Ridge Trail, Fox State Forest, Hillsboro, NH

Yesterday I drove back to Hillsboro, NH to pick up our taxes. Figuring I’d take a walk at Fox State Forest, I took the dog with me. When we lived in Hillsboro, Reggie and I frequently walked at Fox State Forest. We lived right across from the forest on its eastern edge, so Chris and I often joked that living next to Fox was like having a huge front yard without the burden of property taxes.

I’d forgotten to wear hiking boots, so although I had my snow-shoes and gaiters in the trunk, I had nothing to strap them to. As it turned out, though, the trail had been broken by one or two other souls: an encouraging sign. Even in summer, Fox never sees many hikers, most folks being too busy or too bored to head to the woods. On the eastern edge of the forest are several old logging roads that are popular with snow-mobilers, but the trails on the western side near the forest headquarters are narrow and under-used. I can’t count the number of times that mine has been the only car in the HQ parking lot. Reggie somehow always recognizes the parking lot whenever we pull in–actually, I think he recognizes the expansive horse pasture right before the forest–and he’s always ecstatic at the promise of running trails unleashed.

Gearry Cemetery, Fox State Forest, Hillsboro, NH

There are countless trails through Fox Forest, but there’s one particular loop that the dog and I have taken time and again: Ridge Trail to Spring Valley Road to Concord End Road back to the parking lot. Spring Valley Road isn’t much of a “road” these days: it might once have been a cart path. Concord End Road in theory (and on maps) still connects Center Street with Gould Pond Road, which then connects with Bog Road (our old address), but in actuality Concord End Road dwindles to an unmaintained pair of rocky ruts halfway along the way. There are houses on the eastern edge of Concord End Road, and occasionally teenagers with trunkloads of beer drive as far as their cars will take them into the forest on Concord End Road. But for the most part Concord End Road exists solely for the handful of residents on its populated western end and those hikers who use it as a connector to or from the HQ parking lot.

At the juncture of Spring Valley Road and Concord End Road–at the halfway point of our usual loop–sits a tiny cemetery. New Hampshire is filled with scattered graves, remnants from a hundred years ago when most of the forests had been cleared and rock-cellared homesteads dotted the landscape. Hiking the woods of New Hampshire, you often see old stone walls, proof that today’s forest was once pasture. And quite often in the middle of seemingly untouched woods you’ll come to a cluster of graves, most if not all of them bearing the same last name: a family burial ground. Life was rough in 19th century New Hampshire, and so were the roads, so families were just as likely to bury their kin out back on their own land than in the churchyards of town.

Gearry Cemetery, Fox State Forest, Hillsboro, NH

Gearry Cemetery is an unusual example of such a familial burial ground. It’s relatively large (10 graves), and it’s bounded by a stone wall with a white wood gate. The Gearry family lived in Hillsboro long enough to have various permutations of their name (Geary, Gerry) memorialized as the names of local roads; there probably still are Gearry descendents living in and around Hillsboro. The stone wall was erected, I’m sure, to keep cows and horses from grazing graves; the white wood gate, presumably, is a more recent addition, probably maintained by the State.

For all the times I’ve walked past Gearry Cemetery with its cluster of weathered gravestones, I’ve never walked through that white gate. I’ve always walked past with the dog and haven’t wanted to disturb the cemetery and its sleepers with his sniffing and peeing: as Robert Frost once quoted in a different context, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Judging from the rest of his poem, though, Frost didn’t agree with this sentiment; there was something in him (elves?) that didn’t like a wall, something that wanted to get to know who- or whatever it was he was walling in or walling out. Having laid dead for so long, would the sleepy inhabitants of Gearry Cemetery, or any cemetery, care if a lone hiker and her dog poked around their untaxed property?

Concord End Road, Fox State Forest, Hillsboro, NH

Somewhere I have a photo of me from last winter standing at the gate to Gearry Cemetery, the snow nearly covering its stones. Then unlike now I had long hair, my form nearly unrecognizable under countless layers of cotton, fleece, and a huge puffy coat I no longer own. In the photo, I’m wearing snow-shoes: the last time, I think, those snow-shoes have been used. Chris and I are over-achievers, so ours is a marriage of workaholics: it was a momentous occasion that we both went snow-shoeing, together. Momentous occasion or not, I’m not sure why I posed by that gate, nor do I know why Chris snapped that photo. I guess cemeteries and the gates that cap them are signs of remembrance, markers of memory, and Chris and I were subsumed in that spirit. Photos, in a sense, are but paper tombstones, memorializing names and faces that themselves will someday pass into the oblivion of forgetfulness.

After Reggie and I returned to the car, I drove to the accountant’s office to pick up those taxes. In the parking lot were two cars, presumably one belonging to our accountant and the other belonging to his secretary. One of them bore a wry bumpersticker: “Unlike taxes, death doesn’t get worse every year.”

Concord End Road, Fox State Forest, Hillsboro, NH

I can’t, of course, be sure about that, having never been dead myself. If I could ask one thing of the inhabitants of Gearry Cemetery, it wouldn’t be whether or not they’d mind the dog sniffing their stones; it would be, “How is it? What’s it like to lie under earth, stones, and snow while walkers, dogs, carousing teenagers and the occasional snow-mobiler pass: does it get lonely without visitors? And does it get easier over time or more difficult to lie dead and forgotten: do you notice that you’re forgotten, and do you care?” Something there is that doesn’t like a wall, or a gate, or the forgetfulness that that walls, gates, and cemeteries themselves try to fend off; something there is that doesn’t like being forgotten. Death and taxes, they say, are inevitable, but is too forgetting? Is there any power, elvish or other, that has the power to keep oblivion at bay?