The farm rose up from the fjord, acres of fertile soil reaching deep into the valley. He stood near the lower field with an old book in his hands, turning centuries over with long sweeps of his thumb.

Written on every page was a record of each successive generation who’d owned the farm, dating back several centuries. He paused in the mid-1800s, pointed a finger gnarled by years of work in the dirt, looked at me, and in a stilted Norwegian accent said


Farms were passed on to the oldest son back then, but Endre didn’t want it. He’d likely already worked for years in these fields, his country was poor, and he dreamed of a different destiny for his young family than his ancestors had learned to accept. Letters had come back to Norway describing a land across the Atlantic filled with abundance and opportunity, and many relatives and countrymen had already climbed into small boats in the harbor for the journey to Bergen, where they boarded bigger ships bound for America.

So my great-great-great-grandfather left everything he’d ever known, and emigrated to America in 1853 with his wife, Little Anna, and their three small children.

His sister stayed behind and took over the farm.

What if he’d stayed, instead?

This fjord is the country’s deepest and longest stretch of water. Green cliffs of moss and rock frame small vvalleys of arable land, where waterfalls cascade into waiting rivers at every turn.

Did he find somewhere else as beautiful in America, or did he watch the second industrial revolution of steel and coal rise like a phoenix and dig her toxic talons into the landscape?

He found Wisconsin, and only he knows which place resonated deeper in him.

A descendant of our shared ancestry was standing with us in Norway now, showing us both the old book and the land he, too, had worked for decades. The farm, which he’d recently passed on to his daughter, produces tons of grass and revolves around their army of milk cows stabled in a red barn. She’d only had a few moments to talk before climbing back into the tractor, in a race against the next day’s rain. The work is hard, but it moves in harmony with the earth. And it is her’s.

Did he find this kind of work in America, that moved in harmony with the earth, that was his, like this farm would have been?

Probably. He bought farmland in Wisconsin, where he and Little Anna raised their children into adulthood. His oldest son, my great-great grandfather, chose to stay on that farm.

I walked down the gravel drive and through the lower field, where my blood ancestors walked before America was even an idea in the hearts of frustrated colonists, where my distant relatives walk today, where Endre walked in the mid-1800s.

I closed my eyes and imagined him here next to me.

We are mostly immigrants, sons and daughters of dreamers in search of something better, somewhere else.

But is something better always somewhere else?

I offered a silent thank you, because if he hadn’t searched for something better, somewhere else, the people I love wouldn’t exist. Neither would I. I told him I hoped he found what he was looking for, that we are all looking for something, some of us traveling thousands of miles over land and oceans and in our hearts in a fragile search for where we come from, hoping it will show us where we belong.

He paused in the mid-1850s, pointed a finger gnarled by years of work in the dirt, looked at me, and in a stilted Norwegian accent said