The Trail of Graves

Cast up by an angry sea, lying haphazardly on the beach, is a rusty propane tank, detritus of the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11, 2011. Approximately 1.5 million tons of debris are still floating in the Pacific Ocean. This tank is a testament to the nearly 16,000 lives lost in the event. A rusty reminder that the Earth is alive and we two-leggeds are not in control. 

Beyond the undulating pebble beach, protected by a pine windbreak, lies the graveyard trail. Cemeteries captivate me. I dragged my daughter all over Ireland, stopping to marvel at names and dates on stones, colossal Victorian crypts, the flowers (tended and not), the weather-beaten toys. This is a human need, this marking and remembering. Even our Neanderthal kin buried their dead with precious bits of life some 250,000 years ago. We need to know where our loved ones lie. We ask that their remains come home. We ask that we be buried together. 

This is a peaceful place, swept by the sea breeze, carpeted by verdant plants. It is private, yet public: the path hikers tread as they begin or leave the Nootka Trail. 

The graves are marked in various ways: etched stone crosses overgrown with moss, piles of beach stones, hand-tied sticks. One bears a carved totem taller than me. 

Twentieth century dates...1919, 1946, 1965. 

The name “Margaret” appears often. 

I am connected to this name, Margaret. When I trace my father’s ancestry back to the Eighteen Century, Bolton by Bowland,Yorkshire, Margaret and Stephen are the two names that appear most often, rippling through successive generations. The name gives me pause.

Margaret “derived from Latin Margarita, which was from Greek μαργαριτης (margarites) meaning "pearl", probably ultimately a borrowing from Sanskrit मञ्यरी (manyari).

Saint Margaret, the patron of expectant mothers, was martyred at Antioch in the 4th century. Later legends told of her escape from a dragon, with which she was often depicted in medieval art. The saint was popular during the Middle Ages, and her name has been widely used in the Christian world.

Was the first Margaret given this name by a priest, or when she went to Residential School?

One thing I know. All of the Margarets died young, too young. The oldest of four was only 31 years old. 

There is a tragic beauty to this place that makes me think of those who once walked here, as I do. These women...these pearls.

Further up the trail are several cabins--one that hovers between the sea and an inland lake where the whalers once bathed before venturing out to hunt. From the veranda, you can see these fabulous pine-topped rocks. 

At low tide, starfish and urchins appear between intervals of rushing water.

One of the cabins has a notice: Jewitt Lake is a sacred place. Do not go there. 

The English blacksmith, christened The White Slave, perhaps by his publisher close to a century later, was adopted by a Maquinna in 1803. His journals publicized this place, these people, and their culture. Now, he is immortalized in the land. 

I wish it were summer, and I could swim here in the pine-swept lake.

The cabin smells like a cedar sauna, and can be rented.

Perhaps, one day I will. 


Neal said…
Always enjoy your posts. I visited Nootka Lighthouse a couple years ago and this story brings back memories. Cheers. Neal
Ladyhawke said…
Thanks Neal. I haven't been out on the lights since I left Nootka. Pursuing other interests right now, but missing the seas and skies.

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