What better way to celebrate Memorial Day than with an afternoon visit to Henry David Thoreau’s grave in Concord, Massachusetts? (Click on the image for a full-size version.) Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is green and flowering this time of year, and yesterday saw a steady stream of visitors to Author’s Ridge, where Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott rest within a stone’s throw of one another. On a green and flowering day, it’s easy to envy the eternal rest of a soul slumbering in such a peaceful spot.

Whereas Ralph Waldo Emerson sleeps beneath a large craggy stone that stands out from the Other Emersons, Henry David Thoreau’s headstone is humble, no larger than the other stones in his family plot. (Click on the image for a full-size version.) Indeed, the only thing that distinguishes Henry’s grave from his parents’, brother’s, or sisters’ is the perpetual pile of objects left by admirers: stones, pine cones, boughs, and handwritten notes. That Thoreau’s grave is consistently adorned with such mementos whereas Emerson’s is typically not is interesting. One oft-retold story recounts how one visitor to Author’s Ridge once saw an elderly woman placing flowers on Emerson’s, Hawthorne’s, and Alcott’s graves, but not Thoreau’s. When the visitor asked the woman why she spurned Thoreau’s grave, she answered, “I’m not leaving any flowers for that godless athiest!” I suspect that Thoreau wouldn’t want flowers from the likes of that woman…and I’d like to think that his spirit smiles at the humble objects left by readers whose lives were touched by his writing and wish to return the compliment.

These days, all the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery–authors and nonauthors, godly and godless alike–are visited by the swift scampering of chipmunks, whose comings and goings will continue long past Memorial Day. (Click on the image for a full-size version.) Although large ostentatious tombstones might seem a sorry waste of resources, chipmunks aren’t afraid to live, feed, and breed amongst the dearly departed. To a chipmunk, a gravemarker is no different from a stone wall, which itself is no different from any random rock: whatever sort of stone placed by whatever hand, rock is rock to a chipmunk’s eye. As they rest beneath their respective rocks, Thoreau, Emerson, and all their neighbors are sleeping with the chipmunks, their spirits showered with spring petals lovingly strewn by Nature herself.