MANN TALK: Now Turned to Green Shoot

by Perry Mann
Perry Mann
Perry Mann
One learns in biology that earth without decayed matter will not sustain plant growth; and since animal growth is dependent upon plant growth, then earth that contains not death will not sustain any kind of life.  Earth to be fertile must have the dead therein; that is, there must be death to be life.

When I learned this, I  recalled  learning earlier in school that American Indians put a fish in the hill of corn  to fertilize the corn. And the logic of that led to the question of why not put a human corpse in a hill of, say, an apple tree or an oak,  to fertilize it. I certainly posed it to myself, for I knew enough  of  the world not to shock it with such a suggestion.

Further, I thought of the Egyptians and how they disposed of royal corpses: the mummification and the enormous expense of human labor to build mausoleums to house the preserved remains. How ridiculous, how wasteful,  how unnatural, I thought, to move mountains, so to speak, to bury a body that by nature’s mandate should be better planted at the foot of tree to decay and then  to rise to its leaves  or in a rose garden to color  a bloom.

 Then, of course, it occurred to me that man  today is doing just the same as the  Egyptians and their predecessors did thousands of years ago: He still mummifies the body of the dead, still encases it in a costly coffin and wraps  that in a water-proof  copper  container and maybe that in an earthquake-proof mausoleum---maybe not so great as a pyramid but  often in imitation thereof. And then  he leaves  this monstrosity to nature for her to spend needlessly millennia digesting and resolving it all to a natural state and  thus  eventually getting  to  the remains   to  put them back into circulation. How frustrated Mother Nature must be by all these funereal obstacles to  her cosmic conversions. 

 More thinking led to this: Why have hillside cemeteries with their Hong Kong flowers coloring them obscenely  in December and have  the  good land  loaded with granite quarried in Vermont, when a better way would be to cremate the dead and  deposit the  remains where a tree is simultaneously planted? Thus, in time there would be a forest or an orchard or both. And the dead would be living and the living would be shaded and nurtured by them. In this manner, man could for once be working in harmony with nature instead at odds with her. And to work with nature instead of against her is surely a proposition worthy of consideration, particularly when by such partnership one gone  can soon return  to life in any number of living varieties.

Lately, I learned to my utter delight that  this  concept that  I had so long pretty much kept to myself was conceived  a century ago by Thomas Hardy--- my frequent companion and source of solace ---  and that  the thought was by him put  to poetry:


                                    Portions of this yew

                                    Is a man my grandsire knew,

                                    Bosomed here at its foot:

                                    This branch may be his wife,

                                    A ruddy human life

                                    Now turned to green shoot.


                                    These grasses must be made

                                    Of her who often prayed,

                                    Last century, for repose;

                                    And the fair girl long ago

                                    Whom I often tried to know

                                    May be entering this rose.


                                    So, they are not underground,

                                    But as nerves and veins abound

                                    In the growths of upper air,

                                    And they feel the sun and rain,

                                    And the energy again

                                    That made them what they were!

 When I consider all the  emotional, commercial, and religious  voices that would howl in  opposition to my views and proposals regarding the disposition of  corpses, I concede that the irrational method now employed will continue another thousand years without major change, even though the price of  conventional disposal of the dead now  is an amount third to house and car.

Yet, fortunately, as of now at least  I  can  direct the manner of the  disposition of my remains however I see fit with  reasonable certainty that the manner will be honored, so long as it violates no law, of course. And I have directed every one who might have a say  the way in which nature gets my spent self.

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust will literally be the manner. Cremation is the only sensible method of disposition. All rot is slow fire. So why not speed the rotting up and have in a pot the residue to place, plant, pour wherever  one has in life picked out.

And have the choice to return soon to a green shoot of one’s favorite plant or to grass where cattle graze or to  a rose garden to redden more brightly the bud of one.

Graves are forgotten and abandoned, memories fade and go blank and  the dead sooner are later  move  into the past’s abyss --- say, after another ice age or a global heat wave --- beyond memory,  care or concern  of the folk who follow. So memorials are in the long run doomed to debris. But so long as the sun comes up, the chances are great that plants and trees will thrive and that  one long gone will reside in one or more of them; and such an eventuality is monument and  immortality enough. 

Then, one can point to a tree at random and say with some credibility: “Portion of this yew / Is a man my grandsire knew.”  

 Perry Mann is a former teacher, a lawyer, a former prosecuting attorney of Summers County and a columnist for Huntington News Network. He lives in Hinton, WV. He turned 90 earlier this year; he was born in Charleston, WV in 1921.
Comments powered by Disqus