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.
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 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.
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.
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?