The One Thing My Mom Taught Me to Always Look for In a Home

published Jun 27, 2019
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Credit: Marija Kovac/Stocksy

When I was in second grade, my parents decided it was time for the family to leave the city. Dad dreamed of being a farmer, but mom was not about to go full on “Bless This Mess.” She did love nature, though, and delighted in being around plants and animals. So they settled for half a dozen acres of untouched land an hour south of Minneapolis. They wanted to build a home far away enough from other from neighbors to give my dad the quiet he yearned for, but, to please Mom, we would still be close enough to walk to school if we wanted (it would be a long walk, though). It was a perfect compromise.

Since they had limited home-building experience, they hired an architect. Heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, the architect believed in blending structures into their environment and having natural elements incorporated into the home. Before they started conceptualizing what the house was going to look like, the architect took my parents around the property, looking for the right spot to build on. They walked past handsome elms, grand oaks, and the beautiful flowering honeysuckle bushes, but it was a magnificently large, 200-year-old maple tree my mom was drawn to. She decided it would serve as the focal point to our family home and declared how she wanted to see it as she looked out a giant modern picture window onto the backyard.

So the house was built around the tree. The front faced the northwest with the tree in the backyard. In front of the tree was the kitchen and dining area—the main hub of the home. In the east, there was the master bedroom and bath, the living areas in the center, and the other two bedrooms in the west end. It had stone floors made from local rocks, exposed wood beams, skylights, and window seats that looked into the beauty of the outdoors.

You could see Mom’s tree from every rear-facing window in the house, and just as it was the centerpiece of our home, it became the focal point of our family life. In grade school, we had a bird feeder hanging from it. We ate every meal in the kitchen facing it and mom would always bring our attention to the wildlife dinner theater happening just for us outside. With a wildlife guidebook in hand, she’d alert our attention to whichever of Minnesota’s almost 250 species of birds were visiting us that day. We’d see woodpeckers, flycatchers, swallows, jays, and robins. Squirrels, deer, and raccoons were frequent visitors too.

The architect had perfectly positioned our home far away from the tree so that it also provided custom climate control. It allowed maximum sunlight to peer in throughout the day, but also provided enough leafy shade for a perfect midday filter. It mitigated summer heat and capturing the sun’s warmth in colder months when its branches were bare. In exchange for guarding us, we kept an eye on it as it weathered the frigid Minnesota winters, lightning storms, and tornadoes with their power outages.

After I finished high school, I had plans to fly off to California for college. My parents decided, after 11 years of living in the home, that they wanted a new adventure of their own. They put the house up for sale.

I visited one last time before they moved, entering through the back door, leaving my shoes in the mudroom. I slid into the kitchen in my socks—like I had for so many years. I stopped and looked out at the maple, realizing what a friend the tree had always been. As I stood there, I thanked it for being a stalwart and silent member of our family, and said a teary goodbye.

I’ve moved a lot since then, but I’ve always found I’m most comfortable in places where there is an older tree outside my window. They makes me think of my mom and the power of nature, and how lucky I was to have her instill that lesson in me so early—to make sure there is always a place in the home to appreciate the outdoors. There are always so many birds, butterflies, and squirrels for us to be entertained and mesmerized by, right outside our window—all we have to do is simply remember to take a moment away from everything else to appreciate it.

(And if you’re wondering: I have zero photos. After about move 10 in my 25 moves in eight years, I got rid of all extraneous stuff and realized that my memories were better than lugging around things like old photos.)

Recently, I was looking for a new apartment in Santa Monica, California. There was one for a good price, but I wasn’t too sure about its location. It was next to an alley and a mile up from the ocean. Nonetheless, I decided to schedule a showing. As I climbed the stairs to enter through the open front door, I noticed something through the widows framing the living room: It was a beautiful older tree with birds in it, reminiscent of the one I grew up with. I immediately signed the lease.

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