People talk a lot about growing roots. It’s important, it’s said, to be grounded somewhere. To have a place to which you can always go back because you are woven into the very soil.
I lived in El Serrano, California – a city on a hillside, I believe – until I was four. Then we moved to Saramin, in the eponymous valley. Every summer we would go to Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, which is towards the top of a cluster of mountains. When I was fourteen we moved to Denmark, and now we’ve moved back. My mother’s family is from Rio and São Paulo on her father’s side and from Rio and Belo Horizonte on her mother’s. My father’s mother was from Texas and his father was British; they met in Brazil and raised their kids there. I don’t really have roots.
A few years ago I read a book in which it was stated that “The landscape of the first seven years of your life will stay with you forever, and forever be dear to your heart.” (Or something like that. I’m paraphrasing.) But my first seven years were in two different places! I worried. It saddened me to no end, the thought that I would have no such cherished landscape. It seemed like such a gift.
A few months later, I went on a trip to Bornholm, a Danish island which lies squarely between Sweden and Germany and which distinguishes itself from the rest of Denmark by being made of granite and full of (rather tiny) hills and cliffs. I was in heaven. I discovered quite abruptly that I adore mountains, and that I missed them to no end. I don’t need to be in them or climbing them or anything – I just need to have them around me. It occured to me that my whole life (until Denmark), I’ve lived in places that were surrounded by steep slopes, even if only at some distance. I’m not used to empty horizon on all sides. Just like that, my worries evaporated: my first-seven-years-of-your-life landscape lies unbroken in my heart.
And now I’ve been to another country. Coming back isn’t even strange. There’s no deja vu. I’m already used to the enormous size of everything, at least most of the time. My house feels like my house. Even the heat feels familiar. I find myself hoping that my voice sounds different, that I have the slightest accent. I want these past four years to have left their mark on me. I want people to know I’m not from here, at least for a little while. Maybe just until I am from here again.
To be honest, I’ve never wanted to live in one place my whole life. I remember listening to some of my teachers talking about how their family had been in Saramin for generations. I remember the horror I felt at the thought of it. Never, I thought vehemently. I will see things before I settle down. I will go to many places. I will live in many places.
Sometimes I envied them their roots, though. It must be nice to know that you are surrounded by family and old friends, that you are in a place where you belong. I don’t belong anywhere in particular, but then, I never have. I’m an American with Brazilian parents who spent her childhood in books and then moved to another continent and back. I’m at least slightly foreign no matter where I go.
I don’t worry any more, though. I know where my roots are. I am rooted to the people I love. These people are my home, my harbor, my safe place. The ground that keeps me steady. I can spend the rest of my life wandering the world and never be lost, because my roots are strong no matter where I might be.