In a week when Saddleback or Blencathra in Cumbria went up for sale and this story appeared about a family of birds taking up residence in a letter box in Suffolk, we have been doing much thinking ourselves about homes and property.
It has struck me that our human conventions regarding land and property ownership are somewhat absurd in the bigger scheme. I have long thought that being able to just be in a beautiful place is just as satisfying as – and much less expensive than – owning the place. I hope Saddleback will be sold to people who allow it to be entrusted to generations of walkers. Walkers from many places, booted, flip-flopped or four-pawed, of every description and brand of weatherwear. It will make very little difference to many of us who owns great spaces, as long as we still have the opportunity to be there, to breathe the air and to study the views, to appreciate the big and the small as if we never noticed them before. It is possible that a sealed bid from a malevolent faction could buy Blencathra outright and seal off the land from visitors, but part of the joy and beauty of such places is their accessibility to so many more folk than just those who manage and pay for their upkeep.
Animals do not recognise or need to comply with human property claims. In our garden alone, numerous claims could be made for the space. There are blue tits nesting on the wall, claiming their space this season and feeding their noisy young from what they can harvest around the area.
There are two cats who spend their nights in a house on the street backing ours but most daytimes guarding their territory, which now extends throughout our back garden and right up to our back door. With all the front of teenagers they chase and tease bees and butterflies, slink behind plants and sit for hours, frowning. Clearly they are full owners of our garden in the eyes of the feline land registry.
Then there are the guinea pigs, whose access to safe rectangles of garden on dry days makes them equally entitled to the land and its grass and dandelion leaves, not to mention their hutch, which they have almost exclusive use of. What’s an odd snail or spider to a herbivore?
There is a comic robin who bounds up and down between the wall and the grass. He always looks like he’s about to get to the punchline, but he never does. Robins are territorial too. Timing is everything; I always forget the camera.
What about pigeons? Or gulls? Or the odd squirrel? Or the many many insects and spiders?
Taking it to another level, do the plants moshing out of their beds and jostling for life between the stones and gravel have a claim on the land?
Perhaps, foolishly, we too could say we own it.
But we only have any rights to ownership under human conventions and then only temporarily. I prefer to think of everything we own as being on loan to us. We are guardians. Keepers. Entrusted with responsibility and graced with a journey of seasons and promise.
You see, none of it is really ours. God made it all, owns it all and has the final say, not us. He owns ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’ which is Psalm 50’s poetic way of saying that God tops any rich list and all we have is from Him.
Someone has made an offer on our house. We have put in an offer on another house, trusting that soon God will provide the home we need for raising our family. He has already provided a school place for Joseph against all reasonable odds in a full year group and a popular location, at some distance. Maybe we’ll be sharing our garden with plants, animals and birds. We hope we can share the new place for which we will be guardians with many friends and family for many years to come.