My daughter and I are back at the graveyard again, high on a hill above Portland. We’re looking for Dad’s grave. Forty-five minutes later we leave, still unsure of its location. I hate these places.
Nordhoff Cemetery- Established 1870. From the outside it looks well maintained. But what greets me on the drive through the dark, wrought-iron gates is a narrow blacktop driveway, dead grass, brown trees, and a tiny, pothole-infested dirt parking area, flanked by an orange Kubota tractor and an enclosed trash area bearing that eternal message of hope: “No Dumping”.
I’m here to fulfill a writing assignment. Just get it over with and get home, I say to myself as I trade the frosty air-conditioned oasis of the car for a blast of SoCal summer, Ojai style. In the middle of a six-month drought, this graveyard is the epitome of all things dead and dying, which is something I will also be if I spend too much time here, walking around.
The upper nineties sun bears down on me, even in the tree shade of eucalyptus, oak and the lone willow somewhere near the middle of the property. I walk along the back side, a faint sandalwood- or is it eucalyptus?- scented breeze pushing its way through the heat. Combined with the tin-tin-tin of unseen wind chimes, I find some pleasure in the seclusion of this collective monument to death.
I hesitated coming here, since cemeteries give me little pleasure. They are a place for the concealment of corpses, nothing else, I say as I walk past a four-foot high, tilting crucifix of plank-thick, white granite. The surface is smooth to the touch and cool, unlike another grave marker made from red-brown sandstone, which though shaded, feels more than warm.
What would give me pleasure about this place, Oregon-green, lush lawns fed by clacking impact sprinklers- like where my father is buried – is absent. Instead I see paths- maybe game trails, judging by the holes next to larger gravestones, where ground squirrels and gophers have taken up residence- lined with a deep, crunchy carpet of brown oak leaves surrounding ice plant, jade plant, cactus and sage.
Walking turns to trudging as the heat presses against my skin. continue on. I bend over to inspect some animal markers, one placed at the foot of its master’s site. His name is Scooter, still wearing his worn, red nylon dog collar. He’s a lifelike replica of a black, brown-muzzled Dachshund with a textured coat that rubs against my fingers as I stroke his sun-baked hide, little marble eyes (with hazel irises!) following me as I walk past. My head spins as I straighten up, a reminder of how far along I am.
As I think about all these graves, I find myself wanting to leave. Though there are a lot of tributes to fallen soldiers, domestic and foreign, I still believe that these places are more for the living than the dead. To me, a regular church-goer, graveyards hold nothing but the remains of humanity, their respective souls having gone on to the spirit world.
Having started looking with longing at the faucets scattered throughout the grounds, thirst for refreshment pushes me back to the car. I’ve seen enough, yet wonder why I’m the only one in my
family who hasn’t visited Dad’s grave, up north…