Near Vernita Bridge—where the Columbia River flows eastward on the “Hanford Reach,” and the Department of Energy signs forbid all access—and say:

Arid Lands Ecology Reserve
All Plants and Animals Protected
U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
Ask the sagebrush now to tell
What the river carried
In its waters to the sea.
Ask the river or the sun
What strange things were here begun,
What they all could well
Reveal, having witnessed what was done.
Here the mighty river’s run
On its westward journey to the sea,
Reaches toward the rising sun…
Does it turn to seek its source again
From where it witnessed what was done?
All the strange things here begun?
Ask the river in its run,
Falling toward the rising sun.
In this wasteland of the sage
We turned as well….though
Not to seek our Source beyond the gentle dawn.
Reaching out in fear, we fell…and
Split the very substance of the sun itself—
Exploding light—that brought this night
With flags of danger now unfurled,
Refusing us all access
To the quiet evening of the world.
Ask the wasted sage to tell,
Or the river in its run,
What strange things were here begun,
And what it was we thought we’d won.
What they all could now reveal
And how they witnessed what was done…
Ask the Land of the Rising Sun.
Ask the sage if it might tell,
Or the river how we fell,
Ask the sun that casts its spell
How we here gave birth to hell,
Ask yourselves as well…
Ask the sagebrush now to tell
Ask yourselves…as well.

—Graham Hutchins

Read more about Hanford and its legacy in “The Atomic Landscape”, or view a gallery of photos of historical Hanford.