Japanese Friendship Garden: Oasis of serenity

Located in the heart of San Diego’s Balboa Park, the Japanese Friendship Garden is an oasis of serenity amidst a bustling city and its freeways.  Per the “Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego Visitor Guide,” this garden is named “San-Kei-En,” meaning “Three Scene Garden: Water, Pastoral and Mountain,” after the Sankei-en Garden in Yokohama, Japan, San Diego’s sister city.  (Take a serene stroll through the Sankeien Garden in Yokohama.*)

DSC_0071 Japanese Friendship Garden gate

Upon entering, we experience the sight and sound of the shishi-odoshi,* meaning “scare the deer,” originally a device used by farmers to scare away animals eating their crops.  Listen to the Friendship Garden’s Audio Strolling Tour of the Upper Canyon  (Open on a new tab/window).

DSC_0001 Shishi-odoshi

Also seen above are Japanese garden elements of rocks (symbolizing mountains), bamboo fence, pathway, and horsetail rush, Equisetum hyemale.  A short way down the path, we observed fig beetles having a festive time on an Indian hawthorn, Rhaphiolepis indica.

DSC_0002 Fig beetles on Indian hawthorn

Another element of the Japanese garden is the ishidoro,* stone lantern, also known as oribe-doro and tōtō.

DSC_0003 Stone lantern

Below, are images of the water basin, tsukubai,* originally used to cleanse the hands before entering a place of ritual, such as a temple or tea house.  “This process is thought to cleanse the spirit,” says our Visitor Guide brochure.  The Japanese tea house* represents the values of lasting friendships and an enduring connection with nature.



We entered the Exhibit House and viewed a Japanese rock garden,* karesansui, through the windows.  Gravel symbolizes water and the rocks symbolize mountains and islands.


Outside, in the upper garden, koi, symbol of longevity, swam and helped us relax.*


We paused at the Charles C. Dail Memorial Gate before proceeding to the lower garden.  Per Wikipedia, San Diego Mayor Charles Dail was instrumental in establishing a sister-city relationship between San Diego and Yokohama, Japan (1957).


Passing through the gate, we descended down curved pathways (to “discourage evil spirits from entering the Garden,” per our guide) and passed Azalea and Camellia gardens* on the way to the Dragon Bridge, considered a symbol of power, strength, and good luck.  Listen to the Friendship Garden’s Audio Strolling Tour of the Lower Canyon  (Open on a new tab/window).


Crepe myrtle, Lagerstroemia, was blooming.


The Chinese Flame Tree, Koelreuteria bipinnata, displayed its red fruit, rose-pink, papery seed capsules, seen below.


The lower garden has several ponds, shishi-odoshi and bridges.



Bridges may provide an opportunity to experience anticipation of crossing to a new place* or an opportunity to pause and contemplate* or meditate on being in the moment.*


We eventually crossed over and visited the Inamori Pavilion, where special exhibits are displayed throughout the year, and is available for lectures and weddings.


Alaskan Yellow Cedar* was used for the posts and beams and is traditionally used in Japanese buildings because it is strong and can withstand the elements.


We continued on the winding garden paths while enjoying the play of shadows…


and paused at the Light of Friendship.  This bronze lantern, a gift from the Boy Scouts and Yokohama citizens, has a  chrome sphere inside containing the names of the people who helped send this gift to San Diego, and is a symbol of the continued friendship between San Diego and Yokohama.


We look forward to touring the Japanese Friendship Garden* in March, when the cherry trees* are blooming with profuse, pink flowers during the Cherry Blossom Festival.*

We also visited the Yokohama Friendship Bell on Shelter Island (San Diego), presented to San Diego by the citizens of Yokohama to San Diego in 1958 as part of the recognition of the San Diego – Yokohama sister city status and continues to promote peace & humanity.*


This 6-foot high, two ton bronze bell is inscribed with the words, “Bell of Friendship,” in English and Japanese, and is sounded by striking the side of the bell with the large horizontal wood ram, which occurs every New Year’s Eve (See and hear the bell).*


In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh*:

May the sound of this bell penetrate deep into the cosmos

Even in the darkest spots, living beings are able to hear it clearly, so that all suffering in them cease, understanding comes to their heart and they transcend the path of sorrow and death

Listening to the bell, I feel the afflictions in me begin to dissolve, my mind calm, my body relax, a smile is born on my lips

Following the sound of the bell, my breath brings me back to the safe island of mindfulness

In the gardens of my heart, the flowers of peace bloom beautifully

The Great Bell Chant (The End of Suffering)*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.


Posted in Flowers, Gardens, Larry, Meditations, San Diego, Tourist destinations, Zen | 2 Comments

Pitahaya Harvest Moon Festival

(Updated October 8, 2015, see note below).

Late summer glorious blooms on our pitahaya were attracting bees so we were hopeful that the bloom seen below and in my last post, “End of summer flowers, fruit and promises,” would yield a mature fruit in time for the Mid-Autumn Harvest Festival.

DSC_0380 Glorious pitahaya bloom 8:15:15

While waiting for the fruit to grow and mature, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah* by eating round challah that I made, which symbolizes the cycle of the year.

DSC_0557 My Rosh Hashanah challah

Meanwhile in our backyard, Monarch butterfly caterpillars (fifth instar), with the characteristic complex banding pattern and very small front legs close to the head, were feasting on our Asclepsias curassavica, aka Milkweed plant, and blood flower.*

DSC_0551 Monarch catterpillar (5th instar)

The caterpillars then attach themselves to a horizontal surface, molt into an opaque, blue-green chrysalis, and emerge as a butterfly after a few weeks. (See a metamorphosis time-lapse*)

DSC_0043 Monarch butterfly on Asclepias

As seen in my previous post, the above pitahaya flower was pollinated by bees and developed beautiful fruit seen below (one month after the bloom).

DSC_0575 Pitahaya fruit, 33 days old

And one week later:

DSC_0582 Pitahaya fruit, 39 days old

Four days later, it was ready to harvest, which I did during the evening of the Super Blood Moon, beautifully described and illustrated in Bert Gildart’s blog post, “Blood Moon”, Glimpses From Bert & Jane Gildart’s Travel Adventures.

BloodMoon-42 credit- Bert Gildart

(Photo credit: Bert Gildart)

While this orb was red, an Orb-weaver spider was waiting for its prey.

DSC_0040 Orb-weaver spider

I placed my Nikon camera on a tripod in front of our Moon Festival display, which Larry had set up earlier, ready to be energized by the full light of the moon when it emerged from the Earth’s shadow.  During the eclipse, I climbed a ladder and harvested the pitahaya, which was placed on the raised (compote) dish, holding the moon cakes.

DSC_0018_2 Moon Festival 2015

The Moon Festival, is one of many international harvest festivals.   The Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated in mainland China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and by ethnic Chinese people worldwide.  It is a charming tradition of remembering and honoring family and friends, near and far.  It is thought that propitious festival symbols with circular shapes be displayed and enjoyed such as moon cakes.

DSC_0033 Moon Festival table

Our Moon Festival display included: a compote holding two moon cakes (harmony, unity) and pitahaya halves, a bowl of water to capture the reflection of the moon, apples (fertility), grapes (fertility), peanuts (good health, abundance), Jin Chan, a three-legged toad (wealth), red hibiscus (life, good luck), brass incense holder, candles, and a scroll painting of Chang-o, Chinese goddess of the Moon.

One and a half months in the making, our pitahaya was a very propitious sign for success in the coming year and at this time of the Mid-Autumn Festival, we wish all of our friends good health and happiness!*

The Super Blood Moon was also a propitious sign in that for a moment it caught the world’s attention and imagination, and hopefully, as people gazed at the beauty and wonder of the moon, they imagined a world living in peace!*

DSC_0025 Moon cakes & pitahaya fruit

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Author’s Update:

Please see my latest update in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” about the End of Life Option Act and its passage through the California Legislature and signature into law by Governor Brow on Monday, October 5, 2015!

Posted in Flowers, Food, Larry, Night photos, Politics, Wildlife | 2 Comments

End of summer flowers, fruit, and promises

(Updated October 5, 2015:  I am happy to announce that today Governor Jerry Brown signed California’s End of Life Option Act, which now becomes law!  See note below.)

Last month, our newly acquired Peruvian Apple Cactus cutting surprised us with a spectacular bloom, as seen in my last post, A Peruvian Apple Cactus interlude.  A few weeks later we were delighted to see an explosion of blooms on its sister cutting across the pond.

DSC_0439 Three more cactus blooms

DSC_0204 Cactus blooms across the pond

The blooms slowly opened in the late afternoon, revealing its many stamens that will yield pollen from its anthers, which will hopefully pollinate the style’s stigma.

DSC_0214 Stamens and style

DSC_0469 Anthers and stamens

The flowers burst fully open after the sun set, bringing a magical feeling to our backyard!

DSC_0229 Night bloom by pond

DSC_0223 Peruvian Apple Cactus bloom

Meanwhile, the festivities continued again when our Pitahaya cactus, Hylocereus undatus, (seen in my posting, A pitahaya summer interlude) sent up four gorgeous flower buds.

DSC_0385 Pitahaya bloom

This time the bees came* and the flower was successfully pollinated!

DSC_0397 Pitahaya pollinating bee

DSC_0351 Pollination by bee

DSC_0422 Pitahaya pollination bee

The pollen has reached the ovary and the promise of glorious Indian summer fruit is being realized and hopefully ready for harvesting by September’s Full Harvest Moon,* which occurs this year on September 27, along with a Super Blood Moon eclipse!

DSC_0530 Pitahaya fruit

As this fruit has been ripening, I’ve been doing my end of summer reading with a focus on Joe Biden’s memoir, Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, a riveting and moving account of the author’s life up to the beginning of his 2008 presidential campaign when his wife Jill said during a family meeting, “We think you can unite the country… We think you’re the best person to pull the country together.”  In the Prologue, Joe fondly recalls his father, Joseph Robinette Biden Sr.,** “He didn’t judge a man by how many times he got knocked down but by how fast he got up…  Get up! That was his phrase, and it has echoed through my life.”  The book ends with another quote from Jill, “You’re going to give it your best shot… And you’re going to go out there and run for the right reasons, and tell people why you should be president… and we’ll be okay.” ***

DSC_0155 Joe Biden, Promises To Keep

*This is a YouTube video.

**This is a CBS News video.

***Promises To Keep: On Life and Politics, Joe Biden, Random House Trade Paperback Edition, New York, 2008

Author’s note:

Please see my latest update in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” about the End of Life Option Act and its passage through the California Legislature and signature into law by Governor Brow on Monday, October 5, 2016.

Compassion & Choices says:

“California is now the fifth U.S. state to authorize aid in dying, and by far the biggest and most influential. This achievement will resonate throughout our country, and inspire other states to follow suit.

At the foundation of this remarkable moment is the support of you and other C&C donors. People from all walks of life have joined together to transform our nation’s understanding of death with dignity, and have raised the ruckus necessary to break down barriers that have kept options from so many.

While we celebrate, we also recognize the fight is far from over. Our opponents are furious at their loss and will use every trick in the book to overturn the will of the people. We need your support today to defend this law, and our movement, with every ounce of our considerable strength.”

Additional information can be seen on Compassion & Choices’ California webpage.

Posted in Flowers, Night photos, Politics

A Peruvian Apple Cactus interlude

(Updated August 20, 2015)

We were surprised to see a flower bud because just two months earlier we had placed Peruvian Apple Cactus cuttings into large planters filled with a homemade cactus planting mix containing potting soil, coir, perlite and sand.

DSC_0049 Peruvian Apple Cactus bud

Per Wikipedia, the Peruvian Apple Cactus,* Cereus repandus (aka Cereus peruvianus), is a large, erect, thorny, columnar cactus that has flowers that remain open for one night only and yield an edible and tasty fruit.*

The first flower bud opening began with August’s Full Sturgeon Moon.*  By late afternoon, the first of its pure white inner petals could be seen.  It seemed so happy and eager to surge forth and display its beauty to the world and, in particular, to the night’s moths and bats and to the morning’s bees that would hopefully come to gather pollen.

DSC_0052 Peruvian Apple Cactus bud close-up

At nightfall, I gathered up my tripod, headlamp, and camera to record the event.

DSC_0059 Full bloom for full moon

The headlamp was too bright, so I took it off, moved it away, and brought over a candle lantern that added a yellow, softer light in our backyard garden patio.  It became a happy, magical moment and even the nearby tiki seemed happy to watch my antics.

DSC_0084 Cactus bloom, lantern & tiki

This softer combination of light helped the Peruvian Apple Cactus show off its lovely, seductive, natural beauty.

DSC_0097 Peruvian Apple Cactus bloom

Hundreds of dancing stamens holding pollen laden anthers surround the stigma seen in the lower right, which receives and transports pollen to the ovary.

DSC_0100 Peruvian cactus bloom close-up

This cactus is self-fertile and to increase the chances for pollination, I used a small, soft brush to move pollen onto the stigma.  Once the deed was done, I noticed that others were also here watching and smiling, such as Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy and Compassion.

DSC_0103 Our smiling Kuan Yin

Guan Yin is often shown wearing a white, flowing robe (symbol of purity) and holding a vase of life-sustaining water.  Guan Yin is seen in our garden riding on a Chinese guardian lion, and in the house, riding on a Chinese dragon.

DSC_0108 Kuan Yin rides guardian lion

DSC_0198 Guan Yin riding Chinese dragon

(Hear and see a Kuan Yin meditation*)

After the night’s celebration under the full moon, the exhausted flower closed in the morning.

DSC_0132 Morning closure of cactus bloom

I was glad that I assisted with the flower’s pollination because no bees were seen that morning.  And I was thrilled a few days later when the flower fell off and I saw the beginnings of a fruit, but saddened later in the week when the fruit fell off.

DSC_0166 Fallen flower, growing cactus fruit

The spectacular beauty of this flower blooming for only one precious night reminded me of the impermanence of life and of the importance of appreciating and celebrating the flowers* and returning to the present moment,* and being in touch with the wonders of life.*

*This is a YouTube video.

Author’s notes:

  1. Please see my latest update in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” on the progress of the End of Life Option Act, as it makes its way through the California Legislature.  I am happy to report that on August 18 this legislation has been reintroduced in a special session of the California Legislature as Assembly Bill X2-15 (ABX2-15). Additional information can be seen on Compassion & Choices‘ web page.

2.  Oh, and there’s just one more thing… a YouTube video:  I’m Ridin with Biden!*

Posted in Flowers, Meditations, Night photos

A pitahaya summer interlude

(Updated July 25, 2015)

It began with the waxing of the Full Buck Moon.*

DSC_0003 Pitahaya flower bud

It was almost like praying.

Our White-fleshed pitahaya, Hylocereus undatus, began to send a bud towards the heavens as it did last August under the Full Sturgeon Moon.*

DSC_0005 Pitahaya reaching into the heavens

DSC_0012 Plants' quest for fulfillment

It reached up in its quest for fulfillment.  At dusk, it began to open its outer petals…

DSC_0013 Pitahaya bloom begins

… revealing its glistening white, seductive inner petals.

DSC_0015 Pitahaya evening bloom

Over 20 pale yellow stigma lobes extended outward to catch pollen that will travel down through the style to the ovary.

DSC_0022 Pitahaya night bloom profile

These flowers have as many as 800 pollen-producing anthers on stamens.**

DSC_0017 Pitahaya's ecstatic bloom

Sometimes called Dragon fruit or Belle of the Night,* this species of plants seems to mysteriously know when the moon is about to be full as the most opportune time to exhibit its spectacular floral displays that will attract and excite moths and bats and enhance fertilization.

DSC_0026 800 stamens & 1 stigma

The bloom lingered open during the early morning hours presenting additional opportunities for honeybees to gather pollen and pollinate the flower, as happened last year.

DSC_0087 Pitahaya & honey bees

DSC_0046 Pitahaya's last call for bees

But this time, no bees came, so I used a small brush to pollinate the pitahaya flower…*

DSC_0027 Pitahaya's swan song

… just before its swan song.* (The blossoms last only one night in Southern California.)

DSC_0007 Pitahaya blooms's death

Hopefully, this year’s first bloom will yield fruit that we can enjoy picking and eating.*

DSC_0130 Pitahaya fruit

DSC_0169 White-fleshed Pitahaya

Update, July 25, 2015

Alas, my attempt to use a small brush to pollinate the pitahaya flower seen at the beginning of this post failed, and since there were no bees present to do the job, this Belle of the Night flower dried up and fell off yielding no fruit.

However, the joy that I felt as this flower reached up for the heavens and opened fully under the bright full moon for only one precious night lingers in my memory and reminds me of the importance of being present in the moment and cherishing the beauty around me.

DSC_0025 Pitahaya bloom 2015

Additional information: How to grow pitahaya (dragon fruit).*

Additional inspiration:  The Great Bell Chant and Ode to Joy and Simply the Best!

Author’s note: Please see my latest update in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” on the progress of SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, as it makes its way through the California Legislature (currently stalled, but not dead!).

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

** Pitahaya: A Promising New Fruit Crop for Southern California, Paul H. Thomson, produced by Leo W. Manuel, 2002.

Posted in Flowers, Meditations

A night-blooming interlude

Magic energy seemed to be in the cool night air on the eve of summer solstice as our night-blooming cereus opened its flower buds…

DSC_0476 Cereus bud and flowers

Revealing its stamens and stigma…

DSC_0496 Cereus stamens & stigma

Six blooms opened at the same time…

DSC_0482 Six cereus blooms

Adding grace, beauty, and a sweet fragrance…

DSC_0491 Cereus grace & beauty

To our backyard garden and our outdoor kitchen.

DSC_0487 Our backyard patio garden

This night-blooming cereus is Epiphyllum oxypetalum, Queen of the Night,* and its blooms last only one night and close at sunrise (See time lapse*).

DSC_0514 Blooms last one night

The flowers are white but seem to change colors depending on lighting conditions.  Sometimes flowers seem to change colors before our very eyes.*

DSC_0470 blooms reflecting colors

The night-blooming cereus adds a touch of peace and serenity to our garden, which enhances enjoyment, relaxation and meditation.*

DSC_0477 Cereus serenity

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

Author’s note: Please see my latest update in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” on the progress of SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, as it makes its way through the California Legislature.

Posted in Flowers, Meditations | 4 Comments

Space gleanings

“The fourth pebble represents space, space that is within me and around me,” says Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.  See his “Pebbles Meditation” in his book, A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles.  “Breathing in, I see myself as space. Breathing out, I feel free.”  See and hear “Pebble for your pocket meditation.”*

DSC_0450 Four pebbles

DSC_0184 Coffee meditations & illuminations

Author Cynthia Rich, wrote about her meditations on what she calls “Clear Space” in her Dharma Gleanings post of October 30, 2013:

“Yesterday, once more in a coffee shop, I experienced a variation of what I was aware of in meditation the other day (October 23, 2013). I think it is more and more how I am experiencing people in general, but quiet times of practice—and I do practice in coffee shops—bring it to the fore. Instead of buddha nature, which has potentially sentimental reverberations, I saw that everyone in that shop had access—whether they knew it or not—to what I named the Clear Space. The Clear Space is the place within each of us that is peaceful awareness and discernment, the place that sees, that is never touched or diminished by distresses, confusion, doubts, despairs. I was gladdened and relieved to see how obviously that was so—I didn’t need to imagine them awakened or see evidence of it in the now. It was simply a fact…  my experience of Clear Space tells me that it has no boundaries—that’s how I know it’s Clear Space and not ego—so if that is what Clear Space is, other people’s Clear Space has no boundaries either.”

Physical space also appears to us to have no boundaries, especially when we are camping under the stars.

DSC_0081 Camping under the stars 1

DSC_0089 Camping under the moonWe just look up and see and feel infinity, such as here in the mountains. Or when we take our Airstream trailer out to the desert and on clear nights experience a whole sky filled with stars or the desert floor and mountains lit up by brilliant moonlight.

DSC_0125 Airstream under desert stars

DSC_0170 Base camp under the stars

On warm nights, we love to lean back and gaze at the wonderment of the heavens…

DSC_0173 Stargazing

Or perhaps make a wish upon a star.*  I wished or perhaps dreamed that the craft’s vertical thrusters were about to be engaged and send the Airstream into space.

DSC_0180 Airstream under the stars

DSC_0185 Airstream lift off

DSC_0189 Airstream joining the stars

As we got into Earth orbit, I thought I saw Stephen Hawking fly by in a wheelchair.*

DSC_0207 Airstream in black space

And it was cool to hear Chris Hadfield sing Space Oddity* at the space station.

As we continued orbiting, we opened our curtains, turned on our lotus light and connected with the cosmos, or as some would say, kosmos.

DSC_0085 Airstream lotus light

And I thought I heard the bell mentioned in The Great Bell Chant,* by Thich Nhat Hanh: “May the sound of this bell penetrate deep into the kosmos, even in the darkest spots, living beings are able to hear it clearly, so that all suffering in them ceases, understanding comes to their hearts, and they transcend the path of sorrow and death.”

Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me** because I believe* in the bell, clear space, and heaven.*

*This is a link to a YouTube video.

**This is a link to a YouTube video.  The full quote, “Though I’ve grown old, the bell still rings for me as it does for all who truly believe,” is the last sentence in the book The Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1985.

Author’s note: Please see the update in my post, “Spring flowers, leaves and end of life options,” on the progress of SB 128, the End of Life Option Act, as it makes its way through the California Legislature.

Posted in Meditations, Night photos, Our Safari