Lemon Trees and Second Spring

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.

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Photo by Ghislaine Guerin on Unsplash

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The Underworld and the Heavens – Or, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona

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.

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This building houses the actual telescope commissioned to discover “Planet X.” It succeeded in capturing the first images of Pluto in 1915, and the significance of those images was recognized in 1930! (All photos by yours truly.)

Continue reading “The Underworld and the Heavens – Or, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona”

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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The “I Heart Beaver” Beaver in Beaver

My car holds just enough gasoline to get me from Las Vegas, Nevada to Beaver, Utah.

I first learned this when driving from my sister’s place in Vegas to Madison, Wisconsin in 2015. I was almost done with the journey’s I-15 leg, and, as one does, I pulled into the gas station that presented itself at the moment when my gas tank was empty and my bladder full.

And came face-to-face with this:

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Six-foot beaver statue standing upright and wearing a sign saying, “I Heart Beaver.”

Continue reading “The “I Heart Beaver” Beaver in Beaver”

The Cranes Were Not the Strangers Here

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”

Unexpected Memento Mori – Or, The Massive Orange Moose

In the life of a melodramatic lover of roadside attractions, there’s no preparing for a massive orange moose. One moment, you’re living your life the best you know how. Suddenly the world has a massive orange moose in it, and it’s right outside your window. There’s an emotional reckoning to be had. Nothing will ever be the same. Continue reading “Unexpected Memento Mori – Or, The Massive Orange Moose”

No Dice on the Karaoke Plans

Beyond the blinking arcade lights, a blackjack dealer stood over a deserted table counting chips by flashlight. Every movement was precise, from the sorting to the notebook-jotting. Even the flashlight’s oval gleam was meticulous, which was a marvel: the dealer was holding the battery-end in her mouth.

“—gonna to get unbearably hot in here within about an hour or so,” the hostess was telling Andrew. “We’ve got the generators, but they’re just to keep the arcades running.” She gestured across the room, where the gaming machines were chirruping gleefully and lighting the room with a churning mishmash of animated dragons, mermaids, pirates, race cars, sharks, and leprechauns. Colors swam across the dark ceiling, dramatizing the cigarette haze.

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Photo by Benoit Dare on Unsplash

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Welcome to Colorful Colorado!

Prairie-land and I don’t go well together. I ascribe this to my pioneer ancestry. My DNA remembers too many meals cooked over buffalo-chip campfires, and so no matter how expansive the arched cerulean sky, I can’t help feeling trapped in the endlessness rather than freed by it. Too many heirlooms left on the side of the trail. Too many shallow graves.

I am ready for mountains. Continue reading “Welcome to Colorful Colorado!”

First, Fireflies

I survived twenty-nine years without having ever seen fireflies.

That’s not to sound ungrateful. Some things I have seen: the ruins of Ayutthaya, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the raw majesty of southeast Asian monsoons. Other things I have not seen: the northern or southern lights, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Statue of Liberty.

Before reaching age eighteen, I’d encountered king cobras and tokay geckos and weaver ants in their native habitats, which I realized not everyone had done. So I never felt particularly put out about the fireflies until it came to my attention that some people reach adulthood without ever having seen cockroaches. Continue reading “First, Fireflies”

No Accounting for Symbolism – or, Library Pressed Flowers

Generally speaking, one prefers that unexpected things not fall out of library books onto one’s face.

Yet there I was a few weeks back, curled up in bed, engrossed in Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, when I turned a page and—well, the next thing I knew, my limbic system had kicked on and I was scrambling aside, swatting at my face and staring at the dark fluttering thing now landing on my sheets. Continue reading “No Accounting for Symbolism – or, Library Pressed Flowers”