Dead centre of town

Friday, 4 February 2011

I fell upon a dead place. It called to me on my vague no-particular-destination meanderings, appealling to a fervent curiosity, knowing I would respond. So I stayed a while, soaking up the overgrown ancientness of Hallowell Cemetery, “The Old Burying Ground”, lying somewhere down Nelson’s Shelbourne Street.

It shares whispers of neglect and long-forgotten secrets, the carpet of fallen leaves underfoot crackling loudly, traversing across splintering old bones. Hundreds of years on, the headstones marking graves of the dead and buried are all but gone, but no interpretation sign is really required to inform of their presence deep down underneath your shoes. You just feel it. Earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

Hallowell today is an odd slopey wedge of land, juxtaposed at weird angles between houses of various eras and different lives. Like a peculiar three dimensional shape that doesn’t quite fit into any of the purpose-made holes of a child’s toy, instead remaining precariously and awkwardly perched – not quite in and not quite out of the space in which it used to reside. Slowly eroded away to this little patch of memorabilia turf, and I wonder who even comes here now.

The raucous din of cicadas snap, crackle and pop like sap burning and bursting in the bottom of a fire grate at a million degrees or suped-up electric fence waves on overdrive. Yet it’s strangely peaceful, fine great trees standing steadfastly, not succumbing to the downward slope as they look out down Manuka Street and onto the ranges beyond. I briefly muse upon how the dearly departed handled the slope lying horizontally in their beds of earth.

A just-ripe windfall Black Doris plum suddenly appears on the ground in front of me. It looks delicious, so I place it next to the only remaining grave to be seen, as a blessing. Annie Eliza Letitia Crawford died January 2nd 1866, in an asylum, age 10. She was one of the last to be buried here.

Hallowell well hallowed, dead centre or very much alive?