Walt Atchison

A Poem by Walt Atchison

Walt Atchison was a key member of the LANL team of computational physicists who were responsible for using LANL’s sophisticated, multidimensional computer codes to design, simulate and analyze the very complex experiments being conducted by the joint LANL/VNIIEF collaboration. Walt was instrumental in designing experiments at both LANL and VNIIEF that investigated material properties at ultrahigh pressures. Walt’s interaction with his VNIIEF counterparts was a prime example that scientists worldwide speak a common language of science, even if they can’t speak each other’s native tongue. As with most, if not, all of the LANL team, Walt was very proud of his contributions and developed a strong attachment to his Russian colleagues. In 2007, Walt made the tough decision to accept LANL’s early retirement incentive, knowing that it would sharply reduce, and perhaps end, his contact with the Russians whom he had come to know so well.

People seated around a table with a man standing giving a toast

All of the LANL team had learned the Russian tradition of toasting at the many banquets that ended a successful experimental campaign or an enlightening period of pre- or post-shot discussions. We learned that the last toast of the evening is always NA PASOSHOK i.e., the “walking stick.” Walt had been an avid writer of poetry in his youth but hadn’t written for many years. However, just before his retirement, as he realized that the approaching banquet could well be his last, a poem began to form in his mind. He wrote “The Walking Stick” and read it at the last banquet he attended in Sarov. From the reaction of his Russian colleagues, including some tears, it was obvious that many felt the same emotions as he did.

Irv Lindemuth, Tucson AZ, June 2017

The Walking Stick

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I’ve learned so much from visits to this place

So many things you’ve taught to me

So many things I never thought I’d learn

So many things I never thought would be


I’ve learned the words “Dobri Utra”

To greet both friendly smiles and rising sun

I’ve learned the words “Dobri Nocha”

When sun is set and work is done


I’ve also come to know the walking stick

And used it many times and ways

I’ve come to know the walking stick

Will cherish it for all my days


I’ve used the walking stick in daylight

Leaving a warm and friendly home

It aides and comforts as well at night

Through unfamiliar scenes I roam


I’ve used it in the thaw of Spring

Walking through birches on my way

Full of new and fresh and growing buds

Like friendships newly made


I’ve used it in the warmth of Summer

Through trees so full and thick

And felt the gentle evening breeze

While friends shared the walking stick


I’ve used it in the colors of Autumn

And heard the wind that stirs the leaves

And brings to mind your welcomed voices

That stirs the warmth that never leaves.


I’ve used it in the depths of Winter

While trees still wear soft white coats of winter

And in my heart I touch the warmth

Put there by our friendly dinner


In Sarov I’ve used it often

Through each and every season

While walking through this friendly town

I had no need but had a reason


The reason is the one word I have never learned

It’s something I simply cannot say

It grabs my throat and gives me pain

It means I must go and cannot stay


So I’ve come to know the walking stick

And will use it one more time

And depart this place I’ve come to know

Perhaps to leave my friends behind

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