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August 19, 2018


I'd heard of Spoon River Anthology, but had no idea what it was. I checked your link, and like the look of it - it's on the list! Thanks Janie.

An interesting idea. I've always assumed that I would stick with the family tradition of cremation. (We have all the cited issues with traditional burials. And no interest in visiting grave sites.)

I'll have to look around here. See if it's on offer, which I suspect it will be. And what the costs are.

Spoon River Anthology is one of the glories of American literature.
Pay close attention to Elsa Wertman and Hamilton Greene.
I particularly love Lucinda Matlock, and I re-read Carl Hamblin every May 1. I've probably put it up on the comments on ObWi at least once.

But for funerary poems, I like :

Do not surround me with wreaths of flowers
Or place upon my body the signs of a fetish
A crescent, cross, phallus or sun
But bury me in an apple orchard,
That I might touch your lips again.

Ken Weaver (of The Fugs)

Very beautiful, joel hanes, except for "Or places upon my body" which I have now ascertained (with relief) is a typo for "Nor place upon my body". Like Spoon River Anthology, I remember vaguely hearing about the Fugs, but knew nothing. This is an incentive to know more.

You know, I've had that file on my computer for over twenty years, re-read it occasionally, and have never caught that typo. Thanks. I'll fix my file.

If a front-pager could fix it in the comment above, I'd be much obliged.

Thanks to AbeBooks, Spoon River Anthology is on its way. I will pay the particular attention you suggest, joel hanes, since my impression from past discussions is that your recommendations are well worth following.

Typo fixed. :-)

That old "body launched on a boat set aflame" thing is too old fashioned.

I think "encased in a giant asteroid, launched at the GOPHQ at 100km/s" is better.

There will be no survivors. Valhalla or bust!

cremation for my wife and I, then internment of our ashes at Mt Auburn cemetery in Cambridge MA.

getting our spots there was the first "things couples do together" thing we did together.

when i die, i'd like to be brought back to life.

anything else will be wasted on me.

My best friend used to say he wanted his body dumped in the woods to be fed on by scavengers. I think he was trying to defy convention more than anything, but it turns out possibly to be an environmentally friendly plan.

The idea of dumping human bodies in the wilderness seems like polluting to me, but large mammals die there all the time, and it's not like there are stinky corpses everywhere. The clean-up crews are pretty efficient. (Josie Wales said, "Buzzards gotta eat same as worms.") Then again, we represent a pretty large biomass.

If humans had no compunction about leaving their dead exposed above ground to be disposed of by nature, what would common practice be in the modern world? How would it be handled in major population centers?

(I know this isn't the most poetic comment.)

The idea of dumping human bodies in the wilderness seems like polluting to me, but large mammals die there all the time, and it's not like there are stinky corpses everywhere. The clean-up crews are pretty efficient. (Josie Wales said, "Buzzards gotta eat same as worms.") Then again, we represent a pretty large biomass.

Yeah, a really really large biomass. A couple of centuries ago, it might have been a viable approach -- at least outside a handful of major urban areas. But today? Just way too large a global population.

How would it be handled?

Check out the traditional practice of the Zoroastrians. And by the way, they are not extinct and the common prohibitions against their Towers of Silence are hurtful to them.

My best friend used to say he wanted his body dumped in the woods to be fed on by scavengers.

for science?

for science?

Probably just to piss his mother off, but cool link.

That's a lot of biomass

Thirty million deer in the US.
Average lifespan 4.5 years; call it 5.
Average whitetail 150 lbs.
So yearly, deer carcasses total 900 million lbs.
The scavengers and dermestid beetles make pretty quick work of them, except in deep winter.

33 million people in the US
Average lifespan 79 years.
Average adult weight about 180 lbs
So, yearly, human corpses total 75 million pounds

I don't think the scavengers and beetles would have much problem keeping up.

33 million??

Yes, I had just noticed that and was about to correct it. Thanks for catching it.

325 million people, so
760 million lbs of human carrion yearly;
still less than the deer.

What portion of the deer are actually dying in the wild? As opposed to going to hunters. (Not to mention the few that ace actually farmed.) May not be that big, but it ought to be checked.

I've got "Organ Donor" on my DL, so I'm not sure how much of me would be left after doctors took out all the re-usable stuff (as I get older, the answer is probably, "Quite a lot, actually"). And I think what is left over either goes to the med students for dissection purposes, or to the incinerator.

Otherwise, I would love to be left out in the woods.

Per wj's question, one quick data point from here.

Last fall Maine state biologists hoped hunters would "harvest at least 7,000" deer from a "herd" estimated at 240,000. That's roughly 3% for hunters.

Thanks, Janie. Always good to be clear what we're looking at.

Oooohhhh, this could be fun. The deer are the least of it.

From 538:

In other words, just the subset of bugs eaten by spiders last year probably outweighs all the humans on Earth.

In other words, just the subset of bugs eaten by spiders last year probably outweighs all the humans on Earth.

But wouldn't we want to limit our comparisons to those processes which digest large (and probably land) mammals, e.g. humans? That being the part of the ecosystem that we are looking at.

But wouldn't we want to limit our comparisons to those processes which digest large (and probably land) mammals, e.g. humans? That being the part of the ecosystem that we are looking at.

Depends which "we" you're talking about, I suppose.

My basic point, offered lightheartedly, was simply to note the scale of ecological processes in general. But I would make the further point that ecological processes do not happen in silos; it's not called a "system" for nothing. Some of the critters eaten by spiders might well be involved, directly or at one or two steps removed, in the digestion of larger animals.

However, since you seem to have something more specific/different in mind, I will leave you to dredge up your own factoids.

When I am broken, when I depart...When my eyes stray from yours...When I no longer know you, my love...When I am broken, when I depart...Fear not for me, weep not for me...For finally I am released...Fear not for me, weep not for me...To the heaven of all earths...I am released...When from my head my mane is torn...When my hair is blowing in solar wind...When into my eyes driven are the nails...When weighted boots march across my grave

Don’t you fear...Don't you weep...


In other words, just the subset of bugs eaten by spiders last year probably outweighs all the humans on Earth.

But wouldn't we want to limit our comparisons to those processes which digest large (and probably land) mammals, e.g. humans?

spiders eat the bugs
the bugs eat dead stuff. if you leave us laying around, that will include us.

other critters scavenge, too, and make off with the big chunks. but the bugs clean up the scraps.

and, those other critters shuffle off this mortal coil as well, at some point. and the bugs eat them.

everybody is somebody else's lunch.

I have firmly decided I would be buried, cremated, have a Viking funeral, be buried shallow near Joshua tree and duplicate my grandfather's funeral complete with pewter and copper casket. A at different times of course.

Still, as it approaches, the only thing I am sure of is I want a wake with lots of music. I keep changing the playlist, much to my daughters feigned chagrin.

GftNC and joel hanes -- You've both inspired me to actually dig out Spoon River. I haven't read it in many years, and in fact my last experience of it was a performance in a little theater in Boston a long time ago.

russell -- Mt. Auburn is so lovely...I considered it at one point but assumed it would be very expensive, although at the time I was thinking of a burial plot and not cremation. Great choice, and lucky you to be part of a couple to plan with.

hsh: On being dumped in the woods...I've always thought my first choice would be to be buried simply so that my body could be returned to the earth, that is, be turned back *into* earth, without embalming or some fancy pretend-impregnable container slowing the process. That's one reason why the conservation burial ground is of such interest. As to what to do with the dead in major population centers -- it's a major problem. Not going to google, no time right now, but I was just reading recently about how often bodies are moved, buried deeper, etc., in ancient/big cities, where there's just no more space. Here in the wilds of Maine we don't have that problem...yet, and AFAIK.

Body farms: Weirdly enough, I had never heard of this kind of research (described in the link in cleek's 3:27), and now I've come across it twice in the space of a few hours. The second time was a mention in Ali Smith's Winter, which I'm halfway through (a novel).

Biomass: Not to minimize the problem, because it is in fact a problem in populated areas, but on reflection it seems a little ... strange ... to have any doubt about whether the earth that feeds us should have any problem reabsorbing us. I mean, our biomass came from somewhere and is going somewhere -- just as much in perpetual flux as all the other biomass.

But just to add a bit of the practical side, here are a couple of notes from the research the land trust has done:

Field tests have since confirmed that the soil at this site has the ideal physical and microbial properties for burial.
The property has been carefully evaluated by [land trust] staff and [a] Maine state soil scientist... The field tests show that the soil is ablation till soil, which is ideal for body decomposition because it is well drained, deep to bedrock, not rocky, and sufficiently high in silt and clay content. Moreover, the spring water table at the site is approximately ten feet below the topsoil, a depth that greatly reduces the risk of groundwater contamination.

Sallie Tisdale's book, mentioned in the OP, has sections on the problems of dealing with the dead in populated areas, as well as with the environmental costs, both of conventional burial practices and of cremation.

Obsessiveness is not a virtue, I admit that, and maybe I need a vacation. But sometimes the old OCD-ish inability to let something drop turns up cool stuff.

There are some neat visuals at the link, but in case you don't feel like clicking through, the central factoids of interest at the moment is that humans account for 0.06 Gt C (gigatons of carbon) on the planet, out of 550 Gt C for all life on earth.

So, about 1% of 1%.

The article also has some sobering estimates of the effects humans have had on the biomass of other creatures. To the surprise of no one here, I'm sure, it's not pretty.


And -- since I can get just as crabby about numbers as about grammar, I will note that the authors summarize the numbers by saying of humans that "we make up less than 1 percent of life."

Yes indeed, 1% of 1% is a bit less than 1%.


I've gone off TEDtalks, but before I did, I saw these two




Humans currently appropriate about 25% of all plant biomass growth, the "net primary production"

Sorry, the first two I saw and the 3rd, I saw when I was searching for the links for the other two.

My kids ask my husband and I
"Cooked or boxed"?

Which we think is rather rude!!!
But I want my ashes scattered in the ocean at Cape Cod

My wife chose to be cremated, with her ashes scattered on the rivers where she rowed, and in our garden (I can never move). I've asked for a woodland burial, but our children can choose something else for me if they care.

Diane -- perhaps rude, but it's nice that they'll talk about the subject. (Don't know how old they are....my kids are adults but still shy of talking about this. Getting less so, perhaps, which I appreciate.)

Pro Bono -- if you can never move, I hope you like your place!

Here's a poem that helps me loosen my grip, just a bit, on the idea that it matters particularly much where my remains are buried or my ashes scattered.:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.


Marty mentioned his playlist. I don't have one, but I once told Steve Romanoff (on the right in this link to an album cover and a song) that I wanted Schooner Fare to sing "Lord of the Dance" in my memory when the time comes. Of course, he has probably forgotten, so I should write it down. But Tommy (on the left) departed before the rest of us, far too soon, and Steve and Chuck are both older than I am, so who knows. I love the song even though I have to take it metaphorically, since the literal content is Christ-centered and I am not a Christian.

Perfect, JanieM. I'm a metaphorical Christian [agnostic], and that song works fine for my purposes.

Personally I've always rather fancied Strange Boat, from the Waterboys' great album Fisherman's Blues. I'm on my phone so cannot post a link, but for those who don't know it, it's on YouTube and well worth a listen.

I should start a playlist for my own funeral, which I plan to be held as a week for my loved ones at the Outer Banks, NC, if the venue doesn't predecease me. I will have to gather some original contributions (or at least some stolen from elsewhere).

I often think "Happy Trails" would be a good funeral song. Or maybe Groucho's "Hello, I must be going", only without the Captain Spaulding chorus.

It would lighten the mood and give everyone a laugh. What better way to leave one's friends and loved ones.

Less whimsically, maybe the "All I Ask" hymn from the Weston Priory. Just the refrain. But only if everyone sings. That song conjures very good memories, for me.

I'm also Christian, FWIW. Not agnostic, but no creed. I used up all of my 'creed' tickets long long ago. Creeds just seem like attempts to nail down mysteries, and everybody ends up arguing about them.

Homoousios or homoiousios? Let's fight about it!!

Crazy. IMO.

I find the person of Jesus compelling, believe the things he said to the degree and maybe somewhat beyond the degree to which I understand them, and I consider myself accountable to that. And that's about it.

The stuff that I don't completely grasp, I basically just don't worry about. Works for me, everybody has their own understanding of this stuff.

Funny to be discussing this here. The beauty of ObWi is that it's a place where folks discuss unusual stuff.

It is always, I think, worth recognizing that we're all gonna go sooner or later. Not in a morbid way, just in the sense of knowing that the world doesn't revolve around you.

Everyone matters, nobody's important. Or maybe it's the other way around, I always forget. But one of those.

a playlist for my own funeral

The Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get"

The Beatles, All You Need Is Love

Crosby Stills Nash and Young - Find the Cost of Freedom

rats. Forgot the penultimate one

Cat Stevens Miles From Nowhere

I've always thought that if I were a theist, this would be good :

In The Presence Of The Lord

Lots of good songs.

russell -- I have heard the refrain of "All I Ask" quoted as a saying -- didn't know it was a song. It's lovely either way: "All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you."

This leads me along a trail of associations to Annie Dillard asking (in The Writing Life IIRC), "What are we here for?"

And answering: “Propter chorum, the monks say: for the sake of the choir.”

Then again, elsewhere she says "We are here to witness."

Either is fine with me.

The discussion of my playlist began decades ago with my daughter noting it would include Desert Rat by Micheal Murphy. Its diverse and named Songs of My Life.

I love all the songs y'all mention, the only purely religious song on my list is Amazing Grace. I am pretty nondenominational.

"Stairway to Heaven" for me.
(That's a joke.)

Hairway to Steven, perhaps...?


"Highway to Hell" would be more appropriate.

I'll be dead, so I won't care -- though I have left instructions to allow any useful parts to be harvested. Assuming that my wife, who is five years younger, outlives me, she can do whatever makes her happiest.

This is very interesting because I love music, but when both my parents passed away, the absolute last thing on my mind was music. For my (US) wedding (There was also a ceremony in Japan, but I had, nor did I want, any say in the music or indeed anything else) I chose the music, but the only choice that sticks out was that we had Handel's Ombra ma fu (off Kathleen Battle's cd) for the processional.

I'm now wondering why this is.

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