Summer 2020

Welcome to the New World.  Words can hardly capture or express the seismic changes in our world since the Spring Equinox.  A globally shared quarantine as the Covid-19 virus wrecked havoc in the artificial normalcy of civilization.  The natural world thrived with less activity as witnessed by variously hiliarious entradas of local animals into vacant city streets and sea life reappearing in Venice canals, and the massive Himalayas seen for the first time in thirty years from afar as the haze of pollution lifted while humanity self-isolated.

Then, the 8 minute 46 seconds of horror witnessed again, globally, as George Floyd was murdered publicly at the hands of police officers.  Casually murdered.  As the knee was pressing Mr. Floyd to the point of suffocating, as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe,” the image of the officer with his hand tucked in his pocket as if waiting for a bus, set fire to a pent up rage of inequality. 

It brings to mind the word, “entrainment.”  It’s a phenomenon of synchronicity discovered in 1666 by Christiaan Huyguns, a Dutch physicist who placed grandfather clocks in a room, their pendulums swinging at their own different paces.  When he returned later, they were all in sync.  Women have experienced this physical energy in offices and close groups as our menstrual periods became unified.  Heartbeats respond to each other, auditory and neurological responses have all been studied as science tries to explain the power of entrainment. 

The subsequent protests, largely and beautifully peaceful seem to be a moment of entrainment when injustice overrides the circuits of denial, and accountability becomes the overriding motivator for the masses of people who are recognizing that systems have become corroded and corrupt.  My hope is that this entrainment of movement for change continues.  I believe it will.  We are witnesses.

What would Dag Hammarskjöld say about these world events?  I’m currently reading Markings by the UN Secretary-General who died in a plane crash while on his way to broker peace in the Congo.  Published after his death, Markings reflects the musings of a man devoted to uplifting humanity while examining his own deep inner soul. 

Sometimes the writing is enigmatic.  

“Mixed motives.  In any crucial decision, every side of our character plays an important part, the base as well as the noble.  Which side cheats the other when they stand united behind us in an action?  When, later, Mephisto appears and smilingly declares himself the winner, he can still be defeated by the manner in which we accept the consequences of our actions.”

Sometimes it is timely.

“The madman shouted in the marketplace.  No one stopped to answer him.  Thus it was confirmed that his thesis was incontrovertible.”

Always thoughtful.

“Conscious of the reality of evil and the tragedy of the individual life, and conscious, too, of the demand that life be conducted with decency.”

More entries for this season:  Gardens:  An Essay on the Human Condition and Swimming Abiquiu.

Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden

Aside from Parc Monceau in Paris, and Sissinghurst, and Gravetye, and Wave Hill – oh so many favorites, but Chanticleer is at the top of my list. Located in Wayne, Pennsylvania near Philadelphia. The Adolph Rosengarten family made their fortune with the pharmecutical company, Merck. The 35 public acres opened in 1993. The Rosengarten’s named their home Chanticleer after William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel, The Newcomes. If you have a chance to visit, by all means spend the day. Imaginative, dynamic and bold – this garden is not to be missed.

A little summer sunshine in a bottle

For the mid-winter blahs, a dash of facial almond oil that’s been infused with calendula petals and rosemary. will soothe dry skin and lift your sprits. To make, I sit the jar in sunlight for several months and then use the concoction until the next season when a fresh batch is made. This can also be made with rose petals and lots of other flower essences as long as you know the source is organic. I grow my own so no worries there

Lotusland-A Diva’s Dream

thumb_IMG_7993_1024 Once, while watching a yoga CD, the instruction got lost by my attention being drawn to a giant yucca in the background.  A garage sized yucca.  Almost blue in color.  Where was this?  It turned out to be the blue garden at Lotusland, a 37 acre paradise in Santa Barbara, California (Montecito to be exact) and the dream of Ganna Walska, who spent forty years creating it until her death in 1984.  It was a place I had to see.thumb_IMG_7809_1024

Gardens, those that we create by hand, by our own sweat, inspiration and time, are expressions of love.   Both love of the plants themselves, but also the personalities that combined, form a story, whether it’s seasonal (the two week wonders) or structural (like a japanese garden’s Niwaki pruning) or the mass meadows of Piet Oudolf’s “New Perennial” movement.

thumb_IMG_7917_1024Ganna Walska’s world, originally of unfulfilled operatic ambition,  though ardently pursued for decades, truly blossomed when she purchased the estate in 1941, encouraged by her sixth and final husband who envisioned a Tibetan monk retreat center.  Never mind that he was a rogue and used the wealthy Walska’s money to line his own pockets, when they divorced (after suing and counter-suing each other) she threw herself into a relationship with the land.

Bamboo walk through the Japanese garden
Bamboo walk through the Japanese garden

Lotus (Nulumbo nucifera) and agapanthus

Her previous marriages, starting with a Russian count before the Revolution, (she was born in 1887) fortuitously enhanced her financial well-being.  As a result, she used her resources (finally selling her exquisite jewelry – at one point she had carte blanche at Paris’ Cartier atelier) to purchase large quantities,  fully grown specimens, and expensive varieties for instant effect.  Her cycad collection is world class and micro-chipped to prevent theft.  With the guidance (although she was very difficult to guide) of excellent plantsmen, she created a collection of stunning “rooms,” distinct and dramatic.

There are over 130 varieties of aloe
There are over 130 varieties of aloe

Of the 3000 varieties of plants collected worldwide, they are not labeled, as “Madame” (as she is still referred to), wanted a pleasure garden, considering plant labels as distracting from the distinctly theatrical sets she created.

Deemed “enemy of the average” by the New York Times, over the top rather than average is very much at play in the use of giant clams for tiered fountains, abalone shells lining a pond, “grotesque” statues in her outdoor stage and the impact of mass plantings.  When one arrives at the rose garden, it seems rather staid and straight-laced compared with the exuberance of everything else.

A nod to formality in the rose garden
A nod to formality in the rose garden

Brian Adams has written a fine, well researched biography, Ganna, Diva of Lotusland, that provides insight into an ambitious Polish girl determined to live a life dedicated to art.

A lemon tree allee
A lemon tree allee

While she never became the international operatic superstar to which she aspired, after her first fifty years  spent in high society, the last decades established her legacy and legend through nature’s inspiration.

My take away:  Whatever the scale or purse strings, create the garden of your dreams.  Think long term.  Enjoy the art of it.

An abalone shell lined pool

Visiting Lotusland is by reservation only.

A "grotesque" guarding the al fresco theater
A “grotesque” guarding the al fresco theater

Joan back on Broadway

Although it’s now closed, Condola Rashad performed a splendid Joan with restraint and humility but also with her characteristic courage and wit.  G.B. Shaw’s Nobel Prize  winning St. Joan directed by Daniel Sullivan opened in the spring (I saw the last preview) and closed June 10.  

David Byrne’s New Joan of Arc Musical – “In the Fire”

A new rock musical will premiere at the New York City’s Public Theatre on 14 February 2017.  “In the Fire” is set twenty years after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake as a heretic.  Her mother is determined to clear her name.   My novel “Playing with Fire” is still looking for a publisher.  Hope springs eternal.

I can’t wait to see this show.

Here are a few links:

David Byrne previews Joan of Arc musical with new song “Send Her to Heaven” — listen

Scotland forever

Portknockie harbor

Pops’ home on Clunie Street, Banff Scotland

69 Seatown in Portknockie, my great great grandfather’s home

My grandfather often spoke about jumping off the wharf into the harbor from the lighthouse. The kids still do it, I was told, but they now wear wet suits.


In Banff, “yes” is prevalent…

Pops, my maternal grandfather emigrated from Banff, Scotland shortly after WWI to America with his family. He had lost two brothers in France during the war, and he, himself, had volunteered at fourteen years old. After a stay in Canada and then Detroit, he ended up in Cleveland, Ohio. His brothers and sisters stayed in Detroit and his mother in Canada. I often heard him tell stories of his North Sea town where all his people were fishermen. This summer I visited Banff and found his home, and that of my great great grandfather, in nearby Portknockie. So today, as the polls are closing in Scotland on the historic vote for their independence, I salute my ancestors, the Cormacks, who fought in the wars and fished the seas, who left their homeland to find a better life in America. IMG_0238

Which came first, the chicken or the pet?




Eldorado is a small community about 7 miles outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It is a covenant based residential area and for the last two years the question of whether chickens are pets (not designated in the covenants) has caused feathers to fly.  Yesterday, a judge ruled that in Eldorado, at least, chickens do not qualify as pets.  The community has spent over $55,000 on the lawsuit (brought on by pro-chicken advocates) and now may face an appeal.  The chicken owners have spent $22,000 on their case.  It’s sad really that it couldn’t have been mediated more sensibly.   If we can’t resolve neighborly issues like these, how do we hope to truly attain world peace?  DSCN6543


Play Ball

Goodyear stadium/AZ/pnj

Indians manager Terry Francona signs some love/pnj

million dollar stretches/pnj

Spring’s pilgrimage to Cactus League baseball denies all the injustices of boys playing a field game for millions of dollars while charging adoring fans $9 for a cup of beer.  Despite the inequity,  we continue to trek to sun spotted parks with pristine outfields, manicured tracks and a slow game of strategy and skill, athleticism and even danger.  We witnessed All-Star Cinci Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman getting hit by a line drive after throwing a 99 mph speedball against the Kansas City Royals catcher, Salvador Perez .  Chapman will be out for two months.  The game was called.  Royals won.   We saw the Indians win a slug fest against the SF Giants and then the Royals lose to the Angels.  Check out your local AAA ball and the college circuit.  The stadiums are small, the game is good and the beer is cheaper.

Dominica-The Nature Island

Dominica calls itself the Nature Island.  And so it should.  There are miles of hiking trails, national parks to preserve the luscious waterfalls and rivers, the pristine rain forests and rushing rivers.

Because of the elevations, rain comes and goes with frequency.  Dominica is unique among the islands.  It has recognized its natural heritage and now celebrates it.  If you go there, I recommend taking the local transport which originates at various places. You’ll have to find it via the locals.  It’s reliable, economical and somewhat energizing as the road are hair-raising up and down hair pin turns on cliffs to the sea.  I’ll admit, Dominica is not a typical beach island, but it is well worth the visit.

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Seasonally Appropriate