I Have Roots…..and…..I Have Wings
A bit of process and history:
This is my 100th Blog posting. Amazing to me. As such, I wanted it to be more than the traditional rambling screed that I occasionally dive into. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, waiting for some lava-like emission to catch my mental eye. I heard this phrase in a song on the radio as I was driving the other day and it struck me…..”that is me, to the core”. I went home and, as I do with many of the pieces I write, jotted down what usually turns out to be the title of the piece after I’ve edited the rest of the ruminations that rumble forth from my churning brain.
I was sitting at the eye doctor’s later that week having forgotten both my phone and my iPad book at home. Screen-less! Left to my own mental devices for maybe 10 minutes, I let go of the control switches in my cortex and allowed my brain to free-fall. It landed right back to the phrase on the computer that awaited my further ministrations.
With nothing to jot notes into, the ideas, of course, began to bubble and breach the banks of my stream of thought like snow-melt driven creeks in our early Oregon Spring. I asked to borrow something to write on (the lesson for writers that I know and sometimes forget: always carry a notebook) and this is the result.
So you begin to glimpse my “process”; a tangle of thoughts and notes and jottings and a blinking cursor awaiting its instruction; a mix of hi and lo tech, new and old school, add an Olivetti and I’m a Charles Kuralt wannabe.
A week or so later we went to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It was only second best when compared to original but it, too, has its moments. I am convinced Maggie Smith has her own personal “One Liner” writer that she employs for every venture she undertakes; uproarious.
But near the end, amidst the toe-tapping Bollywood Big Band Finale, there was a moment in a speech by Bill Nighy to the newlyweds. My volcano moment. He actually said; “They have roots….and….they have wings”
I’m a big believer in “signs”. I try and pay attention as I stumble through the world and let the world show me the way. Like comedian Bill Engvall says; “Here’s Your Sign”. Here, indeed, was my sign and I had the written proof to bear witness to my Aerie-Fairy-doubting husband that they do, indeed, exist. As we walked in the door from the movie I pulled up my screen and showed him the title of the piece I had started a week ago. Bingo. Proof.
Here’s My Sign. And so I begin.
“Where are you from?”
I am definitely not a deipnophobiac (this is what Google is for) but that cocktail conversation starter that sends shivers through me as I try and figure out the extent to which I want to really answer that query. Will I ever see this person again? How much do they want to really know? How deeply should I delve into this messy tale? Will they run, furtively glancing over their shoulder and whispering to strangers as they flee, if I tell them more than their rhetorical question really deserves?
Where am I really from?
I was born in Washington, D.C. in 1952, the very midpoint of the last century, horrifying in its reality and fascinating in the positioning of my life into the historic times I have tumbled upon. This city, among all the others in my travels, is my Tap Root; a unique calling card that I proudly carry as few others on the planet can; a nexus of power, politics, and pointlessness that informs my deepest parts.
I was raised up 25 miles north of D.C. in Maryland horse country, a curious hodge-podge of Gentleman Farmers, mid-century elitist wannabes, old-school landed gentry, freed slave descendants, and the moving masses of the newly burgeoning middle class. We had horses more than bikes, trucks and tractors more than sporty cars; we baled hay on weekends, mucked stalls on weeknights and went to any and all assortment of Country Day and Prissy Prep schools that would have us at any given moment in our rebelliously speckled academic careers. It was the 60’s, we were not scholastically centered; to be proudly precise about it we were more on the delinquent side of the spectrum.
These two distinct but linked places then are my roots. They comprise my core. They are the base to which all other wing-driven wanderings relate, my anchor to the universe. There will be other “bases” I will encounter and encourage, many just as important and long lasting as these two foundational sites, but I land on them with feet that are informed from the clay of the Potomac and the history of the Hunt Country.
My Wings came early. Again, it was the 60’s; turbulent times in the world, in Washington, and more personally at home.
As fledglings flopping out of the nest, we all begin to spread our wings and learn to fly off into what we will become. There are as many reasons for us to begin our flights of fancy as there are humans to imagine them. Mine, more complicated than some but less fraught than others, propelled me outward early on. My wings, as those of all my other fellow travellers in that age, represented freedom. They stood for choices; some ill advised, most largely thoughtless, many illegal and/or immoral, and all completely necessary for my own personal Darwinian evolution.
All things were possible. Then.
And so I quite quickly flew off; a bit hesitant, a few false starts, but ultimately taking my roots with me in search of new soil in which to grow them.
One of my mothers used to quote a Robert Browning poem that she thought summed me up quite tidily:
“She like what’ere she looked upon and her looks went everywhere”.
Sixty years on it still has the ring of ultimate truth to it. My wings have allowed me to “look upon” lands that a generation before me could only dream about. And my roots have required me to plant myself in an ever-expanding litany of real estate that amazes even me….and I have lived it.
“How many pages in my address book do you intend to occupy?”
This has been a doggedly recurrent question from far too many of my friends and family. Thank god for the digital, editable, contact list and the portable phone number! I am leaving this query behind me at long last. In the not-to-distant past people would hold up their dog-eared diaries and count off the addresses and phone numbers they had for me. I wish now that I had thought to ask for one of those books, I would love to chart my journey through their scratches and jottings; an outline of a life, lived through a listing of numerics and neighborhoods.
And so, I began my life-quest to plant my feet, and my roots, in an ever-expanding litany of places, near and far. I leapt, feet first to the West Coast, putting as much distance as possible between my geographic roots and my corporeal self given my age and economics. Growth. Freedom. Adventure.
I have always seen movement and travel as education. While I (miss)used my formal educational opportunities to a large extent (an expansion of those lost opportunities, the subject of future examination), looking back, I see the view from where my wings lofted me as an education of another sort, a more hand’s on approach if you will, one in which life’s wonders were opened to me in a very visceral and perhaps more pragmatic manner. I learned about history as nothing but travel and exposure to the variety of human endeavor can instruct. In traveling the globe, I saw the world as a smaller, more inter-connected place. I saw my personal history in connection to my world as a right and responsibility that I most likely would not have seen otherwise. I saw my small, local, personal history as a cog in a greater machine that had taken thousands of years to craft. My wings gave me my roots in a new and vivid way.
A Timeline, in brief:
1964-70 Maryland, San Francisco, Europe (from Norway-Italy, twice)
1970 Maryland, Wisconsin, Maryland
1971-75 Maryland, Colorado, Maryland
1975-85 Maryland, San Francisco, Palm Springs, Mexico
1985-90 Palm Springs, San Diego, Atlanta
1990-93 The Caribbean, the US, the UK, South Carolina
1993-99 Salt Lake City, Honk Kong, Japan, the UK (a half dozen times) Europe, often, and at least 30 US states
1999-07 Santa Cruz, the US (again and again), the UK, Europe, Mexico
2007-15 Portland, the UK, Italy, the Northwest, British Columbia
All these years dipping back into my Maryland/D.C. roots on a very regular and symmetrical basis.
This very abbreviated flight schedule represents 30 plus years of aging, maturing,and learning how to view the world and its myriad peoples and places through the prism of a maturing mind and a searching soul.
All this roaming about begs the question; does our chronologic age limit or expand our ability to see and accomplish personal growth? How important is the pause button in allowing us to ruminate and incorporate all that we see and absorb as we frenetically wander the back roads and super highways of our modern word?
In short, is sightseeing an educationally assimilatable exercise?
To add some context to this question I will refer back, once again, to one of my mothers and her early lesson to me on how to “sightsee” a new city. As we took our first trip to Europe back in the luxury age of flying, 1965, we embarked on a summer abroad. I was told to take to the Encyclopedia Britannica and the library and get to work on researching the countries and major cities we were slated to visit. I made lists of the things I knew I wanted to see to which she added her own, more adult-fully thought through items as well.
Upon arriving in a city, say Paris, we would book a half-day bus tour of the city. Maps and guide books in hand and pre-marked, we would dog-ear the pages and highlight the maps as we checked off our “todo” list. Once off the bus, it was up to us to learn the public transportation systems and “With my maps and my faith in the distance moving farther on”, to let Jackson Browne step in for a moment’s guidance.
Still today, when Dave and I embark on an adventure, we follow her instructions and, after ample research and planning, let serendipity do the rest.
Yet as I wing my way throughout my life, I continually wrestle with the question of how important are my roots?
Are family place and original roots the penultimate form of the planetary pull that locks us to our history? I know that I have what I call a “Sense Memory” embedded in my DNA that forever causes me to pause as I pass through certain locales; places that resonate within a deep inner core as familiar, known, throbbing with the substance from which I sprung. I liken it to why certain cultures of settlers landed in certain states and places; they just “knew” them when they got there.
A Geographic Resonance.
And just as certainly, there are places I have landed in my flights, whether by chance or choice, that have almost as strong a vibration of roots; places that I have planted myself in for periods of growth, experience, and time, that forever changed who I am, for better and sometimes for worse. These roots, too, feel as important and paramount to whom I am as a being as those from which I originally sprang. These roots are self sown and hard cultivated and the fruit from them is mine alone, nothing of inherited largesse or entitlement other than that which I bestow upon them.
My roots, more than mere psychic anchors to the planet, inform that part of my soul upon which the rest of my persona is constructed. Mine are ore-filled reservoirs; seams of un-ending splendor that I am proud to mine whenever I need fuel to propel myself into my future and the older I become, the more fuel my flights require. I believe it is why old folks reminisce so much about the past, they are simply drawing on their reserves in order to keep moving forward.
My wings, though more battered than Icarus’, are still light and somewhat nimble, if only in my imagination. Maybe that’s why I write now, it’s easier to fly into my mind’s eye than on the overcrowded, under-whelming, wings of a jet age now forever stamped with the TSA inspected footprints of the throngs. But wings of any kind are better than none and are what is required of us, if we listen to our better angels. My better angel is always, Jackson Browne:
“But the angels are older
They can see that the sun’s setting fast
They look over my shoulder
At the vision of paradise contained in the light of the past
And they lay down behind me
To sleep beside the road till the morning has come
Where they know they will find me
With my maps and my faith in the distance
Moving farther on”