Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden

May 11, 2016

Sometimes it takes out-of-town guests to prompt a visit to wonderful attractions in your own backyard. Last week I was visited by one of my favorite bloggers, Michael Offutt, and his good friends James and Brad. They wanted to visit Portland’s Chinese Garden, build back when I had my downtown illustration studio but a place I’ve never visited.


I was amazed at the masterful manipulation of space in a setting surrounded by high rises and urban traffic. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a recreation of a sixteenth century Chinese scholar’s garden, built from traditional materials and methods, a historical treasure and a place where people, ideas and cultures intermingle. These gardens originated in Suzhou, China’s most sophisticated metropolis from 14th through the 19th centuries, and Portland’s sister city.


The Lan Su Garden is drastically different from the Japanese gardens I’ve long admired. Japanese gardens are designed to dissolve the distinction between indoors and outdoors, whereas nature in a Chinese garden is seen through windows and framing devices enhancing the notion of looking at something special. The brochure reinforces this with a window cut into the cover, granting visual access to the rest of the brochure.




 Brochure for the Lan Su Chinese Garden


Here are a few facts:

  • Completed in 2000, Lan Su is considered the most authentic Suzhou-style Chinese garden outside of China.
  • Most of the building materials, including more than 500 tons of rock, came from China.
  • Sixty-five artisans from Suzhou lived in Portland while they assembled and completed the structures that were crafted in China.
  • The Garden features more than 300 plant species found in traditional Chinese gardens.








The rock on the left is from Lake Tai in China. These highly prized rocks are formed underwater over many centuries. The lake's acidic and active waters erode some stone, leaving fantastic shapes.





Each courtyard has pavement with a different pattern, this one to represent cracking ice at the end of winter.






Nature designed to be seen through a frame.





The water lilies were blooming.





A portal in the shape of a leaf gives access to a delightful space.





Tons of rock were brought from China to create grottoes and a waterfall looking thousands of years old.








A pavilion designed like a boat.







Many of the flowers had yet to bloom so I know I’ll return to experience the full effect of this magical place. Mrs. Chatterbox and I have yet to visit mainland China; until we do, we can enjoy Portland’s Lan Su Garden without a passport or nasty jet lag.




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Proof that people are funny. I walked through the World Trade Center every day for years and never went in the towers, I saw the Statue of Liberty everyday and never visited it. You are a world traveler and never visited such a unique and beautiful place right around the corner, and you often mention your Portuguese heritage and yet I fine through another blog that you have never visited Portugal. Glad your friends made you check out this place.
By: cranky on May 11, 2016
I think perhaps you will return here many times. Well done your friends getting you there!
By: The Broad on May 11, 2016
That one portal is really cool. Most authentic outside of China? Are you saying the ones at Epcot aren't realistic? I feel gypped...
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on May 11, 2016
wow- I have not been there for years! Obviously next time we are up we must go enjoy! I especially like the leaf portal! Cheers and Thanks!
By: Kathe W. on May 11, 2016
What a lovely place!!
By: The Bug on May 11, 2016
I went to the Japanese garden but not that one.
By: Pt dilloway on May 11, 2016
Oh, my gosh, that is the most beautiful thing I've seen all week. It's almost giving me a peaceful feeling just looking at the pictures; I can only imagine how great it would be to see in person. Nice!
By: Cherdo on May 11, 2016
Great pictures, Steve. I spent a day in Suzhou a few years ago, wandering and being pedicabbed to the several old gardens still being taken care of after hundreds of years, quiet, lovely, paths lined with dusty benches on which one could sit and submit to the urge to contemplate life, oneself, the next place. As in Portland, only much busier and very noisy, Chinese life flowed by the open portals, each one different, the bustle unnoticed. The gardens were very old. In a hundred years or so Portland's garden will also be filled with ancient thoughts, thoughtful scholars, dusty benches.
By: Jo Barney on May 11, 2016
The locales rarely realize the beauty that lies within their own backyards. What other treasures can be found in and around Portland? Looking forward to seeing your floral photos. Perhaps you'll be inspired to start a new painting.
By: Daniel LaFrance on May 11, 2016
Portland's Chinese garden is a beautiful little place. I remember having a very special (but $$$$$) tea ceremony in the teahouse there.
By: Kerry on May 11, 2016
By: fishducky on May 11, 2016
Cracking shots. I know what you mean by thing in your backyard you're not aware of. Same here. There are places both in London and Havana I have never visited because I know they will always be there. :-) Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on May 11, 2016
Wow. And i thought the Japanese garden i visited once was beautiful, this is stunning!
By: messymimi on May 11, 2016
This is a great tour through a very different garden. It's so true that many times we don't go to a local attraction until out of town people arrive,
By: red Kline on May 11, 2016
It's true, it takes visitors to get us to see the local wonders. Amazing place and that portal was so intriguing. How interesting about all the rock coming from China. Loved the sculpted rock.
By: Arkansas Patti on May 11, 2016
Some great stuff. I esp. like the courtyard pavement ... very mesmerizing.
By: Tom Sightings on May 11, 2016
This would be so beautiful to see and so very peaceful. I love the one picture looking through the big leaf into a garden spot. Wonderful pictures
By: Birgit on May 11, 2016
Serenity now. That grotto and portal are quite peace-inducing, even from the photos.
By: Val on May 12, 2016
Beautiful. The Japanese are masters at producing wonderful gardens. I had never heard of the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix until Sharon blogged about it. I made it a point to visit it and it was very like the one in Portland, built mainly by Japanese who came from their own country to advise.
By: Bruce Taylor on May 12, 2016
Love the rocks...pretty scenery, too.
By: Terri@Coloring Outside the Lines on May 12, 2016
What a lovely place! We have a beautiful Japanese garden here known as Morikami, and I am a season pass holder ( my husband and I go at least once a month). It has been in existence since the late 60's but I didn't discover until about five years ago!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on May 12, 2016
I really enjoyed that garden and I think the experience was all the richer to have you along because your "artful" eye catches many details. I think the Tea House really caught my eye. I'd like to go back there and have a cup of tea and listen to the mandolin player for about an hour. That could be a relaxing afternoon.
By: Michael Offutt on May 16, 2016

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