I had no idea, truly, that flax is so beautiful. I am standing at one end of a 33 x 3 foot row of it, and its sky blue flowers are swaying under the weight of busy bees and the tickle of a light breeze. Melanie is inside the Warren Wilson fiber arts studio weaving while I visit my future shroud. A shadow momentarily crosses the light. A vulture. “How did you know,” I thought, “that I am contemplating my death?”
Two miles from here on Jones Mt., a plaque marks the grave of Samuel Davidson, first white settler to this area. Soon after arriving in the mid-1700's, he was lured into the woods by the Cherokee, who killed and scalped him. His wife, infant child and slave woman escaped back down the mountain to Old Fort, but Samuel accomplished what he’d set out to do. White settlers began claiming land in the Swannanoa Valley and pushing the Cherokee out. The land on which I stand and my shroud grows was the first permanent settlement east of the Blue Ridge. That’s the spin in the white history books anyway.
There are voices rising loud and strong all around Samuel’s grave, demanding the world be done with this lie of racial superiority once and for all. This weekend, our Governor ordered Confederate monuments be removed-a symbolic gesture with far too little bite. And here I am, lily white legs extended into a sea of blue flowers, knowing it is a privilege to contemplate what will dress me when I’m dead, when choice is not part of the equation for so many.
Creating choice is part of my aim however in this shroud-making project, as the same mindset that Samuel took out of Old Fort to move onto another people’s lands with a woman slave, has as one of its byproducts a death-care industry that would make me and the land that receives my body impoverished. Tiny as our project is, I am trusting this gesture will help the growing movement to take death and dying practices back into our communal hands. As the dominant paradigm continues to crumble under the weight of its corruptness and injustices, it feels darn powerful to be weaving a shroud.
Like the Solstice sun directly overhead, this patch of flax has reached its zenith. The sun is as far north as it will reach this year, and tomorrow it heads south and lessens its gift of light. The flax too is as beautiful as it is ever going to be. The yellowing now advancing up the base of the stalks will continue over the next three weeks as these flowers finish podding to seeds. Then we will harvest and allow the flax to become supple bones.
But for this moment at least, we are both yet alive. As the sun crowns my head in warmth and light, I have entered my body in the waving, buzzing stalks to imagine us both dead and in our next state of becoming. I am challenged however to feel more than what is, which is the fullness of this day-the long length of sun and fertile expression of flax plants. I appreciate opening to their culmination, as doing so unwraps the question of its correspondence in me. What is the full length of me, and how will I embody it before my body’s end?
That is the very story my shroud will wrap and plant like a seed. To tell it so well the future is truly nourished, I must be one with that cycle. I am still becoming, and whatever I celebrate today that is at its zenith, I do so knowing its nadir is on the way. And whatever I mourn today about our human failings, I do so knowing its antithesis is also approaching. The shroud and I only have one story to tell, and it is the story of how everything is always on its way to becoming something else. We end and begin each other. Glory be.