We have at least two things in common. We are all going to die and we are all alive right now. Within that framework we have a few levers of control but not much.
Walking a cemetery reminds me of our commonalities. Besides getting the dog out for an opportunity to chase chipmunks, strolling among gravestones provides a chance for somber reflection.
For years I have wandered the monuments and mounds in the cemeteries in Carbondale, Colorado. White Hill has stunning views of Mt. Sopris and the Crystal River Valley. At Evergreen Cemetery in town I assisted with installing plaques for locals on a memorial wall. I have sung amazing grace accompanied by a mournful banjo at services at that wall. My tears have watered the lawn.
Now I am familiarizing myself with the interred at Fraser Cemetery, in Fraser, Colorado, est. 1910. This small site is on County Road 450, at the top of the hill, just above town. The quiet grove is a short walk from my temporary office in the plaza below.
Everything’s temporary. We are never far from a cemetery.
Fraser Cemetery is rustic, but tended. The grounds are surrounded by trees. At the edges there are dead beetle-killed lodgepole pines tipping, tilting and groaning in the wind. Wood fencing is breached in several places from the falling lodgepoles. Inside, headstones, young pines, grasses and shrubs mix to create a mournful meadow. There are some low fences outlining sanctuaries and several benches where visitors can get up close.
Impermanence is on permanent display. Trees have grown up and died. New trees have come up, replacing the old trees. The new old trees will fall beneath the blade or the beetle in due time.
Some of the tombstones show their age. Many marble and granite markers last for decades, but, just like us, they eventually crumble, crack and dissolve under the steady pressure of gravity and erosion.
The Fraser Cemetery does not have the monolithic tombs and ornate statues that you find at a place like Linwood Cemetery above Glenwood Springs. Although no one is certain where, Doc Holliday is said to be buried among the shrines and stones of Linwood Cemetery.
There are several large and expensive slabs in Fraser but most graves are punctuated by modest granite bricks adorned with simple names and dates.
Under each marker a life, a real life with a history that fades quickly, no matter how durable the stone. Some mark lives that were brief. It makes me wonder what happened to those with short lives. Like Christine M. Davie who lived from 1928-1931. Sickness? Accident? I’m happy to remind the world of her life right now.
I had never heard of him, but I was surprised to learn that the Fraser Cemetery houses famous NFL star and Hall of Fame member, Stan Paul Jones. Jones played in various tackle positions for the Chicago Bears and Washington Redskins. He lasted 13 seasons from 1954 to 1966. In his bio on findagrave.com he was known as a “durable pass-blocker, and was one of the earliest players to utilize weightlifting as an effective method for better conditioning.”
Jones may have been better conditioned and durable but even the mightiest stars fall beneath the wheels of time. Jones died in 2010, outliving his wife who died in 2002. They now share a gravestone.
There are 34 unknown souls buried in Fraser, their markers either dissolved or they were anonymous in death.
On a recent walk through the graveyard I thought to myself, “It’s peaceful here,” all the while keeping impermanence and appreciation at the front of mind.
I spied someone tending a grave. Walking around the outer perimeter I came across a car pulled over on the private dirt lane. It rolled away as I approached. A chipmunk tatted in a nearby tree, taunting “Chooch,” my attentive small dog to bound and pounce with happy abandon. A couple of turkey buzzards circled up high in the breeze.
Soon snow will fall on the Fraser Cemetery. The happy cries of kids on the adjacent tubing hill will mingle with the silence of the dead children buried in the ground. Just as it should be.
Steve Skinner is happy to be here. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.