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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Friday, November 19, 2010


Ash Point Cemetery is your ordinary bone yard. Maybe an acre in size, with a few hundred plots, it memorializes names of English and Scots and French and the occasional Finn, the normal mix for Maine's dead (and in this neighborhood, the living still). Its setting is undramatic, with small raised ranches on either side, and fields merging into forests at the back, and the gray, weathered buildings (house, barn, outhouse) of the Mussel Ridge Historical Society just down the road. Apparently, its oldest headstone is dated 1808. I wouldn't know; I got that from the Owls Head town history online, having never stepped foot inside the gate.

The odd part about the cemetery is the wrought-iron arch spanning its gate. It says, "Ash Point Cemetery 1820 - 1939." The arch isn't odd - the dates are. Not 1820, presumably the date of the cemetery's establishment, although that would mean that Mr. William Heard was moved at least 12 years after he died. It's the 1939 I don't quite understand. The cemetery is still being used. A few weeks ago I saw an internment, or at least the aftermath: the fresh mound of brown soil, piles of flowers, the mourners standing around in various guises of Maine casual, both in dress and manner, talking and joking and lifting up the collars of a sport coat or a Carhart against the chill fall wind. So why the end date? Some kind of closing of the bone store against yet another world war's dead?

I'll have to ask the ladies of the Mussel Ridge Historical Society (open summer Wednesdays, 2-4 p.m.). I'll have to get over the embarrassment of walking past the cemetery hundreds of time in 15 years and not doing anything about my curiosity. I'll have to admit that although I now spend more time in Owls Head, I'm still from away.

I'll ask why the town built another cemetery at the corner of Ash Point Drive and Dublin Road, and why it is still completely unused after several years. I'll tell them I miss the blueberry patch that used to be where the new cemetery now sits. I'll ask them about William Heard, who was moved from the family homestead overlooking Ash Island: was he related to the person who lived in the abandoned trailer at Ash Point, a D. Heard according to the fading mailbox, until a few years ago, and is it true the old Heard homestead is now the Siletti property (you know, Arlene sold us our house in 1995 but I guess she's retired from the real estate business now, I see other people are living there, are she and Charley still with us?). Are there any open plots?

The ladies will be most kind, I know. They'll know that I mean well, that I seek meaning, not facts. I'll go with the dog, that will help break the ice. Maybe they'll even see that I'm reverse-engineering my life, going from ambitious to ordinary, global to local, finally feeling a sense of place in my bones, how a universe lives in a leaf. And I'll actually walk among the headstones to honor Staples and Ilvonen and LePage. Too bad I intend cremation. Ash Point Cemetery could have used an infusion of Dutch.

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