A Will for the Woods: A Documentary Not To Be Missed

– Posted in: Garden Musings

Perhaps it was because I had just spent two and a half months with my 90 year old father in Philadelphia, who spoke more about death with me this visit than he has his entire lifetime, that I made time to watch A Will for the Woods. 

Will For The Woods

If, like me, you’ve had mixed feelings about how our Western culture deals with loved ones when they die, then this is the movie for you. If the thought of being buried in a manufacturer’s casket in a cemetery or being cremated just doesn’t feel right, then this is the movie for you. And if you know in your heart that you’re meant to return to nature ‘as a gift to earth’ when you drop your body, then this is the movie for you.

If all of the above sounds maudlin, it’s not. To the contrary.  Watch this short clip.

A Will for the Woods – Official Trailer from A Will for the Woods on Vimeo.

The story

“What if our last act could be a gift to the planet? Musician, psychiatrist, and folk dancer Clark Wang prepares for his own green burial in this immersive documentary.

While battling lymphoma, Clark has discovered a burgeoning movement that uses burial to conserve and restore natural areas, forgoing contemporary funeral practices that operate at the ecosystem’s expense. Boldly facing his mortality, Clark and his partner Jane have become passionate about green burial, compelled by both the environmental benefits and the idea that one can remain within the cycle of life, rather than being cut off from it. The spirited pair have inspired a compassionate local cemeterian, and together they aim to use green burial to save a North Carolina woods from being clear-cut.

Making the most of the time that he has, Clark finds joy in his music and dance, connection with his friends and family, and great comfort in the knowledge that his death, whenever it happens, will be a force for regeneration. The film follows Clark’s dream of leaving a loving, permanent legacy, and environmentalism takes on a deeply human intimacy.

Documenting one community’s role in the genesis of a revolutionary movement, A Will for the Woods draws the viewer into a life-affirming portrait of people embracing their connection to each other and to timeless natural cycles.”

Green Burials

Clark Wang with his burial spot in the forest

Green burial is a simple and natural alternative to resource-intensive contemporary burial or cremation. The deceased is laid to rest in the earth?? using? only biodegradable materials? ?and ?without a vault? or toxic embalming, in a woodland or other natural setting, often with a fieldstone or indigenous plant marking the grave. ?This practice can be used as a conservation tool, enabling the acquisition, restoration, and stewardship of natural areas. Simple natural burials were prevalent for thousands of years (and still are in many? parts of the world, including in traditional Muslim and Jewish burials) before the contemporary funeral industry propagated the standard of expensive and elaborate funerals divorced from natural processes.”    Taken from A Will For The Woods website.

“A powerful, personal testament to the ‘green burial’ movement…with humor, eloquence, anguish and reflection.”
– Sylvia Pfeiffenberger, Indy Week

“An immersive, heartwarming tale.” 
– Elias Savada, Film Threat

“[One of] Nine documentaries that you need to see this year … which no documentary fan should miss…Has the potential to affect not just individual viewers but the American way of death.”
– Marianna Torgovnick, TED Blog

Psychiatrist and musician Clark Wang advocates for green burial – and prepares for his own – while living with a serious illness. Set amid the genesis of a social and environmental movement, A WILL FOR THE WOODS draws the viewer into a life-affirming portrait of people embracing their connection to timeless natural cycles.

This gem of a movie opens today, August 15, at Village East Cinema in Manhattan.

For more information on screenings throughout the country or hosting a screening, click here.

Now it’s your turn. I would love to hear your thoughts about green burial.

Fran Sorin

Fran’s book, Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening, now considered a classic, was groundbreaking when published as no one had written about gardening in the context of creativity, spirituality, and transformation.

In addition to being a recognized garden expert and deep ecologist, Fran is a broadcaster, journalist, Ordained Interfaith Minister, and Soul Tender.

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Sheri k August 15, 2014, 12:18 am

I don’t have a blog and doubt that i ever will but in my head, i imagined my first blog post “starting with the end” and documenting my wish for a green burial. It is unfortunate that this is outside the realm of normal for most people nowadays. maybe that will change one day. thanks for the post.

Laurin Lindsey August 15, 2014, 8:53 am

I like this idea…It honors the earth if we return or remains to it and continue the cycle. I have never like the idea of cement lined vaults in the ground and wooden caskets…it is too permanent for something we have shed…I believe there is a freedom in dying!
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Fran Sorin August 15, 2014, 12:59 pm

Sheri K- I’m so glad you discovered this post and am impressed that you’ve contemplating having a green burial…and that it means so much to you….Fran
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Fran Sorin August 15, 2014, 1:01 pm

Laurin- I couldn’t agree with you more. It not only honors the earth but honors our bodies as being a part of nature-rather than separate from. Yes, I also find the cement lined vaults in the ground to be disconcerting and ridiculous. Thanks for your comment. Warmly, Fran
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Janet Mcvay August 16, 2014, 10:07 am

I completely agree with this! I keep telling my partner Robert that when I die he can just lay my body out in the woods of our property and let the coyotes feed on me!

Irene bailey byrd August 16, 2014, 12:03 pm

I think this is a wonderful concept

Cathy August 16, 2014, 4:30 pm

This is so in keeping with our Jewish faith… to return to the earth in simple cotton cloth in a simple wooden box. Steve and I have talked about what we want for ourselves for a final resting place. I can think of nothing more fitting and in keeping with our love of nature, of gardening, of sustaining the environment. I hope that we can find such a place – or help to create on – before that time arrives.
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Fran Sorin August 16, 2014, 10:32 pm

Cathy- yes, it is in keeping with the Jewish faith. But as you know, in the United States, in Jewish cemeteries, you are buried in an enclosed casket. And in Israel, where they bury individuals just in a shroud, it is still done in an overly populated cemetery with little greenery. I agree with you about wanting this for myself. Now I have to begin doing the resesarch….xo-Fran
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Fran Sorin August 16, 2014, 10:32 pm

I second that Irene- Fran
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Fran Sorin August 16, 2014, 10:33 pm

Janet- I would prefer thinking of your body communing with the soil but I do understand your intent and desire. Fran
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Darcy Lewis-Wang August 19, 2014, 1:00 pm

Clark Wang was my brother-in-law and it has been deeply gratifying to see the effect that his passion for green burial is having upon so many people.
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Fran Sorin August 20, 2014, 8:34 am

Darcy- So good to hear from you. As soon as I read that Clark was your brother-in-law, my heart opened up. What a phenomenally talented and curious individual he was – I would guess that he had no idea that this documentary and his essence would shine through so brightly. He truly has left a wonderful legacy for those of us taken by his journey and the love by which he was surrounded. I hope the movie has a long life! With gratitude-Fran
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Leslene September 11, 2014, 11:00 am

Very inspiring! I trained in spiritual birth midwifery and then brought that knowledge to midwifying the dying and wrote a book on the subject, Midwifing death: returning to the arms of the ancient mother. i did a great deal of research on how pre-bronze
age ancestors regarded death and treated it as a part of life, not its opposite. i realized that they did not seem to have the fear we have today because of their unbroken connection with nature.
sacred,

Fran Sorin September 13, 2014, 3:01 am

Leslene- How fascinating! I have never heard of the term ‘spiritual birth midwifery’. What a service you are offering. As an Ordained Interfaith Minister, I work with the dying and families facing death. I will check out your book right now- thanks for your comment. With gratitude- Fran
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