How you get there: Park at the Blakely Harbor Park wayside just east of Country Club Road; the trailhead is across the road at the foot of the bluff. Casual bicyclists should prepare to dismount; don’t plan on riding up the trail unless you’re already in training for the Pyrenees leg of Le Tour.
Why you should go: The paths of glory, the poet Thomas Gray wrote, lead but to the grave. So too the Blakely Cemetery Trail which (like life) follows a winding, occasionally steep, but ultimately worthwhile route to the finish. Total length is a modest 0.3 miles, and the trail (often unlike life) is smooth and well maintained.
The wooded hillside shows generations of recovery since its denuding during the Port Blakely mill days. You’ll find the expected ratio of firs to cedars, with several bursts of mature big-leaf maples mottling the blue sky above on sunny days. Partway up and past a series of steep switchbacks, an unimproved “social path” splits off to the east onto private land; it’s not part of the official trail, so bypass it for now and perhaps someday let your conscience be your guide.
Carved into the side of the bluff before leveling out toward the crest, the regular trail will have you huffing anyway. Your reward for reaching the top: a visit to Port Blakely Cemetery (founded 1880), which you might think of as the South Bainbridge Historical Museum for its rich collection of markers dating to the island’s pioneer days.
Here lie turn-of-century mill workers, early Asian immigrants, and European homesteaders who found their way to Bainbridge in frontier days and wound up staying for the long haul. It should go without saying, but this is a place of dignity and repose; explore the markers – this cemetery is one of the island’s great cultural resources – but please be respectful.
The cemetery is perhaps best experienced on autumn days in late afternoon, when the sun circles around to the lower western sky, soft light filters through the towering firs that ring the grounds, and the thin frontier between this world and the next begins to fade. Linger and reflect.
When you’re ready to flee the shadow of eternity, head down the cemetery access road to the north and continue your sojourn along the quiet country lanes of Eagledale. Or just make your way back to the trailhead and walk down to the harbor and the sounds and comforts of the great world. Who can say when you might return, but you will … as will we all. As another poet wrote: Le cimetiére, c’est patient.