Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Death Valley Orientation

Death Valley Elderhostel

O, twas in the month of March

When the sands began to parch,

And the dainty evening primrose commenced to bloom;

I sashayed out to take a hike

With some citizens- elders like

Who would hope to meet their destiny,

Not their doom.

Now their souls were all aghast,

When the zephyrs began to blast

And the dust initiated havoc from the dunes;

But they maintained a steady gaze

Though their brains were in a haze,

And their faces reminded one of sub-sea level prunes.

When they climbed unworldly crests

With gamey legs and heaving breasts,

It struck me that there was not a trace of gloom;

But they all survived with mirth

Yielding fame and glee and worth,

As they weaved Death Valley’s patterns on her loom.

Harold L. Overton

In the month of March 2001, I drove over to Beatty, Nevada where I met Glenn Wasson for a six day stay at a motel there. We were attending an Elderhostel, which was held for some 20 seniors and given by Marvey – a recently divorced lady in her 40’s. Marvey had an interest in watercolors, and would capture some local scene each day as we were having lunch. The painting which she designed would be made into a card, which could be sent out for Christmas; she would present it to one the seniors as a gift, and I eagerly anticipated receiving one. She liked canyons, but she also drew wildlife and other natural scenes while we were on hiking trips.

Before I could get one, she scheduled an evening at the local Department of Energy office, where we were to be enlightened by the local earth scientists about nuclear waste to be stored in the nearby Yucca Mountain underground dump. Not everyone attended, but I sat in the rear row and listened with interest to the young geologists. A young woman gave us the general considerations, and a fellow in his twenties showed us maps, diagrams and a cross-section of the mountain; the construction was already finished, and the storage of radioactive waste awaited political decisions in Washington, DC. The project seemed well-planned , and the earth science details were particularly attractive to me.

When the geologist had finished, he asked for questions, and as none seemed forthcoming, I held up my hand. I asked four and was starting on the fifth, when suddenly Marvey’s face loomed in front of me and she hissed “you’re taking up too much of the class’s time. I demurred, and there being no more questions, we went back to the motel. The next morning at breakfast, Marvey must have felt contrite, since she sat with me while I was eating breakfast alone. She made some polite conversation, and in passing asking what I thought about the tone of the program. I told her that I enjoyed it and that I would have a skit which I would present to the next Elderhostel for entertainment. This would enlighten some accumulation of stories which always occurred near the end of each Elderhostel. Of course she wanted to hear the story.

“Scientist X sat near the rear of the theatre where he could hear the details of the DOE presentation , giving details about Storage of Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain. He maintained a discreet silence until the end of the program, when he asked a few pertinent questions. ‘Was Yucca Mountain an extrusive, sir?’ he inquired of the young geologist, who immediately recognized that he was conversing with a colleague. ‘Yes indeed, it was’. ‘And was the extrusive a tuffaceous deposit, sir?’ ‘Oh, you’re quite right, sir’ ‘And was the tuff layered?’ ‘You’re getting right onto it, sir!’ ‘And was there a bit of dampness at the boundaries of the layers?’ ‘Yes, and you have hit onto the heart of the matter, not the faulting that the newsmen are always asking about, but the fluid that can carry the dissolved radioactive material away from the immediate storage site!’ As scientist X was starting to formulate the next question- did you measure the natural electrical potential at the interface where the two layers containing the dampness lay? (which would give a clear indication that the fluid was slowly moving along the boundary of the two layers). Suddenly there loomed in front of him this huge face with bulging eyes, saying ‘You’re giving away our national secrets, sir!’ Then Scientist X retired.”

Marvey seemed somehow tired and dreary, after this monologue, and I later realized that I was a bit harsh. I resolved to make it up to her, somehow; and I realized that acquiring the coveted water-coloring was now beyond my reach. I had done this as easily as falling off a dialog. I must immediately extend the olive branch of Poetry to her. I would compose a heart-felt rendition of gratitude to her before leaving the Elderhostel.

The next day, the group gathered in front of the motel waiting for the vans which would carry us to the last of the activities. Someone asked why we didn’t have a Thursday night program of Senior fun and skits, and I offered to give them my going-away rendition. Just as I commenced reading the above opening poem, Marvey marched up- just in time to hear it. There was wild acclaim for Marvey, and she thanked me with a twinkle in her eye- I was forgiven.

(I could have said that we gave her a standing ovation, but we were already standing- we would have had to give her a sitting ovation, by sitting). H.L. Overton

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