Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chernobyl to New Mexico, Fukushima to Oregon

When I was a kid, I would stand in the summer rain as it would begin to fall.  There was this amazing scent during monsoon season when the New Mexico rain would start to fall on the asphalt and I always wanted to be there to inhale it.   The dust would be brought down from the air, along with the smell of ozone, and dry desert would spring to life as cactus blooms would open and thirsty sand would drink in the water.  The scent and feel of the desert rain always injected me with excitement and hope.   Standing at the edge of the ocean when the breeze comes in strong gives me that same rush.

Right after the Chernobyl incident, my family told me not to go stand out in the rain - that I should maybe wait a few years for the radiation to die down. Chernobyl became part of the background of the childhood of Gen X.  I remember how many kids in those times did their annual science fair projects on acid rain.  I wondered how we were supposed to grow up in  a world where pollution and toxicity were all around us, I remember the panic and anxiety.

While Chernobyl is a long way from New Mexico, it was only a matter of time before the fear permeated all of us.   When the Fukushima incident happened, it was only a matter of time before the disaster debris came floating across the ocean to the Pacific Northwest.  Everything from Japanese household items to a motorcycle with Japanese plates has washed ashore.

This week I was out at the Oregon coast.  Looking out at the water kept making me think about how we have to learn from our mistakes.  That is a reason why we study history when we are growing up.  We have to learn from our collective mistakes.  Just as important, we have to learn from our individual mistakes.  Of mistakes I have made, I can often trace them back to my selfishness.  If we are going to move forward in any way, we cannot ignore what has happened and what has brought us to where we are.  We have to learn from the past. I have to hope that when our time is over as a generation, that we will have left behind more light than shadow.

"At the edge of the ocean we can start over again."  -Ivy


HeyRay said...

A few weeks ago I saw a news story about a particular town in Oregon that's gotten quite a bundle of debris from Japan wash up on its shores. The biggest concern--according to this report--was that they'd already gone way over budget for trash removal because of it...and that residents with ocean-front property were getting annoyed. I was so amazed at the the lack of insight. This wasn't trash that was haphazardly dumped off the side of a luxury cruise ship, it was evidence of previous life that was violently and suddenly stolen. It was the tides of the planet showing us how connected we all are.
I grew up on the FL east coast, and everyone I know who grew up in our town swears that our beach has a distinctive smell that is different from even 20 miles north or south. You can see it on the faces of those of us who've moved away and only return every few months or years or decades, when we first arrive and go straight to the beach, face the wind, and take the first deep breath.

ChloeGXP said...

HeyRay, You make a really important point - thank you for that. These things that have been washed ashore aren't just debris, these are mementos of people's lives. "It was the tides of the planet showing us how connected we all are." This is exactly what I was trying to articulate, but you said it in a much more profound and even beautiful way.

ChloeGXP said...

Also, regarding the scent of a place, like the desert or is a necessary part of the full experience of somewhere that you take it in with all your senses...sort of like a movie requires a soundtrack. Just recently, the Whole Foods stores in Portland, OR have started roasting and selling New Mexico Hatch chile. My family and I are going to go get some this week. For the first time in a decade, I am going to go inhale the scent of red and green chile being roasted on open flames - a very important piece of my desert childhood, probably much like the scent of the wind on the FL coast has been a very important part of your memories, too.

HeyRay said...

And so often we don't realize how much an impact a scent has made on us until we smell it again many years later. One smell can open the floodgates of memory.

I have another friend who also lives in Portland now but grew up with me in FL. She has relatives in New Mexico and spent many childhood vacations there. She often talks about tastes and smells from there, which are completely foreign to me. But her stories and your mention of the roasted chiles make me think of Judy Blume's "Tiger Eyes", where the main character often mentions the local foods and sights that are new to her as a Jersey girl, but very impactful to her experience there.

I hope the chile experience is awesome!