A Newbie in Graham, a series

By Paula Morris


From a quiet suburb in Illinois I moved to what I thought was a tranquil, rural area in Graham WA for my retirement, never thinking that an area where one could raise chickens and goats could be dangerous.

But, the first week I was here, the ground shook as several loud booms made the hair raise on the back of my neck.

What on earth was that?  I ran next door to my daughter’s house in a state of near-panic.

“Oh, my God!  Did Rainier blow?”

My daughter actually laughed and said, “Mom, that’s just the army base.”

The combined army and air force of Joint Base Lewis McChord, that is.  I learned the army regularly tests their artillery power on their military reservation that stretches to just a few miles from where I now live.

“Great!  Now, I live in a war zone!”

Then, several days later, late at night, I heard a “rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat,” that sounded like machine gun fire.

Sure enough, in the morning my daughter verified that indeed the army does night time maneuvers, and they don’t hesitate to use 50-caliber machine guns.

“But late at night?”  Yup.

Also, I discovered that throughout the day the army flies helicopters overhead; creating an endless stream of noise over the tall cedars on our land.  My thoughts immediately went to…pollution?


Then, I learned that the incidence of asthma is high in Washington state, and according to the State Department of Health, 400,000 adults and 120,000 youths currently have asthma – one of the highest rates in the U.S – and it is steadily increasing.  I had a minor case of asthma in Illinois, where I lived all my life, but within a couple of weeks of moving here I was coughing so bad that I couldn’t even talk.  After a trip to the doctor I was back on inhalers, which I hadn’t needed in over 15 years.  Interestingly, the Health Department website mentions many possible causes of this “unusually high” incidence of asthma, i.e., smoking, allergies, work environment, outdoor environment; but it doesn’t mention anything about those ongoing explosions from the military base.


 From things I’ve read, I know particles from explosions enter the air, soil and groundwater.  Add to that the fuel trails emitted by the helicopters overhead, and we have a few other possible sources of pollution.  Could the accumulative effects of these contaminants have triggered my asthma?


 Later, while driving along 200th Street and heading toward Orting, I noticed signs that said, “Lahar evacuation road.”

 “Lahar?  What language is that?” I asked my daughter.

 I had never heard the word “lahar” before, a slurry of volcanic debris, mud and water.  The quiet Mt. Rainier, I came to understand, can erupt any minute now.


 A lahar from Mt. Rainier will cover Orting, which is right next to Graham.  So, if you’re not way up on a very high hill, a lahar could form your new backyard.


Last week, the news was full of the tragedy unfolding in Japan.  The possible blow up of the Fukushima nuclear power plant and the resulting radiation fall-out has everyone nervous.  Yesterday, I saw an online map of the plume of radiation that appears to be following a trajectory to California and inevitably spreading to Washington state and Oregon.  Potentially, we could be in for a nuclear winter.


So much for a safe, peaceful retirement.  Even though there were many tornadoes in Illinois, there wasn’t the threat of total annihilation!

Yep, Graham is a nice little all American town where several times a week one can hear the “bombs bursting in air,” and imagine the “rockets red glare.”  Or, if that doesn’t make you feel all down homey, there’s always someone firing their guns into the woods nearby.  Although the rain is daunting, and the guns and bombs are disturbing – let alone being one of the first in the nation to be exposed to Japan’s nuclear fall-out – seeing Mt. Rainier in the distance makes up for it. 

As a newbie, even though danger lurks around every corner, I’ll put up with it for the beauty of Mt. Rainier.

 ©  2011  Paula Morris

All Rights Reserved

Paula is a contributing writer to The Mountain News, and will be sharing her experiences as a newbie to Graham – and living close to the Mountain in body and spirit – in the days and weeks ahead.

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8 Responses to A Newbie in Graham, a series

  1. Wayne says:

    It could be said that the sounds you hear from JBLM is the sound of freedom! Better to be shooting for you than at you!

    • Paula Morris says:

      Are you saying that in order for all of us to have “freedom” we must compromise our air, water and land. We must give up peace of mind and tranquility and pristine forests for bombs? Are you equating destruction with freedom? Hmmmm.

      • Wayne says:

        I guess the military could practice with bb guns and firecrackers. I have never been to a war that did not cause destruction. That area has been set aside for just such purpose. It is like moving in next to a land fill or a farm and then complaining about the smell. Did you ever serve in the military? I am not saying I agree with what we do with our military, actually quite the opposite a lot of the time. I don’t hear much complaining about driving your car and what it is doing to the environement.

  2. Mary Schooley says:

    What a great article. Loved the view from a “newbie’s eye”. Is she a professional writer. If not, she should be. MKS

  3. Bill Owen says:

    Think about all that noise you are hearing from Ft Lewis. Some soldier is out for days on end in our Northwest weather. He is probably wet, sleep deprived (an 8 hour work day has no meaning), eating cold awful tasting food (when he gets it). His pay is a disgrace. He is happy with this circumstance because he can be with his family, and no one is trying to kill him. And he volunteered to do all this to assure your freedom to fret over your dishes being rattled. Sleep tight, you are well protected.
    Bill Owen

    • brucesmith49 says:

      Paula’s story and some of the above comments reveal an important dynamic in our society. Lots of folks in our country do not feel comfortable hearing or seeing the military might of the United States. Where some see freedom, others see the hammer behind the corporate elite. At the same time, both sides do not feel appreciated by the other.

      So, I’ve asked Paula to write an additional story describing how she has come to her persepctive on the “Guns of Graham.” I invite others to share their own narratives on how they have come to take these same sights and sounds as the “Chimes of Freedom.”

      The Mountain News welcomes all stories on the subject, as long as they are respectful. No rants, name-calling, or provocative baiting. Just tell us your story. Deal?

      For me, the most courageous and honest men I have ever met were some of my patients in the psych unit of the Northport VA, back in New York, post ‘Nam. To this day, I still cherish their candor in telling me and our therapy groups how much they liked war. I also treasure another warrior, Ramtha the Enlightened One, who has inspired me not to judge anyone, not even myself.

      Please tell us your truth.

    • Paula Morris says:

      I truly feel sorry for the young men and women who have to tolerate such grueling training. I am happy for the soldier who gets to be near family and so puts up with it. No family wants to be parted from their young men and women. This soldier didn’t volunteer for this so that I or anyone may fret over dishes rattling. In fact, my dishes don’t rattle and I don’t fret. I was just shocked the first time I heard such deep shaking of the ground. The noise was an ugly noise. I like soldiers. I don’t like the exploitative elite in this world who USE those soldiers for their own profit. I don’t like the fact that the Military Industrial Complex is one of the only Corporate/militarized entity’s in this country making huge profits….and off of our young.

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