Roots: to stay or to go?

Sometimes, all it takes is a one-word prompt to get us writing. Today’s Daily Post writing prompt: ROOTS.

ANNE had roots but she would disappear. Disappear for a time, that is, a time that could be days or months. She had roots, I knew, because she owned an apartment in Coogee, the beachside suburb close to where I live here in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs.

I knew when rootlessness would disturb whatever roots she had because her Coaster van would be gone from her parking space. It was one of those minibuses that people convert into mobile homes. Anne’s was well equipped with bed — vanlifers call them ‘sleeping platforms’ because they are usually platforms over storage below —interior cooking via a dual-burner LP gas stove, running water and electricity thanks to a solar electric panel on the roof that fed a storage battery. Mobility, shelter from the weather, a place to cook, water on tap, a comfortable platform on which to sleep (let’s just call it a bed) and electric light at night — all you need in a home, really.

Like many, Anne’s is a hybrid life that alternated between stability and mobility, between rootedness-in-place and the rootlessness of the road.

Rootedness is good, I think. By that I mean finding somewhere you like to live, setting up home there, learning about the place’s history and society, ecology and economy, geology and geography. That, as they say, is ‘putting down roots’. The expectation if that you are there for good, or for a long time, anyway.

Colleagues of mine have set down roots in communities. Some have bought a suburban house and garden, others a rural smallholding which they manage as a small market garden, some an education centre offering courses about the homesteading life. I admire this. I could have done it but I didn’t. We all live our lives differently.

The economy destroys the roots we might once have had, once in an earlier version of our society. The economy grabs people and sucks them out of rural centres into big cities. Many welcome this for the cities are loci of opportunity. It’s akin the way our globalised economy moves people, those with the right skills, around the world.

When I think of roots I think of a long-time friend I have known for decades. In what seems a long time ago (to me, anyway) she took up with a mutual friend and put down roots that extended to a nice semi-detached house in Sydney’s Inner West, a good job cooking at a French restaurant in Balmain and social roots in a network of friends. Then they parted but she stayed in the house, eventually acquiring a new partner. For awhile. After that, it was the time to sever those roots, pack up, and take off for some years working in China, a place where she had no roots at all and formed none that lasted. Back home, her rootlessness eventually took her to a southern city, a small regional city where she set up livelihood, home and an extensive social network. From roots to rootlessness and back to roots, she is now firmly ensconced in place.

I mention her because I think her path is one followed by many. By me, anyway.

The rooted-in-place life was the vague, ill-defined vision of my partner of the time and I, now quite some time ago. It was the notion of setting down roots that we had when we came to Tasmania and started to look for rural land. We wanted only a small patch, not a big farm for neither of us were farmers and nor did we want to be. We looked but we never bought. Then we went our own ways. She found roots in a small regional city while I followed the rootless life over the years of moving up and down the coast.

Even here, now, in convenient walking distance of the beach in a suburb that is really quite a nice place, my roots are of the shallow kind. Sure, I like the place but it is not the place I always want to be. That’s back down south, far south where I once did have roots for awhile. I guess you would say that any roots-in-place I have here are of the temporary, largely insubstantial kind. I admire those who can find THE PLACE, set up home, settle in and stay rooted there over the decades. That’s a different life journey.

It is maybe a year since I last saw Anne’s van in its parking space and altough I think of her less and less as time goes by when I walk past where she once parked, I do occasionally remember. Maybe she just moved house. Maybe she found somewhere closer to home to park. But maybe she has cut the roots, her rootendness-in-place, and set off for somewhere better, somewhere, perhaps, where she can grow new roots. Or maybe, just maybe, she sees her future as rootless.

“The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood”… Carl Sagan, cosmologist.

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