GRAY WATER  The view from a bridge two miles from the mudslide.
  • Charles Mudede
  • STRANGE AND MURKY WATER The view from a bridge two miles from the mudslide.

The day after the mudslide, the Associated Press photographed a group of people standing on one of the many bridges in Oso that crosses the winding Stillaguamish River. They were pointing down at debris drifting from the catastrophe. In another photograph, people were on another bridge, staring at the strange and murky color the river had taken.

That color had not cleared when I stood on the bridge on 221st Avenue East (the road runs directly into town). It was thick, slow, and gray. The grayness is glacial flour—silt from the slope that collapsed, which used to be suspended in ice thousands of years ago. Thousands of years later, it became the silt on the hillside that slid. Today, it's flowing down the river. To watch the Stillaguamish from a bridge is to leave human time, the scale of the journalist, and enter the time before our time, geological time, the longue durée. In human time, Jesus was nailed to a cross long, long ago. In geological time, he was nailed to the cross this morning.

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"You people are just crazy!" yelled someone from behind me. I turned and saw a middle-aged man sitting in a boat-sized white pickup truck. I was not sure if he was going to spit at me, pull a gun on me, or walk out of the truck and throw me into the eternal river. He was mad, he had had enough, he wanted his town back to the normal rhythms before the mudslide. The man abruptly shifted gears, drove halfway down the bridge, stopped, and, to my surprise, looked out of his window and apologized for yelling at me. I accepted his apology. The pickup then crossed the remainder of the bridge, turned right, and continued down an old country road.

Soon, we outsiders and the national attention will be gone and the folks around here will have plenty of time process this extraordinary tragedy on their own.

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