August 20th, 2006

chi (in all her fears)

Journey's End

A note to all Sirenia Digest subscribers: August's issue will be going out on Thursday (the 24th), instead of tomorrow. I'd hoped to get it out before we began the return trip to Atlanta, but we've only got dial-up here in the cottage and Spooky has deemed the file too large and unwieldy for dial-up. So, yes, sorry for the short delay. Expect the digest on Thursday.

Not much to say about yesterday. Though I did at least manage to write the prologue for Sirenia Digest #9, which, sadly is about all I've managed to get written on the trip.

This morning, we drove into Providence, to visit Lovecraft's grave on the 116th anniversary of his birth. I had a small plastic frog, as leaving them on his headstone has become something of a tradition for me (this was visit/frog #3). We arrived at Swan Point Cemetery about one a.m.. It's one of the most beautiful cemeteries — if not the most beautiful cemetery — I've ever visited, and we wound our way through the trees and monuments towards the banks of the Seekonk River, trying to relocate the Philip's family obelisk and HPL's marker from memory. But something was out of place. We kept missing it. Finally, when we were sure we'd reached the right spot, Spooky stopped the car and, simultaneously, we both realised what was wrong. The Lovecraft tree was gone.

If you've ever visited Lovecraft's grave, or if you've read my short story, "So Runs the World Away," then probably you know what I'm talking about. The enormous, ancient beech growing just beyond the grave, which, over the decades, had been scarred by messages to and epithets honouring Lovecraft, carved into the living bark of the tree. It was a beautiful tree, shading that corner of the cemetery, and the hundreds of messages were an awesome sight to behold. One great limb even bore an entire line from "Supernatural Horror in Literature": The oldest and greatest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and greatest type of fear is fear of the unknown. I do not know the age of the tree, but I'm quite certain it must have been at least a century old and surely would have been standing at the time of HPL's funeral (March 18th, 1937).

As the shock of the tree's absence began to pass, we walked past Lovecraft's marker, and the graves immediately behind it, to see that where the tree had once stood there was now only an enormous crater. The grey-black soil of the cemetery was exposed to the mid-day sun, along with shattered roots still anchored firmly in the ground. We were horrified, Spooky even more so than me, I think. From all evidence, the tree came down only in the last week or two, probably sometime after our arrival in Rhode Island last month. We're guessing it was the victim of a lightning strike or perhaps the wind. There have been a couple of severe storms over the last month that might have been responsible. The tree appears to have fallen to the southeast, following the slope of the hill, falling away from HPL's grave. The top of an obelisk had been sheared away, and other monuments had been scraped, chipped, decapitated, or shifted on their foundations. For ten or fifteen minutes, we walked about the dark impression in the ground, picking up a few scraps of wood to save. There were tiny wood chips and sawdust all about, and tire marks where a truck must have accessed the fallen beech. Saddened, we left the frog on Lovecraft's headstone, along with a few wildflowers we'd picked. The loss of the great tree entirely alters the landscape at the grave for the worse, and I do hope that someone had the good sense to salvage some of the graffitied bark. I assume a new tree will soon be planted in its place.

On the way out of the cemetery, we asked a security guard if he knew what had happened to the tree, but he thought we were trying to complain about a limb fallen across a grave, became very confused, and was no help at all. When I'm back in Atlanta, I'll e-mail someone at Swan Point (the office at the chapel was closed today, as it was Sunday) and see it I can learn what happened. I'll post photos sometime next week.

Later, back in Green Hill, we had lunch and packed our suitcases, at once sad to be leaving, dreading the long drive, and relieved that we'll soon be home.

Afterwards, we drove to Westerly and Watch Hill for one last look at the sea before we leave. There were too many tourists, of course. Spooky had a Dell's lemonade, and we watched the boats and gulls for a bit, then followed the narrow, winding road out to the lighthouse on the point. The sun was just setting, the tide coming in, and there was a wonderful strong wind. The point was almost deserted save a few fisherman. From the seawall, I spotted the cephalothorax of a horseshoe crab wedged in amongst the boulders and seaweed, and Spooky retrieved it for me. The air was damp and salty and cold, the only sounds the wind, waves, and the bell on a buoy floating not far from the lighthouse. We could not have asked for a more perfect ending to this long and frustrating trip.

This will likely be my last entry until we are home again. We should be back in Georgia sometime late on Tuesday.