Extraordinary times call for imaginative responses. Forget the AT, the Preserves, the Parks. Go to the cemeteries, for better and worse, the mirrors of our time. With this surge of planetary Covid mortality, the Death Energy in the air is quite high. Just being in a cemetery helps us recognize – and not ignore or distract ourselves from – this fact. Cemeteries are theme parks to the dead. Once or twice a month, my grandfather would take me to the cemetery in Rochester to “visit” family gravestones. There would be a few stories and moments of quiet. It normalized something, as an 8-year-old, I found so naturally alien.
But cemeteries are about much more than death. Many were designed by landscape architects and have a quiet beauty that has evolved into something between wabi-sabi and kitsch. There’s a jumble, a visual carnival, of heights, materials, inscriptions, personal plantings, balloons, pinwheels and lichen.
Then there are the “others” of graveyards: the animals and birds who live comfortably closer to life and death than we humans. Being in a cemetery is allowing time for several storylines to unfold and intertwine. You are invited into the process of organic discovery.
I favor the well-tended Warwick Cemetery on Route 94 at Route 17A. In 1868, these 65-acres were formally designated a cemetery. There are many, many large maples which I guess were part of the original planting. And there are still lots of grand, dead standing pines as foils to the vibrant maples.
This land was part of the last great Lenape village, Mistucky, which saw its heyday in the late 1600s, till the diseases and alcohol that came with the European settlers wiped out the sustainability of the Lenape culture. So this particular cemetery is also a reminder of a cultural death or evolution.
Visiting right now, you might see the red-tail hawks who nest nearby and feed on the plentiful chipmunks living beneath the gravestones. Recently, my friend David spent 15 enchanted minutes within a few feet of this beautiful hawk.
And you? What cemeteries do you like? Please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org.