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Cindy Crosby

Leave the Path

Beth Kephart's garden walks.

Barely visible under the overgrown pink dianthus and purple violas in my backyard is a bronze sundial with the inscription, Time Began in a Garden. Pretty sentimental. But the Good Book tells me that time as we know it got off to a flying start with a woman, a slinky critter, and a nice chunk of garden real estate. I'm convinced this way of beginning the world wasn't accidental, and it's not all about the flowers.

Native American writer N. Scott Momaday understood the importance of creation when he wrote persuasively in Way to Rainy Mountain that, "Once in his life man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it."

I took this to heart when I relocated to the suburban sprawl west of Chicago. Amid the strip malls, the tollways, and the power lines, I found the Morton Arboretum, a 1700- acre park dedicated to the preservation of trees and a glorious tallgrass prairie. Since then I have spent countless hours in that particular landscape in all four seasons, looking at it from as many angles as I can find and wearing out several pairs of hiking boots and sneakers in the process. It's a sanctuary, a place for reflection, meditation, and prayer, for puzzling through difficult midlife questions. As the Calvinists might say, I found a place to "glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

Although I doubt Beth Kephart would put it quite that way, in Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the Unearthing of Self she writes about her similar attraction to landscape and its ability to help her make sense of her life. For Kephart, the magnet was a 30-acre tract of pleasure gardens on the grounds of an estate known as Chanticleer, in southeastern Pennsylvania, which she visited weekly.

Just turned 41, Kephart is living the frazzled life of a writer on deadline, simmering with questions about middle age, her ...

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