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Slides can vary from fun to terrifying

Word has many different meanings

The English language contains words that have multiple uses, and “slide” is one of them. Just now, one of those meanings is in the headlines, but let’s look at a number of them, beginning with the more innocent ones.

A slide can be a thing for children to scoot down, skimming down the inclined metal surface with whoops of joy, jumping out of the sand pit at the bottom to run around, climb the steps to its top, and come whooping down again.

In the hands of a civil engineer (designs of buildings, machinery, and other plans), it was a marvel of mathematics, and may still be, though the calculator is pressing it now. My father was a specialist in mining machinery, and he carried a slide rule in his pocket.

In music there is the slide trombone, though a number of the brass instruments have slides for tuning.

Sometimes people talk of sliding through a test or an easy answer to a question.

In baseball, it can be a way of getting to a base ahead of the ball.

But when nature begins to play the game, things can get serious and/or tragic. Do you remember when the earth slid out from under a house on the road leading from Oak Street in Omak to the flat? It stopped short of taking the entire house, but the front porch was left hanging in the air.

Did they do something to stabilize the ground there? It hasn’t happened again; the house was moved and is in use.

Did you see the place up the Eightmile Creek drainage in the Methow where a cloudburst caused the soil to be stripped down to naked rock, the water-soaked soil running off downhill and burying the road?

The soil marks on the trees indicated its depth, which I recall as some 10 feet in places. The stripped rocks looked positively naked with their cover gone. It was a slide in 1910 at Wellington that pushed two trains, stopped by snow slides over the tracks. Snow fell, then rain, which froze, and then more snow, in all a deadly combination.

The standing trains were knocked off the tracks and swept down into a valley below the tracks, killing nearly 100 people in the wreckage. They were still finding bodies the following July.

The worst one I recall hearing about took place in Southeast Asia. There were steep mountains there, and they were heavily logged, with the result of mudslides when heavy spring rains fell. The death toll was in the hundreds. How long ago? You may remember. It was in the headlines, some decades ago.

There are undersea mudslides going on from time to time, but since no people are involved, there are no headlines. They simply go about reshaping the continents. There are others you can recall.

But I submit that this little five-letter word covers a lot of circumstances and leaves its mark in many places, for slides are going on fairly steadily in many far-flung places.

One little word, ranging from fun for children to the terror of tragedy.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,853rd column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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