The Underworld and the Heavens – Or, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona

I’d just completed the Pluto Walk: an uphill length of sidewalk stretching to the tippy-top of Mars Hill, where one finds the Pluto Telescope Dome surrounded by fragrant ponderosa pines. The walk demonstrates a to-scale approximation of the distances between the planets in our solar system, beginning with our Absurdly Bright Star at the bottom and culminating with Pluto. Each celestial body is marked on the sidewalk itself and is highlighted with panels featuring pertinent facts about the planet and its discovery.

But wait, you’ll object. I thought Pluto wasn’t considered a planet anymore. 

You’re not wrong. Pluto is now the best known of the dwarf planets, and is the namesake for plutoids (ice dwarfs) and plutinos (distant members of our solar system with funky orbital habits) found in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune. The Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona knows this. Pluto is honored here not out of astronomical dissent, but out of pride.

You see, it was here that Pluto was first discovered.

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This building houses the actual telescope commissioned to discover “Planet X.” It succeeded in capturing the first images of Pluto in 1915, and the significance of those images was recognized in 1930! (All photos by yours truly.)

Continue reading “The Underworld and the Heavens – Or, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona”

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European Adventurers Discover Seven Magic Mountains, Las Vegas, Nevada

Sunset only added to the stones’ fluorescence. I had not expected this. Usually, dimming light can be relied upon to fade any colors within reach, but Seven Magic Mountains challenged the rule.

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Two Magic Mountains, with the sunset over the Mojave in the background. Photo by Jasper.

Continue reading “European Adventurers Discover Seven Magic Mountains, Las Vegas, Nevada”

Hullabaloo Parade

No lesson this week—just hilarity.

The setting: a moving sidewalk leading into Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport from short-term parking.

The characters: myself (laden with a children’s carseat, a pink backpack, and a rolling suitcase), my sister (encumbered with the same array of baggage), my nephew (six years old and wearing a backpack), and my niece (four years old, tiny for her age, wearing a unicorn backpack and carrying Pandie in her arms).

What could go wrong?

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Scene inside an airport, featuring moving sidewalks in the center and terminals at either side. Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

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All the Profound Clarity of the Gods

Communication did not become a problem until I moved towards the register. The woman behind the counter remained stationary, hands on either side of my donut box, giving me an urgent, confused look and gesturing with an open hand to the donut display before her.

I mimicked the gesture, my hand indicating the register. “Okay kha,” I said, nodding. “Finished.”

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Multiple assorted donuts. Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

Continue reading “All the Profound Clarity of the Gods”

Exquisite Awareness – Or, Red Elephant Chocolate

In early October of 2015, I stood with Andrew in a Wisconsin chocolaterie, sipping a hot chocolate sample with my eyes closed. Luscious cream warmed my lips and tongue. Sweetness ached in my cheeks, and as the liquid slipped down my throat, the chocolate’s gentle tart depth sprawled sumptuously across my tastebuds.

All at once, I began to cry. Continue reading “Exquisite Awareness – Or, Red Elephant Chocolate”

The Clouds Must Be Bewildered – Or, The Great American Eclipse

On August 21st, 2017, Andrew and I sat beside a ruined French fortress in the middle of Illinois farmland, waiting for the sun to disappear.

We’d found Fort de Chartres by accident. A couple days prior to the Great American Eclipse, we had driven from Madison to St. Louis to spend the weekend with family. This put us barely outside the path of totality. I was content to view the historic eclipse from St. Louis; I have a self-defeating habit of accepting things as they are, even when minor one-time expenditures of effort stand to significantly multiply my enjoyment. Sometimes serene acceptance is a virtue, but I haven’t yet found the wisdom to know the difference.

Thankfully Andrew was having none of it. “We drove all the way down here to see the eclipse,” he said. “We’re seeing the eclipse.” Continue reading “The Clouds Must Be Bewildered – Or, The Great American Eclipse”

First, Fireflies

I survived twenty-nine years without having ever seen fireflies.

That’s not to sound ungrateful. Some things I have seen: the ruins of Ayutthaya, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the raw majesty of southeast Asian monsoons. Other things I have not seen: the northern or southern lights, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Statue of Liberty.

Before reaching age eighteen, I’d encountered king cobras and tokay geckos and weaver ants in their native habitats, which I realized not everyone had done. So I never felt particularly put out about the fireflies until it came to my attention that some people reach adulthood without ever having seen cockroaches. Continue reading “First, Fireflies”