Posted by: gatheringwater | 2009/02/22

Resting Place

markers, humble and grand, at Forest Hill Cemetary

markers, humble and grand, at Forest Hill Cemetary

I imagine that most cemeteries named Forest Hill don’t actually include a forest and probably not much of a hill, either, but the place where I’d like to be buried really does have both.

The forest starts just a few steps away from the graves on the edges of this cemetery. Cedars are green year-round and always smell like Christmas. Madrona twist their salmon-colored trunks over the headstones and ferns creep into the clearing. Leggy wild rhododendrons send flowers as early as January–at least, they do when the winter has been mild. There is as much moss as grass in this graveyard.

Some people would call this cemetery neglected, but I think there ought to be  a limit to the amount of attention we pay the dead. And when I do pay a call to my dearly departed, it is disconcerting to find them marshaled into rows of stone furniture on manicured grass. To my mind, a graveyard should remind people of transience and decay. Maps and grid numbers are useful only to the living; the dead are mingled until they are, at last, forgotten, unless they are in one of those coffins advertised as water- and air-tight–which is just plain selfish to my way of thinking.  As I said in an earlier post, I’m donating part of my body to Art and part to Science (let them fight over who gets what), but anything left over is for the Earth.

Is it a cemetery in the forest or a forest sprung up in a cemetery? It isn't easy to tell.

Is it a cemetery in the forest or a forest sprung up in a cemetery? It isn't easy to tell.

Nature has long ago reclaimed most of the people buried here. Few graves are recent, but there is still room. One would think that Port Ludlow, a fancy-pants resort retirement community just down the road from Forest Hill, would provide plenty of filler, but I imagine most of the folks who live there would probably prefer to be cremated and sprinkled over their golf course. (If I were a golfer, maybe I’d feel the same way.)

The earth under Forest Hill has shifted. The tilted tombstones always make me imagine the newly buried had to toss and turn a bit before they got comfortable in their final resting place.

Some of the grave markers are very sad, like the little slabs of concrete in wooden frames. In them, the names and dates were written by a grieving, not a professional, hand. Then there are the ten wet and drooping pinwheels near a plaque someone has set into the earth in memory of “the 10 infants of Charles J. and Betta McGuire.” I hope the pinwheels were placed there by some descendant of an infant that lived. There are a few nameless wives, which I always find sad, and some headstones so eroded that no name is yet discernable.

Not all the markers are sad, however. One grave is marked by a birdhouse on a post about head height. I looked inside and, sure enough, it had been used by some kind of bird. I hope to see what kind this spring.

I like to visit Forest Hill in all seasons. It probably sounds like I’m trying it out to be sure I’d like to spend eternity there, but I don’t really think I’ll know anything about it one way or another after I’m dead. I’m thinking more about the living.  The cemetery may end up a forest oasis amid a desert of golf courses and it would be grand to be a physical impediment to the endless expansion of Port Ludlow. And then, the cemetery is inconveniently located, so only dear friends would take the trouble to visit and I imagine they’d look around and say, “Yes, this just the kind of place that Matthew would like. The old fraud found the perfect place to bury his barely suppressed romanticism.” Then they’d clean out my birdhouse and maybe pick one of the rhododendrons to take home with them.

I don’t think I’ll know anything about it when I’m dead, but I did try it out just once. I know the plot I’d like because I laid right down on it to check the view. If I could choose, I’d like to watch the tree for a year while my thoughts slow down and I wait for a root to reach down and gather me.

the view from "my" plot

the view from "my" plot



  1. This is such a touching essay. I love the part about the soil disturbed by one’s shifting around until comfortable, and the idea of watching a tree while my thoughts slow down and the roots slowly embrace my discarded body. Your essay gives me peace and comfort.

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