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What Happens in Left-Behind Places Doesn’t Stay in Left-Behind Places


Our “culture of transience” has far-reaching social and economic costs—and some that are harder to quantify.

Many of us like the idea of living a countercultural life. We want to be fish swimming against the current, not sheep in a crowd. But cultures are hard to identify, let alone counter. In her new book, Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind, journalist Grace Olmstead shows us an American culture of transience we may not have noticed or even understood to be problematic. It turns out that swimming against the current might look exactly like staying in one place.

In the book, we see that the choice to stay and put down roots may be not only the most countercultural life choice available to many of us, but the choice with the greatest potential for healing so much of what ails us, as individuals and as a nation. In this deeply personal study of a small Idaho farming community, Olmstead argues that a culture of transience “almost always results in extraction and exploitation of the places left behind,” and that this isn’t only a problem for those who are stuck or who choose to stay “behind.”

This is a book about places, but it is also a book about limitations and dependence. We need one another, and we need roots. We also need limits, and the fewer limits we have, the greater our need for discernment amidst a consumerist culture of almost endless choice. As Olmstead notes, “we move to places that will offer us something: to places that fit the consumptive cadences of our time, not to places that might ask something of us.” Uprooted is a persuasive call to dig in, give back, and perhaps even move back.

The need for rootedness

Since leaving the rural Idaho town her family has called home for generations to attend college in Virginia, Olmstead has, paradoxically, …

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