The Soil Where We Take Root

Wine makers will tell you that you can plant the same grape varietal on two different pieces of property, and they will yield wines of markedly different character. The soil works its way into the vine, giving it something of itself.

I suspect it is much the same with people.

This weekend I visited the Tennessee mountain home where my tender roots first pushed themselves into the soil. I have traveled to many places since then. And I have not lived there for almost 25 years. Yet something of that place is an integral part of the woman I am. It has given me the lens through which I see the world.


This handsome man is my Grandpa Nelson. He is the 95 year old patriarch of our family, and the best storyteller I know. We beg him for the stories we have heard time and time again…about our forebears who came here from Switzerland, about wagon trips out west, about his great grandpa who was hung during the Civil War, but cut down at the last minute. Stories about courting, and weddings, and beginning life with little, and loving, and working hard.

We record him on video. We rehearse the details with one another to make sure we remember them. We know these stories are somehow necessary to us. To help us know who we are. Where we fit into the world. It is part of what binds us together as a family. This cord of story.


My grandpa grew up in the house at the top of the post. Two bedrooms, one for the 4 boys, one for the 2 girls. Grandpa’s mother and daddy slept in the living room. Grandpa told of how the boys used to warm themselves by the only fire in the house, then run to their frigid bedroom and jump into bed. My aunt Wanda told how as kids they used to run from one porch, thru the hall and out to the other. Multiple generations of us remember playing under the porch.

I wish I could convey to you just how beautiful it is here. I wish I could tell you how farmers bury a piece of themselves in the land they work until it is impossible to extract one from the other without rending. I wish I could make you understand how that soil begins to flow into the blood of their children and their children’s children.

As we drove home on Sunday, all the talk amongst my boys is of the cabin they would like to build there on Grandpa’s land. I ask them if they would not want something closer to home. Their home. No! They are very particular about that. It must be here. In this place. This place where they have never lived, yet the soil of it flows in their veins. In an increasingly transient and global world, there is something to be said for the invisible tether that binds us to place.


First wonder goes deepest; wonder after that fits in the impression made by the first.
~Yann Martel, The Life of Pi

Fireflies hovering over ripe grain, fragrant with the heat of the day.
A million stars against a velvet sky.
Secret swimming hole hidden in the trees, so cold it takes your breath away and the cold throbs in your skin even after you step out into the sunshine.
Corn cribs and barn lofts that become magical other-worlds to children.
The rhythm of seasons: calving, spring plowing, summer garden, cutting hay, gathering wild muscadines, making apple cider, wild exuberance of a mountain autumn, walking on a frozen pond.

All this creates a great capacity for wonder in the heart of  a little girl. A space that it will take a lifetime of looking, and listening, and drinking deeply to fill.

I am grateful to have been planted where I was. It is difficult to imagine my life other. And I know that not everyone has a geographical place that signifies “home”. But, if we really look for it, I’ll wager all of us have treasures in the soil of our becoming. What was planted in you by the place where you began? How has it made you who you are?