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Graves, Upper Mill Cemetery, Circa 1806 – 10/365, Archive 365, McIntosh County, Darien, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was blistering hot and steamy the afternoon we visited the Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien, Georgia. On a search for ancestral archives, Liz, Mom and I took a road trip from Augusta, Georgia to St. Simons Island where we spent a few days and visited with relatives. We then drove north stopping in Fort Frederica and Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien. Our last stop was Savannah, a city I hope to visit again someday. Looking through these photographs, I realize how important it is to document your travels. It’s been four years since I have returned to the South. Each photo conjures the heat, humidity, live oaks, Gold Coast breezes, white packed sand, and the pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home.

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ARCHIVE 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 10, 2012

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by Teri Blair



Home of Emily Dickinson, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On October 30th, 2010, I stood in a room I had wanted to be in for years. It had a bed, a desk, a dresser, a lantern, a basket, and huge windows. From this second story perch Emily Dickinson composed her wonderful, strange, profound poetry.

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Emily was born in the same house where she died. And with the exception of a few trips and a little schooling, she never ventured from her hometown. Ever. She lived for 55 years, becoming increasingly reclusive the older she got. She published seven poems under pseudonyms while she was alive, poetry that went practically unnoticed. It wasn’t until she died that the big discovery was made. Emily’s sister was cleaning out her bedroom dresser and found nearly 1800 poems in the bottom drawer. They were written in handmade booklets and on scraps of paper.

Four years after her death, Emily’s first volume of poetry came out and she was famous. Now, 124 years later, she is considered one of the most influential American poets; her work has never been out of print.


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I drove to Amherst, Massachusetts with my niece, Anna. We pulled up to Emily’s house on Main Street, an impressive yellow brick surrounded on two sides by massive gardens. The moment we stepped onto this National Historic Site, I was looking for clues of how Emily did it. Was she simply brilliant, or was there some evidence of influence? Our tour guide told us that as soon as Emily’s first book came out, speculation about her largely private life began, speculation that has never stopped.

They honor Emily by sticking with the facts, only the things that are authenticated. I am compelled to do the same, simply observing some habits that made up part of her writing life.





A Period of Woolgathering


When Emily was 10, her family moved temporarily to a different house in Amherst. Her bedroom faced the town graveyard, and during those next impressionable years, she watched hundreds of horse-drawn funeral processions.

When she was 19, her father gave her a puppy she named Carlo. For the sixteen years of her dog’s life, they explored the woods and fields of Amherst together. Emily made extensive collections from what she found outside on these long hikes.

Contemplating death and observations of nature run heavily through Emily’s poetry.


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Writing Practices


Emily was a voracious reader. Her family received daily newspapers and several magazines, all of which Emily read cover-to-cover. She read poets; Keats and Browning were two of her favorites.

She wrote at night by lamplight. Moonlight walkers consistently saw a light burning in Emily’s window. They didn’t know what she was doing. Though there were virtually no external rewards for her work, she kept writing. An internal force propelled her.


Simplicity


Emily’s life was very simple; there were few distractions.

She had only a handful of family and friends, and kept in touch with most of them through letter writing.

She baked. She read. She wandered through her gardens. She lowered baskets of gingerbread to her nephews and niece from her window. And at night…she wrote in her bedroom by lamplight.


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After the 90-minute tour, we were allowed to wander through the house alone at our own pace. Anna and I both gravitated back to Emily’s room. We sat on the floor, stood by the windows; we looked at each other across the room.

Can you believe we’re standing here, I asked Anna. She smiled and shook her head no. We kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads because we knew. There was nothing more to say; and we could both feel the pulse of what had happened within those four walls.


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View of Emily’s From The Garden, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When Emily died, the funeral was held in the library of her house. At her request, six Irish immigrants carried her casket from the house to her grave. She asked her sister to burn the thousands of letters she had amassed.

But she didn’t say a word about the poems in the bottom drawer.

Emily’s brother and his family lived in the house on the far edge of her garden. One time Emily’s niece, Martha, came into her room with her, and Emily pretended to lock the door so no one could get in.  She looked around the room—at the writing desk, lamp, and paper. “Martha,” she said, “this is freedom.”



“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me.


-Emily Dickinson c. 1861 from The Pocket Emily Dickinson,
Edited by Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Publications, 2009.



IMG_0670 in memoriam



About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

 

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and wrote a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Her last piece for red Ravine, Discovering The Big Read, is about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri will be spending the month of February at the Vermont Studio Center, writing, walking, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains.

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Georgia Pine Over My Grandmother’s Grave, BlackBerry Shots, Augusta, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






visiting Estelle
gravestones outlast the living
markers for the dead


all that’s left behind
a letter, a horseshoe ring
lasting love and luck


face of a pine tree
warm thoughts of the Grandmothers
hover over me







It’s the time of year when I think often of family and loved ones, living and dead. One of the highlights of my October trip to Georgia was visiting my Grandmother Estelle’s grave for the first time. I did not know her well, had not seen her since I was 2 years old. I knew none of my blood father’s family. It was synchronicity when in 2007 my paternal aunts ended up in the insurance office of my maternal uncle and asked the question, “Are you related to….?”

It happened to be two weeks before Mom and I were scheduled to travel to Georgia. After 50 years apart, the question’s answer led them to me.

It turns out, my paternal grandparents are buried down the hill from my maternal grandparents in the same cemetery. I’ve been visiting the cemetery with my mother for years and never knew. These photographs are of the pine tree that grows high over their graves. My Aunt Annette told me that my grandfather loved pine trees. So do I. When I was a child, I would spend hours sweeping pine needles, the scaly bough of a branch curving to make just the right shape, a prairie-style home.

The thing about cemetery trees is that they are many times old growth trees, never to be cut. I like to think this pine is a guardian for my grandparents, its long roots extending deep underground, branches tall and proud (reminds me of another pine in New Mexico that I’m quite fond of, the Lawrence Tree).

There is more to the story — a letter, an obituary, a ring. Perhaps another post. This week I give thanks for all who live, and those who have come before.


Skin Of A Pine Tree, Pine Trunk In The Graveyard, My Grandmother’s Grave, Cemetery Pine, BlackBerry Shots, Augusta, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Post Script: the day Mom and I met my aunt at the cemetery, we also visited the Gertrude Herbert Memorial Institute of Art in Augusta. That’s where my Canon G6 battery died; I had forgotten to charge the backup battery. These photos are all taken with the BlackBerry cell phone camera.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

-related to post: haiku 2 (one-a-day)

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Pink Cadillac, Hindsight, outside the Pink Cadillac Diner, Natural Bridge, Virginia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Back in Pennsylvania. I always think I’m going to post more than I do from the road. But at the end of the day, I find myself exhausted. Out as soon as the head hits the pillow. Perhaps it’s the introvert in me. I love traveling West to East, North to South, all the people I see only once a year. I wish there were a dozen of me. Maybe a baker’s dozen.

Yesterday I drove 13 hours back from Georgia with Mom. I spent this October day with my family in Pennsylvania. It’s almost 4am and I find myself wide awake, wanting to write. It’s the best I can do to post a haiku, a note, a few photographs from the Pink Cadillac Diner in Natural Bridge, Virginia. It’s a little off the beaten trail. Mom was finishing up her ice cream cone while I walked out to photograph the Caddy. A young woman strode proudly up behind me with her two daughters, camera in tow.

“My dad took a photo of me in front of this very spot,” she said, “and now I get to take a photo of you.” Snap. I watched her daughters gleaming next to the rusty chrome. “Would you like me to take a photo of all of you together?” I asked. “I’d love that,” she smiled, rushing over to hand me her pocket camera.

Lineage. Family legacies. The things we pass down.

The day was perfect for driving. The light illuminated by Fall. I hung my head out the window and snapped photos of a sunset front over Virginia. There is so much to tell. For the time being, will you settle for the highlights?


  • visiting the Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art in Augusta, Georgia with my mother
  • walking with my dad through the Brick Pond Ecological Park in North Augusta, South Carolina
  • dining on my uncle’s chili he’s been making since he was 12
  • riding on the back of my brother’s Harley Softtail
  • driving through Virginia with the mountains framed in gold
  • visiting my paternal grandparents’ graves for the first time with my aunt
  • photographing a historic Sand Oak at Westover Memorial Park Cemetery
  • standing by the Savannah River on the down side of Clarks Hill Dam
  • spending the day on the Georgia side of Clarks Hill Lake working on family history with Mom
  • watching the Vikings/Steelers game with my family
  • grits, sweet tea, barbecue hash, boiled peanuts
  • seeing the faces of my brother and mom at the airport when I land
  • talking to Liz on the new BlackBerry from Sconyer’s Bar-B-Que (she asked for hushpuppies)
  • Twittering across the Mason-Dixon line (and the rest of the 1200 mile round trip to Georgia) with the same said BlackBerry
  • photographing the October Blood Moon rising over Pennsylvania, setting over Georgia and South Carolina
  • writing haiku in the air, Minnesota to Maryland and Pennsylvania
  • watching my sister-in-law tap dance across her living room floor (and later my niece and brother’s fiancee danced across the same floor)
  • The Beatles Rock Band with my niece, nephew, and brother in his living room
  • attending a huge Halloween bash with my aunt at the Julian Smith Casino building where in the 1950’s my mother used to go to dances and work barbecues to raise money to build a local church
  • laughing with my family, North and South
  • stopping at the Pink Cadillac Diner in Virginia with Mom on the way home from Georgia





season to season
hindsight is 20/20
reflecting the past;
future remains uncertain,
jumps hoops through the looking glass




-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, October 25th, 2009

-related to posts: haiku 2 (one-a-day), WRITING TOPIC — MEMORIES OF CARS, WRITING TOPIC– ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS, you can’t go back — 15 haiku, Cassie’s Porch — Then & Now, Excavating Memories

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Gateways, Lakewood Cememtery near Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008, photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Gateways, Lakewood Cemetery near Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2008. Spring blooms in Babyland, near the Chinese Community Memorial. Photo © 2008 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.








white-belled bleeding hearts
spring sweeps through silent gateways
cemetery pause








-posted on red Ravine, Friday, May 9th, 2008

-related to post, haiku (one-a-day)

 

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Mother Mary as in a Dream, Raton, NM, photos © 2008 by
ybonesy. All rights reserved.



Last Wednesday afternoon I found myself in one of the best spots I could imagine, with my parents and oldest sister, and in the company of my beloved grandparents and best-ever uncle. We were in the cemetery in Raton, New Mexico, where Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Pat are buried.

I get my love of cemeteries from Mom. I didn’t know how much she loved them until this visit. I usually go to cemeteries with my dad; each Memorial Day we make the trek to Costilla, the place where his parents are buried. But on this particular trip Mom asked if we could stop in Raton to see her parents and brother. “I love cemeteries,” she told me as we left our relatives’ headstones and began exploring the grounds.

We walked all over the cemetery. The dry grass crackled under our feet. Most of the headstones were small and unassuming.

“Oh, there’s Joe Gourley,” Mom said. Joe was the son of a rich man in Raton, who Mom still calls “Mr. Gourley.” Joe Gourley, the son, went to war. When he came back he shot himself. Mom did the math in her head to make sure this was the right Joe Gourley, the one she knew who killed himself. “Yep, that would be about right.”

The June day my grandmother was buried here, we attended a funeral mass. According to my imperfect memory, it was a High Mass with incense and big drops of Holy water splashed in our faces. The priest, dressed in white robes and a white cap, bellowed a sermon of doom. I don’t know why this particular service seemed so gloomy to me — it was held in 1985, when I was 24 and gloomy myself — but I remember it plucked the chords of the guilt side of our Catholic faith. I felt resentful and confused. Was he talking about my grandmother or were his messages intended for us?

My relationship with Catholicism is complex, influenced, I think, by Mom’s own complex relationship with the Church. She rebelled against Dad’s absolute piety, and she strained against the rigidity — the intolerance — with which some Catholic priests ruled their parishes in those days.

If pressed, she might be apt to say something like, “I don’t believe in God.” Yet she was a believer. She was just unwilling to concede the fact.

At the rosary held for Grandma the night before her burial, Mom sat in the front right-hand side of the church. A benevolent Virgin Mary dressed in blue and white robes stood silently in the nicho of a wall facing Mom and her youngest sister, Connie. My grandmother’s death was a blow for my mother. Mom called my grandmother “Mama” up until the day she died — she still does. They were close, talking for hours each week. Mom cried and cried through the Our Fathers and Hail Marys. At one point, she peered through her veil of tears and saw that the Virgin Mary was crying, too.

“Tears came down her cheeks, we saw them!” Mom pleaded afterwards. Both she and Connie saw the tears. Later on, before the funeral mass the next day, we went to see if the Virgin Mary statue had raised porcelain tears on her cheeks. There were none. Still, I believed.


      



Beverly Donofrio in her book Looking for Mary says that when the spirit of the Virgin Mary is nearby, so too is the smell of roses. I remember Mom used to like everything — lotion, perfume, candles — that smelled of roses. Old lady smell, I always thought, even though for years of birthdays and Mother’s Days, I gave her rose-fragranced-anything-I-could-find.

I can’t recall now the last time I thought to give Mom anything having to do with roses. It’s only today that I remember how much she loved that unmistakable fragrance.


One of the photos I took on Wednesday caught my eye as I pored through the shots from that day in the cemetery. It is a small statue of Mary. She sits on the ground, a short distance from the marble headstone of the person she graces. All around the Mary statue are needles and small branches from a nearby pine. I have picked her only because of who she is, not because I know the person buried there. I have to almost lie on the grave myself to get down low enough to photograph the statue.

In the photo of her I notice a shaft of light, thin and almost imperceptible, coming down over her right eye. She is completely white, but there on that right eye is a speck of dirt exactly where her iris would be.

It is not earth-shattering. It is not the stuff that draws throngs of believers. It’s dirt and a small ray of light. It could be nothing. It’s easy to miss.

I call Mom and tell her about the photo. “Oh, really?” she says. She sounds intrigued. A lot has happened in the 23 years since her mother died. Over the years and through various family crises, my mother has turned to her imperfect faith and made it something all of us can hold on to. She prays a rosary every day. Her rebellious self has changed. You can still see remnants of it but she no longer rebels just for the sake of rebelling.

“What do you think,” she asks, “is it a little miracle?” I tell her I’m not sure but that I’ll bring by my computer so that she can see for herself. “I believe in miracles, you know,” she tells me.

I do know. I’ve never doubted that about my mom. That’s one of the gifts she gave to me and all my siblings.



Shaft of Light, Raton, NM, photos © 2008 by ybonesy.
All rights reserved.

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I’m looking at my ruddy face in a small, round, silver mirror. I look older than I remember. Thick eyebrows, salt and pepper hair; it looks the grayest to me right after a haircut. There is something about the way it lays across the black plastic smock, and falls in shredded pieces on to the floor. Accents of changing color. I don’t mind. It is my grandmother’s hair.

I have a little pouch under my chin. I hate to admit it. Blue eyes that used to be hazel. More blue with age. I don’t often look in a mirror. Once in the morning after my shower to spike my hair. I’m a fluff and blow person, not much fiddling around. I look in the mirror when I brush my teeth. That seems strange and I don’t know why I do it. I am looking into a mirror now. It was suggested in the Writing Topic on growing older; I thought it might push me (over the edge?).

The body gives out, breaks down. Elasticity is lost; wisdom gained. I don’t have a problem aging. Life is easier now than it was 20 years ago. I’m 34x happier. I worry that I won’t get everything done I want to do before I die. That goes back to the Bucket List. I don’t have any control over that. I am where I am. I’m in my 50’s.

Fifty used to seem ancient to me. Forty seemed ancient, too. I couldn’t imagine being 30. Decades have passed. The older I get, the more I know who I am. I have this theory about aging. I believe people become one of two things:  happier and more settled in who they are. Or angry and bitter. That’s black and white. I’m sure there is gray. It’s something I have noticed. And so I keep watching to prove my theory right.

Old, cranky, bitter, judging, hoarding, fighting imperfection, not able to accept that the body is aging. Graceful, happier, wiser, content with who they are, willing to not be perfect, to pass the torch, giving what they have to the next generations to come.

Maya Angelou turned 80 years old on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Do you think Martin knew he would not live to grow old? Or that Maya thought she would reach the age of 80? There were many articles written about her on April 4th. She is of the giving and wise variety. Yet she hasn’t shrunk from her responsibilities — as a woman, as a writer.

If Martin Luther King were alive, he would be one year younger than Maya. She was an aid to his cause, all those years ago. She still speaks for him through the way she lives her life. Think of everything she has seen.

I ran into a conversation between Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey. Maya, one of Oprah’s mentors, was talking about living according to your principles. She is a Clinton supporter, and under constant pressure, remains loyal to Hillary. She has written a poem for her. Oprah is outspoken for Obama. They debate, have long conversations. They each stand strong, loyal to their candidates. They are respectful. They remain friends.

You can talk about spiritual principles. Or you can live by them. Talk is easy. Cheap. Principles are the hardest to uphold when we want something. Or in the face of adversity. Angelou said courage is the most important principle – because without it, you can’t really live up to the others. We might think we want to live at all costs. And then something comes along we are willing to die for.

If you think about Dr. King, he had an offer to go back to a seminary and teach for a year right before he died. He wanted to go. To rest. But he knew it would feel like he wasn’t fulfilling his obligations. So he stayed true to his vision. And went to Memphis to support the sanitation workers. He marched at the front of the line, even though he was tired, worn out. And he dropped his head in despair when a group of young marchers at the end of the line erupted in violence. Maybe at the end, he felt old. He was not perfect. He was human.

I started thinking about Maya Angelou and Martin Luther King and their great courage. I pale in comparison. When I look at what they have each been through, I wonder why I complain about the obstacles that fall my way. But I have learned not to compare myself. Not to anyone. Not to other artists, or writers, or teachers. My demons are mine. I earned every age spot, wrinkle, and wart. I’m not young anymore. Yet I am the most alive inside I have ever felt.

Growing older — it is harder to keep the weight off. I could lose 20 pounds. You can’t see that on a blog. My friends look to my vibrant Spirit. My family loves me unconditionally. So does my partner. The mirror tells me I look sad. Tired. But my eyes are bright. My heart feels heavy. It will not last. It will pass. When I think about dying, I think about looking down on loved ones, urging them on toward their dreams, smiling, holding the space. The way my grandmothers Ada and Elise do for me.

When I visit the South with my mother, we often visit gravestones under plantation magnolias in ancient cemeteries. The history is there. We didn’t create it. But we carry it. We walk among the dead, recall living memories. The pilgrimage, for me, is to pay my respects. To those who have come before. I am in the lineage of the Southern mothers, fathers, grandfathers, great aunts, and grandmothers whose graves I visit. They are not there. My memories of them are.

I drive past the homes where relatives used to live. Some remain in the family. Some belong to complete strangers. I don’t know them. I never will. But I have to bear witness. I don’t want the dead to be forgotten. I don’t want to be forgotten. I want to be remembered. And so I remember and honor others.

Visiting graveyards, a wrinkle in time. The living commingling with the dead. It might sound morose. But I don’t think of it that way. In Kit Carson Memorial cemetery, Mabel is buried not far from the black, wrought iron around the Carson plot. She would not be amused. The more I think about it, the more I want to be scattered to the wind, high over some tiny, rocky beach on the Oregon Coast. No gravestone. No marker. I want to be remembered as a free spirit. Though no writer ever feels free.

I’m staring in the mirror again. “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

You are.


-posted on red Ravine, Friday, April 11th, 2008

-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – GROWING OLDER and the post, 40 Years

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