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.