On What Makes Home
I call my house Vulture House. When I moved in, early March, there were about 30 turkey vultures roosting in this massive white oak tree marking the property line. In the mornings, they perch on the tips of the tree’s old limbs, with their wings spread completely to the sun’s earliest rays. Cleaning themselves of yesterday’s carrion. At first, it was unsettling, these large, black silhouettes, larger than my youngest son, sitting like sentinels every morning and evening. I started to read about them, and learned that they are symbols of cleansing and renewal, protection, love, and loyalty. I also learned that they fly higher than any other animal besides humans, catching updrafts, apparently for the fun of it. Since, I have become enraptured with them, watching them fly parallel to the mountains with each morning’s sunrise, the tips of their wings turned up, as if in hope.
Along with the vultures, and the house, have come a lot of bird happenings. The day I moved in, I visited a farmer friend as he discovered a few dead toms within his turkey flock. Together, we pored over the bodies, trying to discern the predator. While in conversation, my friend pulled a bronze feather from the unfortunate animal and handed it to me, as if this was a customary exchange. The wind was blowing with a particular harshness that day. I met his gaze, accepting the feather, stowing it in the pocket of my winter coat. I imagine it is still there, hanging quietly in my closet until the weather turns.
Another day, during my morning time on the deck, I looked down to find a thin, smashed wren, just below my chair. It looked to be sleeping. It startled me, as any dead thing will, no matter how small. I showed it to my children, scooping it up in my hands and putting it into the yard for the vultures. We watched as they carried it off, within moments.
We also found a nest, full of eggs, and abandoned. It was in our shed, below some trash the former tenant left. We brought it inside, and it sits still on the linen chest, made of skeletonized leaves, seed racemes, and twigs. It’s eggs are snow white with burgundy speckles. You must search for them in the mess of the nest, but for anyone curious enough to peek, it is almost always a rewarding discovery. I bought a copper bowl at an antique mall, and the boys and I stored the nest within it. We don’t mind that the eggs are dead. An egg is still a hope, and there are three of them we own. One for each of us, as my oldest pointed out. He says things like this from time to time, unaware of his own clairvoyance.
I won’t live here forever, but I will never forget these images. They are burned into my mind’s eye, branded into my process, for better or worse. I constantly consider how temporary my life feels now, and wonder whether I am at home. Last night my dryer almost caught on fire, and today my laundry is spread out on my deck. A rainbow of litter. There is my dying garden, and ginger that asks for more water than the sky can make, and the smell of beets roasting (for pickling later), and the curtains lifting, just barely with the breeze. There are children peering into puddles and asking if fish might live there. Even as I laugh at this innocence, I realize I’m looking for the same flashes of life, in temporary spaces. I could watch patiently for days.
What makes a home? Is it catching glimpses of yourself here and there, in the same mirrors and windows? Is it your smelly life seeping into carpets, into quilts? Is it just a box with all your shit inside, even if homeless people are squatting in the woods nearby? Where you park your car, where your underwear lives? Where you hide on hard days, where you love best, where you cry yourself to sleep? It’s where you know the light the best, can expect the day to begin, the day to end.
Even still, peeling the beets, I felt lost in here, the smell of the skins a sign of the coming fall. Why do I still feel impermanence about me? Why can’t I settle? Stop waiting? Ease up? Today, I stumble upon a David Wagoner poem, and hold it up in the window, as if a prophesy. “ Stand still. The trees and bushes beside you are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here, and you must treat it as a powerful stranger, must ask permission to know, and be known.”
I bet the vultures roost here yearly. They are not lost. I have lamented their scarcity this summer, but take solace in the bizarre certainty I have that they will return. As the weather changes, I stand gazing out the back door, at the acorns falling. They are as numerous as my doubts. And when I think of acorns, I think of pigs, of my kids gathering them, and the persimmons in the driveway at the farm, for feed. In resistance to that old longing, I leave all the mast in my driveway, waiting for the vultures to clear it away.