Just Add Water, and the Earth Stirs

Rain lily bud

As bright Coreopsis and Firewheel began appearing alongside our streets and highways, my thoughts turned to the Broadway cemeteries in Galveston: always a favorite spot for spring flower photography. Favorable conditions sometimes lead to masses of flowers, as they did in 2020.

This year, generally dry conditions and my own late arrival meant the flowers were more scattered, with many Gaillardia already going to seed and the Coreopsis less dramatically dense than in the past. Still, to paraphrase the old saying, if one bloom closes, another opens, and the opening of a significant number of rain lilies (Cooperia drummondii) was an unexpected treat.

Rain lily flowers gradually open in the evening several days after rainfall and remain open a day or two; areas around Galveston received between one and two inches of rain on Tuesday, April 26, so the presence of blooms three days later wasn’t unusual. I found far more buds than flowers, so another visit clearly is in order.  

Finding a pleasing background in an urban cemetery can be challenging. Sometimes, as above, a sidewalk serves the purpose; in the photo below, a brick wall surrounding one of the cemeteries provided contrast for the white flowers.

Being able to position a bloom in front of fading Coreopsis and Gaillardia provided some color, but more than native wildflowers can serve that purpose.

Here, a bouquet of artificial flowers left at a grave frames a rain lily flower and bud: an unexpected but pleasing combination.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Off Broadway

The Evergreen Cemetery on Broadway Street, Galveston

Few first-time visitors to Galveston realize the cemetery they pass on their way to the beach is a collection of seven cemeteries. Built over the span of nearly two centuries, four are city-owned, and three are private; known collectively as the Broadway Cemeteries, they’re rich in history, and a magnet for photographers and artists during the spring wildflower bloom.

Only some of the cemeteries allow flowers to flourish, but where they do, Coreopsis tinctoria runs rampant, mixing primarily with firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella) and lazy daisy (Aphanostephus skirrhobasis).

Given the cemeteries’ location, it can be hard to photograph the flowers without including the surrounding homes, tire shops, fast food restaurants, and skateboarding teenagers, but every year I enjoy giving it a try.

One of my favorite images from this spring made use of elevation differences between the sidewalks and the burial plots to allow framing the Coreopsis against the sky.

On a cloudy, gray day, the contrast between the flowers and some of the older graves pleased me.

Visible graves at some of the cemeteries represent only the most recent layer of burials. Stones occasionally were lost during three grade raisings, so plots were resold and new graves placed above the old. Occasionally, only the top of a gravestone is visible, while the rest of the structure remains buried.

Not a fire hydrant, but a finial belonging to a buried marker

Unfortunately, vandalism isn’t unknown. In November of last year, many historic stones were broken and otherwise damaged. The perpetrator was caught, and some markers have been repaired, but many history lovers still grieve the losses. Here, a stone knocked from its base leans against a tree.

In some cases, nature seems to be consoling the broken markers.

While my favorite angels weren’t significantly damaged, they now stand closer to one another.

Unwilling to close the cemeteries to the public, the city did install new fencing and lighting. There are rumors that concerned citizens occasionally patrol the property as unofficial guards.

 

A different and more pleasant kind of history abounds in the cemeteries. Here, the Willis family mausoleum in the Episcopal cemetery remains stately and attractive.  Peter James Willis, born in Maryland in 1815, moved to Texas and established a dry goods store at Washington-on-the-Brazos; eventually,  P. J. Willis and Brother became one of the largest mercantile establishments west of the Mississippi.

A daughter, Magnolia, married George Sealy, one of her father’s business associates, on May 12, 1875; Galveston’s John Sealy Hospital is perhaps the best-known reminder of the family’s influence.

Their luxurious home, Open Gates, became a center of Galveston business and social life. Magnolia engaged the New York architectural firm of McKim, Mead, and White to build the mansion, thought to be the only building in the South designed by Stanford White, and the home’s elaborate carriage house was designed by preeminent Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton.

As you’d expect, the mausoleum is equally tasteful. The lock on the doors isn’t to keep members of the Willis family from leaving, but to prevent passers-by from spending the night there.

Galveston’s ethnic heritage is rich and complex. Italians, Germans, English, Swedish, and Dutch share space in the cemeteries. Here, a reminder of the Celtic tradition stands tall.

As for the pace of life in a cemetery, it might best be represented by the snails I discovered on several graves. I’d not noticed them in the past, but when I read that snails will climb rocks to obtain minerals needed for shell-building, their presence on stone markers made perfect sense.

Beyond that, it occured to me: even when life moves slowly, it’s still life.

 

Comments always are welcome.

Winging It

Female Great-Tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)

Having packed, moved, and unpacked, I’m left with piles of stuff to sort and store as well as a realization that, not having been out in the world for nearly three weeks, I have no idea what nature’s been up to.

Lacking current photos, I decided to wing it, and begin posting again with a few backward glances: this one, to last summer’s splendor at Galveston’s Broadway cemeteries.

Each of the seven cemeteries is rich in history, filled with traditional statuary and markers designating the resting places of notable individuals, but in two or three, seasonal wildflowers are allowed to flourish until they go to seed:  a display that calls to humans as much as it pleases the pollinators. Which flowers appear can vary; last year, Coreopsis and Gaillardia predominated.

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Each year, as wingèd creatures of various sorts gather around the angels, it’s easy to imagine those concrete wings twitching a little — who wouldn’t want to join the butterflies, bees, and birds in a flight among the flowers?

 

Comments always are welcome.