Descanso Gardens – a Refuge from Coronavirus

Descanso Gardens, La Canada, California, 2020

Descanso Gardens reopened May 16, 2020 after being closed since March for coronavirus concerns. It felt like returning home again to a garden retreat that I’ve enjoyed for over 30 years. I’m lucky to live close to this beautiful garden and can stroll often among the camellias and towering ancient heritage oak trees.

I wanted to hear “The Sky Beneath Our Feet,” a symphony for trees inspired by Descanso’s coastal oaks. I wandered through the Camellia Forest as the choral and instrumental pieces filtered all around me through a patchwork of 72 audio speakers.

I was immersed in music as I slowly walked along the path, the crunching of fallen oak leaves under my feet, the beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds above. To me, the music had a heavenly quality. Soothing, comforting, welcoming. What a relief to be in nature again and to be surrounded by beautiful music.

Pete Wyer, a British composer, wrote the music, inspired by the coastal oaks that grace Descanso Gardens. Wyer has created scores for the London Symphony Orchestra, Juilliard, BBC Television and the Royal Opera House. The garden was not crowded on the Tuesday that I visited and all visitors wore masks. Clearly delineated walking paths guided you into the gardens and a new exit leads you out of the garden far away from the entrance.

The music begins at 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm and 5 pm and plays for one hour. It will play throughout the summer until the end of August. Information: (818) 949-4200 or


A Poem In the Midst of Coronavirus

Last week, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, surrounded by uncertainty, hundreds of questions and countless fears, a friend e-mailed me a beautiful poem that soothed me.

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed”.

Kitty O’Meara, a wise woman and a retired teacher and chaplain from Madison, Wisconsin, wrote this poem.

The poem helped me consider that nature is taking my hand and walking me through this craziness. Spring, seemingly unaware of our troubled times, pushes up colorful tulips, sprinkles cherry blossoms along the sidewalk, paints incredible sunsets and graces us with sweet showers. Spring follows its seasonal rhythm and clothes our cloistered world in beauty.

May you all stay safe as we journey through the next few weeks.




Nature-inspired Woodworker – Sam Maloof

Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, Alta Loma, California

Last year, I toured the house and workshops of celebrated woodworker Sam Maloof with my friends Jackie and Gilbert. A leader in the California modern arts movement, Maloof crafted furniture for over 50 years until his death in 2009 at the age of 93.

Nestled in a citrus grove in Alta Loma, California near the San Gabriel Mountains, the blue-roofed house features handcrafted fences, gates, door latches and a sumptuous spiral staircase. A favorite avocado tree’s fallen limb serves as a central beam in the upstairs “treehouse room” in the 22-room house.

Inside the house is a treasure chest of Maloof-crafted furniture. Most of his furniture is crafted from walnut, his favorite wood to work with. Every room pops with items from Sam’s and wife Alfreda’s worldwide travels that reflect the spirit of arts and crafts.

Maloof Chair, 2019

Maloof’s chairs have a curving grace and high shine and the natural wood grain is showcased – perfection in a thoughtfully worked piece of wood.

The California and Mediterranean native gardens imbue the property with a reflective space with benches, sculptures, and picnic areas for visitors.

Maloof’s work is displayed in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, Boston Museum of Art and New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan owned Maloof rockers.

Maloof Workshop, 2019.

​The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts is part of a coalition of 30 museums that were homes and working studios of American artists. The Maloof house and workshops were moved to this five-acre site in 1994 to make room for the 210 freeway extension.

Our visit to the historic Maloof house was a wonderful afternoon immersed in enjoying the work of an exceptional woodworker.

Maloof Residence Gate, 2019

Docent lead public tour information available at:


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.