Monday, October 22, 2007

Across this flat lyeth British Soldiers...

I walk to work through a graveyard most days. I suppose in some towns that would be unusual, but in Fredericton the Old Burial Ground, final resting place to dozens of British Soldiers and the Loyalists they protected, is more quiet city park than cemetary. Those who buried the bodies in this yard did so so long ago that there have been no living mourners left for generations; these are ancestors, not relatives.

Every day this fall I've been watching the progress of this great maple tree right in the middle of the Burial Ground; from a dark green all summer it's now completely aflame with orange and indeed has begun shedding its new auburn 'do.

There's a cross beside the path that runs through the Old Burial Ground (at each end of this path gates open onto busy downtown streets, hence its use as a shortcut). It is dedicated to the memory of the British Soldiers who died in Fredericton and were buried in this cemetery after the American Revolution.

Carved into its base are the words, "To the Memory of the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, and men of the Regiments and Corps of the British Army who served in the Fredericton Garrison between 1784 and 1869"

Then, in smaller text: "Across this flat lyeth British Soldiers who died in Fredericton".

That second epitaph, simple and homely, is there for a reason. This memorial is new, but it stands side by side with the original memorial cairn which was erected by the British Army to mark where their men lay. The marble plate in the face of the original cairn - just a pyramid of stones - is cracked by weather now, but the words that mark it can still be clearly read: "Across this flat lyeth British Soldiers who died in Fredericton". Nothing grander than that.

I've looked at that cairn many mornings as I walk to work and I always think the same thing: What a long way from home to die. What must some of them thought of it, I wonder - dying so very far away from home. I guess it's a question soldiers have ever asked themselves, and are asking themselves still.

The leaves have pretty fully turned now and we went for a drive on Sunday to enjoy them. This is one of the country backroads we ambled down, on Keswick Ridge, on the way to Mactaquac.

It was a beautiful day and in the low 20s, so one more opportunity to open the sunroof and enjoy the sunshine while nature threw everything she had at us.

A glimpse of the Saint John River from high atop Keswick Ridge.

Then, this morning, back to strolling to work among Georgian ghosts under the autumn sunshine.


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Blogger Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Oh i hope they maintain that cairn. The new memorial is good but this, built by their own, is more moving.

You live in a beautiful place!

5:05 p.m.  
Anonymous Rhea said...

I love old cemeteries. I also love fall foliage. I was traisping around Western Massachusetts this past weekend and got my fill of both!

4:42 p.m.  
Blogger Sherwood Harrington said...

What a pretty walk to work! Can you traverse it when the snow is deep?

The only cemetery I walked through on a regular basis was the one between Amherst College and the town's main pizza joint to its north. My route took my right past the Dickinson plot, and Emily's headstone with its simple name - birthdate - deathdate inscription. Instead of "died," though, hers reads "called back."

(If that one was so defective as to require recall, I wonder what the manufacturer's plan actually called for.)

9:30 p.m.  
Blogger Mike said...

This reminds me that a couple of neighbors have told me of an old graveyard back in the woods behind my house. I may have to go bushwhacking back there sometime and find it ... but after hunting season and before the snows.

As for Emily Dickinson, I believe she was recalled for faulty brakes.

5:58 a.m.  
Blogger ronnie said...

Hi, NFTP - I reckon they'll keep that cairn until it literally crumbles... actually, they'll probably move it indoors before then. This town is nuts about Loyalist history.

Rhea - you were in the right place at the right time for sure!

Sherwood - believe it or not, in the winter the cutest little sidwalk plow drives that concrete path early every morning so all us commuters-on-legs don't miss our morning stroll through the graveyard.

Mike, I thought Ms. Dickenson was called back because her alternator burned at both ends, but I could be mistaken.

2:02 p.m.  
Anonymous Dann said...

This reminds me of a slew of pictures I took on my last birthday. I visited my grandparents and took some photos of the neighbors. In particular, a Civil War memorial.

I may have to get around to that post someday.....

Nice post, Ronnie.

10:23 a.m.  

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