The Magnificent Royal Poinciana Tree

From May until August, all across South Florida, the electric red and orange, and even yellow, of the majestic Royal Poinciana tree, also called the Flamboyant, or Flame tree, can be seen along streets, in yards, fields, and pastures in this tropical paradise.  This dramatic flowering tree is native to Madagascar, but has found a home all across the world where climate is friendly, and rainfall plentiful. During a recent visit, I captured these images and just had to share.

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poinciana yachts


Vintage Postcards from Miami…

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Visions of Late Spring along the Blue Ridge

As Summer quickly approaches, it seemed appropriate to enjoy the last images of a late Spring.  Nine inches of rain fell over the past four days, causing incredible growth of everything green. After almost three weeks with no rain, it was a welcome arrival.

tiger lilly 1Tiger Lilies along Montford Cove Road…

bear gapToward Bear Gap along the Rutherford-McDowell County line…


dicks mtnDick’s Mountain north of Lake Lure…

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arbor vitaeMy front meadow…

creek logOtter Creek before heavy rains…

yuccaYucca has been blooming in profusion recently…

Cone FlowersCone Flowers…  Always one of my favorites.

blue 1Hickory Nut Mountain

yellow 2Pinnacle Peak and Long Mountain above Hemphill Road…

fallsSmall falls along a branch of Otter Creek…

yellow 1Hickory Nut Mountain above Tight Run Road in southern McDowell County…

pine coneNew growth on a Virginia Pine…

tractorsResting beside a pre-Civil War cabin in Otter Creek Valley…

otter creekOtter Creek Falls…


white pine 2Giant White Pine…

Pink Laurel

fire pinkFire Pink…

three postsSunrise at Otter Pond…



The Beauty of Bellingrath Gardens

In 1903, Walter Bellingrath was one of the first three investors in a new company called Coca Cola. Needless to say, he picked a winner.  He was a workaholic all his life, and by 1917, his doctor advised him to buy an abandoned fishing camp on the Fowl River southeast of Mobile, Alabama, so he could “learn to play”. For the next seventeen years, he and his wife spent what free time they had, creating a Southern masterpiece.  Bessie Bellingrath planted every kind of flower that would grow in the Gulf Coast location. Walter supervised the construction of paths and walls and fountains. Greenhouses were built to grow tropical plants, and a large circular rose garden was planted with rare varieties. Large ponds were excavated, Trees were planted, and a boat pavilion was built along the river.

By this time Coca Cola was big, really big. Mr. Bellingrath diversified, and his wealth increased. It was time to build their brick mansion in the garden,  overlooking the river.Their dream home was completed in 1935.  Mrs. Bellingrath furnished the rooms with antiques from Europe and the Orient. They never had children of their own, but there were many nieces and nephews who spent many happy days with their aunt and uncle.

Sadly, Bessie passed suddenly in 1943, but Walter would live another twelve years, watching his garden mature.  He created a foundation to ensure that the home and gardens would live on as a memorial to his wife. Today it is a place where guests can stroll among the giant trees, marvel at the Roses, and have a home cooked meal in the Garden Cafe. Weddings are regular happenings here, and Christmastime finds excited lighting displays in all parts of the property.

Untitled-1Along the Fowl River…

rose garden

A Greenhouse

rose fountain



magnoliaMagnolia in bloom in front of home…

dining redThe largest room in the house, the Dining Room.

pond lilyPond Lily lamp, my favorite Tiffany creation.

napoleonA small part of an extensive collection of China, Silver, and Crystal.



bellingrath brdroomWalter Bellingrath’s Bedroom and Portrait…

porchDining on the Terrace overlooking the River…

red ropeNeedlepoint portraits of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Pres. George Washington, and Gen. Robert E. Lee on the brick wall of the Dining Terrace. 

river gardenRear Porch and Boat Landing.

belling 1  belling 2Bellingrath39belling 4  belling 3

Colorado Blue Spruce in Spring

After another four inches of rain, the skies finally began to clear after sunrise.

blue patch

The front meadow of Honeysuckle is in bloom, and the two Colorado Blue Spruce have added another foot in height with new growth.

front meadow

I always love to see the bluish green of the new needles.


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The larger of the two trees was planted eight years ago, and only found water three years ago.  The smaller tree was planted three years ago, and found water right away, and is almost as tall as its mate up the hill.

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This photo was made five years ago, and the Spruce was almost lost in  the Honeysuckle.KODAK Digital Still Camera

The Honeysuckle was climbing past the top of the smaller Spruce, and after I removed the vine, blossoms were left in the top of the tree.

spruce 3

Now I wish I would have planted more, but isn’t that always the case years after the fact?


Mobile Museum of Mardi Gras

When you think Mardi Gras, you think New Orleans, right? Well, think again. Mardi Gras in America began in Mobile, Alabama, in 1703, well before that “other” town to their immediate left. Mobile was founded by the French, and they brought the Catholic celebration of Mardi Gras with them. Of course, it was small way back then, but over the 316 years since then, it has grown into an entire industry in this Southern port city. Today, over 30.000 people work in the “Carnival” business, from designing and building ornate floats, to producing numerous Balls and parties, to making thousands of costumes, and working in  the hospitality industry to accommodate the over one million tourists who flock to Mobile for the three weeks before the start of Lent. 

The parties and Balls begin after Christmas, with two sets of kings and queens crowned to preside over the festivities. For years, the White people had their royalty, and the Black people had theirs. Both groups merged their schedules years ago, and the result was even more parties, more scepters and tiaras, and more parades.  For the eighteen days leading up to “Fat Tuesday” (which, by the way, is what Mardi Gras means in English), parades are held, day and night. Parties are happening all over the city.  The week before “Mardi Gras Day” is a state holiday. Alabamians take their Mardi Gras VERY seriously.

So naturally, they needed a first rate museum to showcase all of this history, and to keep the spirit of the celebration going all year long.  It’s called the Mobile Carnival Museum, and it resides inside an expanded Italianate Revival mansion right smack dab in the middle of Mobile’s Historic District. The Bernstein-Bush House was built in 1882, and features the classical high ceilings, chandeliers, and Italianate molded archways and original floors that one would expect from that period. 


You’re greeted by two Jesters on the front porch, holding inflated Pig Bladders, because balloons weren’t invented until much later.

images (2)    masks

Although one large room showcases the artistry of the parade floats…mobile-carnavalmuseum-dragon

…the rest of the museum concentrates on the Balls and Coronation festivities, and the long history of the costumes that are at the heart of the months of merrymaking.

banquetA Royal Banquet…

 Queen’s handmade Robe and Train…

Shell Robe

throneKing and Queen’s incredibly extravagant costumes…

parlourThe historic splendor of the Bernstein-Bush Mansion…

Two robesThese rabbit fur lined Trains can weigh nearly 100 pounds, and cost  $50,000 to construct. Often, they remain in the possession of elite families, and might be used multiple times as many generations are crowned as King and Queen of Mardi Gras.


HallwayChildren are an important component of the parties, and they have their own costumes.

posterA poster competition is held annually, and a new theme is chosen every year. These creative designs are on display throughout the house.  Even the carpeting is specially woven for the museum.

gownAn entire room is devoted to the Queen’s gowns, past and present…

The detailed hand sewing on antique costumes is rermarkable…a costume

California 3You can even become Queen and King of Mardi Gras for the Day, if that’s your thing.

And if souvenirs are your thing, there’s a giant gift shop.. These three colorful masks set me back less than ten bucks…souvenirs

If you can’t get to Mobile for Mardi Gras, you must find the time to visit this gem of a museum. You’ll be really glad you did, and it was all for only  $8.00. Such a deal…


They toss beads, coins,  and special Moon Pies from the floats… You DO know what a Moon Pie is, don’t you????

Historic Cathedral in Mobile, Alabama


Founded by France, and colonized by Spain, Mobile has a long history of Catholicism.  The Mobile Parish was founded in 1703, and is the oldest Parish along the Gulf Coast.The Diocese of Mobile was established in 1829, and to this day serves Catholics from West Florida to Louisiana. In 1835, the cornerstone was laid to build a church worthy of that history.  In 1850, after several delays, the Cathedral-Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was consecrated.  Subsequent generations met the promise of completing the church, sometimes following the original plan, but also in response to circumstances such as the fire of 1954 that could have destroyed the whole structure.


cathedral columns


cathedral nave

The crowning glory of the Cathedral, and the main reason to spend time inside the magnificent structure, is the incredible number of giant stained glass windows along both sides of the nave. They were designed and built by the internationally acclaimed studios of Franz Myer of Munich, Germany, in the 1880’s.

Side aisle

3 windows

2 windows

1 window


window 2After the 1954 fire, Bishop Thomas Joseph Toolen had the damaged stained glass windows sent to the Franz Myer workshops in Munich for repair. Here the craftsmen used the original drawings as a guide in their restoration efforts. He replaced the fire-damaged cathedra and pulpit with new ones made of mahogany. A replacement organ, built by the Wicks Organ Company, was installed and is in use today.

pipe organ

At this time, Toolen added a massive bronze baldachin above the altar, supported by four marble columns. 


cathedral 1

The Sanctuary is made of many varieties of marble, with the high altar featuring a relief marble carving of Leonardo DaVinci’s “Last Supper”.

red chair


A spiral staircase leads to the Crypt below the altar.


Past Bishops of the Diocese are entombed inside the walls of the crypt.

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The original wooden cathedral was built over an old Spanish cemetery, and was eventually replaced with the current building on the same spot.  The Basilica is unusual because the alter, traditionally placed at the eastern end of churches and cathedrals in the direction of the rising Sun, is on the western end of Mobile’s masterpiece. 

Currently, the stained glass windows are being restored, once more, one window at a time, to make them resistant to hurricanes and potential attack by vandals. They survived The Civil War, but Mother Nature sometimes has other ideas.

Facing a full city block park called Cathedral Square, The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, with its gold domed towers and massive columns, has been the pride and joy of Mobilians of every faith for 169 years, and because on the attention to restoration and conservation, will hopefully be serving this historic Southern city for many generations to come.

cathedral square

four windowsMain entrance panels…




An Explosion of Buttercups

The first two weeks of May always finds a carpet of Buttercups in the Black Angus pastures of southern McDowell County. Millions of these shiny blossoms combine to delight the eye, and please the dining habits of these bovine grazers.

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