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My Mount Auburn

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One of the places that got me through college was Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was my quiet place, my green open space, and the beautiful monuments were part of a landscape that inspired peace and contemplation in me--something I sorely needed as a break from dorm life. Now, when I visit Cambridge, I leave a day to walk there with my dear dear friend Kris, who gathers up all the best little bits of the cemetery and gives them to me as she hurries from stone to stone, lightmoment to lightmoment.

Now Kris is very camera-shy, and she has perfected a quick sidestep when one is pointed even remotely in her direction, but I lured her into a photo under the pretense of showing her what the Canon G-11 (now G-12) can do. Hah. Gotcha, little elf.

I have been to Mount Auburn in almost every atmospheric condition; fog, rain, summer light and autumn gold; even winter's monochrome, but I never want to go there again without Kris. It would be like going with my eyes closed.

We always visit the argonaut. No, ammonite, says the ever alert Boneman. Science Chimp, Chimped! What a lovely thing to make of stone.

Here it is in October. His spouse, with oak leaves and a shamrock. All these recurring natural motifs have meaning, much of it lost on us modern mortals. I love looking at them and wondering, knowing there are years of study in unraveling it all.

I love Mount Auburn in all seasons. But  my October visit there was beyond perfect. Kris and I were skipping all our Class of 1980 activities, all the panels and encounter groups, to make our own kind of  spiritual journey, and pay homage to our favorite space in this fairest of fair cities. It had to be done. The bluegold day, the shaded passages, the glimmering leaves were calling us.

I pressed my lens up against stone Mary, her delicate features protected by her rock-hard hood,

and clucked over poor noseless Jesus. Acid urban rains have not been kind to him. There is a sense, looking at these monuments so clearly meant to last forever, that they will not be here that much longer. A sense that they need to be appreciated now, while they still may be read and deciphered.

For here are some of the finest examples of the stonecarver's art, standing out in the hard rain and snow. This Civil War tableau ripples with fluid, artfully draped life, yet is hard, frozen to the touch. I borrowed this winter shot from an earlier visit, because I love this so much.

And the dogs. The faithful graveyard dogs. I always well up as I lay my hand on their cool stone craniums, murmur my greeting to them.

A fool for animals, whether living or graven.

Especially ones that wait alert for their loved one's return, all year round. 

Perhaps one day there will be a Boston terrier of stone on a little plot in Whipple, Ohio. Or, as I think about it,  a stone Zick, recumbent but alert, on an even smaller plot. Come on, Baker. Let's go for a run, see what's doin' in the Whipple cemetery.


This is lovely, Julie.
I need to walk to our little patch as well. The simple sayings there, chosen as the statement of the life lived.
A great place to get lost in thoughts.
Or maybe to find yourself.
Thank you.

Old cemeteries are one of my favorite places as well. There is one across the street from where I used to work and I went over there frequently. I would like one of the inscriptions there on my tombstone one day. It says, "She hath done what she could." I'd like that, but would add a second line. "And some things she shouldn't." There is a book called "Stories in Stone" that tells the meaning of the symbols on the stones.

You and I have something in common. I also ditched my 30th college reunion last fall in favor of attending some art classes with a college roommate. We couldn't justify spending all that money to hang out with people we didn't remember!

Old cemeteries are a favorite haunt of mine as well. In college in East TN there was a lovely one up the hill from my dorm...I'd walk up there to breath and look at the Smokey Mountains. I especially liked it in winter when the rare snow would blanket the ground and the peace and quiet would over take my world.
Thanks for bringing back those memories...

Thanks, Julie. We have some lovely old burial plots here in NJ. One of my favorites is in Cape May Courthouse, the Wiley family plot with about three hundred or four hundred years worth of Wileys and descendants gathered under an oak that was old when the plot started.

I would have called your argonaut an ammonite.

Ammonite, ammonite, yes that's it! Thank you, Silverback Science Chimp.

Thank you for this post Julie. It's always a gift to see a slice of life through your eyes and heart. Highlight of the day.

Oh, my beating heart....I mean this is the best of ways. This post calls for comment since it touches the soul, but I have no words. I wish I could sing. Or, better, I will pray in thanksgiving for those passed on, and those to come, human and animal.

I have always loved visiting Manzanita Cemetery near my parents' house outside of Lincoln, CA. There are some amazing tombstones and statues. I doubt it is anything as spectacular as I remember it. They recently had some vandalism that broke hundreds of tombstones and even knocked over some of the bigger obelisks. Incredibly sad to hear about a piece of history being desecrated. I don't think I want to visit again so I choose to see it in my mind the way I remember it. It is a fantastic birding spot.

I love cemeteries. When I was younger, I would take a pencil and paper and do rubbings of the old graves to read the dates.

Posted by Kelly Hendrix January 4, 2011 at 5:19 PM

I seek out cemeteries too. I feel a peace there that I don't find anywhere else.
Your photo of Mother Mary is so soft and beautiful. I would love to touch that carving.

Oh my thank you so much for taking me back..I too loved Mt Auburn and spent many hours there when I lived nearby off Mass Ave on the Cambridge/Watertown/Belmont line.

Posted by Anonymous January 5, 2011 at 7:47 AM

Hi Julie,

I, too, love Mount Auburn Cemetary. I lived in Somerville for about 20 years before moving back to the Keene, NH area 11 years ago, but I still head down to see friends and to wander through the cemetary. Beautiful, tranquil place at any time of year. Great birding! And I'm sure you've heard of the Virtual Birder Mt. Auburn tour, right? Here's the link: . It's great fun!
Thanks for a great post!

Posted by Carol Powley January 5, 2011 at 9:44 AM

In honor of this post, I took a walk to the Mt. Auburn today--where, I can assure you, all is calm, all is bright. And white, and frozen over. And as advertised in this post, lovely and delightful in all seasons, and all meteorological conditions.

And while I'm delighted to be named your your Mt. Auburn muse, JZ, I have to confess to your readership that my expertise and observational skills are limited to the trees and man-made elements of that hallowed ground. Things that stay put, in other words. Which I'm sure is why what I remember most about our visit in October is your uncanny ability to peer high into the sky and instantly identify the slightest fingernail of a raptor silhouetted far above us. Hey, I'd be a really good birder too, if I always had you at my side, crying out "Sharp-shinned! Coopers! Kestrel!" on demand. Fortunately for me, the trees and gravestones stay still, don't require binoculars, and have actual labels. You'll know everything I know in about three more visits. Rest assured it will be my delight to impart my entirely finite cache of Mt. Auburn knowledge to you, dear Julie. xox Hodge/Kris

Posted by Anonymous January 5, 2011 at 7:01 PM
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