All posts by Susan James Carr

Enjoy the Flowering Dogwood

Flowering Dogwood, Philadelphia, 2021. Photo by R.D. Joslin

My friend, Duby recently sent me these photos of a flowering tree in his backyard in Philadelphia. I don’t know why but I knew instinctively it was a Dogwood even though I don’t recall ever seeing one. I attribute this, perhaps, to some vestige of knowledge from my Girl Scout days when I earned a badge in plant identification.



This stunning flowering tree enchanted me with its beauty. I could picture a wedding, a picnic, a christening, or a romantic evening under this majestic ornamental with its showy clusters of white flowers.



The flowering dogwood is native to the eastern part of the U.S., from New England to the Gulf Coast. It’s the state tree of Virginia and thrives with plenty of water and sunshine.

I hope this dogwood tree captures your heart as it did mine.




Northern Lights – A Dance of Colors

Northern Lights, East Greenland, 2017. Photo by Trina Pate


Seeing the Northern Lights is something I’ve always wanted to do, but my friend Trina beat me to it. She has graciously shared her photos from a trip she took with husband Bud In 2017.

Northern Lights, Tasiilaq, East Greenland, 2017. Photo by Bud Pate

They embarked on a  photo trip with seven other people to East Greenland with Natural Habitat Adventures, which was led by a friend who is a National Geographic photographer. Although there is no guarantee, they chose September, a month when sightings often occur.

The “northern lights” are shafts or curtains of colored light visible on occasion in the night sky. They’re caused by collisions between fast-moving particles (electrons) from space and the oxygen and nitrogen gas in our atmosphere. When billions of these collisions occur, the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere emit enough light for the eye to see them. This ghostly glow can light up the night sky in a dance of colors. Displays take many forms: rippling curtains, pulsating globs, traveling pulses, or steady glows.

East Greenland is remote, and mostly uninhabited, except for a few subsistence-hunting communities. In fact, East Greenland’s people had no contact with the outside world until the beginning of the 20th century.

Their base camp was in a wilderness on the east side of the Sermilik Fjord. It is accessible only by boat or helicopter and is considered one of the most remote places on earth. The camp is surrounded by an electrified wire fence, as there are polar bears in the area. All tents are broken down at the end of the season. The area is then complete wilderness again, with no trace that travelers were ever there.

They spent time exploring the Sermilik Fjord, just below the Arctic Circle. While in the zodiac they wore Mustang Survival floatation suits to protect from foul weather. The Fjord is filled with icebergs of all shapes. The coastline is rugged and surrounded by mountains.

Iceberg, East Greenland, 2017. Photo by Trina Pate

On their very last night at Base camp, they finally saw the northern lights. The display went on for hours and was spectacular! It was a clear night with no light pollution. The lights came from every direction. They finally had to go into their tent because their hands were frozen! The trip was a complete success!





Snowfall, Philadelphia, 2021. Photo by R.D. Joslin

Yesterday, a friend sent me this photo from Philadelphia, which captures the beauty and serenity that a thick blanket of snow provides.

Last week, snow from a sprawling winter storm swept across the USA covering nearly 75% of the country. Nearly every state had temperatures that dipped below freezing, affecting 150 million people.

Texas experienced the worst winter weather in decades, flights were grounded and more than 2 million people endured the cold without power or water. Many families (including a good friend’s son, wife and two young sons) slept huddled together in front of fireplaces to try and stay warm.

I talked to friends in Salem, Oregon Saturday eve. They told me about the devastation in their neighborhood from the many trees that had toppled over under the weight of accumulated ice. When they finally ventured out to see the damage, a huge limb fell across their front porch, missing them, but causing significant damage to their house.

Beauty and serenity is definitely needed now as people recover not only from this winter storm but the more than year-long struggle with COVID. And so I leave you with this beautiful winter poem written by Emily Dickinson.

It Sifts from Leaden Sieves

 It sifts from leaden sieves
It powders all the wood.
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain, and of plain –
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again –

It reaches to the fence –
It wraps it rail by rail
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump, and stack and stem –
The summer’s empty room
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them –

As ankles of a queen –
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

MY Wish For You

Wishing Tree, Descanso Gardens, 2020


In this time of COVID, so many things we took for granted have changed, been restricted, been removed from our lives as we attempt to slow the viral spread. I don’t need to enumerate them because we’re all too aware of what we’ve given up dealing with this pandemic for nine months.

But today, I thought about the one thing that hasn’t changed. Our seasons. Now, we find ourselves at the tail end of autumn transitioning into winter. COVID has left untouched the cycle of seasons and, with it, the beauty that accompanies each one.

Even in southern California, we see the leaves changing colors, perhaps not as brilliant as the New England, but still — gorgeous shades of red, orange and yellow surround us.

On my way to Descanso Gardens this morning, I drove by Birches with their showy yellow leaves and Liquid Ambers with their star-shaped leaves of red and orange. In the gardens, a huge Ginkgo tree near the entrance is turning lemon yellow, the yellow-orange Mulberry tree by the pond is adorned in yellow and orange, and majestic coastal oaks intertwine throughout.

But today, a new tree emerged – a bright pink wishing tree set in the Main Lawn. Designed by artist Kaz Yokou Kitajima from a downed oak tree, thousands of messages adorn its branches.

I read many of the messages that spoke of hope: for COVID to end, for health for their family and friends and their newborn babies, for being able to see grandparents again, for an appreciation for all the earth provides and how to best demonstrate that appreciation, for compassion and a renewed democracy.

The children’s messages touched me with wishes for a bunny for Christmas, to heal the world, to go to school, “that orangutans and elephant don’t’ die”, and for joy for the world.



While I won’t reveal my wish, I want to extend a wish for you to stay still for awhile in nature and appreciate what you still have do in spite of COVID.

As I was getting ready to leave, I walked back to the Gingko tree for a final look.

Ginkgo Tree, Descanso Gardens, 2020



The Ginkgo tree is the oldest surviving species of tree that exists with a botanical age of more than 200 million years. Their resilience and antiquity have made them a symbol of strength, hope and peace.

A light wind came up and beautiful yellow fan-shaped leaves started to fall and flutter all around me. I stopped as their leaves rained down on me in appreciation of the moment. I took one of the leaves home and it reminds me that COVID will end one day and I believe we will all be stronger and more mindful after this pandemic is finally over.












Laguna Beach Escape

Sunset in Laguna Beach, 2020

I always come back refreshed from Laguna. It’s a small, beautiful, artistic beach town with lovely ocean views on walkways that wind through Main Beach all the way to Heisler Beach and beyond.

Earlier this month, Christy, Chad and I went to Laguna to remember Jim on his birthday. It was, as always, a special getaway and the first time Chad had been to Laguna.

Laguna Beach in the early 1900’s had a population of 300, half of whom were plein air painters drawn to the beauty of this seaside town and its clear air. Now, it’s a thriving small community of 23,000 with a focus on arts, dining, and entertainment.


This trip, we stayed at “The Tides” which is across the street from the Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill, which reopened last year after several ownership changes dating back to 1947. It’s one of the few restaurants where I’ll order a Mai Tai and they mix a really great one. Christy has many good memories of going there as a young child with her parents.

Usually, we stay at my timeshare, Laguna Surf, but it was booked. The Tides is a charming small hotel that my friend, JuliAnne, told me about last year. Very friendly staff and each time we stay there, we’re greeted with a handwritten note welcoming us “home.” They have a salt-water pool, which we had to ourselves for a couple hours one afternoon.

We drove to the Montage hotel and walked along Treasure Island Park that overlooks the coastline Saturday eve but, by then, the city was swamped with visitors and too crowded for comfort so we headed back to Gina’s for pizza and wine.







We capped off our last day there with boogie boarding at Heisler Beach but the strong riptide made us cut our ocean time short. Luckily, we each had a few good rides before we hit the beach again. I walked the beach, chatted with artists, took in the views and felt more alive and happy then I had for many months.

Laguna Beach, once again, was the antidote to COVID.