We began to drive. It was about 5:00 p.m., and we had an hour and a half of traveling ahead of us. It was cloudy, the sunset covered by incoming storm clouds. Intermittently, rain fell.
Outside of town, I could feel a change in the air, which became crisp, clear, and fresh from the rain. The pinon pine, made warm by the sun earlier in the day, released its aroma. The sun would make an appearance, lighting the mountains from behind, revealing a gold, mellow sky and raindrops scattering everywhere.
Further south, I talked about the cemetery we were going to visit. “It’s beautiful. It’s very desolate, out on the prairie. It’s a perfect night to see the ghostlights. I’ve heard that if the night is overcast, they’re better to see.” He was excited. We drank in the scenery flying by, the aspens in soft shades of green, creeping to gold; the rocky cliffs; the abandoned cabins, falling into piles of rotting wood from the many years of rain, sun and snow. “We’re about to come to the top of the pass, and you’ll see a beautiful view.” We crested the hill, and below us the valley spread as wide as the world, from north to south. The mountains, different here, were sharp blue points to the sky, shrouded in rain clouds and mist. At this point, the rainstorm that had been spilling over the mountains hit us. We drove for a few miles, rain flowing out of the sky, falling so fast that my wiper blades couldn’t keep up. Finally, it cleared. We drove into Silvercliff at that moment.
I turned left onto the dirt road, which would eventually dead-end (so to speak) at the cemetery. I drove slowly, as the road was ungraded and rocky. The last thing I needed was a flat tire out in the middle of nowhere, many miles from home, and no cell phone.
We drove slowly past the Protestant cemetery, then took the hairpin east to the dead end. At first you can’t see it, but as you creep forward, you see the crude iron gate surrounding the cemetery, with the grim arch over the entryway, proclaiming “The Assumption”. It was dusk as we drove through the gate.
The Assumption is bare, poignant. Tombstones of wood and cairns of coal dot the ground, along with traditional granite and iron markers. It’s several acres of land, but there are very few graves. Mostly it’s waving prairie grass, wind, and silence.
We got out of the car and began to walk around, wandering apart, at our own pace. The storm lifted to the west, where the clouds remained a deep blue-purple, but the sunset winked through, bright gold and fading fast. I stood on the edge of the graveyard, facing west with him to my left, thirty feet away. We were still. We listened to the wind blowing through the grass, and the whippoorwills sang to one another, ready for night to come. We stood for a long time without speaking.
We paced around the graveyard, where it was full dark. We spoke quietly, commenting on the many, many babies buried there, wondering if it was influenza, scarlet fever. We waited to see the ghostlights, which never came.
I suggested we go to see the Protestants.
We left the Assumption and drove west. We drove through the gates of the Protestant cemetery, where there are many more gravestones as compared to the Assumption.
We parked and began walking. We had flashlights trained to ground, avoiding the many gopher holes that pit the earth there.
Quietly, I commented, “It’s easy to see how your eyes could be tricked here.” I pointed to a white marker poking skyward, glowing in the night. “Yeah, and look over there,” he said, gesturing to the highway, where far-off car headlights winked between the pine boughs. We gravitated to a white picket fence that surrounded a marker, a couple who’d lived together a long time, and now slept together, forever. I was moved. He stood next to me, and I could smell his skin. I said slowly, “There isn’t another man in this world that I could do this with—and a man who totally gets it like you do. Anyone else would be saying they were bored, or they’d be jumping out from behind tombstones, trying to scare me.” He said, “Thanks for asking me.”
He whispered, “Look up.” I looked up and saw a mist of stars, millions and millions of lights, some sharp and bright, others soft, milky and faded. They clouded the sky in a soft gleam.
We stayed for about 45 minutes, then started the drive home. We never did see the ghostlights.