rootlessness

24Aug08

Today’s NYT article, “The American Wanderer, in All His Stripes,” about Obama’s “enigmatic air… fractured (personal) geography and family and wanderings,” and Americans’ equal fascination and repulsion with wanderers or drifters caught my attention for several reasons.

Partially inspired by a father who roamed for much of his young adult life and lived to tell bedtime stories about it, my drifting began when I left Colorado for college on the west coast, studied abroad and traveled Eastern Europe. A victim of Chief Niwot’s curse, I returned to Colorado but shrugged the tethers of a lease for four years so that as soon as I was financially able, I could flee south to Mexico and Central America, or at least road trip through the greater west, and was in and out of the state’s square borders more often than I can account for. Most recently, I left CO for Brooklyn, NY and have been back and forth ever since. In New York, I relished Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, fantasizing about the west, fearing and loving his nightmarish outlaws in Blood Meridian and revering the foot-traveling heroes of The Road, post-apocalyptic survivors blessed and cursed with the burden of “carrying the fire.”

What brought me to New York in the first place was my pursuit of a career in the arts, as a photographer, a practice that also undoubtedly contributes to the tendency to float and flit. Photographers are generally, a wandering bunch. The history of photography is punctuated by infamous tales of travel and travelers: Timothy O’Sullivan’s westward ho, Weston and Modotti’s time in Mexico, the seminal introduction of Franks’ The Americans by Kerouac.

osullivan_sand_dunes

Sand Dunes, Carson Desert, 1867 by Timothy O’ Sullivan

Contemporary photographers continue as well to pursue grander horizons. In particular, Ryan McGinley’s I Know Where The Summer Goes illustrates summer wanderlust.

Question Mark, 2007, by Ryan McGinley

Justine Kurland has an undeniable inclination to pack up her life and her son and travel across the country in pursuit of the scenery for her photographs.

Sleeping Mermaids, 2006, by Justine Kurland

These photographs illustrate the inherent duality of the vastness of the world (and in these three images specifically, the American West) and the smallness of the roaming human, which might possibly enforce the unsettling nature of rootlessness for many Americans. A professor of American Studies notes, “You might say Americans are conflicted within themselves… There is a long and sentimental tradition of celebrating the small town, as the right kind of place to grow up and become morally solid… [there is] no less strong a tradition of regarding the small town as airless and imprisoning.”

I will most likely always identify more with the uprooted and restless crowd but as I am slowly getting older and my wanderlust has made me miss weddings and birthdays and births (!), the growing up of friends, and the growing closer of family, I am hoping more and more to be settled, in one place, for at least, awhile. It is those things, I think, that makes us feel not quite so small.

And I have to say, to bring this rambling post back to where it started, that in that time, I hope Obama is also settling in at the White House.

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3 Responses to “rootlessness”

  1. 1 beth

    I love your musings! Reminds me of the work of author Michael Perry (Truck, Population: 485). He writes about his own small town, New Auburn, WI. with a wonderful sense of place.

  2. 2 beth

    Thinking about Michael Perry made me pick up Population: 485 again. Words in the last chapter said it all…

    “Captive of my heart and feet, I’m a wandering fool, but I’ve got the sense to keep returning. On this land, in this place, with these people, I am where I belong.”

  3. 3 Marian

    Hey Sara… I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I don’t think I have ever read anything of yours before and I’m impressed with how well you can express yourself not only in photography but in words. I also enjoy the art that you mention throughout your postings as things come to mind.

    Hope all is well… good luck full filling your needs to be grounded yet wander with out care.


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