Musings on life, death, and wildlife (and Prince)

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

Exploring a ravine at Mt. Hope Cemetery.

When I heard the news that Prince had died, I was in the cemetery. I’d been there for hours with my sister Jackie and my friend Linsay, exploring the hills and dales, and mostly tracking critters . We spotted groundhogs, remarked on the number of chipmunks, stumbled (literally) upon a Prehistoric looking amphibian, and investigated critter dens.

A most unusual amphibian.

A most unusual amphibian.

Can you find the critter in this photo?

Can you find the critter in this photo?

We made some unusual discoveries. I learned, for example, that in Scotland, where Linsay is from, there are no critters like groundhogs or chipmunks; in fact, other than Pepe LePew, she’s never seen a skunk. Or smelled one. That led to a discussion about removing skunk smell with tomato juice, which sounds really weird to someone who’s never smelled a skunk.

We also found parts of old caskets that critters had dragged to the surface, handles of varying shapes and sizes scattered here and there in the cemetery, and we imagined what life underground must be like for a groundhog.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

Casket hardware outside another groundhog hole, in a different section of the cemetery.

I’d met a groundhog a few days earlier, sitting for 45 minutes next to his den to see if he’d emerge. He did, slowly. When he was fully exposed, we considered each other. Then he retreated down the hole and I went home. I’ve been thinking ever since about what it must be like underground, among the caskets and remains, what the groundhogs and chipmunks disturb, and if anyone minds.

It took 45 minutes and a lot of sweet talking, but I coaxed a groundhog, lovingly dubbed Vincent Van Gopher, out of his hole.

It took 45 minutes and a lot of sweet talking, but I coaxed a groundhog, lovingly dubbed Vincent Van Gopher, out of his hole.

That’s the beauty of exploring a cemetery like this. With 196 acres to ramble over, you’re bound to find fascinating things everywhere you look.

On this afternoon, we climbed another rise to checkout a plot that Linsay was curious about. It was unusual, both in the number of headstones and the way they were laid out.

The Allen family plot.

The Allen family plot.

We spent some time looking for names and dates so I could do some research later, when I saw another headstone in different plot and wandered over. It’s newer, the name “Hannan” carved into the stone, with an epitaph that reads, “Now I know something you don’t.”

Hannan tombstone

Hannan tombstone

I’ve always wondered: is that meant as a reply to a know it all? Or is it simply a statement of fact, that whoever lies under that stone has knowledge of what happens after the last breath, knowledge that the reader of the epitaph can’t possibly imagine?

As I read the stone aloud, my sister checked her phone. “Oh my gosh, Prince died.” Prince who? “Prince. The musician. Prince.”

We all were in shock, but especially Linsay and my sister, who are music fans with a deep knowledge of artists and songs and albums. They go to concerts. They know music.

My music is all about memories, and Purple Rain is filled with them. I don’t know much beyond that, specifically. I could tell you if I like a song but not albums or years or collaborators. But despite my lack of knowledge about music, I’ve always had profound respect for Prince. To say he was brilliant? Even I knew that.

We talked for a moment about how Linsay would never see him in concert now, and my sister said that’s why she’s seen Paul McCartney three times, because she wanted to do it while she had the chance. I said I’ve always wanted to see Barry Manilow but I hate crowds so I never will.

But Prince? That would have been a show. What a shame.

As we talked, I moved to a different headstone and read the epitaph aloud, the words a fitting tribute in the moment of loss we were wrestling with: “This was no ordinary life. This was a life well-lived. A life that will be deeply missed.”

Mt Hope Linsay Jackie skull bones groundhogs 132 (2)

The epitaph on the headstone of Philip Chesler.

As we walked away, Linsay and Jackie sang lyrics from Prince songs and hummed melodies, and I thought once more about the circle of life and death in a cemetery, where among the dead we hear news of the dead, and ponder our own lives. And then we went to trek another groundhog.

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