Monday, May 12, 2014

What to do in Portland: Evergreen Cemetery

I really love a good cemetery. 
The quiet winding paths, the chirping birds, the tangible, gritty lives buried right below your feet. 
So when John suggested a trip to Evergreen Cemetery I grabbed my camera and followed along. 

The grounds are gorgeous and lush and the headstones are lovingly swaddled in shrubbery and we enjoyed a long walk until we came upon a gravestone that read Gelineau. Christopher, whose side of the tombstone held his dog tags, died on April 20th, 2004. A year and a few days later Lavinia, his wife was buried next to him. 

We sat before their gravestone, peeking into the glass box that held clues to their lives and possibly their deaths and speculated. A clay sailboat, wedding pictures, a heart shaped crystal.
 He must have died in the war. But what happened to her? 

I googled his name and found his story: a bomb in Iraq, as we had suspected. The story went on to talk about how Lavinia had played the guitar and sung their favorite song at his funeral.
John and I sat and tried to imagine having the strength to play music at our spouse's funeral.
How could such a strong woman have committed suicide a year later?

We delved deeper into google as the sun warmed our backs and we stretched out in front of Chris and Lavinia.
"Oh wow…."
That's all I could say when I found the story
A year after her husband's burial, her estranged father had come for a visit and had strangled Lavinia before hanging himself. 

We sat stunned, staring up into the sky. 

Cemetery's can be sombre. I suspect for most people they are. The thought of death is uncomfortable. Repressed. But I can't help but feel like there is something about walking among the dead that can give strength and gratitude to the living and in that moment John and I could think of nothing but the good fortune we had been afforded. 

So many other headstones hint to untold stories. 
What happened to Lucy H Shefley and who is Mother?

But if the mystery doesn't lure you in the fresh air surely should. Headstone after headstone was coated in luxurious carpets of orange lichen - what my budding naturalist brain suspects is possibly the elegant sunburst lichen, or more correctly - Xanthoria elegans.

John pointed out the lichen in praise of Portland's superior air quality - and while he isn't wrong that lichen grow attached to pure air destinations, that's only true for some lichen. 
Xanthoria elegans, if that is what this is, is actually so resistant to pollution and severe conditions that it has been tested and vetted as a survivor of outer space simulations. 

But really it's just beautiful to see such a pop of color on cold stone.

Friends of Evergreen Cemetery is a group that has dedicated their time to preserving the beautiful grounds of the cemetery and they have an active calendar of history tours and garden walks for the public. The city of Portland itself has a really impressive cache of urban trails on their website and they have a suggested walking tour of Evergreen Cemetery complete with hours, bus routes and possible activities for each hike. 

If there is any tombstone you cannot miss it's Edmund J. "Taz". I may be a sucker for old dilapidated, half worn headstones but this headstone is just amazing.

Evergreen Cemetery
372 Stevens Avenue 
Ground Hours: 7am - 4:30pm
Office Hours: 7 am - 3:30 pm 

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