I wanted to use my first blog post to introduce myself. Most of my life as a teacher and researcher at Oregon State University in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion (SHPR) requires brainwork. Most of every day is spent either grading, writing, researching, networking and corresponding. All of it is accomplished by sitting still, looking at life through a screen, just as you are reading this blog post right now.
To cope, I look up every once in a while. I work in my house’s front window, just so I can see out. I see the trees, watch the birds flit about and feed at our birdfeeders. People walk their dogs, or are being pulled along by them. Children with backpacks go by heading to the right in single file, then hours later, back to the left, walking to and from school in mornings and afternoons. Grandmas and parents with baby strollers and new babies in front packs stroll by, sometimes pausing to show their little ones the chickens and dogs in my neighbors’ yards across the street. On a lucky day, kids are playing in the snow, or, in the sun, hitting a soccer ball in the street.
Looking out my window is bittersweet. It is beautiful mostly; but sometimes, I am not sure I am really living. So when Adair Living History Board chair Barbara Melton said she needed helpers to clean up the space that will eventually be our new Interpretive Center, I leapt at the chance.
I had joined the Board without even seeing the inside of our Interpretive Center yet. I was excited to see it but there was more to it. The idea of being able to just move around with people instead of watching life go by from my window, felt imperative, even if it was to sweep up dust and cobwebs off walls and floors, and washing windows.
I was also enamored of the idea that in just a few hours, I might actually make a contribution and accomplish something measurable. Most of my work takes years, with very little to show for it. My previous nuclear history research is at atomiclinda.com but like most academic work, few other people will ever look at it, even those that work in my niche area of nuclear contamination, the UN and radiation regulations.
My new book Making the Unseen Visible: Science and the Contested Histories of Radiation Exposure, co-edited with internationally recognized nuclear historian Dr. Jacob Darwin Hamblin, was just published by OSU Press, a multiyear effort. Our book is a unique collaboration between radiation-affected individuals’ voices, including their essays, cover art and poetry with peer reviewed scholarship. Our intention is to make more visible the consequences of nuclear weapons production and use. The book is the result of many years of research and outreach and a three-year National Science Foundation grant. Few will ever want to read it. There isn’t much in academia that ever feels like it makes a difference, no matter how much of yourself is in it.
I also never know what happens to most of my students. I have been a teacher my whole life so I know that is part of the gig, investing myself in youth but never quite knowing if it matters or how their lives turn out. An exception to that is Matt Helget. He is a reason why I joined this group. Matt is not just my former student, but one who has also been my teacher for all things involving Oregon military history (my lucky meeting with Matt in the OSU Special Collections and Research Center will be in a future blog post).
But back to my story of cleaning the new Interpretive Center. I never even considered how it would feel to be in a former military building, that looks just like a barracks even if it isn’t factually one (it was a storage shed, I learned from the other ALH Board Members).
But as soon as I came in through the door of the future home of our Interpretive Center, I exclaimed, “This barracks is so beautiful!” Tears came to my eyes, and I was overcome with emotion for a few minutes. Okay, a lot longer than that. I felt I had suddenly, unexpectedly, found my way back home among the dead bugs, dirt and grime.
I grew up in the military; I was an Army Brat. For my first eighteen years, my activities were in makeshift spaces just like this one. Our schools, offices, stores, banks, recreation centers, hospitals and mess halls were made from converted, or just still, plain old, barracks. The last time I stepped into one was about 42 years ago.
I may have been raised by the Army but it also made me into a scrappy grassroots peace activist. When I was eight years old in 1971, I wrote President Nixon a letter to beg him to send my father home from Vietnam. Instead, his assistant sent me stacks of public service information about the war that asserted America was winning the war at the time and was only there for just reasons, to help South Vietnam be free.
My father did make it eventually home, albeit not soon enough for me at all. One thing my father taught me to love is history. He was an expert in military history. He took me along to war movies, and criticized them when they were inaccurate. He took me to military sites, concentration camps, airshows, memorials, submarines, aircraft carriers and far too many sacred graveyards, from the endless rows of white headstones at Arlington to the quiet still field of Gettysburg.
Working with Adair Living History brings all my “peaces” together. I could feel it as soon as I stepped into the soon-to-be Interpretative Center. It is one of the most liberatory things I have been involved with because I don’t even care if it matters to anyone else. I just want to help. I am so excited to be a part of this community working to bring Camp Adair and the history of the area to life while also including the voices of the Siletz and Kalapuya peoples. I am eager to be a part of all the stories we will bring together at the Interpretive Center about peace and war…