Gravestone Rubbings

Early last week our newly formed homeschool group headed out to the local cemetery to create gravestone rubbings in honor of this threshold time of year and the upcoming Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

It’s been pouring rain, so I wasn’t sure how long we’d want to be out there. Some of the kids are comfortable in any kind of Pacific Northwest weather (it seems to me!), and some are not. Amazingly we all found ourselves captivated by our activity–exploring the cemetery and making rubbings of the gravestones, using crayons on Rite-in-the-Rain paper (waterproof paper!).

Rowan (Mountain Ash) berries on a gravestone
A child makes a gravestone rubbing
A sweet offering at one gravestone -- a stone that says LOVE
Gravestone rubbings with beeswax block crayons

So why did we choose this activity? Isn’t the idea of doing gravestone rubbings kinda … morbid? Perhaps disrespectful?

Years ago our family began doing gravestone rubbings when celebrating the earth festivals with other families. Here, at the time when many traditions say the veil between the worlds and between the living and the dead are thin, and when (as in Day of the Dead) the ancestors, and our loved ones who are passed are celebrated, honored, spoken to, it feels right (to me) to do something like this with children. My experience is that they love it, and that they are fascinated by this very tangible expression of time, and people who have lived and died before they were born, or died more recently. We didn’t find gravestones marking anyone we knew, yet we all felt the connection. I suppose because these were people who lived in and died on our island, in our community.

And the leaves falling from the trees, and the gray clouds thick, and the mist in the air. This deep autumn nature speaks to me of change, time’s passage. It signals to me to look at death, and to remember those who have passed on, the gifts of my ancestors. We told stories in the cemetery, and we wondered at the people who are remembered here.

Some of the children made rubbings of the designs on the stones–birds, roses, a violin. Of images that meant something to them personally, or of names the same as their own. We ended up with some lovely layerings of such things.

One way that children can meet with the truth of death, of passage in a way that is gentle yet filled with mystery is indeed to visit a cemetery, whether you know anyone there or not. Exploring the gravestones, searching for the oldest you can find, or the oldest lived person, or the youngest (always sad), or … there are as many ways to venture into something like this as there are people on the earth.

Spring In The Forest

I thought I’d share a few photos of what’s springing up in our forest.

This is Snowdrop (Galanthus). Not native to America, as far as I know, but sure growing in sweeps in our woods! In Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies Of The Winter, The lovely Snowdrop is the first to herald the spring soon to come.

Snowdrops In The Forest – photo by Jane
Snowdrop Fairy art by Cicely Mary Barker

The Song Of The Snowdrop Fairy

Deep sleep the winter,
Cold, wet and grey;
Surely all the world is dead;
Spring is far away.
Wait the world shall waken;
It is not dead, for lo,
The Fair Maids of February
Stand in the snow!

I cannot tell you how much the Flower Fairies (the original books as well as their spin-offs) have inspired several girls I know to learn about herbs!

If you love fairies and flowers, or have kids in your life who do, you might want to take a look at those books.  In our house these are favorites (full disclosure — we are a Powells Bookstore partner):

Flower Fairies Of The Spring
by Cicely Mary BarkerHardcover


Here are a few other herbs coming up just now.  Someday I’ll have to draw these fairies!  I have a feeling they won’t be very Victorian … we do live in the Pacific Northwest, in the 21st century …!

Cleavers (aka Bedstraw) – photo by Jane
Nettle – photo by Jane

I’m harvesting both Nettle and Cleavers to make vinegars, tinctures, and to dry for teas/infusions. I’ll write more about their qualities another time!