Where ‘The Dude Abides’

A year ago in Victoria, needing a break from studying, I hopped on my bike and pedalled wherever my fancy would take me. I took the scenic route along Dallas Road and ended up in Gonzales Bay where I stumbled upon this cemetery:

It’s a Chinese cemetery chosen for its good “feng shui,” which literally means wind and water. The site is flanked by higher elevation on the left, lower elevation on the right, a hill-size mountain behind, and water in front. These conditions all contribute to the site’s representation of Nature’s harmonic elements, according to a plaque out in front.

Feng Shui

Cemetery on the Sea

At the time, I didn’t stay long for whatever reason – but I promised myself that I would return to this site one day when I had more time to enjoy it.

That “one day” ended up being this past weekend, a year later when the pressures of being a student were no longer there. One of the joys of being able to linger longer in a place is discovering hidden treasures. As I was walking and climbing along the rocky outgrowth by the cemetery, my eyes caught something that didn’t quite belong in this natural setting:

Yet natural or not, how beckoning is that chair in its bright, brilliant blue and reclining position? If there ever was an invitation to soak in a view, that was it. So I climbed up to it.

Chris 1947-2011. "The Dude Abides"

This plaque answered a pressing question I had: “Who sat in this chair?” And then because my mind does this sometimes, I got thinking about how the chair got here: Was it always here and the Dude often sat in it, or did someone put that chair there after his death to commemorate his favourite spot? Whatever the timing, he seems like a cool guy with excellent choice of an oasis. It actually seemed strange sitting in someone else’s spot, relishing the view he undoubtedly enjoyed on a regular basis. It was so personal and so peaceful. So feng shui.

With the glorious weather we’ve been having here, I got comfortable and pulled out a book that I carry around for perfect occasions such as these. Where else in Canada can you read outside for a couple hours by the beach in December? I love living in such a beautiful place.

Since I now have time to read whatever book I want, whenever I want, I finally got this Canadian classic read, which, coincidentally, was incredibly à propos to the space I was sitting in:

Hagar Shipley, the book’s cantankerous old narrator, recounts memories from her past in order to come to grips with her present and her impending death. So here I was reading a book about a dying woman while sitting in the chair previously occupied by a 64 year-old man who died this year with a cemetery on my right. Despite this surrounding death theme, I felt very much alive reading The Stone Angel, whose title refers to both a real stone angel in a cemetery and the symbolic stone angel of Hagar Shipley.

On the topic of memories and stone angels, my own mind started wandering as I recalled a photo I had taken of a stone angel long before reading this book in another Victoria graveyard – Ross Bay Cemetery, which appears in Kit Pearson’s young adult novel Awake and Dreaming.

A stone angel in Ross Bay Cemetery

I had never contemplated these literary connections to cemeteries before, nor considered cemeteries as particularly obvious places to delve into a book, but after this weekend, I have discovered one of my favourite places in Victoria to read, or, as the Dude does, simply abide.

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