They say, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” That is surely true in the case of my journey. While Thea and I were celebrating our 50th anniversary of life together, playing on the beach with kids and grandkids, I pulled a hamstring. Down I went into the sand. Now, I can walk, and am getting better reasonably quickly… But, driving a few thousand miles in my GMC is not in the cards for a bit. So, I’ve rescheduled my journey…more to follow on that.
One good thing is that it gives more time for research, conversation, and reflection. There have been plenty of all three!
For the next couple of months, I’ll be visiting the Tule Lake WRA prison camp, near Tulelake, CA. No, that is not a typo. The town is called “Tulelake” and the camp was called Tule Lake. The Tule Lake Camp was declared a National Historic Site in 2006 and a National Historic Monument in 2008, triggering the involvement and management of the National Park Service. Yesterday, I made my first visit to the Monument, going on a tour with an NPS summer staffer.
This is just my first glimpse. Not a great picture, I’m sorry to say. But it does give an indication of how utterly bleak the setting for the Camp is. The image reveals that it was the intent of the Federal government to place the Camps in isolated areas, for maximum control. The isolation also maximized the disorientation of the mostly urban prisoners.
Of this Camp, which housed over 18,000 prisoners at it’s peak, and which had all of the buildings to house, feed, and manage them, it is astonishing that there is almost nothing left visible on the land (this insight comes from “Tule Lake Revisited,” by Barbara Takei and Judy Tachibana, Tule Lake Committee, Inc., 2012). There are a few buildings which I will photograph in the coming weeks, but mostly there is nothing. The structure off in the distance is one of two “Imhoff Tanks” that were constructed to process sewage from the Camp. I was standing about 1,000 yards from the tank (the picture was shot with a telephoto lens). The space between us was once filled with barracks. The entire residential space was surrounded with barbed wire and eventually 28 guard towers manned by armed guards. There was a U.S. Army battalion of Military Police who took over guarding the prisoners. Tule Lake was the maximum security prison camp of the WRA Camp system.
There will be much more to follow about this most complex and disturbing of the 10 WRA Camps.
This journey of mine is starting up again at a slower pace. Whatever the pace, I will keep on the path. I hope you will go with me.
Grace and peace to you,