Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Portland Metro

The Portland, OR urban area government coordinating body, Metro, runs thirteen pioneer cemeteries besides their flagship, Lone Fir. They were originally accumulated over time by Multnomah County, often through state mandate, and turned over to Metro when it was formed at the end of the millennium. Metro’s first reaction was to try and peddle them; but as one can imagine, fourteen disparate, small cemeteries (at thirty acres, Lone Fir is by far the largest) were an impossible sell. No one wanted them.

To Metro’s credit, once it realized it was stuck with them, it turned around and took their care seriously. Lone Fir still gets all the publicity and attention, but the others are all in active use and form an important part of their communities. And truth be known, some people actually prefer some of the small cemeteries to Queen Fir. Multnomah Park is guarded over by a Friends group, and anyone who’s visited Mountain View Corbett knows its spectacular views and comfortable charms.

All these cemeteries can be found on my Flickr site, most of them in the Portland Urban Collection. Mountain View Corbett, though, is in the Columbia River Collection, while Pleasant Home is in Clackamas and the Highlands.
Brainard Cemetery

Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery

Brainard Cemetery

Brainard Cemetery

Columbia Cemetery

Columbia Cemetery

Douglass Cemetery

Douglass Cemetery

Gresham/Escobar Cemeteries

Douglass Cemetery

Jones Cemetery

Mountain View Corbett Cemetery

Mountain View Stark Cemetery

Mountain View Corbett Cemetery

Mountain View Corbett Cemetery

Multnomah Park Cemetery

Multnomah Park Cemetery

Multnomah Park Cemetery

View from Pleasant Home Cemetery

White Birch Cemetery

Powell Grove Cemetery

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Siskiyous

This is the first of a series of posts highlighting a few cemeteries in southwestern Oregon in Jackson and Josephine Counties. In my very brief introduction to the region I wrote: “[The Siskiyous are] a patchwork of agricultural valleys separated by densely forested, rough and tumble mountains and crashing rivers. The climate here is definitely unlike anywhere else in the state, and it's down here that one first smells California. The summer sun and bountiful irrigation have made the agricultural pockets, however small, extraordinarily productive and inviting. Large-scale fruit growers (think Harry & David) have recently been joined by vintners and sustainable farmers and ranchers. Throw in a vibrant regional arts scene and a massive hippie invasion in the 60s and 70s and you have what a lot of people call paradise. Who knows, they may be right.”

The region is also host to some of the most interesting, historic, and entertaining cemeteries in the state, including, arguably, it’s most iconic: Jacksonville. I’d originally considered doing one post to cover the five cemeteries I was featuring, but immediately realized how long a post that would have been and decided to split it into separate entries.

The main reason I decided to do that was, in going to the alphabetical top of my list, Antioch, I realized that it’s story was a post’s worth in itself; hence I’ve reprinted it here in its entirety. The cemetery at Antioch is, in some ways, the least interesting cemetery of the five, but it’s history pushes it onto the list. It doesn’t have the intricate appeal of, say, Jacksonville or Laurel Cemeteries, so I’ve chosen to illustrate this piece with some of the residents of Antioch. They’re ageless. Compare these modern photoceramics with the ones from a hundred years ago.

If you want directions to the cemeteries, you’ll find them at my Flickr site.
The story of Antioch Cemetery is a window unto the psyche of Jackson County. What happened at Antioch and in the surrounding neighborhood (i.e. White City) put its stamp on the region forever.

With 5500 people, White City is one of the largest urban concentrations in Oregon remaining unincorporated. It’s also been a center for poverty, domestic violence, drug abuse, and related social problems, all because of its curious history which has left it a community in limbo for decades.

White City is a new city dating from 1941 when the Army commandeered 43,000 acres of the Medford Valley for a World War II training facility and built Camp White overnight. Besides training upwards of 100,000 soldiers, the town also housed a major hospital and, for a while, a German P.O.W. camp. Pretty much as soon as the war ended, the Army packed up and disappeared, leaving this sprawling, unincorporated town of thrown-together buildings ripe for people who couldn’t be or weren’t too choosy about aesthetics. White City was born.
The Antioch Cemetery grounds were part of the lands commandeered by the Army—which in itself would be justification for telling the White City story—but what happened to the cemetery is pretty amazing. The cemetery was located smack-dab in the middle of the gunnery range and was constantly being bombarded by live shells; which, as you can imagine, is not good for tombstones. Or much else, for that matter. But, to the Army’s credit, they mitigated the damage by laying all the tombstones flat and burying them under six feet of sand, where they remained for the duration of the camp; and when they picked up and skeedadled, they took the sand with them and returned the uprights to their proper locations. What a sweet bunch of guys, no?

The lingering effects of Camp White are not restricted to White City, though. Jackson Country remains a bulwark of patriotism to this day, not only because the residents are grateful that the Army once dispensed largess upon them—a form of modern American cargo cult—but, I suspect, because when the Army left, it left behind a certain number of personnel who thought the valley would make a good place to settle down; a thought that may equally have occurred to tens of thousands of other people passing through the camp; some of whom may have come back here to retire. There are great flocks of ex-military birds in the area.
I was told the story of the Army and the sand by a very pleasant grandmother of four who volunteers as a groundskeeper for the cemetery. She jested that she was “a little concerned that [she] might yet run across an unexploded shell.” She did grant, though, there would be economies of efficiency by being blown up in one’s own graveyard.

Whatever it was that spurred the volunteers to recover this fairly sizable cemetery, it’s been working. It’s not immaculate, by any means, and no one’s watering the place, but the grasses are kept at bay and it’s dotted with oaks and laurels and rhodys, et al. It actively being used and is quite lively for a cemetery of its kind. A fair amount to read and a good excuse to while away some time.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

From Here to Eternity

[All photos from Washington State cemeteries.]
Crown Hill Cemetery - Seattle
I’ve never been a big fan of eternity; it takes too long. You know, a lot of: “Is this game never going to end?”

“No, Virginia, there’s no pause in the Claus; it goes on forever.”

Eternity is the universal solvent, it reduces everything to meaninglessness. Meaning is derived from choices, options, roads not taken. If everything is possible, then nothing is desirable.
Mountain View Cemetery - Walla Walla
Making afterlives problematical.

The existential question, why am I here?, is understandably self-centered; if one weren’t here in the first place, the question couldn’t be asked. It doesn’t take much reflection, though, to understand that the question is, why is anything here? Why is there anything versus nothing? If you’re wondering why you are here, specifically, you’re not understanding the situation. Why is the Universe here?

Frankly, we have no idea. Furthermore, at this level, it’s a meaningless question; it’s applying human values to the cosmos. Understandable, but faulty; it’s giving us way too much credit. It’s probably best to not ask it.
Lyle-Balch Cemetery - Lyle
There are, apparently, some physical truths that trump the desire for eternal life, not the least of which being location; but arguably more important is the fact that everything has a shelf-life. Nothing lasts forever, not even the Universe. Because, if the Universe did last forever, it would always have been a vast uniform void. Shapes, corporal existences, are contrary to entropy. Things, stuff you can touch, our very beings are dependent on our going away, our disappearing. We wouldn’t be here if we couldn’t go away. Funny, that.
Greenwood Cemetry - Cathlamet
The question I find more intriguing is, why is life so persistent? Why does it care to be alive so much? Why desire? Life, after all, is but the desire to remain alive, nothing more, nothing less. Why should it care? Do the stars care that they will one day implode or explode? Why should living things care?

That, too, at this primitive stage, is an unanswerable question, one best not posed. It is enough to know that we do care; from the very first bacteria to you and me, the only thing we’ve ever really cared about has been keeping going. That desire is built into our fiber. It is the only desire; everything else is subsumed to that. So far, so good.

That desire, in fact, is built so strongly into our raison d’ĂȘtre, that we are inclined to believe that our termination could not possibly be true, that, surely, there’s something beyond this. For us, at least, forget about the ants. Maybe them, too, who knows? But for us for sure there has to be something more. Doesn’t there?
Lyle-Balch Cemetery - Lyle
No. But it’s a good try. One can always pretend.

Which we’re pretty good at. Pretense is as good as reality any day if you’re scared of dying. “Not me! I’m going to live forever!”

Sure, sure. Whatever.

“Meaning” is what you bring to the table.
Oysterville Cemetery
Meaning is why we have cemeteries. We don’t need to keep old, expired bodies. “Hang onto that dwarf star; you never know when we might need it.” As has been observed, if it’s getting rid of bodies you want, then volcanos are a good option. After all, one can’t actually talk to a dead person, so why struggle to keep them around? Why even have cemeteries?

Because the dead are our silent conscience. The dead are the people to whom we bare our souls. They are our strictest critics. They are us. We internalize the dead; we adopt their personas when we visit their graves; we speak on their behalf. We all know the dead are not actually with us anymore and we know that we’re crying in the wind; but by assuming the mantle of others we can say things to ourselves that might otherwise remain hidden. To be honest with ourselves, we sometimes have to place our words in the mouths of others. The dead are less likely to object and are, hence, free to say that which cannot be spoken.

To propitiate them for their silent service, we adorn their graves with tokens. We bring them offerings, trinkets, mementoes, and milagros. We strew their graves with coins or stack pebbles on them. We leave a teddy bear or a candle, a photo, a bottle of beer. Dolls or a toy truck. Oh yes, and maybe a stone, a block of granite with a name chiseled on its face. To keep them alive.
Mount Pleasant Cemetery - Seattle
There will come a time when the Earth will be swallowed up by the Sun. There will come a time when there is no one left to remember us. There will come a time.

Here on Earth, though, we still remember the past; we still blink into the future. There is no eternity other than the present which goes on forever. We come and we go. It is a lovely show.
Greenwood Cemetery - Cathlamet