The author, Derek Niemann, explores a cemetery in the countryside where not everything remains in its rightful place.
In numerous rural cemeteries, the deceased are unearthed and brought to the surface after being buried for centuries. Being buried six feet under does not ensure eternal rest, as both animals and humans working in the burial grounds can unintentionally disturb the remains of those who have passed away long ago. As time passes, fragments and pieces of bones that were deeply buried may resurface.
This tiny, out of the way churchyard, where interments are rare, is typical of a scene I’ve found in at least a dozen others in this area. Grass grows long and raggedy around tombstones of the forgotten, but is clipped short around the graves of the landowning family. The last of the hereditary line stands at the end of a row of monuments on this mown turf, his clean stone yet to take on the lichened patina of age.
For eight centuries, gravediggers have been digging in this churchyard. However, there are other things happening as well. Yew trees provide shelter for rabbits, who have made their homes under the roots and use them as structures. As they burrow, the dirt they move uncovers the remains of regular people who passed away a long time ago. It can be said that these rabbits are doing the opposite job of a sexton.
I discovered a half of a lower jaw with four intact grinding back teeth near the entrance of a burrow, sheltered by a yew tree and far from any old or new headstones. The molars and single premolar are quite worn, with each crown reduced to a stump. It is unclear if this jaw belonged to an older individual or a young villager with a tough diet. The bumps, ridges, and hollows of the deserted medieval village can be found in a field just beyond the fence surrounding the churchyard. It makes me wonder if this person’s entire life and afterlife were confined to such a small piece of land.
Regardless of the responses, this serves as proof not only of existence, but also of how it was experienced. I retrieve the jaw and remove dirt from the surface of the premolar. Its outer layer feels velvety under my fingertips. Without realizing it, I catch myself pressing my tongue against the sleek enamel of my own premolar.