Friday, November 9, 2007

The House at Otowi Bridge

Peggy Pond Church was a native New Mexican and lived at Los Alamos for twenty years. She wrote this story about her friend Edith Warner.

I read this book after reading “Changing Light” because of a strong interest in the geographical location and the time of the 40's and the Manhattan Project. It’s now the weekend of Remembrance Day in November 2007 … seems an appropriate time to remember the thousands killed and maimed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Set in the region near Taos in the time of transition of Los Alamos from an isolated boys' school to a nuclear weapons lab
. It's the story of Edith Warner and her life near Los Alamos during the thirties and forties. Peggy Pond Church wrote the story that Edith was unable to finish. She made an attempt, but after the first few pages it sounded to her like the standard adventure: “White woman moves West. Lives among Indians.” Better nothing than that, she thought, and gave it up. Besides the unfinished manuscript and the handful of Christmas letters, a few typed pages of her journal are all Edith felt willing to leave behind in writing.

“This is the story of a house,” her manuscript begins, “a house that stood for many years beside a bridge between two worlds.” It stood, too, in the shadow of Los Alamos, the mushrooming shadow of violent change. More than the story of a house, it is the story of a woman who made an oasis of serenity and beauty in a world that seemed to grow more threatening. Edith died in 1951, the sound of the river was with her to the end.

Her house became a kind of sanctuary for the scientists from the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos in the tense years before Hiroshima. When the new bridge brought the road to Los Alamos so close to the house that life there could no longer be endured, some of those men worked side by side with the Indians of San Ildefonso to build a new house for Edith and Tilano.

She made the little house at Otowi (the place where the river makes a noise) into a tea room where she served a thin slice of lemon in the tea with a spicy clove and chocolate cake that was to become a tradition.

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