Rooted

Yesterday, my dad asked me if I could help him drive the tractor on the back part of our property. He probably told me the details then, but I certainly don’t remember hearing them; I thought it had something to do with mowing.

Not quite. When I walked out to join my dad and brother this afternoon, I found a full-on log-hauling operation going on: there was a tree down on the property we’re going to build on, and we were to pull the massive chopped-up pieces from where they were to a couple hundred yards away, where we left them in a big pile.

Pretty simple work, with a tractor, that is. With rudimentary training–forward, back,speed, torque, bucket up, bucket down–I was stationed at the helm, and got to work attaching logs to steel cables on the front part of the tractor and then dragging them backwards through blackberry vines and thick brush, while avoiding rocks and stumps, to where they needed to be.

To help the mental imagery, this looks just like our tractor. It isn’t, though. (Thanks, Internet!)

For all the italics and bold, though, it was pretty simply once I got the hang of it: drive to downed tree, hook cable around branch(es), pull branch(es) clear of the other downed tree, two random stumps, and various building site posts around the property; re-maneuver tractor into beaten path through the blackberries and tree trunks, drag branch(es) out of the woods; make it up the hill, position branches by the pile, unhook, and repeat.

OK, so that description doesn’t make it sound particularly simple. But it did get quite repetitive, and I was pretty isolated by the roar of the engine muffled through my earplugs, leaving me time as I drove beneath the translucent green leaves to think about what, exactly, I was doing. And what I was doing was remembering my roots.

My family is pretty new to the area in the grand scheme of things; my dad’s dad moved here when he was pretty young, and my mom’s dad moved when he was an adult. And, when my dad’s dad got old enough, he bought property, 20 acres of it, which he farmed and kept sheep on and did various other things with over the years. My grandpa loves being out on the land.

Next phase of the story: when my dad (the oldest) grew up, he decided to move back from across town to “the homestead.” So, when I was about 5, my dad bought 7 acres from his dad and moved in next door. Growing up, my brothers and I had free reign of the full 20 acres; most of my childhood memories take place there. Since then, my grandpa has moved into town, and my dad has taken over a lot of the maintenance. Incidentally, today found us working entirely on his land.

On the other side of the family, my mom’s dad and my mom’s mom come from logging families in southern Oregon. My mom’s mom’s family has compiled a pretty great family history, and reading it awakened me to the horrible conditions of loggers in the not-so-distant past. And, more to the point, in my family’s not-so-distant past.

So as I pulled chopped-up logs a couple hundred yards from one piece of my grandpa’s land to another, plowing through memories from my  childhood without a backward glance (well, I mean, I was going backwards, but…), I found myself thinking, too, of my mom’s parents’, and their families, making a living by doing what I was doing, but without all the fancy machinery. I pondered on what it would be like to hitch a horse or mule to the load instead of a tractor, and considered the fact that, logistically, at least, many of the problems would be the same: rope tension, angles, obstacles, power. I can’t say that I’d ever spent any significant time before thinking about the ins and outs of my great-grandparents’ livelihoods, but today it grabbed a good portion of my thought processes. This is, after all, where I (at some point) came from.

Today,  a friend who has also recently returned from abroad mentioned how unrooted he had been feeling before he came back and spent time with his friends and family here. It made me stop and think a minute about my roots–about how often I take them for granted, and about how much they actually do for me. See, today marks exactly one month since I’ve been home. And as I imitated one set of great-grandparents on another set of grandparents’ land, I felt just how deep my roots run–and was reminded that, without having such solid roots, I would never have had the courage to pick up and move across the globe, even for a little while.

It’s counter-intuitive, but there it is: in order to be mobile, I must have roots. And I’m so thankful that I do–even if it takes pulling out some physical ones to remember it.

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