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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

In my last post, I mentioned that standing at ornithologist William Brewster's grave was a full-circle moment.

But that's Mt. Auburn Cemetery--full of such full circles. Like this one. How odd. A snake, eating its own tail.

And look! another one. What the heck? Back to the bricks to find out.

It's an ancient Greek symbol called an Ouroboros (from oura meaning "tail" and boros meaning "eating", thus "he who eats the tail". I was pleased that just looking at it and guessing, Hodge and I figured out what it must mean--that death is not an end but a renewal, a rebirth. Cyclicality, rebirth, re-invention. There are, of course, much more convoluted, Jungian meanings to the symbol, but we'll just leave it at that.
 A nice emblem for a mausoleum or headstone. And another thing to look for as we walk Halcyon Way. 

A feeble attempt to find out something about Lars Peter Larsen came to naught. Heck of a piece of rose quartz, though. It felt cool and soapy, utterly delightful that they left it in its uncut form, just this giant jewel dropped out of the sky with a plaque bolted to it.

And here is Charles Sumner, for whom Boston's Sumner Tunnel is named. Hodge says that 
she learned from reading David McCullough's Americans In Paris  that while studying philosophy at the Sorbonne, Sumner worked right alongside students from Africa, and had a gigantic epiphany that there could be no denying the intellectual equality of Africans, so cruelly enslaved and oppressed in his own country. He became an abolitionist and when he died, both whites and African Americans lined Boston's streets five deep to view his funeral cortege.

Hodge further advises that a congressman from South Carolina clocked Charles Sumner in the Senate chambers with a cane in 1856, a blow from which he never fully recovered. Here's to mouthy abolitionists. 

So many good, good people. So humbling, to stand above them.

All that, and Japanese Stewartia, too. Glorious bark, at its best in winter. 

 This one, planted in 1939 (!) to honor Ann Silverman Sheingold, Wife-Mother-Mentor-Friend. We'll leave it at that. Oh, all right. She was a therapist and clinical social worker, born in 1930, who passed away in 1995. Teacher and lecturer, too. A lovely tree in her memory. Stewartia pseudocamellia.

  I'm just trying to figure out how the tree could have gotten planted to honor her when she was nine. Maybe you can buy the right to put a plaque on an especially awesome tree that happens to be growing at Mt. Auburn, to honor a loved one after the fact. I'd pick a bendy old Japanese maple, that's what I'd pick. Put me under one o' them. 

On second thought, after a bit of shuffling around, I found this photo taken near Asheville NC of Phoebe with a Stewartia in full bloom. Good Grief!! I didn't even know what I was shooting at the time. Thought it was a real camellia. Nope. Stewartia. By gum. What a tree. Now I know what I want for my birthday...

Hmm. Still...maybe I'll have someone plant out one of my old bonsais in the orchard when I shoot through. I've been tending them for 30 years...just put them to bed for the winter...what tree could be nearer to my heart?

I know just the guy to do it. He should be digging a little better by then.

Life--when well-lived, it's full of ouroboros. Your challenge: Use my new favorite word in a sentence today.


Wow! I so much enjoy your cemetery posts. Photos of grave markers of my ancestors and heroic historical figures. I recently read American's in Paris too and loved it!

Oh, help! I have to DFA myself here! While Sumner did indeed study medicine while he was in Paris, it turns out that his revelation about the fallacy of Americans' attitude toward blacks (and his epiphany that the notion of any intellectual inferiority of Africans was contrary "to the true nature of things") was the result of his studies at the Sorbonne. Philosophy was the subject of the day, not anatomy. My bad.

Also, for the record, Sumner was the voice of the abolitionist movement who got clobbered in the US Senate chambers in 1856 by a congressman from South Carolina with a cane. Never fully recovered, so the story goes.

As to Sumnmer's funeral, I've twice heard David McCullough tell the story of the streets of Boston and Cambridge being lined with citizens as his casket passed from Copley Square to the Mt. Auburn Cemetery. McCullough does not mention that event in his book, however--he saves that story for folks like us in the greater Boston area who have no idea what the guy who got a tunnel to Logan Airport named for himself did to deserve that honor. I suspect it was both blacks and whites, lining the streets, on that day.

Oh, and guess who Sumner hung around in Paris with? Thomas Appleton, he of the snake-eating-its-tail-with-wings memorial at the MtA. Son of Samuel Appleton.

The snakes and the seasons, they go round and round.


Posted by KHMacomber November 29, 2011 at 7:48 AM

DFA being Deadly Family Accuracy, right?
The oral tradition at work. Things get a little disremembered...

Now wondering whether to rewrite the durn post or let your correction carry the day.

Hmm. (drums fingers, Pooh style, sighs, hits Edit Blogspot...)

This is the other reason why our Reese's taste so good--we both have an almost freakish addiction to the truth. I had him as William Sumner until I caught it this morning! Derr!

Love you Hodge!

Actually, the DFA accusation card should only be played when someone, generally a family member, corrects you in mid-story with a factoid that is of no consequence to the grand arc of your tale. Setting Charles Sumner's story straight is the right thing to do, especially since his is a biography we should know by heart, but don't.

That said, I'm sure I was sketchy about what CS was doing in Paris back in the 1800s when we had that conversation. So no misremembering on your part, Miz JZ. Just fuzzy misinformation from me.

Sorry for serving up truthy almost- facts, and not solid research. I owe you some Halloween candy.

Posted by KHMacomber November 29, 2011 at 8:43 AM

a post filled with so many splendid things--cemetery with people and tombs to ponder, specimen plants to yearn for and my favorite---your beautiful children

My father-in-law once said, "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story," when people would interrupt a story being told.

......although I always appreciate the accuracy of a good story.

I am enjoying the stories you've researched beyond the headstones and trees.

Wayne, PA

Posted by Anonymous November 29, 2011 at 8:09 PM

Ouroboros carry many things like O'tools.

Hi Julie,

I am enjoying your photos and thoughts about Mt. Auburn Cemetery. Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, near me, was built on that model and it is a wonderful place for walking, thinking, and bird-watching. I write a blog about urban wildlife, . I am just getting to the stage of exchanging links and I am writing to ask if you would like to do that. I would be thrilled to be on your blog list and very happy to list yours. Please take a look at my blog and see if you think it is a good fit. Let me know? Best, Julie

p.s. We have spoken (electronically) before, when I was having trouble signing up to follow your blog -- Russ Galen is my agent too. :)

With great pleasure, Julie. You have a terrific blog. It's all about noticing, isn't it? Thanks for the suggestion!


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