The Sitka spruce stood firm as the mudslide scoured away its bark and so much more from this quiet valley.
Trees. Homes. People.
Not the old spruce. Its branches still rose to the cold gray sky as rain and tears fell.
Trees like these only grow in river valleys soggy with rain and mist. It’s at least three stories tall with a trunk six feet across. How long it has been here, no one can say.
The Oso tree was one of the few landmarks for those who call this valley home as they waded into the mud. It greeted those who came to help them look for the lost.
It was there as the ground surrendered photos and furniture, blenders and Bibles — the comforts of homes ripped apart by earth that suddenly rolled across the valley 140 centuries after it last saw sun.
The spruce was there when searchers removed their hard hats and turned off their heavy equipment, the silence marking another person found. One of the dead was an angler who had longed for a home where he always heard a river’s song. He was found almost under its limbs.
In a landscape stripped of the familiar, the big scarred tree remains.
Searchers found a large cedar plank in the mud. They took it to a local mill. Planed and shaped, the fragrant slab was hung on the spruce’s trunk. A carved inscription memorializes the morning the hill fell: “Oso. 10:45 a.m. 3/22/14.”
Workers lined up their excavators, like cavalry on a parade ground. They laid a wreath at the spruce’s trunk, carried by two people from this place who spent a month in the mud, searching.
They stood firm.
The roots are strong.