The crucible in your back yard

Life is a series of crucibles, randomly melded together. Judgment, heroics, love of family and community. They’re all abstractions until forces unseen interrupt the everyday. Then comes the test.

The Oso mudslide remade lives as it remade a landscape. Unspeakable death and unsparing courage. Lesson one from the crucible in your back yard: Defiance is a virtue.

“Nothing — not hip deep mud, not quicksand, not risky footing, not leaking propane and gas, not downed power lines, not orders to stay out — would hold them back,” writes Eric Stevick, Rikki King and Scott North in today’s special section, “The Rising.”

The people of the Stillaguamish Valley are self reliant by nature and interdependent by default. You rely on your neighbors. When you need to defy authority to do the right thing, you never think twice.

There are individuals such as Quinn Nations, 33, who rebuffed orders to stay out and who saved at least two lives that first day. And week after week, he helped with the recovery. He is emblematic of a spirit that suffused the valley.

“I can’t say how proud I am of not only my son, but everyone up there on the Darrington side as well as the Oso side,” said Quinn’s mom, Lorraine Nations, a medical assistant at Cascade Valley Hospital. “The volunteers, the stories are unbelievable how people are coming together to help. I am so proud to say I am from there.”

Disasters begin and end at the local level, King notes. Locals are the first to step up and locals are the ones left to pick up the pieces and work to heal the trauma, long after government agencies, media and nonprofits pass from the scene. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better place than the valley, the way people responded, North said,

Death is a mystery. Stevick spoke with seven families that lost a loved one that day. So arbitrary and cruel. How will this affect a generation of young people who experienced the unimaginable?

In Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” Brother Juniper tries to make sense of the sudden deaths of five people who perish when the bridge they’re walking over collapses. It’s the unexpressed love they leave behind that sustains and strengthens their families. And that love is passed on.

It’s also why the personal narratives from the mudslide, the struggles and the passions of the victims and the survivors, are so meaningful.

“I feel incredibly honored to be able to tell these people’s stories,” North said. “To tell what these people did for the right reason is a real blessing.”

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