“Herein passed from public visibility the men and pioneers who would design and make famous the power of atomic energy. This is the door through which these scientists entered before relocating to the recesses of Los Alamos and creating the nuclear bomb.” (My translation.)I had not ventured into the actual office itself, which is now used for shop administrative purposes. It is cluttered with piles of invoices, check stubs, books and various scrolls of documentation. An empty coffee mug rested precariously atop a dog-eared phone book on the desk.
What was important about this room, we were told, was that this had been Dr. Oppenheimer’s office before he moved to Los Alamos, a former private boys’ school that Oppenheimer personally recommended as the site for the think tank and design laboratory of the Manhattan Project that began in 1939. Through this door and through this office passed all of the great minds of the country, intent upon creating what the world would come to know as the atomic bomb.
“Now I am become Death. I am the destroyer of worlds,” Oppenheimer famously quoted from the Bhagavad Gita when he witnessed the detonation of the Trinity Bomb in Alamordo, NM, on July 16, 1945. Twenty-four days later, the United States would drop the first nuclear weapon ever used on Nagasaki, Japan, directly killing 80,000 people (think 9-11 times 27) and casualties reaching near 140,000 by the end of the year.
As of 2006, US & Russia combined possessed 97% of the world’s nuclear weapons. Albuquerque holds the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world.
The Trinity explosion, which hailed the beginning of the Atomic Age, was witnessed as “the sun lighting up the sky” from 150 miles away and rattled windows over 200 miles away. At ground zero, it melted the silica sand in an area 10 feet deep and 1,100 feet wide and rendered it as a slightly radioactive, greenish glass now named as Trinitite. (I have a small piece of this in my gem and mineral collection.)
With all of this heaviness of history hanging in the air, my mood lightened when I spotted an original Dale Chihuly painting hanging on the wall. He is one of my top two favorite modern artists (the other being Andy Goldsworthy (who, appropriate to his art, does not have an official, permanent Web site) and so I naturally wanted to know more about why the painting was here. I had also noticed earlier in the Edward Curtis room a number of personal family Christmas cards from the Chihulys. It turns out that the Rainbow Man’s collection of Curits prints had attracted Mr. Chihuly during his Pendleton period when he used native blanket designs on glass cylinders and the two became friends.
Dustin and I returned to Albuquerque via the Rail Runner and stopped by the emergency shelter that I run. In a way, this refuge for persons who have no home was the natural, poetic ending to a day filled with legislation at the Roundhouse that shapes our daily lives, with art on Canyon Road that reflects that life, with portraits of an ancient nobility that has all but disappeared, and a visit with a point in history that took all of that away from thousands, leaving even more persons without homes. The shelter—and my work—once again felt very small in response to the size of the needs of this world.