Friday, July 14, 2006

Musings on a hot day...

Today was hot...for the Adks...which means upper 80s. Gail and I went for a drive to explore the central part of the park (we purchased a tiny piece of land in Newcomb, and are enjoying the excuse to roam this previously blank spot on our personal maps). I had a hike in mind that was between Olmstedville and Schroon Lake on route 24, and it didn't take much to convince Gail that we should point the CRV in that direction.



The pull-off was indistinct, but geocaching has trained my eyes to see parking spots most people would drive right by, so we found it easily. The "Jeep Trail" had narrowed to wheelbarrow width, and shortly turned into a streambed (which felt nice on my teva-ed toes), but not before taking us across a rotted wooden bridge that had long ago (too long ago???) replaced the collapsed stone bridge that crossed a pleasantly noisy stream.

The walk, and woods, got wilder and wilderthe further we ranged from our car. White pines that would have taken 3-4 of me to reach around grew into the sky, and any semblance of "road-i-ness" disappeared beneath my feet as the brook both broadened and deepened. Clouds lurched in front of the sun at the moment that I came around a bend, and saw the cemetery seeming to grow up out of the forest.



The headstones were, of course, there before the trees, but as the woods around me seemed so undisturbed and natural, it was the stones that seemed out of place...as thought they had marched in one day, and then forgotten to leave.



The oldest ones I could read were from the early 1830s, and the most recent were from the early 20th century; many of the older ones were marking the passage of children who hadn't made it out of childhood.



A few were for civil war veterans, and it was touching to note that someone had made the trip out on Memorial Day to clean these headstones and leave a flag nearby.



Not to wax too philosophical, but the walk and the stones and the flag and the woods got me thinking about life and death, and as you've read this far, you're likely to finish this post...so here goes...

Time, and its passage, is marked by the winning and losing of battles, both big and small. The importance of these battles is entirely a matter of perspective.

The lives and deaths of the people in this beautiful cemetery was of profound importance to them, but go largely unremarked by the world at large, especially with the cemetery itself buried in these "Forever Wild" woods. Their lives were made up of battles that they won and lost, with accompanying joy and pain, ending in the final loss that we all face (not me though, but more on that further down).

The relatives of the people buried here fight an ongoing, and ultimately hopeless, battle with the woods. They keep the trail somewhat open, clean the headstones, tilt and prop them perpendicular to the ground each spring, and leave flags to memorialize some distant ancestor's service in a long-ago series of battles. The woods will win in the end, the Pine trees towering over the cemetery will outlive the people tending the headstones and memories by hundreds of years, and bury them in needles and fallen branches...as the hard winters heave and chip the headstones back into the rocks they were before men tamed them with chisels.

I've been in cemeteries before, not often, as I generally find them creepy places; this one didn't strike me as such. I've never cleaned in a cemetery before, but today I did...I picked up cigarette butts, brushed the needles off of some (not all, but some) of the headstones, and righted fallen flags in front of the headstones of the civil war veterans.

Most cemeteries seem to me to be parking lots for headstones, where the feeling of death and battles won and lost is tamed by orderliness and mown grass and handicapped-accessible parking. The people buried in Hoffman's Cemetery fought their battles and eventually lost; their relatives are still fighting to preserve the cemetery...a battle they must eventually lose as well. The thought of someone caring enough about people they never met to walk 3/4 of a mile through mud and muck and water up to their shins to place a flag or dust off a stone moved me...and, for today, I joined the battle.

It isn't about winning (or losing) our battles that is the important thing in the end...rather, it's about how and where and when we choose to engage...knowing that the final outcome will be the same for all of us, and that enough time will erase the name from every headstone. I would like to choose and fight my battles well, regardless of their importance and outcome.



I passed the frog above both on my way in and out...he was swimming back and forth in a puddle about 10 by 5 feet, convinced that I couldn't see him when he swam to the far side, and doing his frog stuff. I took his picture, wondering if he ever got a smile on his face doing something as simple as brushing off a piece of stone, or if he simply ate flies when he got hungry, and left philosophy to the toads.

1 comment:

Nature Lover said...

Your commentary on the cemetery was beautiful. I loved the frog picture.