Cemeteries: the new walking track

I have mixed feelings about using cemeteries for exercise, but it seems I shouldn’t.

During COVID-19 lockdown times, we were challenged to find ways to recreate outdoors while staying socially distanced. On the surface, strolling in cemeteries seems like a good idea: most of the people there are already dead. Cemeteries have a history as public parks. And I personally like to stroll, relax and explore in cemeteries. But reality didn’t live up to my expectations. Now I’m asking, are my expectations too high? What’s my problem anyway?

If you look at the Google Map satellite view for Park Hill Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington, we can see that the place is huge, networked with driveways, and surrounded by neighborhoods. Neighbors walk there, letting their dogs run loose and poop everywhere. Maybe the assumption is that there’s so little traffic and so much rain that poop will disappear before anyone comes along? (Not the case, I’ve cleaned cemetery dog poop off my shoes more times than I can count.)

OK, now let’s look at the Google Map for Evergreen Memorial Gardens. This cemetery is also huge, with paved drives, and surrounded by residential neighborhoods. Neighbors jog and run there, careening around at high speeds in bright workout clothes while walkers proceed slowly, and graveside mourners on folding chairs proceed not at all.

Paddington Old Cemetery with dog walker signs from Wikipedia Commons

It is true that I can be irreverent or wholly self-interested in my cemetery visits. Yet I think a cemetery deserves a certain fundamental level of respect. I usually keep my tombstone tourist self out of a cemetery, or in another area, when a service is in progress or a significant number of mourners are present. It seems that mourning should have priority over recreation in a cemetery. Irresponsible dog owners and blase joggers don’t seem to have the same consideration. Are my expectations too high? Or is their behavior too low?

As our planet becomes overpopulated and our cities overbuilt, it’s getting harder and harder to find outdoor space to be in. More and more people are getting pushed into cemeteries and crowding me out of my outdoor musings. I don’t know what I’ll do about that yet, but there are still plenty of semi-rural cemeteries where I can ponder life in the presence of death.


Stump and Lamb explores personal growth and meaning via travels to pioneer cemeteries of the West. Posts may contain affiliate links.

This post was originally published at michellerau.com.

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