Hickory Hill Park Ramble

We visited Hickory Hill Park today in Iowa City. We’ve lived in this area for 30 years and have been near it but never walked a trail until now. It’s full of trees, birds, and other wildlife, including deer, which seemed to pose for the camera.

Deer posing

I say we’ve been near it because we have visited Oakland Cemetery, where the famous Black Angel monument is. At least one of the trails leads to one end of the cemetery—which we discovered today.

There are many legends about the Black Angel, most of which are in the vein of various curses and some of which claim that the curses can kill visitors—not true, of course. Many take selfies in front of the Black Angel and toss coins in the base (probably to ward off any curses, just in case).

I was feeling pretty reckless on the day Sena took a snapshot of me in front of the Black Angel. I left a little pocket change. That was a few years ago. The object of the visit was not to visit the Oakland Cemetery but to take part in the picnic and Psychiatry Department Matball Challenge game, Faculty vs Residents at Happy Hollow Park about a block away from the cemetery.

The Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery

Anyway, it was pretty hot today, in excess of 100 degrees with the heat index. We kept the walk short for that reason. It was warm, but the tree canopy kept the heat down a little. There’s something about walking through a thickly wooded area in which most of the sounds you hear are of nature. It tends to make me a little reflective.

Because I’m in my last year of a phased retirement contract and will fully retire next year, I’ve been thinking about transitions, the end of one era of my life and the unknowns about the beginning of another. There are a lot of unknowns. Sometimes I feel a little lost.

Retirement tends to lead me to think about death, which is pretty morbid, I know. I don’t ruminate about it, but walking past some of the park benches, some of which are memorialized to certain persons, got me to wondering about the next bend in the path. On one of them was a small plaque bearing a quote,

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

JRR Tolkien

There was a baseball on the bench.

And not long before we got to that bench, we saw a shoe, apparently lost by someone—who might have been lost. Hickory Hill Park is big. A person could get lost in there.

Lost shoe

We followed a path that others seemed to be taking. It led to the back of Oakland Cemetery where we saw a couple of headstones which puzzled us. The names were very familiar; man and wife, with only the birth years carved in them. But the strange thing was—as far as we knew they were still very much alive! The man had been the closest thing to a mentor that I could remember ever having.

Naturally, later I realized that it was just that they had thought through their own transitions a lot farther than many of us do. They had planned not only for retirement. They had planned for their own deaths. But until I finally got it, I actually searched on the web for obituaries.

Strange, I actually found a pdf file posted that sort of sounded like one—an exquisitely written letter from a relative who described the person we knew in enough detail that it seemed to identify him beyond much doubt. Why would such a beautiful and presumably private remembrance be posted on the web?

Maybe because the relative wanted the world to know how deeply loved this person is—while he is still alive.

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