Street Haiku by Alan Levine http://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/3665198041/

Haiku Today 2015.10.15 —

the cemetery
(Image credit: Kai Lehmann)

the cycle stalled —
remains to be seen
on littered ground

 


I think cemeteries are cool. Often the ones we visit for one reason or another have well-manicured lawns, roads, and walks. Those are okay, but the older cemeteries have a lot of flair that the modern ones don’t even attempt to replicate; and maybe there’s a reason for that.

Perhaps we — the modern society — are just hanging on to a tradition that no longer inspires us.

Humans have been preserving their dead for thousands of years. Mummification — examples of which have been found in ancient cultures from South America, Africa, and Asia — did not long pre-date embalming, though. Egypt had the most well-developed embalming practices of the known ancient world, where over five thousand years ago you could have met priests whose job it was to keep the body intact and awaiting the return of its soul.

But today, I wonder why we persist with what is obviously a parasitic practice performed upon the planet.

The line is that modern chemical embalming took off during the Civil War, when Dr. Thomas Holmes was commissioned by the Union Army to preserve the bodies of soldiers who had died far from home so they wouldn’t arrive at their doorstep all gross and corpsified. The truth is that experiments with the practice pre-dates this by a few centuries. We experimented with various alcohols, essential oils, and spices. After Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar, just about fifty years before the start of the Civil War, he was preserved in brandy, wine, myrrh, and camphor. 

Dr. Holmes, however, preferred arsenic. 

After these human pickles arrived they’d be dropped in a pine box which would be dropped in a hole in the ground. Often they were buried in proximity to their comrades. Eventually the boxes rotted away, and the earth came rushing in. The bodies, for all the efforts of the good doctor, gave way too. After all, you can’t resist the forces of nature forever.

And in gaining access to those raw materials, the soil was ambushed by the toxic substance that permeated the tissues therein. Arsenic leached into the ground, and from there into the water supplies.

Not to mention it’s hard to prove poisoning by arsenic once a body has been embalmed. 

So nowadays, the use of less toxic chemicals is standard practice (less toxic, but not non-toxic.) We bury our dead at great expense, considering the cost of the casket and the burial vault, which is often required by a cemetery. The vault is just another box, but it keeps the ground nice and flat.

So this raises the question in my mind, do we harm the planet more as we live, or when we are unnaturally interred post-mortem?

New cemeteries are boring; I’m going to be honest about that. Old cemeteries are where it’s at. So instead of banging at the same old drum of embalming and interment into a terrestrial storage locker, why aren’t we pursuing wholesale practices that help return us to the ground in a more natural fashion?

There’s cremation, which was a good first step. But burning someone creates carbon emissions and the possiblity of mercury emissions from tooth fillings. Alternatives to that include alkaline hydrolysis, which renders the soft tissues to an inert liquid; natural burial, which allows the body to break down naturally in the soil; and promession, in which the body is flash-frozen, pulverized, freeze-dried, sifted for metals (tooth fillings and implants,) and then buried in a biodegradable casket, which allows for full breakdown in less than a year.

I like that idea. Plant me in the ground with a tree on top. Mme. Ross wants to be turned into a tree too; we can be planted side-by-side, so that we can cross-pollinate for as long as those trees stand.

At the end of the post, I just want to go back to where I came from when I’m all done. Let the living have the Earth.

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