May/June & July/August 2014

Cadillac Mountain, Acadia National Park, Maine. Photograph by Ken-Shing Law.
Purchase

10 Ways to Make Your House a Home

1. While the lenders and realtors and brokers circulate their dreary forms, while your only claim to the house is wonder, get the seller to let you till and plant before the closing date. All those buds and shoots will spell welcome in the green language of the garden.

2. Get to know your neighbors. Learn their names, even if you have to look them up: the snowberry brushing against the backside of the outbuilding; a purple finch flitting its shadow across the creek where brook trout scatter; a bushy-tailed woodrat hunched in a corner of the garden shed; stink bugs crammed in every conceivable crevice around every door and window.

3. You won’t like some of your neighbors. That’s natural. Mutual, even. Learn all you can about them, then attack. Pull so much knapweed from the packed earth that its shapes pinwheel before your closed eyes when you look for sleep. Buy a BB gun for the starlings, and watch the BBs bounce harmlessly off their oily plumes. Know fear at their dark intelligence when a decade passes and you realize they never tried your feeder again.

4. Figure out what your land would like where. Plant some natives with the many nectar-lickers and berry-gobblers in mind. When your red osier dogwood grows tall enough for a Say’s phoebe to perch in it, you almost wince at the spindly clutch of her talons. And when two yellow warblers build their nest in the black cottonwood you planted by the creek, you have an inkling of what it is to be a father.

5. When your daughter is born, brave the odd looks from the nurses and ask for the placenta. Take it home in a sack marked BIOHAZARD, and plant it in the soil where two saplings grow. In three years, when your daughter climbs into your car to play with the stick shift and the car starts rolling toward the steep bank above the creek, those lodgepole pines will be just strong enough to bend, bend, and hold.

6. When your daughter, hopping from foot to foot, asks if she can go potty outside, say, “Sure.” After she calls, “Okay,” try not to exclaim when you turn to find two logs steaming on the lawn, but take your shovel, scoop her scat, and toss it into the thimbleberry bushes. You’ll have forgotten all about it next summer when you pick and eat those rosy, seedy berries.

7. When you hear the great-horned owl calling, take your daughter out into the night. Listen with her, and let the certainty of a second child bloom in the whos.

8. When your daughters run to you, calling excitedly about a frog or praying mantis, push aside whatever work lies before you, and show them by your keen interest that what they have discovered is the real work. Let them take down your field guide and flip the pages. Let their wonder feed your own.

9. Among all the tasks the place asks of you, don’t forget to hear it asking you to simply be in it. Let your children drag you out to the lawn for a picnic. Lie down and feel the knobs and dips of the ground against your back. Every time the train blows its horn, gather your family in your thoughts and feel more fully where you are.

10. And when circumstances make you leave that home, rise at dawn of the last day it is legally yours, shovel into a five-gallon bucket that placenta-rich soil that now includes your dog’s ashes. Let it help you begin again. Let it help you be what your new home needs.

Derek Sheffield’s book of poems is Through the Second Skin, published in 2013 by Orchises Press. He lives in Washington State.