It never really hits you until your friend out in the state of Washington starts talking about "my octopus" that lives at the bottom of his cliff.

You never think of an octopus having a home. You think they are out there floating around the sea devouring starlets in poor movies where all that happens is the starlet gets chewed up by an octopus or shark or both.

And then it turns out an octopus has a home. Goes there every night. Jaws with Madame.

It makes you think. Robbers and rapists have home to go to. All God's chillun got home. One of the things animals do is go home. People go home, eventually. It's something to hold on to, next time you have a party.

Baboons and gorillas are not supposed to have homes, but are supposed to wander about making a new nest every night wherever they find themselves, so people say "the other primates have no homes," but that is not quite right. They have a pattern of roaming and come full circle back to where they were. They have many vacation homes, as it were, but they too have homes, though not so specifically located as those of the octopus.

Pigeons will fly through hell to get home. Even ants will not give up till they get there.

I cannot see why things are this way. Why should it be so firmly fixed in so many species that home is where you go.

The philosopher Rousseau, who like many of his colleagues was totally incorrect in about two-thirds of his notions, since he dreamed them up in his head and observed nothing in the world about him, used to say that primitive man wandered about alone with no fixed home and only saw another human maybe once or twice in his lifetime and if he was lucky he met a lady and grabbed her and they had kids and they, too, roamed around all by themselves and never saw anybody, never had any occasion to speak even a rudimentary grunt.

We are sure nowadays that this can never have been true. All we know, all we have ever observed, assures us now that our nearest relatives, the sweet simians, are social to a fare-thee-well and they continually jabber.

Surely Rousseau must have noticed how people babble. If you notice that modern man invariably does A, B, and C, you might possibly think this is something inborn or natural to him, and that he always did it. But not your grand romantic philosophers. They preferred to assume that although people jabber constantly now, they once never uttered a sound. They think that although people invariably congregate now -- for no earthly useful purpose except to be around other humanoids -- that once man was solitary and saw no other human.

My own view, which I suppose is unarguable, is that people in the beginning, whenever that was, were virtually indistinguishable from us. My further notion is that if I am uneasy about something, other people are very likely uneasy too.

When I think of various mistakes and mis-cues and false starts I have made with people for nigh on to a century now, I see I have run into more trouble from assuming they were different from me than from assuming they were identical to me. Of course they are neither identical nor radically different. We differ within limits.

Not everyone suffers, as I do, from the incorrect use of the word "like." It tears me to pieces to hear, "It looks like he's going to fix the motor." Or "he does like he ought to."

All my acquaintances go out of their way to use the word "like" in those ways and they do that to persecute me, knowing how my teeth tremble when they do it. So I never supposed we are all alike, even in important matters like this. They go their way, I go mine, and in this sense Rousseau was right, that we shall never meet.

But all the same, I have a pretty good idea, well tested over the years, what another human is going to be like. The older I get the less often I am surprised, and nowadays almost never startled by other people. That may be because I have had leisure enough to look at myself.

Home is not the same thing to everybody, of course. Some trouble arises because it is not the same. Still, one of the first things I would teach an infant-type person is never, ever, to barge in any home without being asked, and never, ever, enter anybody's dwelling without deference and plenty of signs that you understand you are the outsider. I have seen cases in which humans had not been taught this and had not had sufficient natural wits to understand the obvious, and who failed to be ritually humble upon entering. It never goes over at all.

I have known people who dislike other people for no better reason than this: they thought the guy came on far too strong when he visited their house. As an observer I have seen what took place, and I have known a hostility was going to erupt, even if the host was not fully conscious what it was about his guest that rubbed him wrong.

The homing instinct, like any other, varies both in intensity and in means of expression, depending on circumstances. It is less strong, maybe, if home is a regular doorway off the sidewalk on which you sleep, though even there I would be mighty careful before setting my foot very close to the "bum" whose home it is. And I suspect it is strongest among farmers, who feel they "own" the land on which the house sits. But the instinct is strong enough, God knows, even in high-rise apartments.

It is probably weakest among people who, in the luck of the draw, grow up packed into crowded rooms, maybe sleeping l5 to a room. They are not usually quite so possessive, though if their circumstances change and they have a room they can control themselves, they too usually become defensive. Even in an Army barracks, where you possess nothing, I used to notice little subtle rituals indulged in before you plopped down on another guy's cot. You never just sat down if you were a stranger; only if both of you knew it would be okay.

Some crime, I would not be surprised, results from the getting together (as in burglary) of people with different notions of home. They can pass all the laws they want to, but there is going to be violence if a dwelling is entered without the ritual gestures or without an established relationship between the two parties. A human is not going to enter a dialogue with an intruder. He is going to say with every atom of the bones, Get the bastard out, and this in my view is built into his design as much as hunger and eating are.

Of course I have learned amazingly little, I cannot help noticing as I go through this vale, and mostly I have learned from dogs who differ in trifling details from us. But not in their sense of home.

The average dog is rather stupid, and it is rare for a dog to find his way home if you drop him half a mile away (despite what you hear of dogs finding their way home from Sacramento back to Rockville). But the dog will try. Besides, the true reason we love those stories about dogs traveling hundreds of miles to get back home, is because homing is such an instinct in us, and it seems so right and so reassuring that our best friends should succeed.

I believe retrievers are homebodies. Some dogs retrieve and some don't, but I suspect the retrieving instinct is connected in some not very well understood way with the instinct for going home.

For almost any dog, home is where his master is. The mutt doesn't care much whether it's an abandoned garage or the White House. I think retrievers are dogs who have carried this to the extreme, so that home is where their owner is even in a field or a duck blind.

Like baboons (no offense intended) Labradors adapt to short-term homes, even to homes they occupy only a few hours in a field or a blind.

I was at supper at Upperville the other night and my host, Bill, was explaining he has got the best dog on two continents name of Ace. The more he thought of it, the more Ace was a dog of dogs. My God that Labrador could do everything but wash the car.

"Well sir," I said, "I wish my friend Fargason had had a Lab like yours. He had a dog he sent off to school to get a degree in retrieving and when he got back they went to shoot ducks in the rice country. Had a good day and everybody all around the lake finally went to sleep tuckered out and some of them drunk. But Fargason's dog didn't sleep. All night long he went round the lake, retrieving more ducks from other hunters. Fargason woke up a bit before dawn and stumbled out the blind to tend to something and there was a mountain of ducks. He spent most of the next morning having to go round the other blinds. How many ducks did you have, and all that. Interesting thing. None of the hunters lied. The ducks came out even. But it took Fargason a long time to get them all returned. It embarrassed him bad. Pity he didn't have a dog like your Ace."

"Uh," said Bill. "Well. If a retriever's just a pup, still, ah, mmmm. You know Ace will retrieve anything. Once he retrieved a bat. Uh. You know. Ahmmm."

The truth of it is that Ace has feet of clay. Not that his owner has ever noticed this. Recently Bill was out there in the fields at the start of the dove season. He was being a superb fellow, not starting his own shooting till he had seen to it that all the other hunters had water or beer to drink.

Finally he got back to his own station and raised his gun for his first shot. In front of him was a pile of nine doves, and Ace sitting there ready to retrieve the tenth. Nine doves before you fire a shot is pretty good.

It would be far more serious if it was ducks. Now Ace should not have retrieved all those birds that weren't Bill's. But I would not say Ace is a thief or a spoiled Lab. Just a stronger homing instinct, that on this sole occasion led him astray. A common result of too much schooling. As my friend Teague once said of a famous Georgia editor thought to be an ass, the fellow was educated beyond his intelligence.

Any instinct can make trouble. Mother love can make trouble. Homing can make trouble. But I don't think you understand humans much if you forget they do indeed have the instinct and they do propose to go home. And be lord there.