Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A sweet pastured place

"Somewhere in time's own space there must be some sweet pastured place, where creeks sing on and tall trees grow, some paradise where horses go..." -Stanley Harrison

Some of us (not me) will be busy tonight with the season premiere of American Idol. I have work to do to get my head together to teach the semester premiere of College Reading Skills II tomorrow night. So I'm sharing just this pic of some pretty horses that I pass by on my way to work in the morning.

Just up the road from this peaceful scene there was a car crash last week that killed four people - 3 of them high school students. Friends and family have already begun to erect the sad roadside memorials that seem to take on a life of their own and become the focus of a community's mourning. Why people should choose to remember a loved one in the place where they met a fiery death is beyond my understanding. I didn't know these kids and sort of resent being reminded of their passing with sodden football jerseys and crooked homemade crosses stuck in the mud at roadside. I should think they deserve a more dignified rememberance.

They're young adults just learning to deal with grief and, I suppose, haven't yet learned to mask it and make it more palatable to others, like we grown-ups do. Their pain of loss is raw and they feel the need to do something to demonstrate how much they're hurting. I understand that.

Me, I keep my eye on the horses as I pass by. I see the beauty and tranquility of this place and think of a few young boys in too much of a hurry to do the same.


Mary said...

Laura, American Idol can wait a bit, after all, the miserable but funny auditions are airing for a few weeks. There is a road I use frequently, a dangerously winding road, that is speckled with crosses decorated with fresh flowers and like you, I wonder why the constant reminder of the site is heartwarming to anyone. For more than three years living in DE, there was were two freshly decorated crosses on my exit off the main highway, Rt. 1! I've seen much of this since working in a high school for so long. The teenagers need to do this to show their respect for the ones they loved, no matter the circumstances. Thanks for this thoughtful post about something I've wondered about for a long time.

Ruth said...

In Mexico the roadways are lined with crosses. It is the custom to do this with all road fatalities. It is a sobering reminder to take the mountain curves slowly. I see more of this type of thing in Canada too. I agree that remembering someone in a more happy state is preferable.

vicki said...

This is the best place in town to play catch up. Your wonderful entries from the past three days-such well written posts!

So you were still in grade school when your mother died- that's way too soon and not enough time to make as many memories as you deserve. No fair. If you come by, Ill give you tea, we can knit and play euchre (a Michigan favorite that I grew up on)and go visit the waterfowl down by the bay.

Up where my parents, and now just Bud, live (Lost Loon Lodge)there are beautiful ducks and coots and loons- always lots of loons.

I'm with you- these roadside memorials seem naive and inadequate and diluted by the multitude of sideways glances from commuters.

LauraHinNJ said...

Vicki: I've always been lucky to be *found* by an older woman who helped me on my way - during each of those important stages of my life.

I would love to come by for tea and ducks someday! Thanks for the offer.

Ruth: I feel like a cross is okay, but what's not is all the other *stuff* that piles up. It becomes a spectacle, rather than something somber and respectful.

Mary: There have been too many car accidents in the local towns lately - and gang violence in some of the towns where my students live. There doesn't seem to be much done before these tragedies happen - only this outpouring of grief and false *community* afterwards.

Cathy said...

Laura, I feel like I'm averting my gaze from so much as I grow older. Sadly,this applies to my father's grave now. We pass the small cemetery a few times a year as we leave my brother's home in the town where I grew up. I don't ask my husband to turn in. I'm averting my gaze, at least until Spring.

Beauty like that you've recorded in the pasture, sustains me.

The words 'reckless' and 'youth' will ever be joined in an ominous formula for heart-breaking premature endings.

Susan Gets Native said...

My high school lost so many kids while I was going there...there are crosses around every bend, it seems.
I see a cross with someone's name on it and birth/death dates and it's covered with flowers and I think of my girls driving some day and I get the willies. One place near my Mom's house actually has a marble monument where three kids died. It's the nicest one I have seen.

Laurie said...

In Montana the tradition is to place white crosses at the location of every fatal accident. I agree that it is a sad reminder and it makes little sense to me that people want to bring attention to how they died rather than how they live.

Jayne said...

We have lots of "roadside memorials" around here too Laura, and I sort of feel like you do about them, especially when they start looking really ratty and faded. I would rather honor someone's memory in a more beautiful way. Maybe plant a dozen bulbs or some other flowers there as a visual reminder of life continuing to those who were closest to them.

LauraO said...

There are crosses and shrines with all sorts of things on them here too, and the sad thing is, most of them are worn and faded and ratty looking, which seems to say that person (or at least the shrine) has been forgotten anyway. I agree, there should be a better testimony to celebrating their life, rather than their death.

Oh, one more thing (ok, two more): since I don't have a television, I'll be joining you in NOT watching American Idol, and....looking at beautiful horses is ALWAYS good.

Liza Lee Miller said...

I don't understand the roadside monuments either.

The horses are beautiful -- thank you for sharing them with us!

KGMom said...

I love the photo of the horses. How do you make it look so ethereal? All gauzy and lovely!
As for road side memorials, they are international. In our travels, I have seen the same type of crosses or memorials marking places where people have died. I'm with you--why memorialize someone at the place where he or she died? (BTW--I read the news of the accident you referenced, and shuddered at the impact on one school of three teens dying at the same time. It tears a community to pieces.)
Good luck as you start teaching--my classes started last week. Another group of suspicious, oops--make that eager--faces!

robin andrea said...

Those road-side memorials always seem wrong to me. Although, sometimes I think they may make young people take notice of tragedies that can happen around any turn or bend in the road.

It's good to look at the horses in their field. A gentle juxtaposition.

Jenn said...

Yeah, that strikes a chord.

I think that if we all posted a memorial to our loved ones in the place where they passed, the world would be a cluttered place.

The cancer ward at the hospital where my grandmother died, the home bedroom where grandfather passed, the nursing home where my other grandmother spent her last days.

We are not so selfish as to intrude on the lives and grieving of others with our monuments, they remain within. Memories, carrying the power to move us, without making others uncomfortable in the face of our grief.

I think those roadside crosses are selfish, and if they exist more than a year, they make me angry all out of proportion to the scale of the thing.

They interupt my enjoyment of what might otherwise be nature's beauty (for where I live, they are usually found along long stretches of highway bordering farmland or woods.)

Horses. Yes. Horses are good.

Thank you for your post!

Sandy said...

In the past few years, we see more road side memorials up here, too. When I was a kid, the white crosses along the mountain roads out west bothered me.
I wonder if it all started here when Lady Di died? That was the first time I can think of that flowers were left on the sidewalk.

Floridacracker said...

You hit the nail on the head in your closing paragraphs. Teens carry their feelings and emotions on the outside and most of these are a manifestation of that. It's very much a kid thing.

It's best when it's very temporary. Too many become permanent shabby shrines.

ReluctantChickenFarmer said...

Nice post Laura,
Great photo. Love to see the horses too. At least there is some of that still in NJ.

Unfortunately, I pass this spot twice daily on the way to and from work. On the first day following the accident, the road was still strewn with broken glass and rubber gloves and the remnants of the tragedy. As I drove over the spot I felt a bit uneasy and sad that such young people had to die there and in that way. Really terrible. Really tragic. I am sure that their parents are broken. I guess people feel the need to express their grief by erecting these memorials on the spot were the victims passed. I can't say that I agree with them. Seems kinda morbid, although it does remind other drivers to take it easy. It does sometimes actually make driving conditions worse by adding to driver distraction.

A whole school and a community learned a hard lesson last week. A lesson in the frailty of this human "container". People who have never experienced the grief and helplessness of the loss of a loved one for themselves are ill equipped to handle it when it happens. Those of us who have, have been given a unique "gift".

Rurality said...

Those memorials are really fairly recent here... there never were any when I was growing up. Politicians here have discussed making them illegal, since people have had accidents while paying more attention to the memorials than to the road!

Pam in Tucson said...

Just a bit of history. From an intro. to the Roadside Crosses of New Mexico Oral History Project. "The purpose of the project was to bring a deeper awareness of the Spanish descanso or roadside cross tradition to the citizens of New Mexico, by documenting the historical origins, the contemporary cultural history, and the geographical locations of descansos in New Mexico. Traditionally, the descanso was a cross placed in the ground to mark the spot where mourners rested the coffin while on the walk from the home of the deceased person to the cemetery. With the introduction of the automobile, the tradition evolved to mark the place of death for victims of traffic or pedestrian accidents." The crosses are prevalent in southern Arizona, where I live. Some of the roadside crosses on the Tohono O'odham reservation and in the barrio and Chicano areas of Tucson are ornately decorated and very carefully tended.

LauraHinNJ said...

Thanks for the info, Pam. Interesting that they're called *descansos* because the mourners would place a cross in the spot where they rested with the coffin.