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Suzy Smith
I have just finished reading The Book of Salt by Monique Truong. The protagonist is a Vietnamese man living in Paris. Itís about many things, this book, but an ongoing theme is the immigrant experience, that strong sense of not belonging.

Hey, thatís me. Born and bred in this country, Iíve become a foreigner by growing old in a country that predominantly values youth. Gone are the days when I walked down the street and the man coming toward me gave me ďthat look,Ē which suggested I might have possibilities. My possibilities left when my wrinkles arrived. Bin, the Vietnamese of the book, and I share the same experience as we walk down the street. He thinks:

My body marks me, it tells my story, a compacted, distorted version of it, to passersby curious enough to cast their eyes my way. It stunts their creativity, dictates to them the limited list of whom I could beÖ.they do not care to discern any further Ö.. a lapse of curiousity, it cripples their imagination as it does mine.Ē

In a way Iím sorry my fellow countrymen have banished me to that other realm, the one for the aging. Itís taken awhile to settle in here, but Iím getting quite comfortable of late. The journey has been such a fascinating one. And though no one has bothered to notice, I am ever so much more interesting now that my wrinkles have arrived.

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Suzy Smith
There are lots of special places for soul feeding. Why is my hill at the top of my list, I wondered. Certainly home is special - there's no place like it. When I've been away, coming home is one of life's most precious moments. But home is a microcosm. One tends to think small thoughts, like the garden needs weeding, or the floor needs sweeping. Home is cocooning, drawing into oneself.

Sitting in Chartres cathedral is also right up there for soulful places. Those soaring gothic spaces inspire spiritual thoughts, make one marvel at what man can create. But the mind becomes cluttered with the human costs involved in it's construction, the monies that went to the church and its glorification while the poor struggled to survive. Thoughts of what has been and is being done in the name of religion cloud the experience. Sitting in Chartres gets complicated. So does walking through a museum or sitting in symphony hall, all places that feed my soul.

But standing on my hill is pure. It just is and I just am.

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Suzy Smith
Do you have a special place that feeds your soul? I have mine atop a grassy hill with views of rolling hills dotted with oaks in my open space. I am at one with nature here. If God were to look down from his heaven, he would see me as part of the landscape, just another one of nature's creatures participating in the "ongoingness" of it all. I like that. I belong. I don't have to ask, "Why am I here?"

We need these quiet places in nature, places away from the demands of an urban life, places to make a connection with a wider world. Happily caring people have had the foresight to preserve and protect land where this might happen, but, it's costly. Will we continue to hold these lands sacrosanct and pay for them with our tax dollars? I hope so. I want my grandchildren to have a hill to stand on with an expansive view of land and sky where they can contemplate their place in the universe. It's important.

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Suzy Smith
It's hard to get children interested in gardening, says an article in this past Sunday's newspaper. You can't plant enticing plants that will make them hover over the flowers like butterflies. You might get them to chase the butterflies, trampling your flowers in the gleeful pursuit, but otherwise the process is too slow for their world of fast action and immediate results.

Maybe we don't want them in the garden. My neighbor had five children and took to the garden as an escape. No one approached her as she tended her flowers. They were afraid she would ask them to weed. Her garden became a room of her own.

I wasn't particularly interested in my Mother's garden when I was a child, but I did experience the pleasure she got out of tending it. I particularly remember her snowball bushes, perhaps even anticipating their bloom with some degree of enthusiasm. However, a seed was planted. It took a long time to grow, but 50 years later, I became a gardener. That's what I want for my grandchildren, a gardening seed slowly developing, nourished by remembering my garden and the joy it gave me. Maybe they won't take up shovel and rake in their future, but that seed will bring them in touch with experiencing the beauty in nature, a lifetime satisfaction.

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Suzy Smith
I have to be in my garden. It's not a choice. Spring arrives. A switch gets flipped in my brain and the next thing I know I am out with my shovel fighting that clay soil, and the resident rabbit who finds everything newly planted delicious. I sneeze. My eyes itch. I have hay fever. I should be inside with my air purifier reading a good book. I'm not.

I'm like the grasses in our field. Nature has programmed them to turn brown. It could be raining, nourishing, you would think, new green shoots. No. May 15, the grasses turn brown come what may. Nature has us in a firm grip. Nothing to do but fall into step.

I neglect my grandmotherly duties. Baseball games are being played and I'm not there. I don't answer my phone. Dinner arrives late, hastily prepared. Nothing is more important than my garden.

This craziness lasts through May. By June the rabbit will have eaten my new plants, the weeds, so carefully pulled in May will have re-established themselves, the gophers will have arrived in droves, and the dreams that the gardening magazines have encouraged will have only partially come to fruition. It doesn't matter, it's the journey, not the arrival.


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