Hello. This post is about Death & Birds.
Recently, during a (belated) spring-clean I found a piece of paper on which my eleven-year-old self had written my Last Will and Testament, bequeathing my humble belongings to various classmates, and my guinea pigs. In it, I made the reasonable request that a plane be filled with wildflowers and its contents released over the peak of a high mountain, before my body was placed atop. I also asked that a windup radio, camping stove, tin of baked beans, tin opener and fork be left at my side; just in case.
Reading it prompted me to review my current Death plan, which was all in order—though I admit my mind did drift towards what the practicalities of filling a plane with wildflowers might actually involve. David and I have, however, both gone for the more environmentally friendly option of plots at a natural burial ground. There are no man made grave markings allowed within the many acres of grassland, meadow and ancient woodlands of the site—only un-embalmed bodies buried in biodegradable coffins or shrouds, laid to rest in hand dug graves.
I find a great deal of peace in picturing that woodland as my final resting place, in becoming the earth that feeds the trees, which house the birds. I do, however, appreciate my young selfs desire to be left atop a mountain. There is something equally as appealing to me about one day being metamorphosed by the elements, and by animals. The practice of leaving bodies to nature is an ancient one, and various cultures have their own unique ways of doing so; the Tibetan Sky Burial perhaps being the most well known.
Tibetan sky burials were first documented in the 12th century, though they’re thought to date back many thousands of years prior. The practice involves leaving the deceased in an exposed area so that the native vultures can consume the body, taking it skyward with them. Dating back 3,000 years, the Zoroastrians of Persia practiced a similar ritual, building raised, circular structures known as ‘Towers of Silence’ for the specific purpose of offering up their dead to the local vultures—this, a final act of charity.
This practice has, however, become increasingly difficult for modern day practitioners of the Zoroastrian faith in India, due to the staggering decline in numbers of vultures. In the 90’s, the widespread used of diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug given to livestock which causes kidney failure in vultures, became responsible for a 99% decline in some of Asia’s vulture populations. When we fail to recognise just how hyperconnected the natural world is we risk unimaginable consequences.
We spent the beginning of this week in a little village in Sussex, celebrating my birthday. Whilst there we walked through the 900-year-old local churchyard and saw a Hummingbird hawk-moth feasting on some red valerian that was growing out of an 18th century tomb. These moths are believed to be good omens, especially since an eclipse of them (yes, the collective noun for moths is ‘an eclipse’) was seen flying across the English Channel on D-Day during the Second World War. I love the thought of a moth breakfasting on a bouquet of wildflowers growing from my resting place, some 300 years after I’ve died.
On the other side of the churchyard is a meandering river that is home to many a Swan, some of whom are on the cusp of Swan-adulthood—almost fully sized, but still a dusty grey. It seems like only last week that we were walking through Hyde Park in spring, cygnets lining the lake, looking like tiny chimney sweeps next to their brilliant parents. One of my favourite things in the world is seeing cygnets and ducklings stand up and stretch their little stumps of not-yet-wings up to the heavens, before giving a satisfied shake and settling back down. I sometimes lament the fact that I cannot, upon my Death, be consumed by Swans. Don’t we all…
It is worthy of consideration, though. The extraordinary interconnection that we are so privileged to be in the mix of, does not simply end at Death. We can continue to inspire, and to nourish, long after.
As the Swallows leave our shores and we move into the slower seasons, Death & Birds will follow suit and be published every 10 or so days, until Spring.
Thank you so much for being here.
Yours in aimless flight,