Icons of migration and drift in every Hollywood Western, salsolas (tumbleweeds) have taproots that stretch twenty feet below ground surface, and search out whatever is buried below. For decades radioactive tumbleweeds on the Hanford reservation were tagged, then burned.
I sought out and spent time in conversation with residents of communities surrounding Hanford. I wanted to understand how the nuclear zone is perceived in the farmlands and cities at close range within the site’s radius. There was a range of voices not centered in the historic record, a field of the uncounted. Tribal elders, farmworker advocates, Downwinders, plant workers, whistleblowers and others offered interviews. Their commentaries together with those of Manhatten Project scientists and engineers create a complex weave. The stories related to me often veered in unanticipated directions. The narratives mirrored the landscapes. There was the constant question of what might rest uneasily buried a few feet, or a few inches, beneath the surface. Loss, and denial, seemed inherent in the genetic code of the culture surrounding Hanford, like a double helix spiraling through the stories recounted there.