An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of January 25, 2004
issued from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA

COMFORTING VISIONS OF
VULTURES & MAGGOTS

A friend and I have been exchanging notions on what we want done with our bodies when we die. She's all for cremation, because she likes the idea of recycling her body's nutrients into her garden.

I regard cremation as acceptable, but not preferable. My problem with cremation is that the petrochemical-powered burning process doesn't benefit a rainbow of natural decomposers. I prefer for critters and microorganisms to prosper as they convert my fat to simple compounds of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, my protein to simple nitrogenous compounds, and the calcium phosphate of my bones to ions of calcium and phosphate in solution.

My preferred first step for this process is for my body upon death to be devoured by vultures, chambered by maggots, and to have my bones gnawed on by any animal disposed to gnaw them.

I did not come lightly to this viewpoint. My middle-class, rural Kentuckian beginnings set me into the world with all the usual, culturally appropriate belief systems and sensibilities. Every reevaluation I ever made of my culturally bestowed predispositions was a painful process. I suppose that nothing would taste so good to me right now as a fried baloney sandwich with white bread and lots of mayonnaise. However, on mostly ethical grounds, I banished that pleasure from my life over 35 years ago.

It seems nearly always to be the case that every significant circumstance is compounded of features arrayed in opposition. This often means that there's a narrow and forbidding gate to paradise. In the present instance, the consoling vision of my remains diffusing back into the mother ecosystem must be attended by the knowledge that the appetites of vultures and maggots will comprise the vehicle of my release.

I accept this as a condition and, in fact, insist on it -- as one final gesture of generosity toward the mother ecosystem, and as one last ceremony confirming my confidence in the boundless magnanimity of the Creator of that ecosystem. Facebook Icon.