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Massive tree that withstood deadly Oso mudslide comes down

An American flag found in the debris hangs at half-staff on a single standing tree, with the slide site in the background, at the west site of the mudslide on Highway 530, near Oso, Wash., on  April 1, 2014. (Lindsey Wasson / Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Times)
An American flag found in the debris hangs at half-staff on a single standing tree, with the slide site in the background, at the west site of the mudslide on Highway 530, near Oso, Wash., on April 1, 2014. (Lindsey Wasson / Lindsey Wasson/Seattle Times)

OSO, Wash. – In healing, there are seasons.

There are moments of strength and moments of loss.

For nearly three and a half years, the damaged Sitka spruce has stood guard at the site of the Oso mudslide. More than 100 feet tall, it was the largest tree to withstand the force of the mud.

The spruce was buried some two stories deep. As it was uncovered, local carver Bruce Blacker helped fashion a sign from a cedar plank. It reads: “Oso. 10:45 a.m. 3/22/14.”

For those who were part of the recovery effort, the tree and the sign have been reminders of resilience. The sight stayed constant while the land changed around them. The mud eventually dried into hillocks. Seed was spread, and the earth turned green again. Now, the grass is waist-high and there are saplings in the distance, closer to the scarp.

Some say it’s getting harder to remember what the neighborhood looked like before, when there were gardens kept and children raised and fish pulled from the river. It doesn’t change, the catch in your throat, even if you drive past every day.

Chad White owns Oso’s Evolution Tree Experts. He’d limbed the spruce long before the slide, for the previous owner.

He and others have known for a long time the tree wasn’t going to make it. He believes it was suffocated by the mud.

Snohomish County oversees the land now and plans a memorial park. The tree was becoming a hazard. The county recently asked White for an estimate on removal.

White decided the job would be done like everything else around here – by the locals, looking out for one another. He and his crews volunteered, along with area crane and trucking companies.

“Everybody’s taking the time for the community, every one of us,” he said. “We’ve all been in this from the start.”

About 30 people gathered Saturday for the ceremony. Afterward, Oso firefighters Tim Harper and Toby Hyde, joined by Blacker, took down the sign and carried it away. The cedar is darker now. As it has the plank, time has weathered the people, but not their resolve.

Many of those involved in the ceremony had spent time in the mud in spring 2014, when it was cold and wet and they were surrounded by grief. Conversations still are kept quiet in this place. It’s still a graveyard.

The wood from the spruce will become something permanent, something shared. It will be kept safe while folks decide what to do.

The Rev. Janet Loyd, of Darrington, read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The passage speaks of seasons. It tells us there is a time to be born and to die, to plant and to uproot, to celebrate and to mourn.

The spruce has “stood strong with us through times of trial and grief,” she said.

Its loss marks another season, she said, a moment to honor and treasure all that has passed.


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