A change in the weather here in Sitka. extraordinary rains for days, but today there is a pause. Rescue workers swarm the scene of a major mud slide and at the same time they try and dry their clothes a bit as they eat their donated lunches outside in the Baptist Church parking lot.
So much time has passed since I have written here I had a lot of choices for subject matter. I have given up my life of crime for one. I cleaned out my desk at the Public Defender Agency, trained my replacement and said goodbye to my desk. Just to be sure I didn't mope around, Jan and I went to Monterey, California and taught at a writer's conference the very next week. I taught "Literary Crime Writing" and Jan gave two talks about our upcoming book concerning Ed Ricketts, the famous "Doc" from Cannery Row. It was a lovely week and I will write about it sometime soon, but on the way home, I left Jan in Juneau and when my plane landed in Sitka the rain was pouring down in torrents. This was not unusual but the second I drove over the bridge onto Baranoff Island I knew something had changed.
There was a whirlpool of deep water in the parking lot in front of the laundromat. Kids on bikes with their forearms resting on the handlebars were starring into the gyre as if it were a burning fire. Its water was sucking chunks of pavement down into a hole in the street and the kids did not move or say a word. Sirens blared and police cars were tearing down the street. People walked aimlessly down the street without their raincoats and stopped to talk with one another oblivious of whether they had rain gear on or not. As I drove north toward my house, I noticed rivulets of chocolate brown mud spilling out onto the street and I saw the police Lieutenant hugging a woman who appeared to be crying. The jailer, a friendly man I know well, was directing traffic, standing in the rain without a hat on, wearing only a windbreaker, getting soaked to the skin. He had a stricken look on his face and did not wave back when I passed. Something was terribly wrong.
The road to my house was closed. I went to the grocery store. Muddy men in their work rain gear seem dazed. They talked to clumps of people about a mudslide that may have taken out houses. They had been told to leave the work sites. They left quickly. People were dead. They didn't know how many. Some City Officials were dead. Some kids inside a house. The police wouldn't let anybody back up there. Too dangerous now. It was early. Stunned. Worried. Unbelieving. The mountain we live under had liquified then swallowed some houses, some people up. Really? Really? No one could be sure, but this seemed to be happening.
Rumors. Phone calls. Speculations. Then official news reports on the radio. Now two days later and they have found two bodies. Only one house had been overwhelmed then crushed by a snapping river of mud and trees. Two young men who had been dry walling inside the house, were killed. Apparently it was their bodies that have been found, but their names have not been made official, yet we know it was them. Our son played football with the eldest and knew his brother who was a year younger. The Diaz brothers. The family lost two sons the same day.
The building inspector, was a friend of ours and a friend to many in the community; a proud father of an accomplished daughter who is to be married next month. The husband of a well known counselor in our town. His death hits particularly hard in our circle. A good guy, a helpful man, a sportsman and a man who liked to laugh. I saw him ten days ago, (or was it two weeks? I can't remember and now and there is no one to ask) I was driving by the cafe on a sunny day and he turned and smiled and as William Stortz stood upright he waved at me high over his head, as if to say that it had been too long since we had talked, and we needed to change that.
Tragedy wants to make philosophers out of most of us, but I will resist that. Today I wrote notes to my friends who were working at the site: friends of William's and the Diaz brothers. They are tired and sad. I wanted to tell them how much I appreciated how hard they were working and how much I loved them .
And too, I told them when things settled down we should, without fail, meet at the cafe for a cup of tea and spend some time together.
The rain stops.
Policemen do their hard jobs,
and tired workers dig.