By SHARON SNYDER
In this very different Christmas season, I find comfort in the words of Edith Warner, the woman who lived at Otowi Bridge. Life hands us challenges in many different ways.
The challenges we are facing now are different from the ones she faced during World War II, but the way she faced them with strength and hope can be a comforting inspiration.
Edith wrote Christmas letters to her friends each year. In sharing this one with you, I’ve had to delete some parts to stay within the publishing space available, but the flow of her thoughts and the message are still there.
Music—the song of the Rio Grande and the canyon wren
Narrator—a fearsome woman, whose roots have been shaken but still are deep in the soil of New Mexico
“A year ago doubts assailed me. Could I swing this business with gas rationed? Ought I put aside selfish desire and go back to the outside world and a war job? I had not learned, in spite of much experience, that I am not, and never have been, the guiding hand in my life. Something—what I do not venture to say—has prevented what I thought I wanted to do and pushed me into what I eventually did. Also, no matter how uncertain the immediate future—or marginless—a solution has always presented itself in time. But so powerful were those doubts that I had unaccustomed colds and many headaches during the winter. I finally decided to wait and see, having hoarded sufficient for some months. I hope I have learned at long last, for again the unforeseen has happened.
Into this fairly remote section last December came the Army, commandeering Los Alamos School, Anchor Ranch, and the small native ranches on all the Pajarito Plateau for some very secret project. The construction company has just completed the building. A new road is almost finished. Many civilians live there and the whole area is guarded by soldiers. Santa Fe calls it a submarine base—as good a guess as any! It leaves only Mrs. Frey at Frijoles and me here at the river—and we are newcomers, comparatively speaking … Workmen and material began to go by in great quantity so that the valley was quiet no longer. For a year it has continued. …
Along about April the X’s began coming down from Los Alamos for dinner once a week, and they were followed by others. Stranger even than the Army’s choosing this locality was that the civilian head should be a man I knew. He had stopped years ago on a pack trip, come back for chocolate cake, brought a wife, and now was to be my neighbor for the duration. …
That beginning has increased until there are one or two groups on most nights for dinner. They come in through the kitchen door, talk a bit before leaving, and are booked up weeks ahead. Because they are isolated and need even this change for morale, I feel it is definitely a war job for me…
Summer was hot and dry. Dust covered everything; grasshoppers ate Pueblo crops; dump trucks hauled gravel from the riverbed through the yard; surveyors drove stakes all over; drillers brought an infernal machine into the yard to find what foundation the earth offered for a bridge; noise ceased only with nightfall. Fear lived with me—and then suddenly in the fall was lifted. The bridge is not to be built now—lack of material. The road via Española is being repaired. …
Fall was especially beautiful, and I wangled enough free hours to climb mesas and enough gas to go up to Navawii for a picnic. All that and the kitchen gabfest compensated for the summer.
Winter means better radio reception, some time to read, walks for mail. … Soon it will be Christmas Eve and Tilano will light the little pitch-wood fire out near the well house to welcome those spirits that draw near on that night. Inside, candles will burn and juniper fragrance will fill the house. Then I shall think of you all and wish that I might share with you the beauty and the peace. The essence of this land fills me at such times—as whenever I give it opportunity—and I know that I have been given more than one human’s share of joy.”
Edith Warner’s Christmas letters appear in The House at Otowi Bridge by Peggy Pond Church and In the Shadow of Los Alamos: Selected Writings of Edith Warner by Patrick Burns.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the