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Clyde, Time Was: Of souls and gold and gathering moss

In repose

Grave of William Overman in Chestnut Hill Cemetery, Salisbury.

Time was, a stone gathered moss.

“Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife.” Along a creek bank with violets strewn underfoot, a bright chartreuse green appears under winter’s frost-capped leaves. A class of bryophytic plants, moss, genus spaghnum, you would think has been here forever. We take it for granted, step on it and associate it with all things old.

“Grav’d on the Stone, beneath yon aged Thorn …  Where heaves the Turf in many a mould’ring Heap, Each in his narrow Cell for ever laid,The rude Forefathers of the Hamlet sleep.” — Tom Gray

Our sphagnous Chestnut Hill Cemetery was a 16-acre tract acquired on Dec. 22, 1887. At last count, Linda keeps 11,179 souls and counting. Aunt Eva called Judge R. Lee Wright’s crypt a “moss-soleum” which seemed appropriate. The fountain from the Square was moved there to make way for the streetcar.

Named for the William Murphy plantation, the cemetery was quite the hangout for citizens to keep in touch with their long lost. Davyd Foard Hood says, “Among the most poignant sculptures is the handsome angel who looks down on the grave of William Overman.” Visitors still put flowers in her hand. Some artificial.

Tombstones, from Latin tumba, were handmade, mostly of local slate, hand-carved, rarely reticulated, often placed as a foot stone. Epitaphs can ell you a lot about their lives or how they died. A favorite is, “I told you I was sick.”

Even rocks decay. Along with all those dead Yankees at the National Cemetery, “slips down through moss-grown stones with endless laughter” (Longfellow). The old African cemetery in Dixonville will never be the same with all that money.

Some stones turn to gold, or maybe fool’s gold. Rowan County made good use of their natural resources. They made bricks, shipped granite, graveled roads, and sold feldspar and mica.

Old gold mines which were active in Rowan County at one time, listed in the mining industry economic paper No. 63 in 1927, included Gold Hill, Yadkin, Dunn’s Mountain, Reimer, Bullion, New Discovery, Gold Knob, Dutch Creek, Atlas, Bame, Hartman, Negus, Harrison, Hill, Southern Belle, Goodman, Randleman, Roseman, Gold Coin, Park, Union (copper), Drexler, Steele, Butler and Rumpler. The Silver Hill was famous in Davidson.

At the close of 1928, the total output of gold in North Carolina was $23,663,766. A 17-pound nugget was found in Cabarrus County in 1799. We are still looking for ours.

Back to the surface.

Lichens, from the Greek lichen, to lick, are a complex, thallophytic plant, not to be confused with moss rose with a glandular mossy calyx or any spagnos having a small leaf, often tufted stem, bearing sex organs on its tip. Not unlike some human species.

Mysterious mushrooms, mycelia, can be over 400 years old, some poisonous, shiitake we eat, some we smoke, some we call turkey tails or toadstools.

“Rock of ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in thee,” is the perfect shelter. “And it shall come to pass … that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by.” — Exodus 33:22

We can’t always hide under a rock. Try to get out or slide in with those moss backs who thrive in their sordid, stigmatized, stagnant, slimy, salient-scented, sylvan, solitary, sepulchral scenarios. Don’t get stuck between a rock and a hard place. Keep those stones rollin’.

Clyde is a Salisbury artist.

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