You’d think, what with the pandemic, that I’d’ve had more time for blogging over the past several months. But no – somehow it seems as though I’ve had far, far less.
I hope no one’s been too worried about my wellbeing. I’m safe, and healthy, and employed, and able to work from home. Andrew and I have always had enough toilet paper (though it was close!), and we enjoy one another’s company. So I’ve been among the lucky ones here in the States. I hope all of you can say the same.
One hope of mine, when I started this blog, was that regularly writing about wonders would force me to seek out new material week by week. Hopefully, I thought, this practice will make me pay more attention.
And it has – so much, in fact, that I sometimes find myself at a loss for which wonder to write about on a given occasion.
Only thirty seconds up Andrew’s and my new favorite trailhead stands a majestic sprawling oak the likes of which cannot fail to transport me into fits of exultation.
This essay is not about that tree, though I’ll be shocked if by next fall I haven’t followed up with many unhinged rhapsodic lines on the matter. The moss! The lichens! The flock of red-headed woodpeckers! I’ve got to wait for its leaves to come in fresh so I can be sure of its species.
No – but today’s story begins beneath that tree, under the warming late winter sun, with me gazing through the oak’s branches, my new phone (with its new and better camera!) in my hands. I raised the camera between my face and the tree. Shook my head. Crouched down and raised the phone once more. Hesitated between portrait and landscape mode. Tried to imagine what Katrina, the photographer of the family, might do. Then looked disappointedly at Andrew.
“We’ll need to come back on a greyer day,” I said. “It won’t look right in the pictures with the sun so nice.” I rose and snapped a close-up of a gnarled scar where a small branch had once been.
Once my niece and nephew and I were all buckled in the backseat of my sister’s ancient Montero, I turned to my nephew – proudly perched in his new booster seat – and asked, “So what was your favorite part of our adventure, buddy?”
“Um…” he said, grinning. “All of it.”
“All of it!” I repeated, arranging my souvenir bag on the floor as we pulled out of the parking lot, my hips wedged tightly between the two car seats, my shoulders scrunched. “That was pretty yummy chocolate, huh?”
“Um, yeah. And machines! Machines that make chocolate! It’s like a dream come true!” My nephew giggled, beaming out the window. “I’d need some pretty big Legos to make something that cool.”
Huh, I thought, the obvious dawning on me. I should’ve taken pictures inside the factory.
At the most recent full moon, on October 13th, I headed out into the Mojave to watch the moon rise.
It’s something I used to do in college. In Provo, I lived within a five-minute drive of several gorgeous hiking trails in the Wasatch Range. I’d park my pickup at a trailhead parking lot, climb into the truck bed, wrap myself in a quilt, and watch the silvery moon calmly slip between the rocky peaks above me to the east. All this without having left the city limits.
When I was three or four years old, random friendly grown-ups started asking me what color this or that was, what my favorite food was, and what my daddy did for work.
“He’s a geophysicist!” I’d announce, and they’d look at my parents with something like awe, and make a comment about how smart I was to know a word like geophysicist.
I’ve always enjoyed a compliment, but if we’re being fair, I didn’t actually know the word. I could pronounce it, sure, and that’s not nothing for a pre-schooler, but I didn’t know what it meant. Flabbergasted I could use in a sentence, thanks to a Little Golden Book featuring poems about Sesame Street characters. Geophysicist, not so much.
Over the past two weeks, as much of the United States prepares for crunching leaves and dormant plant life, the second spring has come to the Mojave. And with the arrival of this second spring, I found myself tending to my balcony garden and marveling that I should have loose soil in my hands during the first days of October. Such is life in the desert.
Before we get to the Arboretum itself, here’s a fun fact I didn’t mention last week: dendrochronology, or the scientific study of tree rings, was first founded in Flagstaff, Arizona, at Lowell Observatory.
How, you ask, did such a skyward-focused establishment stumble upon something so terrestrial?
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.