By Julie Muhlstein Herald columnist
When Marla Skaglund walks by Japanese maples on her property, she thinks of her husband. He died in 2005. She tends flowering shrubs on her 10 acres near Darrington in honor of her mother, who died in 2004. Skaglund lost her dad in 1991. Big trees on the land remind her of him.
“I always think about them,” Skaglund said.
Today she calls the place where her ancestors settled in the 1920s Skaglund Hill Memorial Gardens and Campsites. It’s a venue for weddings and parties, with eight campsites for rent.
Now, she is offering the woods where she honors her own family as a place for those who lost loved ones in the Oso slide to plant memorial trees or shrubs.
“I want to invite people to plant here — anything they want —and to put up a little plaque in honor of the person they lost,” Skaglund said. “I’m inviting them to come back anytime, and if they want, to do their own little service.”
Skaglund, who graduated from Arlington High School in 1968, grew up on the property, in the house where she now lives. Skaglund Hill is between Arlington and Darrington. As someone who has traveled Highway 530 all her life, she knows every mile. “It’s 14?1/2 miles out of Arlington, and 12 miles to Darrington — 4 miles east of the Oso fire station,” she said.
Generations of Skaglunds have called the area home. The first ones to come were from Sweden.
“We are one of the families not from Sylva, North Carolina,” Skaglund said. Many in Darrington trace their roots to that small town in the Great Smoky Mountains. Logging lured North Carolina “Tar Heels” to Darrington. The chance to earn a living in the woods also brought workers from Sweden and Norway.
By the early 1920s, Skaglund’s paternal grandparents, Albert and Gerda Skaglund, had come from Sweden “to Swede Heaven, up at Whitehorse.” The Whitehorse community is about seven miles west of Darrington. Its immigrant legacy is marked by the name of Swede Heaven Road.
“My dad was born at Swede Heaven in 1926,” Skaglund said. Her grandparents and her parents, Arthur and Phyllis Skaglund, have all died.
The men were independent loggers — “gyppo loggers,” Skaglund said. It’s a tough, dangerous business. Skaglund remembers her father recovering at home, in the 1960s, from a punctured lung suffered in a logging accident.
Her younger brother Steve Skaglund was helping in the woods by age 5, she said. Since the disaster, Steve Skaglund has used his heavy equipment in the debris search. He was shown walking across rubble in a dramatic photo in Sunday’s Herald.
The March 22 slide brought down a hillside, which was north of Highway 530, about five miles east of Oso. It’s in a different area, but not far from, a 2006 slide. The state Department of Transportation called its project after that event “Skaglund Hill-Permanent Slide Repair.” The state installed a rock buttress along the south bank of the Stillaguamish River, below Highway 530.
Marla Skaglund said her house is “at the bottom of the hill, on the Darrington side.” She believes it’s a safe place, far from the river and unstable earth. To honor her family, she has enhanced its beauty.
Her late husband, musician Alec Jupp, had Japanese maple trees growing in pots. After his death, she made them a permanent part of the landscape. Her mother loved flowers. “I know how hard she worked in the flower beds,” Skaglund said. “And my dad loved trees. He would rather have planted them than cut them down.”
Like many Darrington natives, she moved away but couldn’t stay away. It is home. She volunteers with the Darrington Area Business Association, and writes for the monthly Concrete Herald newspaper. Since the slide, she has spread the word about fundraising events to help families hurt by the tragedy in her own back yard.
She is offering what she can — a place to plant something beautiful.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
A place to plant
Anyone who lost a loved one in the Oso mudslide is welcome to plant a tree, shrub or other plant, and include a small memorial plaque, at Skaglund Hill Memorial Gardens and Campsites, a 10-acre site near Oso. For information, email Marla Skaglund at email@example.com.