Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cemetery Irises in Situ

Design on the top of a gravestone in Littig
Something about winter makes Matt & me want to visit cemeteries.  This turns out to be a good impulse, since it means fewer brambles and better visibility.  Interestingly enough, it's MLK weekend, and we ended up at two historically black cemeteries by coincidence. So that seems sort of seasonally appropriate.

The first was Littig Cemetery on Bitting Rd in Littig. Reportedly, it was created on land donated by a former slave. It's located in a pretty valley of pastureland beneath a ridge that I assume was carved out by Wilbarger Creek, which runs through the area.

A pool of irises in Littig Cemetery

Clearly, some folks have recently put a lot of work into maintaining the cemetery--they've been chopping down the (many) trees that died in the drought and gathering big piles of brush. Nicely, however, they've left the big drifts of irises (presumably Iris albicans, commonly known, for reasons that will become obvious, as "cemetery irises") that are gathered in pools around the cemetery--it will be lovely in a month or two.  So many cemeteries are tidy to the point of sterility, but it's so much more interesting when they let a little wildness in.

Littig is a tiny community that has dwindled since its heyday in the 30s and has seen (or is seeing) tough economic times, something that is reflected in the improvised tombstones on many of the graves.

This homemade headstone reads "HUS P. THOMAS DIED 25"

 After Littig, we went to Parks Creek cemetery in Manor.  From the road, it looks pretty small, and I had assumed it was fairly recent, which doesn't really interest me.

Interestingly crooked tree and irises among the graves in the newer section of Parks Creek cemetery

But Matt was intrigued, so I said, "Sure, okay, whatever."  ...And then it turned out to be a wonderful find.

Like Littig, it has a lot of handmade grave markers.  The one below is cast of concrete and stones with a decorative border made of steel wire in a green casing.

A headstone at Parks Springs cemetery

But the most interesting thing about this cemetery is that it goes on and on back into the woods. It is apparently grew slowly over the years, the older sections becoming overgrown while the new sections were being used.  So if you press your way through the brush, greenbriar, and other inexplicable thorns, you find little pockets of graves surrounded by irises, cacti, refuse, and drought-killed trees.

You have to scramble through scrub to reach this clearing

This interesting thicket contains a huge clump of agave.  It's a little macabre, but throughout the cemetery you can see colonies of plants presumably thriving on... people.  Yum.

Honestly, though, if there's one thing touring small, old cemeteries teaches you, it's the impermanence of most grave markers. It only takes a decade or two of neglect to topple obelisks, shatter stones, and efface lettering. A giant agave cluster  or a pool of irises makes at least as good a monument as stone.

A huge clump of Agave (americana?)  Somewhere under that tangle is the remnants of a small metal grave marker.

The plants also make a nice permanent bouquet.  What's interesting is that some of the graves back in the woods are only from the seventies (others go back at least to 1900).  It doesn't take at all long for a cemetery to be overrun.

In both cemeteries, many of the best-preserved headstones are those of veterans; this one from 1975 is in good shape, but it's fairly deep in the woods.

George L. Allen's headstone
 ...Where you reach it by wading through irises--hundreds and hundreds of irises.

A glorious glade of irises (presumably, I. albicans)


Bob said...

Isn't it amazing that the irises made it through the drought so well. You need to go back when they bloom and take pictures. It would surely be stunning.

Elgin_house said...

Good idea! I should see if Matt wants to drop by this weekend--our cemetery irises here at home are already in beautiful bloom.

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