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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Show & Tell.1: blossoms, ashes, mistletoe and a guitar

Last week, 19 July it was, Tracey and I got into the car and went to Tamworth for my MRI.

   That's an exciting start, isn't it? We'll see if it improves. Let's go for a change of tense, for no good reason. I'm also going to break the whole thing up into bite-sized pieces even though I take a risk, as some might think it gets a bit dark by the end of the first one. 

   So be it. Don't worry. It'll lighten up, I promise. Stick with it.

   As we get into the car, I notice a remarkable thing. The apricots and nectarines are in bud; a few flowers too. Hey, stone-fruit trees – it's only July. What do you think you're doing?

   It's our wet winter that's led them into thinking spring will arrive early. Maybe it will. Somehow, it pleases me to see the blossoms beginning to show.

   Off we go then, across the railway line to the old highway out of town.

   As we near the airport, we pass the crematorium up to the left, on the hill. The last time we passed this quite agreeable looking place, I felt a shiver up my spine. If you don't understand why, then it doesn't matter; you won't get it anyway. But this time, more composed, I simply muse on the fact that it will be the last place the shell of my body is likely to go.

   I like the idea of cremation, as opposed to being buried deep in Armidale's cold earth. To each his or her own. My sister lies in a beautiful place, amongst the plants and birds she loved. It's right for her. Whatever's left to be released from my body, I want it to go upward towards the stars. To be dispersed by the elements, and set free.

   I don't care much what happens to my ashes. They mean little to me. I tried to think where they might be disposed of. Scattered, if you must. Let's keep the euphemisms for those who can't accept the full reality of a life's journey. They can have their 'resting vessels'. Drop me, respectfully, into a coffin. Death is to be respected.

   I sure as hell don't want my ashes in an urn on anyone's mantel-piece. Not bloody likely.

   I'll admit that over a few break-of-dawn sessions, I thought about it quite a lot, once I got started. Where would I want any last remnant of my mortal self to end up? I thought of my home town; our farm. It's cut up now into hobby farms – six hundred acres of beautiful land, it was, that's now someone else's little selections. 

   The spring in the back paddock is gone, and when it disappeared because of the bores speared down into its heart, extracting its lifeblood, it created for me a separation from the spirit of the land that nothing will fill.

   I left there fifty years ago, when the creek uniting the land brimmed with crystal clear spring-water. Now other people call it home. It is their home and I don't begrudge it, but they're all strangers to me. Cut up into parcels, that land has lost its connection with me.

   Brisbane? Where I spent many happy years? No. If it had to be in that city, scatter them down amongst the reeds by the lake at the university, if the lake is still much as it was forty years ago. I spent happy times by that lake. Sadly, it's unlikely to be like that. And it still wouldn't be my choice.

   Armidale? Where? Much as I love this place and have spent far more than half my life here, I can't think of one area of it where I'd want my ashes scattered. The university? No. It feels so wrong. There's no right spot there. The garden of this house? No. Again, there's no right spot.

   There's only one place that feels right, and that's the little creek at Valla. When a fair tide's running out, stand upstream of the current so the ashes all move away from you at the pace of the flowing water. They'll be taken out to sea by the tide, and that's where I'd like them to be – tiny particles dispersed in an infinity of ocean. The Pacific Ocean.

   Maybe I care more about this than I thought. But let's move on. We haven't even got out of town, and Tamworth is a hundred kms away.



  1. This is beautiful.
    In what sense is the word 'scattered' a euphemism, by the way?

    1. Thanks for both the comment and the question. In my original draft I used something much harsher than 'disposed of', which made 'scattered' look a bit airy-fairy, and made me think of terrible euphemisms in funeral-parlour parlance (eew!) I can't quite remember the exact wording now, but I expressed it in some maybe-too-colloquial way.

      So 'scattered' is a little hackneyed rather than a euphemism, though I'm sure we'd quickly run out of other terms for this activity if we dispensed with it. I rather like the idea of scattering rose petals, I must say.

      Don't you love 'resting vessel'? It gets almost into 'dead parrot' territory. "'E's restin'!"

  2. My mum's ashes will go under the apple tree on the 'wild' side of the garden, where the daffodils, jonquils, snowdrops and violets grow in winter (they're flowering now) and where I have a seat in the shade for summer. She knew that and was happy. Oh and dad is there too:)

    Piddington's is a good place, it feels right and good there. It's kindly.

    Julie xx

    Julie xx

    1. A perfect place, Julie. Everyone's idea has to suit them - that's if they regard it as their concern. Maybe once you're gone you should let whoever's left in charge of them decide. I'd be happy with that. The ashes are in the land of the living, after all. Of course, the strongly held wishes of the dead person should take priority, unless they're totally impractical.

  3. Ah Denis...dear Denis. What a gift this is - your honesty, your poetry and your determination to reach into the deep authenticity of your spirit and share it with us all without fear nor trembling. This matters.

    1. Thank you for the kind words. I still don't know how being fully sentient and aware of final time close by really come together. Perhaps there's always some element of disbelief required. There's only one way we'll get the opportunity to find out, and if you're reading this, then it's not here for either of us yet.

  4. Affirmation of life. Using the flower as a metaphor - all efforts are directed - in their own time - becoming one. E pluribus unum.

    "Whenever you commend, add your reasons for doing so; it is this which distinguishes the approbation of a man of sense from the flattery of sycophants and admiration of fools."
    Sir Richard Steele

    Thank you, my friend.

    1. Thanks for these words. I have never seen that advice of Steele's before, but it makes sense. But then, any Eighteenth Century guy who was a member of the Whig Kit-Kat Club is someone I'd listen to. [Seriously!]

      I think the reverse is also true. If you're going to scorn or deride someone, you need to say why and let them defend themselves while exposing your reasons to public scrutiny as well.

  5. I love this. It gives me peaceful thoughts to finish my day. Thanks for sharing.


    1. I like the idea of being able to do that. Better than enraging people! :)

  6. I echo the comments above regarding the thought(fulness) in your post Denis. Thank you. But before you sally forth into mistletoe and guitars, I thought I'd share with you a lighter side of what for some is a dark subject...

    It was my own wife's wish for cremation, but further that I retain her ashes to be scattered with my own. I of course will honour her request and remain the keeper of the ashes, as well as of the flame. Her ashes were returned to me in an anonymous cardboard box covering the sealed plastic receptacle, and are stored for safekeeping.

    A couple of years pass, and my son's old dog (why do parents always end up with their kid's pets?) passed away, and thinking he might wish some sort of 'ceremony' when he returned from overseas, I organised for Dudley to be cremated. The vet who arranged this asked me if I wanted 'a box or an urn' to which I thoughtlessly replied box.

    So now I am in charge of a (very beautiful, quite expensive, rosewood) box with a silver nameplate "Dudley", sitting next to my wife's plain old cardboard.

    But not on the mantelpiece.


    1. It's great to be able to intertwine the serious things with those we just have to be amused by. I loved this story. Obviously there's no way to switch the containers even if you had half a mind to.

      I have the feeling your wife would have also been amused by the way things panned out. I'm not so sure about Dudley, but then you'd know him better than I and he might have been quite content with the switch. But then, I'm sure each is at peace right where they are.

  7. For the convenience of those left behind, cremation is the easiest and probably cheapest method of disposal. But since the Goddess meant for decaying bodies to be food for other creatures, I would prefer to be shallow-buried and turn into a tree or some grass.

    The part of me that cares now about such things will be long past caring and onto whatever comes next.

    Thank you Denis for this wonderful piece of prose, which brought me to tears. You have an unexpected gift.

    1. Sadly, I suspect some legal difficulties with your worthy idea. [It's OK, I know you do to.] Maybe the Parsee method? I can't see exposure getting good press in Oz, but it would build up a good vulture population. All hail to Zoroaster!

      What's this "unexpected" bit? **joke**

    2. Apparently you can arrange a "shallow burial" on your own property, and we've talked about "looking into it". I suspect the promised moment will arrive before we get around to doing anything about it and will have to settle for something "off the shelf", which is also fine with me. The less fuss made, the better.

      As for hanging up in a tree, well, the crows take too long to dispatch the road kill around here, so I don't think that would work fast enough for me. The Tibetans help the process along by butchering the body before throwing it to the vultures, and that's a bit too hands-on for me. So I suspect it's either our big kiln or the one at Piddington's.


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