At Home on the Slopes of the Mountains - Review

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At Home on the Slopes of the Mountains
By Sharon Snyder

Review by Mary Ray Cate

At Home on the Slopes of Mountains: The Story of Peggy Pond Church was published in 2011 by Los Alamos Historical Society Publications, and it is available for $22 from their online bookstore.

New Mexico has nurtured many artists, writers and poets over the years, including many who moved here from other parts of the world.  The poet Peggy Pond Church, however, was born on a ranch in northeastern New Mexico in 1903 and spent most of her life in various parts of the state.  Her poetry was often inspired by her experiences in nature, especially her years growing up on the Pajarito plateau.  Her father founded the Los Alamos Ranch School, and Peggy married one of its teachers and raised her three sons in that beautiful setting of mesas, canyons and ancient ruins.

When the U.S. government took over the school for the Manhattan Project in 1942, Peggy and her family were forced to leave.  Discovering at the end of World War II what the school had been used as – a secret location to develop the atomic bomb – Peggy was shocked and saddened.  In 1948 she became one of the first members of Santa Fe Monthly Meeting and was active in Friends activities, attending Quaker gatherings in England, California, and France.

This biography is based on her journals, letters and poetry, as well as on information from family members and friends.  It covers many aspects of her life as a woman, daughter, wife and poet.  Of particular interest to Friends is her response to the physicists who made the bomb and her relationship to Friends Meeting.

The story of how Church wrote her most famous work, The House at Otowi Bridge, reveals the challenges and triumphs of her creative process.  Another important work is The Ripened Fields, fourteen sonnets about her marriage to a man whom she did not, at first, love.

Although I was lucky enough to know Peggy Pond Church during the last six years of her life and heard her read many of her poems, her poetry became more meaningful to me after learning more details of her life story.  A good companion book is This Dancing Ground of Sky, the Selected Poetry of Peggy Pond Church. ♦

Mary Ray Cate is a physician and artist who paints Advent calendars and cards available at sunlit-art.com. She is a former member of Santa Fe Monthly Meeting.

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