Putting down roots (on a road trip)

We took a rare family road trip to the Adirondacks in late August, and it was as refreshing and exhausting as family vacations tend to be. Toward the end of our long drive home, even the kids were leaning forward in their seats urging my lead foot on. At that point in a road trip, even sixty-five miles per hour feels slow. We have become numb to our speed and numb to the road signs and farmstands that hurtle past.

My family lives on the edge of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Only thirty miles from home, I hit the brakes, and we began to roll, slowly, behind the skinny wheels and somber black of a horse-drawn buggy. Our road trip ended at the pace of a horse.

For those few miles, we began to sit back again. We began to open our eyes again. We saw familiar green hills and that one farm with the best stripeless watermelons. I rolled down the windows, and we breathed again. Just-cut hay and a barn full of dairy cattle.

At five-miles-per-hour, you remember what you forget at sixty-five. You remember that you are in a place, even when you are moving from place to place. You remember the truth of Bilbo’s famous words, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

I am a placemaker.

A homemaker, too, though that word is a little too close to stay-at-home-mom which isn’t really what I’m talking about. I do still have a young child at home, but when I say that I am a placemaker, I am speaking of my life purpose, not my season of life. I am also other things. A writer. A gardener. But, for me, those roles are wrapped up with the one big thing I want to do with the rest of my life: I want to cultivate a place and share it with others.

Our place, the one I make with my husband and four kids, is called Maplehurst. It’s a red-brick farmhouse built in 1880. It has quite a few bedrooms (those nineteenth-century farmers needed a lot of live-in help) and a few acres of land, and we love nothing more than to fill those bedrooms with guests and those acres with neighbors and friends. We grow vegetables and flowers, and we keep a baker’s dozen of egg-laying chickens, and, since we moved in three years ago, we have planted many, many trees.

Living holistically with my life’s purpose does not allow for much travel. I need to be here, feeding the chickens and watering the tomatoes. Any extra in the budget, and we spend it on trees rather than airfare.

To cultivate a place, we must stay put, and I mostly love to do exactly that. But I learned something at the end of our family road trip. Travel can help me in the task of caring for my own place. Travel, especially when I slow down and pay attention to the road between here and there, illuminates the connections between my place and all the other places.

PUTTINGDOWNROOTSPhoto by Kelli Campbell

When we moved to Maplehurst, we flew straight from Florida to Pennsylvania.

Only our furniture, with a stranger steering the way, followed the meandering highway from there to here. Six weeks after our move, I had our fourth baby. I think it took a year before I ventured much beyond our church and the grocery store.

I knew I had come home, but I didn’t really know where my home was. Now I know, in my mind and in my feet, that my home is tucked halfway between the ocean and the mountains. I know that these gentle hills are the roots of Pennsylvania peaks. I know that my driveway is part of a web of old Native American hunting trails, meandering creeks, and the wagon roads that once carried Quaker colonists.

Wendell Berry writes, “There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places.” Traveling well, like living well, demands an attentiveness to the sacred qualities of every place on earth. When I travel, I would do well to slow down. I would do well to remember that even the road is a place.

But when I stay home, I must not forget the road that leads away from my own front door. To stay put is not to live a diminished life. All the love I plant on my green hill does not stay here. Like water, it runs on. It follows known paths and secret ones. It waters the trees I have planted and many I have not.

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14 Comments

  1. Erin

    “Living holistically with my life’s purpose”, when I first read that in Tsh’s book it helped clarify so much for me. At the time I was just a few years into the empty nest stage. When my girls turned teenagers I bought the culture line that they needed me less and I could go pursue all my away from the nest activities. So being a “place builder” got put down the list on my priorities. But in the early years of the empty nest stage, I found I wanted to be home more than ever. Home to work through what my life would be now, home to make baby blankets for grandkids, home to love on my spouse and reconnect, home to build friendships that busy parenting years had not allowed for and time to not live a balanced life but one planned around priorities. I love “place builder” that too is what I am and so grateful to be able to make it a priority. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing it blessed me today, Erin

    • Erin

      opps you call it “placemaker” sorry I miss quoted you!

    • Christie Purifoy

      Erin, I love your story. It is sometimes easy for me to think that I only feel this way about home because my children are still young. You give me hope that this is important work for all of our lives. Thank you for your comment.

    • Sharon

      Me too, Erin! It’s so nice to hear someone else in the empty nest stage that feels the same way. I loved this post. so beautifully stated.

    • Guest

      Erin, you have just made this mom’s heart swell with hope and joy. I don’t think many parents realize how negatively they speak about the teenage years and empty nest years. My kids are still quite young (elementary age) yet I realize how quickly the years pass and know I will be in your season in what will seem the blink of an eye. I love that my mom and dad have a house that 20 years later still feels like home to me (even though it isn’t the house I ever lived in) because my mom is a placemaker. Keep doing your thing and making life beautiful for yourself and your family!

  2. Steph

    We spent time in the Adirondacks in August too! I often have a hard time slowing down and putting down roots wherever I’m at. But this summer in the mountains I was able to really notice my surroundings with all my senses – starting with the amazing pine smell.

    • Christie Purifoy

      Steph, wasn’t it incredible? If I try, I can still smell it.

  3. Devi Duerrmeier

    I’m always so stirred by your beautiful words, Christy, thank you. I grew up on the move, but have felt the longing for deeper roots as of late, and we are moving into a potential longer-term living arrangement in the next weeks by leaving Europe for Australia. The term placemaker resonates with me, and in some ways I can see how I have lived it with my new family in the past five years.. making a place for us even when there were no roots, if that makes sense.

  4. Linda Sand

    As our love flows out into the world we may never know what ripples it causes. Beautiful thought; thank you.

  5. jill britz

    oh, this is so good! i breathed a sigh of relief reading your words; we just took on chickens & a large garden, & as i contemplate the holidays & wanting to explore south this winter, i think: uh-oh. we have chickens to water & feed. & just now i’m pegged here peeling apples, which i mostly love.
    i feel us sinking into this place, & it feels both necessary & good.
    thank you for the courage to keep sinking.

  6. Jennifer

    I love this idea of being a “placemaker,” of cultivating and sharing. It speaks to what I wish to create in our future home. I also appreciate the reminder to slow down and notice the place we are in, even when traveling. We are between residences and I feel so anxious to move on, but you have encouraged me to try to be content where I am, in this moment.

  7. amosoil

    Placemaker! We do our best! Good!
    Thanks for share!

  8. Danielle

    Finally got to read this post, Christie! I love what you say here: “To stay put is not to live a diminished life.”

    In today’s transient society it can feel diminished to not be going and moving and doing, but you’re right, it’s not.

  9. Kim

    Beautiful!

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