43 trees mark lives lost along Highway 530 in Oso

OSO — A ceremony re-opening the new, two-lane permanent stretch of Highway 530 through Oso on Saturday marked a point between the past and the future, between grief and hope, said the Rev. Janet Loyd, of Darrington.

The community is building a future by drawing on the strengths of the past, she said.

The public ceremony Saturday also focused on 43 cedar trees planted in a peaceful grove along the highway. Each tree marks a life that was lost in the March 22 mudslide.

Earlier in the day, families were given private time in the grove. They tied ribbons to the trees and hung signs drawn with names and hearts. There were gentle touches between them — an arm around the shoulder, a grasped elbow — as they walked through the grove. Like the people of the Stillaguamish Valley, the trees will be strong and hardy, organizers said.

Each person impacted by the slide needed their own moment Saturday to walk on the new pavement with their own feet, said Kris Rietmann, a state Department of Transportation spokeswoman who spent that first week after the slide in Darrington.

The sun broke through the soggy morning, bringing a tranquil warmth.

It was a time for people to come together and reconnect. The grass was beginning to grow. There was a sense of renewal amid deep-set sadness.

For many, driving past the site has been a daily reminder of what happened, said Mary Schoenfeldt, an Everett emergency-management expert who has provided trauma counseling since the slide. Some who gathered Saturday shared the hope there eventually will be a place along the highway to stop and reflect.

“There will always be a lump in their throat, a catch in their breath, as they come by, but it will certainly get better,” she said.

The highway was blocked for 38 days, severing the lifeline between Arlington, Oso and Darrington, Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin said.

“Yet our communities were never as close as they were for those 38 days,” he said.

The memories cannot fade, even as the road and the landscape change, Rankin said.

“Thank you all for having the spirit of the valley in your hearts and the spirit of the families and those we lost in our souls,” he said.

There have been many ceremonies, but each ceremony is about a moment, Oso Fire Chief Willy Harper said. Families who went out in the mud to dig for their loved ones showed “unimaginable” strength, he said. The chief encouraged others to allow their memories of healing to overshadow memories of the horrors they saw in the mud.

Loyd, the pastor, closed the ceremony with a reminder to those hurting that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.

The recovery has been nurtured by their dedication and their selflessness, she said. After devastation, there are new beginnings, and new life, she said.

“Nothing we have loved is ever completely lost,” she said.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com.

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