The long trek to normalcy

There’s a folksy yarn about an out-of-towner who stops at a general store for directions to a remote spot. The clerk takes a few helpful stabs but falters each time. Finally he tells the traveler, “You know? I don’t think you can get there from here.”

Snohomish County is a sprawling jurisdiction. Its 2,200 square miles run from mudflats to glacial peaks. It contains old growth forest, nearly 20 separate watersheds, a massive airplane factory and a regional shopping mall. It is a long haul from the Edmonds waterfront to the Mountain Loop Highway.

But a week ago on Saturday, our county got a lot smaller.

Oso and Darrington suddenly seem close to us all, whether we live in Lynnwood or Everett, Stanwood or Monroe. Compassion and charity now link us to the communities and people scarred and shaken by a deadly mudslide.

In private conversations and at public gatherings, it is clear that neighbors and co-workers are keeping the people in the disaster area — the residents and the rescue crews — in their thoughts and prayers.

The outpouring of financial support is equally remarkable. Individuals, churches and businesses have turned to the task of raising money to support relief efforts. Fund-raising messages are appearing everywhere from storefronts to web pages.

Big gifts from major donors also deserve recognition. Contributions in the six figures have been made by the Tulalip Tribes, the Stillaguamish and Snoqualmie tribes, Starbucks and the Boeing Co. (including Boeing employees). JP Morgan Chase has donated $50,000, and Weyerhaeuser and AT&T have given $25,000 a piece. Most gifts have been channeled to three organizations: the Red Cross of Snohomish County, United Way of Snohomish County and Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation.

Late last week, donations topped $1 million, which is a great start, but only a start. The needs in Oso will be long-lasting and varied.

There are immediate necessities like food, shelter, clothing and medical care. In the months and years ahead, however, a community must be salvaged, lives need to be rebuilt, and people who have been affected directly and indirectly will struggle with a range of traumas.

On Wednesday, there was a flicker of hope on a softball field in Sedro-Woolley. The girls from Darrington took the field and, for a while, they were not participants in a tense drama. They were athletes and team mates, doing what boisterous teens do.

And that is how recovery is likely to happen: one small, normal step at a time.