Skip to content

Roots and Routes

7 February 2011

Routes; Mjølkeråen, Norway (photo by Ron Habegger)

My mom and dad visited us in our new house just after Christmas. On their first groggy morning we went out for a short a walk — spending time out in the sun is an important element of getting over jet lag, which usually means you are doomed if you come to Norway in winter. But we had luck – a few hours of sunlight. My dad took his camera along to document our new neighborhood for a later stateside show-and-tell. I saw him climbing up on rocks, or hunching down towards the pavement. “Every time I try to take a picture there’s a telephone line in the way,” he said. “You know, we bury all our telephone lines underground, so I don’t even think about them at home.”

I imagined there were several reasons for this on both sides of the ocean: my mom and dad live in a fairly new suburban housing development in Indiana where it would have been quite easy to bury the cables at the same time as they were digging up the earth to build cellars and before they laid down grass. Mjølkeråen, about 20 minutes north of Bergen, is an older area, where houses were most likely constructed before the cables arrived. But perhaps more importantly, Norway is solid rock from top to bottom. And when I say rock I mean rock. You only have to look at a construction site like the one where they are building the new super-sized Ikea to understand what a colossal endeavor it is to “dig.” (I put “dig” in quotation marks because there really is no such thing as digging in Norway: to move any rock a large quantity of dynamite is needed and then an army of dump trucks comes and goes for weeks to haul all of the rock away.)

The point is that the routes, the connections between houses and between people are visible all around me. And why shouldn’t they be? “Get connected” we hear, yet those connections often remain invisible, and as such seem on the point of dissolving. Things that are go unseen are easily forgotten. Or, in the words of my dad, “I don’t even think about them.” (Which is why I suppose we all need to read our FB updates, lest we forget we have friends!). I suddenly realized that I liked to see those large wires and cables spanning off in multiple directions – the concrete evidence that we are more connected than we feel.

And I am generally one who tries to cover up my routes (and roots). While living in England I loved the guessing game of where I came from, and it was even easier in Canada. I would often have to pull out my driver’s license for proof – the cable that connected me, incontrovertibly, to Indiana.

All around us we are being urged to “get connected” (via blogs and Facebook and through those “series of tubes” envisioned by Ted Stevens), while at the same time we are being called to bury our roots, go beyond borders, be a part of the new movement of cosmopolitanism (a term floated by optimistic intellectuals who believe in a utopia of people calling themselves citizens of the world and relinquishing their roots).

So, by way of officially beginning my blog, I begin with the idea of roots and routes which has been on my mind a great deal recently as I realize that I am actually living in Norway (and not just a temporary resident). At the same time I don’t feel as though I have put down any real roots here – not the visible kind anyway. More often than not I feel like the person in the lone house on the other side of the fjord, surrounded by fields, a slope too steep to traverse making up the front (or back?) yard. I look at that house and think: how could you live like that? Where do you buy groceries? Who is your nearest neighbor in case of emergency? After six years I am still not sure which door I would knock on should an emergency occur.

I have, simultaneously, cut routes from here to the U.S. – paths of friendship that it simply became difficult to maintain over the years and distance, or cultural ties that have been cut because they are no longer comprehensible or relevant to my Norwegian life.

“Who needs ‘identity’?” asks cultural theorist Stuart Hall. Who needs to maintain both visible roots and routes? My mousy voice from below squeaks: “Me?”

Anyone know which plants can take root on solid rock?

13 Comments leave one →
  1. 8 February 2011 18:56

    Lichen? Is that a plant?

    • 8 February 2011 19:33

      Lichen, definitely. Mussels? They’re not plants, but cling on tight. And in Norway it seems that almost everything can grow on rock, with just the thinnest layer of soil. Grass, trees, anything. It peels off easily in a storm of if a boot pushes against it too hard, though.

    • jenaconti permalink
      8 February 2011 19:59

      I’m lichen it! (ew – bad humor!) Funny analogy about a boot kicking it off. I think that applies here!

  2. Debbie permalink
    8 February 2011 19:18

    As a fellow (former resident of Indiana) and resident of the world, I understand this conversation. I attended a story-telling event last night on the theme of “home”. The friend I was with turned to me and asked if I ever wanted to own a home. OF COURSE! I said… I just don’t know where…

    My life seems to have taken the course of being unsettled. I have lived in Baltimore (with a year off for good behavior in London) for 10 years. But it is not my home. It is where I live right now, where my friends and my stuff are at the moment. In my current residence of two years, I have only just put anything up on the walls. I wasn’t planning to stay. Having a party forced me to decorate!

    I do want to put down roots. But for no other reason than having a place to come home to. I need grounded roots to enable me to fly. Or so I think as I investigate yet another international PhD program and find myself looking once again at the cost of putting all of my things in storage…

    • jenaconti permalink
      8 February 2011 20:02

      Hey Debbie – interesting that you feel this to even though you are in the US, but not “home”. I never really decorated in our first house until we had it up for sale. And in retrospect I guess I also needed a reason outside of myself – same with your party I guess. I remember thinking: wow! I really like this place now! I think I could live here! And no, I haven’t begun to decorate in the new house yet either. All the pictures and decor I bought for the old house remain in boxes. I think you are right, though, decorating means making it a HOME – a permanent place. Yikes! 🙂

    • jenaconti permalink
      8 February 2011 20:03

      Oh – and just out of curiosity, I bet you never imagined yourself in Baltimore (as I never did in Norway), but where did you imagine yourself to be?

  3. Aven permalink
    8 February 2011 19:28

    Very thoughtful. And something that I’ve definitely been ruminating about too, in my own way. We’re not nearly as far away as you–the road to Ottawa is our physical connection to family at least, I guess. But I haven’t really put roots down here, either–not even bought a house. On the other hand, my son’s roots are here as much as anywhere; his connections are strong here.

    Oh, and we have solid rock under us, too–every construction project starts with blasting!

    No answers… But thanks for the thoughts. I look forward to following the blog!

    • jenaconti permalink
      8 February 2011 20:09

      So you feel rootless, too? Wow! I didn’t know I had so much company! Why do you think this is? seriously? are we *afraid* to put down roots for some reason? Is it a way to keep imagining that someday we’ll be living another dream elsewhere, or what?

      And about kids – it’s really interesting to see Eva and Christopher growing up here and this being their “home” despite the fact they know a lot about America (and American culture). Eva is 4 now and it just occurred to her last week that no one else at the daycare speaks English. I guess for all she knew everyone spoke Norwegian outside their house and English at home! And Christopher, at the age of 9, is really starting to realize that he has a non-normal family. We try to make jokes about it (i.e. “your silly non-Norwegian parents”) but he does feel different. I wonder who they will grow up to be – a part of that growing group of second generation immigrants who don’t feel fully a part of any culture.

      • Aven permalink
        18 February 2011 23:30

        Definitely a large part of my inability to put down roots is our uncertainty about our employment situation. Like you, we followed one job to a new place, and have had trouble finding a job for the other partner. This has meant that yes, we’ve b een in some ways envisioning ourselves elsewhere — nowhere specific, just somewhere where we both have jobs. But as that dream recedes (and becomes ever more unrealistic) we’ve started to realise that we live here — we’ve lived here quite a long while now– and it’s time, I think, to start thinking of myself HERE, not on my way somewhere else. Eric starting school has really emphasised this — many of the other parents know each other, we know no one – -and I haven’t felt able to reach out to get to know them, I feel so detached. I have to change this for his sake, if nothing else.

  4. Lars Boje Mortensen permalink
    8 February 2011 20:24

    Well written blog Jena! and chimes in with me who – as you know – also moved to Bergen with family and felt the same way. And I only came from Denmark! But it is enriching too. Try to contrast it to people who grow up, get education, live in the same town always – would you trade?

  5. 8 February 2011 21:46

    Nice work 🙂
    …and don’t trade, please. Thnx!

  6. Heidi Gudmundset permalink
    9 February 2011 22:01

    Loved the blog Jena! Have had similar thoughts, after having lived in Norway for 20 years. No family nearby, expensive to fly and no blogs, internet, skyp when i moved here. Felt very cut off. On the other hand feel that my life has been enriched in another way. Learnt alot about myself, have had to become a stronger person (I think), wouldn’t swap it.
    But interestingly I do still refer to the UK as “home”….hmm…?!
    My kids love living here and feel that they have the best of both worlds! Especially when they see the kind of pressure their cousins are experiencing in school!
    Thanks for sharing, ; )

  7. Sharon Ehresman permalink
    26 February 2011 07:32

    Fun to read your blogs. I love your descriptions and noticed that the picture included is one of your dad’s. Maybe that’s why he sent me the address of your blog? Tonight we had a great dinner and evening with other friends from Fort Wayne and Anita and I are going shopping tomorrow. We love to have your parents here in AZ.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: