The Ecology of Death

January 31, 2015

 Walt Whitman – Song of Myself – Section 6:

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken
soon out of their mothers’ laps,
And here you are the mothers’ laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
Darker than the colourless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at
the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and

9 Responses to “The Ecology of Death”

  1. redskylite Says:

    A very sombre post, thanks for reminding me that I must visit a solicitor and finally get around to leaving a will, it is at least a month since any funeral insurer has reminded me. In it I must make it clear that I do NOT want to be composted, however beneficial that would be to mother earth. Just burn my remains and sprinkle on my favourite mountain peak.

    Mass deaths are reported with regularity (200,000 civilians alone in the Syrian civil war, 8,810 Ebola, 6,000-7,000 Typhoon Haiyan). Then there’s failing crops and water supplies, increased typhoon strengths and storm surges. So the topic does not seem so far out of place in a climate blog, unfortunately.

    • redskylite Says:

      I found this recent video taken from a B.B.C drone very moving and it seems a suitable topic to insert it.

    • 1happywoman Says:


      Peter is spot on with this topic.

      Katrina Spade, the founder of the Urban Death Project, says conventional burial directly contributes to climage change:

      “In the weeks and months following a conventional burial, bodies slowly decompose anaerobically, and this lack of oxygen creates methane, a particularly powerful greenhouse gas. Further emissions are produced by the manufacture and transportation of embalming fluids, caskets and grave liners, and by the frequent mowing of acres of manicured cemetery lawns.”

      I don’t understand how methane from bodies buried in caskets could get out from 6-feet-under and into the atmosphere, but her points about cemetery maintenance and the manufacture and transport of burial paraphernalia seem well-taken.

      Spade says cremation is better, but hardly ideal:

      “[T]he average cremation uses 28 gallons of fuel to burn a single body, emitting about 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s about 250,000 tons of CO2 each year. Despite their less-than-stellar green credentials, rates of cremation are rising fast in the U.S., in part because people are looking for less environmentally harmful options.”

      And yes, I get it that relatively speaking, these are minor impacts. But it’s all part of the same conversation.

      Peter, I love how you used Caitlin’s video, a Monty Python clip, and a Walt Whitman poem all together in this one post–what artistry!


  2. dumboldguy Says:

    IMO, using Caitlin’s video, a Monty Python clip, and a Walt Whitman poem all together in this one post is more than mere “artistry” on Peter’s part—-it’s an outrageous attack on our sanity and actually made me dizzy. Peter does know how to get our attention.

    The best part was being introduced to Caitlin and her “Meet the Mortician” series—a real treat. All should visit there—-entertaining and meaningful.

    The real dizziness appeared when I went to the Urban Death Project website.

    The artist’s rendering at the top of the home page shows a view of what should rightly be called The Church of The Composted Body, with some celebrants cum mourners leaving on the lower left and someone wheeling out a wheelbarrow (full of composted grandma) on the lower right (it says in the “Process” section that “Loved ones are encouraged to take some compost back to their own yards and gardens”). Another rendering in the Process section shows little Mary Jane as she appears to be getting ready to “hug some mulch” (since her Grandma has already been hauled away to someone’s yard or garden and is beyond hugging).

    I am torn by this whole idea—-it is both a wonderful vision and a very wacky idea. I seriously doubt it will take hold, but who knows? People have poured a lot of $$$ into Solar Roadway, and this is a 501(c)3 venture rather than some private marketing scheme, so it may gain some traction. They have partnered with another 501(c)3 and a “green” for-profit engineering consulting company. I think they should try to partner up with organized religion, because that’s going to be their biggest hurdle.

    Of course, one could be cynical and say that it’s just another way of providing jobs and paychecks for those who work in the UDP movement. I won’t be that directly unkind, but will say that a better way to respect Nature and recycle human bodies efficiently would be to have designated “memorial recycling preserves” where bodies could be taken to be recycled in a completely natural way—lay them on the ground so that buzzards, scavengers, worms, bugs and beetles, mushrooms, and bacteria can do their “fangs, blood, guts, and rot” thing. A lot cheaper than building “churches” and staffing them too, and the land not used for the Churches of Compost could be put to better uses.

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