In yesterday's post, the Paul Nash photograph 'Totems', a series of shaped boat parts still attached to the piece of tree from which they were carved, reminded me of a graveyard I saw in the mid-1990s off the road from Lytton to Lilloet, somewhere around North Bend. I've misplaced my slide notes so can't pin point it more closely. However, it was in a meadow on one of the glacial till benches high above the Fraser River. There is an old, unpaved road that runs up the west side of the canyon connecting fishing camps on the river side with small farms on the other side of the road; mostly First Nations people live here: a parallel and, to everyone whizzing up the Fraser Canyon on the Trans-Canada Highway, a very hidden life.
The headstones and crosses are all wood, and all carved out of tree trunks. This is ponderosa pine country, now much diminished by both the pine beetle and forest fires. It is very dry in the Fraser Canyon; some of these crosses were extremely old and checked, others recent.
My photos are not taken with a surrealist's eye, rather they document how things are made, and how many variations of something as straightforward as a headstone there can be when people make such things themselves. The relationship between the cross, the tree, the earth and the life is so clear and elemental here. The placing of the head cross at the head of the open grave – the tree section is as deep as the grave – the filling in of the grave, the cross growing out of the earth, there is a ritual aspect to all of this that has been lost in our present day civic cemeteries where headstones are flat slabs of marble, laser engraved off an Illustrator file and which arrive weeks after the ceremony.
I've never seen this way of doing crosses anywhere else although in other small graveyards in the canyon there are sometimes a couple of these carved timber crosses. In this particular graveyard, it was all carved crosses stone shapes.