Tree stuff

This is what our back patio looked like three snowstorms ago.:


That orange streak is Taffy, heading into the cat door on the side of our house, off the mud room.

Since then the snow has gotten deeper and icier and depressinger and I didn’t feel like taking pictures of it.  It’s really ugly out there.  50% of the human residents in my house have no desire to venture out of doors EVER. The other 50% is Top Cat, who had to clear a mountain of icy snow from the driveway with an axe.

The only tracks you’ll see in my backyard are made by little birdie feet.


We got a fresh dusting of snow last night, over the solid ice pack. I don’t know what kind of bird feeds at night.

We are dumping great quantities of bird seed out there to help the cardinals and chickadees etc make it through this horrible Winter.


In spite of all this misery I knew that  I would make it to Groundhog Day with my sanity in tact because, come Groundhog Day, I was going to be in KEY WEST.






Mardi Gras beads on the mailboxes. Something tells me that these people would be my dream neighbors.

Ah, Key West. What do I like the most about Key West?

It might be the organic cocktail glasses:


Typical cocktail-coconut grove.


My hair always has a good time in Florida. We have an understanding about being on vacation in heat and humidity: my hair lives it up, and I pretend that I don’t care that I look as if I come from the Land of No Combs.

Maybe it’s the local “color”:



Hey, look! I said to Top Cat, Majorelle Bleu! (At the time I thought it was exactly the color of the house in the Jardin Majorelle that I went to see in Marrakech.)


 I think I’ll take A picture! I said to Top Cat.


 The cat had other ideas:








Yeah, the cats of Key West are in a class all their own.

But mostly, I like Key West because of the Australian Pines on the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor.


You see, I had business to do in Key West; I had to get in touch with the wonderful people who won the right to preserve this delightful grove of shade trees, against some civic and governmental hysteria over invasive species.


Long story short, I am in love with this grove of trees and I’m writing about it in my Damn Garden Book. The Save Our Pines people and I had a lovely conversation about the issue and I now feel well-informed enough about the whole controversy and history of this beach to do it justice in the DGB.

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And, having refreshed my memory about the delicate and wonderful presence of these pines, I had to go home and re-do an almost 2-year old illustration I had made when I first wrote about this place:


Old pic, circa 2012-3


New pic, circa yesterday. The lettering says: A landscape hospitable in the extreme is one definition of a garden. (Michael Pollan)im. See? See what practice /practice / practice does?? Practice makes tree bark look like bark.

P.S. This is another illustration of Australian Pines that I did about a year ago…but this grove is not in Florida:


It’s not even in this century.

But this is all that I am contractually permitted to discuss about the DGB.

I also decided that I had to do something about this:


This is another Key West illustration that I did a while back. The shadows from the railing are a problem. Those shadows look as if they came from a different picture. Or a different time of day. They certainly don’t belong here. Also, I painted this a little too honestly — from a photo of a porch of the guest house Top Cat and I rented the last time we were in Key West that included an orange cat that was ignoring me while I took the snapshot. I think it would be a better illustration if the cat weren’t cleaning itself because I’m not sure that, as is, that blob of orange makes sense. And yeah, the cat’s shadow is all wrong too.

I must make corrections. So far, the picture looks like this:


I mixed those grey colors from scratch: a little brown, a little blue, a smidge of white. The challenge will be to get that recipe right again when I collage the right railing (and cat) back into this illustration.

And on this pic…


…I have to do something about that nasty-looking tree in the right foreground.

This is why it’s been taking me years to get this Damn Garden Book done.

But not today! It’s Friday! Time to make a Mai Tai and take a mental vacation back to Key West!

P.S. This is my backyard:


It’s going to take a lot of Mai Tais.

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Let’s all forget that we were supposed to be on line at Walmart at 3AM today, or climbing over one another for those $3.00 toasters at Target, or grabbing us some $39.00 ugly cashmere sweaters at Kohl’s. Let’s remember that it’s still Fall, the most ephemeral season of the year. Let’s take the time for one last look.

One last walk in the woods — these are from the North Shore of Long Island, in a preserve known as Wellwyn.

These are from a swamp here on the North Shore. Yes, a real swamp: Shu Swamp.

And these are from the woods in back of my house. I’ve had a bit of a writer’s block this past week. It comes in the form of pure boredom with everything that crosses my mind, a listless disgust with the notion that I have anything worthwhile to tell, and a raving impatience with the act of setting words down on a page one freaking letter at at time. There are days when this writing job of mine feels a lot like trying to engrave the Lords Prayer in pig Latin on the head of a pin using a hammer and a chisel, if I have the reference to pin heads and writing upon them right, and how unamusing it is.

But I can always go to my comfort zone, take a walk, paint some leaves, feel that still have the manual dexterity if not the intelligence skill, art, or desire to do some semi-delicate work, and not feel like poking my eyes out after all.

PLUS here’s a bonus that you will see only here:

These are real leaves…but YOU’LL NEVER GUESS what kind of leaves they are!

Go on. Guess.

You’ll never guess.

But guess a tree that you’ve probably never seen.

One of the rarest trees in the world.

That grows about five miles from me, on the old estate of E. F. Hutton, the millionaire stock broker who built himself a nice mansion on the North Shore of Long Island in 1922.

OK, you’ll never guess so I’ll tell you.

They are from an American Elm tree.

This elm tree was planted in 1922 when it was 20 inches in diameter, indicating that it was already 20 years old when the famous and first female landscape architect Marian Coffin planted it for Mr. Hutton and his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post. It escaped the fate of the 60 million American Elm trees that were killed 1924 – 1965 from Dutch elm disease that nearly wiped out elm trees worldwide (read about it here:

And when the Hutton/Post estate was turned into a campus of Long Island University in 1954, this tree managed to survive vast new landscaping, and improvements and additions to the existing structures. In 2003, this elm tree was registered with the National Register of Historic Elms.

I went to visit this elm tree in early September and it looked like this:

This elm (let’s call her Marjorie) shades the parking lot of the Administration Building at C. W. Post College. I am standing on the blacktop to take this photo, facing the dorms which you can barely see in the background. And, if you look really hard, you can see, leading up to the first branch, the electric cord that attaches to a light fixture that has been hammered into the tree.

Yes. They turned this magnificent American Elm tree into a lamp for a parking lot.

Everytime I go see this tree, I hug it and I apologize.

What do you say to a tree when you hug it?

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