How a Cemetery in an Abandoned Ghost Town Inspired One Patient With Cancer


“I like to think the people of Bodie counted every day and made every day count, as hard as their lives were, reminding me to do the same,” writes a woman with metastatic breast cancer about her visit to Bodie State Historic Park.

After losing our sweet schnauzer, Heidi, to lymphoma in May, we, or rather I, decided to actively start looking to adopt another schnauzer to help cope with the loss. After a lot of searching my boyfriend, Josh, and I found and adopted 6 1⁄2-year-old Ashley in July from a rescue. Ashley is a petite miniature schnauzer, weighing in at just around 13 pounds. She is a feisty but loveable girl who loves to ride in the car. Josh and I both have birthdays in August and although I don’t like to celebrate my birthday, I do enjoy celebrating with others on their birthdays. This year instead of gifts we went on one of Josh’s favorite road trips, camping in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains. This was our first road trip as a family with Ashley.

We set out early one morning with the back of my car packed to the ceiling with enough food and camping supplies for weeks, not just the three days and two nights we’d be gone for. Over 300 miles and several stops along the way, later we arrived at the campground and set up for our stay. I didn’t grow up camping like Josh did. I went to summer camp and stayed in a cabin or a dorm, never a tent. At summer camp we had cots or bunk beds, so sleeping on the ground just doesn’t cut it for me. A few years back we purchased an air mattress to use when we go camping. It stays in its box and gets pulled out once a year or so. Josh brought the compressor that uses the car battery to inflate the mattress and had it fully inflated in minutes and Ashley hopped on to test it out.

I’ve always found it hard to sleep in new places anyway and combine that with the incessant chirp of the crickets, the wind and light rain I knew it would be a long night. About midway through the night, amidst my tossing and turning, my air mattress had developed a slow leak. That air mattress became something like a gravel-filled waterbed with parts of me sinking as I tried to find a comfortable position with little success. As soon as the sun filled our tent I was up and getting ready for our day trip to Bodie State Historic Park.

Bodie is a true ghost town preserved in a state of arrested decay. The town is located 13 miles off highway 395, and the last three miles of the drive are on an unpaved stretch of dusty washboard dirt road. Only about 5 percent of the buildings, mostly built in the 1870s, remain on the property and have been untouched all these years, as mining in Bodie stopped in 1942. Peering into the windows of the old houses and storefronts and seeing all the history left behind always leaves me in awe. In some of the windows you can see beds, peeling wallpaper, canned goods and calendars. So many snippets of past lives all those years ago.

What struck me most was our visit to the cemetery. The Bodie cemetery is set on a small hill overlooking the town. Each gravestone told a story of a hard life. On quite a few of the gravestones I noticed the inscription would include the date the person died along with their age and how many months and days they lived. Some were only children, one of whom lived just three months and 28 days. One of the more senior residents lived 66 years, seven months and 18 days. While wandering the ghost town’s cemetery and seeing those days and months counted on their gravestones, I like to think the people of Bodie counted every day and made every day count, as hard as their lives were, reminding me to do the same.

The Bodie cemetery was our last stop before venturing back to our campsite for another night on a leaky air mattress. As I expected, the second night the air mattress was just as deflated by the middle of the night, making it difficult to fall asleep. Again, as soon as the sun came up, I was more than ready to get up and head home to the comfort of my own bed. Without hesitation we decided to abandon that air mattress just as the people of Bodie abandoned their town. When every day counts, life is much too short for sleeping on a deflated air mattress.

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