It was late afternoon and I was looking forward to my next stop, Petoskey Brewing and a pint of Hopsesssed Double IPA. Before heading up M-119 to the brewery, I wanted to grab a few more photos of the flower garden before me.
The crowds had gone home for the season and I had the place pretty much to myself. One of those perfect end-of-summer days. Blue sky over Lake Michigan broken now and then by a few high clouds that quickly moved off to the east.
As I stood there framing the shot through my viewfinder, I heard a voice out of the corner of my mind. Distant at first but then growing closer…Waiting for the train? Waiting for the train? And that’s how I meet Jean T. Long. A year ‘round resident of Bay View and native of Dayton, Ohio, Jean explained that the perennial garden stood squarely in the middle of what had been in the late 1800s the railroad right of way. Back then steam-powered trains brought visitors to Bay View to seek “some water and a grove” where they might get away from the stress and distress of the day. Bay View was established as a Methodist Community and supported an extensive Chautauqua assembly. To the east of the right of way stands elegant Eastlake and Stick style cottages and to the west, a gently sloping terrace down to Little Traverse Bay.
The railroad, the Chautauqua, and the fascinating homes are way cool, but it was the acre-size perennial garden that captivated me. You see, the Bay View Association Garden is a memorial garden in which the ashes of friends and family are scattered. I had never heard of a garden like this (and had yet to screw up enough courage to think deeply about my own death) but here it was right in front of me. Not a cold, morbid place like a cemetery but instead beautiful and alive. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
I think it safe to say that Jean knows more about the garden than anyone else alive. A Master Gardener, she helped tend the garden for almost two decades and served as co-chair. “The idea behind it is that you return the ashes of loved ones to the ground – there are no containers and no markings,” said Jean. “Soil is added on top of the hole where the ashes go, and within the first week or two the ashes combine with the earth. The spirit of that person is then in that area, rather than being in a specific spot in the ground.”
As we walked through the garden, Jean pointed out specific plants almost as if greeting her children and friends. Roses seemed to be her favorites. “Right here. This is the David Austin English Rose. Smell how fragrant and see how hardy, even in this climate. They’re special.” We talked about how the community gathered together to care for the garden and how the owner of Stafford’s Bay View Inn, located adjacent to the garden, generously provided irrigation. Jean knew the garden like the back of her hand and led me to the perfect spot to watch the sunset over the Bay.
“Someday my bones will be here, too,” she said with a serene certainty. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
Yes, it made a lot of sense now.
Bay View Memorial Garden is located near Petoskey, Michigan, near the corner of Reed and Woodland Avenues. Look for the historic Stafford’s Bay View Inn and you’ll be there.