All posts by Susan James Carr



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.








Gorilla Trekking

Silverback Mountain Gorilla and Baby, Virunga Mountains, Rwanda, 2016

My good friend Trina Pate is an extraordinary photographer. She and her husband Bud have photographed animals all over the world.

One of her dream trips was to visit the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains where she was able to photograph them at a very close range.

Trina shared her story with me. Visiting Mountain Gorillas is carefully regulated. At the time we visited Rwanda, there were 10 groups of gorillas that were habituated to humans. You are assigned a group to visit. Visits last exactly one hour from the time you first encounter your assigned group. Trackers and porters, as well as a guide, accompany tour groups of no more than 8 people.

Our assigned gorilla group was the Kwitonda Group. It took us over 2 hours trekking uphill to find them. There are no “trails” — you’re trekking through steep forest with often difficult footing. Once you see the gorillas, all fatigue is suddenly forgotten, replaced by pure joy and wonder.

Each gorilla group receives only one group of humans daily. The groups also receive veterinary care from a wonderful organization called “Gorilla Doctors”. Normally, wild animals don’t receive veterinary care but these gorillas receive care because they are so endangered.

My photo shows the dominant Silverback of the Kwitonda Group. He and several females were napping, as the younger gorillas played in the trees. The tiniest gorilla was swinging on a branch that suddenly broke, and the baby fell into the sleeping adults. He landed with a thud on top of the Silverback. The looks on the Silverback’s face and the baby’s face say it all! The Silverback looked like he was thinking “This kid is driving me crazy!” The baby appears to be thinking “Oops!”

Throughout the years, Trina has given me several of her photographs and they are displayed in my house. I vicariously get to share in her travels. And now, I’m sharing a few favorites with you.

All photos were shot with a Nikon D750 with a Nikor 80-400mm Zoom lens. Trina and Bud have increased their photography acumen with the help of National Geographic photographers on many of their Lindblad/NatGeo trips.

Thank you Trina for this close up glimpse into the Mountain Gorillas. They are our closest cousins, displaying so many human-like emotions and behaviors.





My Poetry Box

My Poetry Box, Glendale, California, 2020

Last month, we rooted my poetry box firmly in the ground flanked by tall rosemary and Indian hawthorn bushes in my front yard. The box itself is made of oak and it sits on a Coast Live Oak limb donated from Descanso Gardens. Chris Ecker used his carpentry skills to craft the poetry box and mount it onto the limb.

I first became acquainted with poetry boxes when my stepdaughter, Christy Carr, sent me a photo of one she saw on her morning walks in San Diego. She always stopped to read the poems and sent me photos of a few she thought I would like. I loved the idea and thought how nice it would bring one to my Montecito Park neighborhood. And so, it finally all came together.

I’m hoping my neighbors and friends will stop by when walking their dogs or enjoying a nightly COVID stroll in the neighborhood and read the poems I post.

The first poem I displayed was Robert Frost’s “The Road not Taken.” Originally published in 1916, in the collection, Mountain Interval, it is one of the most read and remembered poems written by an American poet. There are tomes written about the interpretation and meaning of this poem but I think each reader will take from it what they need.

Poetry uses words, images, metaphors, symbols, sounds, formats and rhythms that communicate feelings or thoughts in a beautiful, and often, unique way. I think we need the beauty of poetry more than ever as we experience isolation and separateness from our lives as we once knew them.

If you have a favorite poem, let me know and I’ll post it. I plan to change the poem every week or so.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as far that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


Until next time, stay well and safe.