Roots are Rare

HERD ABOUT IT?

by Ana Grarian

Having once put his hand into the ground
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.

-Wendell Berry

My cousins and I know what it is to ache for a place. Our fathers came from the Adirondacks, and though they may not have put their hands into the ground in the sense of farming, they certainly were tied to the land by hunting, fishing and love of place. Their livelihood was tied to its natural resources. As solitary people they found solace in the quiet of the woods, though anyone who has been deep in the woods knows its quiet is not silence but an insulation from unnatural sound. Even as I sit here in my apartment on a very tree filled block, the joyous bird talk after a night of rain, belies the idea of a silent wood. We ache to be there. If there was work to be had, we would be there. We return often and often together. Our earliest and fondest memories are of sharing family time there. We are tied to the community through experience and family stories. We spend time and energy to pass this treasure onto our children and grandchildren.

In today’s urban, chaotic, move – move – move society do people still experience this attachment to place?? Perhaps. I have been chased out twice now by city folk who, having moved to the country, have then worked hard to bring Manhattan along with them. I ache to go back, break up the concrete, and put my hands into the soil. This is happening now in Detroit. I will be going to see it soon. And though I don’t belittle the hardship that the people of that once thriving metropolis have endured, I can’t help seeing this opportunity to reclaim the land of steel and concrete into something more naturally productive, as a plus.

I have just begun to read Welcome to Utopia by Karen Valby. Valby calls it a moving elegy for a proud American way of life. In reading that, I die a little. Valby writes,but what I didn’t presume to understand about Utopia was what was going on in the minds of those who chose to stay, the people whose deepest desire was to make a home for themselves down the street from where their parents lived and their grandparents were buried. Roots are rare these days. So many of us have lost connection to the ground.

Wallace Stegner said that we Americans divide into two groups, boomers and stickers. The boomers are always thinking that something is better somewhere else, that whatever they have or whatever they are is no good. That’s what commercials have taught us. We can never be sure that our detergent, car, job is best. So what? Does it serve our purpose? Clean well enough? Pay the bills? If we’d just stop worrying about status, we’d have time to connect with people and activities and places that really matter. Someone I know has made a career of entertaining children. He doesn’t make a lot of money at it. He doesn’t have a fancy tour bus. No groupies. But he has spent his life doing something he loves, and doing it well. And by the grace of God he has a life partner who cherishes him for who he is, not what he earns.

I have a friend who has moved to a new job in a new city. She recently confided to me that she is lonely. Lonely for real friendship. Someone to connect to. Though she is active in several groups, the connection ends when the meeting does. She has few people with whom to go to a movie , or discuss a book or idea. I feel this myself. Though I am involved with a group of folks who are passionately involved in protecting the environment, we always seem to be rushing off to the next thing.

Yet as farmers we always seemed to have time to stop the tractor a few minutes when we passed the neighbor in their yard, meet the letter or paper carrier at the mailbox, or chat at the feed mill or grocery. Because we knew each other, sickness or death brought hand made and hand delivered casseroles, cakes and offers of help. Without a plethora of restaurants to tempt us, dish to pass events were exciting opportunities to show off our best dishes and to enjoy a variety of offerings from the community. An inexpensive but filling and fulfilling evening out, sharing news and gossip.

In today’s society marriage has little allure except for the big party and the fancy dress. The idea of marriage to place, would most likely bring puzzled stares from most youth. And yet how can we hope to have a sustainable world if our homes, friends, jobs, lives are disposable?Cash them in and move to the next best thing.

We can’t both treat the world as temporary, and preserve it for the future.