Dear Tri-Cities –
Who says you don't have history? Who says you have no culture?
In Pasco, doesn't anyone remember the man we called "Peanuts" who retired from the
Burlington Northern railroad and spent thirty years walking around town, giving candy to kids?
In this day and age, can you even imagine that? People let their kids flock to this old man,
whose real name was Noburo Fukuda. Just the sight of him made my siblings and I scream for
our parents to stop the car. Pasco, you were always someone's "reclamation project" siphoning
water from the Snake River and Columbia River to irrigate vast fields of sugar beets and alfalfa.
Your background music is the constant tick-tick-tick of Rain Bird sprinklers tracing huge green
circles in the desert.
Dear Kennewick, you were water channeled from the Yakima River, and your orchards
marched up the flanks of the Horse Heaven Hills. In summertime, you were peaches and
nectarines. In winter you were the diesel oil smoke that rose from your smudge pots, making a
fog of orange and brown layers. The fogs of your summer were white and smelled of gasoline
sprayed in a fine mist, mixed with DDT to control the mosquitoes. Someone from the county
drove slowly up and down every street, spraying fog from a slow-moving truck. Us kids, we
played hide-and-go-seek in this fog, it was that thick. It was intoxicating. It was our gateway
drug. Every kid breathed deep and ran around, light-headed and giggling with a pesticide buzz.
Doesn't anyone remember the Island-Vue Drive-In Theater? Don't they recall the River-
Vue Drive-In? I worked at all of those places. At the River-Vue, the toilets used to overflow
and drain into the office safe which was sunk into the concrete floor, and customers always
asked why our paper money smelled like poop.
In Richland, do locals still laugh over the top-secret government goings-on of your
nuclear reactor? Over Christmas dinner, do aunts and uncles still joke about the radioactive
tumbleweeds grown on radioactive soil and eaten by mule deer that test "hot" with Geiger
counters. Coyotes eat the deer until this pollutes the whole food chain. Mice eat the same
tumbleweeds, but the mice get into the nuclear reactor vending machines and expose the Milk
Duds to the effects of used fuel rods and enriched uranium so now the Milk Duds and Reese's
Peanut Butter Cups and Hostess Twinkies have a half-life which means the tumbleweeds and
mule deer, mice and snack foods all need to be entombed for ten thousand years. Do people still
shake their heads and chuckle over that ill-kept, high-security folklore while they carve the
Does it ever stop, that tick-tick-ticking of Geiger counters, of sprinklers, of time passing?
Oh, my dear Tri-Cities, does your wind ever stop blowing?
My Pasco, Kennewick and Richland, do people only love you after they move away?
At first glance, you didn't have much to offer other than jobs and miles of open space. Two years of
exile, we thought, working in a remote town that was cobbled together with secrets. A town two hours
Driving east over the Cascade Range, we left the WA state of the imagination: evergreen forests, Puget
Sound, the Seattle waterfront, and entered a sparse land. Here the Columbia River snakes through
shrub steppe like a lifeline on a wrinkled palm. Tumbleweeds outnumber people. Like so many before
us, we came to you for jobs and stayed, even though your legacy is notorious. WWII. The plutonium for
the bomb Fat Man was produced here at the B reactor. You were America's town. People came to help
the war effort, to find work, to start a new life in a government town on the edge of nowhere. And all
the while you kept your secrets and theirs. Few people knew what was being built here until the local
the paper announced "It's Atomic bombs." Today many people would have a hard time finding you on
a map even though you're home to a national lab. Some of the finest research in the world happens in
You've always been demanding, full of contradictions. It would have been easy to walk away. You tested
our commitment with dust storms, scorching summers, bone- chilling winters. But something about
you captivates. Just when I thought I knew you, you'd show a softer side. Your fragrance is the smell of
sage after rain. In winter eagles fish your rivers. I've seen pelicans circle you like dancers. The planes of
your face change with the passing shadows of clouds.
It took time for my eye to adjust to your harsher beauty. Two years, I think. Like others before me,
you grew on me. And then you shared your surprises. One star in a plentitude of sky over Rattlesnake
Mountain. A secret I'm tempted to keep.