As you know, if you’re a regular reader, I’m moving from suburban Atlanta back to my hometown of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Hatteras is not much more than a sandbar. The nearest Wal-Mart is an hour and a half away, and fishing and tourism are the main industries. It’s tiny in a way that most towns are not tiny anymore, and it’s that way because of geography. There just isn’t much space for development.
When asked why I’m making this move, I give the obvious answers of wanting to be closer to my family and to live at the beach. That’s not entirely true, though. There’s a reason much deeper and harder to explain, a reason that I can sum up most simply by saying that I am looking for roots in an increasingly rootless world.
It’s no secret that I hate living in Atlanta. I’ve harped on that over and over. It isn’t only the traffic, the big box stores, the takeover of the chain restaurants that destroy local identity, and the feeling of being a cog in a giant, grinding wheel; it’s that nothing here is mine. None of this belongs to me. My ancestors didn’t defend Atlanta in the Civil War, or farm the stubborn red clay for 50 years before the developers showed up. I have no connection to the land here, no heritage, no legacy.
It’s taken a while to articulate what I feel about my life here, but the best word I have is rootlessness. I feel like a little plant trying to take root in bad soil, trying to eke out an existence, maybe to bloom even, in a bad patch of earth. There’s nothing for me to hold onto here.
When we move back to the island, my kids will have a heritage there, a sense of belonging. My father has been fishing the waters off Cape Hatteras for 40 years. My grandfather had one of the first sport fishing boats in Hatteras way back in the 50’s, before Hatteras became a globally known game fishing destination. I’ll be able to put my kids on my dad’s commercial boat and point out over the Pamlico Sound and say, “This is yours. This belongs to you,” not in an ownership sense or the way we conceptualize private property, but in the sense of heritage.
Commercial fishing is a way of life all over the world, from Iceland to Indonesia. There’s a shared fellowship between people who take their living from the sea. Even though their father isn’t a fisherman, it’s important for my kids to know that my father was, and what that meant for me.
It’s an unpopular opinion right now, but heritage is an important part of being human. If we have no sense of who we are and where we came from, we run the risk of letting ourselves be convinced that we are just “machines for making money.” The temptation of this tech society we’re all embedded in is to think that the past holds nothing for us and we must always be living for the future. Progress is the thing that counts. We must make lots of money and be entertained and have the newest smartphone because that’s Progress. We have sayings like “The Future is Now,” because we want to believe that what we’re doing is the very best thing that’s ever been done, even though most of the evidence points to the opposite. If the future is so bright, and the future is now, how come we’re all medicated for depression and anxiety?
We are very quickly forgetting the wisdom of our grandparents, the generation that survived without Netflix and smartphones. They sat on the porch swing and watched the sun go down instead.
By moving, I hope to hang on to my heritage, pass it down to my kids, and teach them that they come from somewhere. I want them to be grounded in a very specific landscape and way of life. They are not just mindless consumers or machines for making money.