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.
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.
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.
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”→
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”→
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.
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 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”→