At rest

It’s become something of a holiday tradition for J and me to take a long walk on Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, we decided to leave the dogs at home and take a stroll to Newton Cemetery, where we’ve walked in the past.

One eye open, times two

J and I like to walk at Newton Cemetery for the same reason I like to walk at Mount Auburn Cemetery. Newton Cemetery is basically a pretty park where people happen to be buried. Because of the graves, the atmosphere at Newton Cemetery is quiet and tranquil: you can walk the roads without worrying that cars, joggers, or cyclists will run you down, and you can take your time looking at monuments without feeling like you’re hogging the view of other browsers, as I sometimes feel at museums. In a good garden cemetery, all the lanes are the slow lane, so you can enjoy a leisurely stroll admiring the landscape, remarking on the architecture, and paying your respects to strangers. Since Newton Cemetery is a gentle walk from J’s house, going for a cemetery-stroll feels like one way of meeting the neighbors, even if those “neighbors” no longer happen to be alive.

Reflective

Walking in a cemetery also serves as an excellent reminder of how grateful you are simply to be alive. When J first suggested that we go to Newton Cemetery for our Thanksgiving walk, I quipped, “Ah, so we can spend Thanksgiving afternoon being thankful we’re not dead?” J immediately responded, “Yes, and that’s true everyday.” Ah, yes: a point well taken. Every time we’ve walked at Newton Cemetery, J and I have happened upon some particular marker that stops us cold, whether that’s been a tombstone with my name on it, the grave of a local victim of 9-11, or an entire field of war dead. This trip to the cemetery, we spent a lot of time looking at markers of the recently deceased, many of which had been decorated for the season by grieving family members. There’s nothing like a tombstone bearing a autumnal bouquet from a grieving widow (complete with a greeting card, “To my husband on his birthday”) or a yet-unveiled stone for a stillborn infant (freshly adorned with toys and with the carved inscription “Step softly, our dream lies buried here”) to make you realize how lucky you are.

Mallards

And then there are the waterfowl. Like most garden cemeteries, Newton Cemetery has several ponds that add a quiet, contemplative tone to the landscape, and like most cemetery ponds, the ones at Newton Cemetery are popular with ducks and geese. During a cemetery stroll last spring, J and I chatted with one widow whose decision where to bury her husband was decided in part by the ducks and geese of Newton Cemetery. Over the years, whenever she’d visit her husband’s grave, she explained, she and her children would bring stale bread to feed the waterfowl, making an otherwise sad visit a bit more happy. “My children love it here,” she explained, gesturing toward her now-teenaged kids. “One of my sons said the other day that this cemetery isn’t a dead place, because there’s always something new to see here.”

Always something new to see, indeed. Just when I’d thought that the waterfowl of Newton Cemetery was limited to the usual mallards and Canada geese, on Thursday we spotted a half-dozen hooded mergansers who carefully kept an entire pond between themselves and our impertinent camera lenses. Apparently even a cemetery doesn’t always provide the privacy that wild ducks crave, at least when the local paparazzi are taking a stroll.

Hooded mergansers

Click here for a photo-set of the various waterfowl we saw on our Thanksgiving Day stroll at Newton Cemetery. Enjoy!