Grow Where You’re Planted (On Traveling And Roots)

 

Tree roots underfoot

That first night back from New Zealand, I woke up not knowing where I was, confusing Los Angeles traffic for the tide of Lake Wakatipu. Yesterday, the family slept along the shores of Queenstown and today, we snored in a suburb of the world’s most car-clogged metropolis.

New Zealand was home for a few years, and every time we visit, talk runs to our inevitable return. “When are you moving back?”

What a haunting question. If you’ve ever spent a few ‘settled’ months somewhere, I bet it hangs around you too – the ghost of unmet expectations.

Because it still looks unnatural at times, this decision to leave one comfort zone and start another, far away. Friends and family assume every traveler will choose, eventually, to stay.

As the old idiom goes, we should grow where we’re planted. Cultivate a sense of belonging in the current geographical location. Dig deep. Stay put.

Roots survive Thai monsoon season

Roots anchor us in solid ground and promise stability in unexpected weather.

Did you know that scientists are attempting to relocate an entire Mexican forest of Oyamel firs to preserve the Monarch butterfly habitat? Over 1,000 trees, already dug up and re-planted some thousand miles farther up the mountainside.

This massive ecological undertaking gives me hope. Maybe it’s necessary to move around a bit, because the very act of changing gives us purpose, or keeps us from dying out. Temporarily landing in new locations quite literally keeps our ecosystem alive.

Cambodian mangrove roots

Roots link us within a community and lend us support.

In Fishlake National Forest, Utah, there’s a family of aspen trees that all stem from one root system. Growing and quaking together, they cover over 100 acres – a thing so expansive, experts consider them one of the largest organisms in the world.

Isn’t that admirable? A network of underground growth unifying uncountable individual stems. Maybe we can be like that aspen, with friends and memories all over, fortifying our lives with one ever-growing environment.

Cactus roots feed flowers

Roots feed us – through language, culture and landscape.

But the longer I stay in any one place, the more rootless I get. Have you experienced that itchy feeling before? Like maybe the soil is drying out here and oh! how green the grass looks just that side of the horizon?

Contrary to the saying (which, I’m sure, hangs cross-stitched somewhere in your Grandma’s house), I feel belonging everywhere. The problem is not finding any one place to grow, it’s that I know there are others – maybe halfway up the next mountain – where I will grow just as well.

Roots may connect us strongly with our surroundings, but they don’t allow for much flexibility. A tree only gets to move if someone up-roots it.

And if that’s the case, aren’t we better off sending out shoots in all directions, keeping our roots plentiful and easily re-plantable?

Tree root arrow sign

I don’t have an answer to that, nor do I have one for “When are you moving back?” But maybe it’s worth removing a few stitches to re-sew that statement into: Grow. Survive. Thrive. 

The location is only as important as the fruit you bare when you are there.

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Where do you find yourself planting roots? Are you an oyamel fir or an oak tree?

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