Staff Attorney Simone Anter shares a creative essay about Hanford.

Inspiring Action through the Arts

Columbia Riverkeeper advocates for Hanford cleanup using the best available science, the law, community organizing, and education. Tackling the most polluted place in America also demands creativity and hope. That’s why, through film, art, creative writing, and powerful events, we inspire people to fight for Hanford cleanup. Case in point: the vivid watercolors by Try Cheatham, including the paintings below on this page, brought to life Columbia Riverkeeper’s interactive online storymap, “Water’s Walk Through Hanford” and in Spanish "El Paseo del Agua Por Hanford."

The Land Speaks

I’m often forgotten. Even though I am always underfoot, those above me often pay me no mind, even when they are destined to mix within my strata, lending their DNA into the fabrication of my being. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not always forgotten. Sometimes I’m studied, poked and prodded, layers counted, mapped, surveyed; the treasures of each layer cataloged, studied, added to theories, museums, private collections. Other times I’m extracted, bled, misshapen, re-shaped, poisoned. I am climbed, drawn, used as a symbol for entire movements.

Hanford art, colorful drop into mountains
Illustration by Try Cheatham

So it’s not completely true to say I’m forgotten, maybe ignored is more accurate or maybe it’s that no one is hearing what I want to say. People forget to listen for my stories and the songs I sing as my layers shift and move. As the ebb and flow of water over time and sometimes all at once carved the layers visible today, as weather: snow, rain, fires, and earthquakes shaped those layers, and cracks reverberated. For I like to talk, see? I like for people to hear a millennia of thoughts that haven’t been listened to in generations. In some places, I can more easily grasp at a wandering imagination, drawing attention down to my surface to explore-myriad rocks and pebbles. I can stop people as the sun hits, golden, reflecting off a wild river, wrapping around my curves. Like I said, these are my favorite places.

One such place can be found in the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington along the Columbia’s Hanford Reach. Here, my voice is so strong that it wraps with the wind, wildly twisting, rushing, gusting. Causing birds to rollercoaster in the air, dirt to devil swirl, and tumbleweeds to raucously race. If you are ever lucky enough to walk through the sage shrub brush that grows here, thick and untamed with prickly tendrils that scratch at your legs, be sure to listen for me.

I like to talk about how people have tried to take my power here, a military style assault on my being. Excavating my skin to build their reactors, harnessing my veins to cool these reactors. Burying toxic chemicals deep in trenches and burial grounds all around, creating such contamination that they make themselves sick, as well as me. Storing dangerously hot liquids in tanks, time bombs of radioactivity that leak and seep deeper within my layers, traveling with the water found there and upwelling back on the surface. The immensity of the problem is lost on the people, because they are fi nite and cannot comprehend the magnitude of what they have done.

People have tried to take my power here, but see, it cannot be taken.
Illustration of water anthropomorphized water droplet swimming through river water
Illustration by Try Cheatham

Inadvertently, my power has grown. Paradoxically, I have also had the chance to flourish. Sealed away from the development and farming that has stolen the wilderness from my flesh in other areas, I have been allowed to be me, cultivating a vast shrub steppe ecosystem, the largest in the West, on top of my basalt and quartz bones.

Animals gather here, ever present to my grumblings and always a part of me. Hundreds of different birds tell my stories, a chorus of chittering and chirping carried on the wind. Herds of elk meander through my vast and treeless plain, their hooves churning up my hardened soils to ensure that vegetation can continue to grow. Coyotes plod through lupines, porcupines forage. In my veins, my wild, free-flowing veins, salmon begin and end their life.

My power grows here. It is almost tangible. I can almost tap a lone traveler on the shoulder, cause them to look around and marvel at the awesomeness of me. For all who come here remember. I am much more than what some have named me here, the Hanford Nuclear Site, the Hanford Reach, Saddle Mountain Wildlife Refuge, the Hanford Reach National Monument. I am me, I am the Land, and this is where I speak.


Check out Columbia Riverkeeper’s most recent creative foray. “Water’s Walk Th rough Hanford” is an interactive story told from the perspective of a drop of water. The story brings lessons on Hanford to life for students and adults. Available in English and Spanish.


To ensure the complete and timely cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Site, we review and critique cleanup and restoration plans.


The fight to clean up the most polluted place in America.


Add your voice to the growing number of people holding the U.S. government accountable for decades of nuclear-waste pollution.


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