Something drew me to the graveyard. It was on a hill overlooking the freeway and I passed it a thousand times but that day it called out to me. I could see that there were oak trees, the spooky ones with branches like tentacles, and white marble monuments of angels and saints. It would be, I thought, a wonderful place to get lost for awhile with a camera. I love taking pictures of tombstones.
It was a Catholic cemetary so there were many beautiful icons and statues. And there wasn’t a living soul around. I was alone, wandering among the granite slabs, reading dates, reading names, aloud. The grounds were unkempt and because this was California brown, brittle and dry. There were no lush green lawns here, no living flowers. But there was life. Birds of many species in the trees, chipmunks and squirrels skittering in the leaf litter. I saw a magnificent buck deer with a staggering spread of antlers and lots of game sign – coyote scat and racoon.
I shot many photographs of grave markers and bent trees. And that’s what I came for, ostensibly. Even at midday the light was good and I felt I was capturing something close to what I was feeling – the loneliness, the feeling of community amidst the loneliness, a certain sense of equilibrium between the two states of known being and unbeing. Here was place – solid physical, real – and it belied some other realm, for lack of a better word. It was a place not for the dead but for the living to reconcile the mystery of death. But there were no living people here. Just me. And I knew none of the dead buried in the ground below my feet.
Our attachment to the concept of a body, to this container, is so powerful that we can’t let it go even after it’s expired. We ritualize the disposal of our bodies to, ostensibly, ease our acceptance of beings who suddenly vanish, leaving bodies like old suits of clothes. We do this for ourselves as part of the mourning and grieving process but we also do it out of a sense of respect to the deceased whose body still has a perceived value, warranting a formal rite that recognizes its sacredness.
I discovered recently that I often pursue an endeavor whose purpose seems clear and valuable only to realize later that what I thought I was doing turned out to be merely a catalyst for something unexpected, and much more valuable. I call this the ostensible unknown. I went to the graveyard to photograph tombstones but it turned out that I was there for another reason. Because as I was walking from grave to grave, reading the names, I started talking to the people there as if they were paying attention, as if they were walking along with me. And I knew in my heart that not only were they not really dead, they weren’t even names.
I knew then that I had been lost, all my life, in an illusory soup of bodies and identities, as if only what I could pronounce with my mouth or perceive with my eyes was reality. This was not a paranormal experience. I’ve seen what people call ghosts and this was not that. This was about the most normal feeling I’ve ever had. It was calming. It was truth. It was as if the graveyard had flipped over and we were the ones who were buried. I felt found.
It was then I discovered the fox. The remnants of a fox. It was lying on a grave, a complete atriculated skeleton. The fox had expired here and decayed here and its bones were bleached and perfect. Fox medicine is powerful and it’s recognized by cultures across oceans and time as a shapeshifter that speaks of spiritual development and awakening. It is analagous to The World, the 21st card of the tarot, which reflects the process of creation. Persians considered foxes sacred for they assisted the dead in their journey to heaven. Perfect.
I’m a bone collector and skull hunter, but I did not come to the cemetary for bones. I came to take pictures, and I did. The pictures are good and they capture some of what I felt that day but what I left with cannot be seen with eyes. You had to be there. I was, and I felt very much alive among the symbols of death. There are so many effigies in the world of perception that I have gotten lost in them. Even this body, which I seem to be trapped in. Ostensibly I am a human male named Vincent born in 1965 into this mortal frame, going about the business of living out a narrative not unlike anybody else. I sleep and wake and eat and strive and ask questions and then I go to bed and do it all again and again. My body moves through space, held by gravity to a planetary body that is moving through a galaxy that is moving through universe; of form. Ostensibly I am form.
What began as a curiosity has become a staple of how I understand the known world. The ostensible unknown. To me it means that I don’t know exactly what I am doing, ever. I don’t rely on rigid plans. I remain open to alternative meanings and outcomes. Ideas are merely portals and I am incapable of knowing what I am within the framework of the egoic mind. But even that conclusion is deceptive, as all conclusions are.
o O o