• Center For Neighborhoods

Search in the Roots, Not the Branches

The following piece is written by our Neighborhood Liaison, Ryane Puckett. She's a firecracker full of a whole lot of compassion, and this is her speaking about the beauty of changed perception and walking through the world with an openness towards things unknown.

“Maybe you are searching in the branches for what only appears in the roots.”

This summer I participated in the Kentucky Rural Urban Exchange. The group is a mix of both rural and urban residents, and the purpose is intentional exposure to new places and new communities. The RUX program builds connections across rural and urban boundaries in the hope of greater collaboration across the commonwealth. It was a fruitful experience in many ways but for this blog, I wanted to share my greatest lesson learned: because of RUX, I realize now that my perception of reality - especially as it relates to the place where I live - is just that, a perception; there are so many lived experiences and true reality encompasses all of these.

Image: Ryane Puckett

As a lifelong city dweller, I have to admit my perceptions of rural communities has not been that positive. Before RUX took me to two rural Kentucky counties, Muhlenburg and Knott, I had painted myself a vivid picture of what life in the country looked like. No diversity of people or opinion, slow-paced and probably boring, lacking in opportunity; any kind of 'community' feeling only growing out of proximity or necessity. Surely people would not choose to live there; wouldn't they feel stuck living “so far away from everything”? This is all pretty dismal, and frankly, very single-minded. But I joined RUX because I wanted to all of better understand these rural places I knew so little about and had spent so little time in. You see, deep down I had a hunch that my perceptions were wrong.

I listened to this deeply-buried hunch, and went all in. And as soon as I started meeting people from these rural communities, I noticed my perceptions melting and morphing. When I spoke to them, these rural Kentuckians graciously and proudly shared what they loved about their towns. Each of them showed both vulnerability and pride, sharing stories of their challenges and successes with a group of strangers (at least we were strangers at first!), and telling the history of their land and their communities. I began to understand that they were not stuck at all! Living in these more rural spaces was a choice for many of them, and in fact, their love for their place came from deep within them. In the poet Rumi's words, I had been searching among the branches for what I could really only find in the roots.

At the end of our last weekend together, all of us in the RUX cohort were asked to write down something we had learned and would take back to our communities. This is what I wrote in that moment,

“As I work with communities and people from all around the city I want to remind them and myself, that you can’t know a place by hearing about it, reading about it, driving through it. You really can’t know a place until you are a puzzle piece needed to complete the community. However, if you listen to the people who live there, if you eat food cooked on their stoves in their water, if you gather with them in community, if you listen to the stories of how their people got there and why they stay, you can start to understand that your perception of a place is rarely the reality of those who chose to live there.”