One of my favorite haunts in this part of the valley. As a fan of MissMuffCake‘s blog and zines: The Stay At Home Girlfriend, Easy Vegan Recipes and Cemetery Gates, I was inspired to visit before the snow came down and I left town for work.
It’s a short distance either down a winding road from my parents house or along what was the abandoned railway tracks. In the late 90’s the city revamped the old railway line into an exceedingly popular walking/biking/horse-riding trail. Through the 80’s I could walk along the path never crossing another human soul. A friend lived just beyond the cemetery and we’d run among the trees and tombstones. As a teenager it became my place of solace. My husky-X would lay on the grass beside me and I’d scribble in a journal.
Most of the tombstones are modest and many are in states of disrepair. There are no grand sepulchers or angels, very little marble. It’s bordered by what were apple orchards now overtaken by wine grapes. Deer and coyotes roam, black bears pass through on trails to the lake and covey’s of quail shuttle about.
The crematorium is perched on the edge of the clay banks. The drop is maybe 150 feet to the lake? I have no idea, maybe 200 feet. Between the building and the grass is the narrow sage brush gully where the railway line was. I’ve always thought it was insane they built tracks right along the edge of the clay banks which are not considered very stable. Even though we’re at a high altitude with a low risks of earthquakes, if we did have a significant tremor the banks would turn to silt in a instant. At the turn of the century it must have been the easiest route for transporting fruit to and from the packing houses. Shipping apples, peaches, pears up the lake by paddle wheeler boats to the CPR.
Before the city opened the trail to the public there wasn’t a fence around the crematorium. There was a six foot deep pit right outside the building. It was covered by a sheet of plywood where I guess they’d dump excess ashes from the incinerator. One time a friend and I lifted it and peered in at the pile of ash. She dared me to jump in. My head spun thinking of being stuck down there and we dropped the plywood sheet. The suction as it sealed to the ground created a poof of ash that blew all over us. We ran off joyously shrieking. For weeks after I had nightmares; every night falling into the pit over and over and being swarmed by skeletons.
A gang of us would run around the graveyard playing Star Wars. I was always Chewbacca, even when I was the only girl I had no desire to be princess Leia. I have a vivid memory of hiding behind this tombstone and feeling how smooth and cold the granite was on my back. A calm sweeping through me.
Long ago this had a glass door, a photo of Helen and other trinkets but at some point it was smashed and emptied. In my teen years, the rumor was if you shone head lights on the opening you would see a hologram skull. I have no idea where this folklore started but I did take part in joyrides through the graveyard to see the ghost. I never expressed how I felt it was disrespectful to my place of respite. I had a relationship with this northern corner of the cemetery but in my introverted way I never let anyone know how much it meant to me.
Every town I pass through I look for signs of the dead. Other than in Scandinavia I’ve never visited a grand graveyard. The old cemetery’s around here are of a pioneer era, humble and plain but calming and restorative to me all the same.