Tag Archives: Highway 530

#3/22/14: When the Mountain Fell

light in darkness

On March 22, 2014, at 10:37 a.m., the side of the hill above the #Stillaguamish River gave way suddenly. It crashed into the river, scooped up the river’s water and became a mud tidal wave that crashed against the far shore and swept away the lives of 43 people and numerous wildlife and domestic animals.  The wide spot that had once held the town of Hazel, Washington and more recently had been known as the Steelhead Community had vanished under tons of earth within minutes. Friends and family had been lost. The community of #Darrington devastated.

To make matters worse, the major artery between Darrington, Washington and “down below”–all points to the west of Darrington–had been severed. It would be weeks before traffic could resume use of Highway 530.

For all intents and purposes, the small town of Darrington was isolated. Yet, in this small town everyone from Cub Scouts to one hundred school-age young people to Senior citizens rallied to create the infrastructure necessary to field, outfit and feed multiple volunteer teams of local people dispatched to the mudslide. (Local volunteers arrived minutes after the slide hit and though most of them had no prior rescue experience, they were the leading edge of the rescue efforts.) A road was punched through to reach the far edges of the slide. Chainsaws growled, heavy equipment grumbled, people called to each other. As the days piled one on top of the other, young people stocked food banks, elders cooked, some people took care of the home bound, others took care of those affected physically and emotionally, cots were set up, information streams established, and still others made sure that supplies kept coming in for the teams and for the town.

The byword was ‘hope”. Every where you looked yellow ribbons spelled out that brave word: #hope. candle in dark We each became a candle that glowed in that great darkness. Together, we lit the way for each other, and for our town.

During those days and weeks, I learned what made Darrington such a special place. I saw people drag in to check out from their volunteer positions after nine at night and saw those same people back in front of me to check in for work at six the next morning–day after weary, heartbreaking day. People stopped in the middle of the store, in the middle of the street, and gave support and encouragement to each other; hugged each other. We had each others’ backs.

Darrington still epitomizes the word “hope” to me.  We still have hope. I think this town lives and breathes hope. Now, it is the hope that we continue our healing as the first anniversary of the day when the mountain fell approaches.

Be kind to one another. Hope lives in each of us. We can heal each other, and ourselves. I send a hug to each and every one of you.

imagequote sunsets prepare for new day

Candle photo courtesy of geralt, all-free-downloads.com Other photos courtesy Deva Walksfar.



4 Ways Journaling Heals

light in darkness

With the first anniversary of the Highway 530 Mudslide looming ever closer, emotions are intense.

Words are powerful and can help us deal with emotions. This is why keeping a journal can be a healing process. By writing down the feelings we are experiencing, we can begin to deal with them rather than allowing them to eat away at us on the inside.

This can be especially true of grief. In your journal:

  1. Write a story about the person you lost
  2. Describe a happy memory with that person
  3. Write a conversation you wish you could have with that person. Try to include what you think they would tell you
  4. Describe your feelings
  5. List two ways you can honor the memory of your loved one

No matter how dark

Another way journaling can help us heal is to reduce negative self-talk, increase positive self-talk and help us recognize achievements.

  1. Write down the negative self-talk. (ie: I’m not pretty enough, I’m not smart enough, and so on)
  2. Now write down five positive things about yourself ( ie: I’m a good person, I help others, I do my job well, Yesterday I phoned my parents because they like hearing from me, I like my hair (or whatever physical attribute you think is positive) and so on.
  3. Write down two ways you will use to improve yourself. Make these very specific and have a deadline for implementing or achieving. Do not use such things as I will lose ten pounds this month. Instead list it like this: I will make three healthy dinners this week. I will not eat bread for five days. I will read one book every month.
  4. On a clean page, at the end of the deadline, write down what you achieved, why you didn’t achieve the entire goal and how you intend to approach it now. BE SURE to INCLUDE ANY progress toward your goal, such as: I fixed two healthy dinners this week. I failed to schedule in enough time to fix the third dinner. This week I will write up my menu for three healthy dinners, go shopping for the ingredients at least the day before the dinner, and I will put the dinners on my daily schedule.

Memories capture moments in our hearts. By briefly recalling a memory, we can help heal ourselves.  When you journal, you can capture your impression of the moment. The way your heart lifted when you watched the sunset; the way the brownie your sister made melted on your tongue; the sweet chocolate taste that flooded your mouth; or the warmth you felt when your spouse embraced you. Life can be rough at times and being able to return to a journal, leaf through it and recall these moments in poignant detail has the ability to pull our souls up from the darkest times, if only for a moment. Just remember:

imagequote sunsets prepare for new day

Journaling helps in the healing process.

  1. We can capture a moment in time; how we saw and felt at that moment
  2. We can release negative emotions in a healthy manner and brainstorm better ways to handle situations
  3. We can increase positive emotions on a daily basis or whenever we need to
  4. We can accept our grief, validate our feeling of grief, and begin the process of healing.

One last word: I am NOT a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, medical doctor or other professional helper. This article is NOT medical advice or even professional advice. I am an author and have found ways to use writing to deal with emotion.

If you are feeling angry, depressed, unable to motivate, suicidal, or any strong negative emotion that lingers, PLEASE contact a professional. Depression is a common illness. It appears in many disguises such as a shortness of temper, a feeling of not wanting to get out of bed, a feeling that life isn’t worth it, not having an appetite, wanting to sleep a lot. It comes to all of us, just like the flu, at various times in our lives. It is a normal feeling, just like when a cold attacks you. However if it won’t go away, just like if that cold or flu lingers, you need professional help to rid yourself of the illness. DO NOT hesitate.

One of my favorite actors was Robyn Williams. But, Robyn Williams was unable to seek help to get through a particularly rough spot in his life, and a bright light left our world with his suicide. Do not remove your bright light. Believe me, you DESERVE help, even if you don’t think so right now.

Are you depressed?

If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from clinical depression.

  • you can’t sleep or you sleep too much
  • you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult
  • you feel hopeless and helpless
  • you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
  • you have lost your appetite or you can’t stop eating
  • you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
  • you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior
  • you have thoughts that life is not worth living (seek help immediately if this is the case)

To read more about depression:  http://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2014/aug/12/robin-williams-suicide-and-depression-are-not-selfish




I’m Jaz Wheeler and I’m a private investigator. The small town of Darrington, Washington lies five miles east from my land. When the Highway 530 Mudslide swept away the tiny community of Hazel/Steelhead Lane at a bit after ten o’clock on a Saturday morning, I was away from home. IMG_0051

When I returned to Darrington that evening, via the 85 mile roundabout way along Highway 20, I stepped off my V-Strom 650 and into chaos and fear and ten thousand other emotions all running in fifth and overdrive.

For the next few weeks, I did anything and everything. I inventoried donations, I bagged groceries, I handed out gas cards, I registered volunteers and did a multitude of other various tasks alongside of neighbors I hadn’t met in all the years that I had lived up here. Long days and short nights were the order for all of us with that certain knowledge that the only news we’d be getting from that mud and debris field would be of death and loss.

I watched the town cry and hug and support each other, and they gave just as freely to me as to those people they had known all their lives. Humbled and uplifted by the strength and courage I saw every day, I slogged on to the end.

All but one victim was finally found. The road reopened on a limited basis with one way traffic.road open one way

I packed my bags and headed south. I needed to get away from all the reminders of sorrow and loss and clear my head. The only place I knew to do that was the California Redwoods.

Friday the 13th, I idled slowly between the walls of pushed back mud slopes, down the roughed up asphalt of Highway 530 then kept on driving.IMG_0016

With single-minded determination, I rode Interstate 5, dodging kamikaze drivers and hardly stopping long enough for bathroom breaks. The cool wind blew cobwebs of sadness out of my mind. The first night I stayed in an easily accessible Motel 6. Nothing to shout about, but a shower and a bed for the night and a nearby restaurant for breakfast.

The next morning a gray sky greeted me as I hiked a leg over the V-Strom’s seat. I didn’t linger that day, either, preferring to push toward the redwood forests. I entered Gasquet, California that evening.

I’d first discovered the redwoods the spring after I lost Alicia. Grandmother Pearl sent me south along Highway 101 to Hopewell Farm and my destiny, though I didn’t know it at the time. I just knew I hurt so bad that even breathing without Alicia in the world seemed wrong and painful. Not really wanting to meet someone new, I camped out in Jedidiah Smith Park near Gasquet in northern California then spent several more days in various redwood forest campsites I found along the way. Sleeping on damp ground felt preferable to meeting Alicia’s Aunt Aretha.

Though I didn’t realize it, my healing started there, among those giant, silent Ancients.  If I hadn’t taken the time to linger among them, back then, I would never have stayed on Hopewell Farm. And…I would not be writing this journal.

So, on this June day, I again sought the healing of the Ancients as I shut down my bike and stepped onto the soft floor of the forest. Nearby a stream tumbled lazily over rocks, chuckling along its way. Filtered sunlight drifted through the green canopy far overhead. So far overhead that I had to bend nearly double backwards to glimpse the intertwining branches. That night I flipped my bedroll out and shut my eyes as the true darkness closed in.DSC01227

The next morning the chill dampness had me wishing for the warmth of a hotel room and a hot cup of coffee. I rolled up my sleeping bag and lashed it on my bike. Highway 199 from Gasquet to Crescent City is a winding, narrow ribbon with hairpin curves and uneven surface and trees that stuck their roots out to the edge of the road.Tree toes in road

It woke me up.


Wednesday Jaz’s journey continues. CLICK and FOLLOW so you don’t miss the rest of the journey.

To read about how Jaz became a private investigator, get your copy of Run or Die go to  http://amazon.com/Run-Die-Aya-Walksfar-ebook/dp/B00KV8BK5A



2 Reasons NOT to Trust the News Media


We see those words every day as they flash across television screens. The counterpart to these words are the bolded  headlines that scream from the front pages of countless newspapers. And, on the radio somber voices announce the latest disasters.

We count on those words every day to keep us informed. But what happens when those words are WRONG, INACCURATE, INCORRECT?

The Highway 530 Slide is an example of the news media chasing glory rather than truth, or even accuracy.  When the news media first arrived on the scene that fateful March 22, a beautiful Saturday morning, Highway 530 was blocked and traffic stopped close to the Oso Fire Hall. Because that point was where they were stopped, the news media dubbed the landslide-turned-into-mud-slurry-tidal-wave the “Oso Mudslide”.

No one could blame the media for the MISNOMER that day. It was a day of chaos, fear, hope, and devastation as survivors were pulled from certain death and the count of bodies rose. No one could’ve blamed them for the next couple of days, but after that…..

It has been nine weeks now since that fateful day in March. I have personally spoken to several news media people and written to others asking that they cease calling the Highway 530 Slide the “Oso Mudslide”.

Daniel Catchpole of the Everett Herald answered my email on April 28:

Daniel Catchpole <dcatchpole@soundpublishing.com>

Apr 28

to me
Thank you for your email. I’ve shared it with the newsroom. You make excellent points, some of which have been raised already in the newsroom.
The name is meant solely as a geographic reference. Oso was the closest thing that shows up on a map. The name isn’t meant to connote who suffered the most. I agree that it is frustrating that the name doesn’t quite match up. And I have referenced Hazel in several of my stories.
Perhaps we should have called it the Hazel Landslide, but when that decision was made, it was in the early hours of the disaster. There was sparse information. But once we started using one name, switching to another name would have created much confusion among readers and officials. And in the first couple days after the slide, confusion was something that people in Snohomish County didn’t need more.
(NOTE: Actually, Hazel does show up on some maps.)

It is no longer the first days of the disaster. The officials have been calling the slide by its proper name, The Highway 530 Slide, for several weeks now. No one appears “confused” by the change from “Oso Slide” to “Highway 530 Slide”. No one except the NEWS MEDIA. They still seem unable to grasp the difference.

A section of Highway 530 was wiped out along with a small community–Hazel and the Steelhead Loop.

The nearest part of Oso to the slide was the east end of Oso Loop Road,  situated on the WEST side of the slide and four miles away from the closest edge of the mud.

We had a recent memorial at the site of the slide before the highway opened to traffic. I talked with one of the people from one of the major news media in the Seattle area and asked him to use the proper name for the Highway 530 Slide and to at least mention Hazel.

He looked at me kind of blankly and said, “Hazel? Where’s Hazel?”

I told him, “You’re standing next to it. And the people who lived here, and died here, deserve to be recognized, to be named, to be honored.”

He said, as he crabbed away from me, “It’s not my call. I just do what the higher ups tell me to do. They said call it Oso Slide. I don’t want to argue this with you….” then he slipped away like a wet eel.

So….I am a voice crying in the darkness created by the very people who are supposed to shine a light for the rest of us, the news media.

They made a mistake and misnamed the slide. That’s okay. They’re human; it was chaotic during those first days (I know; I was here). We can all understand that.

What we who live here on the EAST side of the slide don’t understand is this:

Why will the news media not admit the misnomer?  Or at least, stop using it and change over to what the officials are calling the disaster: The Highway 530 Slide?

Why won’t they, at least, honor the people who died by naming their community?

There are the two reasons to NOT trust the news media:

1. They won’t admit a mistake

2. Even presented with information, they won’t accept they might have been wrong and they won’t CHANGE.

Maybe they shouldn’t be called the “news media”? Perhaps,that is a misnomer. Maybe some of them should be called the “myth media”?

COME WITH ME on a journey into the past and meet the community of Hazel, Washington. I am currently researching the area of the Highway 530 Slide and will be posting about the history and the people who lived there. DON’T MISS THE UPDATES! CLICK and FOLLOW.




Seven weeks after a tidal wave of mud swallowed the tiny community of Hazel, Washington, and blocked a mile long stretch of the major artery Highway 530 from east to west, thereby isolating the small town of Darrington, thousands of tons of mud and debris are slowly being moved off that stretch of highway.

With each scoop of mud and debris those excavators are removing dreams and hopes; years of work and, unfortunately, some of the beliefs that I have held dear. There is a part of me that wants to lie on the floor and kick and scream that ‘it’s not fair!’ After all that has been lost, must I lose my belief in those organizations that have always brought a swelling of pride to my heart, and a feeling of safety…yes, safety in knowing they stood in the wings, ready to aid in event of disaster?

Compared to the horrendous losses of others, I hate to even mention such a minor loss as ‘faith in an organization’, but I will in hopes that others will not be so suddenly hurt by it.

Red Cross had been a symbol of competent help for so many years…to me.  In our community, the Red Cross received $30,000 in gas cards to aid commuters who now had added 85 miles one way to their travel time to jobs. Red Cross refused the assistance of our long standing (20years) director of Family Resource Center in handing out what could have been a real boon for our residents. Instead, the Red Cross worker gave out $300 per family of gas cards without asking whether the person lived in Darrington, had a valid driver’s license, owned a car or even commuted the extra 85 miles one way.

Drug addicts arrived from as far away as Sedro Woolley and Concrete, to receive $300 of gas cards to trade for black tar heroin. Alcoholics rode bicycles to receive those cards and cash them in for alcohol.

Shell Corporation meant to help the citizens of Darrington. We thank them, but please, Shell, from now on..give the gas cards to United Way, or to the locals who have been working in the community all along and know who will actually use the gift as intended.

Though my faith in Red Cross was completely lost, I FOUND a wonderful new faith in the youth of this coming generation. As the Darrington Volunteer Registrar I have had the pleasure of recording 2589 hours given to the community by high school and middle school young people. These young people unloaded trucks, stacked donations on shelves, swept floors, made sandwiches, delivered groceries to home bound folks, cooked meals, cleaned flooded houses, cleaned houses for displaced families, cared for displaced animals and did whatever task was asked of them with a good spirit and willing hands.

And while I’m talking about animals, I want to acknowledge the Darrington Horse Owner’s Association who cared for displaced horses, solicited and received donations of animal food and distributed those donations.

I discovered so many good people, people I might never have taken the time to speak with had they not been part of the disaster efforts here in Darrington. As a married lesbian woman, I am well aware of the attitude of certain religions towards my sexual orientation. The Southern Baptists are not known for their tolerance of my sexual orientation, nor for their respect for lesbian marriages/relationships.

As it happened, the Southern Baptists have a trailer they dispatch to areas hit by disasters. This trailer is a complete kitchen to help cook and feed those in the affected area. Retired Fire Chaplain Chuck Massena headed the group that arrived in Darrington and took over cooking for the volunteers and the community for a couple of weeks. I had the opportunity to speak with this delightful gentleman. My wife and I enjoyed eating a wonderful dinner with him and chatting. Of course, being an educator, I made sure that Chuck realized that I am a married lesbian and practicing pagan. If all Southern Baptists could be as accepting as Chuck how much greater would be the peace in our world. It was only a minor miracle, I admit, this thing of a lesbian pagan couple peacefully breaking bread with a Southern Baptist retired fire chaplain, but I’ll take any size miracle.

There were other uplifting discoveries I made during this time of sorrow that I want to share:

I realized how humbling it was to watch the mayor of this small town, as he spoke of the people we lost, choke up and have to stop talking as tears stood in his eyes. It was equally humbling to watch how supportive the men–big, burly loggers, truck drivers, fishermen–and the women were as we waited respectfully for Mayor Dan Rankin to continue speaking. Every night, night after night, at community meetings, Mayor Rankin took time to read the names of those we’d lost.

There are others, people who came from outside our community to stand with us, to help us, and yes, to cry with us. They are too many to name, but they know who they are. Some of them even re-discovered their connection to our town.

The second thing I want to share is the hugs I have given and the hugs I have received during this time of sorrow. I have sat in the community center and “felt” the town hugging each other. That is the best way I can explain it: it felt like all of us filling those bleachers had spread our arms wide and wrapped those arms around each other. I’d never known that a “town could hug”; it happened here in Darrington.

No, I haven’t suddenly become a card carrying, tree-cutting logger. I remain a tree-hugging, dirt-worshipping lesbian pagan, but today I am more than that. I am also a citizen of this small town called Darrington. I proudly claim kin as one of the “Darrington Do-ers”.

Belonging, that’s the real miracle. Meeting people I’ve lived by since 1996, yet never knew. Hugging and caring, being there with a kind word or a shoulder, reaching out a hand or giving a wave…we’ve shared these things, the people of Darrington and I.  And, I am honored.

Darrington Do-ers. Darrington strong. Darrington proud.










Nestled amid the foothills and the mountains of the North Cascades, the small town of Darrington–population 1,405– appears untouched by the Highway 530 Mudslide that obliterated the tiny community of Hazel, Washington at 10:57 AM on Saturday, March 22nd.

Appearances are deceiving. The townspeople of Darrington struggle to meet the day to day challenges of an essentially landlocked area. With their main route of travel, Highway 530, blocked for the foreseeable future, these ordinary people struggle with the extraordinary issues of finding ways to commute the extra two to four additional hours–EACH WAY–to jobs and doctor’s appointments.

And they feel forgotten. What news caster is calling out, “Darrington strong! Darrington proud! The Darrington Do-ers!”?

Nearly everything on the news yells, “Oso strong! Oso Mudslide!”  Yet, the town of Oso was affected only by the loss of loved ones to the mud. Oso is located WEST of the Mudslide, and are not blocked from any of their normal activities.  What they suffer is the emotional loss, just the same as many other towns in Washington: Darrington, Arlington, Bellingham, Puyallup, and even in Montana. Darrington is located EAST of the Mudslide.

It was the tiny community of Hazel that the mud swallowed on that fateful morning.

While the  townspeople of Darrington grieve for lost loved ones, they battle the misconception of the public that money is pouring into Darrington to help them in this time of need. The loudly touted relief of ‘gas cards for commuters’ is not nearly the relief many believe it to be. The sad reality is that a commuting family will receive an initial $100 gas card and it will be reloaded only once a week at $60 from that point on. It does not matter if more than one family member must commute. That is all the assistance they will receive.

In a desperate effort to find more gas money, many families turn to the Food Bank. Last Saturday the Food Bank served 73 NEW families. The Food Bank’s resources, always stretched, are stretched even further. Many of the food deliveries wound up at the HUB in Arlington, a 85 mile trip one way. My wife and I took the journey yesterday to retrieve supplies for the Food Bank in our pick up truck.

Red Cross Counseling is for the immediate families of the victims, mother, father, siblings. Those in our town, stricken by grief for friends and neighbors do not have access to the Red Cross grief assistance.

The retired Veteran who shuttles three friends to appointments at the VA Hospital drives an additional 85 miles one way to get to the point where he normally starts from on that already long and gas-costly journey. Since March 22, this older gentleman has received a total of $150 to help with the extra gas costs. He makes the journey between one and three times per WEEK.

Beautiful thing happened yesterday, though: a little boy was visiting Darrington, having lunch at the Burger Barn, and he and his mother heard the old-timer talking. After they ate, the little boy walked up and handed the older gentleman a roll of bills. The older gentleman handed it back, but the mother said, “You are denying him the right to help.” The older man accepted the donation, and shook the young boy’s hand. After they left I heard him tell his friend, “Now I don’t have to worry where to get gas money for that appointment tomorrow.”

Burger Barn

Many small business owners are wondering if they will survive the coming summer, usually their busy season. If the road doesn’t open, there will be no tourists; there will be no way to host the music festivals, the art shows that bring in hundreds of people from all over.

While the media continues to use the misnomer, ‘Oso Mudslide’, don’t let it fool you. It was the Highway 530 Mudslide.

Words have power. Please, honor the tiny community of Hazel that once sat between the river and Highway 530 and was swallowed by the tidal way of mud, and the small town of Darrington that continues to feel the devastation of being isolated. Please, call the mudslide by its true name: The Highway 530 Slide.






During the disastrous Darrington-Oso Mudslide disaster relief professionals learned important lessons from the Darrington volunteers.  Greg Sieloft was one such official. Follow the link and read how one small town’s response to the biggest disaster to hit the state of Washington, changed a man.


Explanation of photo: The chopped hillside to the right of the photo is the 900 foot hillside from which the slide occurred. The hillside broke like some giant cleaver had severed part of it and created that sheered face.

The water in the foreground is the Stillaguamish River and as you can see, it is blocked and backed up from the slide across it.

In the background and to the left in the photo is a squiggly gray line that leads back into the slide–that is Highway 530, the major route into and out of Darrington. We are still not sure how much of the one and a half mile of highway still exists beneath the mud.

With the blockage of Highway 530, Darrington faces severe economic hardships. The Hampton Mill that employs upwards of three hundred workers struggles to survive the increased costs for bringing in raw material and sending out their finished products. Increased fuel costs drive local families to despair as the long roundabout route that must now be traversed to go to work and to take children to school, breaks strained budgets. Tourist revenue, always an important part of Darrington’s economy with everything from the famous Bluegrass Festival to smaller festivals and musicians and artists, has been completely halted. Without Highway 530 open, tourists will not be stopping in this small town on their way along the scenic Cascade Loop and on to Eastern Washington. Where last summer thousands of happy tourists drove through, stopped, ate, rested, and bought from Darrington artists and merchants this summer promises to be one silence and isolation.  Highway 530 is not expected to be open even to local traffic for upwards of three months.

Can this small town survive? Only time will tell.

Photo courtesy of WSP.