encased statue of them on their wedding day, I am transfixed. Seeing my ancestor beautifully carved and in a place of honor, I can’t help but smile. Her eyes look out at the passing street, and she wears a string of pearls, lovingly added by a visitor to the statue. There is permanence in her status there, and although small, she is mighty. She may be worn by the weather and may be unnoticed by most passersby, but she stands as a reminder of the past amidst the present.

I’ve always been told that my female ancestors were of tough stock — pioneer women who forged a path for themselves and their families. They adapted to change, took risks, and fought for those whom they loved. Life wasn’t easy for them, but they created lives for their children that ensured a future of possibilities. They were also closely connected to one another. The familial bonds were strong among them. There was commitment, determination, and faith in one another that kept them together. Today, as I experience this new adventure with my family, I can’t help but think of the strong women who came before me, and I’m inspired to live up to the example they set as I forge my own path here.