September 28, 2014: Nature Among the Departed

~by Virginia Rhys Anson, OFS

Once upon a time, a quaint, modest hiking trail fed the nature addiction of the inhabitants of a small town in Kansas. Sadly, quaint path was sold and outdoor enthusiasts grieved the loss, convinced that escape with nature was now relegated to history.

Creation, however, is not so easily thwarted. A path through nature can emerge elsewhere, and quite possibly in rather peculiar places. A stroll through a park. An amble down a country road. A meander among pines, peonies, ribbon-weaved paths, and gravestones. A nature path among the departed.

Quiet and serene is the setting of a cemetery. A tranquil place in which to partake of God’s artistry. A saunter among the departed is likely not quite the commune with creation that a mind congers. Yet such surroundings are truly conducive to the relaxing enjoyment of foliage and winged thespians.

A cemetery was definitely not my first choice for a nature fix. Nonetheless, sometimes life demands creative alternatives. Our town recently lost its only—albeit modest—nature path to a private buyer, which signaled the potential passing of my respites into the natural world. One afternoon I am a welcome guest, traversing its overgrown paths. The next, I am a trespasser. I did not take this loss of my beloved nature path gracefully. I did not cherish banishing it to mere memory and photos. But, alas, the choice was not mine to have.

The choice of reaction to my loss, though, was mine to have. Either permanently grieve its loss,—as was my initial mindset—directing much bitterness toward the town that allowed its demise. Or seek a surrogate, even though the substitute would likely pale in the shadow of even a modest nature trail.

Kitty corner across the street from our domicile lies the final habitat for departed souls. Saunters among souls that reside now in Heaven are so very distant from the creepy, Halloweenish, zombie-laden cinema fantasies. What better, more tranquil and spiritual company can one enjoy? Traipsings weaved among carefully aligned headstones invite prayerful interludes for faithfully departed, complete strangers to me, but somehow united in a common spiritual bond. But mostly, I just imbibe the scenery that surrounds me.

My pseudo nature path inclines to a modest slope, its apex greeting the south. Paved pathways ribbon parallel north to south and south to north. A decent challenge when walking north to south uphill against a Kansas breeze—wind in most locales. However, the trek south to north on the decline replenishes the energy expended in the reverse.

A shortage of evergreens there is not. My Kansas breeze gently whooshes through the trees, strumming needles and waving boughs. The delicate scent of pine undulates through the air, my mind escaping to the forests of my youth, to camping excursions amid forested havens. Bark of pines is shingled in intriguing design.

Disembodied avian voices create a syncopation of disjointed chirps and caws, of squawks and coos and screeches. A chorale of varied songs and calls. Spring brings new birth among the deceased. Peony dons pinkish booms as robin perches atop a tombstones, occasionally descending to forage the grounds for worms or perhaps merely to enjoy a leisurely hop.

A winter meander gifts a peaceful silence. The hollow crunch of snow beneath. Flakes floating their delicate dance, sprinkling my forehead, polka dotting coat and cap with bits of white. Tiny bird prints and wee bunny tracks etched in crisscrossing paths imprint the albino canvas, betraying the treks of feathered and furred critters. The crispness of winter’s chilled air awakens, frosting my face.

Cemetery’s lanes hide beneath inches of snow. Their locations, I can only guess. Rows of gravestones give a hint as to their frosted hideaway. Feet placed on a level surface ferret them out.

No matter the season, this makeshift nature path is such a retreat. Rambles along its paths bring nature ever so near. Oft times my hiking buddy trots at my side. Tiny though Pixie may be—for toy poodles, despite their self perceptions, are, indeed, tiny—she keeps pace quite well, frequently wishing to outdistance her leash. She surveys the grounds that border the lanes. Perhaps the scent of another canine’s mark. Seems likely as she signals her intent to leave her calling card. A short stop and our stroll continues quite casually among the quiet inhabitants.

After about a half an hour of trekking up and down hilly terrain, Pixie’s eleven years stymie her, and she morphs into a mule, balking to a dead stop, refusing to budge. It may, perhaps, be that I misread her halt. Could be that she has met a spirit that resides therein and merely extends a friendly hello. More than likely, though, she has tired of her walk. Tis now that she travels in a pack strapped to my front. For one cannot meander with a pup who will not budge.

A black laced canopy glides overhead. Pixie and I enjoy a flock of multiple decades of robin-sized blackish birds flapping en masse from tree to tree, mimicking a flag waving horizontally in a breeze. The identity of the individuals comprising my canopy eludes me. My neighbor dubbed them merely black birds for no reason other than their color. For neither had she a clue as to their species. Investigation revealed our canopy to be a flock of common starlings.

How insulting to be christened “common” anything. God created them each to be unique. His creation is far from common. I do digress.

Despite my joy at being escorted by such a magnificent starling canopy, I am embarrassed to admit that my one recurring thought was the hope than none decided to poop on me. Pixie and I did, however, escape unscathed. Despite the potential for being decorated by starling droppings, seldom does nature daunt, and never does she disappoint.

Fall’s collage of leafy color, winter’s albino cape, summer’s and spring’s array of fragrant and vibrant blooms. Nature gifts a contemplative stage, no matter the season. Makeshift though it be nature delights even in the humblest of settings, even along a cemetery’s path.

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Virginia Anson grew up in the shadows of Sandia Crest in New Mexico. Family camping trips may have sparked her passion for nature. She holds an A.S. in Electronics Technology, a B.A. in Writing, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a certificate in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. Her book, Mother Earth’s Caretakers, targets middle school youngsters and is published as an e-book for Kindle. Virginia is a Vietnam Era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her volunteer endeavors see her as a lector, Eucharistic minister, and sacristan in her parish and as a habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation. She especially cherishes her life in the Secular Franciscan Order, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

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