THE WONDER explores perspectives, rituals, and observances of modern, naturalistic, Earth-revering Neopagan religious paths. Naturalistic Pagans embrace the world as understood by science (that is, without gods, magic, or the supernatural), and enhance our lives with myth, ritual and activism. Hosted by Mark Green (author of ATHEOPAGANISM: An Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science) and Yucca (formerly of The Pagan Perspective YouTube channel, now of the Magic and Mundane channel). Named #5 in the top15 Pagan podcasts for 2023! https://blog.feedspot.com/pagan_podcasts/
Thursday Nov 03, 2022
Thursday Nov 03, 2022
Thursday Nov 03, 2022
Discussing the most important and exciting aspect of Life: its ability to deconstruct what is no longer alive into assemblable parts for new life.
Remember, we welcome comments, questions and suggested topics at thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com
Yucca: Welcome back to the Wonder Science-based Paganism. I'm one of your hosts, Yucca,
Mark: And I'm Mark the other one.
Yucca: and today we are talking about decomposition and death
Yucca: and I've been really, really looking forward to this one. So this whole season we've been talking about kind of the autumn themed things, right? We talked about ancestors and our own deaths and hollows, and now we get to talk about it on the college side.
Mark: Right. And both of us are big fans, so, you'll, you'll find out why and you'll hear how excited we are about all the incredible. Things that have to do with death and decomposition?
Yucca: Yeah. So let's start a little bit with why. Why we're thinking about it this time of year, because this is relevant all year round, but why are we focusing on it today?
Mark: Well, it seems to me, yeah, it seems to me that there are kind of two reasons, right? One of which is, Kind of obvious. And the other one of which is not obvious at all. The first one is that this is the time of year when we acknowledge mortality, right? With the skulls and the bones and the blood, and the monsters and the ghosts and the
Yucca: All of that fun stuff. Yeah.
Mark: all that stuff that is part of our psychological complex around our mortality.
But the other part that isn't as evident is that this is actually the time of year in the temper zone when decomposers are going crazy with activity. I mean, they, they, they work all year round, but
Yucca: This is their spring,
Mark: yeah, with all the leaves falling and, and, you know, you know, some, some moisture coming to help kind of speed the process.
They're all out there going, Yum, yum. Yu yu yum. Yu Yu performing their function.
Yucca: All right. And they'll keep that up all winter long, right underneath those, the leaves with the, that nice, wonderful blanket of snow on top in the temperate forest. But this is happening to a certain extent in grasslands and, and most of the temperate. Northern hemisphere right now, and farther north as well, right as we get into the farther polar regions, so,
Mark: Right. And when you think about it, when you think about the, the deciduous. Forests of the Northeast and the north and southeast, that whole huge band of deciduous trees in the, in the Eastern United States as an example.
Mark: When you consider the sheer volume of leaves, that falls off of all of those trees onto the ground, it.
A miracle that that stuff, that we aren't buried in it up to a 15 foot level every spring. Right. But no, it's all gone. It has all been consumed and transformed.
Yucca: Mm-hmm. . Yeah. There's our reasons, right? So we're thinking about it from this ecology perspective, but then also we have the, the kind of wheel of the year when this is a time where we're focusing on the, the death side. Now the decomposers are kind of interesting because they, the, this is their life, right? This is life and food and yum for them, but they're taking what has died.
They're taking the death and they're transforming that into the new life. And we live in a point in Earth's history where we're, we have these incredibly complex systems that are built on literally billions of years of.
Yucca: And so if you think about the individual number of deaths, that's trillions and trillions of deaths that have, that have all added up to be able to make the soil that supports these systems to be able to make these ecosystems, to make our bodies
Mark: Right. I, I, I was gonna say this is this is not an academic exercise. This is very personal
Mark: Those trillions of deaths were and are necessary in order for us to function, you know, at this very instant in the body of you, listener cells are dying. Living creatures are being disassembled because you, you consumed them and either your immune system is attacking them or your digestive system is dissembling them.
And so there is, there is a deep inter penetration of life and death as mutualistic functions that enable the process of life to exist on earth.
Yucca: Right. And this is a, this process is continuing, right? And that's something we talked about in the, the past few weeks about our own death, but our. Our many deaths, the deaths of ourselves, and eventually the death of the whole of us as a pattern is part of that cycle, which then is going to continue on to allow for the new lives, on and on into the future.
So it's, it's quite, it's quite awe inspiring really
Yucca: to think about.
Mark: It is, and because we are life and because we're not actually decomposers primarily in our orientation to the ecosystems that support us We tend to focus on life a lot and how important life is and how wonderful life is and all that kind of stuff. But the, the miracle of life is that it is able to assemble from materials that used to be alive, organic materials, and you know, mostly those car, those carbon based organic materials, but other stuff as well.
It's a life is able to take those dead pieces and snap them together and communicate this spark of lifeness to it. And
Yucca: still trying to figure out really what that is,
Mark: exactly, but
Yucca: it's there.
Mark: But it's still working.
Mark: It's still working. And. I mean to me at this time of year when I'm contemplating my mortality, I'm also contemplating the miraculous fact that at some point an egg and a sperm connected and started spewing out. Genetic instructions and snapping together those molecules at a ferocious rate in consuming all of this non-live stuff and assembling it into me.
Mark: That's really a hell of a thing.
Yucca: Right. Well, and, and here's another thing that you, none of the, the, the actual atoms involved in that are the ones that you are today.
Yucca: You've changed all of those out.
Yucca: gets into, we get into this really fun realm of thinking about, you know, what's person like, What is it to be me? Right? Am I still the same me I was when I was 10 years ago or 20 or 30?
And where I Billy the same me and 50 and, and all of that, but we're these pieces, they keep moving around and we are rearranging them. I like to think of it like, like Legos really. Like, we have a, like the stuff that makes us, our little Lego blocks are like pattern blocks, and we stick 'em together in different ways and then we rip pieces off of 'em and we get rid of those, right?
Because we're always doing that. Whether that's in the bathroom or sweating or breathing out or you know, all of that stuff. And somebody else grabs onto that and then they use it to build part of themselves, and then somebody else grabs that, right? Somebody eats. Now they have all those pieces that they rip apart and they put together in different ways.
And so we're just these patterns, these bits and pieces of earth that have self-assembled themselves and are, you know, sharing and grabbing from each other and rearranging in new ways. And it's just, it's just delightful. What's this? Yeah.
Mark: it's so cool. I, I like to think of people the way I, I think of a river.
Mark: know, when you think of a river, you think of a, you know, there's the Mississippi River. It's a thing. It's gotta, We have a noun that we've applied to it, but a river isn't a thing. A river is a process. You know, the, the same molecules of water are not flowing by every day when you go down to the river and take a look at it, and the river itself, unless it's been damned by the Army Corps of Engineers in inappropriate and ecologically unsustainable ways, is moving it's footprint all over the place
Yucca: wiggling back and forth.
Mark: responding to the conditions that change in, in its surroundings. And we do the same thing. We are patterns
Mark: much more. We are processes much more than we are. Things,
Yucca: right? We're wiggling patterns.
Mark: Right, right. I mean, I, I'm, I'm looking at a rock that I have. That rock is pretty much gonna be the same rock for a very long time. It will eventually erode down into much, much smaller pieces of rock. And then when they're small enough, maybe some of those will get incorporated into some sort of life process, or they may be compressed into sandstone and take a new form, become metamorphic. There's all kinds of possibilities there, but, It's not moving in the dynamic kind of way that we're talking about with life or, or with other dynamic systems like hydrological systems like rivers and aquifers and oceans.
Yucca: Well, and and life is just quite amazing in that what it does is it does take that aio.
Yucca: Right. We do take biotic things too, but that's what the producers are all about. They, they take the, a biotic, like some carbon dioxide and water, and then we get glucose from
Mark: They make sugar out of it, and then we eat the sugar.
Yucca: right. Or Yeah. Or the things that ate the sugar, right?
And, and then, then it goes into the system and we all pass that around. This thing That wasn't life, but now it is life.
Yucca: And, and our planet. We started as a big ball of lava
Yucca: right there. There wasn't any soil to start with or just a big ball of lava. Now we've gotta go from basalt to us, and that's what life is doing, right?
And that, and without the death in there, there is no life.
Mark: That's right. That's right. And that, and that's why the, the very simplistic philosophy of trying to minimize death
Mark: in the context of ecology makes absolutely no sense.
Yucca: Yeah. Well, because the, the logical conclusion to that is just to end all life, and then there's no more death, Right? Because life has to have death.
Mark: and there is a certain logic to that in a very weird, twisted, sort of abstract way, but in a real way, given that we are living beings and value the fact that we're alive most of us,
Yucca: I mean, that's like a marvel, like villain logic though.
Yucca: like, that's like the comic version of Thanos, right? Like that's not, you know, But we, we, since we're alive, we don't. There's, Well, it's built into us to wanna stay alive, right? Because what it, Our ancestors, Well, we didn't have the ancestors that it wasn't built into.
Those ones didn't make it
Mark: That's right. The ones who didn't care about staying alive didn't.
Yucca: Yeah. So here we are, right? And, and there's so much, anything that you could possibly care about in order to care about it, you have to be alive. Right. Whether you value the music or art or education or you know, whatever, progress with a capital P and quotation marks are, whatever that stuff is, you, you've gotta be, you've gotta be there and alive to be able to, for that to exist,
Mark: And, and for you to enjoy it or benefit from it or find it of value. Right. You know, there's, there's gotta be unlike in quantum mechanics, there actually does have to be an observer in order for that in order for that to exist.
Yucca: In some. In some interpretations. Yeah. And wow. Does that get into a whole fun, mind-boggling, soupy world?
Mark: it really does. And let's, let's not go into that because we'll never get out. People, people who spend their whole lives studying this never get out so. You know, one of the things that sometimes people propose is this idea that to minimize suffering, you need to minimize death. Or actually, there are some people who argue that to minimize suffering, you should maximize death, everything should die and then nothing will suffer.
Yucca: Well, and then there's a limited number of deaths, right? Because there has to be life for there to be death. Yeah.
Mark: Right. So it ends up being very tail chasing. But I have, you know, there's this thing called the philosophical problem of suffering, which is only a problem if you're looking at things through a monotheistic lens with the assumption that you've got this beneficent deity. And how can you have all this suffering if there's a magnificent deity?
Well, fortunately we don't have to grapple with that much because we don't believe in a deity.
Yucca: you're right.
Mark: So we don't have to believe in an all powerful beneficent deity and figure out why there's so much suffering in the world. So when I look at this question of, you know, is minimizing death, minimizing suffering as we've established, minimizing death is minimizing life. And life is filled with a lot of joy.
Mark: Life has a tremendous amount of celebration in it. I mean, to me, the hard I, If you want to ask yourself, you know what? What's the problem of suffering? Why not flip that on its head and instead say, Well, what about the maxim, the maximization of.
Mark: Why shouldn't that be our yardstick for deciding what the best thing to do is?
And that could have its own problems because maybe you would decide we need as many people as we can possibly have so that they can be enjoying themselves as much as they possibly can.
Yucca: Right. And then you get into caring capacity. But you know, so all of this. This is why slogans don't really work , because once you think past, you know, thought, you know two thoughts past that, you go, Hmm, okay, maybe there's a, there's some nuance here. Maybe there's a whole system we gotta balance this out with.
But I don't think that the world is guided by moral ideas and
Mark: No, I don't either.
Yucca: So I think this is, a lot of, this is random. To start with and then life assembles itself and we don't know if there is other life beyond Earth. I would personally be absolutely shocked if there wasn't.
Mark: I'd be stunned if
Yucca: I I mean it just, Yeah.
Mark: and honestly, I think that in my lifetime, which is not that much time left in my lifetime, we are likely to discover signs of life outside the earth.
Yucca: Yeah, I think so.
Mark: It's, it is very likely and, and it will be, you know, primitive, rudimentary life. It won't be, you know, it won't be us, but
Yucca: maybe though, right?
Yucca: I mean, I would, I would guess that probably more simple life is more common than more complex life, right? In the same way that we, you know, see, More small planets and we see large planets, we're probably gonna, and we look at the own history of our earth, right? We had simple microbial life, which we shouldn't actually pass off as being too simple.
There's a lot more complexity to it that we forget because it's not the scale that we exist on, and we don't see it in that way. But, but that's been the majority of life on earth. So I think that that's, we're more likely to find more of that, but. I suspect that there's a lot of quite complex life out there as well.
Mark: Oh, I agree. I just don't know that we're ever gonna see signs of it within the next 20 years or so, that I have to be alive.
Yucca: Yeah. I mean there, it depends, right? It depends on what we're looking for. And if anyone wants a rabbit hole to go down, go ahead and look up iOS, internal Water, Ocean Worlds. These are places like Europa, Pluto, and Salus. These, these we're an xw, right? Water our oceans on the outside, and the fact that we're even here is, is strange and bizarre given.
Like, hazards there are to living on the surface of your planet. So one of the places that we would expect to find life would be in these eye wows where it's a much more protected environment that they don't have to deal with things like the dinosaur dead. Right. But they're harder to detect cause if they're there because they're under 60 kilometers of ice.
Right. So anyways, that's a, that's a fun. Fun rabbit hole to go down if you're looking for something fun. So, but yeah.
Mark: we've, we've kind of gone into, well we, we ended up sort of trailing into. How abstract philosophy can often collide with the very shaggy nature of nature, right. Because nature is very complex and it's, it's complexity is fractal. It has repeated patterns, but every one of those patterns is somewhat different than its previous iteration.
Mark: Every case is a unique case and it becomes very, very difficult to make grand philosophical statements in that, that simplify those things when there are so many special cases about the nature of life and the nature of nature.
Yucca: Right. Okay. So why don't we zoom in a little bit and talk about some of these. These folks that are doing the decomposition. Right? Because we've been talking about 'em kind of on a philosophical level, but at least as we have it here on earth. The big stuff like us, were exceptions. Most life isn't big like us, right?
Most life is single cell. And many of the decomposers are right.
Mark: We're carrying them around with us. I mean, the people tend to think of the decomposition process as something that invades. A body when, when the organism is no longer alive, and there is some of that, but a lot of it is just the bacteria that are inside the organism continuing to multiply and kind of take advantage of the fact that there's no longer an immune system to keep them in check.
So they just grow and grow and grow and grow and they emit gases and the body bloats and all those kinds of things happen.
Yucca: Right. Yeah. They're, they're everywhere. Right.
Yucca: And the most of the, the microbes in us are they're in a mutualistic relationship with us, right? We often associate microbes with. Pathogens because the ones that we know the most about are the very, very few ones that can cause us harm. But we were very incentivized to study them, right?
Same thing with viruses too. We're absolutely full of viruses, but the ones we know about the most about are the ones that can har harm us. And so over time, I looked forward to seeing where that whole field goes with our exploration of the roles that they play in, in genomes and all of that.
Mark: Yeah, we're learning a lot about how viral genetic material has inserted itself into our genome at many, many points, and there's recognizable working viral genetic material now that is a part of us.
Yucca: Right. And we come at this from this human perspective, but it's everybody else.
Yucca: It's the sunflowers, It's your cat, it's the hydros at the, you know, bottom of, of bodies of water. You know, all of that, right? So we've got, we've got different groups of our microbes, which may look very similar under the microscope, but, but behave very differently.
And our genetically very different. But we've got our bacteria as one of our major groups, right, in terms of our G composers. Then we've also got our fungi. So the fungi, they are really good at breaking down woody material that nobody else can really break down. And with our, our plant kind of material, our, our cellulose I know the woody material is, but in terms of the, the main cell wall, which is cellulose animals don't break that.
Yucca: The only things that do are the microbes and any animal that can break it down is breaking it down because it's got microbes inside of them doing it.
Mark: it's hosting microbes that are doing that work for it.
Yucca: Yes. Whether that's, you know, whether that's your bison in the field or whether that's your termite, they've got their little partners in there. And we often think about the decomposers on the outside, right?
Like you were saying, we think about them in the compost pile, or we think about them in the leaves. But in a lot of systems, they're inside of animals. And the animals bodies are part of the, the. Food, web, the soil, food web as well, and part of that decomposition.
Mark: Right. Well, and, and just as an example of this somewhere between a third, between 30% and 50% of any given bowel movement of yours
Mark: is bacteria.
Yucca: It's just the,
Mark: Is, it's just de, it's just decomposing bacteria. It's not food. It's not stuff you ate. It's cells that reproduced like crazy eating that food
Yucca: That you fed them?
Mark: that you fed them and that now you have excreted out of your body and they're going to continue going.
Yum, yum, Yum, yum. Yu.
Mark: On the remaining food material and other creatures will come along to join them in that. But it's, it's so important for us to recognize that we are hosts to, and basically factories for these decomposing bacteria and other organisms.
Yucca: We are their habitat. We are very literally an ecosystem, right? Just if you just even look at the definition of an ecosystem, and it makes sense because it all started. That scale, right? And the evolving into these, these bigger organisms. Again, we think of this as being normal, but it's really, really weird for earth's history and for the, the number of, of different species.
It would make sense that as we evolved and got bigger, they would just move into the new habitats that were opening up and we would've been those habitats, right? So we look at our own bodies and we're full of microbes.
But you look at the tree's body, and they're full of microbes too, and that they're doing, some of those microbes are producers, some of them are decomposers, some of them are both at the same time, right?
Yucca: So they're just at work taking this, this stuff usually dead, sometimes not breaking it down, and then they're eaten by somebody.
Most of them aren't just leaving it politely out for somebody else, right? Microbes don't really poop. They get eaten by something larger that gets eaten by something large and something larger, and then that might excrete. It, it takes a lot of steps of it going from one body to another to another before it gets back into the soil or back into the body of a plant or the body of an animal.
Mark: One of the things about. Microbes is that they tend not to have a surplus, you know, they absorb what they need and then they just get bigger.
Yucca: and then they split in half into two new ones.
Mark: well, exactly. Yes. But, so instead of excreting, although they do excrete to some degree, but not very much
Yucca: terms of, yeah, we're gonna have different biofilms and things like that, but, but typically you're not gonna see like micro pellets, , the way you'd have like rabbit pellets. Right? Like, they just, they don't, they don't have the same kind of structures that we do to produce that. Mm-hmm.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah, that was my point.
Mark: So yeah, there's this amazing, remarkable incre. Going on in us and it's going on around us, and it is the means by which we are able to exist. And so this time of year is a time when I really like to contemplate all of that and to be, just to be super aware that that is the nature of what we're doing here.
And because much of it is in. It doesn't make it any less true or any less important.
Mark: You know, one of the things that's very weird about humans is that we're gigantic.
Mark: I mean, e e even when you talk about the average size of an animal on earth, the average size of an animal on earth is about the size of a wood tick.
Mark: That is, that is the average size of an animal on planet Earth, and we are these gargantuan creatures by comparison. And what that means is that the scale that we see things on is not fine grained enough to be able to see the microbial world where most of the action is taking place.
Mark: Of course things are happening at other scales.
Of course they are, and we see that. But this. This microbial scale is so fundamental to the nature and fabric of life here on earth. That drawing our attention to it and paying attention to it and being aware of all that it does for us, I think is just a really important part of my paganism. Right.
Mark: You know, because as we've talked about so many times before, a lot of what being a naturalistic Pagan is about is learning to see and paying attention to the processes that are happening around us in nature.
Yucca: Mm-hmm. . Agreed. Yeah. So around this time in episodes, we often bring it back to how can we incorporate this or practice this sort of thing in our paths. And it sounds like you're talking about how important just the understanding is for you.
Yucca: Are there any. Kind of ritual or daily practices that you do along this?
Mark: You know, other than just acknowledging my mortality, that I as a, as an operating system, am gonna stop functioning
Mark: and that my awareness. The awareness that arises as a result of my functioning is going to stop.
Mark: That I acknowledge, you know, in my daily practice and all that kind of stuff, because keeps me on my toes, right?
Keeps me aware that time's a was and, and, you know, we need to, we need to do the things that we want to do because we don't have infinite time to do them in.
Mark: But in terms of an actual ritual enactment of that, not so much because I mean, I suppose I could put a Petri dish on my focus and, you know, cultivate some decomposers.
But I haven't done that.
Mark: I'm just
Yucca: Well, you mentioned you do compost though, right?
Mark: Yes, Yes. It's actually the law in California now. You have to they, they haven't started enforcing it yet, but
Yucca: well, do you have compost pickup alongside with your, with your, you know, trash and recycling? Is that
Mark: do, we hit, yeah, it's it's yard waste, which then is industrially composted.
Mark: The idea is that you do your domestic composting. You use that locally, and then yard waste is picked up. And taken to an industrial composting facility where they can do very high temperature composting that will work on those like plant-based plastics and things like that.
The so-called compostable
Yucca: that you just have to have your real thermoy compost for. You just gotta get 10 really high temperatures. Yeah.
Mark: Humans can't, or you know, domestic people can't really get to those temperatures very easily.
Yucca: Yeah, you'd need to have a larger pile to be able to get those temperatures. So you might be able to pair up with some neighbors to be able to get that kind of bulk, but it's gonna be tricky.
Mark: Yep. And then you need to make sure that your compost piles are far enough away from all structures, because they'll burn them down.
Yucca: they do do that. Yeah.
Mark: light itself.
Yucca: If, if you're doing the, the Thermo Fillic, there's a lot of different composting techniques. So this is this time of year I'd really encourage people to look into composting. So if you do eat plants and you've got leftover materials, you've got all of the, you know, tops, carrot tops and the this and the that, and you're, you know, little breadcrumbs and all of that, there's lots of different ways to compost.
And even if you're in a. . Let's say you're in a high rise apartment. Some a little worm bucket is fantastic. Worms are just microbe factories basically, and they'll eat
Mark: full tubes full of bacteria,
Yucca: That's right. Yeah. And and even if you don't have a garden to use it, then in your potted plants would love those worm castings or you.
You can make a little bit extra money on that too because that sells for a lot. So if you haven't done composting, this is maybe an interesting time just to look into that and see what the options are. Cuz you certainly don't have to do your, you know, big pile where your turn in every x number of days and that can make compost fast.
But that's not the only way,
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. When I lived in the country we had a compost bin out in our upper garden, and we would throw our. Vegetable scraps and all that kind of stuff in there. And we ignored it. We didn't I mean, I would water it once in a while, but other than that, I, you know, we didn't turn it, we didn't do anything.
Yucca: you got time, it'll do it. Mm-hmm.
Mark: yeah, it, it'll do it over time. But the, the funny story is that my wife at the time who was not a Pagan and. Had grown up in a city and had a very sort of different spiritual orientation. She was a Buddhist and Had a much more sort of theoretical relationship with the world than a kind of nature based relationship with the world.
She went up to the compost pile at one point to throw a bunch of stuff in and came back and said, Somebody has shoveled a bunch of dirt into our compost pile. And of course the dirt was the compost. The compost had been, had turned into soil, which is what it does.
Mark: and it looks just like any other dirt because that's where dirt comes from.
Yucca: But yeah.
Mark: And so it was really funny. I was like, No, nobody has been vandalizing our compost pile. That's just what compost does.
Yucca: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that brings up a really, a really interesting point though that. Many much of human society is in cities where we have purposefully isolated ourselves from the rest of nature and the cycles of nature. And so when we're coming from those backgrounds, we have some extra education to to do for ourselves, right?
Because why would she have known that? Right? She didn't need to know that in the context that she grew up in. And. can, can lead to a lot of misunderstandings that, that people can make, and especially when we're trying to do the best job we can to help take care of our world and manage the world that we are, that as we talked about in, in recent episodes that we're so ingrained in, right.
Every choice that we make influences the rest of our planet, we're so disconnected from these systems.
Mark: And that's true, and I think it's also true that there is more of a requirement of us to be connected now because of the crises facing the planet. The earliest archeological sites have middens. They have places where people threw stuff away. They threw bones away, they threw they, they threw excrement away.
They just humans for as and, and even pre-humans for as long as we've been around, have either dug a hole or made a pile or thrown things away from wherever we were eating without much regard for what was going to happen to it. And that was fine until we started devising stuff that doesn't naturally decompose very well.
Yucca: and our population increased. Right? There were many points in our history where, you know, there weren't a lot of us.
Mark: Yeah, we couldn't put a dent in nature even if we wanted to.
Yucca: Yeah. But that's a, We have a very different, a different situation now. Yeah.
Mark: Yeah. Which is why it's important to get excited about decomposition and the Now it's tricky and we should acknowledge this because we have. Reactions to the process of decomposition that lead us to revulsion. And the reason for that is that we are not animals that can eat stuff that's decomposing and it, it makes us sick.
Yucca: Right when it's gone too far, there are some, I mean, when we talk about our fermented foods, that is actually on the path there, right? And that's how we could take certain things that wouldn't normally be very nutritious for us and kind of. Work with them a little bit, get a little bit more nutrition out of them by having the, helping, having the microbes kind of process us for us first.
But when we're talking about something that's put, that's, that's beyond what we can do, right?
Mark: we don't like the smell. We don't like the taste. Our noses wrinkle up and we, we get it as far away from ourselves as we can. And I, and that obviously goes directly to our experience of death and mortality. I mean, not only is it terrible to have the loss of someone that we love, but then to have them turn into something putrid.
that disgusts us is another fundamental piece of how hard it is for us to grapple with the fact of our mortality.
Mark: So a lot of our responses to that have been various kinds of preservation approaches to bodies attempts to sort of put them away, wall them away you know, put them somewhere where we don't have to look at them or deal with them.
All of that. Absolute logical sense in terms of what kinds of creatures we are and how we react to things that are, that are decomposing. But we need to step beyond that to understand how many good things decomposition is doing for us and is doing for the world all the time.
Yucca: Mm-hmm. . Right?
Mark: where are.
Yucca: Well, We were kind of talking about ritual and it, and it seems like there's, it's one of these things that is maybe a little bit more just about awareness, but I could certainly imagine someone bringing composting into a ritual space. Or just awareness, doing some reflections, meditations on it, or maybe going for a nature walk.
And looking for every point where you can find. This happening. In fact, you'd probably spend walk about five feet and then spend about an hour there,
Mark: Right? Yeah. Oh look, there's a fungus. Oh look. There's leaves that are decomposing. Oh, look.
Mark: you know, one thing that occurs to me that could be done as part of a ritual cycle around the course of the year is you could gather a month of bunch of autumn leaves and compost them, and then. Come the spring equinox or so plant, you know, do some planning right earlier than that about what kind of plant you want to have and why.
Maybe plant a corn plant or two in the compost around the spring equinox, and then put it in the ground after the freeze just sort of shepherd that through the whole process, starting with the compost and harvest at the end of the year. And then you'd have.
Mark: That would be, that would be I, I, I like the idea of it.
I don't know whether I'd have the discipline to actually keep that going all year round, but
Yucca: You might wanna try with several seeds at once if you are,
Yucca: Because , they don't always make it. But, but that's so lovely because it's starting before the planting of the seed. Right. Which is where we usually think of it as starting, but at that point you already have a, a living plant, right Seed. Living beings that have been around for a while already that came from their mother plant that is growing in the soil.
Like we keep, we can just keep going back. Right. Where we started is, is really very kind of arbitrary.
Mark: Right. Un unless you're talking about biogenesis which we're not even entirely sure is the way that life got started. You know, if you're talking about the very beginning of life on earth You know, was it, was it long chain molecules learning to self-replicate? Was it some sort of panspermia thing where it happened somewhere else and reigned in on meteorites and and then got going here?
There are, there are a bunch of possibilities.
Yucca: multiple events, which then developed in a similar way, but were somehow able to have horizontal transfer between them. Right. We don't know.
Mark: Yep. Right. And nature does to all of those things a lot. So it's, it's very hard to, you know, to make a, a judgment call about what we're gonna choose to believe. I'm, I myself, am extremely agnostic about the origins of life on earth.
There's a bunch of different proposals, all of which seem reasonable to me, and there's not enough data available to make a call, you know, to select one to believe in, right? So until we have more information to me it's just, well, life started on earth.
We know that. And
Mark: Yeah, it's here. So, you know, we'll, we'll just have to take it for granted that it got started somehow.
Yucca: Yeah, I find the whole, the whole field which this is the field of astrobiology, right? To just be absolutely amazing and delightful to think about and try and piece that together. But as you're saying, we really just don't have very much data for, from that time period. But also, again, this is the only example that we have at the moment.
We've barely begun to start looking for it in other places and even in places that we're supposedly looking right on Mars, we're not looking where we think that there actually would be life If life's there, it's, it's not, it's quite certainly not in the places that we happen to have our rovers.
Right? It's gonna be underneath the ground or in the ice caps, or the sub training lakes, things like that. Right?
Mark: Right. And we just don't have the means to get to those places right now.
Yucca: We don't, but that's also and this is a much larger discussion, but we purposefully are not yet looking for life in those locations. And that's kind of a larger discussion to the strategy that NASA's taking with that and planetary defense which is. Again, larger discussion on, on whether I agree with that or don't with it.
But there definitely are some concerns around that. And then there are other places that, you know, there's good chance that Europa seems like a great place to find it, but we're pretty far off from being able to actually go into Europa and look for it.
Yucca: So there's a lot of of technical challenges and just time challenges because it takes a long time to get anywhere.
Mark: To get to Europa. It's a long way away.
Yucca: It is. Yeah.
Mark: Do you know the movie Europa Report?
Yucca: I do, Yes,
Mark: I love it so much.
Mark: I, what, what I love about Europa Report more than anything else other than Brooklyn for some ridiculously low budget,
Mark: is that shows scientists really being passionate about science. You know, everybody on that crew wants the data.
Mark: They, they care about getting the data more than they do their own survival, which is just a beautiful thing to me. It's so cool.
Yucca: Yeah. Not a film to watch with your young kids, by the way. Take a look at, you know, do a little bit of reading before you'd show that to some of your younger, younger audience.
Mark: Yeah, that makes
Yucca: Yeah. . So, but it, you know, there's wonderful parts to it and so let's I think this is a good place for us to kind of wrap back to our conclusion here
Mark: Decomposition is cool. It's not just the law, it's a good idea.
Yucca: Yep. And death is, is a part of the cycle. Without death, there isn't life.
Mark: No life.
Mark: Nope. And minimizing death is not a way to foster life. It's life. Life depends on death. In order for us to continue functioning and for the system of life on earth to continue functioning. So, We, I, I've talked before about the so-called death positivity movement that's happening here in the United States where we're Working to transform the, the, the cultural understanding of death and our relationship to it and our practices around it.
And I just feel that this is so important because if you don't really get your mind around the, the positive nature of death, you're not really understanding nature,
Mark: nature. Nature's where it's at. You know, nature is what's happening here, and it's, it's so amazing. It's, it's tragic that there are people who miss it because they don't understand it.
Yucca: Right. And it's all gonna happen whether you want to admit it or not.
Yucca: Right. So getting to, to enjoy and be part of the wonder of it is. I think that's great personally, right? I think that's an improvement in the quality of the life that we get to have in the short period that we do.
Mark: I agree.
Mark: So there you have it, decomposition 2022. We are, we're happy to bring you this love note to death and, and rot and wish you all the very best of this. Hello season. This, this time, you know, for many pagans persists for a week or more into early November. And we hope that your celebrations are meaningful and spooky and fun and all the things that we hope for out of this season.
Yucca: Yep. Thank you.