MAT MARTIN | Steinbeck – Travels With Charley (1961)

8 March, 2011, 15:53

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in the pattern-thinking about roots i and most other people have left two things out of consideration. could it be that americans are a restless people, never satisfied with where they are as a matter of selection? the pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in europe. the steady rooted ones stayed home, and are still there. but every one of us, except the negroes forced here as slaves, are descended from the restless ones, the wayward ones who were not prepared to stay at home. wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency? and the fact is that we have. but that’s the short view. what are roots and how long have we had them? if our species has existed for a couple of million years, what is its history? our remote ancestors followed the game, moved with the food supply, and fled from evil weather, from ice and the changing seasons. then after millennia beyond thinking they domesticated some animals so that they lived with their food supply. then of necessity they followed the grass that fed their flocks in endless wanderings. only when agriculture came into practice – and that’s not very long ago in terms of the whole history – did a place achieve meaning and value and permanence. but land is a tangible, and tangibles have a way of getting into few hands. thus is was that one man wanted ownership of land and at the same time wanted servitude because someone had to work it. roots were in ownership of land, in tangible and immovable possessions. in this view we are are a restless species with a very short history of roots, and those not widely distributed. perhaps we have overrated roots as a psychic need. maybe the greater the urge, the deeper and more ancient is the need, the will, the hunger to be somewhere else.

John Steinbeck – Travels With Charley (1961)

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