Visit to Water Valley Cemetery: ‘Just passing through’

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 2, 2009

George Francois (upper left) faithfully weeds the Water Valley Cemetery, final resting place of many in that rural foothills community, including the “grandfather of Alberta cowboy poetry,” Lloyd Dolen, whose simple epitaph (upper right) eloquently reminds all visitors that they, too, are “just passing through.”  Photos by Warren and Mary Anna Harbeck

Water Valley residents George and Lynne Francois have been doing it faithfully for 20 years while living in this Alberta foothills hamlet a half-hour north of Cochrane.

This year was no exception. August 27 was their clean-up/fix-up day at the community cemetery. They invited my wife and me to stop by for a while and listen to stories rising from the good earth.

That day just happened to fall within the same week as the death of U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, celebrated for his visionary social consciousness. His life merged with the witness of those in their Water Valley resting place to remind Mary Anna and me afresh of the positive footprint any of us can leave behind on life’s brief mortal journey.

The cemetery was originally operated by Christ the King Catholic Church in Water Valley. The landmark domed structure, built in 1936 with the cooperation of folks from across denominational lines, was closed in 2001. The Laveck (Laveque) family, early settlers in the region, donated the land for the flower-trimmed cemetery, located a short distance south of the church. The grave of Samuel Laveck, 1867–1942, is the oldest in the memorial park.

A wooden cross marks the grave of another of the park’s residents, revered cowboy poet Lloyd Dolen, 1917–2004. His epitaph reads: “Just passing through.”

Yes, just passing through in his earthly sojourn perhaps, but staying long enough to capture in word and verse the spirit of this community, a spirit of neighborliness that continues to this day among both ranchers and those who find in this peaceful mountain-view setting a refuge from urban frenzy.

In “Water Valley” Lloyd wrote: “some people . . . leave behind their mark, / With their love of God as they turn the sod, / They would never leave you in the dark. / These are the kind of people / That it took to build this land.” Like Ted Kennedy, so also the cowboy poet and the other residents of Water Valley Cemetery have left their mark for future generations.

To all of us they whisper from their resting place, “What mark will you leave behind while just passing through?” It might be as noble a mark as simply tidying up the cemetery.

© 2009 Warren Harbeck

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