My father died last week, on 6 Sep 2017. He was 85 years old, and his health had been declining for several years. So we knew the end was coming, but it was still a shock when it happened. The funeral was on 10 Sep, and I was asked to say a few word about him. I thought I’d write down an expanded version of my comments.
Leon Reiter was born on 10 Dec 1931, in New York City. Like my mother (also born in NYC), he was the child of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. In his teens and twenties, he was an ardent Zionist, and took the Hebrew name Aryeh Reiter. He and my mother moved to Israel in the late 1950s, where I was born. We returned to the US in the mid 1960s, where my father, mother, and brothers (both born in US) have lived ever since (I of course moved to Scotland in the early 1990s). My father became a seismologist, and spent most of his career working for the US government evaluating earthquake risks at nuclear power plants and waste repositories, and indeed wrote a book about this. When he retired, he started travelling until his health started fading in his early 80s, and my parents’ house is full of pictures he has taken in places he visited, including Antartica, Spitzbergen, Tanzania, Chile, Jordon, Peru, and Hawaii.
I also love to travel, especially before I had children, and I’ve written up a few of my trips as travelogues on the Resources page of this blog. But although my father and I both loved to travel, we only once travelled to a “back of beyond” place together, when I was 11 years old. This remains one of my strongest memories of my father when I was growing up, and is the one I shared at my father’s funeral.
It was 1972, and my father was a postdoc at IGPP in San Diego (California). He was involved in setting up a new seismic monitoring station in southern Baja California, which is part of Mexico. I dont remember exactly where the station was, but I believe it was in the same general area as the modern seismic station at Sierra la Laguna Baja California Sur.
In 2017, there are good roads in Baja California, but in 1972 it was mostly dirt tracks once you got beyond the cities of Tijuana and Ensenada near the US-Mexico border. So the trip to set up the seismic station was an expedition, where several vehicles (some of them four-wheel-drive) drove for days from San Diego to the site of the new station, 1000 miles south. My father drove one of the vans, and I sat next to him, helping with navigation and logistics.
It was a great adventure for 11-year old me, seeing exotic places and meeting exotic people (Baja California was much more exotic in 1972). Plus lots of adventures along the way: roads dead-ending on cliffs, trying to find gas (petrol) in the middle of nowhere, vehicles getting stuck and needing to be rescued, etc. One memory is speeding across a dry lake bed at the crazy speed of 50 mph, with a huge sand plume behind us. We literally left the rest of the expedition behind in the dust!
And of course I had my father to myself, it was just me and him together for the expedition. Paradise for an 11-year old boy!
A wonderful trip, and one of my strongest and happiest memories of my father when I was growing up. And maybe where my father passed his love of travel on to me. My biggest regret is that we only travelled together once “off the beaten track”, it would have been so nice to travel with him again…