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Weekend Edition
July 30 - August 1, 2010
Down the Hanford Reach

Paradoxical River

The river is a strong brown god. So declared T. S. Eliot, anyway. Some rivers, perhaps. The Mississippi, the Ohio, the Platte, certainly the Colorado. But not this river. Not Nch’I’Wana. Not the Columbia. Here in the shadow of the Rattlesnake Hills, the river is a clear as a subatomic particle, as cool as the icy hand of death, as fast as coyote sprinting at full stretch.

They call the Reach the last free-flowing run for the Columbia in the United States. The river flows. But it’s not entirely free. For 51 miles, from Priest Rapids Dam to the backwaters of McNary Reservoir at Richland, Washington, the waters of the Columbia flow unimpeded by a dam. The flow is regulated by the hydro-engineers upstream at Priest Rapids Dam. The releases of water fluctuate wildly. At peak demand, as the water is rushing through the turbines, the spills can raise the river level of Columbia by as much as 16 feet in a few hours. Still the river has a pulse, a taste of what it once was.

River trips don’t need a pretext. But we’ve got one anyway. Josh is tying the knot--and I'm not talking about a bowline or a clove hitch. He's getting married in a couple of weeks--or some contractual variation of that state of domestic union. This is a bachelor's party of sorts, a final taste of freedom. It's not much of a party. There are only two of us, squeezed into my sockeye-salmon orange inflatable touring kayak. Just the two of us and the whorls and boils of the liberated river. Just us and the river and the monitoring stations, watch towers, patrol boats, warning sirens and razor wire.
[Image: Unknown.jpeg]
Vernita Bridge.
Despite its status as a national monument, conferred by Bill Clinton exactly 10 years ago as a morsel to politically-famished greens, the Hanford Reach remains largely a closed and forbidden landscape. Ominous signs warn that entry to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the world’s most toxic site, on river right will result in arrest and prosecution. Most of the Saddle Mountain Wildlife Refuge on river left is closed. There’s no overnight camping allowed anywhere along the Reach. Even the islands are off limits. Only on the river are you really free.

The plan is to kayak as much of the Reach as we can, a forty-mile stretch from below Priest Rapids Dam, once home of Smohallah, the apocalyptic Dreamer of the Wanapum tribe, down to Ringold, site of a strange fish hatchery cordoned off by concertina wire. What dark plot are they protecting the salmon fry from? The Cold War is long gone, but the paranoia persists.

The float will take two days, requiring us to take-out at the old White Bluffs ferry, return to Richland for the night, and then put back in there the next day. That’s roughly 200 miles of driving each day to circumvent the sprawling nuclear wasteland of Hanford. But if access to the Reach were easy, the river would be crowded with shitheads on powerboats and jet-skis.

This Saturday morning we have the launch above Vernita Bridge to ourselves. By 9 am, the air is already heating up. The gold slopes of Saddle Mountain to the east blaze in the sun. The sky is cloudless and crystalline. To the Northwest, we can make out the glacier-draped bulge of Mount Rainer, nearly 150 miles away.

The ground at the launch is littered with the corpses of squawfish, large, needle-toothed fish that prey voraciously on steelhead and salmon smolts. The fish are native to the river, but in recent years a bounty has been placed on their heads. Like the sea lions of the lower Columbia, the squawfish, also known as Columbia River pikeminnow, has become a scapegoat for salmon decline. Blame anything but the dams.

We unfold the kayak, inflate its six chambers with a hand pump, clip-in two seats, tuck away our river bags, water and cameras. Despite recent warnings from the Environmental Working Group about its toxicity, we slather our cavefish-white Oregon flesh in sunscreen. It will do little good. By noon, we will both be sautéed. Our skin will redden and peel. It is a salutary, healing kind of pain, a ritual flensing—quite unlike the other kind of heat generated by the dark towers on the far side of the river. “Come away, into the Sun” counseled D.H. Lawrence. “It’s the Sun you want. You want life.”
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Entering Hanford Area 100.
The rigging of our low-riding craft takes less than five minutes. One last check of essentials.





“Car keys?”


“Obligatory volume of Abbey?”




“Biodegradable condoms?”


“This is a bachelor’s party weekend, isn’t it?”

We sprinkle some sagebrush into blue torrent of Nch’I Wana to appease the river gods, push off the gravel-strewn shore and immediately the newly liberated Columbia grabs the bow of the kayak, spins us to the south and hurls us downstream toward the pilings of Vernita Bridge, our portal into the Reach.

The river constricts, flexing its power as the current rips under the bridge. Suckholes swirl on both sides of us. One of them pulls at the bow of the kayak, tilting us toward the whirlpool. I slap the water with a low brace of my paddle and then it playfully releases us and we shoot into the iridescent, writhing surge of the main channel. A few moments later we turn and look back. The bridge is already far behind us.

“Let’s have a toast!”

“Absolutely,” says Josh. He’s from Montana. It’s never too early for him.

“Where’s the tequila?”

“In the river bag.”

Josh fumbles around in the small hold in the bow. Comes up empty-handed.

“Where’s the river bag?”

“Uhm, back in Richland?”

“Can we make it down this river sober?”

As if in answer, our kayak is jolted and spins, despite our frantic stroking. We’ve been gripped by an eddyline, the violent interface between powerful counter-currents, where the river turns back on itself.

Water flows around us, but we are still. Dead calm. Like the movie, but without anyone even remotely resembling Nicole Kidman. The kayak is perpendicular to the current. Not the best position, according to the operations manual. Not by a long shot. There's a movement in the reeds on river right, the nuclear side. It's coyote. He looks our way, ears erect. He sizes us up for a moment as he takes a crap. Then he lopes away toward a low ridge to the west, crowned by two black smokestacks. The twin fangs marking the B and C reactors, the dark towers of Dr. Fermi and Dr. Teller, where the rough nuclear beast came of age.
[Image: Unknown-1.jpeg]
B Reactor.
Reactor B is now a National Historic Landmark inside a National Monument. That’s probably not the architectural legacy Enrico Fermi had in mind when he designed the plutonium machine back at his mass atomic death lab at the University of Chicago in 1943. Fermi’s schematics to construct a plant to produce fuel for a plutonium bomb by a process of nuclear fission were handed over to the DuPont Corporation, whose engineers had the reactor up and running by September 1944, when Reactor B conducted its first successful nuclear chain-reaction. Ten months later plutonium-239 generated at Hanford would be used for the first nuclear bomb test at the Trinity Site in New Mexico. Three weeks later Hanford fuel would be packed in the “implosion design plutonium device” called Fat Man and detonated over Nagasaki, killing 73,884 people, injuring another 74,000 and exposing another 250,000 to radioactive fallout. That atrocity ended the Pacific War, but Hanford was just gearing up.

Reactor B is not a big building. It only covers about 1,700 square feet, about the size of a suburban house. Last fall, Josh toured the facility with Chelsea. By all accounts, it such hot date that they soon decided to join together what remains of their half-lives in matrimony. The reactor core is essentially a graphite box about 36 feet tall and 28 feet wide. The core is encased by a 10-inch thick shield of cast iron. Such a tiny little place to generate so much fear, so much death.

The core craves water to keep it cooled down. Lots of water. That’s the prime reason the nuclear engineers picked Hanford. It was a remote site with easy access to an almost limitless supply of water. So pumphouses were built to suck up 75,000 gallons of Columbia River water every minute and shoot it through aluminum tubes and around the uranium slugs. The highly contaminated water was then discharged into settling ponds and then flushed back into the river down large sluices. And that’s where the trouble started for the river and the fish and the people who ate them.

Coyote pauses on the ridgeline, pisses on a stubby sage and chortles. Always the tricks, the twisted little jokes, with you buddy. Well, here’s one on you, coyote. For years, ecologists scouring the Hanford steppe with Geiger counters to chart the how the radioactivity at the site is marching its way up the food chain have gotten the loudest pings when sweeping across coyote turds. The Geiger counters almost spasm with excitement. The ecologists have taken to calling the hot coyote scat “hummers.”
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Coyote, Hanford, Area 100.
Here’s an object lesson in the upward accumulation of bad isotopes. The deer that graze Hanford’s high desert plants are radioactive, too. But their shit doesn’t ping like coyote’s. That’s because deer are vegans. They consume radioactivity from toxic water, willow leaves and forbs. It accumulates in their blood, organs and tissue. But it doesn’t bio-magnify. It doesn’t increase in toxicity. That only comes with the consumption of radioactive flesh.

There’s only one other species at Hanford who’s shit sets off coyote-like alarm bells: the deer-hunters of the Hanford Reach. Out here, the Great Chain of Being has gone radioactive.

Through no machination of our own, the river kicks us out of the eddy and sends us twirling downstream, toward the notch in Saddle Mountain, the lovely “alpine view” used to lure workers to the Hanford outback. Boy where they in for a surprise. The austere Saddle Mountain is the tallest range in Washington without trees.
To be continued...
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Saddle Mountain.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at:
All photographs by Jeffrey St. Clair.
August 6 - 8, 2010
Down the Hanford Reach (Part Two)

Paradoxical River

Click here to read Part One.
The Columbia is the great river of paradoxes. Stoke by stroke, we are paddling deeper and deeper into a conundrum. But the contradictions are mostly ours, not the river’s. Let’s start with this one. Hanford’s corridor of reactors, nine in all, were located here because of the free-flowing river. The river in the Reach remains undammed because of those nukes. The river on both sides of the Reach is dammed up largely to provide power for the Hanford nukes. They call them the Cold War dams: Priest Rapids, McNary, John Day and The Dalles. Each were sold to the public on the promise of cheap power, but much of that energy was secretly re-directed up to Hanford for the production of plutonium for H-bombs. The great salmon-fishing grounds of Celilo were lost largely to satiate Hanford’s unquenchable thirst for electric power.

Of course, that didn’t stop the Army Corps of Engineers from wanting to inundate the Reach behind a mega-dam to be constructed near Pasco. The plans were first drawn up in 1932, then shelved until the early 1970s, when an unlikely coalition of environmentalists, steelhead fishermen and the Atomic Energy Commission, who were then in charge of Hanford, beat it down.

But dams don't perish so easily and the Pasco project, called the Ben Franklin Dam (at least they didn’t appropriate the name of a local chief like Kamiakan), was resurrected by the Carter Administration in 1978. Most dams, like wars, are instigated by Democrats. This time the dam wasn’t sold as an engine of cheap hydro-power, but as a mighty facilitator of marine commerce. The idea was to open the entire upper Columbia River to barge traffic and, in the process, make Wenatchee, Washington, nearly 500 river miles from the coast, a deep water port. The Corps sank another $2 million into engineering studies to justify the dam and boosters poured in another $2 million in pr touting how the project would transform the Inland Empire into a glorious engine of commerce.

Alas, it was not to be. This time the dam was killed off by the Reagan administration, which was forced to confront the uncomfortable fact that the waters of the reservoir would have encroached upon the most toxic soil in the world: the radioactive tank farms of Hanford. The sages in the Reagan White House wisely decided that it was better to let the 177 vats of radioactive slop discretely corrode and leak into the groundwater than risk exhuming them and publicly confronting the treacherous mess that had been left behind as an eternal relic of the nation’s four-decade long obsession with devices of nuclear annihilation.

So in 1981 the Ben Franklin project was shelved once again. And there it sits, biding its time for a third incarnation. What's the half-life of a dam?
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American White Pelican.
Merrily, merrily we float. Downstream, always downstream. Such a beautiful word. A word with an unimpeachable integrity and authenticity. On this lonely stretch of river, pelicans are our only companions. The big white birds are graceful flyers on 10-foot wingspan, much more so than the ungainly great blue herons that stalk the riverbanks and bark irritably when we paddle by. Both the herons and the pelicans are fish-eaters. The pelicans are voracious feeders, each bird eats as much as 5 pounds of fish each day—more when they are feeding chicks. The white pelicans of the Reach aren’t diving birds, like their cousins the brown pelicans of the coast. Instead, they take their prey from the surface of the river while swimming. If ravens are the coyotes of the avian world, pelicans behave more like wolves. They live in highly organized social groups. They hunt together often in coordinated groups of six or ten birds. Sometimes the groups will split, with some pelicans pushing schools of fish into shallow water where the other birds are waiting and a communal and often synchronized feeding frenzy ensues.

The white pelicans will eat almost any fish: chub, perch, bass, carp, rainbow trout. But it’s the salmon they love. It’s the salmon that have lured them here, decade after decade, in great migrations from their wintering grounds in the Gulf of Mexico.

But it’s that passion for fish that has put the pelican, and the herons, eagles and osprey, at risk. For even though the Hanford Reach is home to the last vibrant run of wild Chinook salmon on the Columbia River, those fish, and the others in the Reach, are contaminated with an array of radionuclides and other atomic debris leaching inexorably into the Columbia from the Hanford’s 1400 haphazardly-placed waste dumps. By one estimate, these dumps have leaked three-million curies of radiation into the river every year from 1950 through the 1980s. The radiation continues to leak--though leak is perhaps not the right word—largely unabated by the latest techno-fixes.

At Hanford, environmental mitigation is an expensive illusion. How expensive? Back in 2000, the price-tag for cleaning up Hanford was pegged at $100 billion dollars. But in the intervening decade the extent of the contamination has more than tripled. This is delightful news for contractors, such as CHM2 Hill, Westinghouse, Batelle, Bechtel, but a dismal diagnosis for the ecosystem. Just ask any pelican.
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Pumphouse for K Reactors.
On river right we pass the old pumphouse near the sprawling K Reactor complex. The building is gouged roughly into the river bank. It has a crenellated roofline and dark windows, looking like a ruined castle on the Scottish moors. The pumphouse fed millions of gallons of water into the so-called sister reactors and later into the menacing K-Basins.

When Hanford suddenly stopped producing plutonium in the late 1980s, the atomic engineers were left with a problem. There were more than 100,000 uranium fuel rods and rod fragments that had been irradiated but wouldn’t be processed into plutonium. What to do with this hot property? After a few seconds of deliberation, they decided to sink it.

In the 1950s, two vast concrete pools had been constructed less than 400 yards from the Columbia River as temporary storage lagoons. Even though these basins were already 10 years beyond their 20-year life expectancy, the Department of Energy decided to fill them each with a million gallons of water and submerge the deteriorating fuel assemblies.

Out of sight, out of mind. Naturally, it didn’t work out that way. Almost immediately, the K-East Basin sprang leaks. Highly radioactive water began to spill onto the ground and leach its way into the river. The irradiate rods began to corrode and decay, dissolving into a lethal sludge.

In 1994, the Energy Department began the dangerously experiment task of fishing out the 2,100 metric tons of fuel rods from the K East Basin. It took them 10 years to remove the fuel rods and then they hit the sludge. The fuel rods were packed away in another spooky structure at Hanford called the Canister Storage Building, but the thick band of sludge at the bottom of the basin was sucked up in giant vacuums over a four-year period, stuffed in canisters and then submerged into the K West Basin. The million gallons of water was sucked from the basin, run quickly through a treatment plant and then, somewhat unbelievably, simply sprayed on the ground.

So much for the problematic K East Basin, right? Wrong. In turns out that the ground beneath the basin is thoroughly saturated with radioactive scum.
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K Reactor Complex.
What about the K West Basin, you ask. Good question. It remains filled to the brim with water, fuel rods and sludge. The genial folks at Hanford say not to worry. This radioactive swimming pool is quite impermeable. So far.

But there’s no time to dally on such trifles today. The river pulls us away. The current picks up steam. We hit a standing wave, sending a cold spray over the kayak. Then another and another. Suddenly we’re drenched. This is Coyote Rapids, a bouncy wave train that is over just as we start to enjoy it. We try to paddle furiously back upstream to ride it again, but the river pushes us back. Exclusive engagement, no replays.

We slide into an eddy below the rapids and nose the kayak toward a gravel bar.

“Look at that,” Josh says pointing toward a large bolt in the river. It is bone-white and four-feet long.

“No wonder this place sprang a leak.”
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Hanford's missing bolt.
We pull the kayak on the bank and step on forbidden ground. Josh heads toward the nearest mutant willow tree to take a piss, while I climb up an old road bed to get a better view of the K Reactor complex. The road ends at a fence topped with razor wire. There is a large sign featuring stark red letters:
You are entering the Hanford Site Emergency Zone. If you hear a steady 3 minute siren leave the area IMMEDIATELY. Turn your radio to KONA 610 AM for emergency information.
“Hey, Josh, where’s our damn radio?”

“Back with the Tequila.”

To be continued.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at:
All photographs by Jeffrey St. Clair.
Keith - thanks for posting.

Jeffrey St Clair is also, of course, the co-editor of Counterpunch, and co-author of Whiteout: The CIA, Drugs and the Press.

However, I've always considered him at heart to be driven by his opposition to the destruction of our environment.

St Clair's hat tip to "Abbey":

Quote:“Obligatory volume of Abbey?”


is of course a reference to the incomparable radical environmentalist Edward Abbey.
Thanks Jan,
I've always loved reading St Clairs' articles.He writes so much about the landscapes here in the Northwest.He calls the Columbia River a paradox,but really the States of Oregon and Washington are pure paradoxes.The Western half being wet with temporate rainforests,and the Eastern half is dry high desert country.That we have the worlds most toxic ground is sad indeed.I've lived here for most of my entire adult life.I've seen with my own eyes the steady disapearence of the great salmon runs.I look forward to his continuing essay,and will add it to this post.

Hey,and thanks for the tip on Edward Abbey,I didn't know what that reference was about.:fisheye:
Keith Millea Wrote:Hey,and thanks for the tip on Edward Abbey,I didn't know what that reference was about.:fisheye:

Rightly or wrongly, Abbey has been cited as the literary-philosophical inspiration for Earth First!

And as a C20th Thoreau.

I've read The Monkey Wrench Gang, which I believe got one tagged as a "terrorist" and "national security threat" if borrowed from a library, but not much else of Abbey.

Jeffrey St Clair's throwaway line suggests that there are further riches in Abbey's oeuvre.




St Clair

Musette and drums....
Weekend Edition
August 20 - 22, 2010
Down the Hanford Reach (Part Three)

Paradoxical River

Click here to read Part One.
Click here to read Part Two.
I am standing next to the perimeter fence, looking across Hanford’s secret geography. Behind the K Reactor complex rises Gable Mountain, a sere ridge of basalt long sacred to the Wanapum people and the birthplace of the Washani Religion, the apocalyptic Dreamer Cult of Smohalla that sparked the great Yakama War of 1855. Now the holy mountain serves as a scenic backdrop for the physics of obliteration.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the Hanford security forces, composed of crack shots from Kennewick and Walla Walla, had the authority to shoot trespassers on sight. In the end, the armed guards chased away a few poachers, some drunken ranch hands from Mattawa and a couple Wanapum elders sneaking into the forbidden land to perform their ancient rituals.

The real atomic spies usually drove right through the front gate, sporting top secret clearance, and drove out again carrying the design schematics for the latest configuration of the H-bomb. The plans were often in Stalin’s vault two weeks later. (For more on espionage at Hanford and other sites check out Richard Rhodes' masterful book Dark Sun: the Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.)

Hanford’s fences, watchtowers and armed guards were an early exercise in perception management, designed to imply that the real threats were external, rather than leaking from the inside-out, day by day, curie by curie, isotope by deadly isotope.

Off the river for only few moments, and, suddenly, the air feels hot, stifling. The Hanford plain sizzles in the unsparing light. The land looks scalded and skinless, like cooked bone.

“We're screwed," Josh whispers, urgently pointing down river toward the metallic howl of a jet boat.

"What kind of cyber-sensors does this place have, any way? You've been tip-toeing, haven't you?" I hurl a river-polished rock at the yellow No Entry sign looming above us on the verboten grounds of Hanford's infamous Area 100. Ka-ching!

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I stuff a couple of K Reactor rocks into my pocket. They are oddities from Montana, carried here 20,000 years ago during the mighty Bretz Floods, when the ice dams holding back a vast inland sea cracked, unleashing an 800-foot tall torrent of water that scoured scultped the coulee country of the Inland Empire and carved the Columbia Gorge. Now they're radioactive. Maybe I’ll pack them in my carry-on luggage the next time I fly. Gotta keep those TSA agents on their toes.

The jet boat is the first sign of river traffic we've seen in twelve miles on the Columbia. Human river traffic, that is. The menacing green craft speeds towards us, ripping huge wakes in the surface of the river and startling fifty Canada geese into angry flight.

Someone is standing in the pilot house holding a megaphone. He seems to be pointing it directly at us. Josh takes out his cellphone, for one last talk with Chelsea, before we join the ranks of the disappeared.
“Tell Chelsea to retain Jonathan Turley or that David Cole. Under the Patriot Act, they can keep us incommunicado for months. Years, maybe.”
Call fails. No signal. Are they jamming our phones, too? Or, perhaps, it’s just another dropped iPhone call. Apple hasn’t been the same since Steve Jobs made up with Bill Gates. These damned phones crash more frequently than Windows XP.

“Quick,” Josh says. “Hide the contraband.”
“We are the contraband.”
“Oh, right.”
We scramble into the kayak and hurriedly push off. Tragically, the river doesn’t abet our getaway. Instead, the current pulls us rapidly toward the approaching the assault boat.

“You’ll never take us dry!” Josh declares over the roar of the jet boat’s engines. Like a true child of Billings, Josh cinches his life-jacket so tightly that he’s beginning to sprout cleavage. He’s not exactly John Paul Jones up there in the bow.

“Remember to leave room to breathe.”

We’ve both read the accounts of the dead and the brain dead. The drowned and the hypothermic. If you end up in the river out here, the odds of surviving aren’t good—and that’s not factoring in the radiation exposure.

The water is cold, the current unforgiving, the good Samaritans long since evicted from the premises. So we agreed early on to follow the Apocalypse Now! Rule of Boating Safety: Stay in the boat, even while under furious assault from DoE SEALS, stay in the friggin’ boat.

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Great Blue Heron.
The sun is shining fiercely in our eyes, but it looks like there may be twenty beefy goons crammed into the terrible machine. Surely that’s overkill. What kind of a threat do we pose to the priests of Armageddon?
Yes, we’re packing a soggy and swollen copy of the Monkey Wrench Gang and that might be considered a serious enhancing factor at any secret tribunal. But, hell, Abbey’s been dead for twenty years and Peacock’s four-hundred miles away, hip-deep in the Yellowstone, draining Tecates and harassing trout.

“Remember Ruby Ridge!” Josh shouts, defiantly shaking his paddle.
“Shssh. Don’t antagonize them! They might take it for a weapon.”
“But these are our only weapons!”

“What about those water balloons filled with butyric acid we picked up at Captain Watson’s wharfside sale?“

“Don’t ask.”
At last, we can make out the steel-wool voice blaring from the megaphone. It has a strong eastern European accent. Hungarian, perhaps? A voice trying hard to mimic the harsh intonations of the young Edward Teller.

“Zees is verr ve ended zee wahr,” the rotund man says, pointing toward the B Reactor. “Und zees is verr ve stopped zee Roozkees,” hand sweeping like a mad conductor at the K Reactor complex. “Und zhat is verr ve kud uf beaten cancer,” his stubby finger pointing toward a shadowy complex near Gable Mountain, the mothballed Fast-Flux Breeder Reactor. “If not vor dos damn enfiromentaleezts.”

I nudge Josh in the shoulder with my paddle. “Dos damn enFIROmentaleezts? Is he talking about us? You didn’t bring any matches, did you? I specifically said, No matches!!”
“Yeah,” Josh grins. “But you didn’t say anything about my trusty Zippo!”
“Damn. That could land us another 10 years in the slammer. No vegetarian food, Josh. And the judge might make us write a book report on Three Cups of Tea. Just ask that Jonathan Paul.”
“What if I remove the flint?”
“Just keep it in open view. Don’t conceal that Zippo.”

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N Reactor, Hanford Nuclear Reservation
It soon becomes apparent that this is not a Department of Energy Strike Force death-craft racing to defend the nuclear site’s vulnerable riparian flank from interlopers in inflatable kayaks, but something much more ominous: a Hanford tour boat, educating plump H-bomb groupies from Moscow (Idaho, that is) and Wenatchee about the archaeological ruins of the Cold War.

Info-sermon complete, the wise-guy pilot revs the engines into an obscene scream. The sharp bow of the big boat rears up into the full-hydroplaning position and bears down on us with malevolent intent, before making an abrupt u-turn that washes us in a curtain of cold spray.
The chunky tourists cheer, flash us ironic waves and speed back to Richland for a box lunch at Gen. Leslie Grove Park, shredding the surface of the river as they disappear behind a funnel of blue smoke.

Our little orange kayak flexes, then scales the violent four-foot wakes and digs out of the deep troughs carved by the absconding jet boat. Wet and battered, we paddle downstream once again, toward the immaculate high cliffs called the White Bluffs.

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The White Bluffs of the Columbia.
To be continued.
Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon. His newest book, Born Under a Bad Sky, is published by AK Press / CounterPunch books. He can be reached at:

All photographs by Jeffrey St. Clair.
More good stuff.

As an aside...

Quote:Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature

The title of St Clair's book is a play on counterculture artist Richard Farina's novel Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me . Farina died in 1966, in a motorcycle accident, two days after the book was published. Farina's wife, Mimi, was Joan Baez' sister.

Thomas Pynchon's masterwork, Gravity's Rainbow, is dedicated to his departed friend Richard Farina.
I was curious about the apocalyptic Dreamer Cult of Smohalla that St. Clair references.So I'll add the bio of Smohalla as found on his Wiki page.It is clear that he traveled down to the Southwest where he said he visited the spirit world.He is mentioned as a medicine man.This tells me that he derived his visions from peyote.His descendants deny this though.I think that this denial might have been out of fear of disclosing his use of the peyote medicine.His biography below.

Born between 1815 and 1820 in the Wallula area of present-day Washington State, Smohalla belonged to the Shahaptian Wanapum (also Wanapam; called Sokulk by Lewis and Clark) tribal group. At birth he was called Wak-wei or Kuk-kia, meaning “arising from the dust of earth mother.” After achieving prominence as a spiritual leader, he became known as Smohalla (or Shmoqula, Smuxale, Smowalla), also defined as “preacher.” Still other names associated with him include Yuyunipitqana, “the shouting mountain” and Waipshwa, “Rock carrier.”
Following political conflicts with the Walla Walla chief Homily (Homli), Smohalla and his followers moved to the more isolated area of P’na Village at the foot of Priest Rapids in present day Yakima County, Washington. Already distinguished as a warrior, Smohalla began to preach his revitalization doctrine, which emphasized a return to tribal traditions and beliefs around about 1850. The rapid spread of his teachings is said to have contributed to the confederation of tribes in the region against white expansionism in the Yakima War of 1855–1856. Precipitated by government plans to confine Native people to small reservations, the war was fought by a coalition of Indians opposed to the assault on their land base and traditional cultures. Shortly after the war, Smohalla is said to have fought with Moses, a Sinkiuse-Columbia chief and was nearly killed. Presumed dead, he revived enough to escape by boat.
It is said that he then set forth on a journey. According to this account, he traveled as far south as Mexico, returning by way of Arizona, Utah and Nevada. When he reached home, he reported to the people that he had been to the spirit world. However, this version was discounted by Wanapum elders and descendants of Smohalla, who argued instead that his communication with the spirits is said to have occurred while he was mourning the loss of a beloved child.
Already known as a medicine man, the teachings he acquired at this time established him as a prophet. Smohalla exhorted his followers, eventually numbering about 2,000, to return to the ways of their ancestors and to relinquish the teachings and goods of the intruders. One of the best known of a series of prophets in the area, he revived the Washani Religion and the Washat Dance (religion) traditions while introducing other features from his dream or vision. Adherents included the famous Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce followers as well as Native people from other tribes in the region, such as the Wanapum. One of Smohalla’s chief supporters and assistant was Kotiakan, a Yakama prophet, who helped him in the revitalization movement.
Despite government opposition and interference, Smohalla practiced his religion until the end of his life. After his death in 1895, he was succeeded by his son Yoyouni (also Yo-Yonan), then by his nephew Puck Hyah Toot. They carried the Smohallan beliefs into the twentieth century.
"You do not own this land, our Mother Earth," Smohalla told Homily. "It is not your land to barter to the white people like a piece of salmon."

More on Smohalla here:

(c. 1815-95)

Wanapam shaman and prophet

Born in a Wanapam village near present-day Walla Walla, Washington, Smohalla came to speak for a large contingent of Plateau Indians who faced dispossession during the nineteenth century. In the process, he created an ideology that continues to influence Plateau affairs to this day.

We know almost nothing of Smohalla's childhood and early career. Some claim that his given name was Wak-wei (Arising from the Dust of the Earth Mother), though some called him Waip-shwa (Rock Carrier). Physically distinctive—he had a hunchback, unnaturally short legs, and a head disproportionately large for his body—he experienced an adolescent vision quest that confirmed his peculiar nature: in it he was granted the powers to become a shaman. After his vision, he changed his name to Smohalla ("Dreamer"), a reference to the means by which spirits communicated with him.

Smohalla's reputation grew quickly. Like all successful Plateau shamans, Smohalla could accurately predict the arrival of the annual salmon runs, foretell where root diggers would find fertile grounds, and direct hunters to game herds; but he also had a reputation for being able to predict earthquakes and eclipses. Skeptical whites claimed that Smohalla got this information from an almanac, but the shaman claimed that spirits told him of these things because he was faithful to the traditional religion of his people.

Smohalla's continuing commitment to native traditions brought him into conflict with progressive elements in his village. In about 1850 he debated with a Wallawalla political leader named Homily over accepting white requests to use tribal land. "You do not own this land, our Mother Earth," he told Homily. "It is not your land to barter to the white people like a piece of salmon." But Homily chided, "Look at you, you are a poor man. Where are all your horses? You are no fit leader for your people. . . . You always talk of the old customs while up and down the river others accept the new ways and they grow rich." Homily's speech won the village over, and Smohalla and a small group of followers were forced to flee. They moved to the foot of the Priest Rapids near the present-day town of Vernita, Washington. There they were free to live as the shaman taught them, but their independence was short-lived.

Taking advantage of factional tensions between groups, Washington Territory officials convinced the largest and most powerful local Indian groups to settle on large reservations in 1855, ceding thousands of square miles of land belonging to outlying groups. Although the land occupied by his village had been sold out from under him, Smohalla refused to relocate onto the new reserve. He also refused to join an alliance that warred against the treaties, putting him at odds with all the contending parties in Plateau diplomacy. Growing resentment over Smohalla's position finally led to a confrontation between the shaman and a Sinkiuse political leader named Moses. Some witnesses claimed that the two men fought and that Smohalla died of his wounds. According to another story, at about this same time Smohalla's favorite daughter died of European diseases and the shaman died of grief at her graveside.

Accounts of Smohalla's death were particularly important to the role he would play in Plateau life. Tradition among Plateau peoples called for prophets to experience death and then return to life bearing important messages for the living. Smohalla always claimed that this was how he had learned his religious ideology, the Washani (dancer's) Creed.

The fundamental message in the Washani Creed was that of the organic unity between people and the earth. Smohalla often repeated the basic articles of faith:

You ask me to plough the ground! Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's bosom? Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest.

You ask me to dig for stone! Shall I dig under her skin for her bones? Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again.

You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it, and be rich like white men, but how dare I cut off my mother's hair?

Smohalla also taught his followers that they should not work as white people did, but should accept the fish, game, and bulbs that were nature's gifts. "Men who work cannot dream," he said, "and wisdom comes to us in dreams." Finally, he taught that "those who cut up the lands or sign papers for the lands will be defrauded of their rights, and will be punished by God's anger."

In essence, Smohalla was advocating passive resistance to the forces of modernization and cultural disintegration. Rather than resorting to armed rebellion, Smohalla counseled his followers to withdraw into the world of dreams to await supernatural events that would bring relief and salvation. "After a while," Smohalla proclaimed, "when God is ready, he will drive away all the people except the people who have obeyed the laws." Then those who obeyed the Washani Creed would experience new life. "All the dead men will come to life again," Smohalla asserted. "Their spirits will come to their bodies again."

Smohalla's message had great appeal for Plateau groups who, like the prophet's own band, had been excluded from treaty settlements in 1855. The most prominent of these, the Wallowa band of the Nez Perces, led by young Chief Joseph, never joined the Washani faith, but often referred to Smohalla's creed as a reflection of the truth. Such references led white policymakers to conclude that Smohalla was a latter-day Tenskwatawa—the Shawnee Prophet—and Joseph a reborn Tecumseh, a perception that led to the Nez Perce War in 1877.

Smohalla weathered the violence of the 1870s virtually unscathed. Although continuing pressure by Indian agents and military men carved the plateau region into a checkerboard of reservations and homesteads, hundreds refused to "sign papers for the land." They continued to move about the plateau harvesting the gifts of nature, protected by provisions in the 1855 treaties that granted them the right to gather foods in their "usual and accustomed places." Various government agents tried to enlist Smohalla in the allotment process, but he apparently refused to cooperate. As he aged and grew increasingly blind, the prophet withdrew from public life.

Smohalla died in 1895, but the Washani ideology lived on. Outside the plateau, Indian groups who heard about Smohalla's religion incorporated aspects of the Washani Creed into resistance ideologies like the Ghost Dance. In the Pacific Northwest, both whites and Indians found meaning in Smohalla's teachings, but an essential irony resulted. In the 1960s, white conservationists found a powerful rhetoric in the Washani Creed and used it to lobby for laws designed to control hunting, fishing, and other such practices. At the same time, both reservation and nonreservation Indians cited the prophet's creed as a justification for disregarding those very conservation measures on the grounds that they violated not only treaty rights, but the prophet's religious laws as well.

See also Joseph; Plateau Tribes.

Christopher L. Miller, Prophetic Worlds: Indians and Whites on the Columbia Plateau (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1985); Click Relander, Drummers and Dreamers: The Story of Smowhala the Prophet and His Nephew Puck Hyah Toot, the Last Prophet of the Nearly Extinct River People, the Last Wanapums (1953; reprint, Seattle: Pacific Northwest National Parks and Forest Association, 1986); Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown, Dreamer-Prophets of the Columbia Plateau: Smohalla and Skolaskin (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989).
Christopher L. Miller
University of Texas, Pan American