By Bob Spiwak
This Monday is a calm and sort of sunny morning. We spent the weekend of my 80th birthday at my daughter’s cabin on Lake Chelan, where on Saturday the wind was blowing whitecaps driven by 20-mile-an-hour winds gusting up to 40, according to local observers. Part of the family outing was golfing at Bear Mountain Ranch, where at one point the tee is 1,600 feet above the lake. Makes for interesting golf shots.
Along with these festivities, the month of May hosts another anniversary, my 34th year of scribing for the Methow Valley News, although there were a couple of sabbaticals, one being a year to publish The Goat Wall Street Journal. It has been a fun ride that harkens back to writing copy on a typewriter (some may remember these implements), and inhaling chemicals in the black-and-white darkroom while developing and printing pictures to go with the latest news.
Through a series of owner/publishers and editors, the one constant area of news has been, generically, a controversy on which to report. They have ranged from small ones, having to do with the plumbing at the now long-gone Sunflower Bakery in Winthrop, to the massive kerfuffle about the Early Winters project that would have brought a destination ski resort to Mazama. That was before we had million-dollar domiciles in the area.
We spent some time yesterday with a friend who is a Snohomish County firefighter, and also a specialist in accident prevention. From him we got a first-hand appraisal of things going on at Oso, where the deadly earth slide took about 40 lives. He was called in along with another firefighter to put up rope lines around the perimeter of the slide. These were to protect county workers who have been monitoring the catastrophe with telemetric devices around the unstable ground. At the top, about 900 feet above the Stillaguamish River and around the sides, the ropes offer a hand-hold for the telemetric readers should they slip. Their mission is not only to measure the stability of the earth, but also to protect the workers below, still about 100 last week, who are sifting through the debris for two people yet missing.
Our friend, Gary Westerman, had high praise for the operators of the backhoes searching the debris. It was not just a matter of scooping and digging, but with each bucket load, the huge container was gently rocked and shaken, small amounts of earth at a time, while ground workers observed the contents — not only for bodies, but parts as well, along with valuables like picture albums and other treasures.
He went on to tell of the Secret Service, which had been in the area a week or more before the president was to visit the site, checking things and places that might somehow endanger Mr. Obama. The president flew into Paine Field in Everett in the “big jet,” then transferred to a helicopter to view the area.
Gary noted that he and his companion could barely make the climb to the top of the slide, brush-whacking along an ascending “goat trail,” and that at one point they were carrying their 60-pound loads up a vertical scramble on slick clay — this after fighting through deadfalls and other debris.
Let’s hear it for the firefighters — they do more than squirt water.