16 July 2010


The evening air was wet and heavy, spiked with the scent of dry grass and flowers. As walking weather goes, it left something to be desired. The walls were creeping in, the silence after the television turned off was far too deafening. It was time to move, so damn the humidity. Out the door I went, camera in hand.

The sun was going down, swaddled in billows of clouds. A ruff of trees along the river reached up to scratch the belly of pearly gray and white fluff in the western sky. I reached the cross street just down the slope from my house and headed east along the main drag in this part of my new town. I was of a mind to walk a little further this night. Instead of taking the first right past the post office, I was going to keep going straight, heading up to Cemetery Lane.

I have driven by the lane many times, past the trim white clapboard-sheathed church on the corner, but not once had I turned onto it to see where it went. It was only a week or so ago that I saw that there is indeed, a cemetery on Cemetery Lane. Imagine that. I have also counted at least three churches withing a half-mile radius of house, one right around the corner. For some reason, the churches and the cemetery comfort me, in a way that I cannot explain.

Tonight, it was not churches on my mind, it was the cemetery. The light was beginning to lower, and I wanted to get a look before it was too dark. I hurried past the brick church, the post office, and turned left at the clapboard church. The cemetery is on small hill behind the church and continues back toward a stand of trees. The cemetery has been there a long time, at least since the 1800's. It is still in use as I could tell by the occasional modern looking polished granite headstone standing out in a scattering of old marble and other, unknown rock types. Along the road and by the church are a number of old trees, cedars and sycamores I think. Their outlines were stark black against the deepening blue of the sky. All that was needed to complete the scene were some crows, but I spotted none.

As I strolled up the lane, the traffic hum started to fade, to be replaced by crickets and katydids and bird noises. The older monuments followed the dips and terraces of the ground in a classic graveyard tableau. Patches of stark white glared out against ragged birthmarks of grime and lichen on the stones. Most of the names and dates were still legible, but some had begun to blur under the weight of so many summers under the sun. One of the death dates I saw read '1895'. I blinked and rubbed my eyes to make sure I had it right. It was 1895.

I'm not sure if it was me that drew in my breath, or a sudden breeze through the trees on the far side of the cemetery; either way, it sounded like someone was breathing in preparation to speak. There was a hush on the cemetery, disturbed only by the faint sound of a car passing by the church at the bottom of the hill.

I felt like someone was watching me.

I stepped back and looked around. There was no one in sight. The headstone in front of me was faintly radiant in the evening light. It was beautiful. I raised my camera. The click of the shutter was astoundingly loud in that moment. It brought me back to earth. For a precious few moments a calm had descended upon me. Surrounded by hallowed ground, guarded by the sentinel trees, I felt no anxiety or sadness. I felt peace.

A field of memorial stones, traces of lives before mine, unknown to me...yet they made me feel at home.


  1. I've always wanted to visit a cemetery and wander (though not at dusk). Something about walking among the headstones and seeing the names of the people who came before is...peaceful? It would be an odd way to describe it but that's what I imagine it would be like. You may have inspired me to talk a walk today. Thanks.

  2. I used to like wandering through the cemetery in my childhood hometown. It was rustic but well kept. It matched my mind's image of what a cemetery should look like. I lost the feel for them after moving to south Florida. Maybe it was the thought of fire ants and interred bodies.

  3. What a way with words. Beautifully told story.

    I'm an ld cemetery fan and just walked my family's resting place back in Ohio when I was on vacation. There's a peacefulness about it that you described beautifully.

    Cheers, jj

  4. I have a gorgeous cemetery on my walking route. It's in the 90s today, but I think I'll make my way out there.
    Great post.

  5. I feel comfortable in cemeteries. It is peaceful there. The old ones from the 1800's or the family ones are especially calming.


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