A couple of weekends ago I escaped from the blistering heat to go on a treasure hunt in the mountains of southeast Idaho. I had heard a rumor that a pioneer cemetery in the area had an old red rose growing in it, and I hoped to investigate and maybe do some rose rustling. (I feel I should note that, when rose rustling, always get permission from the plant’s owner or caretaker if one exists, and never take cutting from a rose in a way that will damage the mother plant.)
My ever-patient husband and children accompanied me as we scoured the little mountain towns for cemeteries. At one, we saw something that looked like a rose from the gates, but on closer inspection turned out to be a peony. I started to pay attention to this, and peonies seem to be common in Idaho cemeteries, though I have never noticed them in a Utah cemetery. They are a fitting flower for memorials since they can easily live for a hundred years once established, and I’m glad the maintenance crews have been tolerant of them.
We also found this odd grave decoration. My imagination provided lots of explanations for what it was, mostly inspired by scary books and movies:
Oh yeah, it opens up:
We couldn’t see anything inside the hole except leaves and lawn clippings, and the tube we pulled out is hollow like a bell. So, maybe it’s a receptacle for ashes. But why make it something that can be opened? I’ve never seen anything like this in a cemetery before. Hopefully we didn’t open a portal to the underworld.
The only roses we found at any of the cemeteries were these growing outside the gates, which I think are Harison’s Yellow:
Harison’s Yellow was popular with pioneers for its color and hardiness, and so is found throughout the West, especially in ghost towns and abandoned building sites. In Idaho, I’ve also noticed that the old Austrian Copper rose is very popular, especially as a hedge around farmsteads. Like the peonies in the cemetery, I don’t see them often in Utah; they seem to belong much more to the landscapes of Idaho.
The red cemetery rose eluded me on this trip — if it wasn’t a peony that someone confused with a rose — but I like to imagine it growing in some abandoned cemetery, keeping watch over the graves of the pioneers who planted it there.