May. In this part of the world, that means traffic coming from the metro area and lines in grocery stores and very soon, military veterans with buckets full of red tissue paper poppies outside businesses. May. The official start of “cabin” season here. The mosquitoes and wood ticks know this, and have been gathering in anticipation.
The local cemeteries have been mowed and the military graves sport tiny, new American flags. Last year’s faded plastic flowers have been replaced with some flowers in shades not seen in the natural world….enormous baby blue roses…..grasshopper green irises…..orange forget-me-nots. My sister, who shares my lack of appreciation for these plastic wonders calls them “Red Lovelies.” We have vowed never to do that to each other’s graves.
I remember my grandmother’s near obsession with tending the family graves at the cemetery for “Decoration Day” each year. She would start talking about this in early May….worrying about the weather…wondering if she dared plant anything before late May for fear of a late frost that would kill everything she’d planted. After she was gone, the job of “taking care of the cemetery” passed to my mother and aunt. Now, it is mine.
The cemetery is in the Chippewa National Forest. It was created by homesteaders who had staked claims in the forests and fields of Itasca County over a hundred years ago. I remember the faces and recognize the names of most of the people who rest beneath the pine trees and blueberry bushes in this pure and simple place in the forest.
Nature takes its own course there. There is no grass to mow, only pine cones to rake and dead plants to replace. I will buy bright yellow marigolds for each planter, since the deer have been known to eat anything else in the planters that aren’t protected by these gaudy, stinky little floral warriors. Geraniums, pansies, and a few impatiens will fill out the hanging planters near my great grandparents’ and grandparents’ graves. I will buy a few extras to place in the planter of a family friend buried nearby. She was an elementary school music teacher from North Dakota whose grace and wry sense of humor are still missed by those who knew her. Having fallen in love with the lakes and pine trees, she chose the cemetery as her final resting place when she knew she was losing her battle with cancer many years ago. Having seen the cemeteries in North Dakota, I understand why. I would not wish to spend eternity that way, either. Maybe trees are even more essential in death than they are in life for some people.
It is not a burden, this tending of the graves of people we’ve loved in our lives. It is a gift. It marks the passage of people, and time, and seasons. It makes death a little less scary and lonely.
I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing the week before Decoration Day.