We were on a short dirt road between nowhere and nowhere else. At least that is what it seemed like to us. We enjoy exploring these back roads, especially when we are far from home and everyday life seems so different. We are beginning the Circle Tour of Lake Superior and are on the east end above Sault Ste. Marie, Canada. We have only been here once before – a long time ago and that was just a quick drive through. This time we have no urgent reason to get home on a specific day so we are staying more nights at each stop.
The paved road we turned on, off highway 17, ended a short distance away at the water’s edge, at a boat launch. We lingered a while taking in the quiet. Going back we turned down a dirt road with a sign pointing toward a lake shore resort. It was a small resort that bills itself as “A slice of Austria on Lake Superior.”
On this dirt road, going to the slice of Austria, I had noticed a small cemetery, on a cliff between the water and the road. On our way back I told JB to turn in and we drove down a short bumpy lane to where the markers were.
I had said that this was a road between nowhere and nowhere else. This isn’t true. This has been, and is a place of significance for many people for a long time. This is home to the Batchawana First Nation people. There were several homes along the paved road and some evidence that people had established small businesses. But there isn’t much opportunity for employment close by so we could tell it is a poor community, at least from our capitalistic, consumer perspective. Maybe they don’t value “things” so their perspective of “rich” is entirely different. Maybe they value family, community, nature and only feel poor when they come in contact with the dominate values. I would love to move in and get to know them better.
We do know their grief because we lingered in their cemetery. I worried about violating their spiritual space, but I think it may have been okay because I felt a lot of reverence as I walked around and both JB and I felt their grief. JB noticed that most of those buried here were children and young adults – there were only two who were older than 60.
Most of the grave markers were wooden crosses, although there were some that were white stone. There was one that was made of cement. We had just visited the graves of JB’s ancestors in Owen Sound and both of us were struck by the difference between the expensive stone markers to honor the dead and the humble ways the dead were honored here. Could there be a “richer” statement of grief in burying a beloved child than this. It leads me to question the purpose of our very expensive burial system.
I have never lost a child that I had held and nurtured, and I can’t comprehend the pain. But these parents lost five young children over a series of years in the late 1800’s. It was almost a yearly occurrence to bury a child. How do you think they coped with it?
Yes, this is a community that grieves the loss of their own, together – and listens to the spirits of their ancestors in this sacred place. Don’t we all know who we are by remembering who has touched us and left?
7 thoughts on “Somebodies’ Somewhere”
Your post really stimulated my thinking. I wonder how much of my thinking is shaped by the consumer culture I live in. When I see those who live in poverty, my mind forms almost automatic thoughts about their quality of life. Putting it in the perspective of different values helps me open my mind and heart to explore more. I could learn valuable lessons if I am willing to believe each person has dignity. In the past, I have been guilty of judging others and in so doing, separated myself from them. How many lessons have I missed?
Thanks for stirring my mind and heart.
Your thinking has paralleled mine, Joanne. I have read several novels written by Native Americans that stimulated me to think about differences in values and lifestyles, but I have also had the same types of automatic thoughts about people in poverty. But it is so easy to assume that people without my values are unhappy. Keep me posted on where your mind goes with this.
You raise some good points, as usual, Pat. Regarding those in places that are “poor,” I sometimes wonder if they aren’t actually “rich” in other ways, or if this is something we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel both better and worse about our own choices. Does that make sense?
As far as our burial practices, I have long questioned why we go through such expense as a huge cemetery plot and luxurious casket. I wish I could remember the name of the book, but I read about some cultures making the move toward decomposition. I like the idea of being planted under a tree. I wonder if part of our dealing with death experience is simply a way for us to distance ourselves from the details we’d rather not consider.
I think you are very right about the need to distance ourselves from the smelly ugliness of death. But I think we miss something very important in not having the privilege of preparing the bodies of our loved ones, and building the box they will be buried in.
About poverty. I don’t think life is ever good for people who don’t have the means to provide for their basic needs. Sometimes I wonder about those who have basic needs but don’t choose to keep their possessions well maintained. A shabby house and beat up car doesn’t mean that person doesn’t have other priorities that bring great meaning to their lives.
Regarding shabby houses and cars, I think you’re right. It’s easy to judge from the outside and think what someone “ought” to do. But if I look in my own back yard – tall with weeds – I can see the flaw in this way of thinking. It might look odd to an outsider, but I’ve simply been tending other priorities and the grass can wait. I’m sure other people have their own versions of weeds.
A most sensitive and heartfelt post on the grief of others….one with a lesson for all of us.
Thanks, Charlie. I do believe death and loss are levelers, at least for those who have a feeling soul. In the end, even those who have no heart or feeling or conscience will loose someone they love and will die.