The beauty of the natural world, cultured and wild

A virtual visit to the Netherlands & memories of a visit to China

First, a sincere apology for the double email last week.

We’ve had a burst of glorious spring weather here on the East Coast of the US, and it feels great to be out in the garden even if it’s still a long wait till real springtime. (First comes Mud Season. Then an interminable period when it’s almost almost almost ALMOST Spring. This about killed me the first year in Massachusetts.)

I want to share some photos this week, from the Netherlands and from China.

The Dutch photos by Albert Dros came in a link from Asia bibliographer Frank Joseph Shulman. They bowled me over, and I intend to look at them again whenever I get the Mud Season blues. Click here to see the album.

Dros took the photos last spring in the Keukenhof Garden: a beautiful park in full bloom without a human being in sight because of the pandemic (actually, in the photo above you can see a gardener!). Of course we wouldn’t want this to continue. It’s a delight to be surrounded by other people on a spring day. But there’s something magical about a carefully tended landscape seen in solitude.

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And now I know what inspired Heart Man, who planted the now-vanished tulip garden at Olivia’s Outlook in Lenox, Massachusetts.

I picked up last Sunday’s New York Times and noticed an article about how Hong Kong people, unable to travel abroad, have been flooding parks and villages on the island and making life quite unpleasant for local residents. It’s a bit like the California Super Bloom in 2019: far too many people trying to take photos for Instagram, dropping trash, and pushing locals out of the way. Read the article.


The most crowded site I’ve ever been to was at Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in Hunan province in China, where we went to see the  forested mountain peaks that inspired the floating mountains in the movie Avatar. The trip was arranged by someone who was able to get us to the front of the queue for the highest outdoor elevator in the world, which whizzed us to the top of a peak. From there, we walked along roped pathways with a dense crowd that barely gave us room to stop and take those Instagram photos. It was stunning, but I felt a little claustrophobic, too.

But, like the Great Wall, certain places are insanely crowded and other places are not. I found this map on a Chinese tourist site, and if I get a chance to go back I’m going to be wearing hiking boots and carrying a packed lunch in the most remote part of the park.

We’re dealing with something similar at the Train Campaign, especially as people begin to think about what work and commuting should look like in the years ahead. Small towns and former-industrial cities have lost population because there haven’t been jobs. People have crowded into New York and Boston. As those cities become more crowded, the traffic gets worse, housing prices rise, green space disappears, and they are simply less desirable places to live.

But if we can just spread out a bit, in terms of where we locate businesses and where we go to enjoy the natural world, we can live more sustainably, and more cheerfully, too.

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Incidentally, I learned last week that it’s possible to take a train to Glacier National Park in Montana. My guest on the Train Time podcast was the chair of the new Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority, and a trip west by train is now on my to-do list now. The Train Time podcast is now being underwritten by Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA) and we’re looking for additional sponsorship. You can listen to Train Time on on our website ( or at Amazon, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.

We also visited Mao Zedong’s home village on that trip to Hunan. The lotus fields were in bloom, and there was another field with Chinese calligraphy in the planting. I’m now waiting for a lotus tuber to be delivered – they have to be shipping while dormant, so it’ll go into my vegetable drawer till it’s warm enough to plant it in a tub outside. Even though I won’t be able to go to China this year, I’ll have a special reminder of Hunan here in Great Barrington.