|Where did we go on Saturday? Read on and find out.|
It is remarkable how much there is to see in a single American county. If you spend enough time looking into nooks and corners, as well as at the grander vistas, rather than speeding through on expressways, every region has its natural beauties and remnants of the past. This is certainly true of Leelanau County, Michigan, which the Artist and I have been exploring for decades, and it’s true as well of Cochise County, Arizona, where we have now spent part or all of six (I think it’s six) winters.
For example, the road into the trailhead to Cochise Stronghead is reached via a large modern development called Sunsites, but the post office for the development goes by the name of Pearce. The original Pearce, largely a ghost town today, is not far south of Sunsites and lies within close view of brutally gouged buttes, the town having come into existence by virtue of a late nineteenth-century mining boom kicked off by the discovery of gold in 1895.
Although we have driven through old Pearce before and stopped once or twice so I could photograph buildings (the largest, most impressive one presently for sale), we had never taken the road west, the direction intriguingly marked (to my mind) with a sign pointing to a historic cemetery. Saturday, at last, we took that less-traveled road (not worrying much about rattlesnakes along the way in January).
I found the cemetery enchanting. The “non-perpetual care” idea is feasible here in the arid West, where no forest is going to retake the land and obliterate the lovingly marked and personally tended graves.
There are miners buried here, and farmers, and at least one blacksmith.
Information near the entrance gives statistics on causes of death in the mining period, the numbers broken down into Hispanic and non-Hispanic “communities” (as the explanation read). Tuberculosis and other lung diseases were common in both groups, what with rock dust underground and coal- and wood-fired stoves, unpaved roads, and trains filling air above ground with a variety of particulates. Stillbirths and infant deaths were more common among Hispanics, childbirth deaths for non-Hispanics, but there were a lot of baby graves in the cemetery for both groups.
Interestingly, the same statistics tell us that non-Hispanics were more likely than Hispanics to be shot or otherwise murdered, as well as to die of alcoholism, while accidents rank sixth in both lists (“all mining-related” in the Hispanic list).
As is true of the pioneer cemetery in Dos Cabezas (our own winter ghost town home), some graves are beautifully elaborate, while others, equally touching, could not be simpler. There are wrought iron or adobe enclosures and statues of saints in the same vicinity as crossed pipes and rows of natural stones outlining graves. People have left small tokens on and near many graves.
The newest resting places are farthest from the entrance, some still decorated for Christmas, for the cemetery is still very much in use today. There are gravestones with 2018 and 2019 dates and a few plots of fresh earth not yet marked with tombstones. ‘Tombstone’ – there’s a word not often used any more. We usually say ‘headstone’ or just ‘stones’ when we speak of grave markers. To de-emphasize thoughts of death?
There is something terribly moving to me in old cemeteries. The simplicity of it all. Names and dates, marriages and military service, “beloved mother” and other brief notations. The wind was whipping across the Sulphur Springs Valley on Saturday, raising a white cloud from the playa as we crossed from Dos Cabezas to Pearce. “Dust in the wind,” the Artist commented, referring to an old Moody Blues song. [Correction: The recording group was Kansas. The Artist had said Moody Blues, and I love the name of that group, and immediately I found a YouTube video giving credit to the wrong group. Sigh! Loved the visual there, too....] It seemed an appropriate song and thought for a day to visit a cemetery. Cemeteries remind us that none of us is here forever, even those who make the biggest names for themselves while alive. Benefactors to humanity, perpetrators of crime and war, ordinary working people providing for families -- we are all going in the same direction, with our common end, that of us all, no more than metaphorical dust in the wind. The time given us to live and love and work and become worthy of being remembered is hauntingly brief, for the longest-lived human being as well as for those whose lives are cut short in relative youth.
Aside from general associations and feelings I find in all old cemeteries, this particular spot on earth outside an old ghost town is especially moving to me because its backdrop on the western horizon is the Dragoon Mountains, a range that always, for me, has its heart in Cochise Stronghold. I cannot look toward the Dragoon Mountains without my eye going to the Stronghold, and I cannot gaze upon the Stronghold without giving thanks each time for the fact that Cochise himself did not die on a reservation but there in his mountain home, in historic Apacheria.
We are here now, the Artist and I. That is, we are alive and together on this so-precious earth, in the presently troubled United States of America, and, for now, here in winter in Cochise County, Arizona. With all that’s going on in the country at large, we continue to look for moments of peace and hours of contentment, not to waste all the time remaining to us in storms of the soul. And we have not yet exhausted the possibilities for exploration of nature and history in this corner of the American West.
The road from Pearce to the cemetery, for instance, continues west through Middlemarch Pass to Tombstone. I have noted on other occasions the Tombstone end of the road and now need to ask someone about the road through the pass. How mountainous is it? Is it frequently traveled? What is the highest point? Is it like the high, narrow, twisting road over Onion Saddle in the Chiricahuas, or more like Stockton Pass through the Pinaleños? Perhaps we will find out this winter. Certainly, we will continue our Arizona adventures while we can, before we too become dust in the wind.