Cemetery Musings

“If in heaven
There is no wit
You’ll know she went
To hell for it.”

Cemeteries have fascinated me ever since the days when I would accompany my mother and aunt to place geraniums on the family graves for Memorial Day. As anyone knows who has taken Bonnie Snow’s cemetery tour, burial grounds give one a sense of connection with our history.


The Orleans Cemetery is the final resting place of Isaac Snow, who was instrumental in naming the town and who was our last surviving Revolutionary War veteran. Also interred here are “Uncle Harvey” Sparrow, who served in the War of 1812, and Webster Rogers, the longest-lived of our Spanish-American war veterans. Webster’s daughter, Emma Augusta Rogers, known as “Emma Gusty”, made her own graduation dress, but her father would not allow her to attend the ceremony. She vowed to be buried in the dress, and she was, over 70 years later!


One of my family graves has a tragic story. My great-aunt Myrtice Chase, wife of my great-uncle Ernie, was a young wife of 23, having her first child. According to family lore, she was given ether, which her lungs could not tolerate; she died and the baby died with her. She was buried with the baby still in utero, and her husband never knew if it would have been a son or a daughter. 

A New England Grave Yard in the Fall.

On a happier note, the cemetery holds the remains of Dr Claude Heaton, who delivered Margaret Mead’s daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson. Apparently, Mead wanted either a home birth or natural childbirth or both, and Dr Heaton was the only physician who would agree to her wishes. Mother and daughter came through the experience in good health. as she relates in her autobiography.

At the top of the hill is Barna Sprague’s gravestone, with the face of a dog carved into each of the top corners. These canine faces represent her two yellow Labs, Breeze and Daisy; Barna died while trying to rescue Breeze from a fire which destroyed her home. (Daisy escaped.) It was typical of Barna to risk her life for a beloved pet; her heart brimmed with compassion for animals.


But cemeteries can also hold unexpected flashes of humor. Consider the stone of John and Grace Lyons. She was the first to pass, and her epitaph reads, “If in heaven/There is no wit/You’ll know she went/ To hell for it.” After his death much later, his epitaph was inscribed: “Thirty years later/Still loving his Grace,/He hoped to meet her/Either place!”


I encourage everyone to take a walk in a cemetery. There is always much to be learned.

Mary E. McDermott is a 13th-generation Cape Codder living in Orleans. She worked for 17 years in the Orleans Assessor’s Office and 23 years as a commercial insurance broker at Pike Insurance Agency. She has been a justice of the peace to solemnize marriages since 1976 and has previously published two books of poetry, Tapestry and Handle with Care. Her poems have appeared in several publications including the Christian Science Monitor.

Sea Crow Press has two books about Cape Cod.

read more about Old Orleans in Mary E. McDermott’s new book

take some poetry to the beach with Moon Tide by Mary Petiet

Guest Post Series: Self-Publishing

Self-publishing is the ultimate test of merit.

This is a guest post from Fran McNicol.

I have been writing all my life, ever since I could hold a pen. I have used that pen to record my misadventures and process my feelings, and I have had a few articles published over the years. I won a couple of prizes that led to print, and I submitted helpful free contributions to activity magazines, but I didn’t consider Becoming A Writer as a career because I didn’t think I was good enough. I didn’t get properly published early on, and I couldn’t imagine making any money from writing.

But I have always been compelled to write.

On an expedition in Mongolia, I sat next to a well-known travel author on an internal flight. She gave me a complete tutorial about how to get published by the traditional route; how to write a synopsis, send it out to 10 agents selected from the trade yearbook. If they find your idea interesting or worthy they will pitch to their favourite publishers.

And then if you are chosen, you write the book and hand it over.

I started a blog a few years ago to share the life lessons I was learning from my journey with the horses, prioritising their holistic needs over my ego. I was writing it all down as part of the processing anyway, and I hoped I might be able to spare other horse owners some of my pain.

Blogging is an innovative and disruptive medium, and writing a blog is a weird and different experience. You start off writing for yourself, from the heart, simply because you are compelled to write and the act of publishing a blog allows you to imagine that you have at least one reader.

In the beginning, you have no idea if anyone reads your articles or cares.

Then something strange happens and people you have never met, from all over the world, start reaching out, to say thanks if something has helped them, they leave comments and they ask you questions and suddenly you have a family, a readership, of like-minded virtual friends. It becomes an interactive process, a conversation.

One of my blog posts went around the world, with 42,000 views, and I was contacted by a hoof boot company to write a short series for them. This was the first time that a significant audience found me, on my own merits, and it was the first time that I made any real money from writing.

But the real lesson came in the middle of Corona.

A UK broadsheet is always asking for contributions; there is an email address for shared experiences and commentary. My writing friends and I have been submitting both ideas and full pieces for years. I often wonder which junior intern checks that email address? Our various submissions have never been acknowledged, except to have our best ideas coincidentally written up by staff writers, a couple of weeks after submission.

One of our hospital doctors wrote a lovely piece about her experiences on the ward mid-pandemic. But she sent it to a family friend, who happened to be on the permanent staff, and it was published two days later. I’m not bitter. It was a good piece of writing and it deserved to be out there.

But it illustrated very clearly that publishing is a closed shop, that it all boils down to who you know.

The cream will only rise if there is someone from the inner circle ready to help it along. But if your good work doesn’t find its way to the right person, it will just get lost in the white noise.

The same thing can happen in the self-publishing market of course. There is a huge amount of work out there now, some good, some bad, and some frankly ugly. The difference with self-publishing, like with blogging, is that the whole world gets to vote; that anyone and everyone can find your work. It might be harder to find, but once found it is then easier to share, and pass on and engage with. Your work will get the chance it deserves. Your virtual family will get to see your work, and if it is good enough, they will make sure it goes around the rest of the world too.

Self-publishing is the ultimate test of merit.

Fran McNicol blogs about learning to keep the sports horse holistically- healthy at Nelipot Cottage in the English countryside. Her forthcoming title from Sea Crow Press explores her ongoing journey with horses and the wisdom they can teach us.

Guest Post Series: Self-Publishing

‘May we all see our worthiness and claim the soft, beautiful power within us.’


This is a guest post from Nicole Hendrick Donovan.

Sovereign queen press, a life suspended, publisher

A Life Suspended: My Story Toward Independent Publishing #3 Sovereign Queen Press

March 6, 2020 nhdonovanLeave a comment

The idea of becoming an independently published author was something that developed over time. I had just completed A Life Suspended, a project which was emotionally charged, and it left me feeling vulnerable and exhausted. The book, and stepping into the writing world, had presented an opportunity for me to shift my perspective. As part of this process, I was working on my inner independence, peeling away social and familiar conditioning to get to the heart of who I was and who I wanted to be. How did I want to live and experience the next part of my life? Meditation, women’s circles and therapy helped me explore and listen. I rekindled my relationship with nature and began to create a spiritual practice that spoke to me. I slowly let go of the opinions of others and allowed myself to fall into the ebb and flow of life. I continued to write and shape my craft. I felt touched by inspiration and was often brought to tears when I witnessed the innate beauty in ordinary things. I began to experience life as multi-faceted, and faith in myself, divinity, and grace was born anew. 

The inner work made the outer work possible. My independence, confidence and resilience were cultivated through acts of self-love and forgiveness. These steps brought a profound awareness. A friend of mine described me as being “sovereign.” Being a lover of words, “sovereign” played around in my head for a while. I even wrote a poem about it and read it at an open mic reading. That experience, too, allowed me to extend myself in ways I hadn’t before. It was symbolic, writing a piece about independence and standing up and reading it in front of strangers. I stood in my vulnerability, sharing my words and speaking a newly discovered truth.

The word sovereign, as defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary states: one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere; having generative curative powers. I have also read other definitions as being self-governing

I knew there were times in my life when I lost my voice and didn’t speak up. When I didn’t feel worthy and was stuck in a cycle of seeing my world through the eyes of scarcity. As I shed outdated beliefs and fall deeper into the process of becoming, I began to see what had always been true…sovereignty was my soul’s signature. I consciously shifted my perspective. I saw things in a different light. I wasn’t a “damsel in distress” waiting to be saved. Instead, I was the girl on the horse, sword in hand riding into battle. I was rewriting the stories I had been told as a child of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and countless others. 

In the beginning stages of publication, I chose the traditional route of querying literary agents in hopes of getting representation to take A Life Suspended to the big publishing houses. I educated myself about the field and crafted letters to agents in the concrete jungles of New York City, Los Angeles and Boston. Between the lull of responses, I wrote on my blog and kept learning. After reluctantly attending a talk on self-publication, I knew it was the right path for me. It made perfect sense that I would become self-governing and continue to “generate my curative powers.” I realized I was repeating an old pattern. The energy of querying and waiting was, for me, the same as hoping to be chosen at the junior high school dance. Having some else hold my hand, think I’m pretty and make me believe I was good enough.

I’m not saying this is true for everyone’s experience with traditional publication—but for me, in that particular point in my inner and outer evolution, it was. It was time for me to take the reins and bring my memoir into being. I carried and birthed four babies for god’s sake! I could do this.

In choosing to be the publisher and executor of my project, I had the privilege and the responsibility to assemble a team of professionals to assist me. Birthing the book was not a solo journey, although there are some writers who do the work themselves, I wanted to work collaboratively with others. When it came time to choose an imprint name, I knew just the one. Sovereign Queen Press. Truth be told, I originally wanted Sovereign Press, but it was already taken. But queen feels fitting as I have been reclaiming my power not only as a human, but as a woman. And I believe, embodiment of the queen energy isn’t something that’s given. It is proclaimed by continuous acts of showing up, taking risks and loving oneself. It is unity and taking pleasure in cultivating relationships with self and others. It is listening to and trusting the inner wisdom which speaks softly. It’s holding vulnerability and power with both hands.

Claiming my worth wasn’t about ego. It was reclaiming what I had lost or given away. We’ve all had experiences where we lost ourselves. Where we made ourselves small. When we are impacted by trauma or the harshness life can deal. My blog is dedicated to these stories, how we collectively rise and see ourselves as we really are, not what we have always thought or have been told. 

As you can see, Sovereign Queen is not only a name, but it is symbolic. These days my professional and personal life have merged. The journey toward publication has been about self-discovery and the obstacles presented have provided me with opportunities for growth. My hope is for you to see yourself as we connect through these essays. My wish is that we too rise and reign—we root down into our sovereignty and continue to evolve into our best selves. May we all see our worthiness and claim the soft, beautiful power within us.

Nicole’s new book, A Life Suspended, has just been listed as an Amazon Hot Release!

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About Nicole:

Nicole Hendrick Donovan is a former Montessori educator who worked with a variety of students with various needs. During her teaching career, she created a Montessori preschool classroom which integrated neurotypical and non-neurotypical learners. After her experience with her son, she became an ABA therapist and worked closely with children diagnosed with autism and their families. In 2017, Nicole, shifted her energy and focused on her writing career. Nicole lives on Cape Cod with her husband Mike, four sons and an assortment of rescued cats and dogs. Both Nicole and Mike have continued to work with Jack’s team in supporting his development in all areas. Nicole is a public speaker and facilitator whose passion is to bring awareness and self-healing through personal storytelling. For information about upcoming events or to read from her blog catalog, visit www.nhdwrites.com.

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