To Have and Have Not

AS THE LEAVES OF AUTUMN began to fall a couple of years ago, so did real estate values across the nation, and a public that had grown giddy and confident from an eternal summer of home prices spiraling skyward like Jack’s bean stalk stood slack jawed in disbelief. The seasons eventually changed, but the housing barometer has remained on chill.

Meanwhile, as spring arrived at my cabin last year, a friend and I began to build a new deck. It was outdoor work, of course, and soon I noticed a little Sierra junco lingering nearby, following us around like it was hoping for a treat. Naturalists rant against feeding wild birds, but the year before I had seen a pair of juncos frantically trying to meet the squawking demands of a ravenous cowbird chick twice their size, and I couldn’t help thinking this junco might be one of the same pair with the same huge problem. So, with well-meaning heart, I offered it a few seeds.

It was a mistake. As the bird flittered away with a meager beakful, a chubby ground squirrel appeared, stuffed its cheeks full of what was left, then dashed off. If a bird can have a disappointed look, the retuning junco had one, so I put a few more seeds atop a bench where the ground squirrel couldn’t reach them. The reassured bird had barely pecked three or four morsels when legions of chipmunks and birds appeared out of nowhere to descend on the seeds. Right away they started to quarrel, chasing each other to and fro, each asserting its ownership of the bounty—while beneath them the desperate ground squirrel repeatedly catapulted itself toward the booty, only to bang its little head against the bottom of the bench. Shrewdly, it soon switched tactics and faced us instead, sitting upright with its paws folded against its chest, head tilted slightly to the left, giving me a look that immediately thawed my resistance. More seeds fell mercifully from heaven. The squirrel scarfed up the whole lot and waddled off with a head puffed up like a toasted marshmallow, only to return with a row of friends, all of whom assumed the manipulative begging pose. Meanwhile, the war on the bench escalated.

I felt so guilty. My gift of luxuries had created a quarrelsome circus among nature’s peaceful creatures and brought out the worst in them. There was more than enough to feed them all, but every one of them wanted the whole supply for itself. Greed ruled the day.

IN A WAY, the years of climbing house values had the same effect on humans, resulting in a feeding frenzy, with real estate speculators leaping to bang their heads against their credit limits. Huge houses with aluminum rainbow windows appeared out of nowhere to rise on the land like colossal wedding cakes, only to be traded for even larger ones built on the subdivided pastures out beyond the Wal-Marts. In this rabid climate, it has soothed me to know that most of our readers consider their houses to be more than an investment. Their house is primarily their home; a haven where they find comfort among loved ones. Besides, many of our readers have no inten-tion of selling the bungalows they have worked so hard to make their homes. Some will even see reductions in their property taxes.

Maybe the quest for riches is natural, but when you think about it, thrift isn’t so bad, after all. It’s efficient. And it can lead us to appreciate the important things in life—things like a home that hasn’t been created just to impress others or a fireside where hugs count more than dollars. In homes like that there is a wealth of contentment.

Looking forward to hearing from you,





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