“And I will show you something different from either your shadow at morning striding behind you or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” (T.S. Eliot)
I was a Cemetery Girl. This was before goth was a thing. As a child, my best friend and I use to wander the local graveyards exploring and reading the gravestones. It was peaceful. It was quiet. It was a pleasant way to spend a coolish Fall afternoon.
It was usually Fall when you would find us in the graveyard. Leaves would be falling and the world’s axis was spinning into winter and long, cold days of nothing to do. Fall is my favourite season. It is cool. School is starting. There is a quietness in the air. Halloween is just around the corner.
Most of the cemeteries we haunted were country cemeteries; the closet one was a block outside of town. The other one we visited regularly was a mile out. We hardly ever saw anyone else there. It seemed a shame. There was so much beauty and peacefulness there and everyone else was missing it.
We come upon an old woman in black, holding an umbrella against the sun, sitting in front of her husband’s grave on an overturned bucket. She speaks to us in her own language, pointing at the face on the black headstone, crying into a hankie. Lisa gives her a fresh bottle of water. (p. 244)
Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training
by Tom Jokinen
Toronto:Random House of Canada, 2010
I still haunt graveyards. I’ve taken pictures of cemeteries all over Saskatchewan, in Scotland and recently in Anchorage, Alaska. I’m always going to regret not being able to get to explore the historical cemetery at Skagway.
Death intrigues me. No, how we process death intrigues me. No, the history sitting around in graveyards entrances me. I am an explorer of the past. I like to explore what use to be.
I also wonder about what is beyond – beyond the shadows, beyond death. What is the next step? Knowing the plan calms me. I like to know the steps, what to do, what ie expected of me at each turn. Don’t surprise me. I hate surprises!
I delight in exploring cemeteries and graveyards. Did you know the two terms are not interchangeable? A cemetery is an area set apart for or containing graves, tombs, or funeral urns, especially one that is not a churchyard. A graveyard is a burial ground, associated with or beside a church.
The latest funeral industry book I bought is Caitlin Doughty’s book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Caitlin oversees the blog The Order of the Good Death that I regularly read and has a series of videos about death and the way we (as a society) deal with it. Scroll down this page for the book video.
I am a cemetery girl. I haunt graveyards. Death is my familiar. I fear not.
because my scans didn’t work,
because my house is in disarray,
because i haven’t had a moment to myself for over a week,
because i am tired and cranky…
boom crash boom!
The stores overflow with Halloween candy and decorations. Houses on the street look dark, gory and gloomy. Halloween is nigh!
When I was a child (oh so many decades ago) only one or two households would decorate the outside of their home for Halloween and we didn’t expect to see anything in the stores until after Canadian Thanksgiving (which is next weekend).
Now, it seems everything is buy, buy, buy. Halloween stuff appears in the store beside Back to School sales and Christmas stuff goes out even before Halloween is here.
We don’t just consume anymore now we must be seen to be consuming, to be consumers, to have it all, everyone must see it. Who are we keeping up to? Who is it all for?
Am I turning in to a curmudgeon?
Or was I always one? ;-)
I decorate for me. I celebrate for me. And increasingly that means buying less and enjoying the moments more.
What is this a sign of?
I thought you could have everything if you wanted it hard enough. (p. 221)
The China Garden
By Liz Berry
N.Y.: Avon Tempest, 1996
I vowed early that I would never be a farmer’s wife!
I knew what that life would be like. It would be a life of hard work and too much sacrifice to others. I saw that life every day. All my grandparents were farmers. My eldest sister married a farmer. Her mother-in-law was hard working and self-sacrificing.
I spent many a September digging potatoes and harvesting large farm gardens. It was too hot. It was too cold. It was so much work. I hated it. I hated the planting. I hated the dirt. I hated the digging. I hated putting it all up for later because it seems we got to taste so little of the harvest when it was fresh. It was always about later. It was always about getting and being prepared for winter. Fall, my favourite season, was hurried by with work and work and more work.
One worked on the farm from sun-up to long past sun down and this is not what I wanted. I wanted time to read and dream and just be.
Farming has never been easy and it has not got easier. There is more loss than profit. Machinery can cost upwards of 100,000 dollars. Almost everyone who farms today, in the traditional way, also works off the farm! If one farms in this way one does so because they love the farm.
My nephew farms. He loves the lifestyle. He loves the farm. He is a farmer but he also works off the farm. His three year old niece (my great-niece) who is a city child is drawn to the farm. We wonder if she will be a farmer one day. His younger brother lives on a farm but does not farm. His wife and children love the farm. I wonder who, in the next generation, will carry on this life style. My eldest sister would go back and live on the farm if it were feasible.
I can’t tell a combine from a thresher though I can point out an auger and most tractors. I’ve never been drawn to the farm. That is not the life style I want.
It is however what I am doing right now. I am spending weeks on the farm this Autumn taking care of my four year old great-nephew. I find the quietness strange even though there are many things there that my grandparents never had. I have access to a cell phone, the internet, too many tv channels and e-books. Still, I look out the window and see no one.
I am at the farm while my nephew brings in the harvest and, on the side, guides hunters. I cook and take care of one child. It is not the life style my grandparents had. Without modern appliances their days were filled with cooking and cleaning and child-care. They never rested. I rest. I have time to be still and contemplate the silence.
The silence of the farm overwhelms me; me who likes silence and revels in the quiet. I feel utterly alone on the farm. I feel like it could be the end of the world and I would never know. I feel like I could scream forever and no one would hear. I don’t feel this way in the city even though I am equally alone there.
The quiet is different in the country. Though I enjoy the glimpses of wildlife and turbulent nature I cannot live there.
I am not a farmer.
I ask nothing. I promise nothing.
I come from nowhere. A land-locked nowhere. I am surrounded by fields of flax and wheat that undulates in the wind. There is nothing here. The people are not dreamers, they are practical. Is it any wonder that I ran away.
I ran away to the sea because it was the furthest I could go. Once you reach the sea there is nothing else there. I thought it would be less work. I thought it would be more pleasure than pain.
But, like the family farm, the sea is also a harsh task-master.
The winds blow harsh and fierce in both places whipping up the tempest of dust or water – it does not much matter which.
I cannot hide. There is always work to be done. I beware of strong winds. I watch my step. I mind my head. The captain, like my father, is harsh and unforgiving.
Both sea and farm are harsh mistresses.
The sea has too much water. The farm has too little.
The farm has too much dust. The sea has none.
I long for warm beaches and petty pleasure.
I ask nothing. I promise nothing.
I want. Nothing.
The above is a poem written for September 19th which is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.
Click here for a modern pirate tale.
He spoke to me as if I were a butterfly that he was asking to hold its wings open wide so he could have a better view of their colors. (p. 7)
The Tale of the Rose
by Consuelo De Saint-Exupery
N.Y.: Random House, 2001
Doesn’t a rebellious rose ever decide it wants to be a dandelion? (p. 31)
by Andy Rooney
N.Y.: PublicAffairs, 2002
I was one of those kids who looked forward to going back to school every Fall. I like learning. I like having a routine. I liked the familiarity. I knew what was expected. I knew what each day would be like. Waking up the same time every morning, Science before English, a predictable lunch time and lots of time to read – 5 minutes between classes and all of recess. Then off to babysit after school and home to supper and TV before bedtime and the inevitable return to sameness tomorrow. I got left alone by the adults because I was quiet and well behaved. I was a perfect student though never considered brilliant.
I grew up in a small town and went to school from Kindergarten to Graduation with basically the same thirty people. Some say that small towns are better for raising children. There’s more freedom and less crime. Until I was 13 I considered my small town to be mostly paradise.
And then it was hell. What is it about High School that seems to bring out the worst in people? I didn’t fit in. I was too much a reader. I was obviously poor and never have figured out how to be stylish. There was nobody else like me or nobody that I saw.
I was not nerdy (except for the book reading). I dabble at geeky things like Buffy and Doctor Who. I skim the service of things and always have. I will read everything and anything but cannot tell you who is in every Hogwarts house like some geeks I know can.
For my entire High School existence I merely survived. I did what I had to. I went to school and I worked. The only peers I related to were in books. My peers outside of books were mean or indifferent. There seemed to be no other option.
According to my older sister, I was in the mean class. So, I guess people noticed that things were wrong but nobody did anything. I understand that. I understand the urge to not intervene in others’ troubles. I did the same.
I have a dream. I have a dream that we all stop hurting each other. I have a dream that we learn to emphasize before we learn to hurt and hate. I have a dream.
Why does it seem such an impossibility?
It is too hot.
It is August.
These two condition seem inter-changeable. What is cause? What is causation?
I am not a fan of August. Summer is not my favourite season.
I have never been a summer’s child!
Family lore has it that I fainted from the heat, at age seven, returning from the beach.
I have always sought out the cool side of summer. I seek shade and forest glen and cave to hide within their coolness.
During those long summer days of my childhood, I would go next door to the library the minute it opened, take out the maximum six books that I was allowed and come home to read all afternoon inside.
I would hide in my mother’s closet at the very back behind all the clothes – I was a very tiny child until I hit puberty. Or I would grab my lamp and a couple of pillows and snuggle under the bed with the dog and cat. Or I would hide in the very cramped back corner of my eldest sister’s closet. There I would read and read and read until just before the library closed. Just before the library closed, I would return my six books (all read) and take out six more to hold me until the library reopened. They never did. Thankfully, I learned how to game the system. It seems, that you were allowed six books per day so I could take out six on Monday, return a few on Tuesday and take out six more. I think the maximum I had out then was around twenty at a time. The maximum we are allowed now is one hundred items checked out to your card – I’ve never done that. I have less time to read now.
I have always loved caves. I love their quiet. I love their coolness. I love their isolation. I love the alone-ness.
There are forest caves and mountain caves.
Forest caves surrounded by the scent of pine and the earth and flowers and animals. Beware of the bears.
Mountain caves reached after long hikes with younger sisters that reveal incandescent pools of azure and emerald. They need to be forever hidden from the rowdy tourists.
Does a Yeti live here?
Is this where Nessie hides from the tourists swarming her loch?
Would ET feel at home here?
Are you brave enough to explore the world’s deepest cave? I am not.
I read this story once about a young pregnant woman trapped alone in a cave.The cave had vegetation for food and a warm pool for bathing. It is a horror story. I thought, really, all she needs is a never ending supply of books or paper & pen to write her own stories down and she could be perfectly happy!
Another book I love about exploring caves is Cavedweller by Dorothy Allison.
These last few August days, my house has become a giant cave with shades drawn to keep out the heat as I hibernate and read. This is my perfect summer’s day!