Graves

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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