Returning Your Body To The Soil

David Trammel's picture

I listened to a NPR episode on composting human remains this morning. Sounds like a really nice way to go, being returned to the soil.

"Human composting: How Washington is writing the guidebook to a green burial"

Back in 1977, we visited my mother's family in a little village in southern Germany. No one there was rich. There was a tiny graveyard surrounding the church, hemmed in by the village.

It was landlocked and not getting any bigger.

How did the residents manage?

They reused grave sites.

Each person was buried in a winding sheet and the grave was marked. Eventually, two or three generations later, there was no one left to mourn that person. The grave was redug and the next body installed. Since the body only got a winding sheet, decay set in swiftly.

I was told that there was never many remains; I think they just got reburied a little deeper.

Think about it. You may visit the grave of your grandmother but your great-grandmother? Great-great-grandmother? Unless they were of historical significance, wealthy, or you're a genealogist, you probably don't even know their name!

Ken's picture

This is a topic that is under discussed. The death industry makes obscene profits on the backs of grieving families and it simply is wrong, not to mention ecologically unsustainable. Washington state recently passed a law allowing composting of human remains:
Lots of people say they are interested but I don't know how available it is at the moment.

My preference would be to go with the native practice of sky burial and then a commemorative place found for my bones. Given the public health issues that would undoubtedly be raised, I presume that my family will have to cremate me, despite my wishes. Some folks in Colorado have a neighborhood scale outdoor crematorium and have offered to help navigating the legalities:

"There is room at the table for all beings and we all take our turn on the table." - Gary Snyder

If we are to ever become truly native to our place, we must realize to our bones that the topsoil that sustains and nurtures all land based life is literally composed of the beings that have gone before us. The dead literally give us life. And when our turn in the sun is over, our bodies go to feed the future.

Cremated remains contain many of the minerals that the soil desperately needs to produce more life - especially in areas of heavy rainfall or in soils that have been farmed intensively. It seems to me that the practice of embalming and use of crypts is a direct refutation of our place in the cycle of life.