Katrina and I stepped under the pale stucco archway. To our left, tucked between the eastern and southern arches, stood a tall statue of Sekhmet, ancient Egypt’s lion-headed goddess. To our right, between the eastern and northern entries, was an altar covered in small representations of the Divine Feminine: Quan Yin, the Venus of Willendorf, Parvati. The flagstone floor glistened with desert rocks, sand, and small glass pebbles.
Above us, open sky beckoned beyond a dome of intersecting copper circles.
Gazing up, I realized I’d made an error. The small, open temple wasn’t cut off from the Mojave Desert surrounding it, but the feel within its walls was different enough, and familiar enough. Sacred space.
“Hey,” I said, looking back at my sister. “I need to take off my shoes.”
Katrina stepped backwards several steps. “I was thinking the same thing.”
The deer had been struck by a car a few hours before, as the sun warmed the early-dawn horizon. At least, I could only assume this was the case. I hadn’t seen the impact—wasn’t present for any last struggles or last breaths. All I had was the evidence as I came upon it: the fresh deer carcass, glossy-coated and gracefully arranged even in death, surrounded by seven or eight dark, stooped turkey vultures going about their grim business like so many Reapers.
Forty-five minutes after lifting off out of Houston—an evening flight bound for Las Vegas—I finished a chapter of my current book (Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, an exploration of the Appalachian Trail) and wondered about the stars. As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark outside my window, I spotted Cassiopeia, the vain queen, her five major stars prone directly in front of me. I smiled and shut off my reading light.
My sister was pointing at a large ornamental desert plant. She and I were several laps into an evening walk-and-talk around her neighborhood, and we were now stopped beneath the sparse Las Vegas stars regarding the plant in question with deepening curiosity. Continue reading “Memento Mori IV – Or, Agave Americana”→
To begin by saying nature is changeable would be to state the obvious, but I hope my readers will indulge me. Obvious or not, the cycles of nature can’t help but fascinate. And nowhere have they seemed more pronounced to me than in the desert.
Early this March, a week and a half after Las Vegas’ historic snowfall, I and a group of extended family members went on one of my favorite hikes in Red Rock Canyon, just west of the city. Red Rock Canyon consists of a thirteen-mile scenic driving loop off of which twenty-six marked hiking trails can be reached. Each offers something new and special: archeological information, unique rock formations, conservancy initiatives. Continue reading “Harsh, and Brimming with Life”→
Lawana, Andrew’s paternal grandmother, passed away on Palm Sunday. Her passing was not unexpected, but the timing was sudden. Andrew and I arrived in time for her viewing on Good Friday. We laid her to rest on Holy Saturday.
Easter Sunday was a whirl of activity at Andrew’s parents’ place. All the siblings, their significant others, and their children had come to see the family matriarch off. Lawana had brought us together for an unexpected family holiday, and we leaned into the opportunity, exactly as she would’ve wanted. Continue reading “Memento Vitae I – or, The Pansies and the Rainbows”→
Through the vast rocky desert of southern Nevada, Andrew and I are returning from an afternoon in Pahrump when we round a bend and see Las Vegas sprawled below us.
The city appears like a mirage. Approached on desert roads at night, Las Vegas glimmers like a lake of stars, the Luxor Sky Beam suspended between heaven and earth like an anchor’s taut chain. In the daylight, the Mojave Desert opens wide and reveals a civilization of millions.
For my ninth birthday, just weeks before my family left Bangkok, my best friend gave me a sheer pink sash screen-printed with cranes in flight.
This friend was Japanese, but, like me, she’d spent her entire childhood in Thailand. When you’re small, you understand too little of the world to comprehend cultural provenance. You simply absorb. You exist where you exist. You believe you belong until given reason to believe you do not. Continue reading “The Cranes Were Not the Strangers Here”→
Nearly three hundred years after Fort de Chartres’s construction first began, Andrew and I stood in the stone doorway of its restored Catholic chapel, listening to a Franciscan monk—a real one, not an actor—speaking of French colonial life. He sat in a large, simple wooden chair on a low dais, looking as comfortable in the humid shaded heat as he was in his dark robes. Outside, the sun was slipping out from behind the moon, the Great American Eclipse not yet over even though totality had passed. The sunlight was ethereal, periodically shaded by passing clouds. My eclipse glasses still dangled in my fingers.
Pierre Dugué de Boisbriand and his small French contingent left New Orleans in 1718 not for military purposes, but financial ones. Louis XIV had strained the French treasury during his long reign, and with his great-grandson Louis XV now on the throne, a correction was in order to ensure French prosperity and power. New France—a broad swath of North America stretching from Quebec to New Orleans, abutting the British colonies to the east and the Great Plains to the west, united by the Mississippi River and its tributaries—seemed the obvious answer. Continue reading “And the Mississippi Taketh Away – Or, The Tale of Fort de Chartres”→
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.