Friday, July 31, 2009

Mountain View Cemetery, Ashland, Oregon

When driving to California last month, my friend Kat and I stopped off at a Wendy's to get her some food. We drove past this lovely cemetery and on the way back north a week later we decided to take a break from driving and walk through it. It's obviously a well loved place, filled with headstones of odd shapes and sizes with names that feel like they belong in 1920's silent films. The grounds were filled with trees, flowers and tidy mowed grass. We both felt really welcome there. There were a ton of flickers and crows in the trees, trilling and cackling above us. People were walking their dogs along the paths. I loved the fact the Madrona tree in center of the cemetery was commemorated with a plaque - it was Ashland's tree of the year in 2006. You've got to love a city that honors trees each year.

Many cemeteries have specific sections for infants and children, although I'm not convinced that the title "Babyland" is the best word to use for them. I'm not quite sure what feels wrong about it, but it's just a little creepy. The angel was remarkably untouched, wings intact and no other noticeable damage. Yet another sign that this cemetery is well cared for. I snapped quite a few pictures in this place, of the headstones and trees. One of the headstones was just a huge, rounded stone with the names carved into it. Another had some gorgeous stained glass. And another was absolutely astonishing- on the top was a brass whale tail sculpture and just beneath it was the phrase "Goin Deep." Written at the base was the following quote:

This stone is in tribute to all living creatures, that have suffered and endured Man in his quest to control. -John C. Westerfield

What a wonderful monument. I hope that if I choose to be buried that I can come up with something as lovely as this. I left an offering in respect for the sentiment and smiled the rest of the afternoon. The afternoon was drawing to a close when we finally headed north once more. I look forward to stopping there again on my next trip to California, to linger in the shade of the many trees and wonder about the lives of those who lived there.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Conconully Cemetery, Eastern Washington

I visited this cemetery shortly before dusk during our Memorial Day weekend trip this year. It's about two miles out of the small Eastern Washington town of Conconully. Paul, his brother Glenn and father Rod spent the weekend riding ATV's all over the countryside and I had some blessed peace and quiet. I spent much of the time beneath ancient willow trees at the town park across from our RV site. It was perfect weather for laying in the grass and looking up into green branches, thinking and doing nothing in particular.

The night before we left I took a walk to this cemetery. It was sometime after 6pm and the day was beginning slide towards nightfall. I figured a walk would do me some good, so off I went. About halfway there it occurred to me that walking alone up the main highway wasn't probably the best plan for a woman, especially when you're out in the middle of nowhere. But did that stop me? Noooo.. I had a graveyard to explore! Thank goodness for those who watch over fools.
It was getting close to sundown when I walked through the back gate of the cemetery. The first thing that struck me was how brown and brittle everything seemed. I kicked up dust as I walked alone along the mowed pathways between the graves. The grass grew wild, tall strands waving in a stiff breeze. I snapped a few pictures iron fences enclosing a family plot and a strange and unmarked headstone. There were some surprises: the lilacs were in full bloom and their perfume lingered in the air. And one grave had some glorious purple irises beginning to blossom in sharp contrast to the dead grass and plastic flowers all around them. It was peculiar to see such vibrant life and color what felt like such a weathered and desolate place.

I got a strong feeling that I'd better be out of the cemetery before nightfall, which was not far off by the time I left. As I walked back into town, I watched the sun beginning to set over the mountains in the West. I reflected on what it would be like to live and die in this part of the world. And I thought, as I watched the the last rays of the sun fall golden on the lake below me, that maybe it wouldn't be so terrible to be buried there. After all, you'd have the glory of the mountains around you, the lilacs and irises in the Spring and hawks flying overhead year long. And that would be no bad thing.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cypress Lawn Memorial Park

One of the things I've noticed during my visits to many graveyards is that there is a different flavor to those who fall under the heading of "Memorial Park." Many of them feel like parks and not cemeteries at all, which seems strange to me. There are almost always immaculately manicured lawns with few headstones sticking up out of the grass. There are plenty of rules about what can or cannot be placed on grave sites, which are usually posted on neatly printed signs placed along the paths that meander throughout the graves. I can understand wanting to comfort the living when they are visiting their deceased loved ones. Making a graveyard feel like a golfer's dream is something else entirely. I'm just saying...

Several relatives of my maternal lineage are buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Everett, WA. It has immaculate lawns, plenty of flowers and paths and a lovely memorial to those who have fallen in service to our country. My relatives are buried in this section. I snapped a shot of the memorial, as well as each of their gravestones, leaving offerings and prayers for them. After visiting them for a while I wandered toward the back of the park, which felt entirely different.

The headstones stand tall above lush grass. They are ornate, mostly memorials of the recent dead, many of them made of polished marble that gleam in the sunlight. I snapped a few of them as well, because they felt so out of place in this neat and tidy park setting. My favorite picture is one of a bench beneath a giant tree. The bench is inscribed with "Have a Sunshine Day!' It makes me smile every time I see it.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Evergreen Washelli

One of the reasons I love cemeteries is the unexpected things you can find there. Several weeks ago I had about 20 minutes before picking up a friend and decided I'd wander into the Evergreen Washelli cemetery in Seattle. I was drawn to a giant stone pyramid on the northern perimeter of the cemetery and stopped to investigate further. I'd seen it before but never had time to poke around and see what was there. The pyramid itself is in fact a Russian Veterans Church Monument dedicated to Saint Nicholas. Most of the graves there had Russian names and many had ornate headstones. It was there that found the angel with the haunted eyes who adorns the beginning of this blog. After wandering around the pyramid and snapping some pictures of interesting headstones, I reached the western side and discovered a door on the pyramid. And it was was propped slightly open. I couldn't resist- I opened it or and peered inside.

What I found there broke my heart. It was clearly once a holy place used for services. It was obviously disused, abused and neglected. The air was pungent with mold. The paintings gazed down upon you from high up on the wall- angels, Mary, Jesus, all sorrowful and melancholy. Some had mildew spots. At some point someone had started a fire and there were scorch marks on the pulpit and side tables, their fabric coverings beginning to disintegrate. Yet despite all these things, the gilded icons still glowed in the sunlight that touched them. I felt like I was in a place outside of normal reality. And I felt a strong desire to call attention to this place, to bring back it's sacred reverence, something I may still do.

As I closed the door, I gave a silent prayer of thanks for allowing me to take photographs, as well as a prayer that someone would find a way to clean things up. My 20 minutes was up and I needed to be on my way. I will most likely be visiting that place again and I'm curious to see what it looks like now.