March 30, 2008
Amongst the stones
Usually, while Shaggy Hair Boy and With-a-Why are at their music lessons, I read a book, write in my journal, or compose a blog post. Normally, I welcome this time to sit still. But I've spent too much time recently in waiting rooms, and on Friday, the thought of sitting in a chair did not appeal to me. Since the music center is in the city, I couldn't go for a hike in the woods, so instead I took a walk in a nearby cemetery.
Built in the 1880s, this cemetery is what landscape architects call a lawn-park cemetery, designed with carefully placed trees, rolling lawns, and roads that follow the contour of the land. This kind of cemetery contains the naturalistic features that made Olmsted's urban parks so famous. Lawn-park cemeteries were designed for a dual purpose, a place to bury the dead, but also a park where people could go for picnics or walks. But on this snowy day in March, my car was the only one in the parking lot.
Since I've lived in Snowstorm Region my whole life, I have family and friends buried in local cemeteries, but I am not in the habit of visiting individual graves. I do like walking through cemeteries, though, looking at random stones or finding a bench where I can sit in the sun. Dead people don't talk, they only listen, and I find the silence companionable as I wander around. My mother used to say that her father liked to explore cemeteries, and I wonder if I've inherited that trait from him. He died the year I was born.
In my own woods, trees grow close together, so I tend to notice canopy rather than individual trees. In the cemetery, the trees have less competition and each tree can spread its branches into sky without interference, making lovely curving patterns. Spring warmth was melting the snow on the sides of the mausoleums, and I could hear the dripping as I walked. I followed the curving paths and stopped to read the inscriptions on stones so old that I could barely make out the dates.
I walked past crosses and urns and statues, stepping carefully between the stones. In this sacred place, I felt as translucent as the clouds above me. Melt drops from tree branches had formed patterns in the snow, and when the sun came from behind the clouds, the tombstones cast shadows. I'd been feeling so invisible that when I turned to walk back to my car, I was surprised to see my own shadow, and the line of my own footprints in the snow.
Posted by jo(e)