Monday, July 1, 2013

Think About Roots

I love walking barefoot. I like the comfort of cool dirt on my soles, and I enjoy the simultaneous scent of an evening's dusty trail as it hits my olfactory unit, reminding me of summer camp as a child, when the counselors would trek all of us kids down to the lake shortly before dusk. I remember seeing the sun set through the trees, over the dock; I remember the chill of evening after the swim, as I wrapped myself up in a beach towel and longed for the warmth of my sleeping bag, although my feet . . . they weren't cold. 

But what do bare feet have to do with one's roots, one's origin, one's connection to a place?

After not having written much poetry for a few months, I wrote a poem this past weekend. It flowed out in one extended pen breath, so freely and quickly that I didn't even think about what I was writing until after the words were already on the page. Then, like any studious English major, I dissected it and looked for a deeper meaning, as if it weren't even my own poem. While not an especially deep (or, probably, even good) poem, in it I saw that I equated bare feet with freedom, motion, and contentment. The barefooted heroine of the poem tells my story in this partial stanza: " . . . there isn't a road / that can carry me back / to somewhere I don't want to be."

I read those lines multiple times, hearing something different each time. I played with word associations, and the first word that came to mind was roots. And I thought about a time when I wanted to be from someplace, to have a place to root myself--as if my identity depended on it. After moving several times in my twenties, bouncing from state to state to state, and from apartment to apartment to apartment to apartment to. . ., I wanted to settle somewhere. I found a new town, a new job, and I bought a house. Roots, I thought. And for a few years, it felt good to be in a "permanent" place, to have ties to somewhere, to have stability: Isn't that the so-called American Dream?

But at some point, it ceased being "home." It wasn't a place I wanted to be from anymore; it certainly wasn't a place where I wanted to have roots. And when you can't grow anymore in a place, when you've taken everything that a place has to offer, you know it's time to move on. That's what my poem was telling me.

That's when I realized that roots (of place, at least) are a myth of sorts. I felt most at home in places where I was living "temporarily," with no intent of staying for more than a couple or three years. Those are the places I miss, because I stayed just long enough but not too long.

And that's when I realized, also, that roots aren't where you live; they aren't a place. They are, instead, your experiences, thoughts and ideas, friends and family, and the imprint you leave on the world--what you do to help others and make the world a better place to inhabit. Roots are you, who you are, and the dreams you heed. Roots are your heart, if you follow it. Your roots are who you've been in the past, who you are now, as well as who you're becoming. Because people are (hopefully!) always changing, so are their roots.

So, where am I from? The actual place of my roots--where my ancestors came from--is a country I haven't been to yet. Otherwise, I'm not sure that I'm from anywhere. I can tell you where I grew up, where I've lived, or where I currently live, but I'm not sure that's the same thing. Where I live is just a rest stop on the way to another rest stop. There are no destinations in life; there's only movement--motion--so one's roots will keep changing, growing, expanding.

While I've always considered myself an intuitive and perceptive person, in the past six or seven months I've learned to listen even closer to my heart. Sometimes you just know when something is right or, inversely, when something's not right.

"time to leave my shoes behind, / to let my naked soles pray on hot asphalt, / to renew their calluses and faith in being, / to let my dirt-caked feet catch fire, / and dance once again"

You just know.