Life at the Cemetery

Cemeteries throughout history have been called cities of the dead (necropolis), but one of the reasons I like to spend time in them while still moving and breathing is related to the fact that they abound with life.

As stated before, graveyards tend to be verdant oases that provide habitat for many animals, and Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs is no exception. I don’t want to belittle the sadness, sorrow, and longing we feel when we pay respect at the final resting places of our loved ones, but, at the same time, it’s a solace to be surrounded by signs that speak to us of aliveness.

The cycles of the seasons are echoed by the changing vegetation. Am I alone in finding consolation in the notion that my grave will, in turns, be covered with a soft blanket of snow in winter, a fragrant carpet of petals in spring, lush meadows in summer, and desiccating, crunchy leaves in autumn? That my limbs might grow into those of a tree and that those tree limbs will provide shelter and sustenance to countless creatures? That rabbits and deer will munch on the grasses I sprout and squirrels will play hide and seek in the canopy above me? That migratory birds will find rest and rations to fuel their journey? That the wind will whistle and the birds will serenade my eternal slumber?

Again, I harbor no death wish, but to know that our bodies are part of an intricate cycle and will be recycled into new life and energy might be a source of comfort. Mind you, I speak of our mortal shells only. What happens to our souls we have endeavored to comprehend ever since we have been endowed with the capacity for complex thought, but the mystery will remain until we find out—or not.

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Memento Mori

I don’t particularly harbor a death wish—far from it—and had planned this post long before current events unfolded and gave us more reminders of our mortality than we would ever want. Some people avoid cemeteries, but others gravitate toward them (even while still alive). One reason I like to spend time there is related to my favorite pastime: birding. As most graveyards are verdant oases and provide habitat for much avian life, it’s not unusual for birders to frequent them.

While human cacophony and chaos are ubiquitous, they tend to spare memorial parks, perhaps out of some underlying tacit acknowledgment that our dead deserve peace and quiet. Or because of an inherent human tendency to avoid reminders of our impermanence and finiteness. And while I’m not particularly fond of my own, I am attracted by the stillness and serenity that tend to shroud cemeteries.

My personal interest in history and desire to seek out the final resting places of persons whose life stories have touched me adds another motivation to visit. 220-acre Evergreen Cemetery was founded in 1871, and while young by European standards, its tangle of tombs tells ample tales.

Regardless of who we are, whether we end up in a pauper’s grave or a fancy mausoleum, whether we are believers in an afterlife or in complete oblivion, whether we are cremated or left to return to the elements out of which we were made, burial grounds remind me of our shared humanity and fate, a realization I find strangely consoling.

Because birds and other animals have no compunctions about spending time in necropolises, and populate them naturally and actively, and because the local vegetation reflects nature’s cycles and the passing of the seasons, I find comfort in the pulsating life force that is everywhere in evidence, some of which I will share with you next week.

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