Sunnylands Garden, Rancho Mirage, California

Sunnylands Garden, Rancho Mirage, California

In December, we visited Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage, a lush 200-acre estate, built by media giant Walter Annenberg.

Walter and Leonore Annenbergs’ dream was that their west coast desert estate would someday be transformed into a retreat center bringing world leaders together to promote world peace. That dream was realized after their deaths when the estate emerged as the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands in 2012. It’s often dubbed “Camp David of the West”.

The public can visit this masterpiece of midcentury modernism and enjoy a wonderful “time out”. Surrounded by acres of desert landscape, the grounds resemble a colorful canvas painted with more than 50,000 plants including blue flame agaves, coral aloes, desert marigolds, California poppies, and mesquite trees. The garden’s texture, color and light combine to create a lush masterpiece. Landscape architect James Burnett drew inspiration for this layout from the Annenbergs’ collection of Cézannes, van Goghs and other impressionist paintings.

I delighted in strolling through the gardens while enjoying landscape and stunning views of the San Jacinto Mountains — just as I imagined crowned heads of state, celebrities and American presidents had when they attended the lavish parties that the Annenbergs gave many, many years ago.

Adjacent to palo verdes trees and golden barrel cactus on the café patio, we relaxed with sandwiches and French Press coffees with our good friends Al and Naomi from Salem, Oregon who introduced us to Sunnylands. Nearby, kids played on the great lawn with toys that Sunnylands provides each Sunday – hula hoops, big squishy building blocks and beribboned wands.

Sunnylands Visitor Center and View of the San Jacinto Mountains.

Sunnylands Visitor Center and View of the San Jacinto Mountains

Although, we didn’t have a reservation to see the Annenberg house, there was plenty to do and see in the gardens and in the comfortable and welcoming visitor center.

Before we left, the four of us walked the labyrinth alongside masses of shrubs and desert trees. The symmetrical spiral path leading to the center and back out again established a calming rhythm that slowed our pace. As we passed by the long infinity pools reflecting the desert terrain around us, we wondered where the last three hours had gone. Time seemed to vanish in this tranquil desert retreat.

Shine a Light

Piedras Blancas Light Station, San Simeon, California

Piedras Blancas Light Station, San Simeon, California

We visited Piedras Blancas lighthouse in San Simeon this spring. Located six miles north of Hearst Castle on Highway 1, Piedras Blancas is more than a light station — it’s a protected ecological and cultural reserve where native plants flourish on the ocean-side bluffs.

Along the rocky coastline in front of the lighthouse, our own aquatic show awaited: gray whales breaching, long-legged oystercatcher birds “wheeping”, boisterous elephant seals lounging on the adjacent beach and sea otters floating on the waves.

Docent Abel Martinez, a former colleague from my public health days, guided us on a tour of the light station and its environs.

The tower’s Fresnel lens produced a flashing light that alerted mariners of dangerous conditions starting in 1875. A fog signal building was added in 1906 with equipment that make sounds loud enough to carry to sea. San Simeon was then a bustling whaling seaport. Ships brought their catch to off load at the San Simeon pier just north of the large, treacherous white rocks — thus named Piedras Blancas.

The Bureau of Land Management has managed the station since 2001 and, with a dedicated volunteer team, is restoring the lighthouse to her former elegance. In 1949, removal of the upper three levels of the earthquake-damaged 100-foot lighthouse reduced the tower to 70 feet. The Fresnel lens is now displayed on Main Street in Cambria.

Did you ever wonder what lighthouse keepers did to keep themselves from going bonkers in such isolated areas? I was delighted to see a traveling library box of reading material that was sent to light stations by tender ship. The Works of Rudyard Kipling, Pictures Every Child Should Know, The Professor at the Breakfast Table and Sailors Knots were among the 33 well-thumbed books in U.S. Light House Establishment library box 141. Notice the last book on the bottom shelf is Wonders of Nature, apropos to this post.

U.S. Light House Establishment Library Box, # 141, Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

U.S. Light House Establishment Library Box # 141, Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

The light from Piedras Blancas is now an automated Vega marine rotating beacon. The Coast Guard has automated all light stations in the U.S., eliminating the need for operating personnel — except for one. Sally Snowman is the resident Coast Guard Keeper of The Boston Light on Little Brewster Island, America’s first lighthouse, built in 1716. Next year marks its 300th anniversary and it’s still a major navigation aid into Boston Harbor.

Piedras Blancas and other majestic ladies dot our coastlines and are being preserved as national treasures of our rich maritime heritage. There are hundreds of lighthouses in the U.S. and 53 of them are in California. I hope you can visit one, but if you can’t, you can always read about a lighthouse keeper’s life. The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman, is set on a remote island in Australia and P.D. James’s The Lighthouse is set off the English Cornish coast. They both shine a light on what can happen even in an orderly, solitary place.

Early Morning Rain

Jim and Molly Walking in the Rain, Glendale, California, 2009

Jim and Molly Walking in the Rain, Glendale, California, 2009

I woke up at 4 a.m. today to a noise – a strange and haunting noise and vaguely familiar. A noise that when my foggy brain finally cleared, I recognized. A noise that made me happy as a child hearing reindeer hoofs clattering on the roof.

I jumped out of bed, flung open the casement windows and breathed in the clean air thanks to rain, glorious rain.

Rain in drought-plagued southern California!  Almost two inches fell in Glendale this morning and it’s big news here. It’s not the end of the drought but an encouraging sign and one we welcome with open umbrellas.

I got out of bed, turned off the sprinklers (it’s Tuesday, one of the only two days we can run sprinklers in Glendale) … and let the rain on the roof lull me back to sleep.

Let’s hope more rain is headed our way this year.  In the meantime, I’m as joyful as Gene Kelly In “Singin’ in the Rain”,  so here goes…

I´m singin´ in the rain, Just singin´ in the rain,

What a glorious feeling,  And I´m happy again.


I´m laughing at clouds, So dark, up above,

The sun’s in my heart,  And I´m ready for love.


Let the stormy clouds chase,  Everyone from the place,

Come on with the rain, I have a smile on my face.

I´ll walk down the lane,  With a happy refrain

Just singin’, singin’ in the rain.


Dancing in the rain.

I’m happy again. I’m singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. Dancin’ and singin’ in the rain.


Timepieces, Glendale, Caiifornia

Timepieces, Glendale, Caiifornia

“The Clock”, a cleverly assembled film by video artist Christian Marclay, is a treat of movie and television scenes. A timepiece, synchronized to the exact time the viewer is watching, anchors each scene and montages of film clips fold into a seamless sequence over the course of this 24-hour film.

I watched part of the film on a recent visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Seated on a white comfy couch in the darkened theater, the insistent clock tick-tocks and dramatic music kept me hooked.

The formula: a clock followed by a reaction shot. Anxiety, fear, boredom, anticipation. The scene I can’t forget is a husband returning home unexpectedly, interrupting his young wife’s bedroom tryst with her lover. The tension mounts as disbelief turns to anger as the lovers try to cover themselves. And then, the husband slowly and methodically removes and doubles up his thick black belt in his hands. Yikes!

I wanted to stay for more of this compelling film but the time (what else?) was about to expire on my parking meter.

“The Clock” got me thinking about the passage of time. My mantra lately is “where does the time go?” It passes in the tiny moments — the necessary daily activities of living, the minutiae, the to-do lists, the celebrations of new life, the sad moments of decline and death, the things that keep our lives, our bodies, and our spirits going. Tick-tock.

Endless Time in the Garden, Laguna Nursery

Endless Time, Laguna Nursery

But there’s never enough time. When I was a teen, I often felt bored, like time was moving much too slow for the dreams I had and I wanted so badly to fast forward time. But now, tempus fugit. Time seems to speed up each year and the seasons repeat themselves in quicker and quicker succession. I want a way to “pause” time.

And then I remember “Wondrous Nature.” Nature — a place where time slows down to a joyous retreat for me.

I walked the beach in Laguna early one morning last week, scrunched the sand between my toes, let the ocean foam splash up on my white capris, breathed in the salty breeze, petted all the sandy dogs that passed my way and time faded away as surely as my footprints in the shifting sand.

Blue-Eyed Crow Baby

Crow Baby, Glendale, California

Crow Baby, Glendale, California

Nine days ago a fledging crow fell into our backyard and seems to have become a permanent boarder here…rent-free.  I called Animal Control. The officer told me fledglings are common this time of year and to leave it alone because crow mom would care for him until he was ready to fly. So we’ve been waiting and waiting…. and waiting.

I’ve read that American Crows are highly intelligent birds and can work out solutions to many problems, as well as count. Well, I’m counting the days until crow baby finds his wings and flies away…far away.

For the first few days, crow baby (who’s actually a huge “baby”) wouldn’t leave a tall stack of flagstone in our side yard. We renamed the flagstone “white rock” for reasons I’m sure you can imagine.

A few days later, white rock was deserted and we celebrated that he had finally flown away. But then he kept popping up somewhere else in our yard when I least expected it, scaring the “be Jesus” out of me. Lounging in the ivy, perching on a rock, lazing on the wheel barrel, crouching in the jade plant, hopping on our deck.

He’s quite mischievous and ventured behind our fountain, startling us since he blended into the foliage so well. I got a good look at him and saw that one of his eyes seemed infected but the other was blue, a hallmark of a young crow.

I called Animal Control about the infected eye and Donald came to investigate. The officer slowly approached him with a large white towel and scooped him up to examine him. He said the young crow was well nourished, had a slight eye infection but was otherwise quite robust and active.

Within 30 seconds, a “murder of crows” — I kid you not, that’s the moniker for a group of crows — were cackling, circling and protecting their little darling. Crows are quite social and have a tight-knit family.

He wakes us at 5:30 a.m. demanding breakfast with loud “caws”. Mom delivers lots of yummies judging from that young crow’s output. The brood chatters throughout the day; communication is definitely one of their strong suits.

The last couple days, he’s been “feeling his oats”, hopping around and spreading his wings. He’s a bit clumsy and has crash-landed into fences, doors and bushes… but slowly he’s getting better.

Although he’s not Fred Astaire, this morning, he did a jaunty hop and flew to a jade plant — 2 feet off the ground. Then he flew all the way to a chair top — 4 feet. Then he bumped into a wood fence. Later, we found him resting on our chaise lounge cover, looking a bit too comfortable for us. Talk about “failure to launch”.

He’s made a few bad landings, but practice makes perfect. In just the last few hours this afternoon, he’s been strutting his stuff. At 4 p.m., baby crow had lift off! He flew to the top of our wood fence and then up into the oak tree behind our house.

So right here on Bagdad Place, we’ve had our own first-hand “wondrous nature”.

Baby crow earned his wings today and joined his feathered family up in our sycamore trees. But we can only hope he soon finds someone else’s sycamores that he likes as much as ours.