Years ago, doing some research in England on moles — the burrowing kind — I paid a visit to the grave of Kenneth Grahame. As author of “The Wind in the Willows,” Grahame was the creator of the fictional Mole, a mild-mannered character beloved by children everywhere for messing about in boats, bumbling dimly into the Wild Wood and otherwise misadventuring with Ratty, Badger and Mr. Toad of Toad Hall.
There were plenty of things poignant about the grave. But what struck me most was that all of Grahame’s characters would have been at home there. Holywell Cemetery, off a busy road in the heart of Oxford, is both a graveyard and a wildlife refuge. Footpaths wind through shrubby undergrowth, and the graves support a natural succession of snowdrops, daffodils and so on through the seasons. Moles no doubt burrow there, and toads do whatever it is that toads do. (But please tell me it involves tootling about in motorcars and flinging coins to urchins.)
I doubt that I put it in so many words at the time, but the thought has lately come back to me: This is how I want to be dead. That is, in the woods, with wild things all around. No hurry. Happy to wait at the back of the line. But beyond the familiar “green burial” business of escaping the toxic culture of the conventional death industry, what I particularly like is the idea of using the cost of burials to buy and preserve undeveloped land — a relatively new wrinkle in the world of dead things. It just seems so much more appealing than the alternatives.
The funeral industry has endeavored lately to give cremation a rosy environmental glow. There’s lots of talk about recycling lightly singed titanium implants. In Redditch, England, the heat generated in a local crematory from the fat of the dearly departed now gets piped over — I’m not making this up — to warm the water in a town swimming pool. But the typical cremation still produces a disturbing mix of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. And somebody always gets stuck with the ashes.