It continues to be cool and wet here in New England, with the landscape luxuriating in its own lushness. Last Thursday, I went on a Friends of Mount Auburn walk with Clare Walker Leslie, whose Keeping a Nature Journal is one of the books I use in my “Art of Natural History” first-year writing class. It was too damp for (comfortable) field sketching, so we walked with closed notebooks and open eyes, simply to see what we could see.
Mount Auburn is one of those places where you always see something new, no matter how many times you’ve been there before. I’ve seen plenty of blooming redbuds at Mount Auburn and elsewhere, but Thursday was the first time I’d ever seen a large redbud with massive clusters of flowers blooming like pompoms on its trunk. A bit of Googling revealed that “cauliflory” is the term for trees that bloom from their trunks, and a quick peek at Wikipedia reveals that redbuds are renowned for being cauliflorous: a fact I’d somehow never realized. How is it I’ve been to Mount Auburn so many times without seeing this particular tree, and how is it I’ve seen countless redbuds blooming over the years without ever noticing that they sometimes bloom directly from their trunks as well as their branches?
In a place like Mount Auburn, you can never have your eyes too wide open. One of the themes of Thursday’s walk was how Mount Auburn is a “layered” landscape that operates on many different levels. You can visit the cemetery to go birdwatching, or to look at tombstones, or to admire horticultural plantings, or to search for the graves of imminent historical figures, or to visit the graves of your own loved ones. Both of Clare Walker Leslie’s parents are buried at Mount Auburn, so her experience of the place is necessarily different from mine, a frequent visitor who nevertheless doesn’t “know” any of the inhabitants.
Although I don’t have any loved ones buried at Mount Auburn, there is one monument I’m now officially “adopting” as my own. Despite all the times I’ve walked past the monument for Thomas H. Perkins, founder of the Perkins School for the Blind, I’d never before noticed how the grave’s weathered marble Newfoundland–the so-called “Perkins dog“–looks a bit like Reggie. Reggie himself doesn’t have a grave: J and I chose to have him cremated, and we didn’t opt to keep his cremains, recognizing that an urn of ashes simply couldn’t contain the memories we have. There’s no one place where I go to honor Reggie’s memory because his memory is always with me; still, I cherish the thought that every time I go walking at Mount Auburn, there’s a special stone there that reminds me of someone I could never forget.