Umbellularia Californica – Or, the California Bay Laurel

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.

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Memento Mori V – Or, The Deer and the Turkey Vultures

CW: Animal death, decomposition, blood, death

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.

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Close-up of a turkey vulture’s head and shoulders. Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

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What Strange Luck May Come – Or, The Pea Soup Capital of the World

Andersen’s Pea Soup Capital of the World,” I read out loud, staring out the passenger side window at an approaching sign. “Buellton, California – 105 miles.”

“What?” my then-spouse asked, eyes on the road.

“I keep seeing these signs for this famous split pea soup,” I said, gesturing out the window. “It’s quite a claim. I mean, pea soup’s good and all, but—?”

“Yeah, famous?”

“Kinda wish we had time to stop,” I mused. “I’d like to see if it’s worth the hype.” I paused. “It’s even on the way.”

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Close-up of fresh pea pod on a wooden table. Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

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