The Ghosts of Oakdale, pt. 1

“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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A Summer of Wanderings

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 Dreaming

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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