Charles 2 Comments

Interesting story on US National Public Radio (NPR) here.


Do listen to Bernd Heinrich, gentle and wise, talking about what he perceives to be our duty to return to nature in the most appetising way we can.


No coffin for him. Some of the things he says: “You know, being sealed up, totally removed from natural processes that normally occur with every animal on earth is somehow very frightening, it seems unnatural.” He’s not afraid of being eaten: “I find that comforting, to be part of the eco-system … it’s part of the cost, of giving back. I have killed untold hundreds of thousands to live–we all have; to remove ourselves so no one can feed off us seems somehow sacrilegious.”


I agree. With the honourable exception of those cultures which cleave to ancient customs (some Jews, Muslims, Tibetan sky burialists), our corpse disposal practices define humankind’s disconnection from the Earth; they seem to assert that we are not of it. Call it fastidiousness, call it aloofness, call it squalid squeamishness, we do not behave in a way which acknowledges that we are in debt to it and have a duty to return to it in the most useful way we can. We’ll never save this beleaguered planet of ours until we get real and embrace our oneness.

Natural burial is fraught with the dainty denial of destiny, wrapped in euphemisms to shield us from beastliness, preferring prettified aesthetics to earthy, elemental ethics. Yes, it’s pretty much useless if you do it that deep! You’ll only get to push up daisies and buttercups if you enjoy a vibrant, rapid aerobic rot in topsoil or, better still, on the surface. In Hamlet’s words, “We fat all creatures else to fat us,” and therein lies our duty to “fat ourselves for maggots.” Yes, it’s about bugs as much as buttercups. Come on, people, let’s get clear-eyed about this! We need body farms, not burial grounds.

If you like the sound of William Hamilton, here’s that quote in full:

I will leave a sum in my last will for my body to be carried to Brazil and to these forests. It will be laid out in a manner secure against the possums and the vultures just as we make our chickens secure; and this great Coprophanaeus beetle will bury me. They will enter, will bury, will live on my flesh; and in the shape of their children and mine, I will escape death. No worm for me nor sordid fly, I will buzz in the dusk like a huge bumble bee. I will be many, buzz even as a swarm of motorbikes, be borne, body by flying body out into the Brazilian wilderness beneath the stars, lofted under those beautiful and un-fused elytra which we will all hold over our backs. So finally I too will shine like a violet ground beetle under a stone.

Thank you, Cynthia, for the link.

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[…] 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 […]

Ian Quance
Ian Quance
9 years ago

How refreshing – I’ve only just come across this article; had I read it two years ago it would have made my journey towards getting a real grasp on Natural Burial at lot shorter.