Wisdom and Youth

“Mortality comes with the sad wisdom of age, when the sense of curiosity has withered.”

-Graham Greene-

One year ago I stumbled upon this Afghan vendor in the Kabul market cooling his tea with a delicate breath. I reached for my camera only to be caught by his calm gaze and inquisitive eyes. I would like to think we were curious of the other.

As Graham Greene wisely stated, as long as we maintain a healthy, almost childish, curiosity of the world we maintain our youth. For when we quit being inquisitive and generally interested in what is happening around us, we forget why exactly we are here.

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Dumptrucks and Bacon

Sometimes you will never know the the value of something until it becomes a memory. 

-Dr. Seuss

Wading through a sea of memories, photographer and friend Casey Garret Johnson (www.fracturedatlas.wordpress.com), came across this gem from Ketchikan, Alaska.

Captured in 35mm during a rare and well deserved break from the toils of cannery life we played amongst the machines left to be devoured by nature.

A few of the upsides of that summers manual labor; endless bacon in the canteen, lessons in Black Velvet, and the day this photo was taken.

Stay Curious  Photo by Casey Garret Johnson (www.fracturedatlas.wordpress.com)

Stay Curious
Photo by Casey Garret Johnson

 

 

That was a Good Day

 

Arrival

Arrival

After near certain disaster on a patch of soggy leaves this past weekend and waking up to below freezing temperatures today I was inspired to tell this story.

If you have ever dumped a motorbike you know it can be a pants-shitting experience.

In July I was in the midst of attempting to ski 12 consecutive months on 12 different mountains and realized I was close to failure. Skis strapped to my backpack. Boots tucked in my saddle bag. I found myself riding, at speed, over a slash pile, completely lost, in the Selkirks of Northern Idaho looking for snow and a trailhead. Chasing the dirt and dodging the shrapnel of my more experienced partners, I knew I was pushing the limits of my skills. But July was month 9 of my 12 and I was not getting skunked, again, in my quest to ski-all-year.

As my front tire dug in I pulled the rip cord and thought to myself, ‘i wonder if this is what an ejection seat feels like’. My ski tips hit first defusing a majority of the impact. Instinct kicked in and all I could do was flail my appendages. Landing on the dirt, shaken, bike sputtering, I looked for pooled blood and white meat. Nothing, not even a scratch or a dislocation. As I muscled the bike back to its merciless tires I rejoiced. Realizing I had lost precious ground to my two outlaw brethren I twisted the throttle and I am pretty sure closed my eyes in fear.

As I miraculously arrived at Mt. Roothaan trailhead I was greeted with high-fives, laughter, and warm coors light(s). I was not the only one to lose control on that poor excuse for a trail, but certainly the slowest to recover.  We spent the remainder of the day hiking the high country, baking in the July sun, and skiing pristine corn.

That was a good day.

Backyard Boondoggle: Hanford Nuclear Site

 

“There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement.  If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.”

Enrico Fermi

It is safe to assume that most stories of adventure do not begin in row F of a burgandy motor coach, exception being the 1994 blockbuster ‘Speed’ starring Keeanu Reeves. That being said, envision a well worn charter bus, me comfortably sitting in the tattered seats of row F eating peanuts, and then add a steady stream of retirees shuffling down the aisle to take their seats. Note one in particular, he is wearing a baby blue ‘I heart Hanford’ hat clutching a walker*. This sets the stage for the latest Backyard Boondoggle: Hanford Nuclear Site.

Nuclear power conjures up visuals of Chernobyl, The Cold War, Homer Simpson, the grand finale of WWII, Oppenheimer, Los Alamos, Trinity, and on-and-on, but who really knows where it all started? Well the residents of Washington State and more specifically the Tri-Cities are all too aware.

The Hanford Nuclear Site is 586 square miles of scrub brush that at one time was booming, like 50,000 employees on-site building top secret shit booming. Based on a 1942 experiment conducted by Enrico Fermi under the bleachers at Stagg Field on the University of Chicago campus, which clearly showed that humans could create and control a nuclear chain reaction. This experiment paved the way for the ‘acquisition’ or ‘condemnation by eminent domain’ by the Department of Defense of the land now know as Hanford. This displaced numerous settlers and copious Native Americans and was ultimately the home to B Reactor as well as some dangerously poisonous deer, water fowl, and fish.

B Reactor was built in an impressive 11 months and was completed in late 1944. It was so top-secret no one knew what was being built on the property. Workers were constantly shuffled about the massive construction site to ensure the secrecy of the project. Even the Vice President of the United States of America, Harry S. Truman, was not privy to what was taking place at Hanford until he was appointed as President upon Roosevelt’s untimely death in April of 1945, nearly a year after B Reactor went active.  It is believed that B Reactor was built without blue prints, it was purely based on sketches and a hypothesis. In theory the reactor would produce plutonium 239 by irradiating uranium 238 by placing large uranium rods into 2004 holes in the face of the massive reactor core. This would knock off extra neutrons and create uranium 239, the end product after decay being plutonium. The graphite core, massive water cooling system, and 9 boron control rods allowed for the reactor to work at a constant state of fission. Using a staggering 75,000 gallons of river water per minute to cool the reactor, B Reactor soon was the work horse in creating the plutonium used to create both test and war time nuclear bombs.  B Reactor was also the template to which the other reactors on the Hanford site were built.

Currently Hanford is run by the Department of Energy and is the home to a massive clean-up effort.  Employing thousands of people, Hanford is still creating nuclear power from one small reactor.  The other reactors on the property are either entombed to allow the radiation to dissipate or are being taken apart and buried.  Nuclear energy, although clean when running, is a disaster when decommissioned.  Much of the waste created in the early years of Hanford was buried in undisclosed locations, with those persons in the know long passed on.  Today, Hanford is a nuclear recycling center, housing all the cores from decommissioned military vessels. Each ‘cask’ or nuclear power plant is placed in rows after being barged from the ocean to the Hanford property. Like a graveyard, these casks, are the size of small buildings, patiently awaiting future burial or decontamination.

With a 2 billion dollar vitrification plant underway at Hanford, the Tri-cities region continues to flourish in the nuclear age.  Time will tell, however, at what cost…

But if you have an interest in history and want to take a bad-ass tour in the middle of the week of a former double top-secret nuclear power plant that once produced the fuel for nuclear weapons, B Reactor is the spot, and its FREE!

Learn more at:

http://manhattanprojectbreactor.hanford.gov/?tour=registrationStart

*The guy with the walker and Hanford hat, he and his brother were both operators of B Reactor for decades…

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In Memory of Albert Pontarolo

“It was a time of timber and toil…with men as tough as their ax handles…and more mountains in every direction…that I would ever see again.”

-Norman Maclean- 

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Albert Pontarolo was born June 1, 1922 and passed away in peace surrounded by his family around 9:30pm on July 21, 2014.  He was 92 years of age.

As a young man his days were spent shoving coal for the Northern Pacific Railroad. As a railroad fireman he would shovel coal 16 hours a day and cool off with a swim across the Columbia river. Needless to say he was a man of unknown strength, with hands like a catchers mitt and a grip that of a bench vise.

As tensions grew in Europe Albert Pontarolo enlisted in the Navy and spent his time at Midway and Guam as a mechanic and seamen. Although he spoke little of his encounters at war, like most of his generation, it was clear that he made and lost friends who molded him into the man, father, husband, and grandfather be soon became. Upon his return from WWII Albert met and married Alice Fazzari in 1946 who he cherished for 67 years until his death. Albert and Alice had two sons and three daughters, raising them on a small farm in Walla Walla, Washington.

After returning from war he briefly returned to the railroad but ultimately found himself behind the bar with his brother-in-law, Arturo Fazzari, serving cold beers and 30 cent salami sandwiches to local patrons. Albert was consigliere to Art Fazzari and The McFeely Tavern – ‘the biggest little tavern in town’ for over 50 years. He stayed involved with the McFeely but ultimately he returned to his true vocation, being a railroad man.

After working as a fireman, brakemen and passing his railroad engineer test, Albert, rode the rails in the Pacific Northwest as an engineer until his retirement.  Always a tinkerer and mechanic he devoted his retirement to repairing anything that needed fixing and helped run the McFeely.  Albert, like many men of his generation, lived by the simple code, ‘don’t be afraid to get started’. Tearing into motors, radios, building homes, plowing fields, picking onions, and cracking walnuts with his bare hands, my Grandpa was a goddamn man.

He defined brawn and grit, but I could always see a tear well in his eye as I left after my frequent visits.

Albert Pontarolo 

June 1, 1922 thru July 21, 2014 

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