It is a well-known secret that, although the cemetery near my home closes at sunset, they don’t enforce that rule very strictly on the 4th of July. From the hillsides up there you can see for miles and take in pretty much all of the fireworks you can handle, albeit at some distance and in a cemetery, if that’s your thing, which it is totally my thing.
There are already fireworks going on by the time I get to the gate, and a bunch of empty cars parked nearby. I figure those people are probably inside, so in I go too, taking a route that will give me at least a little cover if the security folks are around and feeling feisty.
Going up the first hill, and there’s a group of loud drunks by the Cogswell spire. I go wide and keep trees or monuments between me and them most of the time. If anybody is going to attract security’s attention it’s these people, and I’d rather just steer clear of them.
Up past the dead millionaires, there’s a couple of short staircases that lead up further, and past those I’m climbing to the very top. Again I hear voices, but they’re quieter than the ones below. I find a pair of couples pleasantly sharing a big log near the summit. There’s also three boys standing in a tight little cluster just a ways off, taking in the view.
Creepy mulch piles photo by Arthur Kay.
Last time I was here I was distracted, though not unpleasantly so. This time I am all here. I look around and find a spot. If this were a nightmare, that’s the spot where something ghastly would emerge. I go stand there and feel sort of sinister.
Then, looking out over the bay, I let my senses open up.
It’s dazzling. I can see displays at least down to Fremont, up to what looks like Richmond, and all across the water. The sound is like listening to a distant war zone. There are so many fireworks going off in my field of vision that it is impossible to track them all.
A squirrel, with no reason to expect a human to be in the precise spot that I am in, jumps up right next to me. It sees me, makes a strangled yap of alarm, and leaps away. I have managed to terrify a squirrel.
From the direction of Tiburon comes a series of huge crimson blooms, the bottoms of which appear clipped by the horizon, which is strange. I wonder if they are going off on the other side of the Marin hills. Either that, or I am seeing fireworks that are literally being set off over the ocean.
The three boys lean in together and one of them is nervously flicking a lighter. They are about to smoke something that they probably didn’t pay taxes on.
From south and across the bay comes a series of lights so high and so bright it looks like strobe lightning. A good five seconds after the last one goes out, the sound reaches me in a series of booms that make the dogs in the houses below me freak out in response. I am at least ten miles from where those things went off; I cannot imagine how loud it would be if you were a couple of blocks away.
Some fireworks barely clear the tops of houses down in a part of Oakland where friends of mine live, the low altitude stuff people set off in their backyards. I resolve to head down from the hill soon. I have other business in the cemetery, and have been up here for about long enough.
One of the boys loudly whispers “oh shit oh shit!” and another boy crouches way down, giggling and rummaging frantically through the tall grass. The boys have dropped their joint.
I leave them, silently wishing them luck. I go down to the other places in the cemetery, where I expect I will be the one who is scared, and which I would rather not write about.
Arthur Kay leads unofficial tours of his favorite cemetery. This essay was published on his Facebook. You may contact him there.
I am hoping to start a series of Death’s Garden essays, where I encourage other people to tell true stories of their relationships to graveyards. The call for submissions is here: http://cemeterytravel.com/deaths-garden-call-for-submissions/. I’ll have an essay by Scare Mistress Stacey Graham soon.