“The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.”–Percy Bysshe Shelley
Founded in 1852, Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington was the first planned, rural cemetery in North Carolina. Much like its sister cemeteries of Magnolia in Charleston, and Bonaventure in Savannah, Oakdale is a winding necropolis full of Spanish moss, alluring angels, and gorgeous flowering trees and shrubs that just begs to be explored and adored. Meant to be both garden and graveyard, this large, rural cemetery mixes the beauty of life with that of death and mourning. In the era of its conception, Victorian North Carolinians often spent many an afternoon relaxing in Oakdale with loved ones living and long gone, picnicking and reminiscing, and the cemetery became so popular that families paid to have their long-deceased loved ones relocated to its beautiful grounds.
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“When he shall die,–William Shakespeare
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
It has been a while, hasn’t it? For months now I’ve battled with writing, battled with dreaming. I feel stuck in slow motion, and in many ways stagnated. Given all that is going on in the world, I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling. It’s almost like running in a dream or screaming under water; fighting so hard and getting nowhere.
So many nights I lay down and hope to sleep, to dream, only to fall into a fitful darkness that feels like sleep, yet still leaves me exhausted in the morning. Dark flashes of scenes, some good, some bad, dance before my eyes, but it’s nothing like the dreams I’m used to. After my surgery in December, my dreams had gone nearly completely, and I worried that they were gone for good.
But here and there I see breakthroughs. Here and there I see the light on the other side. And that’s enough to keep me pushing forward. And even though this dream wasn’t the happiest? It felt good to truly dream again.
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The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.Augustine of Hippo
Since I was 5 years old, I’ve traveled almost every summer. Most of the summers of my youth were spent in France, but as I got older, I tried to get out into different parts of America as well. In my teens and early twenties, I managed to hit up every state on the East coast from Florida to Maryland, and then westward into Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, and eventually, Nevada.
And then it all stopped.
I could get into all the whys and hows, the excuses and the arguments. But the end result was the same, regardless of how it happened. For 9 years, travel was not an option, and my house was more cage than home.
Then the tumult and chaos of last year happened, and I was travelling again out of nowhere. Savannah (multiple times), Charleston, New York, Augusta, and, at the end, Oak Island. All were whirl-wind trips of only a couple days here and there, but all were meaningful in some way. A part of me that was suppressed for so long was returning.
This year, with my life officially in restart mode, I was able to pull off some longer trips, both alone and with Liam as my little travel partner.
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Bonaventure is called a graveyard, a town of the dead, but the few graves are powerless in such a depth of life. The rippling of living waters, the song of birds, the joyous confidence of flowers, the calm, undisturbable grandeur of the oaks, mark this place of graves as one of the Lord’s most favored abodes of life and light. –John Muir, Camping Among the Tombs
As of late, I find myself deep within the trappings of my own mind again. Considerations of times past, and the way forward, flash in scenes various as I mull over the meaning and the beat of my life. And most times? I find myself in my mental eye in Bonaventure, wandering its near-endless avenues. In dreams, too, she calls to me with her many residents paying me a visit here and there. It seems I can never quite escape her, as even in sleep, Bonaventure finds me in dreams.
I first came to Bonaventure at the end of March last year, though I had been drawn to her for some time. In fact, an entire trip had been planned months prior just for the pilgrimage of reaching Savannah and Bonaventure’s gates. When planning then, I knew in a vague way that it would be a life-changing experience. As with most of life’s lessons, just how life-changing this visit would be could only be revealed later.
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I cannot say, and I will not say–James Whitcomb Riley, Away
That he is dead- . He is just away!
With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand
He has wandered into an unknown land,
And left us dreaming how very fair
It needs must be, since he lingers there.
In late June of 2008, a mere three weeks after I underwent lifesaving surgery, I arrived at the local college campus to meet with someone I had only spoken with on the phone, a man named Jonathan. I was determined to completely derail my career and switch majors from elementary education to veterinary medicine, and he was the last roadblock standing in my way. I had filled out all the forms, dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, but there was the problem of me being wait listed, as the program only had 64 seats. This “Jonathan” was going to get me into the program whether he wanted to or not.
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There are fathers who do not love their children; there is no grandfather who does not adore his grandchild.–Victor Hugo
After grieving for Sammy throughout most of my childhood, death, at some point, became merely a distant threat again. I thought of him most days, admittedly do even now, but tears had subsided into smiles as painful thoughts became fond memories once more. Plus, going through puberty and then my high school years? I had more than plenty to keep me occupied.
I took death, in, yet again, an abstract sort of way, wrapping myself up in the communities that were Goth and Geek culture in the early aughts. This was not an embrace of death, not fully. More of keeping an enemy at arm’s length. Using the fear as a shield, and then escaping into a digital wonderland when things got too “real.”
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I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.–Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dirge Without Music
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Winter has always been a season of loss for me. The three most impactful deaths in my life all occurred in winter, after all. On a historical and spiritual level, the season is inherently tied to death to begin with, given that for our ancestors, a harsh winter could spell doom. So I suppose it’s only natural. Lately, as I think back to those three I’ve lost, something has struck me in how I’ve processed each one, and how the digital age has changed how I’ve mourned them.
My first exposure to death, true death, was the loss of my cousin Sammy at the age of nine. I know that prior to his death, there were a couple of pets here and there that had crossed the bridge, but my grandmother and mother kept me insulated from what death truly was. It was an abstract concept to my child’s mind. People and animals lived, and then they went away. Less a feeling of loss, and more an absence, and I was already used to people being absent in my life. In that hopeful, childlike way, I thought little about the difference, and overlooked that while absent people may return, the dead do not. At least not in any conventional way… Read More »
“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans.”
— Stephen Hawking
Though I have had vivid dreams for my entire life, writing them down was not commonplace for me until recently. Occasionally, however, a dream would be so epic in scope that I would take the time to jot it down. Such is the case of the first dream I ever wrote out, at age 21. This was also the first dream wherein I experienced actual pain. I guess the saying “pinch me, I’m dreaming!” must not be applicable to all dreams…
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“Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses.”
Though my dreams may seem completely random, there are some rules they tend to follow. For one, I am almost always alone in my dreams. Only those who are very important to me show up in them, and if you appear in multiple dreams? Well I guess you’re pretty darn special to me at that point. On the rare occasion that I dream of someone who I am not close to at all, it strikes me as odd.
Such is the case of a truly strange dream I had of a friend’s friend…
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Every woman is a rebel, and usually in wild revolt against herself.
-Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance
Not long ago, I shared with you the rediscovery of some old family photographs, including the memento mori of my great-uncle, Gary Lee. In that box of photographs, news clippings, and letters, I found not just the only pictures to exist of this little soul, but also a family story, and a dark secret. This is possibly scandal enough for the likes of Savannah, much less a little one-light town in North Carolina. You know Mayberry? Alright, well think even smaller and you get Broadway.
It all started in the late 1920s with my great-grandparents, Holton and Hermie…
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