Tony Vagneur: Home again, home again … maybe we just don’t know how

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

It was clearly pointed out to me the other day, the idea of returning home. Many people in Aspen have somewhere to return to, a place where they grew up, or lived before they came to Aspen. Many do return, some recoil at the idea, and likely for the majority, it is a sometimes-sentimental thought, not necessarily acted upon.

For days I watched them, a pair of mountain bluebirds, building a home in what the modern world likes to call a nest box. Not just any nest box, mind you, but one envisioned and hand-built by master bird house architect, Steve Gehring. In this age of labels, you might call him a constructionist recycler. And a former owner of Pinocchio’s. Otherwise known to thousands, if not more, of satisfied customers around the country as “Ecotiques Steve”.

It is a testament to bluebird ingenuity that they chose that particular bird house to nest in. It’s been hanging off my front porch for two or three years and I’ve kept an eye out for my first tenants. They arrived this spring, giving credence to the belief that bluebirds are very fussy and reclusive when it comes to temporary domiciles.

It was a success, their stopover at my place, breeding and raising three youngsters, by my best guess. I had their feeding schedule down rather well and grew accustomed to the pleading and squeaking peals from within. I miss them, but according to bird-watcher predictions, the parents may be back to raise another clutch.

What astonishment it was, however, the other night, when the three fledglings returned home. The freedom granted by their wings, darting about the wide, wonderful world under indigo blue skies, had not robbed them of their acknowledgement of their ancestral home.

They didn’t go in, and with the exception of one, didn’t stop on the figurative stoop, but they all touched the place with claw or beak before dallying in the tree opposite their now-deserted nursery. It’s hard to say, but they seemed quite happy — and I haven’t seen them since.

What do we get out of returning home? And what is “home” to each of us, anyway? As Robert Frost said, “Home is the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” During the last recession, there was a lot of talk about returning home, as if things would be better there, wherever it was. In this coronavirus world, is there anywhere reliable that would take us in, if we had to go there?

For me, having lived here a lifetime of 70-odd years, there’s nowhere to go back to, but several years ago I had the unique experience of returning to live in the very house in which I grew up. I had my same childhood room back; the stairs still creaked the same and my closet still had the same little nook where I hid my teen-aged writing.

It was a house full of memories — my great-grandfather and grandfather had built it, in two different centuries: the end of one, the beginning of another — out of native logs milled on the ranch. There was a lot of history; memories of my granddad; mother and father, my siblings, cousins, and horses, cows, and experiences with friends and being alone. Putting up hay, riding the range. How fortunate I was as a youth.

But it wasn’t home. I hadn’t really returned home; I had returned to the house that was once my home. Very little had changed in the house, but the soul of my family was no longer there. I was on my own. Strange, but it was a cathartic experience that couldn’t be achieved in any other way and I am eternally grateful for the occurrence.

Forgiving my father for selling the place was an important genesis of the healing, but just being able to lay my head on my pillow in that boyhood room provided a psychological haven for me that couldn’t be found anywhere else. I could shed a ton of adult baggage, could relax and be that kid again as I walked out the back door, feeding animals or heading to the ski mountain. Damn!

As we should always remember, our kinship with the animal world is more important than many like to concede, but what of the bluebirds? They laid their lives open to me, right outside my living room window, giving me the opportunity to witness their almost every move.

I didn’t interfere with them, but oh, how their daily activities stirred my brain, from simple curiosity to delving deep into memories that can still shake my psyche, even a couple of weeks after they flew the coop.

Maybe we can’t go home again, but maybe we just don’t know how.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at