Throughout childhood and until the present time, I have survived an
extraordinary number of life-threatening accidents and physical afflictions.
These perilous mishaps include bad falls from bicycles, roller blades,
horses, and falling out of a car traveling at highway speed. Other traumas
included severe gashes, violent drug reactions, electrical shocks,
food poisoning, concussions, painful ear infections and procedures, serious
attacks of vertigo, an emergency C-section, being cut while fighting off a
mugger, a nonexistent blood pressure reading, having a knife held
menacingly at my throat, cat scratch fever, and several acute cases of
pneumonia and the flu, the last bout requiring over a week of
hospitalization. In addition, I've been an involuntary participant or
close observer to dangerous natural events, including lightning, rockslides, floods, earthquakes, and
tornados. My father, no stranger to danger himself, referred to me as
"Pauline," from "The Perils of Pauline," the beautiful heroine who was
always being kidnaped and tied to the railroad tracks by an evil villain
in old-fashioned melodramas.
At twelve years of age, I was diagnosed with thyroid tumors from
"Downwind" radioactive fallout.
Like countless other unrecompensed victims, including hundreds of
children from the Navaho reservation, I went under a thyroidectomy.
Regrowth, follow-up treatments and hormone replacement therapy have been
a continual survival challenge. As a
"Downwinder," I was interviewed by
Chellis Glendinning, author of "Waking Up in a Nuclear Age," for a
television documentary. As the film rolled, I recalled my mother telling
me that when the atomic test bombs were detonated at night, the entire
bedroom would light up as bright as day. In southern Utah, children
would write their names in the pink radioactive dust that
settled on area vehicles. My father told me that the janitor at the
elementary school in Kanab, Utah wore a radiation monitoring badge.
Yes, outrageous as it sounds, the government knew exactly what it was doing,
we were being used as guinea pigs. If in doubt, two thick books of
congressional testimony, available at any Federal Depository Library,
prove beyond question that the bombs were only detonated when the winds
were blowing in a southeasterly direction, toward southern Utah and
The majority of "Downwinders" were unsuspecting Latter-day Saints,
(Mormons) and the Paiute, Hopi, and Navaho Peoples. These people had
suffered unjustly at the hands of the government during the pioneer days,
but had been relatively left alone for years. When the deadly clouds
from the Nevada Test Site dropped their radiation on southern Utah and
northern Arizona, ten people to a block in St. George, Utah, mostly
children, died of leukemia and cancer, and countless sheep developed
mouth and nose lesions, aborted their lambs, and died. Since those
initial exposures, southern Utah's cancer rates have mushroomed.
Recent studies indicate that Mormon people live 11 years longer than
the national average. This longevity is a result of following the Word
of Wisdom revelation given in 1833. These health suggestions include
eating meat sparingly, only in times of famine or cold, eating fresh
fruits in their season, the wise use of herbs, and not smoking or
to these statistics, derived from the Mormons' healthy lifestyle, the
people in our area should have a very low cancer death rate — but as a
result of being a test area, we now have an abnormally high death rate
from cancers of all kinds, and a large new cancer treatment center.
The beautiful red building's presence is small consolation for the
suffering people in this "sacrifice" area have endured, and an anomaly
in a small Utah town where cancer rates had been significantly
lower than the national average before testing began.
As a child, my rancher/carpenter/pilot/radar specialist father moved
our family back and forth across the western landscape in search of work,
and many of my friends were American Indians. My happiest early memories
are centered in appreciation of Mother Earth and natural phenomena as
manifestations of God's awesome power. My father lead out in explorations
of ghost towns, climbing a dead volcano, drinking from icy mountain
streams, showing me prairie grass, thick with hundreds of native grasses
and flowers that no plow had ever touched, finding mysterious traces of
the "Ancient Ones" who had walked this land centuries ago, pointing out
the constellations and taking me to see the mile-wide Meteor Crater in
Arizona. I still have my own baseball-sized meteor . . . the remnant of
star . . . that he found while working near the crater site. I remember
driving at night through dazzling lightning storms, walking the length of
ancient petrified logs in the desert, riding horses and standing on the
700 foot high Glen Canyon bridge spanning the Colorado river at its
dedication. One night, we saw a strange red light almost filling
the northern sky. It looked like the glow of a fire, but after driving
out away from the town lights, we saw a wondrous display of a red Aurora
Borealis coloring the night sky over the Hopi villages near us. I have
heard it said that this red sky foretells of a war . . .|
Two of my school friends were killed during the Vietnam War, and
during a visit to my older brother in San Francisco I was naturally
into the love and
peace movement in Haight-Ashbury, but then, that is a whole book in itself. I became a
sixties Flower Child . . . my eyes still glow in the dark . . . but the brief blossom of
unconditional love and peace proved a short-lived 'trip', obliterated by tragic deaths,
the criminal element, senseless war, civil right’s struggles, government corruption and
media hype that trivialized the message of peace and opened the door to exploitation
and capitalistic advertising ventures of every description. Retroactive/psychedelically
speaking, it has been said that if you can remember anything about San Francisco in the
sixties, you probably weren't there! I would have to agree. When the flowers started
fading in the city, I, like many others reading these words, was caught up in "The Back
to the Earth Movement." It wasn't a very conscious decision on my part, just the
direction survival was taking . . . away from the city and it's ever increasing
negative elements of violence and alienation.
My personal odyssey led me to the then, as yet, unspoiled beauty and enchantment of
northern New Mexico. I lived in an old Penitente Morada (church), the hand-built adobe
brick commune of Morning Star, at Lama Mountain, (Interfaith foundation) with friends at
Taos Pueblo, and on Oklahoma Indian lands. During this same period, I received an
Associate Degree in Behavioral Science from Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico,
a Bachelors Degree from the University of New Mexico at Alberquerque, and a certification
as a Natural Physiotherapist from Dr. Scherer's school of Natural Healing. During this
intense learning period, I also received two Honorable Discharges, one from the U.S. Army,
and the other from the New Mexico National Guard.
Many Native elders born before or near the turn of the century, both men and women,
befriended me and filled the gaps of conventional education with faith, wisdom, earthkeeper
teachings, herbal usage, and other understandings quietly acquired from living close to
nature in simple and direct ways. These elders were the last of their kind -- born in tipis
and pueblos, participants in the Ghost Dance, Native American Church, Kiva, and other
traditional religions. My participation with them in their ceremonies was not exotic or
as a curiosity seeker, but a natural result of being accepted as a friend and fellow truth
seeker. Native ceremonies exist within a familial and spiritual context, and are examples
of unaffected devotion to the Great Spirit and Creator. Those who attempt duplication of
these ceremonies without authorized supervision from Native elders and the tribal/family
context are simply irreverent curiosity seekers. Without reverence, there can be no true
These sacred experiences, coupled with my Christian faith, have sustained and balanced
me through extreme hardship, sorrow, and the ever-present dramas that any explorer/naturalist
faces, including auto accidents, threatening encounters with less than stable humans, bullets
whizzing overhead, extremely dangerous temperatures, and other creatures who thought I might
make a tasty meal, including a rat, wild dogs, the deadly brown recluse spider, and sharks.
In college, I helped organize the first "Earth Day" and did "go back to the earth"
many times . . . as well as several colleges and universities before managing to graduate.
Many of us, admittedly, got off to a slow start by putting school, the family business or
the pursuit of good paying vocations on hold to experiment with the arts, different
lifestyles, religions, inner work or volunteer programs. Our generation broke the mold,
and with all our activism and eclectic explorations, it took us longer to grow up than
any preceding generation. It will take us forever to age because we will always be
The Flower Children of the sixties are just beginning to make their influence felt
as teachers, religious leaders, preventive-minded health care professionals, artists,
builders and in countless other occupations where real contributions can be made toward
harmonious living. Gentle folks are busy supporting such causes as biodiversity,
anti-pollution, recycling, child and animal protection, hospices (terminal patient care),
racial/ethnic acceptance, disabled/differently-abled awareness and other quality and
protection of life issues. If skeptics doubt that we changed the world . . . with love,
where were these issues before the sixties, and why is the music that woke us up to our
own possibilities being embraced by a rising generation? Have ever children embraced the
music of their parents?
Every generation is defined by its music, and few ever do the back-step to embrace
their parent’s music. That we were on track with our outrageous protests against a mindless
war has been vindicated along with the other non-materialistic and environmentally
friendly issues we’ve nagged society about for years.
After years of looking for the perfect person, I met my husband at the North Rim of
the Grand Canyon where we both worked. Three wonderful boys were born to us, the youngest
being only three months old when their father died as a result of medical mismanagement.
It took a year and a half of seeking balance and answers before I was inspired to start
a newsletter to reach out to others who were still on the same wavelength for mutual support.
As a poet and former college newspaper editor, The Gentle Survivalist newsletter was the
answer to my prayers for guidance.
The sudden death of my husband and the responsibility of raising three incredibly
unique boys is probably my greatest challenge at present. Like their father and my father
before them, they love venturing out to the call of the wild, whether it is camping out
in the remote areas of the Four Corners (Colorado, Utah Arizona and New Mexico), the high
Sierras or along the isolated beaches of Mexico. Looking back, I realize I have been well
prepared for an uncertain future. From past experiences, I have learned patience,
persistence, love of nature, the reality of God's existence, and perhaps, how to be a
little more careful.
"I have fallen hard, but have always gotten up and tried again."
-- Laura Martin-Bühler