The City That Glows in the Dark

Ties to places can be surprisingly strong. Although this wasn't news to me, my understanding of this fact was recently deepened. At one point during a program I attended, the speaker got into a short interchange with an audience member about the evils of Los Alamos, New Mexico. “... glows in the dark ... all those toxins ... total denial ... doesn't it just make you shudder?”

It certainly made me shudder, but not for the reasons they were discussing. My family moved to Los Alamos the day I turned seven. I left when I went to college, and my parents moved elsewhere within five years. Over the past forty some years, I have been back only four times, and briefly at that, but Northern New Mexico in general and Los Alamos in particular will always be “home” to me.

Although I've always felt a special attachment for Los Alamos, I had not realized how deep it ran. As they rained invectives on a place so dear to my heart, images of golden aspen groves dotting the panorama of the Jemez mountains rising above the town floated through my mind. I could hear the wind whisper through pine boughs, smell sun-warmed, vanilla-scented pine resin, and taste the slightly acrid tang of pine gum. I thought of riding my bicycle out to the next mesa for a picnic with my sister, or hiking alone through the canyon behind our house. That canyon was my favorite spot for introspection and licking wounds.

How could I explain to them that although I understand their horror about decisions made by people there, and although I might be one of the activists pressing for accountability and responsibility if I still lived there, the place itself is an innocent victim of mankind's sometimes misguided efforts to protect our nation and the human race?

I was momentarily stunned, at a complete loss for words to defend this place I love so dearly. I sat in horrified silence feeling as if they were desecrating the temple of my youth. I knew better than to take their words personally. It seemed preferable to let the moment pass than to prolong it.

Regardless of what others may believe or say, Los Alamos will always remain a place sacred to my youth; a place where I was safe and free to roam at will, exploring the wonders of nature, dreaming dreams and hoping hopes. There were many other aspects of growing up there that were truly special, and I often written of them in family history stories for my descendants.

Perhaps it took this shocking experience to fully focus the extent of my fervor and connection with this unique place where I came of age. Now my challenge is to find a way to pay tribute to the soil that nurtures my roots.

Write now: about a place that has been especially influential and special to you. What does (or did) it feel like to be there Describe the sights, sounds, tastes, scents and other aspects of the place. What happened there to make it special to you? Do you return there often?

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal


Pat's Place said...

Thanks, Sharon, for your lovely comments about Los Alamos. I, too, was stunned by the negative comments about the place. I visited there several years ago and loved the place, the community, but not necessarily what was developed there. Could we not say that about many places? I LOVE that part New Mexico! Different perspectives based on difference concepts.

Ritergal said...


I suspect that many of the places people consider to be "evil" or "dark" are related more to events that take place there than the place itself. I have no doubt that would be true of those comments about Los Alamos, because sacredness of land was also mentioned in the same interchange.

Maybe this is something like the distinction between behavior and person.

Thanks for your comment.

Tara said...

Ironic I should read this today. I was comtemplating how to approach a story written about the town I grew up in and I think this story has the creative side of my mind working. Good post Ritergal!

Jerry Waxler said...

Oh, this is interesting. A good friend of mine was born in Los Alamos in 1947, and left when he was 10. I wonder if your parents knew his parents.


Ritergal said...

Tara, I hope that pen takes on a life of its own as you start writing about your hometown. Isn't it amazing how the oddest things trigger massive memory dumps?

Ritergal said...


Los Alamos was not a huge place. The population during those years was slightly over 30,000. Send me an e-mail at and we'll explore that name.

Tara said...

Ritergal - Yes, it truly is amazing :)