April 24, 2009

A Discovery by E.E. Cummings' Grave.

The Trust's Program Assistant, Meredith Safford, and I were wondering around the Cemetery admiring the burgeoning bloom of the foliage, when we came across the grave of E.E. Cummings. I hadn't visited the site in awhile, so I suggested we stop.

Behind his family's lot, there is a wall of rocks with large cracks between them, sizable enough to fit your hand, or, as was the case on this day, any number of mementos. My eye caught a blue plastic bag stuffed between two of the layers. It was old and dirty, which disconcerted me a little – I wasn't sure if I should pick it up or leave it be. Curiosity won over sanitation, as it always does, and, opening the bag, I discovered an equally bedraggled metal case, the kind usually containing loose tobacco or snuff. Also disconcerting. Even still, my desire to know what was inside propelled me on. Of all of the possible items I could have imagined inside of this case, what I actually found surprised me: a tiny bound book filled with stamps and notes and dates. I quickly realized that the stamps were "team" emblems and the dates marked the team's discovery of this very book. A scavenger hunt. The earliest entry was dated in 2003; the latest from just last year. Also in the box was a little note explaining: a website called letterboxing.com (which is no longer running) presents groups with enigmatic clues that lead them to various spots around the city. In the six years since the first entry, some twenty teams have made their mark in the book. Many of them wrote laudatory comments about the Cemetery: "What a beautiful place!" and "So serene!" and the like.

Meredith and I got such a kick out of the book, we wrote our own entry, as Team FHET. As soon as we dated our page, I was suddenly struck by contradictory notions of transience and permanence. The book itself exemplified the immutable nature of such a place as Forest Hills; but the individual notes spoke of a very specific time with very specific people, who have moved on, who came through the Cemetery, maybe for the only time in their lives, and left it again. These two notions are not incompatible – in fact, they belong together; one defines the other. Much like the permanence of death defines the ephemeralness of life.

We put the book back in the case, the case back in the bag, and the bag back in the wall, leaving it there for someone else to find, to discover, like we did, another marvelous nuance of this remarkable place.


Ash said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ash said...

Hi - I happened across your blog earlier today. My wife and I are lucky enough to live next to the cemetery, so we'll be following it pretty closely. This entry was especially interesting, and you may be interested in knowing that a quick search for letterboxes.com led me to letterboxes.org, which is apparently their new site. I couldn't find any reference to this letterbox, but the idea is so cool!

Ash said...

sorry... letterboxing.org/

Lady Euphoria Deathwatch said...

Hi Jonathan Clark,

I also came across such a curiosity in one of my local cemeteries in northeastern Pennsylvania.

I find it interesting that they often chose cemeteries as places to hide their meeting books.

As I am currently visiting Boston, I will take a look at your book if I have the chance. Your cemetery is so very lovey, with so many wonderful distractions, your book may just go undisturbed by me.

Sincerely, Lady Euphoria

William Brokhof said...

the practice is part of a growing sport called "geocaching" and is actually a hoot!

Tess Mattern said...

Hi there,

I know this post went up quite awhile ago, but I came across it just today. I actually just discovered Forest Hills Cemetery yesterday BECAUSE of letterboxing. Besides the ee cummings box you found (I will need to check to see if that is still in existence), there are four other letterboxes located in this cemetery. If you are interested in finding them, or learning more about letterboxing in general, the website is atlasquest.com

These are the clues (although you may need to register—for free—on the site to see them):