Tag Archives: White Haven

The circle of life in a cemetery

The colors are still brilliant on this beautiful November morning.

The colors are still brilliant on this beautiful November morning as we walked in the cemetery.

Walking the dogs this morning, I was musing over the life and death of a cemetery.

I walk in several cemeteries, from historic Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY, with its hills and dales, forests and lawns, prominent residents, and myriad headstones and monuments, to a small rural cemetery in Pittsford, NY, much smaller but no less interesting.

But the cemetery where I walk most often is White Haven Memorial Park. It’s close to my house, and because it’s a lawn park layout – open spaces and no headstones, only flat markers in the ground – it’s the perfect place to work with my dog Bailey, who has struggled with reactivity issues. We can walk here with few distractions, and the maintenance workers are patient as I’ve worked to counter-condition the dog to the sound of their work carts and machines.

Plus, the chipmunk and squirrel population is far smaller here than in the more forest-like cemeteries.

bandit bailey white haven 018smaller

White Haven Memorial Park in Pittsford, NY (c) 2015 Joanne Brokaw

So while I love meandering in the older, more historic or unusual cemeteries, and do so when I have hours to kill, when we just need to stretch our legs, the dogs and I head to White Haven.

And on a walk today, it struck me how the circle of life is played out in a cemetery.

It’s a gorgeous day here in Western NY, early November and temperatures in the 70s. But even with the sun shining bright in the sky, it’s clear life itself is winding down for a season.

white haven tree 3 nov4 2015

The trees are reluctant to shed their leaves.

The trees, so green and lush in the summer, began changing colors a few weeks ago, brilliant colors that were almost too beautiful to look at. Now, they’re in varying stages of undress, reluctantly shedding their leaves as winter approaches.

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, October 23, 2015

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, October 23, 2015

At White Haven, there’s a tree I call the Heart Tree. A week or so ago, it was alive with color. Today, it stands naked.

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, November 3, 2015

The Heart Tree at White Haven Memorial Park, November 3, 2015

White Haven is also an Audubon Nature Habitat. In the back part of the cemetery area has unmowed fields and a forest with walking trails. There’s a natural burial area where cremated remains are buried with wildflower seeds, the dead bringing forth life in every spring.

bailey bandit white haven leaves 023smaller

White Haven’s fields and nature trails (c) 2015 Joanne Brokaw

Throughout the main part of the cemetery, deer often roam the manicured acres, likely lured by the fruit trees that have dropped piles of cherries and are now laden with apples. At other cemeteries where we walk, squirrels and chipmunks are also rampant, scurrying around the headstones and up the trees with nuts and other nourishment to carry them through the winter.

Apple tree at White Haven Memorial Park.

The apple trees are laden with fruit at the cemetery. (c) 2015 Joanne Brokaw

This morning, birds sing the song of fall as we walked, and kept a watchful eye over the mourners who sat in solitary lawn chairs under the bright morning sun, the dew glistening on the graves of those slumbering beneath.

In a few weeks, all will be barren as winter sets in, ushering in a time for rest and reflection. In the spring, the cycle will begin again. Eggs will hatch and birds will fledge, trees will bud and flowers bloom, and new life once again emerge from winter’s night, guided by the spirits of those have gone before.


Life in the cemetery (fall foliage pictures)

Mt. Hope Cemetery – and wildlife habitat


Another rant about off leash dogs and I ponder why the leash lawbreakers get to run the show

The dog owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That's as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming loose in the cemetery.

The dog has finally left us alone and gone to sniff the wreaths. The dog’s owner is barely visible in the picture, far to the right. That’s as close as she got to her dog, which was roaming around off leash.

Disclaimer: I am about to rant. And rant in a way that you may think is petty. If you think I’m petty then this post is probably meant for you. 

So I’m at White Haven today, in the “Little Lambs” section, pondering the graves of the three infant children of a couple named Michael and Molly Nier, whose  infant daughter and two infant sons died within a three year period, when I hear a woman’s voice behind me say something that sounds like, “Uh oh”.

I love walking in this particular cemetery, because it’s safe and quiet and solemn. I like the tranquility. I think, I pray, I write in my head. I read the headstones and talk to the cemetery workers. I listen to the birds and take pictures of the foliage. It’s a little sanctuary. And the best part is that I can walk Bailey there with relative assurance that we’re not going to be surprised by other dog walkers. It’s not the case with the other places where I can walk Bandit.

Bailey, in case you don’t know, has some reactivity issues with other dogs. As in, if approached by a strange dog she may react in a way that causes harm to the other dog or anyone trying to separate them. It’s a behavior problem we’ve worked with in training, and we have learned to manage the situations as well as help her learn how to manage her impulses. She’s made incredible progress. I mean, really incredible. And now she even does really well in organized situations with other dogs. She can go to classes with other dogs. She can meet another dog nicely and then we do a  quick “break!” and she comes back nicely. We always work on this with another behavior-savvy dog owner whose dog is on leash.

Notice that I say “organized” situations. Surprises, like a strange dog bounding at us from out the blue? Not such a happy scenerio.  Bailey can start out happy and wiggling her butt with joy, but in an instant things can go very, very wrong, and if the other dog is off leash, there’s no way to call it off Bailey.

Translation: when my dog is on leash, I have control over her. When your dog is off leash, you not only can’t control your dog but you cause major problems for me.  Because at no time do I ever have any control over your dog.

Which is why walking at White Haven is so great for both dogs. It’s really close to home, so I can take one dog for a walk, then go home and switch. (Yes, Bailey’s issues extend to her brother Bandit. They are always separated by gates in our house. They can walk perfectly fine together as long as one person walks one dog and they don’t have to ride together in the car.) There are very few places in this cemetery where we can’t see into the distance, giving me a chance to avoid funerals, other walkers, and one maintenance golf cart that for some reason Bailey really doesn’t like. Bandit? No problems walking anywhere. You just have to make sure he doesn’t pee on everything in sight.

So there’s some background. Now, back to this afternoon.

I’d already walked Bailey, gone home to switch dogs, had walked with Bandit and am now on my way back to my car.  And again, I’m standing in the infant section for several minutes, really taking time to read the headstones and wonder about this couple and their loss, when I hear someone behind me.

I turn around and find a big, slobbering (literally, slobber just falling from its mouth) Golden Retriever headed towards me and Bandit. I tell Bandit, “No, no, no, no,” pull his leash tight to me and call to the woman to get her dog. She kind of lollygags where she is, about 20 feet away, calling to the dog, who blatantly ignores her. I call, “Get your dog!” Nothing. I yell louder, “Get your dog! This is very dangerous!” She ignores me while her dog ignores her.

OK, I know that you’re thinking, “I get how this would be a problem with Bailey, since you just told me about her issues. But Bandit is the good dog. And this is just a big, stupid Golden. What’s the problem?”

As nice as Bandit is, he’s not always a fan of other dogs. But at least he’s predictable, in the way most dogs are predictable. At this moment, Bandit is sniffing the slobbering dog but I can see his ears going back and his eyes narrowing and I know that some snapping may ensue if the Golden comes any closer to me. Bandit likes a buffer zone between me and anyone else, two- or four-legged. He’ll send out serious warning signals if he thinks someone is going to violate that zone or otherwise just pisses him off. But I don’t know what this other dog is going to do if Bandit reacts that way. I mean, my dog looks all nice and friendly at this point, too. And Bailey can’t read other dogs’ signals so I know from experience that it can be all happy tail wagging one minute and blood the next. This dog’s owner is clearly clueless; I can only assume her dog is, too.

Translation: a smart dog owner knows their own dog but is always be prepared for the worst from someone else’s dog.

I call again to the woman, “This is really dangerous!! Get your dog!!!” The woman puts her hand to her ear to imply she can’t hear me. I yell louder. She ignores me, her dog ignores her, and I’m getting more and more pissed off by the second. I’m walking away with Bandit but the Golden is following along.

I yell to the woman that she needs to keep her dog ON THE LEASH so I stop walking, and, to make a point, hold her dog’s collar for a second and tell her to come and get her dog. She tells me to leave her dog alone. I let go and basically scream (yup, at the top of my lungs), “PUT YOUR DOG ON A LEASH”. She tells me I don’t have to talk to her like that.

I pull out my cell phone and contemplate calling 9-1-1. My heart is pounding, because I know that this scenerio could go completely awry in an instant if Bandit snaps at this dog and it freaks in return. If that happens, the owner has no way to pull her dog back, mostly owing to the fact that it’s not only off leash but she’s still about 20 feet away. Do I keep walking and have her dog follow? Do I stand there and wait until her dog decides to leave, hoping that Bandit loses interest?

And running through my mind? “God, if I had Bailey with me, this would be really, really bad.” Continue reading

Life in the cemetery (fall foliage pictures)

Foliage at Mt. Hope Cemeter, where I often walk Bandit.

I spend a lot of time walking in the cemetery. One of our dogs, Bailey, is dog reactive so it’s difficult to find places where we can walk and not feed her excitement. It’s been two years of training and practice and lots and lots of patience.

The more new experiences she has, the less reactive she gets. But it’s difficult to find places where we can walk and not run into off leash dogs. (See my discussion about the leash law.) So we walk in the local memorial park and small historic cemetery (with permission, and obeying the leash and ‘pick up after your dog’ rules, of course). It’s quiet, there’s a lot for Bailey to see and sniff, and we’ve made friends with the guys who work at one of the cemeteries. She’s acclimated to the machinery (we click and treat while we watch them dig graves) and the workers are friendly with both dogs. It’s a great place to train and walk.

Bailey and I on the nature trail at White Haven Memorial Park. Not only is the cemetery a lovely park-like setting that’s perfect to walk a reactive dog (no surprises), there’s a beautiful nature trail.

In fact, Bandit gets his walks in cemeteries as well, so we’re familiar faces at several places around town. It’s great exercise for the dogs and a nice way for me to get fresh air and contemplate deep things.

Bailey’s exposure to new places has to happen slow, and we need to stay in relatively calm areas. So we stick to the cemeteries where she goes often and where I can see in the distance in every direction. And where the squirrel population is relatively low. It’s a delicate balance of new experiences, maintaining calm, and getting exercise.

Mt. Hope Cemetery is a wildlife sanctuary. I spent a bit of time with this critter. Someone called him a whistle pig and said if I whistled he would have stood up for me. I was pretty close; I preferred him in his critter hole.

But Bandit gets along just about anywhere, so we spend lots of time at Mt. Hope Cemetery, in the city of Rochester. It’s an historic place, where Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass are at rest, along with more than 300,000 residents asleep in Jesus over 196 acres.

Mt. Hope is a certified wildlife sanctuary; when I’m with a dog I see squirrels and birds and chipmunks. But I’ve gone a few times sans four-legged companion, and been surprised by deer and quite a long visit with a ground hog.

Walking through the cemetery, I came upon five deer. They were eating grass and generally just hanging around among the headstones. We spent about half an hour together before they meandered off. It was awesome.

Spending time among the deer – while school groups of kids and cars passed by regularly just yards away – was one of my highlights walking in Mt. Hope Cemetery this year.

Mt. Hope in particular is my favorite place in the whole city and I wanted to share these pictures with you. If you get a chance, take a walk through a cemetery. Rather than a place of death, I like to think of it as a gathering of lives, past and present, human and animal.

(All photos (c) 2012 Joanne Brokaw; all rights reserved)