“So how does it feel to be rootless?”
The question was asked in a lighthearted way, while sharing a meal around the kitchen table of some dear friends after leaving our summer cabin behind. I had not thought of our status as “rootless,” but I can see how it might seem that way. Every official document requires a permanent address; every “get to know ya” conversation starts with “where do you live?” How do we answer these questions?
“We’re nomads” doesn’t seem to capture it, given the movie Nomadland’s depiction of a far less privileged way of life. “We’re couch-surfing” sounds like something college students and slackers do, even though this month, we’ve been doing the retiree’s version of couch-surfing—that is, spare bedroom-surfing. And “we’re from Maine” is not technically true because Maine doesn’t recognize single-season cabins for residency—and no one who escapes winter should be considered a real Mainer anyway!
Does that make us rootless? We are certainly itinerant, the textbook definition of rootless. But I don’t feel like we lack roots. In fact, I think our travels this month have shown us that our roots are more about people than places.
We’ve had the tremendous good fortune to be welcomed into the homes and hearts of good friends and family across New England and now in the far West. We have walked their favorite walks, eaten from their gardens, and seen their now-grown children’s bedrooms (and sometimes slept in them!). We have cooked together, seen the places that have meaning to them, and told them about ours. We have shared stories of the pasts we have in common and plans for the next phase of our lives. We have seen many kinds of generosity and reconnected in person, in ways that technology cannot ever fully replicate. And I hope we have repaid their generosity in kind.
To me, these friendships and family relationships are our roots. They ground us and connect us to our past, our present, and our future. They run deep; deeper than any place that has served as home for a time. As we have passed from one phase of life to the next, we have left the places that were right for us at one time and moved on to the next. Every house I’ve ever lived in is now occupied and personalized by others—as they should be—or has been razed to make room for new construction.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote these lines as a part of a riddle in his Fellowship of the Ring trilogy—the second line in particular has been widely quoted in support of an itinerant lifestyle, but I think the last line is equally important:
All that is gold does not glitter;
Not all who wander are lost.
The old that is strong does not wither.
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
We are not lost; we wander with purpose. We search for gold in new experiences, cultures, and friendships rather than glittering possessions. And we do not feel rootless. Our deepest connections with family and friends will not be killed by frost or withered by age.
To all of you who have shared (or will share!) your generosity, friendship, and humor with us along the way, we appreciate you and the richness you bring to our lives. We hope we can continue to nurture the roots you give us and that you will follow those roots to wherever we are in the world!