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Those who know do not talk. Those who talk do not know.
Grave Thoughts

It's a fact of life. As we get older we gain more experience of
funerals. And bereavement. Sooner or later, time and time again, it
happens. My mother died some years ago, and two months later, we
gathered friends and family and took a boat and scattered her ashes
where the waters of Port Tobacco Creek meet those of the Potomac at
the foot of the farm where she was born. An osprey rose from the
bankside trees and danced for her. It was her wish, and she and I
had planned it together. It was good.

Mom reckoned cremation would be 'convenient' for me, living across
the Atlantic. Personally, though, I haven't found cremations very
satisfactory. Crematoria themselves are a bit too much like fast
food joints with drive-throughs...characterless, sterile, impersonal,
time-limited...but to each his/her own.

Lately I've also been to a lot of burials of the more normal sort.
Ministers and lay friends doing great honour to passing heroes,
friends and loved ones, all called home sooner than we would wish.
Our local burial grounds are among the finest places to return to the
soil from which we all originate, here or elsewhere. However I would
rather not be drained of juice and refilled with formaldehyde -
again, to each his/her own.

A while ago a longtime good friend, teacher and hero died at 48,
having fought cancer long enough to get his kids into their twenties.
The bulk of the trees I have planted are partly a memorial to Tim
Stead, who was an inspired and inspiring human.

A hundred and fifty or more friends gathered in Wooplaw Wood, a
pioneer community wood established near Lauder by Tim and others in
1987. There were toddlers and infants in backpacks and twin-stick
silvertipped seniors; folk of all stations, but no dark suits, ties
or undertakers. Tim arrived in a white transit van. His willow
basketwork casket, flat cap and sawdust mask on top, was drawn
through the wood on a tracked log extractor and lowered into a grave
dug by his friends in a beautiful space among the trees at the edge
of the wood looking out over the border landscape.

Northumbrian pipes played; poetry and many fine words were spoken; a
lone fiddler broke our hearts and eased them as well, and the more he
played, the more strongly the birds joined in. Any who wished were
able to look down and toss in a few crumbs of soil. There was no
sense of hurry. Friends, some meeting after long absences, spoke
softly together and the stronger young began to refill the grave,
returning first the clay and then the topsoil and restoring the
forest floor with its mossy, leafy litter, where birds will soon be
seeking their living again.

Though I might have fewer friends, I hope my burial may be similar.

And If I must be burned, can it please be on a bonfire? (I shall
make sure to hypothecate sufficient funds for sausages to roast and
lots of drink)

I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me,
That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly,
and my blood is part of the sea...
There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute, except my mind,
and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself,
it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters.
--D H Lawrence

also: from an interview with Wendell Berry (the whole of which is worthwhile)

"I decide to probe Berry about his attitudes on the widely accepted
virtues of the view of fragile Earth from space. Berry has a certain
puckish grin when he is out to puncture some popular icon, which
spreads across his face as he drawls, "That view didn't do much for
me; it looked like a poor old Christmas ornament."

"I ask him if he doesn't find, as I do, the experience of flying
over a piece of country particularly beautiful and enlightening
about, say, the geology, hydrology, vegetation patterns and so on.

Berry chuckles. "Tanya will tell you about me and flying. As soon as
that thing takes off, I'd just as soon lie down in the aisle between
the seats like an old dog (pronounced "dawg") and go to sleep until
it's over."

Then he looks at me and, a little more seriously now, polishes his
argument. "Let's say you were from somewhere else, seeing this Earth
from space for the first time. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't
be satisfied with that view; I'd want to get closer, walk around on
it, even get down on my hands and knees. That's how I prefer to see
the Earth."

On a cold and windy day, Berry loads up some tools into his pickup
truck. I squeeze into the cab next to two of his granddaughters, and
Berry drives us to a graveyard. There, we join a group from town who
are clearing brush in the back part of the burial ground, where the
graves of Berry's people lie next to others, who lived before the
Civil War.

We work for a while gathering up the brush into piles and set fire
to the piles. We begin to stand around them to warm ourselves as the
wind picks up. Berry is paying close attention to an older farmer in
a pair of mechanic's coveralls and a ballcap, who has begun to tell
stories about the people buried around us. The man is close to
seventy, but he's muscular, and has a very smooth, unlined face. He's
chewing a wad of tobacco, and he spits occasionally.

The tales seem to have a formula, featuring the remembered person as
a comic character at the center of some hilarious misadventure. A
couple of the other men have gathered to listen and poke at the fire
with sticks and hand tools. Everyone bends toward the old man in the
wind as he delivers the punch line, and then they explode outward in
laughter.

Berry takes me back to the graveyard a day or two later. I remark
that the stories of the dead people seem to have been preserved as
comedy.

"For some reason," Berry says, "that's the way the men remember
things, but the women tell stories about the sad things that
happened, and there are plenty of sad stories in this graveyard,
people who died young, women who died in childbirth...."

His voice trails off and we fall silent for a long time. Berry turns
the pickup around and drives us home to supper in the gray evening
light....."


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