The tangled web

Posted on March 15, 2010


Study the way this place changed from forest to farmland and resort area, and pretty soon you will find yourself up to your eyebrows in Civil War veterans.  Men and boys—so many boys—who enlisted or were drafted, who lost a limb or languished from disease, who came home broken in some indefinable way. . . women who wrested survival for themselves and their children from hard soil, who died in childbirth, who buried babies—so many babies—who posed iron-faced for their portraits.  They came here to get a fresh start, or escape from old mistakes.  Let them capture you and you will find yourself enmeshed in a tangled web of family relationships. 

It’s like putting a puzzle together, except that you don’t really know what the picture looks like, and the shapes of the pieces shift.  I was over at Bayview Cemetery again, taking pictures of tombstones, peering at faint inscriptions, trying to fill in some blanks.  Who are these people? I wondered, and why have they gotten such hold of me???  For the first time I noticed this tree.

It was difficult to get a picture that would show you how odd it is.  Every branch of it twists and twines about other branches.  It is such a tangle that I cannot imagine how it grew so.

Well, this tree isn’t a patch on the tangled patterns of the lives of the people buried here.  If you ever lived in a small town, you remember hearing its stories, and you remember that there were always digressions.  When Naomi’s first baby was born—Naomi was a Skinner, you know . . .  The Blakely women could be pretty grim, but they had reason to be . . .  Don’t know why Wendell bought that acreage—no Evans ever made a living farming . . .

Kathy Windiate is becoming as obsessed with old graves as I am.  As Township Clerk, she has the task of entering Lakeview Cemetery records in a database.  The old deeds and death records are a revelation.  Diphtheria, smallpox, a shotgun blast, childbirth . . . wait, wait, a shotgun blast?  This peaceful little place is not always what you think it is.  Never has been.  Isn’t now.  Kathy and I may have to start a chapter of Local History Addicts Anonymous.

I am deeply entangled in digressions, lost in details.  After the trip to Bayview I wandered about the back roads that still mark off the homesteads of Norman Larabee, John Keffe, William Burns, Daniel Blakely. It’s good to get a little perspective.  Look at the sweep of the land, from the high ridges of the drumlins, across Torch Lake, down to the Bay. 

Look into the setting sun and you will see nothing but its glare. Turn and look at the land.  Everything is there, written in fire and blood.