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12/19/07 7:55AM By Henry Homeyer
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(HOST) As a gardener, commentator Henry Homeyer believes in "sharing the bounty" and he says that recently that belief came full-circle.

(HOMEYER) I love the holidays, but sometimes get I caught up in the whirlwind of consumption - eggnog, presents, parties. A long hike I took in France this fall has helped me to better understand the true meaning of generosity.

Starting in late September I hiked for 10 days on the "Chemin de St. Jacque ". It is a pilgrim's trail that goes from central France, to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, where St. James is said to be buried. The path is a thousand miles long and has been followed by more than a million people since the Middle Ages.

One morning another hiker approached me, the first I'd seen coming from Spain. The man, dressed in patched clothing that hadn't seen a washing machine in many weeks, was carrying a heavy pack. It was nearly noon, and I was hungry. In French I asked him, "Is there a bakery in the village ahead?" He didn't know. We continued on our ways. And then a moment later he turned and called out to me, "Do you need bread?"

I did need bread. I'm diabetic and need a certain carbohydrate intake to keep me going. I had cheese and sausage with me and had counted on being able to buy bread that morning. But I hadn't found a bakery, and I was a little nervous about running out of "carbs". I had some dried fruit, some glucose tablets for use in case of emergency, and perhaps a cookie or two, but
hiking is hard work and burns a lot of calories. So I turned back and accepted his offer.

He told me he'd been sleeping under the stars the night before when a woman awoke him, saying, "Have no fear. I've come to bring you food." He showed me the long loaf of French bread she had given him, still in its plastic sleeve and stored safely inside his sleeping mat. He described the boiled eggs and fruit and a little bottle of wine she had for him. She'd even given him a chocolate dessert, which he proudly showed to me. "The people along the trail are special," he said. "Very empathetic."

The man handed me his loaf of bread and said, "Take what you need." I broke off a 6 inch chunk that would hold me until the next big town. I thanked him, and we parted ways.

The hiker who shared his bread was painfully thin and still had a long way to go. Yet he trusted me with his loaf of bread, and would have shared his precious dessert, I think, if I'd asked for some.

I often think about the woman who fed that hiker and how he shared his bread with me. It was as if he had handed me his wallet and said, "Take what you need." And I'll remember their generosity as I write my checks to the non-profits I support this holiday season.

Henry Homeyer is a garden writer and columnist. His new book is "The Vermont Gardener's Companion: An Insider's Guide to Gardening in the Green Mountain State".
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