Today I’m headed to Jaffrey, New Hampshire to wait for my muse. She often visits me at the grave of author Willa Cather.

Willa never meant much to me growing up, just a writer that my father liked, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for her since writing an odd bit of memoir/biography about her in grad school. Our lives meshed in my mind. I tried to understand who she was, what motivated her, what she feared, why she wrote. I think she appreciated my respect and curiosity — bordering on obsession — and she has since come to live in my heart with my Dad.

So I’m off on my pilgrimage. The forty-five minute drive is glorious in the fall, even on a dreary day like today. I will sit on the stone wall that surrounds Willa’s grave and talk to her about my life, about my writing, about my aspirations, about my frustrations.

She listens. So does Edith, her life partner who is buried next to her.

And I’ll wait. Because Willa usually answers me. No kidding. And I need talking to, most especially about my writing and where it’s going. Or not going.

Here is the story of my first visit to her grave, taken from the grad school essay that I have yet to publish:

As I step into the Old Burying Ground and pull the gate closed behind me, I am completely alone. There must be a thousand monuments covering the hillside, and I wonder how Ill find Cathers grave. I begin wandering among the granite slabs, some standing askew, others lying broken in pieces. Small American flags flutter in a slight breeze, and a few polished stone obelisks reflect the setting sun. I read the worn names underneath patches of gray and green lichen: Spofford, Pierce, Worster, Brigham. A large square stone marker standing in the lowest corner of the cemetery catches my eye, and somehow, I feel certain its hers. As I walk toward it, I can see dozens of small rocks lining the top of the gray marker, and I know Ive found it. Admirers have left talismans to honor her. I realize its quite possible that my father made his own pilgrimage to this simple shrine during one of our stays at the farmhouse down the road.

Her grave is next to a low stone wall that marks the southwestern corner of the cemetery. Just outside the wall grow gnarled rhododendron bushes and towering pine, beech, and maple trees. The marker itself is about three feet tall and the same across. Around it is a small garden of impatiens, encircled by rectangles of cut granite. The sun casts shadow branches on the face of the gravestone, and I have to lean in close to read the words:

WILLA CATHER

December 7, 1876 April 24, 1947

THE TRUTH AND CHARITY OF HER GREAT

SPIRIT WILL LIVE ON IN THE WORK

WHICH IS HER ENDURING GIFT TO HER

COUNTRY AND ALL ITS PEOPLE

“…that is happiness, to be dissolved

into something complete and great.

From My Antonia

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