My favorite part about walking around Blue Heron Farm is the houses. I see the way people have established roots, some deeper than others. There is a little twelve by twelve cabin inhabited by a man who spent only $1000 to build it. The house has all the basic needs, shelter, a stove, a toilet, a shower, and a bed. He requires so little, and a lot of those needs are rough definitions: A toilet,meaning a hole in the ground, a shower, meaning a hose hanging on the back of the house, and a bed, meaning a mattress sitting on a wooden crate.
Turn around I see a house covered in mosaic tile. To my right is a two story, light blue house shaped like an octagon. It has a deck protruding from one side. I never had the chance to step inside the house, but I imagine the inside to be very open, all eight walls visible from any point in the house.
For the past six weeks, my only friends besides Taylor have been over the age of sixty. There is Jean and Murray, an older couple who took a while to settle down. In there youth they drove across country twice. Crouched on her front porch, she pointed out Big Sur, her favorite place on earth, located on the California coast between San Simeon and Carmel, where the Santa Lucia mountains meet the Pacific ocean in a dramatic drop. I finger traced the roads on the map, like entwined roots of the country, imagining the ways I’d like to go.
Jean and Murrey’s house resembles pueblo homes in the American southwest, emblematic of their camping trips in New Mexico, made of orange adobe clay with turquoise door frames. Jean sat on her front porch making wide hand gestures and said, “This is what relaxed looks like.”
When talking to Jean and Murrey, I got the slight sense of nostalgia for a time when their roots weren’t so deep. When they were young and could go anywhere they wanted. Murray said that our culture pressures us into thinking we have to do something with our life. It constantly asks, What do you want to do? What do you want to be? He argues, Why do we have to do or be anything?
I struggle with these questions as a recent college grad. I can’t help but put pressure on myself to pick a path. I have to know. And since I don’t know, I think there is something wrong with me. But those feelings pass and I realize that by traveling around the country following my heart, taking the road less traveled, I am getting the best education in life.
Then there is Barbara, a 91 one old lady with roots so deep, she’s got past lives. The house she owns used to be a slave house. She bought it for pennies over forty years ago and has since built Blue Heron Farm as it exists today, a commune of sorts.
Her house is filled with books about race and feminism, Martin Luther King and Betty Friedman’s, The Feminine Mystique, an original 1963 copy, with brittle yellow pages and a mildewed cover. Books on every social, environmental, and political movement since the 1960’s, by every major author, written and published during the height of their time. Barbara has wrinkles that are like roots telling stories in her skin.
Barbara had a career as a literature teacher at Chapel Hill High School in the late 1950’s, right after the law passed that deemed racially segregating schools as unconstitutional. The entire country’s roots were being exposed, pulled from the ground of historical racism and shaking the dirt loose onto it’s citizens in unrest. It was the scariest time of her life, she said, everyone was afraid to go to school. A six-foot-five black boy cried to Barbara and said that he’s so scared he throws up every day.
In a radical effort for the time, Barbara tried to shed light on the matters of racial tension and violence through unconventional teaching methods. She had her students lie on the ground in a big circle with the lights off. She instructed them to hold hands. For the entire forty five minutes of class, her students laid in silence, in darkness, having no idea who’s hand they were holding. The point being that without color we realize we are all the same. At the time of the mid 1960’s, it was profound.
Barbara was hated by many in the town. She faced threats, dead animals thrown on her lawn, windows shot down, obscene phone calls. One day two white boys threatened her at gun point in front of her own classroom.
Now this woman walks with a cane, lives in a quiet house with a garden and two cats, and spends most of her time reading in her recliner.
I’ve been thinking about roots, where mine exist if I am old enough to have any. I’ve spent most of my life in Rhode Island and Pittsburgh, but have few roots there anymore. I long to make my own home one day, but for now my home is wherever I am in the moment, as long as Taylor is by my side.
Taylor and I are moving out of Blue Heron soon. Where, we don’t know. We are easy to pull from the ground, for it takes little time to pack our belongings and go. For right now, remaining unrooted is the only way to figure out who I am and who I want to be. I don’t mind being a seasonal flower as long as I have love rooted in my life as strong as an oak tree.