My house is not my home. It’s built on my home.

After a year of being stuck at home, I finally realized where home really is

Life under the elm

Illustration by Babeth Lafon

Almost 30 years ago now, my husband, Ed, and I closed the door of our home in Peachtree Battle, got into a truck with the last of our belongings, and drove to our new rental in Habersham County. We moved for my new job as pastor of the Episcopal church in Clarkesville, where the population was (and still is) less than 2,000 people. That was the other reason we moved—to live in a place less dominated by humans, where mile markers were more likely to be cow pastures and river crossings than traffic lights and shopping malls.

We searched for an old farmhouse to buy but never found one, so we built one instead—a hip roof bungalow with a mudroom, pantry, and broad porches on two sides. It tops a hill on what was once Cherokee land, with a clear view of Mount Yonah. Wild turkeys, gray foxes, and white-tailed deer live here, too, along with a pair of red-shouldered hawks who feed on field mice in the pasture and raise their babies in the woods. At night, the only lights visible from the front stoop are in the sky.

With all of that outside my windows, I still spend most of my time indoors. That’s where the computer is, the vacuum, the washing machine, the stove. That’s where the furnace is, the air conditioner, the lamps, the soft chairs. Everything inside the house is to my liking, from the glass knobs on the doors to the Rumford fireplace made by a local mason. We built a comfortable home and enjoy being in it.

That helped when the pandemic hit. Every morning, I recovered from the headlines with a stiff cup of English breakfast tea, watching the winged elm outside my living room window ring the changes of four seasons. When spring came around for the second time and the virus was still with us, I ordered two Adirondack chairs mostly for their looks. They would look pretty under the elm. On nice days, maybe I could drink my tea out there instead.

The first time I did, home turned inside out for me. The chair supported my back like a big hand. The March breeze ruffled my hair. Nuthatches and Carolina wrens swapped perches in the elm while distant dogs barked. The smell of fresh green things pushing out of the ground made me dizzy from breathing so much. When I looked into my living room through the same window I had looked out of for a year, it was clear where all the life really was. Why had it taken me so long to figure that out?

As much as I love my house, it is dominated by humans as much as any city. The air arrives through metal vents. The only birds are in paintings on my walls. The main smell comes from the scent-diffuser sticks on the mantelpiece. There is nothing wrong with any of that; I still love my house. But my house is not my home. My house is built on my home, which is the life-giving land that always has more life to give the moment I step outside.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a best-selling author, teacher, and Episcopal priest. Her latest book is Always a Guest.

This article appears in our Winter 2021 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.