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September 13, 2020

In-Person Arrival at the Cemetery · Hannah Suzanna · MFA, Digital + Media 2021

by Hannah Suzanna
Untitled Afterlife Study 26.08.20 by Hannah Suzanna · Condensation on my window where I stayed in Gainesville overlaid with an image of beauty berries. A print of this image is for sale on p4swla.com where all proceeds will be donated to hurricane relief in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to go to the cemetery at all due to the pandemic, but everything came together in the last few weeks of the fellowship. I ended up being able to get free housing from a friend of the cemetery (thanks Mary!). I stayed in a mother-in-law unit on the edge of a beautiful turtle filled pond, 20 minutes from Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery (PCCC).

Cemetery Lane is the only road going in and out of Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery. Photo by Hannah Suzanna.

The first day I arrived, I participated in a burial. Being a helper at a funeral instead of one of the mourners was strikingly different, of course. It was not my grief. I followed the lead of the cemetery staff members as they helped to load the shrouded body onto the burial cart, assisted the family to the plot, helped to lower the body into the grave, and with aid from the loved ones buried the body.

Families can move fallen branches and plants from the site to create a biodegradable grave marker. Referred to as a “nature sculpture,” there can be no writing on these identifiers. Photo by Hannah Suzanna.

The cemetery was quiet while I was there, in comparison to having two burials per week since February (higher than their usual frequency). There was one burial the day I arrived and one the day before I left. I was able to help dig a grave the morning I started my drive back up to Providence. 

Me, digging a grave. Photo by Carlos Gonzalez, edited by Hannah Suzanna.

Everyone at the cemetery was incredibly supportive. They consistently provided me with images, helped me to collect audio samples, collected bones of wildlife found on the site, and allowed me to interview them. I was able to talk to a board member who had a family member buried in the cemetery and the head of Alachua Conservation Trust, who collaborates with the cemetery to restore the land. I talked with Freddie, the executive director and one of the founders who, when he was dissatisfied with his body disposition options, created Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery. He told me about the origin story of PCCC. The first burial was a woman, Kathy Cantwell, who was involved in the cemetery planning and was an active community member in Gainesville. Carlos told me about the different areas in the cemetery, the wetlands where burials are prohibited, the shady woods which is the domain of mosquitos, and the bright meadow where black-eyed Susans bloom and bats fly at night. Sarah gave me the no-nonsense details how how things were run, how the cemetery has to work with families, how the locations of graves are recorded.  The cemetery staff, board, and collaborators helped me more generously than I could have ever asked.

Cypress wetlands at Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery. No burials are permitted within 75 feet of the water. Photo by Hannah Suzanna.

As for where this will take me next? I recently found another site of interest—the abandoned parking lot by Urban Greens Co-op. I met up with a friend to test a H1 recorder and we ended up wandering to the lot. He regularly would pause by and comment on other crack-filled plains of asphalt, so on this nigh I interviewed him about why he was interested in the sites. He said it was dystopian and a sign of natures ability to transmute, from man-made structures popping up constantly to sprouts breaking through once smooth cement. Later I went back and filmed the wind blowing through plants.

The abandoned parking lot at sunset. Photo by Hannah Suzanna.

I think there’s a relationship between Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, The Raven’s Roost, and this abandoned lot. I think I’ll have to consult my colors and my tarot to figure it out.

Here’s a silly preview I made to introduce myself to the new members in my department:

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