We are uprooted from our soil like trees in a hurricane, separated from our extended family, local community, and the natural world. Witness the plight of Gen Z, born in the mid to late 1990s, who were expected to play hopscotch all over the United States in their lifetime, holding 18 jobs, spanning six careers, while living in 15 different residences. Compare that with my parents’ generation, who often worked their entire lives in the same trade while living in the same house in the same community.
One can not deny it. We have been uprooted from the land where our ancestors were born and died, where local customs with labyrinthine ties to our community withered and died with the rise of highways, television and social media. Where even the smells of the earth and the air itself have become a distant memory in the antiseptic suburb of America that has bloomed like supercharged seaweed since WWII.
Our uprooting is accelerating with the pace of climate change, erasing the normal rhythms of nature, which have always been our most trusted guide. Political polarization undermines the foundation of what we believe to be our democracy. And now is COVID. Beyond attacking our physical bodies, it is bypassing our social habits, which, by their intimate regularity, affirms our humanity by connecting us to our community.
This is a big deal!
As a retired psychotherapist, environmentalist, and Carl Jung follower, I believe our roots to the earth and to each other are as essential to our survival as food is to our bodies. So you can imagine my joy to discover a book, Rootedness: the ramifications of a metaphor by Christy Wampole who examines this subject all over the place. It’s a limited edition academic tome that cost an absurd amount to buy on Kindle, but I had to have it.
I believe we are like trees except that our roots connect to the earth through the sprawling underground networks of our brains. Wampole expresses this notion in academic language.
“I claim that the root is not just a powerful figure that represents home, past, death, memory and mother; it is a figure for the subconscious itself.
Here are some other thoughts from his book.
“Subterranean life, imagined as the final resting place and a return to Mother Earth’s womb, is unconsciously sought after by all humans. Humans and plants rest in beds.
Traditional cultures, especially indigenous people, cannot comprehend our rootless and floating existence. As an example, Wampole writes of Congolese writer Alain Mabanckou, who was amazed, after moving to America, that when a baby is born here, the umbilical cord is thrown away.
“In the Congo, it is kept and buried in the soil of the home, which remains a permanent place of return. With this symbolic attachment of the child to his homeland, a transfer from the mother’s body to the body of Mother Earth, the initiation into life begins with an attachment.
What an embracing notion for those of us who are not traditionally religious and who, like motherless children, feel left alone in a dark, postmodern world. The feeling of being forever attached is a real blanket. Of course, we also have trees.
Look at all the recent best-selling books extolling the miraculous and human qualities of trees. With each new book, we discover more ways that plants, especially trees, are like us. But, says Wampole, the most recent scientific research suggests we have it back: It’s not that plants are like us, but that we are like plants.
In fact, she says, because of our new love affair with all things digital, we are becoming more and more vegetal. “In our increasingly vegetative state, in which we access the distant world through a screen, we have taken something from the existence of the plant, which demands that everything come to it.”
Wampole concludes by going further, erasing the separation between the plants and us.
“Humans and plants have always been in direct communication through their shared cellular consciousness, which is so intimately and reciprocally tuned that the boundaries between plant and man are dissolved. “
But one thing is certain. Whether it’s a tree or a human, you can cut a bunch of our roots and we’ll continue to thrive, but cut some more and we’ll die.
(Jean Stimmell lives in Northwood. His blog can be viewed online at jeanstimmell.blogspot.com.)