Giving the Body Back

Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina, the first green burial site established in the United States, consists of seventy-eight acres of pristine woodlands. Since 1996, people have chosen to be buried there, without vaults or embalming, along simple trails in a beautiful woods, sites marked only by mounds and flat river stones engraved with their information. The land is held and protected by a conservation easement, so the people who are buried there, far from paying a cemetery just to take up space, contribute by their death and choice to saving and protecting the land from development.

It is a comforting place to visit, which is what I did yesterday with my partner. The space feels sacred, a breathing eco-system nurtured by the bodies of people who deliberately decided to enrich the earth, to give their sustenance back to the earth that gave them sustenance. The mounds and markers in the woods create a startling art combining life and death!

In fact, Ramsey Creek Preserve unites life and death in a way sorely missing in modern life. Instead of attempting to fence death off from life in a cemetery, here the juxtaposition of life and death reminds us how stunning life is, how change is its spectacular signature. The combination of the living forest with the burial mounds reminds us, as we walk the tranquil trails, to get on with full-out living!

One flat river stone says, under the name and dates, You kept your promise to love me. It makes me think that all of these Gone-befores kept a promise they must have made, to love the planet that nurtured their lives. My own end-of-life papers have been prepared since I was in my forties, and each time I have updated them, I have designated cremation for disposition of the body. Now I wonder. Cremation means burning fossil fuels so that the nutrients of my physical form create air pollution as part of the process of turning it into ashes, whereas green burial means the nutrients of my body would actually enrich the land. The thought of becoming a real part of a living forest like Ramsey Creek Preserve feels so much more fitting.IMG_3489

Ramsey Creek Preserve was the perfect field trip this week, as I go along at the age of sixty-six, in my Earth School curriculum, always learning. This week is All Hallow’s Eve, aka Hallowmas, Samhain, or Halloween, the ancient festival of the dead. Hallowmas is one of the Old Religion’s eight High Days that divide the year into seasons, Hallowmas marking the midpoint between Fall Equinox and Winter Solstice. Peoples have always honored their ancestors as the Wheel of the Year turns toward the dark, toward that mystery of gestation that looks so much like loss. I think of all those who have gone before as ancestors, and I honor our unseen connections, whether biological or not.

I am grateful that as I age, my spirit lightens. In the woods at Ramsey Creek Preserve, in the brilliant October colors, breathing the invigorating autumn coolness into my lungs, I do not plod. I skip! And I offer thanks to those ancestors who made the sensible decision to have themselves planted here, in order to give something back.

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

What thrilled me reading this story was the range of the premise and the extent of the the kick-ass protagonist’s character arc.  In 2788, because her immune system can’t survive anywhere other than Earth, 17 year old Jarra’s particular prison is the whole dang planet, and her cultural prison is the new bigotry that has arisen ever since the portal allowed humans, except the one in a thousand like Jarra, to live on any of a multitude of settled planets. So Jarra’s struggle to stretch and be accepted as a full human being starts out with a tremendous potential scope, which immediately stretches the reader.

Jarra’s standing up to cultural intolerance and prejudice is played out against a panoramic background of everyday interstellar travel. When Jarra secretly joins a class of norms from many different human cultures, who are on earth for history studies that include excavating New York City, the contemporary reader is catapulted into Jarra’s time with the anchor of a familiar place made strange.  Fascinating archeology, eye-opening treatment of disability, a marvelous shero, and omg, not a dystopia, thank you Janet Edwards. This is speculative fiction as I love it, offering a story that compels, in a universe I have never before imagined.

Birds on the Mountain


Not far from Mars Hill, NC, Big Bald Banding Station is located at 5390 feet above sea level on Little Bald Mountain, open vistas on all sides. The morning was cool as 14 of us walked the half mile up to where a lone volunteer bander had been working since dawn. The southern Appalachian Mountains serve as an important flyway for many neotropical songbirds as they migrate from breeding grounds in northern U.S. and Canada to their winter habitat in Central and South America. During September and October, volunteers of Southern Appalachian Raptor Research operate mist nets daily at Big Bald Banding Station. Captured birds are fitted with a U.S. Bird Banding Lab metal leg band, measured, assessed for health condition and then released unharmed. An average of ~2000 songbirds are captured, banded and safely released each autumn migration at Big Bald.

On this Sunday morning, the volunteer bander had set up the mist nets, and on a regular schedule, she had extracted, banded, documented, and released each bird that had flown into a filmy net.On this windy morning, when more leaves than birds were caught in the nets, that number during the time we were there was six. When we arrived, in her hand was a stunning yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

When it came time to release it, the youngest among us got the honor.IMG_3419

Afterwards, we followed the bander to the nets and watched her carefully extract five more: an oven bird, a tufted titmouse, and three warblers (a bay breasted, a palm warbler, and a black-throated blue). We helped remove leaves from the nets and one of us volunteered to scribe data for her. Some of us, including me, got to hold a bird for the magic moment of release.

When the bay breasted warbler rested between my fingers, my other hand flat beneath it, I felt no weight at all. But when I opened my grip, and it took flight, I experienced the exquisite touch of its feathers brushing my hand. Life! Ephemeral, magnificent, fragile, and precious!

Through oak and poplar, wind

cracks the whip!

No human noise. Only

on top of the mountain,

close clouds,

fast! Across

blue jewel sky,


sweeps me clean.

c. Susa Silvermarie 2013

Bay-breasted Warbler
Bay-breasted Warbler (Photo credit: Wikipedia






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Autumn Congruence

Autumn Congruence podcast


Even in geometry I liked it,

the fitting of figures

such a sleek thing, I wanted

to stroke the lines

of the shapes on the page.

At sixty-six, I fit myself.


From a tribal line, the figures

slide to coincide.

Ancestors dance

down through my skin

in a pageant of One, a divine parade

that makes me who I am.


My layers and lives

construct dimensions,

with nothing sticking out

to trip me up, so I can skip

and laugh across my autumn.

Congruence grants me grace.

(c) Susa Silvermarie 2013

On the mountain_1







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