Still Learning To See

Life everlasting

On our walk this week we stopped at a small graveyard, Peck Cemetery, now in a corn field, surrounded by a “chain”  (now plastic) fence. We enjoyed reading the gravestone names and dates and imagining what was once daily life, now history. It is fascinating to note the farm, settled in 1790, is still in the Peck family. Many of the engravings were no longer legible and some of the stones were, like the bodies below them, returning to the earth and, as a result, unreadable.

A slate stone marking the grave of John Peck who died at 68 in 1819 on the farm he began nearly thirty years earlier.

The night before I’d heard one of my favorite authors, Bernd Heinrich, talking about his new book, Life Everlasting—Life of Animals after Deathso it was appropriate to find ourselves among the dead, now on their way, as Dr. Heinrich says, to being “resurrected” as new life forms.

Among the most remarkable life forms in the cemetery was an immense Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus). Next to it was the well-rotted remains of a stump of another, even larger White Pine. My guess is they grew on their own rather than being planted, but how fascinating it would be to travel back in time and know. At the same time we could visit with some of the folks who lived their lives and died in that area nearly two hundred years ago. Lichen too had enjoyed the spot and produced large colonies.

I certainly don’t have “answers” about death. I do feel strongly we are and will continue to remain intimately connected with all thing living and not. Life Everlasting is a wonderful investigation, by one of the finest minds in field science and a great writer, of what that might look like.

Another stone, marked now only by lichen.

This entry was published on June 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm. It’s filed under Ecosystem, People and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Life everlasting

  1. Julia on said:

    Ah, John–this really struck a chord with me. My brother Steve (who lives in Northampton MA and attended Amherst) has taken me to several of the old New England graveyards, where we too muse over the stones. He went to Egypt with me, and we could only stare in awe at the hieroglyphics of wheat sheaves on one of the tombs, drawn so that when all those who had known the dead were also gone, the drawings would come alive and nourish him. How much they dreaded death, and how sad that made me for them.

    For me, it is enough to know that my ashes will return to the earth and nourish the roots of a tree. One of my favorite authors, who is a declared atheist with a great love of life, is the British author Julian Barnes. His book NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF has steadied me. Thanks for the recommendation of Heinrich–I will definitely look for that one.

    Whatever lies next after our time on the planet, how amazing to participate in this dance of life!

  2. Deborah Leu on said:

    Thank you for the recommendation, John. I’ve read a couple of Heinrich’s books, but didn’t know about this one. Because of Dwight’s recent death, this topic is much in my thoughts. We have several old cemeteries near our house. I often walk through and wonder about what life was like for them. I doubt the farmhouses are still here, but many of the roads bear the same names as those on the headstones.

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