Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Double Rainbow Over the Storm and Power Flickers in the Uranium Capital of the World

Last night the edges of Andres, the first named storm of the season, bore all the way up here to Zuni, New Mexico. Andres itself is about 1,200 miles south, off the Pacific coast of Mexico, and may develop in to a full-fledged hurricane. The storm whipped up wind, spattered rain, and dropped strange fiery polyps into the sunset. A titan double rainbow filled the entire sky, while the mesas behind were aflame with the dusklight.

The power flickered and turned on the shorted-out jacuzzi on the back porch. Shevy and Max were over and we didn't know what the sound was at first. We lifted the cover to see the swirling water around the jets. The water was cold and the smell of chlorine was overpowering. We decided that even if the jacuzzi was working, we wouldn't want to expose our bodies to that much chlorine.

It seemed the storm was over and night had fallen, when the power began flickering on and off. Neighbors cheered and whooped war cries every time the power died. After four or five flickers the power went out for good. Shevy informed me that power companies were notorious out around the Reservations. Not surprising.

The power came back on in the middle of the night, blinding me in bed. Luna, the cat was out all night hunting mice so I couldn't sleep, having had explicit instructions from my hosts to keep her in at night from the noisy, roving packs of wild dogs, whose barks (and yelps of the domesticated dogs desiring to join them) kept me up just as much. At sunrise, Luna nonchalantly galloped up near a destroyed and de-limbed mouse as I watered the corn.

Today, I learned that Grants, about 75 miles east of here and around fifty miles from my brother's land, was once the Uranium Capital of the World. I knew the proximity of the Trinity Site, the first atomic blast in the largest military installation in the United States, the White Sands Missile Range. I didn't know that it was (and we are) so close to the largest uranium deposits in the nation. Through the 1950's to the 1980's the area was the largest producer of uranium in the world. The miners were, of course, mostly Navajo, Zuni, Mexican and black. The first one to discover the uranium in 1950, a young Navajo named Paddy Martinez, worked as an impoverished miner scout under the railroad industry until he died, while earning corporations a killing. The operations boomed, busted, saw another boom after the 1973 Oil Embargo, and started winding down in the 1980's with falling uranium prices. The mines have mostly been closed since but in the last couple of years, uranium mining corporations have been trying to move back in to New Mexico. They are meeting a huge opposition from the Tribes, whose sacred sites are in some of the proposed mining areas. In fact, in January, Strathmore Minerals Corp. announced to its shareholders:

Strathmore believes that Roca Honda may be one of the best undeveloped uranium deposits in the United States. The New Mexico Operations office was opened in Santa Fe in 2005 and permitting activities for Roca Honda began in 2006. The project attracted Sumitomo Corporation of Japan and a joint venture agreement was signed in July, 2007. An ongoing permitting effort and feasibility study is underway.

Strathmore and Sumitomo are going in together 60/40, respectively.

And just a few weeks ago, Uranium Resources, Inc. announced intentions to file a petition for a review on whether or not a proposed site in Churchrock, New Mexico is Indian Country and therefore under the jurisdiction of a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Grants, New Mexico is now mostly a prison town, running most of the state's prison systems, but they seem eager to get back into the lucrative business of uranium.

Robert Gallegos, once a miner in Grants, published this poem in the 1982 collection, Ambrosia Lake:

we live and die to mine
to eat as we are eaten

in the mine there is the music
of the train
and the whistle of the miner
as he walks down the track

deep in the stope there is a song
whose verses are buried in the muck
and the slusher keeps humming
while the skips knock on the guiderails
as they go up and down the shaft

it's just a shallow mine
this open grave
wherein will rest a miner
until nothing is left but bone
white as the day moon.

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