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.
Sometime in the night, the tokay gecko had finished a battle mortally wounded, had climbed to one of the most out-of-the-way vertical surfaces in the parking structure, and had perished.
So it was that early Sunday morning, I spotted the mottled grey-and-orange corpse while walking with my family from our condo to our van. I was sixteen and living in Pakkret, just outside of Bangkok, Thailand. The tokay gecko clung to a cement support beam spanning the vast ceiling, on the face overlooking the cars, rather than the side facing the open air over the man-made Nichada Lake. He happened to be situated directly above our assigned spot.
We did not yet realize the lizard was dead—after all, dead things don’t cling to vertical surfaces on their own. We noticed him, figured he was hunting some morning insects, and forgot him in moments.
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.