One of the things I like best about cemeteries is all that they teach about community. You can learn what people valued: Samuel is still a native of Ireland, even though he lived to be 74; Thomas was a Mason. You can learn whether the dead continue to be valued: Samuel died in 1884, but someone still puts flowers on his grave. The grass has been mowed and raked away, but Thomas’s elaborate marble confection has been treated gently so that it still retains all its glorious detail.
This is the Protestant Cemetery on the outskirts of Angels Camp, in California’s Gold Country. The area was once called Altaville, after it had been called Cherokee Flat, Forks-of-the Road, Low Divide, and Winterton. Gold was discovered in the creek near here, which came to be named after the Mexican bandit Joaquin Murietta. Also found near here was the Calaveras Skull, from which the county takes its name. (Calaveras is Spanish for skull.) The Calaveras Skull purported to prove that humans and mastodons roamed this area simultaneously.
I spent my birthday celebration in this cemetery, roaming around with my husband and daughter. All three of us kept busy taking pictures. We didn’t see another soul in this graveyard, but the air was alive with bird song and the grass rustled with lizards. The sky was blue, the grass was golden, the stones shown brightly, and whatever their quarrels in life, the community rested peacefully, basking in the autumn sunlight.
It all comes down to enjoying the beauty while you may.
“Yes, an awful lot of sorrow has sort of quieted down up here. People just wild with grief have brought their relatives up to this hill. We all know how it is…and then time…and sunny days…and rainy days…’n snow…We’re all glad they’re in a beautiful place and we’re coming up here ourselves when our fit’s over.” — Thornton Wilder, Our Town
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