graveyard

In true British spring style, the recent weather has been unpredictable, but a few days of clear blue skies and hot sunshine helped the season finally burst into action.

On one of those hot sunny days, I found myself heading home from a work thing at Camborne. It was early evening and I had no reason to be home straight away, so I drove over to Treslothan woods. I visit this place often; it is a sanctuary amongst the trees and one of the greatest places to visit during bluebell season. I knew that bluebells wouldn’t be in bloom yet, but I was hoping the wild garlic would be. Driving along the track to the tiny church car park I could see over the low walls that it wasn’t yet, but pulled into the car park to take a look a closer look anyway.

Not wanting to leave straight away, I decided to take a look around the tiny church. Despite being a regular visitor here, I have never been inside. Heading through the creaky gate, I walked towards the entrance. Outside, an elderly lady was bent over a mop, cleaning up the tiled floor outside the door. We greeted each other shyly and on a sudden whim, not wishing to disturb her work, I turned suddenly and made for the graveyard instead.

The graveyard dates back to the mid-1800’s along with the church and many of the gravestone have fallen into disrepair. Despite their negative connotations, graveyards are fantastic habitats, death bringing new life to the earth once more. Many of the older spaces are no longer cared for and left to nature to reclaim the land. Bathed in sunlight, the grass tall and lush, the floor of Treslothan was covered in a smattering of creamy butter primroses and daises. Bees flitted between the flower heads and groups of flies hung in billowing clouds, dancing around each other, the reason unapparent to me. The area was silent, except for the birdsong; blue tits, robins and sparrow song all came together like an out-of-sync orchestra, each musician vying for his instrument to be the main focus.

I spent some time wandering through the graves, gently lifting the vines that covered the gravestones, fingering the imprinted letters and learning more about the bodies that now inhabited the land. It occurred to me that many of the graves were for young people; Edwin Emmet, a gardener, lost his life aged 34. Bessie, died aged 11 years old. John Case, 6. There was nothing fearful about this space, but instead the air had a tinge of sadness to it. Not all the graves were for those under 40 and one in particular which caught my eye was for John Harris, the famous Cornish poet. His long, rhyming tomes of life in the county made him famous, including many about the mines and the men who worked them. The gravestone marks his death in 1884 and was in a good state and completely clear of overgrowth, one of the few, his legacy earning him a privilege not extended to the forgotten souls he shares this space with.

As I edged further into the graveyard, I became aware of an access point in the low wall at the back of the graveyard. Pushing through the long grass, I headed over to it and found myself in the most beautiful place. Sunlight fell through the trees and illuminated a thick carpet of green plants, dotted with the occasional primrose, buttercup or bluebell peeking through the top. Sycamore seedlings fought for their own space on the woodland floor. The air had a sweet floral note to it, an intoxicating smell that I couldn’t quite pinpoint. I carefully made my way through the undergrowth, along the tiny path which looked as though it had not been used for some time, following a stream of golden sunlight which poured in from the west side. The trees suddenly stopped and opened up into large glorious fields, a huge breadth of space which chastened me. I stood staring out over the tangle of bramble which separated the two habitats, gazing dreamily at the horizon where the land met the sky. A robin landed on a nearby branch, just a few feet away. It hopped about, pecking at insects and scraping its beak along the wood. It stood and cocked its head on one side at me, measuring me up. Deciding I was not of any use, it continued to move amongst the trees, further and further away. Standing here, I felt as though in another world, where time stood still, and nothing mattered but the moment I was in.

After a while, I traced my footsteps back towards the graveyard and hopped over the broken wall. I passed a large, gothic crypt, the inside bathed in shadow. Two huge iron gates secured the family grave inside. Having not been opened for years, moss had grown on the stone and brown, curled leaves had gathered inside. I pressed my forehead to the clod metal entrance and reflected on the sort of funeral they would have had; an extravagant affair which would have been another example of asserting the family grandeur over the poorer locals. Lockable places for coffins were big in the Victorian era; a time when people were terrified of zombies, vampires and grave robbers. I headed back up to the church door, passing the modern-day graveyard which was now for cremations, a space for ashes only. It was the antithesis of the older space; neat, tidy, bright. Fresh bunches of flowers decorated the neat granite and marble slabs, the inscriptions picked out in neat, clear letting. I walked over the newly cleaned floor and up to the door; a huge, ancient slab of wood which had weathered over time. I pushed it gently, but it remained staunchly closed. I mused about the large rusty keyhole, the key which unlocked the door must be comically large. On the wall next to the door, a noticeboard informed parishioners about the goings on. One notice read out the rules for mourners; ‘no artificial flowers’.

As I made my way back to the car, a flash of colour behind a low wall caught my eye – a pile of fake flowers had been slung down on a heap of leaf litter. Algae had gathered around the petals and begun to turn them brown. No chance to break down into the soil and continue the cycle, they remain, their only moment to bloom, lost.

 

Flower of the moor, to nature dear,
And sweet as thou art free,
I turn aside from crowded paths,
To muse in  peace with thee.
Thou fillest with thy pleasant smell
The down in mosses dress’d
The gentle breeze flows freshly by,
And fans thy yellow vest.
The housewife loves thee, treasuring up
Thy fragrant form with care,
Should sickness come, or wounds, or sprains
For thou hast virtues rare.
How oft, when hands and head were tired,
I’ve paced the common brown,
Or stretched me by your scented banks,
As the great sun went down;
And heard mysterious murmurs sound
Along the solemn sod,
The whispers of omnipotence,
The silent speech of God!
Dear child of Autumn, sweetest when
The robin pipes his quill,
Among the early harvest sheaves,
Delicious chamomile!

The Chamomile By John Harris

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