Where do your deepest roots lie?

By Caitlin Kelly

market 06

That most Canadian of foods…


If — like me — you’ve left behind the country where you were born and raised, let alone if you’ve moved many times domestically and/or internationally — you can end up feeling rootless.

I have three young female friends, ages 26 to 33, whose lives look like a game of Where’s Waldo? moving between Guam and Virginia and Luxembourg and Baltimore and Brussels and more, each thanks to their father’s work.

I also belong to a far-flung tribe of fellow journalists, web mavens and photographers, who are — to name only a few of them — in Madrid, Colombia, Berlin, London, Mexico City, California and Kabul, either permanently or on assignment.

I was born in Vancouver, lived in London ages two to five, Toronto five to 30, (with stints in Paris, Montreal and Cuernavaca, Mexico in those years), then New Hampshire and then, finally, New York, a suburban town north of Manhattan.



Despite living for decades in the U.S., I’m still, in some ways, not very American, clinging to some of my Canadian roots in terms of my political values, (the collective over the individual, single-payer healthcare, stronger unions) and also in shared cultural references that only fellow Canadians — here or there — can appreciate.

What is it that roots us deeply into a place?

What is it that keeps us there, for years, or a lifetime?


Toronto, Ontario


Is it family?



A political climate that best suits us?

A place — for me, Paris, where a year-long fellowship launched my career in earnest — that forever, and for the better, changed your trajectory?

Here’s a powerful and heartbreaking story about elderly Venezuelans — some born there, some who’ve lived there for decades after immigrating — now having to start a new life somewhere else, and to leave behind a country they love, but one in utter chaos.


Have You Re-Visited Your Childhood Home? What If It's Gone?
Our apartment building in Cuernavaca, Mexico where I lived at 14


Marriages end.

Children grow up and leave.

Our parents die — freeing us to move anywhere. To live anywhere. To root anywhere.

One of my Paris faves…


I’m headed back up to Canada for the third time in four months tomorrow, a 12-hour train ride. It’s a lot of travel in a short time, the first time, to Montreal, for work, but the second and third for pleasure, and to see friends.

I’ll be dog and house-sitting for a friend, someone I met when she worked in New York at the Canadian consulate and with whom I’ve stayed in touch.

I’ll mourn the deep cuts in my hometown newspaper and former employer, The Globe & Mail, and its weird new re-design.

I’ll savor some Canadian treats like butter tarts, (sort of like mincemeat, but better.)

I’ll ride the Red Rocket, aka the streetcar.

I’ll visit with friends I’ve known for decades, renewing deep ties and hearing their news.

Then I’ll get back on the train and head south again — for a brief few minutes suspended between my two countries on the bridge over the Niagara River, its spume just barely visible — and return to the United States.

It’s recently become a place I’m deeply ambivalent about, with rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, relentless gun violence, climate change denial and an administration determined to damage the lives of all but the wealthy.

My life is now neatly bisected, divided into two exact halves, between the nation of my birth and upbringing and the place I chose to move.

I wonder more and more these days about whether it’s time to uproot.


Where are your deepest roots and why?

13 thoughts on “Where do your deepest roots lie?

  1. I’ve lived around the Midwest and for a little while on the East Coast, but I feel like Columbus is my home. I’ve lived here for over fifteen years, and it’s where many of my friends and family are. I know it, and it knows me. Can’t think of a better place to live and maybe set a couple of scary stories.
    Wouldn’t mind the winters being a less brutal, though.

  2. I can hear the longing in your piece – you’ve been considering this for a while. The comfort of coming back to a place you know well, of being a part of its voice and character, is a type of being in love – and it only works if you’re loved back. 🙂

    1. And yet the reality is complicated — I love our apt/town and living near NYC. I have never liked Toronto that much and real estate is $$$$ and we are too old to get jobs easily, if at all. We are not able to retire yet.

      So longing is one thing and reality another…:-)

      1. It certainly is. You have to do what you have to do. I have the best job of my career but it’s centered in tbe NWT. We are very much enjoying being here but we will retire to our home in the Okanagan – we’re considering having a small place in Calgary as well, if the finances work out.

        Have you considered Calgary? Business Insider places it at #5 on the list of best cities in the world; other organisations have placed it at #4. I know it well and it ticks a lot of boxes, not least the affordability. I have some concern about Jason Kenney (a leftover Harperite who’s trying to win the premier’s chair in 2019 but he’s already getting into trouble with the hard-right element in his party). He’s nothing like that narcissistic (sociopathic?) child-man that you’re stuck with, however.

  3. i can understand the pull that you feel in each direction, and for very different reasons. it’s about finding a balance, a place of comfort, a place where you long to return to regain a settled sense of calm and peace.

    i was born in chicago, moved to michigan quite young, and have lived in southeast michigan, in one city or another, my entire life. while i love visiting other places, i never felt like i found my home until i came to ann arbor at age 40. i knew it was my place.

    1. I really like our town and I like having quick access to NYC.

      Two things have recently made life here much more difficult —insanely expensive health insurance and the man in the White House. Until those two things happened — and I see no relief in sight — I feel a lot more stressed than I’d like.

  4. I think I’d feel safer back in Canada. I can see myself retiring there. (Legal retirement age in France is 62.) A friend of a friend is now retired on Gabriola Island, one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of Vancouver and that appeals to me greatly. I think I’d like to live on a quiet beautiful island surrounded by nature.

    So, to answer your question, my roots are in Canada because I lived there for the first 30 years of my life (and they were great years.)

    I am still living in Paris for one reason only – my excellent job. Over the years, all my expat friends – except two – left Paris to either move on elsewhere or return to their homelands.

    Sometimes people ask me, “But after all those years living in France, don’t you feel French now?” The answer is “no”.

    1. That’s interesting — and a little sad to spend so much of your life a place and not feel 100% at home.

      My feelings of otherness in the U.S. are really my disgust at the way women are treated here (legally and otherwise), the Republican toxicity and the utter uselessness of the Democrats to get these losers OUT. A two-party system is a joke.

      I still have no great idea where we will retire. I am just not a rural person so the affordable beauty of a smaller and quieter place might not be my best fit. Given my orthopedic issues (will need to replace my hip again in a decade or so and will also probably need to replace my right knee) that’s another factor for me.

      so fun! 🙂

      1. Who knows? You and your hubby might just end up staying in Tarrytown when you retire. And I might end up somewhere in Portugal or Italy and never return to Canada. That’s the wonderful thing about plans … they’re changeable. Sorry about your hip and knee. That’s a bummer, and will decidedly, as you say, be a factor when considering where to retire.

        On my blog, I’ve reposted the dinner we enjoyed at 6 Paul Bert three years ago. I wanted to return there for my shared birthday dinner with Andreas, but he wanted to try Astier.

        Anyway, have a great holiday season. Best wishes and good health for the New Year and let’s hope that TOXIC TRUMP will be removed from office and arrested sometime soon.

      2. Right?

        We do really love our apartment and its view and Tarrytown has gentrified a lot (for better, mostly.) I’d always planned to live in France in retirement, at least part time, so we’ll see about that…we ran into (!) a NYT colleague of Jose’s in the Marais when we were there in June.

        That dinner was a hoot. I’ve told the story many times of our missing maple dessert and your indignant reply of “Mais, nous sommes Canadiennes!”

        Have a great holiday!

  5. Prince Edward Island is where I am from and where I still have deep connections, but Toronto is where I have spent most of my adult life. When I fly back from visits, I have the sense of returning home.

    1. Ooooh, PEI. I’ve never been — and our NY/Canadian-born MD has a 2nd home there. I need to go see it.

      Back in Toronto now, with the usual comfort and familiarity, which I always appreciate.

  6. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail

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