March 22, 2014, 10:37 a.m.
For most in the Pacific Northwest, this day was another ordinary Saturday. A break from the routine of the work week. A free day to get out and explore. A window to run errands or merely relax with a cup of coffee while flipping through the morning news. In the tiny town of Oso, WA (pop. 180), March 22 was a different story. At 10:37 a.m., a massive landslide tore through the town, devastating everything in its path while taking 43 precious lives.
On a recent trek out to central Washington, I drove along SR 530 to have a firsthand look at what remained in the aftermath of this tragic event. To a regular passerby, the main part of Oso appears as expected. A few parked trucks at the town’s general store. A reminder of Friday night Karaoke. A couple fishing buddies hanging out discussing their bait of choice for the day. A John Deere tractor humming in the background, chopping away the summer’s green bounty.
It’s what lies just beyond town that strikes the eye, the heart, the soul. Steelhead Drive marks the pullout location where the public can view the landslide in full. On one side of the fence lies the overwhelming result of Mother Nature’s power to instantaneously change routine into chaos. On the other side of the fence is a wonderful tribute to the 43 lost lives with a separate tree devoted to each person.
Taking a moment to reflect on each tree, I was fascinated to see the different ways family, friends and strangers alike had chosen to pay tribute. From Christmas cards and flowers to personal love letters and photos to painted rocks, beer cans and sunglasses…all pieces with their own personal sentimental value.
At the end of my visit, I was the only person left at the memorial. Traffic on 530 was silent and I found myself trying to reimagine what each of these 43 individuals were doing on what seemed like an ordinary Saturday morning. Before I left, I sat contemplating a “HOPE” sign wishing the following…
Hope that these lives will always be remembered. Hope that family and friends can reflect on the good times with their loved ones. Hope that the community will continue to bond and support each other. Hope that we can all remember to appreciate the day, appreciate the moment, hug the ones we love and never take life for granted.
Here’s to staying #OSOStrong.