My hobo friend Floyd Eaton once told me that his favorite place to roll out his bedroll whenever he is on the road is the local cemetery. The grass between the gravestones is level and free of rocks and broken bottles, and the chance of being rousted by the local constabulary is slim. As for ghosts, Floyd had seen them but paid them no mind.
I haven’t yet tried sleeping in one, but I make it a point to stop at just about every graveyard I come across. Where better to stretch one’s legs and to contemplate the human condition? Moreover, there’s almost always a working water spigot where one can wash up and refill the old canteen.
To say that I enjoy wandering among gravestones would be a stretch; in fact, I sort of hate it. At my age, I realize I’m getting precariously close to the end of the line. I enjoy living and the prospect of being dead doesn’t excite me, probably because I have no expectation of “going fishing” or “going golfing.”
Nor do I wish to die doing “something I love” because for the life of me I can’t think of anything terminal that I would enjoy doing. Yes, I often arrive astride a motorcycle, and it’s true, I do love motorcycling. However, if somewhere down the road, I should find myself skidding into the path of an oncoming semi, I seriously doubt my last thought would be, “Wow! It doesn’t get any better than this!”
Sadly, I see a many images of motorcycles etched into the granite. Such is the price we pay for going too fast: we go nowhere at all. I raise a toast to my fallen comrade, and silently renew my vow to always look both ways before entering an intersection and to be doubly wary of Buicks bearing Triple A bumper stickers. I’m saddened, but at the same time gladdened. Happy to be above ground, free to move about the country.
My favorite graveyard is Elgin Cemetery in Green River, Utah. Why? Because it sits amid a magnificent landscape—the purple hued Book Cliffs to the north, the golden San Rafael Reef and so-called “Silent City” to the south. Lately such places have become tourist attractions; however, I have yet to encounter a fellow tourist in Elgin Cemetery. There are no trees and no greenery except for the plastic turf in which some graves are upholstered. One is tricked out to resemble a miniature golf course—evidently the deceased’s favorite pastime. Another features a very short rail line that supports an ore car filled with rocks. The final resting place of a local miner.
Where a cattle rancher lies, you’ll find sun bleached saddle tack, boots, spurs, a ten gallon hat, canteen, and the ubiquitous silhouette of a slouching cowhand. Evidently there are no ordinances governing just how much stuff can be piled on a grave, and the longer it all sits there, subject to wind, dust storms, blistering sun, cloudbursts and erosion, the more poignant the tableau. A beloved stuffed animal stands sentinel over the grave of its lost child, head bowed by the elements. Or, perhaps, unbearable sorrow?
One needn’t know who lies beneath in order to grieve. After all, we are each and every one of us destined to pass away, and we will be remembered only for as long as it takes for those who choose to remember us to pass on. Time was when tombstones bore epitaphs bearing testimony to this harsh reality, although nowadays the custom seems to have given way to mawkish doggerel. Rare is the epitaph of genuine literary merit, my all-time favorite being that of John “Buffalo” Nichol, who lies buried in the Wells, Nevada, cemetery, situated between old U.S. 40 and what used to be the Western Pacific mainline.
I’M NOT SURE WHAT THE SONG WAS
BUT WE PLAYED IT ANYWAY
AND OF COURSE IT STILL IS PLAYING SOMEWHERE
OUT THERE ON ITS JOURNEY ACROSS
THE GREAT BLACK OCEAN—
IT WAS A HAPPIER SONG THAN THIS ONE, BUFFALO.