HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » General Discussion (Forum) » Death and Dying, the Anim...

Mon Jan 14, 2013, 03:41 PM

Death and Dying, the Animal Way

Last edited Mon Jan 14, 2013, 04:20 PM - Edit history (1)

I know of author and scientist Bernd Heinrich from his book Why We Run, which chronicles his training and experiences in preparing for the U.S. National 100km Championships in 1981. I have been an ultradistance runner, so the book was required reading among my running friends. The real content of the book lies in Heinrich's discussions of human biology, psychology, evolution, and anthropology which leads us as a species to do things that we do. Spoiler alert: He wins the championship. Pork chop alert: He ate an incredible number of pork chops during has training.

I just noticed the New York Times article on his latest book: Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death

For much of the year, Bernd Heinrich spends his time at a cabin he built in a remote forest in western Maine. The cabin has no indoor plumbing and no electricity, he says — just a tree growing inside it


I first started thinking about it when a former student, Bill, wrote saying he was terminally ill and what would I think about his having a “sky burial” on my property in Maine? He wanted to leave his body to the ravens. Bill did not want to be cremated or buried in a sealed box. He wanted to be recycled and have his body provide food for other creatures. But to return to Bill: I wondered if his idea was feasible. What if we put him out and no ravens came? I could imagine that even if they did eat him, there might be a human skull lying around and the next thing, the police would be up there. No, this wasn’t practical! I sent Bill a note saying that regrettably I could not help him.

But now I began doing little experiments on my property. I’d been working on a book about beetles and I thought this might make a chapter. So I put out roadkill — mice, raccoon, a shrew — and then watched for who came and how nature’s undertakers — burying beetles, maggots, gorgeous green bottle flies — broke the carcass down.

The entire scene was about transformation. A mouse would die and get eaten and it became beetles. Or its molecules could become part of a hawk or an owl. I looked at a moose and a deer carcass and I was fascinated by how quickly even big things disappeared in nature. So before I knew it, this chapter had grown into a book!


Are humans and their remains part of that complex ecosystem?

I think so. But human death is becoming more and more divorced from nature. We pump our dead with polluting chemicals like formaldehyde, put them into airtight boxes and then plant them in precious real estate that could be used for agriculture. We think we’re denying death that way. The appealing thing about Bill’s idea was that he wouldn’t be consuming resources in death — his body would give back to natural world

Spoiler alert: Bill survived.

There's more worth thinking about in the article.

The topic reminded me of the chorus of one of my many favorite Tom Russell songs: The Basque

Lay me down by the river boys,
Facing the hot Texas sun
Where the wind can scatter my spirit
After the coyotes are done.

Seems to me as good as any way to give back what was temporarily mine.

4 replies, 1411 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Always highlight: 10 newest replies | Replies posted after I mark a forum
Replies to this discussion thread
Arrow 4 replies Author Time Post
Reply Death and Dying, the Animal Way (Original post)
DreamGypsy Jan 2013 OP
Hun Joro Jan 2013 #1
4_TN_TITANS Jan 2013 #2
TBA Jan 2013 #3
DreamGypsy Jan 2013 #4

Response to DreamGypsy (Original post)

Mon Jan 14, 2013, 04:14 PM

1. I love this idea.

I've often half-jokingly told my daughter that I want to be buried in the back yard with the cats and ferrets, just dig a hole and roll me in. The thought of my remains being sealed forever in a non-degradable box is kind of appalling to me. It's hard to understand why people still do this.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to DreamGypsy (Original post)

Mon Jan 14, 2013, 04:18 PM

2. Donate to the Body Farm at UT Knoxville.

They study decomposition in the wild, it's a huge contribution to forensics.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to DreamGypsy (Original post)

Mon Jan 14, 2013, 04:22 PM

3. Google "Green Burial"

I learned all about it after a horrible experience at the hand of the death industry when my partner died.

In FL you can actually claim the body of your loved one yourself. There are a lot of options. Just not many people are aware.

On edit: I learned all about it from this guy http://www.glendalenaturepreserve.org/

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Response to TBA (Reply #3)

Mon Jan 14, 2013, 04:43 PM

4. Thanks for the information.

My sympathies go out to you on the death of your partner and the experience the aftermath.

Your post prompted me to look a bit further. I remembering checking into this a few years back, but maybe things have changed for the better. I found this:

Q: I own property in the State of Oregon. Is it legal for me to bury a family member on the property?
A. Yes, as long as certain conditions are met. Oregon Revised Statute 97 allows for the use of private property for
family burial grounds as long as the following is true:
• You are the owner of the property or you have consent of all the owners of the property;
• You have contacted the local planning commission in your area and you have met their requirements for
land use, if any; and have their written consent;
• You agree to maintain accurate, permanent records of the burial, and;
• You agree to disclose the burial upon sale of the property.
You must also meet all State requirements for the completion of the death certificate and acquire all transport
permits or other documentation required by the Office of Vital Statistic

I haven't found appropriate county information online yet.

Reply to this post

Back to top Alert abuse Link here Permalink

Reply to this thread