field trip: Lone Fir Cemetery

departed 1878, "Cynthia, wife of," Lone Fir Cemetery

After hearing bad news, I often head out for a walk. The thing about cemeteries, unlike famous rose gardens, is they tend to be relatively empty of tourists—my kind of place. Last night, though, in this pioneer cemetery in inner southeast Portland called Lone Fir, I kept seeing trickles of people carrying lawn chairs and striding purposefully somewhere towards the center. Across the way, I could see a tent and tiki torches and people standing around them. Finally, I asked an older, slower moving couple what the event was. At first the lady in a gray braid didn't hear me and nodded, but when I asked again, she said it was a production of Hamlet. I considered drifting over onto the grass behind the lawn chairs because the signs said the show was free, but by 7 PM, I was having a sneezing fit and so skulked away, out of courtesy. Instead I wandered around in the muggy pre-dusk, reading gravestones and snapping pictures.

Lone Tree Cemetery mausoleum

Kerr mausoleum detail, Lone Tree Cemetery

Sorry, Portland, but with the exception of the "MacL—"/Kerr mausoleum larger than my own digs, I've visited more colorful pioneer cemeteries in the West than Lone Fir, with markers revealing more detail, more of the story. The most interesting thing to me about this cemetery is the juxtaposition of old and new, that people are still being planted 150-plus years after the first residents were blanketed with lawn. Now those tucked to bed appear to be mostly immigrants from the former U.S.S.R., their headboard preferences being black upright stones showcasing the dead person's face laser-etched with a smile (or not, for some of the grimmer, kerchiefed babushkas), names and memorials described in Cyrillic.

Lone Fir headstone fashions: 1882 (center), 1927 (right), contemporary (left)

half of the Fokshas at Lone Fir

In the image above, Mr. Foksha is not yet a resident of Lone Fir, but he's pictured with his dead wife, Vera, planning ahead.

Fournier headstone, Lone Fir Cemetery

Because I have a useless, partial reading knowledge of French, I can inform you that the above gravestone reads more or less like the English others in Lone Fir but with perhaps less than average sentiment: "Here lies A. Fournier / Born in Vidauban, France .var [?] / Died 1 February 1882 / at the age of 58 years / Erected by his widow / Esther Fournier." Both it and the family triptych below reveal an outmoded patriarchy with an overshadowing father-figure flanked by dependents.

the family Nordstrom, Lone Fir Cemetery

Below is what happens when a person is planted too close to a tree, or vice versa: one reposes off-kilter, tilted by upthrusting roots.

graves tilted by tree roots, Lone Fir Cemetery

illegible gravestone, Lone Fir Cemetery

Above, a grave marker was so weather worn I couldn't read it, other than the faint word "aged" and a guess at the year "1828." Compare that with the contemporary, colorful, Day-of-the-Dead-themed, laser-etched headstone below of "Joel Weinstein / Famous Publisher." (No offense intended, just a question, but if one were famous, would that need to be stated?)

here lies Joel Weinstein, Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland

"Joel Weinstein / Famous Publisher," Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland, OR

B is for baby?, Lone Fir Cemetery

For the record, I wish to be cremated and my ashes placed under a tree in the mountains, preferably one not in danger of clearcutting and preferably near a brook. My family, particularly my mother, if I die before her, would rather they drain my blood, inject me full of embalming chemicals, glue my eyelids closed, stitch my mouth shut, and paint me with creams and powders to give a look of pink health asleep, rather than decomposition, and then bury me in a shiny-veneered, satin-lined wooden box within an anaerobic cement sarcophagus in a cemetery in my hometown, the kind with ground-flush headstones for easy mowing, the kind of cemetery where the Roundup flows freely and mourners display little American flags, pinwheels, and plastic floral bouquets. If kitsch is your thing, fine. But it isn't mine. I opt out.

Paul Lind's Scrabble gravestone, defaced, Lone Tree Cemetery

Because my family are Mormons, as Christians (of a kind) they believe we'll all be resurrected, and though per Cowper, "God works in a mysterious way / His wonders to perform," resurrection's probably easier if one's rotted bones are at least sifting together in one place than their carbon scattered to the wind, deposited in the sea, or taken up into a living tree. If you haven't read Jessica Mitford's American Way of Death Revisited, I highly recommend it. Long gone are the days of the natural dead lying in domestic state before being buried in a simple pine box or wrapped in a sheet and placed as deep beside the pioneer trail as the diggers could go before nightfall to prevent the loved one being clawed up and eaten by wolves. As Mitford detailed in her classic exposé, revised before her death, U.S. funeral culture enriches yet another mega-corporate industry, its toxic wonders to perform on as many people as will sign up for preneed.

carved marble handclasp, Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland

Near the end of my stroll in Lone Fir Cemetery, I spotted a crow on the grass on the east side, head down, covered in flies but still breathing. He looked down for the count. I sat nearby in sympathy. He was dying alone, the vultures upon him.

almost-dead crow, with flies

But after a few minutes, he (I don't know why I thought of this crow as male, but I did) shook the flies off and stood up. A miracle! Or maybe he was roused by that other crow who'd swooped in, cawing at me in warning from the tree above us, as if I were molesting his mate. So I stood up and moved on. Good luck to you, Crow, being on your last legs and all. But do avoid that group in basketball jerseys barbecuing over on the north side.

crow, resurrected

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