Rolling dunes of red sand studded with marram grass. Wild strawberries and lupin fields teeming with pink, white, and purple spires. My parents, enchanted by the summer landscape and a greenhouse business my father wanted to buy, moved home and baby from suburban Connecticut to rural Prince Edward Island. There were disconnections between themselves and the locals.
“She took one look at the alfalfa sprouts in my sandwich, turned up her nose, and said, ‘What are those green things?’” Their idyllic tourist season visit hadn’t prepared them for snow as high as the house. I grew up a non-citizen of the only country I knew as home.
I grew up in love with the 30 acres of land we lived on: the secret spots in the forest, the wild apple tree by the stream, the rabbits’ changing coats. I got my Canadian citizenship as soon as I turned 18, claiming a legal right to remain on the soil I knew. I would later learn it was not my land to own. The Mi’kmaq people had lived on “my” red island, on Minegoo, created by the Great Spirit and placed in the Shining Waters, and then the settlers had come to divide it into lots.
In university, a Wolastoq elder spoke to our religions class. Her people called themselves the people of the river. She knew where she was from. She led us in a ceremony to greet the dawn, chanting and wafting sweetgrass smoke through an eagle feather. She advised us to learn more about our own ancestors, to discover where they came from.
My ancestors were not from the place I’d grown up, the place where I knew every tree in the yard and the cycles of spring blooms marked my internal calendar.
My grandfather was born in Scotland, and I discovered years later that this qualified me for a visa to live in the UK. I packed up my life to live in a place my ancestors had known.
The first thing that struck me about Edinburgh was its familiarity. Deep green tones and farmsteads winked up at me from the air. Walking paths teemed with stinging nettle, and buttercups welcomed my gaze. Even with the panicked confusion of navigating cobblestone streets with no inherent logic and finding a foothold in the impossible banking system, my body was happy to be here.
I’d thought the white people I knew in North America looked like me, but here, the resemblance was more specific. Babies had my chubby cheeks and curly hair. Bus seats were low enough to the ground to accommodate my short legs. I went to a writers’ group and was taller than some of the members. I recognized the songs in pubs.
I don’t know entirely what I’m looking for here, or what I’ll find. I do know there’s some balm here for the rootlessness of loving a place and not being from there. There’s grounding in the mountains and the ubiquity of my last name. There’s love in the desire to know the land my ancestors called home, and love in the act of reaching out and seeing what is here.
By: Melanie Bell
Melanie Bell offers writing coaching, editing, and personal growth workshops through Inspire Envisioning. She is the coauthor of a best-selling nonfiction book, The Modern Enneagram. Her creative work has appeared in Cicada, xoJane, Autostraddle, Grain, and various other publications. She loves crafting fantasy worlds, exploring the real one, and reading in her pajamas. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.