â€œEach person leaves a legacy — a single, small piece of herself, which makes richer each individual life and the collective life of humanity as a whole.â€ â€• John Nichols
While visiting Italy on a recent trip, I stayed in a small hamlet that has been home to a winery run by the same family for 700 years.
Can you imagine, 700 years? The roots of the Tuscan earth run deep and are experienced as rich bouquets of people, landscapes, architecture and food. Despite the deep roots, the hamlet itself was home to no more than twenty five people, with the main house still inhabited by the original family. The locals clearly benefitted from generations past, and continued the traditions of cultivating and living off of the fruits of the earth; olive groves, grape vines, tomatoes defined the hues and strokes of the landscape.
The guest house we stayed in was owned by the original family and contained a depot for books of past generations. In our vast library I picked up a book called If Mountains Die, by the American author John Nichols. A memoir and picture book about his life in Taos, New Mexico written in the 1970’s, he wrote about roots; his own familial roots and those of a civilization displaced and ultimately destroyed; the roots of the indigenous population that have faced centuries of subjugation and persecution. He wrote about transience, uncertainty and loss; quite a juxtaposition from the immediate surroundings and safety in the ancient hamlet where I nestled.
It made me consider my own roots; those of my ancestors, of my generation and the roots of my own small family. Ours is a generation of unprecedented and accelerated change. Never before have people and ideas been so mobile, global and fleeting. We expect information as it happens at our fingertips, and also expect that the information will change, sometimes at a rate that is even more rapid than reality. What is more, the natural temporality of the world is exacerbated and manipulated by governments and media outlets to instil fear rather than to help us to come to terms with what is: our inevitable demise.
As I sat under the fig trees in the garden of our hamlet, I contemplated my own roots, severed and re-rooted in so many ways. Many of the people I know are in similar life circumstances. After all, broken families and global relocation is considered normal in today’s world. But then, my thoughts turned to the earth surrounding me. I looked around in the garden and saw dandelions and daisies, rosemary and wild rose bushes scaling the ancient stone wall. Are we really so different from the seeds of a dandelion riding the wind to discover new soil? At the end of the day, we all have roots that span hundreds of centuries and cover vast terrain. Every one of us has rich and meaningful ancestry that are as based today on location as they were centuries ago. Our relationship with place is surely different, but the more we can be aware of the significance of environment, the more we build meaning for ourselves and for generations to come.
Even as everything is in a constant state of flux, we can take steps to be conscious of how things are around us here and now and appreciate the wonder, for the thing we can be sure of is the next time we look, it will appear different. Roots help to keep us grounded in relationship, even when that relationship is change. The dandelion knows not where it came from or where it may land; only that the future generations of dandelions are relying on it to spread its wings and soar….and then there is the landing.