60 Feet Square

It is cool and a little damp which is odd being that this is a desert. Our windy season is mostly over but the temperature has dropped and we have had a few rainy and foggy days. Rainy day here means we might get a shower or two with just enough to wet things down a little. Happily, my rain barrel is full again.

I’ve had a miserable cold and I have been hoping for some warm sunny days so I could bake it out by soaking up rays. I have plenty to do outside but don’t feel like going out. This is a persistent cold virus that I’ve been fighting for two weeks and now heading into week number three…my first cold in about four years. People say it takes three weeks to feel better but still longer to feel right.  I actually know who gave me this cold and I’m plotting revenge. Nothing serious.

It was damp and foggy this morning but the fog burned off and it was sunny for a few hours. Now, a little past 2 PM, it is cloudy and cool again. The sun will be back in an hour or so. I took advantage of the morning sun and got out and worked on my pond and a little in the yard. I took a few pictures all within about a sixty foot square in the front of the house.

Watson, my faithful companion, just turned sixteen and mostly lounges around and watches me in the hope that I do something interesting. That doesn’t happen very often and he falls asleep.  The Lilac is blooming  and there are buds on some of the flowering bushes. It will all explode in blooming frenzy in about two weeks.

I’ve been having some algae problems with the pond and I seem to have a leak somewhere. That is often related to the amount of vegetation in the water. I need a warm day to get out there and do a thorough clean-up job. The fish seem not to notice.

The Mountain Mahogany is blooming — in it’s own fashion. You have to look close and fast because the flowers are small and don’t last long in variable spring weather. They have a faint scent that reminds me of nutmeg. There will be small tufted seed heads later in the summer.

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I have an ancient sagebrush growing out beyond the walled placita. One definition of “Sage” is someone who has attained wisdom. This old gnarled and twisted thing has seen a lot and has sheltered countless families of desert rabbits. It probably has acquired some wisdom but I have no idea how to measure that. I also have no idea how old it is but it certainly predates the house. It reminds me of those old Bristlecone Pines that appear to be dead but are still living — still have a pulse, in a manner of speaking. The contorted trunk has a lot of interest.

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There is a certain muscularity in the wood.

I have a family of Jackrabbits just beyond the rear wall in a sage and saltbush thicket. The Quail are calling but you seldom see them. Mourning Doves come a few times a day to call out and bathe in the pond or stumble around on the rocks by the stream.

Thanks to El Nino, we had a wet year last year and the drought was finally broken but things are always precarious here. We still had only a little more than twelve inches of rain…that’s a wet year. Up on the hill, near Loma Barbon, I lost a few juniper trees to the drought and even the Cholla cactus look defeated. The desert rabbits have eaten most of the Prickly Pear cactus and gnawed on a few Chollas.  Maybe there will be a turnaround this year. I have never seen a “baby” juniper seedling up there because the wildlife will nip it off. We could use a few coyotes up there but it must be easier for them to forage the outlying housing developments. They are getting lazy.

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Survivors

I don’t just sit around and think about horrible or depressing topics all the time, but it seems that way sometimes. I’ve been battling a persistent version of the common cold (gosh — I hope that’s all it is) and my thoughts have turned to health matters. We seem to be going from one health scare to another. It was Ebola just a while back and we get occasional bulletins that another case has turned up here or there, usually in one of the coastal nations of West Africa. The AIDs and HIV virus epidemic was (is still) scary and I was an administrator planner in a prison system when the first news spread like wildfire. We knew we were in for it once AIDs made it into prisons. As it turned out, almost nothing happened. Now we have the Zika virus being spread quite rapidly by tropical mosquitos. It apparently spreads in other ways as well. The original affliction noted from the virus was a micro cephalic birth defect but the list of complications in otherwise healthy people is growing. There are already thousands of micro cephalic infants born in Brazil and other places and there will be many more before this virus gets under control…as we assume it will. Vaccines are being developed. How do we…the world at large…care for thousands of these afflicted children? It is more than just a local isolated problem. The moms and dads will be overwhelmed. The task of defeating the virus will be long and costly but we will eventually find a way.

iron lung wardI remember the pictures of the hospital wards full of iron lungs back in the 1950s. Each one had a little kid’s head sticking out; kids my age. During that period we went through all sorts of scary stuff including Atom bomb drills but the thought of being put into one of those iron lung contraptions was – for me – the most horrific thing that could happen. Polio was everywhere. When you are seven or eight you have sort of a concept of “just desserts” — the idea that bad things happen to bad people but you knew that those kids were innocent of any major wrongdoing. How could this have happened…how was it allowed to happen? In later years – after the vaccine doses were given out in the school cafeteria — we had a few new classmates with an arm or leg that was shorter or smaller than the other. Being kids we would ask about it and the answer was almost always “Polio”. We knew what that meant and there was no teasing or ill treatment. These kids were viewed as survivors.

Polio hit close to home in our family. My uncle, married to my dad’s youngest sister, caught it. I actually remember the day he got sick because we were all at a family outing and he was playing softball. By that evening he knew there was something wrong. It was life threatening for a while but he eventually plateaued and in the end he lost the use of his legs and was permanently confined to a wheelchair. He had the energy and youthful attitude and a strong family network to put up a good fight and he won, after a fashion. He worked at Emerson Electric and the company built him a special work station so he could continue to work. He made a good living. He was a very good bowler and would travel around the country to participate in wheelchair bowling tournaments…the house was full of trophies. He coached my brother’s little league team. Of course he could drive with the use of hand controls. We thought of him as pretty much a normal guy. He was already a dad when he got sick but I recall him driving up in front of our house on July 4th and leaning on the horn shouting “I got a little firecracker!!” when his son was born a couple years after getting sick. My uncle is the one who taught me how to drive…as odd as that might seem. He had more patience than my dad. The only thing he couldn’t manage was going up or down steps but there always seemed to be willing hands and strong backs to get him lifted – chair and all – up or down. We went to the same church and there would be a few men hanging around the door waiting for my uncle to arrive so they could carry him up the few steps to the church door. He was more than a survivor. He served as an example and inspiration to some and certainly to me.

There are still a handful of “kids” in iron lungs…now in their sixties. Technological advances and medical procedures got most of the survivors out of the iron lung wards. We seldom hear of any new polio cases but they happen in just a few third world countries. Of course we also have the families that refuse to take any vaccines so they are likely at risk. So far this year there have been only nine cases of polio worldwide. The disease was stopped in Nigeria last year and the last two remaining polio countries are Pakistan and Afghanistan. A new vaccine is being administered in Africa and Asia this month along with a major new inoculation effort that might totally eradicate the disease by the end of this year. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other funding groups are actively pushing this eradication effort.  I’m optimistic and guessing that a similar effort will eventually tackle the Zika virus…and the next new wild disease that comes along.

I just read Dan Brown’s book Inferno (2013) that offers a break-neck tour of Italy and Istanbul while the hero, good ol’ Professor Robert Langdon, struggles to decipher a string of clues related to an intentional viral pandemic. This evil plot is a form of population control…with a twist. Langdon seems to be the “Johnny-on-the Spot” whenever these diabolical world threatening plots surface. He’s practically Superman. The concept behind the book is that human population growth is now, or soon will be, beyond the Earth’s capacity to support it. Climate change will probably move populations even closer together and someday there might be rapidly spreading plague event, like in the middle ages, but we seem to be holding our own so far.

Trinity – April 2, 2016

The word “Surreal” comes to mind. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A man is taking a selfie while standing in front of the rough stone obelisk that marks the spot…the very spot…where the first atomic bomb exploded. This is “ground zero” at the Trinity Site. There are thirty or forty other people waiting patiently for their turn to take a selfie at the same spot or to take pictures of their loved ones standing at the ground zero marker. This is only the beginning of what is to come. While you are there experiencing it, it seems nearly normal but on reflection on what this place is and what it represents it descends into almost a dreamlike experience.

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The Trinity Site is open for public visitors for one day only, twice a year (April and October) because it is located on restricted military real estate: that being the White Sands Missile Range. They still blow things up here or shoot things out of the sky. You can’t just drop in and take a gander at where it all began. This is a secure place and you go through a security gate, show identification and follow a precise route and park in a designated spot and walk several hundred yards across the desert to a fenced circular space maybe 100 yards across. You can stop along your walk to purchase a T-shirt.

 

There isn’t much to see. Ground Zero is just a monument and a piece of desert but if you look closely you see that you are standing in a shallow depression. It is gradual but the ground you are walking on is a round saucer with a relative depth of about eight feet caused by the tremendous compression from the blast. The surface was once covered, almost paved, with Trinitite, a greenish glass-like stone created from the quartz and feldspar sand exposed to the pressure and extreme heat from the plutonium bomb. Most of the Trinitite is gone but people are walking stooped over like beach comers looking for shells on a beach. There are examples on display. It isn’t a pretty stone…just a novelty. It is illegal to remove any from the site but they look anyway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPositioned along the eight-foot perimeter fence are a series of official black and white photographs with captions explaining various aspects of the test site, the engineering and construction work, the bunkers used for observation and photos of the actual blast. Visitors walk along the fence and pause at each photograph like the Stations of the Cross. Looking beyond the fence you see only desert and mountains and a slight rise…almost a lip…designating the edge of the depression.

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Across the enclosure, parked on its own flat-bed truck, is a full size replica of “Fat Man”, the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. Fat Man was over ten feet long and 60 inches in diameter…hence the name. It weighed over 10,000 pounds.

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Nagasaki wasn’t the primary target on that mission. The flight crew made three bombing run passes over the main target, the city of Kokura, but clouds and smoke from earlier bombings obscured the city so they went to Nagasaki instead.

Gadget
The Gadget — Nuclear Museum

At Trinity “The Gadget”, as the first bomb was called, was assembled largely on site and then hoisted 100 feet up on a steel tower and housed in a small hut-like enclosure. The tower was vaporized and all that remains is part of a concrete footing for one of the tower’s legs. I’m surprised that that managed to survive as everything else was vaporized or blown far beyond recognition. The temperature of the blast was measured at 14,710 degrees Fahrenheit. The sound of the explosion was heard in Gallup, New Mexico, 150 miles away. None of the observation bunkers remain. They survived the blast but have been demolished in more recent years. The main viewing bunker was at 10,000 yards – over five and a half miles away. Robert Oppenheimer watched from there but many others, including General Groves, watched from a point ten miles away. Edward Teller watched from a hilltop point twenty miles away. There were a few project scientists at the time that theorized that the blast might be sufficient to ignite the oxygen and hydrogen in the atmosphere…no distance would have been safe in that case.

Once you have made a walking tour of the fenced enclosure and taken your photos while dodging young parents with baby carriages and folks enjoying the bomb site with the family dog, you head back to the parking area. There you board a waiting shuttle bus to carry you over to the George McDonald Ranch, located about two miles from ground zero.

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The George McDonald Ranch and the residence (the 1913 Schmidt House) was the site of the actual assembly of the plutonium device. The residence is a 1700 square foot adobe and stone structure that, as fate and geology and location would have it, survived the blast with only the windows blown out. The building was at the very core of activity as the scientists and engineers assembled the bomb…in what was the master bedroom.

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Over the decades the building was left to deteriorate until it was “rescued” and stabilized in 1982. The National Park Service restored the residence in 1984 to what it looked like in 1945 but it is now in need of further rehabilitation. A crew of volunteers will work on several restoration projects in the fall of 2016.

This had been a working ranch up until 1942 when the entire area was purchased as a bombing and gunnery range. There was a large livestock tank — sometimes used as a swiming pool by the bomb assembly crew — and a bunkhouse.  The windmill tower survives but the stone bunkhouse is in ruins.

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There is a small amount of residual radiation at the Trinity Site after seventy years. The reported radiation (for a short visit) is less than one would get from a cross-country airplane flight or an X-ray…they say. I hope my rash clears up soon…just kidding.

Actually there were a few informational picketers outside the main security gate because of some reported health issues found among local people. Whether those are related to the atomic test or other missle range activity or something totally unrelated is a good question. Across the road from the picketers were people selling (radioactive?) Trinitite samples.

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Silver City Episode

Brick and Stone: Architecture and Preservation

I’m posting this as a place holder as much as anything else so I can remember to go back to Silver City, New Mexico. Two weekends ago I was in Silver City with my daughter on a two-day trip down to see the Gila Cliff Dwellings. It is about a five hour drive to Silver City so we spent most of the day in the car heading south on I-25 and then west over Highway 152.

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The interstate part of the trip is what it is…interstate. We stopped in Truth or Consequences for lunch at the  little Grapevine Bistro on Broadway. I don’t recall exactly what I had but it had Prickly Pear Jelly on it and it was good. I never had Prickley Pear Jelly before so that was a new treat. They make the stuff in TorC. This is sort of a health food cafe and I…

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