All posts by Susan James Carr

Umbrellas Light up Laguna Beach

Seashell Umbrellas, Laguna Beach, California. Photo by Craig Drown

Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time and an otherwise ordinary evening becomes uplifting.

In Laguna Beach last November, I saw a swarm of people, dressed in black, crossing Coast Highway headed towards the lifeguard tower. Maybe a protest was beginning I thought as I hurried to my timeshare to drop groceries off. Curious to see what was going on, I returned and was immersed in a crowd of hundreds of people amassed on the cliffs and walkways encircling Main Beach.

Many people traveled here after reading an article in the LA Times heralding the “Shoreline Project,” a beach art installation. It featured 1,000 volunteer performers wearing black clothing and toting black and white umbrellas embedded with LED lights.

Shoreline Project in Laguna Beach, California. Photo by Craig Drown

As the sun began it’s slow orange-hued descent, the performers formed undulating lines on the beach, spreading along the broad cove. When they unfurled their umbrellas, images of seashells with their exquisite geometric patterns exploded onto 1,000 canopies. The luminous umbrellas seemed to twirl and dance in the sand to the rhythm of the music throughout the evening.

Commissioned by the Laguna Art Museum, California artist Elizabeth Turk produced this beach experience using her seashell mandala artwork, created through X-ray photography. It was the highlight of the Art & Nature Festival, showing the relationship between art and the natural world.

The artistry of the umbrellas skimming along the shoreline with the pounding surf in the background slowed me down for a few hours so I could enjoy this festivity. I met a lovely couple, Carol and Craig, who had driven from Diamond Bar to see the show. We talked and watched the pop-up umbrella display on the beach together. Craig was kind enough to share the photos he captured with his Nikon D3300 camera and Carol and I stay in touch.

Carol Ruch (left) and Susan Carr, Laguna Beach, California. Photo by Craig Drown

Take two minutes to enjoy the beauty of the Laguna Shoreline Project at:  

I promise, you will be smiling as you watch the magic unfold.



In Memory of Jim

JIm’s Photo on Ofrenda, Día de los Muertos, San José del Cabo. Photo by Christy Carr.

Dear Wondrous Nature readers: I haven’t posted photographs and essays for some time but I will start again in 2019. Best wishes for a peaceful 2019.

My beloved Jim passed away June 8, 2018. His death was sudden, painless and a shock to me even though he’d been in a slow decline from Alzheimer’s for the past 6 years.

Dealing with grief when a loved one dies is not for the faint of heart. It’s difficult when your husband, best friend, confidante, partner in life is gone. Nothing prepares you for the depth of your loss.

A hundred things a day remind me of him. The impeccable deck he built under the oak tree, his tennis racquets, artwork, golf clubs, blue dodgers cap, favorite coffee mugs. But being unable to share nature’s beauty with him is one of the hardest. A red sunset over the ocean in Laguna Beach, the brilliant orange leaves of liquid amber trees in our neighborhood, seeing a blue heron in flight, the soft fur of a golden retriever, walking hand in hand among the camellias and oaks at Descanso Gardens, a loving hug, a hearty laugh.

But my strong memories, journals and photographs instantly transport me to an earlier time and make me grateful for the incredible blessing of being with my soul mate for 33 years. Jim’s easy smile and beautiful blue eyes enchanted me when we first met and continued to throughout our life together.

Christy, my stepdaughter, visited San José del Cabo this fall during Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). This festivity combines brilliant colors and life-affirming joy that show love and respect for deceased loved ones.

Christy placed Jim’s photograph on an ofrenda (altar) flanked by photos of artist Frida Kahlo, musician Antonio Aguilar and comedian/bullfighter Cantiniflas. The ofrenda welcomes spirits back to the realm of the living. Marigolds, candles, food and colorful calaveras (skulls) decorate the altar. Papel picado (pierced papers) gracefully flutter around the altar, representing the wind and fragility of life.

The holiday originated in Mexico several thousand years ago and is celebrated throughout Latin America on November 1 and 2 (All Saints’ and All Souls’ Days on the Catholic calendar).

Jim loved our vacations in Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and Puerto Vallarta and this year he returned there in spirit with his daughter. What a joyous way to honor her dad by celebrating his life and reuniting with him in memory and spirit.

Día de los Muertos, San José del Cabo, 2018. Photo by Christy Carr.


The Great American Eclipse and Circles in the Sand

Watching Eclipse, Descanso Gardens, La Canada, California, 8.21.17

When Jim and I watched the eclipse August 21 from Hope Rock high above Descanso Gardens with our friend Brian, friends of ours were in Oregon watching the same grand show. The first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the U.S. in nearly a century had created anticipation and enthusiasm throughout our country.

Regardless of where we viewed the eclipse, we experienced delight and awe as the sun disappeared bite by bite as if the moon was devouring a delicious chocolate chip cookie when it glided between the earth and sun.

We lent our ISO-CE eclipse sunglasses to others in the Gardens who didn’t have them so they could enjoy the view too. What was extra special about the Great American Eclipse was not just the marvel happening above us but the joy of witnessing it with others.

Adventurous Chris drove to Oregon and hiked above the Snake River in Hells Canyon. Along with a French astronomer and other interested campers, he enjoyed the moon shadow cast across the Snake River. This QuickTime video was shot looking southeast on the Oregon side of the river. Idaho is in the background. He captured the shadow with his Canon Power Shot SD8SOIS. You can hear the excitement, the wind and the exhilaration. Their viewing highlights included seeing solar flares, Venus, Mars and experiencing a 20- degree drop in the temperature. 

Our friends, Janice and Dick, viewed the eclipse in Lebanon, Oregon at Cheadle Lake Park. Driving two hours in the dark from Rosenberg, Oregon, they were first in line to enter the park. Four hours later they were thrilled to watch the moon “eat” the sun until it was dark again for two magical minutes.

Circles in the Sand, Bandon, Oregon. Photo by Janice Gilden

On the drive home, they stopped in Bandon, Oregon and were surprised to find sand circles on a beach. Artist Denny Dyke creates the “circles in the sand” and designs a new maze each day for 5 days during each week of summer. Janice took the photos with her iPhone 5C.

Volunteers help curve the labyrinth and people walk the twists and turns of the sandy path, perhaps reflecting on where they are truly going. About two hours after the sand circle is completed, it’s washed to sea as the tide returns. And a new one is created the next day.

The eclipse offered so many things: celestial spectacle, beauty, wonder, and a sense of universal order as the earth, moon and sun align…and, for some, welcoming sand beneath their feet on a beautiful beach in Oregon.






We’ve Got Goslings

A Perfect Formation, Descanso Gardens, La Canada, California, 2017. Photo by Peggy Starr.

Gosling — we’re not talking Ryan Gosling here but his avian relative — the Canadian goose and a gaggle of young ones…the goslings.

Every spring at Descanso Gardens, a lovely pair of Canadian geese gets in the mood and I get to see their brood! Since Canadian geese mate for life, I’ve followed a few generations of their offspring over the years. Thanks to the Canadian geese, I get to see goslings grow up right before my

This year, the black-necked, white chin-strapped geese had 4 lovelies. The newly hatched geese look like ducklings with their yellow downy feathers. Quickly, they morph into fuzzy gray fluff balls. And now, just a few weeks later, they’ve grown their flight feathers and are a smaller version of their watchful parents.

I often see them lazing around the Mulberry pond, walking around the lake, or swimming in a perfect line down an oak-lined stream. The parents are ever attentive and protective –mom in front and the gander in the rear of the brood.

It Was a Long Day!

Sometimes they stroll along the promenade or in the open area under the oak grove. In the late afternoon, they’re often flaked out on the lake bank after a long, long day.

Canadian geese can travel more than 1,000 kilometers in a day while migrating. They can literally fly around the world in 40 days if they wanted to! But Descanso’s Canadian geese know they have a good thing going. Why would they migrate when they have their own “La La Land” at Descanso Gardens?


MIgrating Gray Whales

Two Gray Whales (one showing its flukes). Point Vicente, California.


I’ve been fascinated by gray whales and their amazing annual migration for a long time. This time of year, the grays have left the warm Baja lagoons, many with their newborn calves beside them, swimming to their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic sea 5,000 to 7,000 miles away. This is one of the longest mammal migrations on earth.

Years ago, I discovered the best local cliff-top whale watching spot — Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes. For decades, it’s been the primary station of the American Cetacean Society’s (ACS) Gray Whale census.

From December through May, teams of expert volunteer spotters watch the waters from sunrise to sunset from an elevated patio. Fully equipped with binoculars and spotting scopes, no blow, fluke or signs of a whale escape them. A few weeks ago, we hung out with the spotters, listening to their calls and the post number location of where a whale was sighted. We saw at least 15 whales.

Some of the whales are far out in the ocean. Terri, one of the spotters, pointed out a fin whale’s distinctive spout pattern against the horizon even though the whale was almost 2 miles from shore. Many of the grays were close enough to shore to see with binoculars or the naked eye.

Jim and I walked along the oceanside path and at 3:33 pm – a time I always consider lucky, we stopped and sure enough a pair of gray whales were so close I could easily see them. Then one of the whales dove under showing me her beautiful ebony flukes. Double whammy!!


The best viewing time is December through April during their winter and spring migrations. You can follow the grays daily migration and trends at: The whales swim 90-100 miles a day, travelling in small pods.

 Adjacent to the viewing spot is a natural history museum with exhibits on the rich natural and cultural history of the Palos Verdes peninsula. The address is 31501 Palos Verdes Drive West.

Bring a picnic, a pair of binoculars and have a whale of a day!