Thinking About Roots

I’ve been thinking about roots, lately. Not literal roots, anchoring and nourishing plants, but metaphorical roots. The kind of roots that anchor and nourish people, connecting them to where they live, to the soil they walk on every day (even if it is buried beneath the concrete). I’ve been considering the way that the sights, sound, tastes – the whole feel of a place – can get under your skin and change the way you look at life.

I’ve been thinking about roots for two reasons. The first is that many of my friends are moving away. Some are moving five or six hours down the road, some across oceans, but all of them far enough of that I won’t see them anymore. Oh, maybe there will be a trip or two, and we have the wonders of technology to connect us. But they are leaving this place, and I am staying, and it won’t be the same. They are uprooting themselves, in a way that I never have.

The farm
Plants on Salt Spring, putting down roots

Sometimes I imagine my friends clipping the ties that are keeping them here with a pair of scissors, and floating up, up, up like balloons. They are free, not weighed down by the petty cares and concerns that fill life on earth. Pulling up roots has also removed the obligations that come along with those roots – obligations like remembering to take out the garbage once a week and trying to get along with that cranky neighbour. I imagine myself joining them, floating away, surveying a vivid green landscape below me, looking for a promising spot to land.

The real truth is that I don’t want to fly away from here. This is my home. And that brings me to the second thing that has me thinking about roots – my trip last weekend to Salt Spring Island, a smallish island that’s home to about 10,000 people not too far from me. In recent decades Salt Spring has become something of a hippie mecca. It’s home to artists and artisans, small-scale farmers and people going back to the land. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks or an Old Navy there. Many of the houses are nestled amid tall trees, with big wood piles in a shed out front. There are lots of signs advertising pottery and art studios, and many farm stands selling fresh eggs and other farm goods at the side of the road.

goats on salt spring island
Goats enjoying the island vibe

Being on Salt Spring reminded me of my own roots. I was raised by hippies in a semi-rural setting. Cows grazed in fields across the street from my house, and many of my fondest childhood memories involve playing in a little creek beneath the tall trees of the forest. My father was a self-taught goldsmith, an artisan in every sense of the word, and a sign on our front lawn advertised that you could find his jewellery store in the front room of our house. That house was heated with wood, and I remember my parents out chopping up kindling in all weather. Inside our house, the only doors separated the studio and showroom from the rest of the house. Our bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen – none of these had doors.

Being on Salt Spring was like taking a tour of of my life some 30 years ago. Many of these folks are creative people, moving away from the city, looking for a quieter lifestyle. The graffiti scribbled on the wall at the provincial park spoke of overthrowing our colonial-capitalist system. The children wore hand knits and big gum boots. While this was the first time I set foot on Salt Spring, the homes and the people looked familiar. My roots might not have been in that place, exactly, but they were in a place very much like it. I grew up steeped in the same sort of ethos that I felt as I ate local, free-range, organic eggs served to me by a young woman with henna on her arms and a laid-back sort of approach to waiting tables on Sunday morning.

Us!
Enjoying our kid-free weekend

I spent my childhood among people who made similar choices to the people on Salt Spring. The hard-scrabble-ness that comes with those choices is only really visible to me now, as an adult myself. Living in a semi-rural setting presents challenges. Making a living from your art presents challenges. Being a ferry ride away from a bigger community presents challenges. You embrace those challenges, because for you, the upsides outweigh the downsides. With my adult eyes, I saw both the challenges and the innovative solutions. The sacrifices and the gains. I found myself asking the inevitable question: would I choose it, too?

As my husband and I sat in our car for a rain-soaked ferry ride from Salt Spring to Victoria on our trip home, I realized that I have already chosen where to plant myself, right here in suburban Vancouver. I don’t want to leave this place to return to my counter-culture childhood. I don’t want to leave it in search of greener pastures, either. I found clarity as I sat in the passenger seat of my husband’s car, listening to the soft tap-tap-tap of the raindrops, gazing out through blurry, rain-streaked windows. I choose to plant my roots in this wild and rain-soaked country, where fir and cedar trees grow tall and straight, and the ocean is never too far away. I love that, in spite of the wilderness that’s always nearby, I’m 10 minutes from IKEA and within easy walking distance of four Starbucks locations.

Sun, islands and water
Luckily the trip to Salt Spring was nicer than the trip home

My roots are deep in the place I call home, and I’m choosing to stay right here. While my friends fly away, I send good wishes with them, hoping they find the perfect spot to plant themselves. I send good wishes to the potters and painters and artisanal cheese-makers on Salt Spring, too. While I feel a warm sort of familiarity with them, I happily drive away after buying some organic camembert. I’m pushing my roots even further into my thick, damp, suburban soil. I’m feasting on the nourishment that I soak up through them. It’s the best thing ever, this soul food that lets me know that I am just where I should be.

Where do you choose to put down your roots?

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    1. Saltspring is lovely – great place for a weekend away with and especially without kids! We went to Orcas Island in the San Juans last weekend sans kids for a very similar experience. But our roots are in North Van, growing deeper every day – nature right nearby, but so is Whole Foods and Starbucks and Gastown. It’s a nice mix, although I do worry that children deserve to have a rural, rambling outdoorsy, upbringing to learn a proper work ethic and to really appreciate things. And maybe it would be nice to have them not exposed to pop culture the minute they start public school kindergarten when we tried so hard to shield them from it for the first four years of their lives. But North Van, like your suburb, is a wonderful place to put down roots.

      • I’m hoping that my garden substitutes for the rural bit. And while I could do without the pop culture bit, it’s not as bad as I feared (so far, anyway). We’ll have to see what happens when the tween years hit.

    2. I love getting away from the city into nature and breathing in fresh air for a few days but I also love returning to the city. Ben and I can’t imagine living any where else except perhaps in a bigger city. City living for a family is FULL of challenges but we’re putting down roots regardless!
      Michelle’s last post … Faux Fashion | Shop Your Closet Through LentMy Profile

    3. home is where my heart is (and i loathe the smugness that is Salt Spring)
      Pomomama’s last post … friday forte: evening breakingMy Profile

      • I remember you saying that Salt Spring wasn’t for you. I think I concluded that it’s not for me, either – albeit for different reasons. Although I’d love to visit again at a time of year when things are actually open. I tragically missed all the wineries as it’s the off season.

    4. Lovely post Amber, I can’t even really say where I feel connected to most as I only know my Vancouver. I don’t think I could find myself anywhere else… though in the winter I wouldn’t mind migrating lol!!
      eschelle’s last post … Photo session with The Connection We ShareMy Profile

    5. As you say, when you choose the right place for you the challenges don’t seem that bad. Or so I think, from the ‘here’ side of moving from suburbs to rural. I very much value your ponderings on the matter, especially since you have been where I’m going to be putting my children!

    6. As someone who moved to different city, then different country, then different continent – I tend to think of “roots” as something I bring everywhere I go – simple understanding and expectation that I will know my neighbours and their kids’ names, and they will know mine, and that living/having roots means making it work with your immediate community and contributing to it. Then it is just a matter of picking a place that you prefer (for any reason) for yourself and your family at that point in life. I lived in foreign country before I had kids – it was marvellous adventure. I lived in condo until my older got to first birthday – fitted me perfectly. And we’ll probably pick something different when kids get into teenage years and coolness factor of whatever (school, friend , neighbourhood) takes over “proximity of playground/library/school/work”. We are free to change and free to choose.

      • Yes, that’s an excellent point – the place that’s a good fit right now may not be a good fit later. I also know that life is, to some extent, what you make it. So by bringing ourselves to every situation, we can put down roots and feel at home.

    7. Having lived in 5 countries before 31 years of age, my children being a different nationality to me and now us having a 2nd language spoken in the home and our family and friends scattered all over the world, I find it difficult to call a specific geographic place home. For me home is where my husband, my boys and I congregate, eat good food, share our days experiences and having quality time together. Home for me is not a place but the people that I share my life with, is that weird? Sometimes we worry that we aren’t putting down roots for our kids, but then other times I’m thankful for the unique experiences they’re having and that wherever they are, they will always have a solid home amongst the love of their family.

      • Actually, I don’t think that’s weird at all. When we were contemplating a move last year and my daughter was upset, I told her that as long as our family was together, we’d be fine. Even for me, with a strong connection to Vancouver, ‘home’ is more about the people that I live among here than the specific spot on the map.

    8. Beautiful post. My Ottawa-planted brain is too frozen to comment at the moment. :)
      allison’s last post … The Last Good DayMy Profile

    9. I definately feel rooted to the Fraser Valley every time we go home, but I feel the same connection to our rural life in Alberta at this point too. I don’t know if there is just 1 home for me. I have a dream to live like a vagabon in the future – and I would do it with my children in a heart beat! I could easily pick up tomorrow and move to the Big Apple or be just as settled as I am today in the middle of the country.

      For right now, the rural life is what works for us. But we don’t see ourselves in this home past the next 5 years. Where we see ourselves we aren’t sure though. I can’t imagine moving back to the lower mainland mostly because of the economy. but I have learned to never say never.

      Home is where your heart is.

      • Well I, for one, would love it if you moved back here. Although I hear you on the economy. I’m grateful every day that we bought our house 10 years ago, when prices were half what they are now.

    10. We have opposite beginnings. I grew up in a suburb, living the suburban life, even though my community, Richmond, was still very close to it’s rural roots when I was a child in the 70s. My family was a typical suburban family. My life now is still rather suburban and I continue to live near my parents in the same community.

      However, I am constantly seeking ways to be more crunchy and I often yearn for the more rural life. I may romanticize the rural, crunchy life, but I do wish that I could move to a place like Salt Spring. I cannot because of aging parents who need support, who also do childcare for me. We visited Salt Spring last spring break, staying on St. Mary Lake and we visited a distant cousin I have there. I yearn for a closer connection to our food, the people who grow it and local crafts and artisans.

      In fact, I asked my cousin about growing up on Salt Spring and I shared some concerns I had about going through the teen years on a small rural island, as I wondered what it might be like for my girls as they grow up. She did not experience any problems and has chosen to remain there to raise her family. My husband and I enjoy looking at the local real estate market when we visit places and we had so much fun dreaming about the properties we could afford and the life we could have.

      Having said that, I absolutely love my little community of Steveston. It feels more like a small town with good coffee shops. As my husband astutely said, starting a family (hobby) farm in our 40s just isn’t smart. That and I would never be able to convince my parents to join us (and not being with my family isn’t an option). So I try to create a little bit of crunchiness in my suburban oasis.
      christy’s last post … No Gifts PleaseMy Profile

      • I know people who have started hobby farms in their 40s and loved it. I know people who have run away to the country and hated it. I think there’s no telling until you do it yourself.

        As for me, even though I won’t be moving to Salt Spring, I love to look at the real estate listings, too. It’s my vicarious pleasure, looking at other people’s houses and imagining.

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