Monday, March 29, 2010

Living the Questions

It was a really peaceful weekend. Saturday I spent walking on the beach along with others who were doing the same, then took a mini road trip down Highway #1 which runs along the coast. It goes through one small town after another with some beautiful scenery between. Driving, for me, is a way to regenerate myself, to recharge my batteries along cleaner, clearer lines. Plus, it was an opportunity to see more of my new turf and what it has to offer.

My first stop was a natural food store called New Morning which provided part of the lunch I was planning for friends on Sunday, a hummus that was pretty darn good. Yummy, in fact. I also bought some Tupelo honey, which is made from the blossoms of the Tupelo gum tree. Double yummy. Naturally, ahem, I thought of the Van Morrison song, "Tupelo Honey."

As I drove on, I started wishing for an old cemetery which Maine is rife with, to check out dates, epitaphs, the stuff that cool old cemeteries are made of. And, there it was, up on a slight hill, surrounded by pine trees that looked as old as the cemetery itself, with a little road running through it, lined with headstones.

I parked my car beneath the pines and walked the narrow road, acquainting myself with its inhabitants, most of whom passed in the mid 1800's. There was Nellie Downs, 25 year old daughter of Ithamar and Sarah Downs. Next to Nellie was her much younger brother, Freddie, who passed at 1 yr. 1 mo. 17 ds. I am always grateful I haven't had to endure that almost unendurable pain. These parents had to, more than once.

Sometimes you see the patterns of life through the dates. The flu epidemic of 1918 took more than its share of  young lives, as did The Great War, a story told in many cemeteries. Over and over again. I'm often reminded of a line from Lonesome Dove, where Gus says, after the death of a young cowhand, "Life is short. Shorter for some than for others." I wish it wasn't so. I believe in the eternality of life, but cemeteries tell their own stories and the lives of some of my closest friends are a testament to it.

Close to Nellie and Freddie was a man who had been bestowed this epitaph:

Near the home of his childhood.
In the dust we have laid.
His spirit is happy and free.
He has crossed the dark valley.
Of the shadow of death.
To brighten the pathway for me.

"Near the home of his childhood." Simple lives of individuals, each a part of the great All. And each has contributed to life, my life and yours. Sometimes, when traveling, I stop to have lunch among these fine people, read about their lives and get a feel for their resting place. It's not a maudlin pursuit. It's a way to honor those who have passed, who lived their lives among family and friends. I speculate from time to time, as we all do, about what happens in the great beyond, but I still can't say I have the answer. Won't know until I know. What I do know is, the mystery of death, contained within the mystery of life, is no longer something I fear.

Not too far from the cemetery is the Wallingford Farm Store. It was not yet open for the year, but I had to take its picture, as well as the house that was attached. Large old houses attached to barns are everywhere in Maine. They create some very interesting architecture. This one had gone through a reincarnation, with a new life as a nursery. It was the peach color that drew me in and made me pull over for another look.

Then, a graying clapboard house, which had served as someone's business, caught my eye with its wooden carousel horse in the window. When I turned around and pulled over across from it, I realized it also had a totem pole, of sorts, on one side of the door. It was the horse I couldn't resist. Framed by the aging wood, bedecked with bits of colored glass, it created a scene I had to capture. The loon at his feet completed it.

Driving around, keeping my eyes open to little bits of life, is one of my favorite things to do. It always seems to provide questions worth considering. Last night, I came across a few quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke, which affirmed the feeling I have for this place I find myself in, looking at life from a new perspective. I'd like to share one of the quotes with you that seems particularly apropos.

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.


  1. Wow! That is an awesome post Teresa E. I love road trips, too. Leisurely road trips where you can stop where you like.

    Those photos are just wonderful. You are so right...there are a million stories in the cemeteries and it's not morose at all. Those old buildings and the carousel horse were just there waiting for you and your camera. Are you going to be around there when the Farm Store opens for the season?

    And as long as I'm here I should tell you that I really love the pictures of your favorite things! Nice.

  2. That quote is amazing! Love, love, love that.

    My great-grandmother died in the 1918 flu epidemic. I found that out when I went home to visit last week. My uncle had recently located her burial site in White Castle, LA. Such hard, short lives in those days. Cemeteries are fascinating to me. They tell a story and it always gets my imagination going.

    Sounds like you're having a wonderful trip. I look forward to more of your photos and stories to go with them. Maine looks idyllic. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  3. Cheryl, the Farm Store opens on April 10th and I do plan to go back and check it out. It looks like fun.

    LB, "Hard, short lives," indeed. And, I am having a wonderful trip. Life feels really good.

  4. Glad you're having fun!

    I hope you don't mind, but I started a quote area in my sidebar and included the one from this post, giving you credit for finding it, of course. It's just one of the coolest quotes I've seen in quite some time! :)

  5. LB: Absolutely! I'm so glad it spoke to you, as it did to me.

  6. How I wish I could have a little nest on your dashboard! Then I could see all the sights with you and travel the country in style. As it is, I'll just have to do it vicariously via your marvelous blog.

  7. I'm glad you're traveling with me. It makes it more fun to have good "road companions."

  8. You are having quite a journey. Cemeteries always stir something in us. I like Rilke. Are you making new friends? Is it cold there?

  9. Was raining non-stop for over two days, and quite cool, but today the sun is out and it promises to be warm and mostly sunny for several days. I didn't mind, it was nice in it's own way, but then no flooding here, as elsewhere. No new friends yet... I need to drop my tendency to be introverted and open myself up more to the possibilities...thanks for the nudge, Jack.

  10. Love this post, Teresa (but then, I love all your just have a knack for giving light and character and meaning to so much). Tombstones say so much. A friend of mine, while visiting in Arizona, saw this: I told you I was sick. Gotta admire a sense of humor to the end. What a fabulous journey you're on. Look forward to more.

  11. Thank you, Kitty. Yes, a sense of humor can make all the difference.

  12. Ah, you were out there doing one of my favorite things, exploring old cemeteries. Humbling to stand in front of head stones of ancestors many generations past, knowing their spark lives on in us. many amazing avenues for thought with Rilke. And you. Safe and vast journey dear one.