Closing the distance

Long, narrow lake runs alongside one side of the Ocean View Cemetery. (There is no ocean view, but the lake is nice πŸ™‚ )

I’ve been yearning for a way to get out of the house safely, other than to wander around in my yard. A friend was explaining how he takes care of gravestones in the military section of a cemetery. In my mind I imagined a cemetery as a pretty empty place. At least, above ground. In other words, it occurred to me that spending some time at a cemetery would not expose myself or others to COVID-19. And my friend agreed that to be responsible, we could visit together and keep our distance from each other. While we living folks kept eyeballing the six feet between us, we closed the distance between the people interred there, and ourselves. We honored them by thinking about them, putting together puzzle pieces of their lives, acknowledging their humanity.

The idea came up because I was on a harangue about moles tearing my land to bits. He said moles were bad in the military section of the cemetery near his house. We made a plan that we’d meet up at the cemetery. I would show him how I find underground tunnels and bait them with poisoned worms. In exchange, he’d show me how he cleans the gravestones.

Our vehicles parked at the cemetery. The upright stones in the lower left are from the Civil War. Across the road between the cars and the lake to the right are all military graves.
More Civil War headstones in the foreground.
Looking up toward the weak April sun made silhouettes of everything.

We spent a good two hours placing worms. He was a quick learner and I think we have done some serious damage to the mole population in that part of the cemetery. I kept trying to remember to ask him to take a photo of me, but I kept forgetting. I have no photos at all of myself or of the worm/mole operations.

If you’re gentle-hearted, you need to understand that my blog is not the safest place for you. The last time I posted about killing moles, a long-time subscriber stopped following my blog because of the casual way I approached the murder of other beings. In that post I was also killing fleas on the cat, as well as rats, that I thought at the time were murdering my chickens. There was also a heron murdering frogs for its supper. In a way it was a violent post. To reiterate: killing is periodically discussed in this blog. Sometimes I’m the one doing it, most of the time I’m watching wild animals ravage each other. But either way, it’s just how my blog is, and I expect it to continue this way.

The weather turned out to be great for our volunteer work. It was cloudy and about 40 degrees F (4.4 C), and I started out in a winter coat. But the work kept me just active enough, and the sun poked a few rays out every so often, that I ended up taking off the coat and tossing it to the ground. I had snow boots and gloves on, to help with blood flow in the extremities.

Next he showed me the steps for clearing up a gravestone. Most of the stones in this section of the cemetery are the gravestones provided by the Veterans Administration, designed to lie flat, so a lawnmower can easily keep the grass trimmed. As the years go by, the grass grows and eventually covers up the stones. He chose three in a row that had a story. I’ll let you try and guess the story first, and I’ll tell you later on.

My cemetery volunteering friend has the routine figured out. First cut through the sod.
Then grab the strips of sod and tear it out.
Sometimes the sod clung so fiercely, he had to use the tool to wrench the sod away from the stone.
Then he cleared up all the loose dirt and roots.
A volunteer hard at work on a chilly April day.

While he was doing the slow and physical task of tearing out unwanted sod, I took photos. It’s a lovely cemetery. Birds were enjoying the lake, but every time I pointed my lens at the water, the birds took off. I got a view blurry distant shots of the ducks. I wasn’t that interested in the Canada Geese until I spotted a solo one under a tree beside the shore.

Ducks entertained me while my friend dug the stones out from under lawn creep.
The white and black is striking on these male bufflehead ducks.
Male bufflehead on the left and female on the right.
Photogenic Canada Goose catches my eye.

After he moved on to the next stone, I got to work on the first one. I grabbed his bucket of supplies and began brushing, then scrubbing. I took the empty bucket down to the lake and got water to rinse the stones off afterward.

On the left of Gordon’s stone was this one.
On the left of Doris’s stone was this one.
This is what Richard’s stone looked like after we were both done with it. Richard E. Zimmerle. Army Technician Fourth Grade in World War II. He died in 1987 at the age of 67.

So what do you think of their story?

Doris and Richard have a baby boy (just one child? – there is no room saved for more graves at this spot). Gordon looks up to his dad and joins the Army to make Richard and Doris proud. And they are. And just like that, pfffft… Gordon’s life is snuffed out. Richard and Doris carry on, but Richard eventually dies. And Doris, the only one who isn’t noted to have military service, is granted the honor of lying between her two men in death.

Here are Richard, Doris, and Gordon together, beside the lake.
My friend showed me his favourite stone at this cemetery, which we also scrubbed up. Robert Marlyn Miller has a remarkable story. You can see some of it right here. First of all, born on the 4th of July, are you kidding me? But this Marine died at age 19, on the first day of the American Invasion of Iwo Jima. It’s a full tragedy in a dozen words.

We spent 4 1/2 hours there yesterday. We saw some people, mostly people out getting exercise in groups of two or three. A couple showed up to honor a stone up on the hill near us. We called Hi from a distance. I never even hugged my friend hello, which is weird, because I’m a hugger. But I was crouched on the grass with my hands in the dirt for 4 1/2 hours, and that was physical touch coming from the veterans, so it was ok.

13 thoughts on “Closing the distance

  1. Wow! I love the acts of service that people are doing during this time of isolation and worry. Thank you for your service here and in the past. Good on ya, my friend.

    1. Oh, thank you. It was a great activity because I got out of my house, it was healthy to breathe in some fresh air and feel safe, and also I was honoring the memory of veterans who had died. I’m grateful to my friend, who was the impetus for doing this. It’s his volunteer work that influenced me.

  2. I cannot express how much this means to the descendants and other relatives of these people. My first Cherokee ancestors in Indian Territory are buried in a very old small cemetery southwest of Nowata, OK – β€œCoker Cemetery.” My 2G Grandparents and all of their children (except my G Grandmother) are buried there. I had seen pictures of the headstones on FindAGrave and they were in terrible shape. One was even broken into 2 pieces lying on the ground. Imagine my surprise when I visited Coker Cemetery a few years ago to discover these headstones had been restored! I later discovered who had done the work and the Cherokee Nation had paid for it under a program they have. So, thank you very much for doing this and sharing it with us!

    1. Thank you very much David for contributing the perspective of a descendant. While cleaning the stones, we had several conversations about who might be related to the interred, whether they might be local, and whether they might care if the gravestones are being looked after. It feels really good to hear that you definitely care. And WHAT a story David! It was likely very emotional to find that someone had restored and cared for the gravesites of your relatives. After the fact, I added the full names on these gravestones to my blog search terms, so that someone searching online for these names will be able to find this post.

  3. Oh, Crystal, what a wonderful experience, and location, and occupation, and report. ❀ And stories! And ducks! We don't have cemeteries like this, we confine our graves behind the fence. You did a great job, for them and yourself. Just beautiful.

    1. Thank you my friend. I worried a lot that readers would be unhappy with me for this whole thing because I left my house. Your country has suffered some of the worst stories of all, and I’m relieved that your feedback isn’t to tell me how irresponsible I was. I trust your judgement on this more than some others. So now I am relieved. πŸ™‚

      I’m glad you list “stories” as one thing that came out of this. I’ve been thinking of that a lot lately. In my mind, our stories are critical to our humanity. We need to hear them from others, we need to tell our own (with cameras, or with music, with writing, or voices), we use stories to agree on how an event happened and what it means. I’m waiting for the pandemic 2020 stories that we use to decide how to categorize this whole thing. Does that make sense? I’m being a little existential maybe. Because nothing stops at facts. It’s the stories we tell ourselves that are what we carry forward, and the most important “facts” will be how we agree to tell the pandemic story to ourselves in the future. I’m hopeful about that story, but it’s early yet, and I’m just waiting to see what it will be.

      1. Quite… Stories We Tell is also an amazing film by Sarah Polley. I suppose there will be as many stories as there are us, and it’s on us to come up with a good one. As for going out – I think it’s crucial that we do or we’ll go crazy. You found a wonderful, useful, unobtrusive way of doing it. We are lucky, with greenery and much of nothing but nature around us (at least over here, your area is probably a bit more populated than ours). All well to all of us! ❀

  4. Yes, you left your house, you got fresh air, paid respect to departed veterans and did a good service with your friend at a distance. Nothing reproachable here. As for murdering things, it’s part of life and was not done with malice, only balance. My friend, Eddie Two Hawks said we are allowed to defend ourselves and our home. You are not in need of that kind of follower. I can be quite the softy about killing too but for goodness sake already. Let it be. I’ve hired someone to get rid of moles on my property before. They leave ankle breaking holes in the yard. Had to do something because the dog was bringing them in the living room half eaten and they were making her sick. I just go for a walk up the same hills and back. We all need a change of scenery soon.

    1. Oh, I like the way Eddie Two Hawks looked at it: defense of the home is allowed. Probably defense of the person and loved ones too. I’m again so grateful for my particular position in life during all this. It has been warm enough that my enormous lawn needs cut now. I’ve been spending hours on that, and weeding the flower garden, and also spray painting a new bathroom cabinet – outside so no one has to breathe the fumes. All is well here. I can also do my walks, but I was feeling icky for a couple days. I’m better now and the symptoms never matched corona, so I’m less nervous about it now too. The consensus is allergies because I was mowing!! ha ha πŸ™‚

      1. It is allergy season and the changes in weather patterns do affect our bodies. I had a hard time feeling unwell all last weekend. Sugar! It runs me. ;( Need to wear a mask when mowing! Please.

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