Updated: Apr 24, 2020
Yesterday I planted flax seeds in a field a few miles from here. As they flew from my hand and made contact with the air, I considered their future, which is to become my winding sheet, the cocoon that will hold the transformation of what is now “me.” To bless our partnership, I said the words that sealed the deal we all make when we come into this life--for Earth you are, and to Earth you will return.
In releasing them to the planet to do its work, my gut registered conflicting feelings--the disagreeableness of considering myself dead, and the satisfaction of taking a concrete action to make peace with this reality. Over the next months, these seeds will do what all forms of life do--rise, take a form, and return to the earth--while I watch and contemplate how to be thus. Once the promise of these tiny pods is realized, I’ll take their death in my hands and transform it into a coverlet for my own, so that their next transformation can include the physicality of me.
Once the promise of these tiny pods is realized, I’ll take their death in my hands and transform it into a coverlet for my own, so that their next transformation can include the physicality of me.
The vision for this project was born from a desire for a demonstrable symbol of the universal processes of creation and destruction of which I am a part, with the idea that if I could praise that great biological imperative, I could more enthusiastically include myself in it. I know this story—we all know this story—but the part we can’t see and touch, our death, remains an abstraction for most. We have also been told that turning our full face towards our end makes it possible for our expiration date to fully enliven our present presence. Making my own winding sheet, and knowing its full story, is one way I am turning and winding toward what is coming for me.
There is power, I believe, in returning myself to the earth in a cloth that can tell a story. Its story, my story, our story--the same story of how the earth gave rise to these forms we are in and expects us to return them someday to be remade. For this cloth to authentically hold these stories, the woman who’s wound in it must have lived a willingness to participate in it, as well as the people who had a role in its creation, through an intimate relationship to the planetary cycles of birth and death.
Like the winding it will do around my body, this shroud will speak the journey of how it was taken from field to cloth, meandering through each stage of its creation and generating connection to that which sources our life along the way. Every person who touches it will add the tale of how they came to intertwine their life’s work with the affairs of the natural world and offer their skills to its making. When it is ready to wrap around me, I want to wear it like a prayer shawl, fingering its filaments and reciting these stories in a litany that strengthens all our earthly connections. It is my hope and expectation that these stories I tell will nurture and inspire life for those who hear them, long after this winding sheet and I have returned to the ground to dissolve.
Like the winding it will do around my body, this shroud will speak the journey of how it was taken from field to cloth, meandering through each stage of its creation and generating connection to that which sources our life along the way.
To give these stories a space to come into being, I am collaborating with the students and faculty of the Fiber Arts Department at Warren Wilson College. The flax is growing in one of their fields so that their students can learn the process of making cloth and receive my support in connecting its life stages with their own. As part of this project, opportunities to learn about flax will be extended to the broader community of death workers, cloth makers, and plant growers. Our goal is that by doing so, the project will help create a healthier death culture, advance earth-honoring body disposition practices, and support a return to a local heritage of growing and using cloth-making plants.
On the day before Easter, I planted flax seeds. Tethered as I already feel to that field, I see that they have planted themselves in me and begun spinning stories. May these stories teach us how to speak in shroud language--of how we are all seeds, and are planted. Of how we are all nurtured, and become a nourishing harvest.