Field Notes

Being a record of certain phenomena found in the environs of the Lost Quarter.  

Mourning Boxes

It is often easy, especially for those who are from there, to dismiss the Lost Quarter as an unremarkable place, no different than any other in the western domains with whom we have a shared history of settlement. Certainly the indigenous peoples of these regions made no distinctions between this place and any other that fell under their purview in those ancient times that are somehow not that long ago. We, who came after they had been pushed out and exiled to reservations, established borders and townships and provinces and all the rest, though borders have always been tricky here, never quite able to take hold. The Quarter was always set apart, without anyone quite realizing it, the ways in and out unclear except to those who know them. 

All this I say by way of introduction to the most unique custom of the current inhabitants of the Quarter. I speak of course of the mourning boxes. They are nearly ubiquitous in the households of the Quarter, yet found seemingly nowhere else. Each family possesses one, visibly displayed, if not in a place of honour or pride exactly, at least where guests will not miss it. The individual boxes vary, ranging from the size of a jewelry box to a mantel clock at their largest. The majority are perfect cubes, though the larger are shaped like a chest. There can be no mistaking them for a storage vessel though, for they are enclosed with no obvious means of opening them. Most are made of wood, stained but not painted, sometimes with engravings. These vary considerably and can be quite elaborate.  

I have said they have no obvious means of being opened, which perhaps gives the false impression that they can be. They cannot without being deconstructed and there is no purpose in doing so for they contain nothing. Their sole purpose as an object is display. Yet, they are not art exactly, though some are quite beautifully constructed. Nor are they, despite their name, vessels for memorializing the dead. Quite what they are for and why so many residents of the Quarter possess and display them is something of a mystery.  


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