Oso Resident Places Flowers on Cross In Memory of the Mudslide Dead
  • Charles Mudede
  • IN MEMORY OF THE DEAD A pastor's wife decorates a cross outside Oso Community Chapel.

Two miles from the huge mudslide that is known to have killed 25 humans (ABC reports another body was located yesterday and that "family members of the unaccounted for are beginning realize their loved ones may remain entombed forever inside a mountain of mud") is a church, the Oso Community Chapel. The pastor of this church is Gary and his wife is Tina. Yesterday, Tina decorated a cross as tall as she is with a variety of flowers. I watched Tina placing each flower (red, blue, yellow) on different parts of the cross. Each bloom was handled with great care, as if it were the fragile soul of those who had been buried in the mud.

"One member of our congregation is missing," said the pastor.

I asked how long he had been in Oso.

"Four years."

I asked where he had moved from: "I'm tired of your questions. I don't even know who you are."

I told him again who I was and who I worked for. "I have said enough."

"Can we talk about your church? Its affiliation?" I asked.

"No," he said. He was not interested and walked away. Tina continued to put more and more flowers on the cross.

I later brought up the pastor's irritation at my questioning to a cameraman working for KIRO. He smiled and said: "Don't take it personally. The people out here are already tired of the press and also, you know, they do live out here. You move to this kind place to get away from everything." Oso is very small. Its one grocery store is no more—it's empty, its sign is falling apart, it has on its main window a poster of a real estate agent and the picture of a young man who went missing last year. A number of houses are slowly returning to nature. There are no McMansions here. No development at the suburban scale. The animals seem happy enough. Cows docilely eat grass by the power lines. One bull appeared to be more curious than aggressive. By look and feel, Oso is working-class, simple, and deeply peaceful.

And now all of this noise. First there was the netherworldly roar of the mudslide:

“We heard this God-awful sound, a roar like I’ve never heard before and never want to hear again...”
And then came the screams of the emergency vehicles, the din of the helicopters, and the racket of the local, national, and international press. To move out here is to precisely move away from this kind of attention. Indeed, as I watched Tina placing flowers on the cross, flowers for the dead and also for their one and only savior—a young man who was killed by Roman authorities some 2000 years ago and is believed by his followers to have been the son of a man who created nothing less than the whole universe—public radio was interviewing scientist after scientist about exactly what we as an informed public needs to know about this region, its hills, its history (going back to the Ice Age), its geologic constitution, and so on and so on. The scrutiny on NPR is intense.

Suddenly, sleepy Oso is being turned this way and that, like the body of some patient under the light of a massive and oppressive lamp. There had been mudslides on that hill five times since 1949, one story said. The New York Times counted more than that:

We need insurance polices like the ones in New Zealand, said another story. We need to look at state rules governing logging rights, say other stories. We need to stop cutting funding for scientific studies, said many, many stories.

Oso may never be the same again.