I took an afternoon road trip with an elderly friend yesterday to explore his old "stomping grounds" in a township where he had lived for decades and raised his family. Driving over miles of rolling terrain, he pointed left and right while he shared stories of land and landowners, how things changed and how they hadn't.
Slowing down, he pointed right: "Do you see the old orchard shack through the trees?" I could barely make out a stone building through the undergrowth. "They used to make apple cider there."
Joseph's stories related to his work and a who's who of neighbors and their children with every passing mile. It was fascinating to experience this town through his roots and memories. Glacial history. A turn-of-the-last-century settlement. ("What more did they need in those days but good water and the native marsh hay they could cut and sell from their backyard?") Joseph shared where he had fallen in love and even a skinny dipping tale--though both happened at very different times and places.
He pulled his pickup over when we happened upon a friend of his who was out for a walk. And there we stood for some time in the sun between corn fields chatting with this 85-year-old man who shared stories about building cement silos to earn "real good money" when he was a teenager, about caring for town roads before he retired, and about how to heal bursitis by chopping "a boat load" of wood.
It made me think about how our roots to the land and each other continue to change. About how neighbor to some people means people who live miles away rather than just next door. About how the stories of people are often rooted in the stories of land--but how the stories of land are often shaped by the stories of people, too. I discovered more about my own roots by seeing this countryside through Joseph's roots.
No matter if we live in urban, suburban, or rural areas, we all have roots to the land. Some of us may be distanced from the land more than others, but we all have roots nonetheless. Our family or ethnic history, our daily use of natural resources, our favorite places, and our jobs offer gateways for exploring and appreciating those roots.
Especially in these times, we need to be purposeful about strengthening our roots and our children's roots to the land and other people. Having strong roots makes us more resilient. Stories related to our roots can give us a greater sense of belonging. Roots create launching points from which to grow our sense of place and purpose. Growing from common roots, it is natural to widen our circle and include more people in the definition of neighbor.
How do you nurture your roots to the land and other people? What stories give rise to strength and purpose in your life? How do you help your children develop their roots?