A portrait of Nunhead Cemetery in winter

Nunhead Cemetery 02

There is stillness here but it is not still. This resting place is well visited, by people and their dogs. Birdsong creates a musical canopy above; small creatures scurry endlessly through undergrowth below. Breezes lift branches and leaves – a soft, swaying lullaby to living and dead. A lime green parakeet high in a tree, framed by bright blue sky, sings without ceasing.

It’s a frosty, crisp day but sunlight remains shut out. Inside the cemetery gates, day swerves abruptly into dusk. The headstones are dusted with ice that remains from morning to night. Underfoot, gravel crunches satisfyingly. Smaller paths are muddy, autumnal leaves trampled into ragged clumps. Clearings filled with the stumps of monuments beckon but then are closed off by forbidding branches at unexpected angles.

At the cemetery’s highest point, light breaks through and glances off a collection of white gravestones. It feels as though there’s a slight shifting of remains in graves as winter moves in on the cemetery’s flora and fauna. This place is a maze, even after many visits. The impulse to walk here – to lose oneself here – is strong.

© Clare Coyne 2012


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