Jan 16, 2010

My Next Time Around

Copyright Phyllis Odessey.  No usage without permission.

An 80-year-old woman, foreseeing her own death, makes preparations.

In an interview on NHPR (New Hampshire Public Radio), Joan Graham, working with a land conservancy has taken steps to have her own body, become sustenance for a tree.  "I just like the earth.  I like the smell of it, and I like green and, I like trees."

Joan makes her choice:  oaks have deep taproots.  "Wouldn't it be nice if that oak tree wold reach my remains, and the tree would take nourishment from that?  And it's kind of like I never died, really.  I just morphed into a tree or something."

Joan's journey to convert her land to an environmentally sound burial ground is documented in David Baron's excellent story for NPR.

I tend not to dwell on death.  As a gardener, I am  aware of the lifecycle of all plants: it's part of growing things.  I've "put to bed" many a perennial.  The question naturally arose: Where would be my final resting place?

One of the most famous cemeteries is Montparnasse in Paris.  Located in the 14th arrondissement, Montparnasse is in every guidebook and on every tourist route.  An oasis in the city, and a window into history: Alfred Dreyfus, Charles Baudelaire, Jean Pierre Rampal, Jean Paul Sartre, to name a few, are all there.

I treasure these places dedicated to famous and ordinary individuals.  I enjoy meandering around old cemeteries.  I especially like looking at the arrangements of plastic flowers (YES! I really do).  In my travels, it is only in Norway that cemeteries provide watering cans for keeping flowers alive at grave sites.

Copyright Phyllis Odessey. No usage without permission.  

In my neck of the woods, Oak (Quercus rubra L.)
trees are not particularly common.
Red Spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.),
Eastern White Pine (Picea strobus L.),
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis (L.)Carr.),
Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera Marsh.),
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.),
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.), and
Ash (Fraxinus americana L.) people our woods.
Sometimes, you'll find a Locust (Robina pseudoaccacia L.) or Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana (P.Mill)K.Koch).

Joan's idea of combining land conservation with a burial ground is an idea gardeners can embrace (including me).  I began by taking inventory of the trees on my property and ranking them in order of most adored.  The White Birch has always been at the top of my list.  When I was in grade school, the poem, Birches by Robert Frost was one of  my favorites. The line "once could do worse than be a swinger of birches..." has always resonated with me.  Although birch is not much used for furniture or firewood, it has its place. Native Americans made canoes out of birch bark and up until a few years ago, there was a gentleman in New Hampshire still practicing the craft.

The birch has a special place in my heart.  For several years, my husband and I have written valentines to each other on birch bark.  With thoughtful consideration, I choose birch to lie under for its beauty, not its longevity.

"They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun"
Excerpted from Birches by Robert Frost

Landowner Calls On Death To Save Her Farm
story written by David Baron.
New Hampshire Pubic Radio
The story contains extensive information on how to conserve land as a green burial ground.


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