Stone Angels

Inside the small cemetery, near the ferry terminal, centuries old spruce trees weep with sap and soggy green moss. The steep hillside behind is thick with Western Hemlock—yán, spruce and alder. A wire is strung between wood posts fencing off the cemetery. Long wispy strands of dried grass, like the unkempt hair on a newly awakened child, grow next to the fence.
Stone bears stand on hind legs guarding the old bones. White crosses and pink plastic roses contrast with old marble headstones and Russian Orthodox crosses. Tree roots protrude from underneath the remaining patches of snow like veins beneath a layer of thin skin. Five stone angels, one headless, stand reverently in the umbra above the wet sunken graves and matted grass. A green coverlet of emerald colored moss creeps across the face of the headstones covering their ornate details. I make out the names Williams, Jack, Marks; names carved in stone, clinging to eternity with the same names of those who still live in the village.

Hemlock branches sag low across the cemetery forming a jade canopy. This type of hemlock can grow from 100 to 150 feet and live to be 500-years-old. For at least a hundred of those years, the spruce and hemlock have watched weeping humans tending to grief, and reverent caretakers caring for the dead. It's hard to believe that in the age of heavy machinery, villagers still dig the graves by hand. For them, grave digging is part of the ceremonial aspect of death. Gravediggers are helping with the grieving process and are remembered when our families hold the memorial, the koo.éex.

A pair of eagles—ch'aak', sits on the pilings at the ferry terminal dock, watching over the cemetery. Their black-feathered bodies and white heads, a contrast to the bright fluorescent orange weather-sock drooping down against the pole beside them. The eagles sit, unmoving. Behind them, the morning sunlight pokes through the clouds; the light dances on the water like a thousand shards of glass across a mirror.

* Stone Angels is excerpt from my creative nonfiction piece The Shape of a Village, which is published in Breadline Press' anthology Mad Road.  (The village of Hoonah, Alaska)


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