A few days ago I bought a bird feeder. It cost a whopping total of four dollars, yet buying the feeder felt like commitment. Buying a bird feeder requires more than just buying a bird feeder; it also involves investing in some seed mix, installing the metal hook to hang the feeder from, and cleaning and squirrel-proofing the area. Buying a feeder isn’t something one does on a whim; it takes planning. It’s an investment of time and attention.

Since I write about birds a fair amount, some might be surprised to read that I did not already own a feeder. In fact, I was surprised, too, that I didn’t already have one! I’ve been bird feeder-less my whole adult life, rather unaccommodating to the partially grain-based diets of my feathered friends. 

Upon reading this confession, you might be thinking: what a poser…sure, he writes about birds, but he doesn’t even have a bird feeder! 

I assure you, the reason I have not yet kept a feeder was not that my affinity for birds was lacking in zeal; instead, it’s because I’ve been on the move, perpetually unsettled, repeatedly transplanted every few changes of the seasons. How could I establish my porch as a birdie all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet knowing that I would be moving on in a few months? 

In college and now in grad school, I’ve felt like a tumbleweed rolling across the plains. I’ve hopped from house to house—from Underwood Avenue in Grand Rapids to Aspen, Colorado; from Costa Rica to Muskegon; to West Huron, Ann Arbor; to Whitmore Lake, and the list goes on. 

But even a tumbleweed drops a few seeds along the way and gets its roots into the ground. I, in contrast, was leaving no trace. At each location, I thought about home improvement tasks I could work on. I thought about planting a rain garden, building a hanging basket to fit a specific window frame, or painting a wall a different hue. Each time an idea surfaced, I put off the task, reminding myself that I’d be gone in the spring, or moving next fall. 

I’ve never left a living space in worse condition than when I arrived, but I haven’t done much to improve a space, either. In each house I’ve lived, there have been relationships, too, that I left behind. There were friendships I kept at a surface level, or conflicts I felt I couldn’t overcome and didn’t feel necessary to address since we’d be parting ways eventually. 

A few days ago I set up my new bird feeder. I clipped the tags and peeled open the twenty-five-pound bag of seed mix, scooping cup-fulls of sunflower, cracked corn, flax, and millet into the red-trimmed plastic cylinder. Hours later, a flock of house finches discovered the feeder and plunged their beaks into a seedy feast. A chickadee joined the crew, glad to find a spot to fatten up for the approaching winter.

I don’t know when I’ll stop tumbling across the prairie and find a home that I’ll settle into for more than a few years.  But until then, I’ve realized home is where you make it. 

The English language is a big fan of nouns. Our language is fit for defining, labeling, and describing people, places, things, and ideas. English is sparse, though, when it comes to verbs. Technically a noun, the word “home” connotes both; it is a place and a thing but also a living entity, something that exists in a notably different way than a house. Homing feels like an appropriate verb to me, the process of turning your surroundings into a place you’re committed to living in, settling in, and becoming a neighbor to. 

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    jon, this literally felt like you were reading my thoughts. thank you for putting this feeling into words! from one tumbleweed to another!

    love u and ur love of birds!

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Jon, this is really beautiful, and I resonate a lot with the tumbleweed feeling.

    Reply
  3. Paula C Manni

    ooh:) Your reflection on “homing” reminds me of the artist/designer/thinker, Neri Oxman, who speaks about “mother nature,” (as in, it’s our responsibility to care well for nature). Thank you for the beautiful reflection.

    Reply
  4. Avatar

    You didn’t even have a bird feeder? What a poser.

    (As if. I would be happy to know half as much about birds as you do and be able to express it half as eloquently. Sad to be missing your Arb tour.)

    Reply
  5. Kyric Koning

    There’s even a little bit of the adjectival use of “homing” here, the ability to return to or find a place after moving away from it. You seem to have a good grasp on where your place is, even if your location changes frequently.

    Reply

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