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.
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.
Here’s my earliest memory of trick-or-treating: Mom gave me and my siblings each a large cardboard box to decorate with doors, windows, and all the necessary amenities for modern life. Then, dressed in our lovingly-handmade costumes, we each took turns circling the little cardboard neighborhood, carefully traversing the pale blue rug with our candy bags extended.
From within our cardboard houses, we gave each other cough drops and homemade donut holes – cough drops because, in early-90s Bangkok, there wasn’t much other hard candy to be had, and donut holes because my mother thought the cough drop situation was a bit too sad.
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.
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.
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.