Here is the best post this blog will ever publish, so don’t glance at its length and give up. Read on!
Today is all about Bill Jordan. I first heard from Bill back in December 2010. This is what he said:
I am an aging reformed biologist, now more or less a writer, but more accurately a philosopher-poet-canary-priest, and I have come upon some uncommon conclusions on the proper relationship between man and nature in the course of my time on this remarkable planet. These will be set forth in more detail in a book I am writing, presuming I have the time to complete it. But considering my age (66) and heart condition, I must be realistic and plan for my return to the liberated molecules.
I have found my own spirituality in biology and this now sustains me with remarkable equanimity. It is based on how the natural world functions–how it lives–and I wish my remains to return to the living molecular plasma that the surface of the earth nurtures and maintains. Consequently, I am almost obsessed with having my corpse laid out upon the surface, to fulfill the needs of the natural world. I am attaching a short musing on the subject.
Anyhow, such a disposition is simply blasphemous to normal, traditional societies, and I will have to work hard to fulfill my wishes. My question to you is simply to ask your initial reaction to such an odd request. Of course if you have any notions of how my wishes could be carried out, I would be most grateful to hear them. I live in California, USA.
I suspect my body would be willing to travel.
I directed Bill’s attention to the example of Bernd Heinrich and William Hamilton here, and I touched on the difficulty of finding unpeopled wilderness on our crowded planet. I suggested the body farm in Tennessee. All the while, I chuckled at Bill’s developed rationale, which he attached as a Word document. I asked him if I might post it. He told me he wanted to redraft it first. He’s just sent it back to me. He also sent me photos of his cat, Brutus, his duck, Jacqi, his neighbour, Polistes exclamans (a paper wasp) and his back yard (garden, we’d say in Britain) unmown for four years because “I was interested see what the poor, craven, downtrodden grasses of a typical yard would become, if liberated from the obsessive-compulsive human urge to manipulate and control all that which surround them.” These photos illustrate his text.
Green Departures — Das Lied zu der Erde
Having come to a point much closer to the end of life than the beginning, having survived a close call with my mortality, age having its inevitable way, it seems time to get my affairs in order….. Or more specifically, to make my bed. If you know your bed is waiting, the sheets turned down, climbing in is a formality, maybe even a pleasant one.
When I go, I want my body laid out on the ground, so the insects and other small scavengers can participate in their rightful and overdue feast. Human civilization is based on the deepest, most cardinal of ecological sins–burial–because for the vast majority of terrestrial life you lie where you die, and the entire ecology depends on the unfettered redistribution of nutrients. This means there can be no such thing as “green” burial, because in nature there is no burial at all. The corpse is the groceries of a living system; a corpse represents a health-food supermarket stocking the nutrients, minerals, etc., that we have gathered and assembled in our bodies during the course of living. When we die, nature wants the ingredients back, because they are only on loan, and all living things excepting the human being, are happy to oblige. The custom of burial, however, seals the nutrients off, slowing the redistribution, if not outright arresting it. But, because of the incalculable stench of a decomposing human corpse, particularly that of a right-wing conservative, we simply cannot obey the normal, physiological ways of nature. Civilization –which requires existence in one place–also requires us to stuff our cadavers under its synthetic rug, starving the world that nurtures us through life. The same principles hold true for the turd. A turd is a vital repository of essential vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, oils that represent the expenditure of much time and energy to concentrate–but civilization cannot long endure without the nihilistic practice of burial and sewage disposal–or at least that’s the way its values are currently structured.
I would offer myself back. My god is in nature, although I don’t think of it as a god, just a vast, all-pervasive, incomprehensibly nuanced reality from which I have bubbled up like hot-springs mud and will subside back, only to bubble up again in some other molecular form. So for me, to know I’ll be going back into the air, the soil, the rain, the mist, the snow–back to the ecstasy I feel while walking–these experiences are so comforting that I almost look forward to being laid out on the festive table of a Sierra Nevada meadow, or the large rocks in the Australian Alice, or the sagebrush scrub of the Great Basin. I would like to delay my departure, of course, because the essence of life is procrastination. Those live longest, who procrastinate best. But, like everyone else, I suppose I’ll just have to wait and see how much I can delay things.
Such a disposition would require preparation–some kind of cage or enclosure to keep bears and other large omnivores from scattering bones about. That wouldn’t bother me. My tolerance would be infinite–besides, there’s nothing wrong with a little flinging of the feast. But law enforcement would pitch a fit, and Forensic Files would produce a 2-hour special. It’s a bizarre sign of the times that when a human body is found in some natural place like a field or a forest, people treat it with horror, because most never have, and never will encounter one. If a world of 6.9 billion people were self-sustaining (impossible given the current nature of nature), bones would lie scattered everywhere, like styrofoam; you could not find an uncluttered landscape. But society stuffs its cadavers under the ecological rug, so the land shows no evidence of the human hordes that dominate it. Nevertheless, in my ideal world, all I’d need would be enough time for the soft parts to be carried off in the bodies of the flies and ants, which are the first-line distributors of the invertebrate world. The bones, cartilage, mummified skin, hair–I’m fine with burying those, but directly in the soil, not sealed in some sort of unholy canister.
The challenge becomes finding some remote land, protected, if necessary, by remote people for several summer months while the feast proceeded. At this point I am open to any and all suggestions.
Perhaps the best way to sum up my thesis is to consider the diametrical opposite of a green disposition: The ex coronation of Pope John Paul, preceded by an undertaking to make the Pharaohs weep.
First, they embalmed the Pope’s corpse, rendering him inedible. Then they placed his body inside a hand-crafted black-walnut coffin. Then, they placed that coffin inside a larger coffin made of lead and soldered it shut. Then, they placed the body-inside-the-coffin-inside-the-leaden-box inside a huge stone sarcophagus, and finally, maybe to make sure the Pope didn’t rise up like his Boss, they placed the body-inside-the-coffin-inside-the-leaden-box-inside-the-sarcophagus into a crypt, and there the pope’s remains remain, sealed off from the living earth like an old reactor with a half-life of eternity. I cannot imagine a more horrifying, claustrophobic limbo-hell. Like that of all other creatures, my distribution would cost nothing and give back to nature the nutrients essential to a living world.
Aside from all that, well, I figured it was about time for something to show up. It’s been a wonderful existence; the molecules have treated me well; there is nothing to regret….well…. maybe a little to envy in those dealt an even better hand….