Thoughts on Death

From my blog post

I think about death all the time. Mostly because I am a hypochondriac. I often think about the possibility of contracting some disease or parasite or virus from my rewilding activities. I spend restless nights psyching myself out reading pseudo-medical websites. What if I died from Raccoon Roundworm after picking up a roadkill and skinning it? I can already hear what this fear-mongering, death-fearing culture would say, “He shouldn’t have been touching dead animals. Serves him right.” It reminds me of the “Grizzly Man” who risked his life to befriend the grizzlies, only to be killed and eaten by one, years later.

I’m not sure if he actually said this, but a friend told me that the grizzly man had said, “I would be honored to end up as bear shit.” While I wouldn’t be honored to end up in a coma because of raccoon roundworm, there is a certain honor in a life of risk-taking for a greater cause, or for a life lived outside of safety, security, and comfort. Living a freer, exciting life requires taking risks. Rewilding requires taking certain risks in order to live life more fully, more free. It requires letting go of your fears, and in particular, the fear of death.

I don’t want to die, but I am not afraid of being dead. I am more afraid of never really having lived a really awesome life, doing the most I can for the future generations. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of being dead, but that I really just don’t want to die. In spite of life’s hardships, I really enjoy living. The fear around death that I have is in the act of dying itself; will it hurt? For how long? I don’t think I’ll care much after that part anyway. Although, I’ve been up close and personal to animals that I have killed for food. I’ve seen the life leave their eyes. I’ve heard their last screams. I think that I may fear being dead if I was dying.

I used to think pretty highly of myself. Like, if I die, who is going to bring rewilding to the world? This is very silly, since anyone living 100 years from now who is alive, with be rewilding in some capacity whether I die now or 50 years from now makes little difference. My words and actions make little difference in the whole of the world. I can try to convince people, but the real convincer is mother nature, who will force people to rewild or die. Even then, the positive feedback loops of climate change could wipe us all out, rewilder or no. But it is certain that if people are alive in 100, 200 years, 1000 years it will be because they began to rewild.

I’m pretty sure I will die as the collapse intensifies, if I even live to see it (get worse than it already is). My immune system is weak. I have many maladies that will be difficult to deal with (such as having IBS and a lack of toilet paper). I don’t dwell on this thought much though, because the future is completely uncertain. I could die in a car accident tomorrow. I could have a heart attack in my sleep tonight. I could have a brain aneurism before I finish this senteeeee………

Just kidding! Still here.

What I want is an honorable death. For example: to be torn apart by a pack of wolves would be more honorable than being hit by a car in downtown Portland. To slip and fall off a cliff in the wilds while scouting, hunting, foraging, or planting seeds would be more honorable than accidentally electrocuting myself in the shower. I want a wild death. I don’t care if it is a stupid mistake, it is was for rewilding. Of course, I don’t want to make any stupid mistakes, but I would rather it be a stupid mistake on the path of rewilding, than a stupid mistake of a domesticated, civilized nature like forgetting to look both ways before I cross the street or choking on a burger at a fast food restaurant.
I believe when I die I will go in the ground. I do not believe that my mind will carry on in an afterlife. I think that all the information stored in my brain, all my memories, experiences will die with my lifeless body. The energy that makes my heart beat today will transform into something else, much like my decomposing flesh. I think it is foolish to live for an afterlife. This is why I do not want to die. I live for my life, this life. I will rewild until I die. If there is a spirit, then I’ll continue to rewild in the afterlife.

• • •

I would like my after death rituals and customs to be more wild. When I die, I would like my body buried in the ground, not burnt, not in a coffin, and without any gross fluids injected into it. I don’t want to be in a cemetery. I don’t want a headstone. I want a tree to be planted in my honor. Preferably an Oak tree. This tree can act as a headstone. If that is not possible, I would like a “sky burial”. I would like my body to be placed high atop a mountain and eaten by vultures. My possessions should be donated to a rewilding cause. Those are the only wishes I can think of should I die before I get the chance to revise this list.
Here’s to long, healthy, happy life!

I hope youre joking about the toilet paper. Cause I am NOt traveling all the way up there to teach my Doing Your Business in the Wilderness course. Unless you pay me enough of course =P
But seriously, seriousness is a serious topic.
I will admit I am totally scared of dying, but not so much that I wont do the dangerous things. (tempted to say yolo here)
Death. yEa. that. Shit. I dunno. Sometimes I think I have it figured out, a la religion, but I do tend to swing wildly between fatalistic determinism (in a good, meaningful way) and nihilistic despair. I may not be the best one to ask about this, come to think of it.

I enjoyed this talk on death:

I think about death plenty too, much more so since giving birth a couple of times. For starters childbirth itself, in my experience, has deathlike characteristics, sort of merging birth and death qualities into one intense, beautiful process.

Over the last several years my feelings have changed about what death might actually be as well. I was talking with my dad recently about this (in the context of a family member having died this summer), and he said something about death being the switching off of a light. No one can say of course, but if we’re going to use a light bulb metaphor, I suspect death might be closer to the switching on of a thousand light bulbs you didn’t realize were right there within reach.

One more thing. I thought of something immediately when I read “There is a certain honor in a life of risk-taking for a greater cause.” Since I was a teenager I’ve struggled with trying to figure out what the hell to do with news—lists of atrocities, today’s toll, etc. The whole issue of desensitization, feelings of separation, overwhelm. About a week ago I turned on the radio while I was washing dishes and heard a story from an epidemiologist who just returned from Sierra Leone. She talked about how a woman had come into a hospital with a baby, and the woman was sick with Ebola. The woman died, and her baby was left there at the hospital in a box. No one knew whether the baby was infected, but all the nurses took turns picking up and comforting the baby anyway. Twelve of the nurses contracted Ebola this way and died. The epidemiologist said, “They couldn’t just watch a baby sitting alone in a box.”

I turned the radio off, stopped washing dishes, and wept like crazy for several minutes. Afterward I thought about how this is one good answer to, “What the hell do I do with the news?” Turn off the radio and just hold tight on that one story that hit the mark. Stop what you’re doing.

After I was done crying I noticed I had an impulse a couple of times to turn the radio on again, and realized it was an impulse to let other news stories wash over the pain of this one and help me forget.

So glad I didn’t turn the radio back on. There is obvious, clear honor in those deaths. Of course you would risk dying to pick up and comfort a baby left in a box. Of course! Happily, probably!

[font=georgia]In my opinion Death is the ultimate goal of life. It is our crowning achievement and the reward of life, it is the completion of the cycle. Society today has definitely twisted and distorted Death, taking it away from our eyes - creating a detached darkness, something that happens out of sight/mind, away from those who most need to witness it. Instead a mystery is created, fear is evoked, and a gaping hole is left instead of peace and happiness for our loved ones. They simply disappear, you see them in a box, and then the box is buried. Sure there is a stone with some flowers maybe, but is that your lover? family member? friend? Not at all. It is nothing more than a carved stone with some concrete and chemicals polluting the Earth. Death has become so detached, that a lot of our children don’t even know what happens in order for the food they eat to find its way to the table [or in most cases the fast food bag]. This is a sad state of affairs.

I do not fear Death. I look to it more as a motivation to live life to the fullest because we never know when we shall meet it. Nothing we do can change when it will happen, all we can do is strive to meet it with honor and truth. What I do concern myself with is how it will affect my Tribe. We have spoke of the subject, and we continue to teach and use every opportunity we have to show the young [and even the older] that Death is a necessary part of life. We raise/hunt at least 95% of our meat. I involve my children in every part of the process from the moment they can help [even our 2 year old has been involved since she could walk]. They know exactly what it is on the table and how they assisted in bringing it their to provide for our life. I also do not keep truth from them about friends who have passed or family members, it is essential that they understand and so do not develop a distorted view of Death.

I may have wandered off topic a bit, but not too far I hope. :slight_smile:

In regards to burial, I wish to be placed here in the land that I have love and share a relationship with. All of my Tribe is aware of such and assure me that it shall happen despite what those who seek to control us may prefer. [/font]

Hey Mindy,

Jeez that Ebola/Baby story is heartbreaking. And yeah, of course you would pick up a baby. I like your solution to news. I rarely check facebook these days for that reason. I can’t handle the news.

White Raven,

Thanks for your thoughts. They are certainly not off topic. :slight_smile:

I had never understood what anyone meant by a dignified death until my dad died. He knew he was dying, and made phone calls to many people , the ones who were still alive , old friends and relatives. He thanked them for being in his life and adding to the richness of his own life. He died at 5:30 AM the exact time he got up everyday. He was 93, I was lucky he was in my life until I was in my 60s. He was not afraid of dying and had done many things in his long life. He was active right up until the last 3 days. He asked me to get him a cigar I did and he lit it up in the hospital room, the nurse went nutz he said what are you going to do kick me out? We went on a deer hunt when he was 90 , it was a wash out but he said just being able to be in the wild was the payoff. He taught me about the wilderness and being wild. He was so gracious as he was gong in this next journey, it gave me meaning to what a dignified death means . that was in 1999. I still miss my dad.

My mom died last year at 97, she didnt know why she lived so long. She had a full life and had been all over the world many times, she said to e noit long before she died , "Im not sure I want to go to heaven if there is one , there wil lbe cavemen up here and I have nothing in common with those people. Also I “dont want to go to a place where there is no food and no sex.” that from a 97 year old woman. Again I was lucky she was in my life until I was in my mid 70s. These two people who by he luck of e draw were my parents and instilled in me not to fear a damn thing but embrace what life brings you and live every minute you can, enjoy the adventure and what you make of it.

I have a lot of way younger friends and sometimes one will make a comment "well in ten years from now etc " I go wait along there, dont project time like that to a man who is 76 years old I might not be here to kick yer ass. At my age death does not really occur to me as being just a short time away. Tonight or 20 years from now is the death sentence, so you have to make what you do count for you. Dictate your own life , what others have to say about your life is not any of their biz. I really feel thats one thing that holds many back from experimenting with a rewilding life. My mom was afraid that when she died I would end up living in a remote cave somewhere. And the only reason I had not was she was still alive, might be a bit of truth in that , so my cabin here in the high desert she would have classified as stupid and awful. but in the end it is not her life Im living, it is mine . the point of death is how you have lived your life as your own person, not measured by someone else… We all have fears and we avoid death as hard as we can. as has been pointed out you can die from all kinds of strange things , mostly unknown to us until it happens . I dont think living is about when you die , but how you live. Fear is a thing we all have , it is human nature and will help keep you living.


I don’t know if I’m scared of death. I don’t want to die, but that might be because I feel like I haven’t experienced a fraction of what life really has to offer. It’s not fear of the end, it’s fear of never getting to live in the wild, of never seeing my physical limits, and of never connecting with the past of my species. Does that make sense?

I have nothing but acceptance of death itself. I’ve killed enough plants and animals, and I’m certain to kill more. It’s only right that someday I’ll be consumed by Earth. Just, not today. I’ve spent these 20 years of my life in preparation, of one sort or another. That needs to change.

On a different note, it’s easy to see all the ways we can die in nature, but what about in civilization? Car crashes alone kill so many people, and processed food kills so many more. I mean, I might get an infection and die, but that’s still better than a miserable multi-year downward spiral from a mostly modern illness like cancer. The dense populations of modern towns and cities allow diseases to spread so easily, as well. I favor my chances in the bush over my chances in civilization, though nobody is ever completely safe in any part of life.

Some good thoughts OneEarth2. A safe life is a boring life, not that one has to put their life on the line at every moment, but it is on the line most of the time.

Taking a chance at any kind of lifestyle that is new to you is not safe for many reasons, one is the economics of it , another is fear of change and what others may say that are your relatives or friends. In the end it is your life. Too not judge is against the human thought process so you will be judged by others, some pro some con.
The rewilding life would make you what I call a Neo Outlaw, I wrote an article on our website , about being a Neo Outlaw it is up right now. The new outlaw is someone who does not fall into the accepted slot of government or other entities. Out of the norm is not looked up to as it once was. Time was if you were a "rugged individualist " you were looked up to and admired for going your own way ,now we are just a freak.
One does not want find themselves on their deathbed wishing, “should of’s and could of’s” But saying I rode it my way and it was one hell of a ride.


I’ve bookmarked that site now, it looks interesting.

I love the idea of having control over my death. When I know that dark impending hour is right around the corner, I would like to leave me love and my blessings with my family and all the people in my life who have left me the same, and then depart myself on an adventure. I want to brave treacherous mountains, climb perilous heights, or swim across rapid rivers! If I am old I would likely be going into an encounter with Death. If I am frail, I would be going into certain death. But all along the way I would leave my blessings and love to every rock, every leaf, every bird, and every beast! I would keep doing so until nature claims me back. Until all my energy is spent, and it settles as energetic input & nourishment to the places I have loved so much. I would spiritually dissolve into the world. It would be such a beautiful way to go, I think.

Aside from a controlled death like that, we really don’t have any control in our lives. But that’s ok. I could die tomorrow, I could die when I’m 103. I’ve made my peace with Death. Yes we are mortal, but It Is Good and Creation Is Good, so there’s no need for shame. Living like each day might be your last is an adventurous way to live. I think the same is true of humanity & civilization. Two sides to the same coin, I think. Yes, maybe we (humanity + our civilization) are mortal after all. One day all our walls will fall down. All our cities will collapse into dust. All our books will be forgotten. And our species will be extincct. But it’s ok! We’re here now. So what are we going to do with the time given us?

I think it’s bold of you Peter, to initiate a discussion by exploring your own fear.

According to my own thinking, the embrace of death is vital to my own rewilding. But, I am, like you, afraid to die. I do not yet live up to my own philosophy.

Interestingly, I think we are afraid to die for different reasons. I am the opposite of a hypochondriac. I’m more of a slob. I don’t worry at all about the sensation of dying. But it seems plain to me I am not doing enough living. This is emotional anguish.

I want to really LIVE before I die, and sometimes the obstacles seem insurmountable. I’m in a really bad rut of being shy, lonely, and depressed. I’m physically and even financially capable of living all of my dreams, starting now. I have no excuses. I know exactly what to do, but I have so little emotional energy to act. I seem to have taken a lot of emotional damage by defying society. But I think I need other people now, to heal.

And that’s scary, because, as a single adult male in this culture, I will never again be part of a family by default. It is very possible for me to waste away alone, as many isolated men do in my rural county. I’ve learned that even marriage is a fragile unreliable way to create family. Any family or community for me must come entirely by my own creativity and energy. And that’s horrifying, because I have so little energy now, having deprived myself of some pretty basic social needs. I once had the strength to wander far far way from the group, and now I’ve hurt myself, and need help, but I feel beyond help.

I can’t expect to be nursed back to emotional health by a band of Sioux hunters, or a Samurai village, or blue alien foragers, like in the movies. If I want something like this, I have to create it myself, but I’m just one guy in the face of huge cultural opposition. Love is conditional, on my success. It’s scary.

And so I feel stuck in this half dead state. The tragedy, it seems, is that my limits were not physical or mental, but emotional. In my youth, I did not anticipate this.

In this half dead state, I can live totally immersed in nature, and feel no outstanding passion or joy. Where I sleep, animals sometimes crawl on me, and I suppose it’s possible to be killed by an unusually bold bear, wolf, or cougar. But there is no thrill in this- it’s kind of a pain in the ass. What I think about is close human company. If I were dying, I would use my cell phone, to express some stifled half-assed form of love, to one of the long distance “girlfriends” I seldom see.

This is why, presently, I am afraid to die. I’m not afraid of the bang, but the whimper.

People are ironic. In the activist, expect someone who has come close to giving up. In the survivalist, expect someone who has a tenuous commitment to life. In the rewilder, expect someone plagued by the unnatural and over-civilized. Those who see the world’s problems best are those who have been most thoroughly smashed by them.

So, some may judge me for having such fears and weaknesses, but they are all part what gives me the unusual bravery it takes to rewild.

The old saying goes , most men live a life of quite desperation … add to that frustration and emotional stress that modern life slams us with… those conditions can bring on an early demise.

too turn your back on all that one has known is a brave move. hopefully not a foolhardy one. . in reality you can maybe have the best life with one foot in the game and one foot in the wild… I think more than we know this is the case… livingyour life and being in the now takes practice.

Where I live in the high deserts it is quite a chore to take the garbage cans to the road I could put them in my pickemup truck but hell anyone can do that, so I carry them over five acres to the road. Sometime I bitch about the chore then say to my old butt well at least you are still here to do this chore so make the best of it…dont bitch, many of my friends have already died and they would love to be here doing this chore. My dad had a saying that any stupid son of a bitch can make themselves miserable… we do it to our selves dont die like that. Be good to yourself first …


Hey, here’s a good death poem to add in here.

“The Dead Calf”

Dead at the pasture edge,
his head is without eyes, becalmed
on the grass. There was no escaping
the heaviness that came on him,
the darkness that rose
under his belly as though he stood
in a black sucking pool.
Earth’s weight grew in him,
and he lay down. As he died
a great bird took his eyes.

Where is the horror in it?
Not in him, for he came to it
as a shadow into the night.
It was nameless and familiar.
He was fitted to it. In me
is where the horror is. In my mind
he does not yield. I cannot believe
the deep peace that has come to him.
I am afraid that where the light
is torn there is a wound.
There is a darkness in the soul
that loves the eyes. There is a light
in the mind that sees only light
and will not enter the darkness.

But I would have a darkness
in my mind like the dark
the dead calf makes for a time
on the grass where he lies, and will make
in the earth as he is carried down.
May all dead things lie down in me
and be at peace, as in the ground.

(Wendell Berry)