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Feeling invigorated at the cemetery

Rockville Cemetery, pictured on Oct. 4, 2012.

Rockville Cemetery, pictured on Oct. 4, 2012. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Summer is over, which means -- let's hope -- things will slow down a bit. No longer are you expected to throw another shrimp on the barbie, endure marathon Little League games as indication of grandfatherly devotion, or, worst, engage in bothersome fresh-air activities like backcountry hikes and camping trips.

When it comes to the great outdoors, I am with Woody Allen. "I love nature," Allen once said. "I just don't want to get any of it on me."

The point is, fall has arrived and it is time to relax. My suggestion: Consider the graveyard.

Courage, friends of a certain age. I am not suggesting we make an early surrender to the inevitable but merely observing that the allure of cemeteries -- 120,000 in the United States, according to Internet estimates -- regularly is overlooked.

Necropolitan charm became clear to me on a recent trip to Cape Cod when, scouting sites for my morning walk -- an open-air activity, yes, but within reason -- I noticed an outcropping of tombstones opposite our motel.

It was an old burial spot -- many residents had been snoozing since Lincoln -- with cracked paths and shady bowers. Grave markers were rubbed smooth by the weather-tough winters on the Cape -- so that letters and numbers engraved long ago now were faint and fading.

Names were mostly Anglo-Irish, as might be expected for Olde New England. Collins, Clark, Hatch, Rogers, Dill, Bearse, Cowell, Thompson, Higgins. "Don't let me disturb you, pals," I felt like saying. "I'm just here for the aerobics."

Fitness is not a preoccupation but I try to log three miles every day -- good for health and disposition. Also I am a star at the doctor's when it comes to blood pressure results. "Perfect!" said my favorite nurse, Michele, before a recent yearly physical. "It's the walking," I said. "Don't stop," said Michele.

That's what added such a nice touch of irony to my tour of the Cape Cod cemetery -- pursuing fitness among folks for whom heart rate, body fat index and cholesterol long since has ceased being a concern.

Hoofing past this silent majority -- Doane, Korbet, Chandler, Burke, Harney, Carroll -- I felt oddly energized, uplifted.

No doubt the exhilaration was due in large part to my above-ground status, but there was something otherwise invigorating about the place, too -- a sunny spot hinting at eternity without the glum aspects of funeral parlors, black limos and memorial wreaths with Dad emblazoned in red carnations. Instead of death, I was reminded of life. The Great Mandala was still spinning. Hot dog!

Workout done, I went back to meet my wife, Wink, at the motel's complimentary breakfast. I checked ball scores in the newspaper, ate melon and Cheerios -- no sense pushing my luck with a hefty cheese omelet and a ton of home fries -- and said to Wink, "Lucky to be around, aren't we?"

In a nearby village that evening, we heard a terrific singer by the name of Julia Nixon. She was performing in what once was a church, which made it all the more significant when, recalling the words of a long-gone jazz eminence, Nixon advised that the best music demonstrates "power and grace." Yes, I thought, drifting back to my graveyard prowl -- power and grace, the best of music, the best of life, the best of everything.

I don't want to suggest that cemeteries are new to me. At 75, I've attended my share of prayerful ceremonies featuring caskets and freshly turned earth. All my folks are gone at this point and remain at rest in Green-Wood of Brooklyn, huge, amazing and world-famous.

Wink and I sometimes stop by to visit the plot. Exercise is not the objective under those circumstances. We pull weeds, dust off the small monument bearing the family name, step back and fall into silence.

Elsewhere, visitors -- chatting happily on a recent Sunday -- stroll the winding roads and marvel at elaborate crypts bigger than some city apartments. Welcome to all, I say. Enjoy yourselves. Take it easy, autumn is upon us.

For me the mood is different. I touch the marble headstone, whisper a little something to Mom and Dad, and turn toward the car. I sigh -- can't help it -- and shrug and drive through Green-Wood's massive landscape back to the street.

On Cape Cod, I had no pangs of melancholy. Before making my exit from that sunny country outpost, Mets T-shirt damp after a half-hour of exercise, I passed a small white gazebo with sign attached.

"Plots available," it said in black letters.

No thanks, I thought. Not today. I haven't even had my Cheerios yet.

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