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Hole in the Head

The Place Where You Live

“A sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spatial perception together.”

—Rebecca Solnit
Bodega Head, Bodega Bay, California

Bodega Bay, Hole in the Head

I come to the Bodega Headlands often to make offerings and prayers. Offerings to the land—the wild Northern California Coast—and a prayer of gratitude to people who 50 years ago had the vision to block construction of a nuclear plant on this spot straddling the San Andreas Fault. In essence, a prayer to what didn’t happen.

The “Hole in the Head” is a small pond tucked behind dramatic cliffs dropping into the ocean, close enough for me to hear sea lions and glimpse migrating whales. This crater was the initial excavation for the foundation; now it only hints at the disaster that could have unfolded. During the 1906 earthquake, this coastline moved 15 feet. In the event of another quake, the largest nuclear reactor of its era would have been perched on the edge of the Fault.

What outrageous hope led people to believe they could halt construction of a nuclear site once building had begun? Who could have predicted the unlikely outcome of PG&E’s plan as outlined in this understated park sign?

“…Proximity of the San Andreas Fault would have significantly increased risks to marine, tidal, and atmospheric environments. Citizens and scientists collected signatures, filed lawsuits, wrote letters, and appeared at hearings ranging from Sonoma County to Washington, D.C. The project was finally abandoned in 1964 after 8 years of controversy and citizen action.”

If it had opened as planned, the reactor would have outlived its utility by now. I would be standing before the shuttered structures of cooling towers, looking out over the yard littered with barrels of spent fuel rods, a lonely witness to the radioactivity which would persist for scores of human lifetimes. The electricity produced would have long since passed through local residents’ light bulbs and dishwashers, with new sources of power being tapped for contemporary needs.

My thoughts drift to those folks who worked for such a reasonable outcome. As the sea breeze blows across my face, I arrange flowers in honor of the legacy these activists left behind, an ephemeral monument to something that never came to pass.