When your area gets hit by a massive tragedy, you quickly learn what it feels to be flooded with emotions that feel like waves in the ocean. You feel tossed around between fear, anger, helplessness, complete sadness and determination to do something… anything. National news starts mentioning the name of your town, and your neighboring towns. Just as the realization sinks in about the strangeness of how that feels, they switch to the next news item and honestly it feels like a slap in the face. Even more painful is your “local” news stations arriving and asking probing questions that somehow feel violating. You are angry about the slowness of the coverage in the beginning, but then realize as this “news story” gets more sensational on a state and national level… it feels more violating for all these cameras and people walking around on our sidewalks… walking into our diners and looking around for potential news stories.
Then the realization sinks in that people are just hearing about this area for the first time in their lives. “Arlington landslide” slowly becomes the “Oso landslide” and the news finally starts venturing out to Darrington because they are starting to catch onto the geography of the area. There’s a difference between Arlington, Oso and Darrington. And even as I type this, and spell check keeps really wanting to change Darrington to Darlington and Oso to Oslo…. you start realizing that just like spell check doesn’t recognize these places as real~you yourself are just starting to let it set in what the “difference is”. I live in a town named Arlington, which isn’t the Arlington in Texas or Virginia. I live in Washington, which outside of the PNW you have to clarify “state, not DC”. But at least spell check recognizes us. I’ll try to explain what Oso is…. who Oso is.
Oso is near me, but it’s not where I live. It has an address of Arlington. Some of the kids in Oso go to Arlington schools, some go to Darrington . Oso, rural Arlington and Darrington are filled with hard working, get yourself dirty, help your neighbors and treat them like family, men women and children. People who have grown up in Arlington, in long standing Arlington families, are tied to Oso and Darrington. They were and some still are, farming families, family of homesteaders. Those Arlington/Oso/Darrington people and families are what us “new” Arlington families have a hard time admitting we are jealous of. They have a shared history. We slowly learn that history and wish so badly it was our history. We wish it was our family lineage that remember Grandpa’s farm. Remember working in a dairy. Remember when “big businesses” were 7-11 and Safeway. People ask if you remember “Rotten Ralphs” and you have to admit you didn’t grow up here. But, you wish you did and want to ask if that counts for anything. After you live here a while and settle into this being your town and show that you love it, just as these longtime folk do, you’re accepted. You’re considered a local. You’re jealous of your kids though…. because they get to be the next generation of kids who “grew up here”. I quickly learned that people don’t care who you know~they care what you do outside of the spotlight. These last few days, I see rescuers and volunteers who cringe at praise. Cringe at attention. It’s in their blood. In their Arlington/Oso/Darrington blood. Many of the victims of the mudslide didn’t grow up here either. But they inherited that blood somehow. I think by moving out there… to rural Arlington and Oso/Darrington….and staying there, it’s a statement that you get it. You get what this area was like in its younger years. You want a slice of life that others don’t. You want that life for your kids. Its why we moved to Arlington. But I’m a different kind of Arlington. When people that live elsewhere say “Oh, you live in Arlington? Where about? I grew up there!”. When you answer “Well, I don’t live “out” we live in Gleneagle”, they sweetly answer “oh, I’ve heard that’s a great area. It’s good you’re raising your kids there, its a great town”. You both know its different though. We moved here to enjoy small town life, to enjoy the blood, sweat, dirt and tears of what made and keeps this area small town….. but were just a bit too chicken shit to really dig in our heels and live “out”. (pardon my language….I typically don’t let myself talk like that outside of here, but its really not a bad word when its the only term that fits…. something I’ve learned here). Old time Arlington friends live in my neighborhood and surrounding neighborhoods…. they don’t live “out” either. But it’s still who they are.
But I know enough to have my heart break into pieces at the smallest slights. The cameras in faces of families, the reporters questions that just don’t matter right now….. they feel like personal attacks. The confusion over the lack of news coverage, but also not wanting anymore, because you’ve already known that “news” for a full day now, but it wasn’t news to you… it was a heartbreaking ending to a friends search. Every time someone gives you accolades for helping your community, you cringe because you really, truly don’t want the accolades because it feels wrong somehow… that cringe at least makes you feel more local. More a part of your community.
I’ve seen the changes in the faces the past couple days of the public service folks who don’t live here, outside rescuers, the governor, other politicians, and even some news reporters. Their faces have changed and they look like protectors of our community now. They bite back at stupid questions that don’t need asking yet. It’s a small bit of comfort that we all need here. They get who we are. They even more importantly get who the folks are who embody what it means to be from here. To be from a small community. To be Oso. That its Darrington, its Oso and its the root bound Arlington folks. They are the folks who put on boots, sweatshirts and grab their chain saws and 4 wheelers and go out there to search too. You learn quickly that you can be a big official that says “no way… only trained people can be out there” but its better to quickly realize that they know this land and you might as well work with them because they’ll go out there regardless. We know the ones who get it… just by the look in their eyes.
Oso right now, as a national news definition, is a group of people, a community of people who either were born and raised here in this Northeast Snohomish County area, or jumped in with both feet and get themselves dirty to make up for the years they weren’t here. Some of them sob over their lost homes, but push it aside to go out there and search for people who lost far more than a home. They keep their questions of blame, fairness and “why me” buried deep down and look instead for that person who has been hit harder then them, and they don’t ask “what can I do?” they just do it. They are tough in the most compassionate way and I will always remind myself to respect their protectiveness over their community. I’ll remind myself to remember not to barge through wanting to help, but quietly wait for them to let us know what they need from those of us who aren’t Oso.
I’m not Oso, but I love a multitude of people who are. I grew up in Everett, and I love Everett, but no matter where I live in this world, my hometown will always be Arlington. I’m not Oso, but I wish I was.