Friday, September 21, 2007

Elegy for a Country Cemetery

One afternoon this week I visited an old graveyard.

For research, for atmosphere, for aide-memoire.

One that rises like a long barrow. Terraced like a ring fort, guarded by stones.

A hill of the dead.

Near the entrance gates, a raven affected a Poe-like pose atop a gravestone. He eyed me resentfully and flapped off.

Much to my disgust.

Unregulated by neat rectangles and scheduled plots, one cannot avoid walking over the old haphazard graves between the pale, tilted markers. But here, one does not shiver the bones beneath, nor disturb them by unintentional disrespect.

A fine and quiet place.

For the hill has swallowed up sound as it has the dead.

The highway runs near but you do not hear it.

One does not hear even one's own footfalls beneath the giant oaks, over the sunken limestone slabs lipped by earth and moss.

As if one's living feet are as unsubstantial and silent as a a ghost's.

As irrelevant. As ignored.

The only eerie thing.

I should not have gone there in sunlight.

Rather gone when the mist is knee-high and the skies drip.

Or at dusk.

Still, I wondered why the slow lichen on some stones gleamed soft gold - and on others a dull and sullen black.
* * *
From the Gimme-You-Feet-I-Want-To Kiss-Them Department:
Yesterday, Charles posted a review of Stone Child. You can read his comments at
BTW, I've joined the Sisters of Perpetual Astonishment.
Groaner Q & A:
Q: How do crazy people go through the forest?
A: They take the psychopath.
This one's for Michelle and her first novel Pervalism.


kmfrontain said...

That was one fine review, Bernita. :D

Yeah, there are some nice graveyards around, but here I've noticed they mostly have the tallest pine trees, otherwise nothing very interesting about any. :-(

Well, except the occasional decent statue

Bernita said...

Karen, yes. Thoughtful and generous.
One thing I noticed about this one was the lack of anything much in the way of decoration - a few clasped hands, the finger pointing heavenward motif, the open book - very plain and succinct.
Less than half a dozen examples of mortuary statuary.

StarvingWriteNow said...

Better the raven flew away than hounded your traverse of the graveyard, I say. Of course, I watched "The Birds" the other night on AMC, so that might have something to do with it...

I enjoy exploring old cemetaries. What always intrigues me about them is how young some of the residents are. And, if they're still readable, some of the sayings carved into the stones.

PS: Thanks for the joke! LOL!

Sam said...

Your story is getting rave reviews - I'm so happy for you!
And this was a lovely short description of a graveyard walk. Odd, I've had a photo of a graveyard up for three days now! Are brainwaves overlapping?

Jaye Wells said...

When I first looked at the picture, I thought it was an impressionist painting. Sounds like a cool place, Bernita.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the walk in the quiet.

Bernita said...

I was quite disappointed at his departure, Starving.
One can read a cemetery like a social history.

Thank you, Sam.
Definitely on the brain waves.

Thank you, Jaye. I don't have Jason's skill, but a few turned out sans thumb.

Bernita said...

The silence was the only paranatural thing about the place, Jason.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the review.

(I'm loving the groaner jokes! Those are my favourite kind!)

I spent many an afternoon in the graveyard across from my highschool (yes I was skipping class). I loved the calm feeling, the lovely landscaping and the possibilites.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Seeley.
I have a few more groaners to inflict!
I want to dump my heroine into a re-opened grave, hence this visit, but I find cemeteries interesting places at any time.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lovely description. I too am an enjoyer of cemetaries.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Charles.
This one has a stone crypt built into the hillside.

bunnygirl said...

As a child, I spent my summers in New England where there's a cemetery seemingly on every corner. I learned to love wandering the graves, reading the stones and wondering about the people who lay beneath.

I've been to other kinds of cemeteries since those years-- desert, Southern, dusty Mexican graveyards full of colorful paper flowers and weathered rosaries. But there's an element that's the same in nearly all of them-- that sense of quiet and of a certain absence of time.

Lots of inspiration can come from such places!

Bernita said...

Indeed, Bunny.
New England needs acreage for nearly 400 years of burials.

Scott from Oregon said...

My favorite all time groaner- "Did you here about the Cannibal who passed the tourist on the trail?"

Scott from Oregon said...

"hear" of course, groan...

Bernita said...

Sorry, Scott, you'll just have to wait your turn.

raine said...

Great review--congrats!! :-)

Still, I wondered why the slow lichen on some stones gleamed soft gold - and on others a dull and sullen black.

Ohhh, you just made my day.

moonrat said...

Some people think this is creepy, but I really don't and never have...

When I was growing up, our yard had a hedge that you could squeeze through into this 19th century cemetary on a hill. The hill overlooked this beautiful valley that always had uncannily beautiful fall foliage. The gravestones were all old and crumbly and some had very romantic enscriptions; there were even some that dated back as early as the 1670s.

I found it very peaceful to go and sit there and write in my notebooks when I was a kid. I found all the atmosphere to be respectful, subdued, and inspiring--I felt like I was sitting among hundred of life stories, and that the people under the stones were looking out for me.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Raine...couldn't resist a little dark touch lurk there.

I don't find it the slightest bit creepy, Moonrat. Rather, a natural thing.
And it is nice to think of the dead keeping watch over those that respect their rest.
My mother, who never met a graveyard she didn't like, would often stop at strange ones and wander through, reading inscriptions, speculating in a kind of gentle mourning on the lives beneath the stones.

The Anti-Wife said...

Your descriptions are always so involving.

Church Lady said...

OOOOOO, go to a freshly dug grave at night with a candle and a really good camera! Perhaps also a ooji board (is that how you spell it?)
Please? ....just a small request.

Congratulations for the great review!

Bernita said...

I already know what it's like to have my ass fall in a ditch, Chris!

Thank you.

Bernita said...

Thank you, AW.
~hope that's a good thing~

The Anti-Wife said...

It is. A very good thing!

December/Stacia said...

That's a great joke, and a great review!

I love old cemeteries. There's lots of them here, really good atmospheric ones.

Bernita said...

Bless you, AW.'s a great review,December!

"really good atmospheric ones" - and that's a remarkable understatement.

Lisa said...

What beautiful prose! I am a quirky traveler and can't resist stopping to visit cemeteries wherever I go. I do find them peaceful and each has a different personality. I actually had to ask a local in Belgium what they do with all of their dead. The churches had fairly new graves -- apparently in very ancient cities, they often lease a plot for 25 or 30 years. Then the remains are dug up, cremated and returned to (hopefully) someone.

spyscribbler said...

We check out cemeteries, too. I'm very sensitive to them, don't think me crazy (or crazier than you already do). Some days I'll be wandering happily through one in sunlight, then we'll drive up the street to another one, and DH cannot pull me out of the car for anything.

All that to say, I think the eeriness varies with cemetery (maybe with its inhabitants?), not with light or darkness.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Lisa.
Crowded countries must adjust to necessity, I suppose.

Just highly sensitive, Natasha.
Light though, is an unconscious internal symbol, imprinted as a defense against the dark.
That said, there are places that exude evil in spite of the light, like a miasma to the othersight.

SzélsőFa said...

I loved the fascinating description of the weird cemetery. Cemeteries are very good places - I bet you gathered some information and inspiration to work into one of your coming pieces.
And the joke? I love these kinds of jokes and this one I understood.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Szelsofa.
Sometimes, what is not there in these places can be as interesting as what is there.

M.E Ellis said...

LOL @ crazy joke.

Still, I wondered why the slow lichen on some stones gleamed soft gold - and on others a dull and sullen black.

Good souls, bad souls? Or just my weird mind?


Bernita said...

Make that two weird minds, Michelle.

writtenwyrdd said...

When I was at a training academy in Georgia several years ago, I toured Savanna and some of the coastal region. The most fascinating things to me were the old cemeteries with the raised stone slabs for markers. In the Civil War, the Union docs often used these as makeshift field hospital surgical tables. If I recall correctly, the idea was to have the stones raised so that people didn't accidentally tread on the dead in their repose.

Bernita said...

Quite possibly because of the taboo, Written.
Another reason might be a high water table.