In the spring of 2002, about this time of year, I took one of the best vacations of my life. My husband Mason and I flew into Boston and rented a car, then we proceeded to visit 17 cemeteries in the next 11 days. It was heavenly.
Boston was humid and bright. We rested in the Central Burying Ground in the afternoon, watching squirrels chase each other with sticks. The next day, on our way out of town, we stopped by Forest Hills Cemetery, where the forsythia bloomed in thickets. Spring was coming, but it was early yet.
From Boston we drove to Providence. One of the hills in Swan Point Cemetery burned with bright yellow daffodils. In addition, Swan Point had the most magnificent flowering trees I’ve ever seen. To this day, I’ve seen nothing to compare with this weeping cherry.
Some cemeteries we visited were fascinating, if not especially pretty. Gettysburg’s Soldiers National Cemetery seemed too macho to trouble itself with celebrating the season and breaking out in flowers.
That was not the case in Sleepy Hollow. The perfumed air chimed with the songs of birds. The river chattered to itself nearby, surrounded by trees bursting with vivid green leaves. Spring made everything glad to be alive, especially me.
While I grew up in Michigan, spring felt like something you earned. After the long gray winter, you pined for spring. You celebrated every warm day, even if there were still snowdrifts in the shadows of the hills. Every narcissus shoot and tulip stalk was worthy of celebration. Spring was glorious, ephemeral, juicy and sweet.
In San Francisco, spring can be subtle. In a normal year, the hills green up with every rainstorm. The trees bloom in waves: the cherries, then the plums, then the apples. Often a hard rain knocks the petals to the sidewalks before the beauty peaks. The magnolias open their spectacular flowers, followed by the rhododendrons, the flowers singe in the sunshine — and then the show is over for another year. The hills turn brown, the fog rolls in, and summer is long and cold.
My East Coast trip gave me almost two weeks of nothing but graveyards in springtime in the company of my husband. Every moment was piquant and delicious and I savored them like you do the season’s first strawberries, bursting with sweetness and spring.
Here’s the challenge that started me off: Spring.