The Memorial Birch

I love mementos. A pinkie size painted remembrance of a trip to Florence, a miniature silvered lucky acorn, an AA 3-month recovery coin – these all lurk around my desktop, giving me what I feel is some sort of immunity or talismanic power. Perhaps the oddest memento in the cabin, however, is a chunk of birch that was presented to Gil after both his parents had died.


memorial birch


His sister and her husband contrived this memorial candle holder, and made another one for each of their parents’ progeny. Embedded beneath both beeswax candles are the intermixed ashes of my parents-in-law.

This tree-urn seems magical and eery by turns. Do you light the candles or not? We tried once, I think, but it just seemed too strange.


Also, where do you keep the honorary log? I’m thinking yule log, here, but it’s not going to go in the fireplace, obviously, or on the coffee table, or on the table when we eat dinner. We want the memorial close, but not too close. We’ve come up with a compromise placement, on the porch, where the birch mirrors the logs of the house. The candles have gotten a little dusty, a little cobwebbed out there, but it’s all natural.

People often cast their loved ones’ ashes someplace beautiful, often over water. But it makes sense to me that my my in-laws are buried in wood. They loved forests and were environmentalists before their time. Also, even standard-issue coffins are wood. I’d like to be buried in a pine casket, That is, if I am not wrapped in a shroud and laid in a deep, worm-thick hole. It’s natural to want to become wood, be a part of a tree, because a tree is probably the best part of our world.


I heard in Nature magazine that a team of 38 scientists recently found our planet is home to 3.04 trillion trees, many more than the previous estimate of 400 billion. Shocking. There are 422 trees for every living person. Plenty for wood coffins, and plenty for birch ash-urns.

And plenty too for another mode of burial I recently heard of. In Italy, a pair of designers invented a unique method which actually transforms the body of the deceased into a tree. It’s called the Capsula Mundi Project. The corpus, it is said, changes into nutrients for the tree that allow it to grow healthfully.


You get to pick the kind of tree you want planted above the pod in which you will be encased, in a fetal position. The capsule is completely biodegradable. The outcome is what the inventors are calling a memory forest, an alternative to lines of granite tombstones.


memory forest

If we had this already, our memorial birch wouldn’t seem quite so lonely.

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Filed under Arborist, Culture, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Nature, Trees

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