Tag Archives: travel essay

Death’s Garden: Martinique—an Island of Mystery

Martinique postcard

Photos and postcards of Martinique from K. R. Morrison.

by K. R. Morrison

Martinique was one of the stops on our 1996 cruise of the Caribbean, one that my husband and I were eager to explore. After all, this might be the only time we’d be here, and we wanted to make the most of it.

We did not book an excursion, deciding to nose about on our own. One of our favorite things to do when on a trip in foreign lands is to walk through areas that are not on the usual tourist agenda. We love to see and experience what the locals do. Tourist stuff is not really our cup of tea.

That morning, we filed off the ship with the rest of the sightseers and had a quick scan of the area. There were the usual booths wharfside that catered to the tourist trade, so we felt obliged to check those out. T-shirts, hats, the usual blah-blah-blah, all sold by charming, smiling natives. We made a quick pass and then plunged into the real world of the island.

Down a side street we blithely ambled, then turned a corner onto a sunlit square. In its center was a statue of Empress Josephine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. I’m sure that it was lovely at one time; in fact, I have a postcard that attests to that fact.

Josephine postcardNot so much now. The statue’s head had been knocked off, the body splattered with red…paint, I hope…and there was some graffiti on it in French that was anything but warm and welcoming. I don’t recall the exact words, but I do remember that it was racist in nature—and Hubby and I were on the wrong side of the sentiment. I can tell you that the atmosphere chilled considerably after we read it.

However, we decided to keep going; after all, we figured, this was probably a fluke. We reasoned that, if graffiti in New York was taken seriously, there would be no tourist trade there at all. Same would apply here, we supposed.

We were, however, on our best behavior from there on. No  blades of grass were bent or stones kicked, at least not intentionally. I felt it best to not look at anyone directly—that dockside charm and warmth seemed distinctly missing in this area. To say we were conscious of every movement around us would be putting it mildly. I was starting to think that the better option for the day would have been to stay on the ship.

After a short eternity of walking, a building loomed ahead of us, the sight of which gave us great relief.

A church! Surely goodness and kindness would follow us…

We felt like refugees seeking sanctuary when we crossed the threshold into that holy place. All the familiar sights of home greeted us. We felt at home and at peace. For the first time since seeing the ill-used Josephine, we could let our guard down.

It was a pleasure to walk down the hushed aisles, breathing in the aromas of burning candles and old incense, craning our necks to see the arches that reached heavenward, hearing whispered prayers of people there with us. The place was simple, but held a beauty in its simplicity that delighted my soul.

At the opposite end of the building, a double door opened to the churchyard. We decided to explore the sacred grounds of the church, seeing as others were already there.

The yard was squared off by wrought-iron fencing, with a path that bisected it and met up with one that took the perimeter of grass. Massive trees shaded the yard and the church, adding to the serenity of the place. It was a beautiful, peaceful garden, and would have been perfect…

…except that someone had piled mounds of what looked like grey dirt everywhere. These piles were left on top of the grass in heaps only a few feet from each other. It seemed really odd to us.

Until, that is, we got a good look at what made up these mounds of “dirt.”

They were, in actuality, ashes. Human ashes. And when we looked closely, we could see bits of bone poking up here and there.

This was Martinique’s idea of a cemetery! Ashes were just piled on each other and left to blow away on the wind. We had been walking around on what used to be people for some time now.

The creeped-out factor hit its limit at that point. Honestly, I don’t remember anything from that realization until we were back on the ship. I’m sure, though, that I wiped my shoes really well before I left that churchyard.


Kay photoK. R. Morrison has lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 25 years. She moved there from California, after the Loma Prieta earthquake caused her to rethink her stance on “never moving again.” At her first sight of Oregon, she never looked back.

She wrote her first book, Be Not Afraid, after a nightmare. A second book, UnHoly Trinity, launched this past January. The third and fourth in the series are being worked on now. She has also co-authored a book entitled Purify My Heart with Ruthie Madison. She edits for her publishing house, Linkville Press. Book reviewing and editing for indie authors take up a lot of her time as well.

Please check out her Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/K.-R.-Morrison/e/B009RBRJ0C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1


Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married or did anything else unusual in one. The submissions guidelines are here.


Death’s Garden Revisited

Death's Garden001Twenty years ago, I was given a box of miscellaneous cemetery photos. They had been taken by my best friend’s husband over the course of his travels around the Americas. Blair was 28 years old and dying of AIDS. He wanted to know his photos had a good home.

I decided to put together a book that would feature those photos. Initially, I was going to write all the text, but as I talked to people about the project, everyone seemed to have a cemetery story to tell.

The book title expanded from Death’s Garden to Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. I was thrilled to discover that people I knew — even complete strangers — all had a graveyard they’d connected with, either because a family member was buried there, or because they’d visited it on vacation, or because they’d grown up in a house near it, or for a whole bouquet of other reasons.

The contributors varied from people I met through zine publishing to a ceramics professor at Ohio State University, writers for the LA Weekly, professional artists and photographers, underground musicians, depressed high school girls, and punk rock diva Lydia Lunch. As the book came together, Death’s Garden blew away my expectations.


Morrison monument in Glenwood Cemetery, Flint – taken by Loren Rhoads

The initial print run of 1000 copies sold out 18 months after my husband and I put it together for our publishing company. I’d only asked for one-time rights to use everyone’s contributions, so I couldn’t republish it. Once it was gone, it was gone.

As the years passed, I’ve lost track of many of the contributors. Some are dead and have a different relationship with cemeteries altogether now. Others have sunk into the anonymity of a pseudonym on the internet.

For a while now I’ve wanted to assemble a second volume of Death’s Garden.  I think there are a lot more stories to be told about relationships people have formed with graveyards. For instance, what’s it like to be a tour guide? How are cemetery weddings different than others? What’s the strangest cemetery you’ve ever visited, or the most beautiful, or the spookiest?

Eventually, I’d like to put these new essays into a physical book, but for now, I’d like to kick off a new feature on Cemetery Travel. This feature is open to anyone who has ever visited a cemetery where something special happened, either good or bad.  Tell me about your relationship with a cemetery.  I’d like to publish it on CemeteryTravel.com.

What I’m looking for:

  • personal essays that focus on a single cemetery
  • preferably with pictures
  • under 1500 words (totally negotiable, but the limit is something to shoot for)
  • descriptive writing
  • characterization, dialogue, tension: all the tools you’d use to tell a story
  • but this MUST be true — and it must have happened to you!

Reprints are accepted.  If you’ve written something lovely on your blog and wouldn’t mind it reaching the couple thousand people who subscribe to Cemetery Travel, let me know.

If I accept your essay for publication on Cemetery Travel, be warned: I may do some light editing, with your permission.

Also, I’ll need:

  • a bio of 50-100 words
  • a photo of you
  • a link to your blog or book
  • links to your social media sites, so people can follow you.

Finally, if — as I hope — this project progresses to becoming a legitimate book, I will contact you with a contract and offer of payment.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are some links to the original Death’s Garden:

Reviews of the original Death’s Garden:

Turner monument at Glenwood Cemetery, taken by Loren

Turner monument at Glenwood Cemetery, taken by Loren

“This impressive book is so striking that, upon opening its binding, one is hard pressed not to be moved by its contents. With every perusal, the reader finds another thing to think about.” — Carpe Noctem

Death’s Garden is an anthology of cemetery tours from all around the world, well-photographed, and smart enough to know it’s not the where and when of certain burial grounds that intrigues us, it’s the why as well. There’s a certain joy about Death’s Garden which is hard to pin down; the sense that just as no two graveyards are the same, no two burial beliefs are the same, either.” — Alternative Press

“The photographers and writers relay their thoughts on the relationship between the living and the dead, creating a feast for the eyes and senses. Death’s Garden goes a long way in showing just what these residences of the dead have to offer to those of us that are still among the living.” — Maximum Rock N Roll