Happy Groundhog Day: Six More Weeks of Winter


Santa Monica, CAGroundhog Day!

Of course, my thoughts drift to Groundhog Hill and to my hometown of Hodgenville, KY, a spot my Father, James D. La Rue Jr. (1919-2014), frequently and lovingly called The Garden Spot of the Universe.  I continue his tradition.

I awaken at 4 AM these days.  Years of Dawn Patrol Surfing have seemingly and permanently adjusted my Body Clock to this pre-dawn setting. Some days, I make Coffee at home, turn on National Public Radio, and fire up the laptop.

Mostly, I head down to Main Street for a hot, delicious Latte at Peets Coffee, a coffee shop frequented by locals. Lattes are delicious.

In the pre-dawn hours, customers tend to be Beach Employees: Lifeguards, Cops, Firefighters, Surfers and Swimmers. Or, East Coasters who haven’t yet adjusted to Pacific Standard Time.  A motley crew, indeed.

Marvin, the Barista who opens the store most days, is a handsome American of Mexican descent.  We’ve known each other for years, so our greeting usually consists of a simple exchange:

Morning, Marvin.

Morning, Steve.


My sister Paula would dig Peets as it’s Santa Monica’s version of her Hodgenville-based café, The Hot Biscuit: Not a lot of talking.  Just hot coffee. Newspapers.  Apple computer products.  Brief discussions of surf conditions.

Lately, the conversation has been dominated about Drought and the fact that, after five tough years, California might see relief after a record Winter rain and snowfall.  So, when I hear that Punxsutawny Phil saw his shadow today, predicting six more weeks of Winter, I am gladdened.

More Rain, please. More Snowfall in the High Sierras, please.  As my favorite La Rue County farmer Cleve McStubbins likes to say, Never Complain About The Rain!


From what I hear, Hodgenville has seen a very mild Winter with lots of Rain and very little Snowfall. Spring Bulbs should be emerging from the warm ground, the precursor to lots of Jonquils, Daffodils and Tulips. March flowers.

Seed catalogs are probably not being read at 308 So. Greensburg Street.  Ya never know. I get emails from Johnny’s Select Seed Co., but I delete them without reading them.  Not much gardening going on here.  I left my green thumb in Hodgenville. Along with my bib overalls.

Board Shorts, Flip Flops and Coppertone are my gear of choice, these days.  Winter calls for a heavy wetsuit, as well.  I tend to surf very little in the winter months, especially when it rains because storm runoff pollutes the Pacific Ocean.  Surfers are cautioned not to get in the water for three days after a significant rainstorm.  I heed the warnings.

Wisdom does come with Age.


Once armed with Coffee, I head to the beach here in Ocean Park and meet up with the locals and talk surf conditions, aches and pains, and politics.  It’s a fun way to start one’s day.  Again, much like mornings at The Hot Biscuit.

To see the sun rise over Venice Beach is a magical moment. The world has turned once again, and a new day is offered and gratefully accepted. And to begin one’s day in Gratitude, well, that’s pretty special. A moment of Divinity, if you will.

Today, Groundhog Day, I feel grateful for Groundhog Hill, my somewhat Secret Garden, and my time spent there: Planning the garden, tilling the soil, sowing seeds, and pulling weeds was time well spent. Such a Gift! 

I feel grateful for my parents, for my family, friends and connections.

I carry all that I learned with me and hold it close.  Perhaps, that’s what makes one a Master Gardener/Surfer. Or not.  Six more weeks to ponder and such.

More later.

California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & The Papas

(Photos courtesy of Luke Sandberg of Surreal Surf Adventure Co., Stefan Pinto, and Yours Truly.)


Dawn Patrol at Santa Monica Beach.

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Happy Groundhog Day!


Santa Monica, CA — Hello and Happy Groundhog Day, Readers.

Let us gather together and rejoice at the news of an Early Spring from our distant relation, Punxsutawney Phil, who did NOT see his shadow earlier this morning atop Gobbler’s Knob.


Wash those bib overalls.  Start leafing through all your Seed Catalogs.  Get those Starter Trays ready to germinate your favorite seeds.

Don’t skimp on the Zinnias!

More later.



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July: The Month of Zinnias And Absent Friends

COVER   100_0854

Santa Monica, CA — Yesterday, a post from The Old Farmer’s Almanac popped up on my Facebook feed:  “Meaning of Flowers & Symbolic Language.”

I scanned a few familiar Herbs:  Mint (Virtue), Rosemary (Remembrance), Thyme (Strength).  Then, there it was….at the end of the list:  Zinnia.

“Zinnia (Thoughts of Absent Friends)”

How appropriate and on-target as I noted the turning of the calendar page from June to July remarking to myself that the Zinnias I sowed in late April would now be starting to bloom.

I, myself, have become one of those Absent from the Garden Spot of the Universe.

Zinnias have always been a part of my family life.  In my youth, Mom and Dad planted a big garden in the back yard reserving a full row on the northern end for a thick hedge of Zinnia.

The “breaking of the garden” was a big event each Spring.

I can still recall myself as a little kid trailing behind Dad as he crushed dead-headed Zinnias from the previous year as we sowed the seeds together — he not minding that my sowing technique was a bit haphazard at best.

Zinnias remind me of my mother, though. I consider them to be “her flower.”  I grow them in memory of her, to honor her, to remain connected to her even though 31 years have passed since we were last together.

A vase of freshly cut zinnias always graced our kitchen table during the summer months in Kentucky.  My mother used an old red-handled pair of gardening scissors to cut them, and often, she entrusted the selection to me.

Mom always wanted the flowers cut before the sun shone on them, so I would be sent to the garden in the early morning or late in the evening to gather a bunch.  Our garden was so plentiful that our neighbors also enjoyed a bouquet here and there.  Such were those times of kindness and community.

Sometimes, as a bratty teenager, I did not appreciate being chosen amongst my layabout brothers to go cut flowers, but now, decades later, I treasure the memories of presenting my mother with a carefully selected bunch and feel honored she always asked me.

So, “Thoughts of Absent Friends” feels just right.

Hoping Summer is treating everyone’s garden well in La Rue County and that the Zinnias are plentiful.  Remember to share some.

Absent Friends, indeed.

More later.

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Full Moons & Surfing Groundhogs


Santa Monica, CA — Today’s Flower Moon towers over the Pacific Ocean as I pedal my rust-covered beach cruiser bicycle to nearby Peet’s Coffee on Main Street.  A piping hot, delicious Latte awaits.  Even at 5 AM, Life is good.

I know This Moon, though:  ‘Tis a Planter’s Moon.

In a Barn in La Rue County, there is Seed waiting to be sown.  Clean Bib Overalls hang from a peg and wait to be worn as do the old boots nearby.

The garden at Groundhog Hill, though, is not plowed, and I am not there to plant this season.

Still, my Mind returns. and my Spirit longs to create a new design for another year’s crop of Zinnia.  Life continues.


No doubt, the deer and wild turkey are wondering “What’s Up?”

Kentucky has received so much Rain (and Snow) this year which bodes well for prosperous gardening.  Yet, I find myself living in a state plagued by severe Drought.  The creek beds are mostly dried, and the High Sierras beckon for Precipitation.

California Farmers are hurting, are troubled, are envious of The Garden Spot of the Universe that is Kentucky.  As Cleve McStubbins likes to say, “Never complain about the Rain.”

I shall miss writing for The La Rue County Herald News, forever my hometown newspaper and weekly connection to so many.

Running into Friends, Family & Connections around Town and having them shout to me, “How’s the Garden?” always felt like a Little Miracle.

Little Winters. Late Frosts. Muddy Fields.

My Thoughts are with My Old Kentucky Home in the early pre-Dawn Light.

But for today, beneath The Flower Moon, I give Thanks for You, for Groundhog Hill, and for My Father as I make my way to Ocean Park Beach.

The Pacific Ocean calls to me.

More later….


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Groundhog Hill Goes Internationale…


Personal Stories Matter.

Mine caught the attention of Forward/Story, a collaborative writers’ lab that has invited me along with 19 other Storytellers from around the World to Costa Rica to problem-solve and to explore the future of Story.  http://www.forwardslashstory.com

Thanks, Groundhog Hill.

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More Stories from GroundHog Hill….


If you are in LA on Sat., Jan. 31st, swing by Muse on 8th around 7:30 PM.  I am honored to be one of the featured Storytellers in a wonderful evening at Muse Literary Salon curated by Alex Stein.

Of course, I’ll be reading some “Notes from Groundhog Hill.”

So great to share these stories.

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GroundHog Hill Goes Hollywood….

Next week, I am honored to be a featured Storyteller in PINATA, the wonderful Christine Schoenwald’s fantastic celebration of the Spoken Word.  It’s a great Personal Essay Show, and the topics run the gamut.

I’ll be reading excerpts from Notes From Groundhog Hill, bringing a little bit of Hodgenville to Hollywood…Photos & Transcript of Performance to follow…

Pinata Jan_

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Harvest Moon over Ocean Park Beach….


If you look closely at this photo, you’ll see the waning Harvest Moon over Ocean Park Beach in Santa Monica, CA. This the final Harvest Moon of 2014 and the final Super Moon, as well.

Have traded in my bib overalls and work boots for board shorts and flip flops!

Here is my list of Things To Do for the day:

*Surf Some More

More later…

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Aah, September….

Purple Corn Harvest

Purple Corn Harvest

“Try to remember, the kind of September
When Life was Slow, and Oh, so mellow.
Try to remember and if you remember,
Then Follow.

Follow. Follow. Follow.” — The Fantasticks*

Per Charles Kightly’s Perpetual Almanack of Folklore, September is the month of Harvest-Home, Hops, and Apples. In Wales, September is the month of Reaping. In Gaelic, it is the month of Plenty.

In the Garden Spot of the Universe, September is the month of Peruvian Purple Corn, Late Green Beans, and Farewells.

More later.

(*) The Fantasticks was the first play I ever saw. I was probably around 15 years old. For some reason, my mother took me to Derby Dinner Playhouse…just the two of us, which was quite unusual….we ate prime rib and enjoyed a Bus & Trunk road company production of this American classic.

About 20 years later (or more), I was cast in a production in LA. Luckily for the audience, I played “the Mute,” and therefore, did not subject anyone to my singing voice, however, I was on stage almost the entire time, which was kind of grueling and alternately, exciting. Two cast members from that production have since been on Broadway. They could really sing and were delightful. I like to think the other cast members are in prison for crimes they did not commit. They were less delightful. That’s Theatre!

Anyway, fun anecdote for me. Thanks to my Mom for introducing me to the Theatre and to Prime Rib, both of which I still enjoy to this day.

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Year 3, Column 17: GARDEN OF GRACE

Though the calendar still reads Summer, the light is changing from bright to golden even as the thermometer spikes from mild to sweltering.

The other day, I trekked over to Groundhog Hill in the wee hours of the early morning.

Dawn had struck, but the Sun had not yet risen. I, however, was on my second cup of Folgers and was ready to go cut some Zinnias.

As soon as I passed the eastern city limits, I met some of the densest fog I’ve seen this summer. The thick clouds of billowing grey felt otherworldly as I navigated Dad’s truck, now with the lights turned on, and made my way to the garden.

The sunflowers are finally blooming, and the Peruvian Purple Corn is just about ready to harvest, I am pleased to report.

The rows and rows of Zinnias are still pretty, but you can see they’ve lost their luster amidst the growing grasses and Morning Glory which seem determined to choke them.

Autumnal colors have appeared all of a sudden: Yellows, Oranges, Burnt Reds. The Marigolds are now taking Center Stage as they are awash in deep deep orange blooms.

The Pumpkins are not far behind but still have a ways to go.

Soccer ball-sized gourds are plentiful, but they are not yet bright orange in color. They are a dark, dark green and seem hopeful to remain unnoticed for at least one more month.

Even the trees seem to sense that a Change of Season is nearly upon us: Walnut, Sassafras, and Ash have begun to drop their leaves in recognition that Fall is just around the proverbial corner.

The squirrels are having a field day (pun intended) collecting the walnuts that have plopped to the ground.

Summer is nearly over and draws to a close. Time is marching on, and we must pick up the pace or else be left behind.

As I packed up my daily collection, the Eastern Sun arose over the treetops, and the garden and I were bathed in golden sunshine. What. A. Moment.

Morning had broken, and in that moment of the new day, the feelings of trauma I had been carrying around like burdensome luggage finally dissipated to an acceptable level of nothingness.

I felt a deep sense of Gratitude for these last four months as Time well-spent in Hodgenville, in La Rue County, in this garden.

This year at times, Groundhog Hill has been a garden of Renewal, of Wonders, of Wild Delights, of Little Winters, of Ugly Babies, of Corrections, of Companions, of Predicaments, of Song, of Gifts, of Tears, of Grief, and now as Summer retreats, a garden of Grace.

Thank You for sharing it with Me.

So long for Now….

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