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.