Tag Archives: postaweek2013

Weekly Photo Challenge: Community

Rhoads_Altaville_2836One 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

Weekly Photo Challenge: An Unusual POV

Looking across Chrissy Field toward the Golden Gate Bridge

Looking across Chrissy Field toward the Golden Gate Bridge

When my daughter was 3-1/2, we went down to the beach at Chrissy Field to help pick up trash. She collected a red fishing bobber, a piece of blue dental floss, miscellaneous styrofoam, and some drinking straws. We were heading back to the visitor center when I saw a strange white rock half-buried in the sand.

One side of it was chalky white, polished smooth to the touch. Faint veins of gray ran through the white. The other face was where it had broken off of a larger rock. Tiny facets shimmered. The gray shot through the stone was more pronounced on this side, almost graphite in color.

As I turned the rock over in my hand, I wondered how many other visitors to the National Park would recognize what they were seeing. This was marble, found in the Sierra Mountains, far from the bay — and in graveyards throughout the Bay Area. Even completely out of context, it’s one of the most familiar kinds of stone.

Up until the 1940s, San Francisco had four enormous public graveyards. Decades of political wrangling finally succeeded in having the bodies exhumed and the cemeteries demolished. Families who could afford it had their ancestors’ monuments moved elsewhere. All of the others were smashed to ruin.

Some of the flat marble tablet stones were used to pave the rain gutters in Buena Vista Park. Large pieces of mausoleums were hauled out to Ocean Beach to shore up the coastline. Every so often, the year’s lowest tide reveals monuments, still legible after all these years.

The Wave Organ

The Wave Organ

Yet more memorial stonework was thrown in the bay to form the Marina Green breakwater. Some of the nicer pieces were arranged by an artist working in conjunction with the Exploratorium to create the Wave Organ.

This little piece or marble I found at Chrissy Field — between the Marina breakwater and the Golden Gate Bridge — is without a doubt a piece of history arrested on its way washing out to sea. It breaks my heart to think of what’s been lost, what was willfully erased.

I hope the men responsible for destroying San Francisco’s graveyards lie fully cognizant beneath eternally vandalized monuments.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

View of Keawala’i Churchyard

View of Keawala’i Churchyard

The sky wasn’t blue the day I visited Keawala’i Churchyard, but that was okay.  My mom was recovering from surgery that removed melanoma from her upper arm, leaving her with a hole the size of a bar of soap.  They’d gotten all the cancer and it wouldn’t spread, but we didn’t know that yet.  We were being very careful to stay out of the sun as much as we could.

We’d spent our trip to Hawaii rushing around.  Mom liked to take tours, so we’d taken a bus around Oahu and visited the Iolani Palace.  On Maui, we’d been to a former sugar plantation, the whaling museum, and on a whale watch.  Now that our trip was winding down, I’d finally talked Mom into sitting on the beach.  We were on our way to Makena’s Big Beach when we found the little cemetery.

Mom knows how I am.  She got me started visiting cemeteries.  Now she visits them in my name when she’s traveling and takes pictures for me.  That day on Maui, she was content to let me wander from gravestone to gravestone, photographing everything that caught my eye.

I found a section that held only tiny plaques.  At first I thought they were remembrances of people whose ashes had been scattered in the ocean.  Then I realized they commemorated people who had been lost at sea.

I stood just inside the rough lava rock wall and looked out at the water.  I tried to envision the globe, with Hawaii as a series of specks in the large blue ocean.  Until that moment, I’d avoided thinking how fragile life is.

I turned and looked immediately for my mom.  The darkness had come so close to taking her from me, but I wasn’t ready to let her go yet.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Focus

View of Drummond Hill Cemetery, Niagara Falls

View of Drummond Hill Cemetery, Niagara Falls

I’ve already written about Drummond Hill Cemetery, but the photo challenge for the week is Focus, so I knew the sort of photo I wanted to post.

I visited Drummond Hill late in a busy day.  We’d gotten up early to explore the tunnels behind Niagara Falls, then took a ride on the Maid of the Mist below the falls, then walked along the rapids farther out along the river.  My parents planned to take my daughter back to the hotel to swim in the pool, but as we passed the cemetery on our way, my dad wheeled down a side street and dropped me off at the back gate.

Mourner leaning on a funeral urn

Mourner leaning on a funeral urn

I had the graveyard mostly to myself.  I admired the Victorian stones, many of which have been laid flat in the grass.  The iconography spanned from weeping willows and mourners at the graveside to Jane Eliza’s sarcophagus (above).  The stones hadn’t fared well in the damp, cold Canadian winters, but the man who’d labored over them had been an artist.  I wondered if anyone now knows who he was.

It was tricky to photograph the cemetery with the late afternoon sunlight behind the headstones.  I took several photos that I think of as “views,” pulling back from individual stones to see the graveyard as context, as scenery. The photo at the top was taken in the shadow of the old tree that may predate the pioneer graves beneath it.

I like that photo because it shows the range of stones in the graveyard, from the red granite column on the extreme left side through the bright white marble to the weathered gray granite with the bolster on top.  I like the sense of the age of the cemetery, with its ranks and ranks of monuments.  I even like the mist that fills the air and reminds me that the falls are not really very far away.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree

The grave of Ricky Dunn in Colon, Michigan. Photo by Loren Rhoads.

Earlier this month, I and a friend went off on a writing retreat for a weekend.  It was glorious.  We stayed in a “hermitage” in the woods, facing a meadow full of butterflies.  I got an immense amount of work done and she got inspired on some projects she’d put aside.  Both of us felt recharged.

Martha and I have been friends for a long time.  In high school, we wrote a novel together — and somehow our friendship survived the process.  We’ve published each other’s work over the years.  We’ve collaborated on short stories.  She’s my first reader.  I adore her imagination and am awe of the way she captures characters.

One of the best things about our friendship is that she lets me drag her off on my cemetery excursions.  Reasonably near our retreat was the Lakeside Cemetery of Colon, Michigan.  Deep in the heart of Michigan’s Amish country, Colon is “the world capital of magical illusion,” according to Weird Michigan: Your Travel Guide to Michigan’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.

The cemetery has a collection of stage magicians buried in it.  The best known are the Blackstones (senior, junior, and the third), but I liked the grave of Ricki Dunn, whose epitaph proclaims, “Ricki Dunn was a thief.”

I haven’t found any video of him performing yet, but here’s a slideshow of photos of him: http://www.rickidunn.com/slideshow.html

He wrote the book on pickpocketing: The Professional Stage Pickpocket.

Here’s one of his tricks, performed by one of his friends:

I’ll write more about the cemetery tomorrow, but I can’t wait to investigate the other characters buried there.