I don’t see dead people. That’s because I go out of my way to avoid seeing dead bodies, shunning the funerals of all but a few. Since I ran terrified out of my grandmother’s service as a nine year old, I’ve been averse to all aboveground death rituals.
But gimme a good cemetery and I’m happy to wander and wonder for hours on end, and oh, I hope I have my camera. While I’m away for the winter, I rent a small apartment across the street from historic Colonial Cemetery in Savannah. I trace the tabby walkways three or four times a day while walking the dog, day in and out, no matter the weather. And every day I see something new.
Mary Ann, wife of Moses. Frances and Constance, sisters, buried side by side. Eugene, barely arrived, from County Kerry.
A tomb’s brickwork pattern plush with deep moss. A mockingbird that perches upon the same filigreed stone. Pale green lichen on rotting marble that forms a face. Sad, sacred beauty.
So when that nice Nordic-looking lady on the TV commercial tells all her friends about cremation and how it’s the hottest thing going on, I get a bit steamed. Yeah, I get it; green burials make sense in my head, but not in my heart.
Misty morning at Colonial Cemetery, Savannah GA
I hate to think of the eventual demise of the cemetery.
Unlike some I’m ok to ponder immortality and roam among the tombstones ruminating upon the fragility and unfairness of life. I like the idea of an open-air historical archive of everyday folk even if some memorials are grander than others. Cemeteries are sculpture gardens with funerary art reflecting the attitudes of the time. They are botanical gardens where flowers flourish and rare species can rest undisturbed. They are places of pilgrimage and some of the prettiest parks in the world.
But then they don’t do death like they used to. Modern cemeteries, sleek as the uniform polished granite grave markers, lacking in art or drama are arranged for mowing efficiency over sentimentality. Worse when they only allow those flat markers people have to punctuate with their flowers stuck in cones at even intervals.
No disrespect is meant.
I understand. There are too many people nowadays. Land is scarce. That was already the case when Colonial Cemetery was active in the mid-1800’s. They can identify around 600 graves, but it is known that around 9000 people were buried on these few acres, many victims of the yellow fever epidemic. When I stray from the paved paths the ground is sunken in areas. In others, the ground has a strange, spongy feel to it.
Those thousands have no individual stone, but they have a place. Through the years thousands of people walk through here and for a moment, think about them, and that’s good.
Seems there’s no escaping winter even as I wait it out far, far away from Minneapolis.
If it weren’t for the potential of snow-related deaths you’d get a kick out of this winter storm prep, southern-style. You’d a thought a eight-day blizzard was heading this way.
Here in Savannah as weather reports refined the chances of winter precip, bread and bottled water quickly disappeared from grocery shelves and there were reports of brisk business at the liquor stores. Don’t want to be caught lacking the essentials after all.
With schools and businesses wisely shut, the historic district felt like an abandoned movie set as I wandered the lonely streets. Ice accumulated on camellias and ironwork in the squares. Beads of ice upholstered the empty benches and Spanish moss sagged under its frozen weight.
By now you’ve seen all the pictures of Atlanta. It was just a couple inches…
(For a more humorous firsthand account of one dicey commute, check out my daughter’s story at esquire.com, “Birmingham is Broken”.)
But before all of you up north get on your snow-handling high horses, realize that the south doesn’t see this kind of weather that often. Just as many communities in snow-prone areas are hard-pressed to handle repeated winter catastrophes, lots of southern cities have bigger spending priorities than snowplows for those once in a blue moon snow falls.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Sure there are idiots everywhere that won’t drive safely no matter their zip code. And there are others who have never gotten the chance to learn safe winter driving.
But for instance, what do you do with metal-grate drawbridges connecting countless islands on the coast? You can’t sand or salt them. Add that to numerous other south-specific issues that come up when faced with surprise snow.
Sure we sail along with life up north unless it gets really, really bad. Yet take away the plows, the sand, the salt, and the four-wheel drives and see how we’d do.
There were countless incidences of kindness and southern hospitality. Strangers used Facebook to crowdsourc accommodations along slippery highways and restaurants cooked up food and delivered it in wagons, sliding over black ice and around abandoned cars.
While Atlanta thaws out, in Savannah the ice is starting to drip off the palms. And we are headed into the 70's. Stay warm and safe. And thank a snowplow.
Fleeing Minnesota I had plans to spot a snowy owl on my way out of town. With all the news reports about the plentiful sightings of these beautiful birds I figured those hundred miles to the Iowa border and maybe further on I had a good chance, acres of snowy farmland with lots of places for perching.
As a veteran of countless cross country trips I' ve seen hundreds of hawks sitting atop telephone poles, evenly spaced along the highways. I’ve seen bald eagles, sometimes in the most surprising situations, in the bare furrows of a farm field instead of soaring high above the road. Surely seeing a snowy owl resting on an irrigation pivot wouldn't be too hard.
Waiting for a window of good weather to start my snowbird journey, I picked a warming day, a possible January thaw. It was one of those picture-worthy winter scenes, frozen fog coating the trees and weak sunlight casting a golden glow across the blue-shadowed landscape. But it was not to be. Just enough icy patches on the road and a veil of moisture hanging in the air made it difficult to spy a bird, albeit a big one, out on the frozen ground.
I never thought I’d number among those folks called snowbirds. Motor homes with Manitoba license plates came to mind when I heard the phrase. Yet after seeing my in-laws enjoying the sunshine, I found I could easily join the ranks. My kids are grown and my husband does a lot of his business travel at this time, he’s no fool. So the dog and I head south for a while after the holidays. (Please note the alarm’s on and someone is watching the house!)
I usually feel a little guilty leaving everyone behind to endure the rest of the winter. But this year I lingered long enough to experience the polar vortex. Feeling like I paid my dues, I’m in Savannah GA again free of survivor syndrome, where it’s not exactly tropical like this time of year, but I can see palm trees and drive to a wind swept beach if the mood strikes me.
Stay tuned though, I usually find some event or topic that relates back to life in Minnesota while I’m here. Meanwhile as I wander the historic streets here, a damp breeze creeping under my scarf, I’m like the snowy owls I saw on TV, the wind ruffling their feathers while they check out new territory.
While I'm busy entertaining all the folks and a bad cough, I'm offering a tip for the remainder of the holidays. Glasshouses like that at Marjorie Neely Conservatory at the Como Zoo and other similar facilities in the area are a great way to escape winter if just for a few hours. Step into one of these wonders on a frigid day like today; see green things growing, feel the warm air and smell the damp soil and it goes a long ways in chasing the winter blues away.
In keeping with the same theme here's the link to another one of my Home Depot guest blogs. This post isn't selling anything, just reminiscing about a time when I was lucky enough to have a backyard greenhouse of my own.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers.
As the daughter and daughter-in-law of retired life-long postal workers I've always defended the USPS. I'm the person who stands cheerfully in line, often deflecting the grumbling and grouching of others while waiting to mail letters and packages. Never one to throw business at the guys in brown or that fancy Fed-ex I remained loyal to the place that buttered my family's bread. That's changed.
Before it was always a time to maybe see friends, meet interesting fellow human beings and just plain people-watch while queueing to accomplish a mundane task. I liked to sneak peeks at the addresses of their boxes and letters and imagine the lives at the other end. There were the postage stamp posters for entertainment if all else failed. But those trips to the P.O. have lost their charm.
Lately my upbeat attitude is as outdated as the yellowing cardboard display with it's heartfelt but naive suggestion that stamp-collecting is a healthy alternative to drugs. Ironic that the post office has gone to pot in another way so to speak. Lots of lobbies are dirty and disheveled; ravaged, never-refilled bins where forms and flat-rate (a great idea by the way) boxes should be and lifeless chains without pens at the end are the norm.
I don't want to be one of those people who enter the post office, jaw set, ready to be disappointed, much less the ones who come in itching for a fight. You know them, they sigh and roll their eyes in line, they turn around looking to the folks behind them for commiseration and mumble something about taxpayers' dollars even though the agency is solely funded by postage it collects.
Employees seem to barely make eye contact much less muster a smile. I guess they have been beat down so hard by irritated customers they are just getting through their day or is it the other way around? And why is there only one clerk when the line is out the door?
Out in the community some walking mail carriers still seem to care, but many can't be bothered and brush by you, deaf to your presence behind their earbuds. There's no longer such a thing as a regular mailman their routes change so frequently.
Should the USPS get out of the buggy-whip business and just give up? Is it a top-down or a bottom-up problem? Are there any bright ideas for breathing life into what was such a vital service? In the city we find alternatives, but little towns that lose their post office are not long for the world.
What do you think? Anyone besides me ready to break up with the post office, or am I one of the last ones still hanging on?