Friday, July 31, 2009

The lost road

Ghosts? No. Maybe it's the morning mist following another heavy downpour that makes them seem so, these two elderly ladies entering the small cemetery through the wrought-iron gate. One in a pale pink coat, the other blue, colors muted in the thick wet air, wearing boots, the both of them, and dark kerchiefs tied the old way. Other than the click of the gate-latch, not a sound. Their footfalls too insubstantial to leave an audible trace on the paving stones that lead to the graves.

One is carrying a plastic pail holding garden implements, the other has a garbage bag and rake. No talking. After thirty or so paces, they turn left down a row of headstones and stop at the sixth one down. They are surrounded by birds here, chittering in the trees that ring the cemetery, maple, oak, pine. Catbirds, warblers, titmice, robins, song sparrows. And the crows, of course, stepping lightly between the graves about fifty feet from where the ladies are setting up to trim a small shrub growing at the foot of a substantial stone.

The one in pink does the trimming, the one in blue rakes. It has begun to drizzle but they seem not to mind. They work in tandem, deliberately, silently, with a well-practiced harmony. Graceful ghosts.

The road past the cemetery leads further up Holland Mountain, through thick second-growth North Jersey woods and underbrush, passing abandoned mines, a hilltop nursery, and a few isolated cabins. It's a lost road of sorts, too narrow and steep for through-traffic or trucks, except for local deliveries. A perfect road for rambling or biking, if you've got good legs and good lungs.

It's really starting to rain now. I'm thinking I should never have started out this morning. It's just too wet. I take shelter under the roadside trees, hoping for a break in the weather so I can head back. How did they get here, these two? There's no car in sight, and we're at least a mile from the nearest settlement. They must've walked, but from which direction? And carrying tools no less. It's always a bit of a shock to be reminded how strong, how determined, the old can be.

A tornado ripped through Wantage Wednesday afternoon, about ten miles from here, the kind of rarity that has people talking for days. "It was a miracle no one was hurt." "I had corn in my back yard that was blown from a farm two miles away." "Fellow's barn roof wound up across the road." "It was like a war zone." "Thank god I didn't lose any cows." I wonder if these two ladies knew what had happened, or, if they did, whether it was simply another thing to take in stride. They seem very intent on what they are doing. I suppose it's a kind of serenity.

The rain has stopped and everything is still, except for the ladies. They're packing up, one her pail and tools, the other her full trash bag. Despite its age and isolation, it's a well-groomed cemetery. Very restful. I watch them leave. They make sure to close the gate behind them, then begin to slowly, silently walk up the hill to who knows where.

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