This Old House is Home

This Laburnum greats us each time we walk out the front door.

This Laburnum greets us each time we walk out the front door.


I open the door in the morning to take Sam for his first walk of the day and am greeted by a dawn chorus and a powerful sweet floral aroma. The Laburnum tree outside our house is in full flower with its yellow dripping blooms, hanging like bunches of grapes, the colour of sunshine. The stimulation of the senses is a heady start to the day and reminds me why Victorian gardeners were so fond of this tree. Despite being highly toxic, it is wonderfully intoxicating!

The tree is also abuzz with bees. There are hundreds of Bumblebees pollinating its blooms and, thankfully, also our garden. With our seven raised beds and one greenhouse fully planted, we need these bees to keep busy. Last spring, we saw an occasional bee and assumed it had traveled a distance. This year, the quantity of bees indicates we may have a hive somewhere and these bees could be making their home outside our front door.

How is it that these bumblebees have selected Crockern as their home? And what is a home anyway? Is it just the place where you live? Is a home a place that holds favourite things and people? Is it a place to retreat for peace? A place where we can spend an entire weekend in our pyjamas if we choose?   Or, as The Temptations suggest, a place wherever that Rollin’-Stone-Papa laid his hat?

If a house is a place that provides basic needs and safety, does a home provide mental and emotional well-being, a place to look forward to being in to escape the trials and tribulations of the outside world? According to psychologists, a home has less to do with décor and design and more to do with enabling its inhabitants to let go, even with its demands and quirky aspects. It is a peaceful and happy place, a place to spend time and share with others, to make memories through shared laughter with friends and family. It’s less about the building and more about an emotional connection, a sense of comfort and wellbeing. A home is a sanctuary.

But, do Bumblebees even consider such distinctions? For them, any dry, dark cavity can become a home. Abandoned rodent holes are ideal. Compost heaps will serve a purpose. Some bumblebees make nests in thick grass, bird boxes or trees. The ideal criterion is a place that is relatively undisturbed. They don’t like nesting in areas with extended exposure to the sun as it can overheat their home. I share a few home-criteria with the bumblebee, for instance, I don’t want our sofa to fade in the sun.

In my lifetime, I’ve had at least fifteen different addresses. Roger has had more than a few, too. Some I would consider a home, others, simply a place to live. And yet, when we return to Crockern, we both have a strong sense of coming home. This old house, complete with its three-page excel spreadsheet of projects to do, hugs us when we cross the threshold, welcoming us back like a favourite Granny with some warm chocolate cake. On a windy, wet evening, we feel snug and dry. On a sunny summer’s day, we bask in the beauty of the landscape. Compared to previous places we’ve lived, Crockern requires a good deal of attention. It kicks up demands greater than any narcissist. Most recently, we’ve had to dig up a soak-away and establish drainage when it became overgrown and blocked. Water from our spring was overflowing and had to be redirected until we could solve the problem. A five-hour project we had not planned to undertake.

This happens, but certainly less so as we’ve become nuanced partners with the eccentricities of this old house. No longer mere residents, caretakers or renovators busy playing catchup, we are now engaged in a subtle rhythm with Crockern. And just like the couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary – long after guests have left the party and the music has stopped — we quietly turn familiar dance steps. While our renovation efforts downstairs are chugging along slowly, we have new tasks presenting themselves weekly if not daily and we adjust.

But despite this predictable pattern of facing unpredictable projects alongside our planned ones, Crockern remains magical. It captivates and enchants. It provides a deep sense of place and belonging. There is a peace and quiet that befalls us each time we return up the track creating a quality of life unsurpassed by previous places we’ve called home. The old saying, “No matter where you go, there you are.” seems challenged by living here. Or is it now truer? Both of us find ourselves feeling the freedom of “living in the moment” more than ever before. Nourished and revived, we happily work hard or take long naps as the day dictates. It isn’t always easy dealing with what gets thrown up at us: Death. Predation. Smashed fingers. Determined sheep. Leaks. Floods. Rats. Rabbits. Foxes. Badgers. To name but a few. But each day, we are profoundly content.

I understand why the bumblebees have selected Crockern. (I should also add the recent influx of too many rabbits!) It’s a beautiful location, free from insecticides and lots of blooms to pollinate. There is plenty of fresh air and, occasionally, some harsh weather, but still lots of protection. And that Laburnum? Fantastic! I don’t know where this nest is exactly, and if I find it, I shall consider myself very lucky as bumblebee nests aren’t easy to locate. Mostly, I’m happy to let these bees get on with life and do their own thing. A perspective Crockern teaches all who live here. These bees are doing a fabulous job of pollinating plants, wildflowers and our vegetables. Let me root, root, root for the home team, encourage them to make themselves at home, and I’ll look up into the tree and say to those bees, “Keep at it!

We have two of these trees.  This one is in the back of the house.

We have two of these trees. This one is in the back of the house.



22 comments on “This Old House is Home

  1. Annette says:

    Thanks Catherine. Every word has value in this fine piece

  2. Paul Blaney says:

    My favourite to date. You’re waxing philosophical in your rural retreat!

  3. Susanne says:

    Your back yard is calling me – I can’t believe how beautiful it is.

  4. Polly McLaughlin says:

    This was the most amazing post. Thank you for starting my day with such beauty. Love to you both!

  5. donna04 says:

    I opened this up this morning and smiled. I just read it again and it made me smile all over again. We may be picking up and moving soon and thinking of a new home and a new place brings on anxiety but reading your piece today it brought a new perspective to our life change. I love this part the best.
    “It is a peaceful and happy place, a place to spend time and share with others, to make memories through shared laughter with friends and family. It’s less about the building and more about an emotional connection, a sense of comfort and wellbeing. A home is a sanctuary.
    It truly is!
    Thank you for sharing your life through this blog. One day I hope to make it out for a visit!!
    Hugs to you and Roger. xxoo

  6. Jenny Stewart says:

    What a lovely piece Catherine and I now that I’ve experienced it I know for myself what a magical place your home is. x

  7. jllevitan says:

    I agree with Jenny. In addition, as I contemplate all of the clutter and possessions that we (OK, mostly me) have accumulated, I am aware that rather than making our home a sanctuary, it has become a burden. I am determined to go through all the stuff – starting with the clothes – and donate what we don’t use. As I contemplate new purchases I am asking myself – will this add value to my life? Thanks for the motivation and the inspiration as always!

  8. Those trees are spectacular! Lovely post.
    Although our farm isn’t “home” yet (mainly because there isn’t a house!) we get that sense of “coming home” each weekend and it is what motivates us to keep moving forward with the grueling commute and the backbreaking work.
    I think part of what gives the farm that feeling of home is similar to your experience with the bumblebees – except for us it was the influx of frogs and salamanders when we dug in the two small ponds. The first thing I do when we arrive is check the ponds! I love seeing them teeming with life.

    • Thank you for your kind words and I know exactly what you mean about checking on the critters around the place who have made it home, too. In many ways, they’ve welcomed us to the place rather than the other way around. I feel particularly protective of our seasonal birds and all their nests — which are everywhere. Good luck with your on-going projects, too.

  9. Beautifully written. Love “…hugs us when we cross the threshold”. Returning to Dartmoor (Tor Royal) in August with granddaughter. A walk to Wistman’s Wood is on the menu [strictly no snooping, though!]. RH

  10. Beautifully written, Cath…and beautiful tree. It almost looks like a yellow Wisteria in tree form. I second the recommendation of the Roz Chast book. It’s as if she lived my life!

    • Thanks Carol, and you’re right, it does look like a yellow Wisteria in tree form! Love that Roz Chast, I think I followed some (or all?) of this book in the instalments in The NewYorker. That was a treat. I will definitely look it up.

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