Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Botanical figurations

Monday's run was the coldest of the season so far, with crystalline snow filling in the spaces in the turf and treadworn slush frozen in the lees of the hills.

At this time of year I take special notice of the plant motifs of many monuments, which offer a faint vernal counterpoint to the wintry swishing of the pines. Mostly these consist of rose vines, laurels, or lilies carved in relief on the margins of the stones. While they can be chaste and simple, some are exuberant—like the Gale/Zaletskas monument, trimmed in rustic, dendriform cross and letters and an armload of lilies.

The botanical figurations that most often catch my eye, however, are the stones carved as stumps. The stump is an obvious memento mori, a simple reminder of life cut short.

Stumps, too, have their exuberant exponents. The monument below features a stump festooned with viny encrustations surmounting a pedestal.

Note the short stumpiform pillars marking the corners of the plot. As for the topmost stump, its lopped branch supports a crosspiece, making it into a cross; depending from the crosspiece is not the Christ, but a graven roll of parchment inscribed with a maternal tribute.

Viny encrustations and new growth figure on other stumps throughout Forest Hills; life— whether life everlasting or the return of Spring—will flourish. My favorite example is the stump below, with a giant lily bursting miraculously from the top.

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