As I write this, ice is covering everything: a mist-like rain falls and temperatures hover between 30 and 35 creating the optimum conditions for ice to form everywhere. My local landscape looks as if an exuberant glazier had turned himself loose on the landscape in a moment of pure ecstasy.
There’s a Redbud tree just outside my living room window. We planted it years ago but for three years it didn’t do well. It looked more like a weed than a sapling. In the fourth year, it inexplicably shot up and has been growing lustily every year since. The Redbud grew into five separate trunks, one of them embracing another, as if behaving affectionately with a sibling, something I don’t normally associate with trees. It’s thirty feet tall now. Its successful struggle to survive endeared the tree to me.
Redbud leaves can grow as big as my open hand and are shaped like hearts. In the fall, they’re the last leaves to drop, clinging tenuously to the limbs like chicks in a nest reluctant to leave. I write this on Valentine’s Day and it seems appropriate to ponder the Redbud.
On this particular day, the Redbud, now leafless, looked stunning. Each limb was coated with layers of glistening ice, as if it were adorned specially to celebrate the sentiments of the day. After all, who doesn’t have thoughts of love on Valentine’s Day?
While sitting in the living room looking out on the Redbud, I became aware just how lovely it was being inside my home while enjoying the tree outside. Home is a powerful word and a potent reality in the quality of our lives. It’s home where we prepare to engage the day and return to it when our business is completed. If we live with partners or other family, it’s at home where we find comfort in being together. Even if we are alone, knowing our home is there waiting for us is a soothing thought, a place of refuge after we’ve been handling a workday’s stresses.
The pandemic, of course, has required of us a lot more of home than we may have wished. Like so many things, more is not always better. For all that, however, I would insist that for most all of us, there’s no place like home.
As I sat there, my thoughts drifted to people who have no homes, like refugees and others whose circumstances have conspired to force them to manage their lives with no home. What made the thought come to mind was watching a squirrel romp across the lawn. He seemed indifferent to the residual snow and freezing rain. He was as comfortable out there as I was at home here in the living room enjoying the natural world’s beauty from the vantage point of warmth and safety.
There are many people today, however, who live as wildlife does, but without the natural endowments animals and birds have for their survival: when the world turns bitter cold or steaming hot, such people have no refuge they can depend on; they must treat each day as a new struggle for survival. For me the ice storm is an aesthetic experience I can take with leisure and ease; for those with no home, it’s another scramble to stay alive.
In the minds of those of us who are privileged, becoming aware of the needs of others in want can be unsettling. I do believe that many want to help, to relieve the suffering of others but don’t know just how. Sometimes it’s the enormity of the needs, and the sheer number of them, that immobilizes us and the mind slips into denial. It’s uncomfortable to think about.
I was peripherally involved in the establishment of Habitat for Humanity here in Talbot County. Habitat’s mission is to build homes for people whose circumstances would otherwise preclude them from having a home of their own. Building the homes brought together people of different races, ethnicities and social status. The widely divergent worlds from which the volunteers came necessarily created initial awkwardness. I’d love to say otherwise but there’s no getting away from it: it takes a while to feel at home with people of different races and ethnicities. Sometimes all we have is what we’ve assumed from the stereotypes we may have harbored. If there is nothing else I learned from my associations with Habitat, it is that building trust takes time. A common task is one of the best ways to build that trust . . . and while we’re at it, complete a well built and affordable home for a family who’s never had one.
In a similar regard, Easton’s own Talbot Interfaith Shelter has recently expanded shelter services to individuals and families who have need of temporary housing. It will soon open its second shelter, called Evelyn’s Place, creating still more safe harbors for those with no place to live.
By two in the afternoon the temperature had reached 37 and the ice on trees began melting and dripping to the ground. Toward evening, the sky was still misty. A hint of sunlight fell upon the landscape creating a soft glow. The ice would soon be gone.
The squirrel reappeared. This time he sat erect, stone-still at the foot of the Redbud. His tail folded upwards covering his back like a cape and his two front paws were joined together just under his chin as if trying to decide if the ice laden tree was safe to climb.
Squirrels are at home in all kinds of weather.
Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist. A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.