Summer and fall is a season of funerals around here. It is a strange thing that there is so many, that every week during the warm and relatively dry weather that people are gathered together every week for a funeral or two. It used to bother me when I heard that people waited so long to bury the dead here. Sometimes they do not wait to have the funeral and they have it immediately but often times they wait for the burial.
Now I realize that they have no choice.
In winter here, the ground is frozen more than eight feet down and even if it were not, the ground is itself buried under six feet of solid snow pack. The snow becomes hard and dense like rock as it settles in more and more compactly over the winter so that late in the season, it can hold a two hundred pound person. There is simply no way to bury the dead under those conditions and the spring is no easier.
In the spring time, the creeks are full to bursting and the rolling countryside is full of more and more creeks that will carry off all the melt and then disappear into empty scars full of bright green plants when the summer comes. The ground must thaw and it heaves and moves as it does and you can literally hear the water melting in the ground as it moves down and down into the water table. Everything is soft mud and the soil is loose and unstable and trucking grinds to a halt. The road bed is so unstable that there are mandatory restrictions on most roads and nothing larger than a delivery van is allowed on them in order to prevent the road collapsing. If you were to go out into the farm yard and dig a hole, not only would it immediately fill with melted snow, but the ground itself would slide down to refill the hole. I know this because I have watched my children experiment like this. It is ultimately destructive and not only useless to try to dig a grave until the last of the ground is melted and the water has moved downwards.
Then comes the long, long days and the relatively warm summers and the ground dries out and firms up. This is the weather that graves can be dug, and they are dug, and funerals abound. Summer into fall, before the deep snow and the frozen ground, is when families bury their dead here. Today we came back from one funeral and tomorrow we will be getting ready for another one scheduled the next Saturday. Today's funeral was for the husband of a new friend from church. He lived a full and active life and worked in the state park on an outlying island as well as working on the ferry that traveled back and forth with cargo to and from the island. Once, he was almost washed overboard from the tug during a rough ride. When the same boat passed by the graveyard up on the hill from the shore, the Captain called to have the Captain's salute boomed out by the ship. It was a beautiful place to be buried, surrounded by trees and water in the wilderness that he loved so much. He suffered so much and for so long and the place that they chose for his body to rest is so peaceful and it stands in stark contrast.
Tomorrow, my oldest daughter and I will be making meatballs and baking cookies and bread to freeze for the funeral of an aunt of Ben's that will be in one week. She also suffered a long time before she died. She will be buried in the country cemetery not far from this homestead where she was born and raised. We expect a bustling houseful of family and long time friends to be in and out of the house here and there will be many, many people to feed. We will talk and visit and laugh over all the wonderful parts of our lives that we share together. There will be many people we have not seen since we buried Ben's father two years ago. It is sad that we only see each other for funerals but in the end this is a good. Our lives and our love have so much meaning that we mark it with these important visits and conversations over coffee. It would be far more sad if we did not even gather for the funerals.
This firebrand of an aunt, who could move mountains and reached out to her nieces and nephews to make them children of her own when she had none will be just one of the funerals to take place here this season. We will laugh and cry and eat and drink together and be grateful for this opportunity. Then, we will bury her close the shore where she be close the the water that defined her life. No one wants to be buried far from the lake and the trees, no one wants their loved ones to be away from the sound of the wind and waves. Eight months of long, long winter will bury the dead again. When summer comes, we will go and see them and groom their graves. It is a cycle of visiting and burying, and bringing more friends and family to sleep there the next time we come. It is just one of the ways that the Keweenaw shapes the people who live here.