Most animals have a sense of home. It’s where they are safe and secure right now. But what dolphin, mountain goat or beetle picks a specific spot to forever call “The Old Home Place” like we do? I suppose prairie dogs live their entire lives close to the same spot in communities with like minded prairie dogs. And elephants with their famous memories are known to return to familiar grounds, especially when dying.
But animals seem less focused on a physical space and more on relationships with each other. Home is less a specific location than where you happen to be together.
Packs, schools, “murders” of crows, that’s what matters. Hang out together. Foster safety and establish access to food sources. If that involves a specific geographic location that stays consistent over time then sure, that’s home. But it’s a together thing. Loners tend to be the wanderers.
An example true to this model of home as communal might be migrating birds. Sandhill cranes look perfectly at home in the shallows of the Platte River after feeding in nearby corn fields. Just as they do so likewise in their Canadian breeding ground up north. The only common feature is that they do it together. We might become confused about which is really “home” for them but they seem unconcerned.
So much for animals then. What about the human home? With our memory, made precious by nostalgia, and our nearly neurotic obsession with comfort, home becomes a vital category. Don’t give me this “home is where the heart is” crap. Too nebulous. Too random. I’m talking about real structure. With a roof and central heating. A comfy chair and a spice rack. Internet that won’t lock up on you.
The place we call home changes over time of course. I once went back to my first home, the home of my birth. Looking at the house I grew up in, parked at the curb 40 years later made that point clear. Images from old 8mm movies our our young family playing on the front lawn came to mind, mixing with other well worn family stories as I examined the house’s details.
But the house is someone else’s now. It’s their turn to call that house “home”. And I’ve moved on. I’ve chosen another.
Home may ultimately be transient but that doesn’t mean it’s not specific. We know it when we see it.
It’s putting on warm socks right out of the dryer.
It’s that soft but firm compression of your head against your favorite pillow.
It’s the letter writing desk my grandpa made, now opened up in my own living room full of unpaid bills.
Home is this. But also like so many other critters in this world, home is where we are, together.
It’s where we share meals with the ones we love. Not just around our own dinner table in our own house but with our neighbors in their homes. This sharing of meals and stories and laughter with neighbors are pieces of home we recognize, but seen through other eyes. They are the pieces that add up to why we use the word “home” to describe our town as well as our house.
I’m only beginning to understand that in order for it to be more that simply a domicile, home must be shared. It’s hospitality that really makes a home.