I’m absolutely fascinated by cemeteries.
It’s really not a seasonal thing; they’re just as enthralling in the spring, summer and darkest days of winter as they are around Halloween. There’s a very, very old graveyard right down the road with some headstones dating back to the early 1800’s. I go out there frequently to just sit and think.
It’s a place of quiet introspection. Peaceful, reverent. Calm. A place of some much-needed centering, listening to the brittle leaves rattle all around me.
Some of the stones are so ancient the inscriptions have been worn away. I like to trace the weathered letters, trying to decipher the names. Someone’s grandparent; their mother, their father. Someone’s child.
A lifetime reduced to a cold marble epitaph resting in uneasy soil that pitches it forward and back again. Overgrown and neglected, collecting moss in their cracks. Solemn, yet so beautiful.
Some of the tiny stones are almost lost in the grass. Bearing a single date and a surname; stillborn babies, perhaps. Loved, mourned, but gone so long. I clear away the overgrowth and think of my little River- now together with those tiny souls, in whatever place little ones go to when their time comes too soon. I hope it’s beautiful there.
Some have toppled forward, unable to withstand the passage of time and weather. This stone is for a husband and wife. Almost as if they’re touching again after a century; cold stone that shifted, a family member or passerby who leaned one piece against the other so the brambles wouldn’t overtake it completely. Compassion that allowed a final embrace.
The local VFW comes around and places flags at the graves of soldiers every May. They fluttered in the breeze as leaves rained down around me. Lost in thought, phone in hand planning my next photograph, a black walnut was loosened from its branch in the tree behind me. It landed on my head with a crack, almost making me either scream or pee my pants (quite possibly both.) The wind had uprooted another flag at a grave a little ways away. It was on the ground, but it didn’t feel right to leave it. I planted it deep before I walked away.
Some of the trees have already dropped their leaves, a battle lost to the relentless northern wind. Their stark outlines combine with the gathering clouds to cast an eerie aura to this corner of the cemetery. One of the baby graves is here, and I can’t help but stop and cover the ground beneath the stone in leaves. Tucking the little one in against the cold, to sleep in peace for eternity. I wonder if his or her mother did this for the first few winters, before her heart moved on.
The tree branches stretch out over other portions, their own feeble shelter against the cold. Blanketing the headstones and casting shadows. The wind, the leaves and the crunch under my feet are interrupted by a distant train whistle. Each new gust rains their feather-lightness down on my head, catching in my wind -blown hair.
One grave has an old, splintering tree trunk standing beside it. The two are an oddly matched pair, a somber Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Twin memorials to two separate endings, each a silent sentry standing beside the other. Imperfect, yet inseparable.
Cars drive by without pause. Machines of ingenuity and magic that would’ve astounded most of the people who rest here. Their drivers continue on their way without pause, with schedules to keep and new miracles to pull out of the air. The names on these weathered stones, these people made their livelihood using the land many of us now call ours. They had to weave their own spells to survive the cold winters. The forgotten barns that sit on some properties around here were built by the people who lay beneath these stones. Constructed by hands and simple tools to shelter the animals who nourished them, but now house snowmobiles and zero-turn lawn mowers. Different magic, with ages between.
I would right the fallen marble if I were able; most are just too heavy, even for my goat-milker’s arms. I clear them off instead. Trace their faint inscriptions, identities almost wiped away by the passage of time. Someone’s grandparents, someone’s father. Someone’s mother, or beloved child. Names almost lost to obscurity, no longer relevant in our world of fast-paced easy gratification. I don’t know any of these people, apart from recognizing some names to be kin to my neighbors. I’m appreciative of them just the same, for allowing their place of rest to be a place of rest for me as well.