Stacked Up

Among Humboldt County aficionados, I’m not the only person who is fascinated by the Ferndale Cemetery for aesthetic reasons. It’s historically significant, but more importantly to me, it’s a beautiful expanse of land. Whenever I visited the tiny town of Ferndale, I would notice the wrought-iron cemetery gates and tell myself that I ought to go there and take photos someday. First I had to get over the fear that I would look like a creep, prowling through a garden of headstones with my camera. I generally like walking around cemeteries, whether or not I’m there to take photos, but I’m always mindful of other people who are visiting the gravesites of loved ones. I don’t want to give the impression that I’m there just for kicks.

The Ferndale Cemetery was mostly devoid of visitors when I finally took my photo walk there. It’s located on the side of a fairly steep hill, just off the main drag in town, and undulates upward until it reaches a promontory from which you can view much of the Eel River Valley and nearby coastline. I took my time getting up there so I could admire the crowded, weather-beaten grave markers and their juxtaposition with grand Victorian homes. The air was laden with a heavy sort of quiet. It was a bright and cheerful day, but my heart darkened a little at the thought of death, at the thought of my own bones and my family’s bones consigned to the dirt. I wondered how those remains could once have been so uniquely lovable.

The grounds became shaded as I approached the tree-lined upper edge. I noticed that I was being trailed by a pickup truck with two people inside. They parked, and a scantily dressed woman stepped out and leaned against the truck’s hood. A man got out, too, and stumbled toward one of the gravesites with some kind of flask or bottle in his hand. He crossed my path as I was starting to nervously head back down the hillside. The man gestured toward a headstone and said, a little loudly, “See that? That’s my dad.” I didn’t know how to reply except with a nod. It would have been disingenuous to say, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Maybe his dad had been elderly, or had been a worthless jerk. I couldn’t tell what the story was, but I knew this guy was out of sorts and I didn’t want to be in his way. On a shady hilltop where I’d been contemplating death, I still didn’t want to be reminded of the effects of mortality on the living. So I let him be.

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