Shanhu Lee


I live on Cambridge Trail, a little street, sitting on the small hip of Monte Sano. There are only nineteen houses on the street. When I drive up on the street, it curves gently from the north towards the east, over a little hill. Tall oak trees converge from both sides of the street up in the air, a small section of the sky visible between trees. The neighbors keep their yards naturale without growing lawns. Every yard has abundant giant exotic rocks. 

We live in the woods. 

Goldfinches, cardinals, bluebirds, umber-chested robins, and red-head woodpeckers are chirping over the street. All year round, hundreds of birds migrate in and out of the woods.


My house sits on the downslope towards the southwest. After autumn leaves fall from the trees, from the sliding door of my living room is a spectacular panoramic view of the sunset, the color of the sky changing gradually and dramatically from blue, pink, orange, red, purple, to a dark blue as the sun sinks into the horizon. It is a million-dollar view

Now in the middle of the summer, all I can see is the lavish green leaves surrounding my house, so green as if they could burn my eyes. Through thick green leaves, little sun lights are dripping down to the warm porch, where I sit and spend hours reading on the weekend. 

When I travel, I miss my sweet home.


Our street has a small cul-de-sac at the top. The beauty of the cul-de-sac is the community of neighbors. This little community has become my extended family, my surrogate southern family. 

Every year, I spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at Benson’s house with their family. They live in an 8,000 square foot mansion, surrounded by sixteen acres of woods, on the top of the cul-de-sac. The family owns a construction business and several funeral homes in the Tennessee Valley region. Bobby and Suzie, both in their 80s, are master gardeners. Their garden has been selected several times by the city as the Best Garden of The Year. They taught me how to seed flowers, prune roses, mulch, and take care of my garden. 

During the holiday, the dinner guests argue how unfair it is for rich people to pay more taxes in America and spend long hours discussing why our country needs President Trump. They confront me, the only liberal at the dinner table, about why Democrats want to kill unborn babies. They try to convert me to a Republican. When I come back to my cozy home, my mysterious presence in Benson’s holiday gatherings often perplexes me more than their dinner conversations do.


I moved onto this street in the fall of 2015, after living in a small midwestern college town for ten years. My realtor, Melissa, presented me with a pink flower Crape Myrtle after I declared that every Alabama home musthave a Crape Myrtle in their yard. And I bought six pots of autumn mums, all lavender-colored, from Enchanted Forest on the University Drive. I laid them on the flower bed that the previous owner had built near the street, and planned to plant them after opening some boxes. 

The next morning, when I got out of the house to walk my dog, I saw all my plants were gone. They had completely disappeared, my autumn mums and Melissa’s Crepe Myrtle. When I came back from work in the evening, I looked at my empty sad flower bed and felt hollow. I wondered if this was a subtle, or not subtle, sign that my neighbors wanted to send to this Asian woman who just moved into their pristine white street. 

Then a few days later on Halloween morning, I saw my plants were miraculously returned, all of them, to the exact spots I had originally placed them on the flower bed. While the disappearance of the plants was surreal enough, the return of the missing plants felt even more unsettling. 


I decided to cut down some trees in the front yard. I felt as if the massive trees would quickly expand into my house and grow in my bedroom. As my yard guy was helping me clean up my yard, a big red-haired woman, in her 60s, drove out from a house on the opposite side of the street. Later I learned she was a piano teacher and the chancellor of a nearby private high school. 

The chancellor pulled down the window of her car and observed me carefully. She had this lousy makeup on her face, with a glittering imitation-pearl necklace and matching earrings. The chancellor shouted at me from her car, “What is your name?” 

I said, “Anna.” 

She shouted again, “Do you have a last name?” 

I stood up and looked at her enormous mouth and blazing red lips. Before I began to say a word, she spotted the blond yard guy, and asked me again, “Is he your brother?”

That afternoon, the yard guy dug out large poison ivy shrubs, which had crooked roots that were longer and thicker than their stems. 


As I was chatting with Bobby, on the street, one of our neighbors came out from his garage next to the chancellor’s house. Bobby had mentioned to me that this man was a brilliant scientist and he used to design high-tech toilets installed in rockets at the Redstone Arsenal. The rocket-toilet-scientist came down to the street and introduced himself to me, “Hi, you must be our new neighbor. Welcome! You can call me Dr. Farhang.” 

Bobby laughed aloud, and he quickly said to the rocket-toilet-scientist, “Azar, you can call her Dr. Lee.” 

Whenever I see him taking his trash and recycle bins to the street, the rocket-toilet-scientist always cheerfully waves at me and gives me a big smile without calling my name.


When I opened my mailbox, inside there was a magazine called Gun Digest. The cover had loud-colored pictures of various short guns. I have never seen real guns in my life, and I have never heard about Gun Digest or any magazines like this one. At the first glance, I thought someone was making a practical joke by placing it in my mailbox. Then I saw the mailing address on the cover of the magazine, with the printed name of my neighbors, Dr. Larry Collins. I didn’t know Larry liked guns or owned guns. 

Larry is an extremely chatty man, and since he lost his late wife three years ago, whenever he sees someone, he clings onto very long chats. I always tried to avoid making those tedious boring conversations with him. But after seeing the magazine, I noticed that I was examining myself about whether I could have been accidentally rude to him or had unknowingly offended him on any occasion. I thought next time when he tries to argue with me about the China virus or global warming “hoax”, I will try to be extra-polite and extra-friendly with him. 

Who knows, a shooting can happen, even on this beautiful street? 


Most people living on our street are retirees, in their 70s and 80s, and always stay inside their home, like indoor cats. So the street was extremely quiet, until a couple of years ago. One day, when I was preparing my dinner, I heard sudden bursts of noises and laughter, the sound of activities. From my kitchen window, I saw a very good-looking couple, tall and fit, running uphill on the street, with their two young boys, screaming wild. 

The Joys have moved onto our street. 

Every day after school, the two pre-teen boys, and their father, an English teacher at a middle school, spend hours together playing basketball on their driveway. The Joys set up a tall swing set, a very comfy hammock between two trees, and a giant trampoline on the ground. At the night, they light up Tiki torches and bake marshmallows over the bonfire. While the boys play and run around, their parents sit on camping chairs, head to head, as if they were still high school sweethearts. The previously vacant ghost-house was instantly transformed into The House of Joy.


Seems once life begins, it only expands. 

Shortly afterward, another even younger family moved into a yellow Cape Cod house. They have a 7-year-old tall skinny girl, with a pair of blue-rimmed glasses, and a 5-year-old boy. This girl is the smartest person I’ve ever seen in my life. She told me once, “I like reading, my favorites are fantasy and historical fiction. I think we can learn so much from the history.”

Every day, this super-happy young family walks their super-adorable two puppies, a black lab and a German shepherd, marching on the street, as if they are making a parade. The young wife loves roses. In the spring, she planted seven rose bushes in her garden, all in different colors. They are now blooming wild, next to our cul-de-sac.


As I was weeding at my flower bed, I saw my next-door neighbor, a young banker, was coming out from his house with a baby stroller. Inside was a small baby girl sitting quietly, her large blue-green eyes wide open, curiously staring at me. My neighbor proudly showed me his baby daughter who just turned 18-months. This girl was surprisingly calm, especially at a very young age. This was the first time I saw the girl. I had not known they were expecting. I told him that I never heard any baby-crying sounds coming out from their house, and he said his wife gave birth to their second child, a little boy, three months ago. So much life has been growing next to my house, without my knowledge.


This morning, I had my coffee at the flower garden, which I expanded along the street over the past six years. Tiger lilies, Madonna lilies, Black-eyed Susan, Daisy, yellow sun drop, rose campion, butterfly milkweed, and colorful zinnia flowers were all blooming simultaneously. Baby sage and Russian sage were exuding mauve fragrances in the tranquil air. And giant butterflies and hummingbirds, in their outlandish outfits, were fluttering over the flowers. The flowers and birds and butterflies and the lovely morning lights were mixed together, composing a beautiful watercolor.

As if a rainbow delightfully landed on my garden.


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