The House at Ottowi Bridge: The Story of Edith Warner and Los Alamos
by Peggy Pond Church
Reviewed by Elizabeth H. Cottrell, Heartspoken.com
This book is a gem, especially for those whose interest in Los Alamos has been piqued by the movie “Oppenheimer,” as well as those who love New Mexico and are fascinated by the natural and Native American influences there.
The author is a native New Mexican who lived in Los Alamos before WWII when her husband ran a boys’ school there. Her lyrical descriptions of the physical and spiritual beauty of the place—laced with her own affection and the deep regret over the government’s takeover and ultimate use of Los Alamos—are worth the price of the book and deserve five stars.
Primarily this is a book about Edith Warner, a woman who left home and family to come to the Los Alamos area and live for more than 20 years as a neighbor and friend to the natives of the San Ildefonso Pueblo. Her own journals—used liberally in this book—reflect the heart of a child, the eyes of a naturalist, the wisdom of an ancient medicine woman, and the soul of a poet.
Edith ran a tearoom with such warmth and grace that it became a cultural crossroads, where natives, locals, and scientists from around the world came and lingered and talked—drawn as much by Edith’s simple love for them as by her renowned chocolate cake.
If you’re looking for a history of Los Alamos and its occupants during the war years, read 109 East Palace Street by Jennet Conant, and if you want more about the life of Oppenheimer, read American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman (which inspired the movie). But for a beautiful and moving glimpse into the life of a special woman in a particular time and place, you can do no better than this book. Your only regret will be that you didn’t know Edith Warner in person and sit with her, drinking her tea, nibbling on her homemade cake, and nourishing your heart and soul with her beloved Pajarito Plateau country and the mesa she could see east of the Rio Grande, where a bridge crossed near the Ottowi Switch. The appendix with Edith Warner’s Christmas letters is marvelous too.
This book speaks to at least two of the Heartspoken Life’s essential connections: with Nature because of the exquisite descriptions of the New Mexico landscape and with Others because of the gift Edith Warner clearly had for nourishing her friendships and appreciating others of all walks of life.
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