I grew up in a family with shallow roots. That’s not meant to be an insult – I’m merely stating a fact. Like many other adults I know, my parents chose not to raise my brother and me in the same community as either of their respective families. Instead, we spent our childhoods several states and a comfortable 2 to 3 hour plane ride away from our nearest blood relatives. We saw my grandparents for a few days every year (or two), but for the rest of the year, we shared periodic letters, phone calls and photographs.
I never doubted that my parents loved their parents; I knew they did. I also knew that, for reasons I’m not even sure they can articulate, my parents didn’t feel a need to be physically close to or spend much time with extended family. Sharing daily life with relatives outside our nuclear family simply wasn’t valued.
As a result, I was always curious about my friends who seemed to have vibrant, current relationships with their aunts, cousins or grandparents. The casual, familial way these friends interacted with their extended family members was quite different from the stiff, self-consciously cordial way I related to mine – especially when a generation or two gap stood between us.
My curiosity gave way to envy when we moved from the Bay Area to Colorado the summer before I entered sixth grade. The move accentuated our shallow roots, which had been made even shallower by the loss of our friends. I fell head over heels in love with the Rocky Mountains, but I never felt like I truly belonged. To this day I say I’m from the Bay Area when people ask, mentioning my meaningful-but-short time in Colorado only as an aside.
I was always aware that I didn’t share a common history with the people around me. I could count on one hand the number of adults – parents of my friends or friends of my parents – who seemed to have a genuine interest in my well-being. The root analogy is fitting. I felt adrift and un-tethered. I craved an anchor, something that would secure my place in the world.
This craving for strong-as-oak roots was one of the qualities that attracted me to my husband, who is the youngest of six children and one of 20+ grandchildren on both sides of his family, the majority of whom live in or just outside Los Angeles County. Furthermore, more than a handful of his relatives work for their large family business, adding both breadth and depth to his roots thanks to the business’ large and loyal customer base. His roots are so deep and wide, they make a city like Los Angeles feel small. I love being part of such a firmly planted family.
My reliance upon these roots has been challenged, recently, by the uprooting – the transplanting – of my dearest friend from L.A. to Lake Oswego, Oregon. I love Los Angeles and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts I will never live anywhere else. But between the cost of living and the hectic pace, it can be a challenging place to cultivate a high-quality day-to-day life, especially if you’re raising a family.
So when my friend, Dan, who grew up with my husband and who has equally deep roots in the community where I live, accepted a fantastic job offer in Portland, I understood the decision. The appeal of a slower pace, a more satisfying professional life, a lower cost of living is palpable and the adventure of a fresh start is alluring. The only problem is that it’s a decision that takes him, my best friend and my kids’ best friends – critical, favorite, beloved roots and branches – 950 miles away.
Arborists have a term for what occurs in newly transplanted trees. They call it “Transplant Shock”. Take a look at this excerpt from “Caring for New Transplants” from The Morton Arboretum website:
“Transplant shock is fairly common in newly transplanted trees. The Arboretum researchers have found that a tree can lose as much as 90% of its root system when it is removed from the nursery. This causes a great deal of stress on the plant as it is tries to reestablish itself. Research has shown that approximately one year of recovery is needed for every inch of tree diameter. Starting a regular plant maintenance and inspection program to head-off problems early, and providing good after-care will help maintain the health and vigor of your newly planted trees and shrubs.”
In an effort to help provide good after-care – and in celebration of my goddaughter’s birthday – my daughter and I headed up to Lake Oswego for a visit.
I should probably preface everything that follows by saying that – despite posing a serious packing challenge, which I’ll touch on later – the weather was absolutely beautiful. It was cool, grey and – yes – rainy on our first day (a refreshing break from the So Cal heat), but it was crisp, sunny and gorgeous each day after. I’m sure my story would be different had I gone at the end of January.
We got the trip off to a great start with a birthday dinner for my goddaughter, followed by lots of catching up and excessive consumption of red wine by my girlfriend and me after the kids were put to bed. The following morning started early with the pre-school pack-up and drop off routines, but went from pedestrian to precious when we met my cousin – another L.A. to Portland transplant – for a gorgeous hike along one of the area’s many stunning hiking trails.
This particular hike to Wahclella Falls was both easy enough and exciting enough to curry the interest of our daughters who wrote a story aloud as they explored.
After the hike, my cousin took us to eat delicious tacos at one of her favorite neighborhood eateries in Northeast Portland, Porque No Tacos. Uh. MAZE. Ing.
Later that afternoon, we headed back up to Northeast Portland from Lake Oswego to attend a family-friendly party – complete with Korean fusion from the Bo Kwon Koi Fusion catering truck – which we had very graciously been invited to by a colleague of my husband’s – yet another L.A. to Portland transplant – before finishing up the day on the Little League field where my girlfriend’s twin boys had a game.
Saturday began the same way it would have begun for me at home: shuffling kids to and attending athletic games (in this case, soccer.) Once the games were finished, we headed to a beautiful 35 acre dahlia farm. The Dahlia Festival ended in early September which meant we had near-peak blooms without the crowds.
From the dahlia farm, we headed to Beaverton – home to Nike headquarters – for my goddaughter’s birthday party. I was luckily tasked with picking up the baked goods for the party and so discovered the fabulously Old School Beaverton Bakery, which was so crowded that I had to take a number. I was happy to wait my turn and sample the free butter cookies, which were so good I had to pick up a box to bring home.
Later that evening, I helped stave off “transplant shock” by watering my girlfriends roots with yummy Aji Mule cocktails at the fabulous Aji Tram, a hip little spot tucked away inconspicuously near the lake in Lake Oswego. Having left our car and the kidlets at home with a sitter, we took our time and chatted up the locals and one of the owners, Adam Garside, at the bar after a delicious meal. I also had the chance to get better acquainted with a few of my girlfriend’s new pals who were lovely.
Finally, on Sunday morning before my daughter and I headed back to L.A., we hit up Pip’s Original Doughnuts. a fave among locals, and lost ourselves for an hour in Powell’s City of Books in downtown Portland. It was a delightful visit and we were sorry to leave so soon.
My friends will plant new roots in Lake Oswego. Even if it takes a year of recovery, their health and vigor will be uncompromised. The thread-thin roots taking hold of the earth today will very likely be the inches-thick roots that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren build their lives upon tomorrow.
I want roots because I didn’t have them growing up. But one woman’s root is another woman’s shackle. This isn’t the case for my transplanting friends, but it could certainly become the case for my children one day. If my husband’s and my roots become burdensome or restricting to our kids, I hope they’ll consider spreading their wings in Portland where there are people who love them…a state and a comfortable 2 to 3 hour plane ride away. Because there are roots you plant in a place and there are roots you plant in people, and the latter won’t be wrested. Those roots are planted in love.
Packing for Portland
Portland weather is definitely a force to be reckoned with when it comes to packing – at least in September. For two weeks leading up to our visit, I monitored the weather in case I needed to make any last-minute purchases for my daughter or me to accommodate real weather conditions. The needle could easily move fifteen degrees in a single day. Chasing the five-day forecast was like crawling towards a mirage; the moment you think you know what to expect ahead is the moment it changes.
What was obvious was that we needed to be prepared to add or remove a layer (or two) at all times. I decided early on that I wouldn’t pack shorts or dresses, so I needed to include a few sleeveless tops in the event Portland had one of their blazing hot September afternoons. Once I narrowed the field to jeans and tops, the rest was fairly simple and nearly everything could be (and in fact, was) mixed and matched on the spot.
P.S. If anyone reading this has Portland-appropriate footwear tips, will you please comment? Sneakers, boots/booties and Hunter rain boots would all make my approved list. But what about office-friendly footwear??