Would You Rather Branch Out or Put Down Roots?


Robert and I spent the holidays in Los Angeles, schlepping all over the county to see our families and friends, with barely any breathing room in between. My brand new niece arrived just two days before we did, so we spent time with her, breathing in her baby smells and holding her floppy beanbag weight in our arms. We were surrounded by memories, lifelong friends, stabilizing family, and oak and eucalyptus trees. It felt right to be back in California.

When we rode the Gold Line downtown with our friend Chris to have sushi, I sat across from him and Robert, and we were talking about life the way good friends do, and I almost started to cry. It just felt so right. I had those moments several times throughout the trip—talking to my sister face to face, holding friends’ babies, watching my dog run around in my parents’ backyard. Why did we leave again?

Oh yes—we felt the walls of our life closing in on us. We were both in tough job situations, for very different reasons. We had lived in Pasadena for five years and knew every street and park. We felt frustrated with the transience of L.A. residents, with the slow going of making a community we could depend on and who could depend on us. We were sick of traffic and smog and heat waves. We loaded up a truck and took off for the mountains, and we are glad we did.

But being home again brought up the tension we often feel and discuss in Colorado—what about roots? Our move provided us novelty, adventure, closeness, new friends and beautiful scenery. Yet I often feel unmoored, and discouraged by the time it will take to create a solid foundation of friends—the community I have longed for since we married. I often tell Robert that I’m not a pioneer. I’m the person who wants to hunker down with her people, to be a loyal, stable part of the group, to build on what’s already there. The idea of striking out to create our own clan is unappealing to me.

And yet—I can’t pretend I’m always perfectly content at home. I’m a bit of a homebody, but my penchant for travel makes me a wanderer and an adventurer, as well. Just recently I was considering the tagline on my blog, which has been there since I started it 8 years ago, fresh out of college and longing to move abroad. “Not all who wander are lost”—the quote by J.R.R. Tolkien is almost a cliché now, so many people use it in their Instagram profile or on a warm-hued photo on Pinterest. But I clung to that quote for years as a way of bolstering my identity. I remember my mom once explaining to me what she told her friends about her three daughters: the teacher, the nurse, and the wanderer. But I was not lost. I was gathering experiences to build my own self, to navigate my own way in the world.

I’ve written before about this tension, calling myself a “walking paradox,” a wayfarer with the heart of a homebody. That was after about two years of traveling, when I’d been home for 10 months and was reveling in the comforts of home while still aching to travel again. It was then I first read the beautiful chapter in The Wind in the Willows, “Wayfarers All,” when the Rat meets a lone traveler who enchants him with tales of the South and the joy of “the banging of the door behind you.” The only thing that breaks the enchantment is Rat’s friend Mole, who tries to shake his friend out of bewitchment by singing out the joys of home, the magic of where one is rather than where one could be:

“…the Mole turned his talk to the harvest that was being gathered in, the towering wagons and their straining teams, the growing ricks, and the large moon rising over bare acres dotted with sheaves. He talked of the reddening apples around, of the browning nuts, of jams and preserves and the distilling of cordials; till by easy stages such as these he reached mid-winter, its hearty joys and home life, and then he became simply lyrical.”

It isn’t just me, then, who is a walking paradox. Really, I think humans are designed to long for both familiarity and novelty, for home and abroad. C.S. Lewis says that’s why God gave us seasons—to satisfy both needs at the same time. Each season brings with it change and newness, but winter is the same as it was last year, and so it also brings nostalgia and comfort.

The author Randon Billings Noble describes it this way: “I want both sides, the wild and the domestic, the adventure and the account, the roots and the branches.” Me too. I suppose the question is, how? How do we as humans nurture “both sides” in ourselves—how do we put down roots and branch out at the same time?


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