Ashes to Nutrients

Myfather died recently. And then flowers came. “No flowers, please,” said the death announcement. A donation to a charity, instead, please. Still the flowers came. They were nice. They scented the room. They cheered me slightly. They made me think of the friends and family thoughtful enough to send them. And then they too died. As will my friends.

I’m in that kind of mood.

What should we do with life when death intrudes? I’m still working through it. But I will say this. As the summer gets ever more fecund and green, what really stays in my heart is the perennial raspberry bush a friend gave me a decade or so ago. The gift cost him exactly nothing and was given to me after I suffered another loss. I happened to be visiting his farm. On the morning of my departure I sat there admiring his sprawling acres and his fulsome bushes. “Why not take one?” he said. He shoved a spade into the earth, carved out one root ball from the glob of tendrils in the ground and put it all in a container.

According to a 2007 study a single cut rose can cost as much as 6 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.

The brave raspberry survived the seven hour drive home in my trunk and when I planted it in my Ground Zero Garden, a stone’s throw from where Manhattan’s World Trade Center towers collapsed (yes, more death), it thrived. It loved shade. It loved sun. It expanded so much that I divided it again and again forming a hedge eventually which keeps us in raspberries for much of the growing season. Not a bumper crop. Enough to make a bowl of cereal interesting.

And so I wonder about the flowers that come with death. According to a 2007 study a single cut rose can cost as much as 6 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Greenhouse gasses that cause more, well, death.

I wonder if the best reaction to death shouldn’t be more life. A few years out from his death at the age of 100 the back-to-the-land movement founder Scott Nearing was asked what he wanted done with his mortal remains. “Throw me on the compost pile,” he barked. But he’s right, no? Not ashes to ashes. Not dust to dust. But nutrients to life.

Maybe that’s what made me make a series of cuttings from my wine grapes last year. Maybe that’s what made me carefully root them and prepare them to be passed on to others. Several of them have gone to my friends.

One has stayed right here, over my father’s ashes.

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