Just about dead center of Nevada, beside a lonesome playa where dust devils spin tangos and beneath tall cottonwoods where a couple dozen vultures perch is a graveyard with tombstone epitaphs so lovely and light that you can feel the smiling souls of the buried alongside you, admiringly recounting their days above dirt.
Never has a graveyard been so inspirational as the one beneath the baking sun in the middle of nowhere.
There are six people buried here and it appears they made room for more to join, even though the homestead they strung together is slowly digging its own grave. And while sharing that same graveyard with those spirits would be an honor (in due time!), nothing would be greater than to share their outlooks on life in the here and now.
They were ranchers in a bleak land. Vistas reached far and wide, summers were blisteringly long, and winters pierced your bones for months on end. Neighbors were a half-days ride out, a half-day’s ride back. Water and rest were hard to come by and death came early for most. It didn’t sound like much of a party, the life of the rancher.
Yet here lie a half dozen long-gone souls who bear witness to a life lived colorfully – a life lived fully. They had to survive as others at the time did – by their hands and with their wits. It would’ve been easy enough to say they lived the hard life well. And yet, here are carvings and etchings that reveal how they wouldn’t give into that mindset of hardship and surrender. Instead, they thrived. They lived – quite happily and fully according to the prose they left behind in that graveyard at the edge of the playa in the middle of nowhere.
Here’s one headstone where a husband honors the memory of his 72-year-old wife, Ferne:
Good friend, good lover, good mother…good bye!
Here’s another headstone, this one painstakingly and artistically scratched onto a man-sized slice of board:
“When I was young, my slippers were red.
I could kick up my heels right over my head.
When I grew older, my slippers were blue.
But still I could dance the whole night thru.
Now I am older and my slippers are black.
I can walk to the corner and half way back.
There is a sense of jubilation that leaps from this gravesite. I can only imagine the interred had no say on the classic black iron gates and fences surrounding them. Those cold, steely barriers are fine for classic graveyards, but these folk would’ve preferred no fences at all, for that appears to be the way they lived – unbridled.
Before I left this ranch, the sun had set and the somber cloud of vultures that had been circling above was settling into the branches for the night. Somehow, I left with a sense of privilege and enlightenment. It’s bleak out there. That raw country is all the excuse one would ever need for existing minimally and joylessly, if indeed that’s what one would choose. But under the screed of sun or the whip of winter winds or between mending faraway fences and searching for mindless calves, these people rejected the impulse to harden. They found time to dance, to study moons, to throw poetry into the night. To make stories of their lives.
Today’s fashion tip: wear red slippers.