New North

Woodbury has three burial grounds. The oldest dates back to the 1670s. It’s the smallest, and though it’s well-maintained, to me it’s always  felt crowded with fallen and haphazard stones. If you’re say, at the library, it can make a good shortcut to the local swimming, ball diamonds, and playgrounds down in the Hollow.

Our North Cemetery, a half-mile or so up the road and also on the small side, had its first burial 150 years or so later. One of its boundaries meets the edge of the fields where I played baseball as a boy in the ’50s and ’60s, and we occasionally stepped into the brush-line there for a necessary moment.

The New North, across Washington Avenue (which is much less grand than it sounds), opened in the 1870s and is a different matter altogether. At about 20 acres, thanks to an extension a few years back, it’s by far the biggest of the three. It slopes west, down toward the river, with a dirt lane around the three of its edges not bounded by the road. Four more-or-less east-west lanes cut down the slope, with a number of cross-lanes connecting them. Perhaps a third of it is still open land, where no one has yet taken up residence.

New North is a cemetery. It’s seen a lot of tears and has regularly hosted sorrow, sadness seemingly beyond bearing, and utter despair. Some of those emotions have been mine. But time heals, and for me it’s mostly a familiar, comfortable, and even comforting place. There are lots of trees and other plantings in its older section, but it feels open, and because of its slope and orientation, it catches and holds the sun during the day. My parents are here. One set of grandparents. An uncle. An aunt. School classmates. Friends and parents of friends, and colleagues of three generations. The spot where my dust will eventually be sunk, preferably by slightly inebriated friends and family members.

Down in its southwest corner is an area I call Lake H., after our daughter. Before they improved the drainage, a foot-deep puddle would form here after every significant rain. Once, when H. was a young runner, we went out for a shuffle during a deluge, and when we got to the corner, the water was halfway up to her knees. We just thrashed on through the deep for six or seven strides, which she thought was a wonderful upending of usual behavioral norms, and we chortled the rest of the way home, where we topped it all off with a splash fight in a driveway puddle. I miss old Lake H.

New North has been a part of my running for a long time, much more so after its expansion. It’s quiet and safe: no cars blowing by. The terrain offers almost everything you need. You can just cruise around enjoying the day, doing up-and-downs or figure-eights, or just big circuits. I often use convoluted loops as part of a longer road run. And during periods of more-or-less serious training, the terrain is perfect for fartlek and Lydiard-style hillwork. The best slope for this, 200 yards or so and just the right pitch, is a lane that runs close by the grave of a great old friend and teammate, so in my mind it’s become David’s Hill.

I’m nowhere near alone in enjoying New North. Lots of locals walk here, many with their dogs. Unless the snow is deep, Paul and I wander through—dogless—a little after 7:30 on our morning constitutional. In season, fisherpeople park at the bottom of the slope and head for the river. In the fall, the cross-country teams from the nearby middle school do some of their training here and race the lanes as part of their competition course. I love seeing their somewhat eccentric limed directional markings appear every fall. There’s a man who parks against the southern boundary every Sunday morning and reads the paper. (We’ve decided his wife’s at church, and he’s…not.) Especially on long warm evenings you often see family members adding plantings and tidying graves. Of course, spring through fall, there’s a crew out mowing and trimming and keeping things neat. And digging and refilling the occasional hole as required. After all, as my grandfather, now in residence, used to say, “People are just dying to get in here.” 

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