Gustine

Camping in the central valley for a couple of nights and visiting the national veteran’s cemetery in Gustine, where the bones of my parents rest in the rocky dust. The sign on the gate as I leave the cemetery reads: “Stop here! Gate will open automatically!”

I knew that the cemetery will be the place where I will stop, but I didn’t know that they had changed the rules about the gates now automatically opening. Does that mean Judgment Day has passed?

A bulletin board inside the cemetery visitor’s center had photos of birds, and images of American Indians dressed in bird feathers. Quite an interesting display. Above the bulletin board, however, was a large black electronic box, making a very low-pitched and distracting noise. When I got up close to it I could see it was a bird repeller, a machine to keep birds from looking at pictures of birds.

A few US Marines dressed in their most brassy outfits led a procession of limousines out to the most recent burial grounds within the large compound. I wondered who would be important enough for such an elaborate and well-attended parade. Maybe a decorated Afghan hero. The pool of people who fall in war continues to grow, but I don’t know if I can rightly call this progress.

It’s sobering, centering, unsettling, focusing, to come spend an hour or two in a cemetery. I thought to myself how far away this one is from the rest of society, a remote location in bare, dry, hot hills, ten or fifteen miles from a town of any size. Cemeteries used to be placed in the middle of town and there was no avoiding the issue they would represent to all of us. Maybe one day all the TVs and iPads, the tablets and the DVD players, that have displayed excessive violence, will be taken far out into the desert and buried, so that we may forget them as well.

For the rest of the camping trip, I sat beside a lake and watched rain-like clouds glide over the remote mountain tops and give the sky a wonderful texture that was colored in steel blues and grays. I felt like when I was a child and would sit along the bank of the Yakima River, watching the flow of the current, not questioning where the river might begin or end.

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