On occasion I have wondered what I would do if someone I was canoeing with died or we had to assist another party with a dead body, especially if you had no way to communicate to the outside world and there are only one or two surviving adults and no one can stay behind with the body to prevent its being eaten? Bury it, I suppose. Any first hand experience out there?
No first hand experience re this and I would hate to be put into such a position.
However, I would think that if your canoe partner died, you would have no choice but to leave
him/her and paddle to get help. If there was 3 in your group and I thought we could get help
in a day, I would still leave the body behind and paddle out for help.
However, I can envision all kinds of scenarios where you are unable to paddle to get help because
of being shorebound due to wind. In this case I think the SOS call of the wild should be put
into action and you should be vigilant to signal for help from any source that may come close to where you are.
I wouldn't bury them. I think as long as the body was in a tent or sleeping bag, they would be protected from curious scavengers for a day or two. And since nowhere in the park is really more than two days from help, and assistance would presumably be returning within hours once contacted, I don't think it's really a problem. Wrap them up, bless them for dying in their favourite place on earth, and head for the closest access point.
All that said, I suppose if the person dies in a bear attack, the bear will be primed to finish off the meal.
I know you asked for firsthand experience, John. I don't know if you'll get any, but it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one who thinks about things like that in the middle of winter while dreaming of the next summer's trips!
OK, the sick and twisted giggling side of me says to get your camera ready for lots of photo ops of animals coming to investigate the smell after a couple days. Some good wolf, bear, vulture shots should present themselves....(just joking folks)...
The not so twisted side of me has wondered the same thing and I think it would depend on the situation.
If someone has a heart attack on a portage, then I would be hitting the 911 on my SPOT and search and rescue would be on it's way.
If I woke up in the morning to find out my tripping buddy had passed in their sleep, I think I would make sure they were sealed up in the tent and then I would pack a light pack (water and snack) and head to the nearest access point where I would be sure there would be people and/or a phone where I could get in contact with the proper authorities and then head back to the campsite and wait for them to arrive.
I do a yearly trip with a buddy that is not in the greatest of shape and we always joke about him getting in shape as he gets older as I am not hauling his carcass out of the Park's interior if he has a heart attack and dies.
Very good question John, and I hope I never have to find out the answer first hand...
Not in the park but had the same question asked about a fly-in trip we did years ago. We where dropped off for a week and then picked up. My answer was either put the body in the propane fridge for the rest of the trip or covered up and pushed out into the lake in one of the extra boats. So obviously you do not have a fridge with you while in the park but you could ( worst case scenario ) cover the person up and put them in the canoe and tie it off and push them out into the lake and hopefully someone would come along.......
Wow I sure hope that I don't die with any of you guys around in the park - I'll end up either floating out to sea, buried 1" underground, hung between trees (like a food bag), sunk to the bottom of a lake, or worse yet bbq'd and eaten!
This is a very disturbing topic, and I certainly hope that nobody here every experiences such an event.
Has anyone thought about the inquistion that would come after reporting a death?? You would suddenly become the prime suspect - so now the topic turns to how best to dispose of the body....
If I didn't have my SPOT with me(will be getting one in the spring), I'd leave a note on the campsite, with the body in the tent, thus out of sight and somewhat protected from the elements. Most importantly this would keep flies off the body which will accelerate the rate of decomposition which begins almost immediately after death. I'm not a religious person by nature, but I'd be saying a few farewells and a prayer or two as well to the newly departed. I'd head to the nearest access point and report my situation and wait for further instructions(I might be asked to guide a crew back to the scene?). Anyhoo that's my take on the situation, take it as it comes.
Here's hoping that never happens to you, me, or anyone...unfortunately, death is one life's great certainties.
Great question John. lol AAron - I'll carry u out.
Fortunately I've never been in that situation, certainly a challenging and emotional decision either way. It may not be the best choice, but I'd likely attempt to keep the body with me and head out. You'd have to make some form of stretcher with limbs, tie in the tent fly or body to the frame then rope the covered (in sleeping bay) body down for the portages. Take bare minimum of gear back (survival bag/food/paddle/etc), depending on how deep u are in the park and how many days-out you'll be. Likely you'll pass other trippers on your way out that will offer to help. That being said, if the circumstances dictate carrying the body out is not feasible (e.g. you are injured yourself or the body too heavy to carry) then I'd likely find a swamp/marsh with suitable and accessible muddy/duffy area. Place the body in a sleeping bag or wrap it in tarp, make yourself a little horizontal pier with tree(s) that gets u 10' out in the swamp/marsh without sinking or getting stuck yourself. Do what u can to eek out a rectangular impression as deep as u can (anaerobic conditions slow decomposition), drag the body out and place it in the hole. Cover the hole with the stuff u dug out or limbs/branches/reed matts - whatever is available. Mark the spot with GPSr, flagging tape, colorful jacket, tent fly, rocks, huge pile of branches or whatever and leave a note on waterproof paper or put in ziplock should others be curious as to what's there. Collect your wits, head out and seek help.
Many people have lost their lives in the park over the years, of all ages, occupations, under various circumstances (murder/sickness/accidental @ work or play/manslaughter/unknown/etc) especially earlier last century and late 18'th century. Likely many bones now turned to dust and part of the ecosystem now up there.
There was a recent occurrence, 2007, where the noted Cdn artis, Ken Danby died while in the park in North Tea Lake. Heart attack I believe, he was in his late 50s. Maybe they had a cell and called out (coverage there?) or one of their group high tailed it back through Amable du fond to the access, as paramedics were quickly on the scene apparently. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Danby
I can think of worst places to 'go' should you get the call.
In my experience the problem isn't what to do with the body but how to keep anyone from finding or identifying it.
OK, dark humor out of the way now.
I would not sink it in the water, bodies in water decompose faster than on land. According to a police diver I spoke too, within days they swell to 5 times their size and tear apart like tissue when you touch them.
Tent would be out too IMO. You are not going to stop the body from decomposing, not without embalming it. So the tent will be a write off. And there's no guarantee it'll keep animals away. After a day or two that tent will smell like food. It might even be irresponsible when you consider animal learned behavior. Ideally tents are not food sources for these animals, but you leave a couple hundred pounds of spoiling meat and that will change. (though admittedly it'd be such an infrequent situation that it would pale in comparison to plain old butt head campers)
I'd leave the body for sure. I'd wrap it in a tarp as best I could, seal it up against the elements and haul ass to the nearest civilization to report it. I'd also leave a note, possibly a sign that can be read from off shore, warning people there is a dead body at the location. I'd hate to have someone accidentally stumble upon it after it's too late to switch sites.
All depends on where you are in the park but some things would be well advised regardless.
I usually have a pen/paper or some kind of journal. I am a lawyer, so bear with me! Sit down and make a written record of what happened while it is fresh in your mind. Take your time and make sure you detail the series of events. Not only will the police, investigators appreciate it, the family of the deceased and your lawyer, if you need one, will appreciate it. I would be inclined to take the body out with me but on sober(wishful thinking, did I mention I'm a lawyer) second thought I think I would do my best to protect it. Causing an indiginity to a human body is a criminal offence and dragging a body back to an access point may not be viewed lightly by a police officer, or family member, so I'm inclined to make a good plan, leave excess baggage behind, and lead the police back to the scene when I would then collect up my things and point them to the corpse. I would then see who could give me a lift out.
you do realize that you don't have to scrape the person's head along the gravel as you pull them across the access point, right?
having him on your back or in a stretcher will do.
a bit like the paramedics do,
and if a charge lay on me for this *indignity* caused about a human body,
it will be asked how negligence of preventing the body from being opened by beasts is not indignity caused about the body. and if it is argued back that this feast could not have been known to happen, it can be argued back that nor could it be known the knocking of the head against a tree en route home. and if some other sense of indignity is meant, such as moving the body in inappropriate ways, it will be asked how the paramedics round this obstacle, and if their maneuver-training was shaped by quantities of indignity (and not by plain technique), and if it was, the practice of foul maneuvers by me would have to be proven, which cannot exactly be done. Those maneuvers would be inferred by the presence of marks on the body, and if a charge will then lay, so too for the paramedics who trip while carrying a victim, for it cannot be known that my trips did not cause the marks.
Anyway how ridiculous it is this idea. That an officer will 'not take lightly' the idea that you are carrying someone. That officer need sit down one long night to properly think on himself and his dispositions. I would not for one instant fear this kind of outcome of bringing back my dead friend. Indignity.. Even once it is established that indignity is caused about a body, anything you contrastingly would have done (put them into a canoe, buried them, bagged them, tarped them, raised them onto a shelf) will have to be considered indignity no less; and your only safe alternative was to walk away from the body and go home, and leave it awkward on the portage to scare children and make meal for animals, and lay there as leaves fall, in puddles and mud, leg that way arm this way, through the black night and into pale blue morning-- still it's there-- just bitten a bit. Though this should class as indignity too (just in the form of negligence). And perhaps more. It is expected you paddle home and do not move the body from its location, and do not wrap it or float it or anything, for these cause it indignity along their processes, and you reach the access point and tell no one but the family, because it is indignity to move the body, and authorities you know will move the body. You don't inform them because by doing so you are instigating the event of indignity.
That law come into this raw and terrible time to punish is sickening.
And on those grounds is something shameful.
i think all the ideas are quite good except for the submerge one but i am not sure how sincerely that was meant lol. in case it was meant honestly, i think that strategy might be problematic due to the increased decomposition rate (in water), and fish nibbling and snapping turtles and those sort of lucky underwater creatures, and it is also wildly extreme when i think about it-- not that there is much wrong with being extreme. i think u'd more likely make the paper if that was your method, that's all. when a body is left according to any of the other methods, wrapping it tightly in plastic bags (around the limbs and main body) has to help significantly trap the scent from luring animals in, and waterproofs. or tarp, as SM pointed. i think i'd lean to the burring idea, or to the float in canoe one (for its exceptional security against other animals). a contraption can be easily made (with a tarp) to slide rain and splash away from entering the boat. and the boat can be towed to a cozzy bay where the wind does not go nor the waves, and anchored out there decently from shore. the tent option i really dont think is that bad when we are talking about 2 days or so. though zeb made a good point about animal learned behavior, however harmful that (leaning) may turn out. quite serious it is a single bear coming to trust that tents contain a fabulous feast that does not fight back. other things i think are extremely important are to leave flagging to draw people toward the site (wherever it is), and waterproofed notice about your identity, the person who died, where the body is, what happened, what your route back is, what your expectations are, grid cords for the body, etc. a pencil and paper (for them to make copy of yours), a request for them to SPOT or sat phone (i dont think 911 on SPOT, or use of a PLB, is proper here), and for them to spread the word. this can accelerate action being taken. leaving brief notes on popular portages (on signs) on your way back can further assist. and as FF stated, recording details is important for family and police and god forbid the court. personally i would carry out if i had one more person with me (almost no matter where i was). if i was alone i would seriously consider the attainability of this, with regard to it being done and with regard to how quickly it can be done, and with considerations as to my own safety as a result of this evac. oh and someone mentioned roads--- good thinking.
"There was a recent occurrence, 2007, where the noted Cdn artis, Ken Danby died while in the park in North Tea Lake. Heart attack I believe, he was in his late 50s. Maybe they had a cell and called out (coverage there?) or one of their group high tailed it back through Amable du fond to the access, as paramedics were quickly on the scene apparently.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Danby"
My brother and I were coming out of North Tea from Lorne on this day, a Sunday. At the North Tea/Amable du Fond portage we met a group of about 8 friendly people in their late 50s and early 60s around noon. We spoke with them for a few minutes and basically recounted the weather for the past three days and remarked about what a nice sunny day it was to be heading into the park, and how we were going in the wrong direction. At the time we didn't know that Ken Danby was in this group (we pieced it together afterward). We headed up the portage trail and they out onto North Tea. A helicopter passed over head sometime before we got back to Northern Wilderness Outfitters (~2 hours from portage to NWO). I can't be certain, but I'm guessing this helicopter was responding to the call, and there is no way they paddled out in my estimation for help. They had to have been able to contact someone. If they didn't have a spot, maybe they were able to flag someone down with one. It was very clear and sunny, several people out on a point waving and screaming were likely to attract the attention of passerbys as it was busy that day, mostly with people coming out of the park. I was unable to get a cell phone signal in that area or at NWO and needed to borrow their land line to call my gf (now wife) to let her know we had made it out okay, so I'm guessing they didn't use a cell. Another possiblity is that there were some guides from the local outfitters on Kawawaymog, carrying two-way radios to communicate with their base and could raise help that way possibly if they were able to signal them.
Happy to be learned about sinking the body. My thinking was that it's basically a fridge with the water at the bottom being a constant ~4C. Critters could be dealt with by wrapping the body in a tarp. Bloat is alleviated by the grim task of poking a hole or three.
its only happened to me once on a day trip on a river.
We had a party that had adequate support to do CPR while others went for help. Of course we knew that CPR was going to be ineffective because the rescue time was several hours, but at least we did all we could and could report to the widow that we tried.
Roovs - tks for the helping tie up a few loose ends to that sad story.
FredForest- tks for your professional legal perspective, much appreciated. Good idea about documenting the circumstances of the incident causing death. Lots of little details can be lost in a very short time.
The risk is certainly there that the deceased body would get further 'damaged', even when well padded, enveloped and secured on the makeshift stretcher. Twist out of one's grip on a steep, wet or rooty/rocky section, tumble down and land hard face down or whatever. More so if you're already exausted and under a bit of shock yourself. Personally, my actions to carry or not will likely depend on my relationship to the deceased. Perish the thought it happens to a child - my first instinct would be to carry them out irregardless of the situation.
As others have said, hopefully never have to find out.
Brings up a point worth emphasizing - always make sure at least one in your group has appropriate and current first aid training that includes CPR Level C.
I don't really know that a submerged body will decompose more quickly than one not, but it seems like it would, reflecting on how pasta softens in a pot, and how wood peels in dark damp forests. I would imagine that materials more soft (like flesh) make no exception to this. though i think what is more the question is whether this accelerated decomposition will show its effects in two days time (the time it takes to retrieve the body). Perhaps something of the flesh being already composed of water reduces the rate at which water deforms it (as compared to dry pasta or wood). Perhaps submerging is fine, for that period of time, and maintains its pros of low-temperature and animal prevention. On the topic of 'causing indignity' the puncturing idea would qualify to this most powerfully I believe, as compared to the head being bumped or the skin scratched whilst evacuation.
It is amazing when you think about it-- that the more one controls the deformity of a body the more at risk they are of causing it indignity, despite that their control may have been taken to preserve the dignity. As spending money to make money is no defect. While someone who leaves the body to bloat and watches it rip in the beaks of falcons receives no charge, for the reason that he did not, with his own hands, deform.
yep. it's unfortunate alright, but i suppose quite natural. thanks for your advice on this by the way-- good to be reminded about important things that get easily forgotten.
after 27 years and over 1000 codes where CPR was initiated, the save rate is very low.
For me in the stone ages I can count the saves on unwitnessed collapse on one hand.
A defibillator is handy as well as ACLS arrival in ten minutes. Not realistic for Algonquin trips.If there is a heart attack out there we used to say "dead is dead". Most codes moreover are cardiac standstill and a defib unit is of no use.
What makes a difference is rescue breathing for a drowning. Pay attention to learning that skill.
I can tell you it will decompose faster under water. I'll admit my info is second hand but it is from an OPP diver that had a great deal of experience. (I had a cool summer job working at OPP head quarters)
and when you think about it it makes sense, your fingers start to prune in, what, 15 min? We are made of eleventy skajillion (actual number) small bags of water. It's not hard to imagine that would get swollen real fast.
good idea with the note taking, morbid as it sounds it might even make sence to take some pictures.
Personally I don't think it's smart to try and take the body out (unless you are very close to the access). travel will be slowed considerably and that's even if you take the time to build some kind of streacher. That'd be at least Half a day. For me this would be the time to stow the gear and grab just the go-bag and paddle until I hit the car or decide I need sleep.
I can't think there is any reason to risk my personal safety for a freind I'm certian would rather I take care of myself in what would be a difficult time. That's what I'd want if I were dead.
ya it seems right the body accelerates decomposing in water. thanks for confirming this. and good point about the fingers pruning. eleventy skajillion sounds like a hefty number but it means nothing to me because i don't know how small these small bags are. as knowing there are twenty peanuts in a cup says nothing to me about the fullness of the cup until i know how big a peanut is.
but if i knew the size of these bags and that they fill the body, still it is not clear to me that the body decomposes rapidly in water, because i do not firstly understand the interaction between bodily water and external water that fosters rapid decomposition. i would be interested though if you know or can direct me to a site.
Tks for the reality check kayakmedic. I've never had to use my CPR training on anything but inanimate dummies, lol. Despite it's low success percentage it's still better than 0% and standing by watching the poor victim succumb without doing something - lessen the guilt feeling of inaction or inability to know what to do. Up to CPR C would include Rescue Breathing (for drownings), among the other AR techniques.
These immersion artefacts include:
1. goose-skin, or anserina cutis, which is roughening, or pimpling of the skin,
2. skin maceration, or washer-woman's skin, which is swelling and wrinkling of the skin,
3. adipocere, which is the transformation of the fatty layer beneath the skin into a soap-like
material - a process requiring many weeks or months.
The normal changes of decomposition of a body are delayed in cold, deep water so that
bodies may be surprisingly well preserved after a long period of immersion. These conditions also favour the formation of adipocere (see 1 above) which protects against decomposition.
So is this an argument for or against sinking the body?
@Preacher - Well technically the body might not "decompose" but as SM pointed out osmosis will occur saturating the cells of all your soft tissue. It might not rot but will break apart very easily. If your intention is to preserve the body until rescue arrives it would be a failure, it would be swollen and tear apart as soon as someone tried to move it (to say nothing about the cost of bringing divers all the way out there). However if all you wish to do is preserve the body for swimming visits over the next year or two while the fish slowly peck away at it, it might be the better choice.
@SM the main purpose for CPR is not recovery but maintenance. There is very little hope that someone will recover from CPR but you can use it to maintain the optimal blood/oxygen level while waiting for help to arrive with drugs and defib. It sad that so few CPR instructors explain this. I was lucky enough to have one that was an active fire fighter. His instruction was excellent because he had so much real world experience that the avg, st.john's instructor just doesn't have.
this is an argument for submersion, though it can be withheld by questions as to how cold is cold water and how deep is deep water and how long is a long period of immersion. once those values are known they can be compared to algonquin, upon which point algonquin-based submersion would be supported (or refuted) to some degree. I expect it would be supported quite strongly.
But that is not all. if that information makes any argument to our topic, its idea of what decomposition is would have to match our impressions what it is (for we spoke from our impressions). In the study decomposition was isolated from involving pimpling, swelling and wrinkling of the skin. Though these events (of the skin) are what people here (including myself) had in mind, as aspects of decomposition. But, according to the experts, decomposition is something distinct of swelling, wrinkling, and pimpling of the skin. The experts being right, anyone who thought that submersion slowed decomposition is supported (so long that their impression of decomposition did not encompass swelling and pimpling of the skin).
One thing to consider is not just what decomposition in fact means, but why we were even interested in the topic of decomposition in the first place. Because once we ask that question we will see that we wanted to preserve the body. And if we ask why we wanted to preserve the body we find ourselves upon the desire to sustain the body's familiarity; and if we ask to whom we want the body to appear familiar, we arrive at ourselves, the people who look at the body. This being the reason for our interest against decomposition, it is as well the reason for our interest against pimpling and swelling and wrinkling of the body. That these events (of the skin) were thought to be aspects of decomposition was not the basis of the discussion. The basis of the discussion was whether some kind of deformity would occur upon immersion, as opposed to being immersed in air.
I did not find in the study mention as to whether, while cold water fosters slow decomposition, it does this more slowly than lone air does it. Just because a body decomposes slowly in cold water does not mean that it would decompose slower than in warmer air. It rather means that it would decompose slower than had the body been submerged in warmer water. Though it seems reasonable to include air next to warm water.
One last note: Consider the following sentences:
These [cold, deep water] conditions also favour the formation of adipocere (see 1 above) which protects against decomposition.
adipocere, which is the transformation of the fatty layer beneath the skin into a soap-like
material - a process requiring many weeks or months.
so decomposition occurs beyond many weeks of immersion in cold deep water, as adipocere prevents it for this time period. how soon adipocere begins is not noted, so one can say that decomposition can begin before adipocere begins, but since this detail is about as important as is that adipocere prevents decomposition, that detail would be mentioned (it is assumed) if it was existent.
anyway my overall impression here is this: those who thought that submersion will prevent decomposition were quite right about it. But while submersion seems this way good, it seems to cause its own form of deformations (thought or not thought as aspects of decomposition), and they occur (at least some occur) prior to many weeks of submersion (the time it takes for decomposition to occur). They are swelling, pimpling, wrinkling and adipocere. That these occur as soon as two or three days into submersion is not stated (that is the time it takes to retrieve a body from the water, once heading for help). Though zeb earlier pointed out that wrinkling occurs in 15 minutes, which supports that swelling and wrinkling and pimpling all very well may occur somewhere in 3 days time. Though it is not known that these deformations can not fade from the body once dried (as when the body is alive). But decomposition is slowed by submersion into cold deep water, which I believe the algonquin lakes amount to. Slowed as compared to what? I think as compared to warmer water, and things that share the property of warmness, like the air. I have also seen cucumber rot more quickly out of than in the fridge.
However, nowhere in this morbid conversation has anyone considered the desires of the deceased. If we take this issue seriously, maybe travelers in the Park should get Advanced Directives from their companions, so those left behind have some guidance as to their wishes. Maybe ABR could develop a form for people to use .
I am not sure if brother John had any particular scenario in mind when he raised his question, but of all the people I know he travels with in the Park, I am probably the one most likely, by age if nothing else, to kick-off on his watch. Therefore, herewith, I give him my Advance Directive regarding the disposition of my mortal remains upon my demise in the Park.
Unless he has acquired a muscle mass previously unknown to me, I am assuming that he will not have the capacity to carry me out. So what to do with that way too heavy lump of stuff?
Not being able to anticipate all potentialities, I hereby give him permission to act according to his own discretion based upon the circumstances and risks associated with the event.
However, given my druthers in light of the above discussion, I would prefer that my remains not be sunk in watery depths or buried in a moldy swamp. Alternatively, I have always imagined that when the time came I might be reduced to ashes and spread somewhere meaningful (the hills around my home in Rossie, perhaps) or useful (Our garden comes to mind. Who can imagine a better use for good, bony ashes than feeding a tomato?).
So, my preferred option is that you wrap my carcass in whatever appropriate material is on hand and leave me in the most convenient shelter available while you seek assistance. Should critters decide to make better use of my remains in your absence, well, that is to my mind both a meaningful and useful end. Therefore, do not despair of that possibility.
In that eventuality, I also authorize the owner of the shelter to be reimbursed from my estate for the costs of its replacement, whether rendered by wildlife or not.
Great idea, Mark. Although we live about 800 meters apart in a straight line and I could almost shout my reply, it is much more fun to broadcast my response here. Little did I know how much interest this topic would generate. It has been an education. I beg to differ, however, on the actuarial estimates of my brother's "predeceasing" his only male sibling, who is almost two years and seven months older and despite having a heart murmur the doctors don't take seriously anymore came out of the womb made of much less sturdy stuff than the guy who played football and lacrosse and is still someone who can pin me to the mat ten times out of ten.
But it is better to be prepared than to find myself running in circles wondering what would Mark want me to do now. So I accept his directive and hope he will reciprocate with a similar sensible course of action if he is on the same canoe trip when I collapse on a portage in the middle of making one final cry of "Wait for me!"
Since falling in love with Algonquin Park at first stroke of the paddle, I have long fantasized about having my body dumped in the Park to feed its critters. So my directive varies in this way: take off my clothes, drag me to a place where the odor won't offend anyone, and make a leisurely paddle out to notify authorities and family. With any luck all anyone will find are a few bones to take home to my dog.
Which brings me to upcoming the White Partridge Express. Since weight and volume of gear is not as much a problem as it is on an ordinary interior trip, maybe we should bring along one or two body bags, which would be especially handy should one of us die early in the week. No need to rush back or ruin a good sleeping bag and tent.
contrary to the output here, i think that considerations were made as to the the preferences of the deceased. I know that it was my second thought-- the first being, if you pack it in pack it out. As awful as that sounds. Of course that is the light way of really saying-- this person, a friend, should not rot in this foul place like this (so be sure to pack him/her out). Though considerations as to their desires strike important when we're stuck on what to do with them, that very inquiry is often difficult to resolve, as corpses tend to trouble with conversation So what happens is, instead of a gamble on someone else's will, we play the safe card-- the one that correlates with our automatic feelings, which are, i believe, most generally, to not abandon the person with whom you just sipped tea and shared the fire light. That he/she is now a corpse has little bearing on this kind of loyalty or disposition. They are their body, and that body is now instead of upright flat. We are people that see sorrow in the bare twigged tree, excitement in sparks jumped from the fire, loneliness in snow packing below our boot -- no oddity it is that we maintain his spirit in his sudden corpse. So, automatically I would tend to pack him out because automatically it is uncomfortable to imagine him there left in the moonlight. Rolling him off his face is done not to prevent him from suffocation, nor is fixing the crookedness of his limbs to avoid him cramps at night: these are little gestures that have not extinguished with the life that has (as a kind of inertia, or as a response to some kind of higher reason). No different is carrying him home. That's beautiful. That is why it was upsetting to hear about then being charged with causing indignity. --By people with whom the person on your back shared the faintest relationship. Anyway, just as you say, his/her desires as to what with their body happens is of absolute importance. I don't mean it is important, but that I would end up feeling it is important. Had it been known what these desires were, no doubt our tendency would be to satisfy them, and not do things like bring them home (assuming that was not the desire). But we bring them home because we often do not know what their desires are, and our decision thus resorts to automatic care. I wonder if one could get charged with causing indignity if they slipped a body into the lake because the person whose body it was asked so before they died? Perhaps you would end up with a lucky littering fee. Though that charge itself should be charged with indignity And most likely this activity of bottoming your friend in a deep lake would inspire a more or less wide-spread suspicion as to what really happened that night. I can very much appreciate the desire to have one's own remains in a place like the wilderness though. And great idea about pre-arrangements made, as to what to do with our bodies! I agree that we should get a chart rolling for this, here on AA.
ps- kayamedic that idea about the ashes spread in the birch bark canoe then burnt whole is incredible. what a way to go! id almost try that if i was a cat.
John, much of what you typed in your last post mirrored my thoughts on the issue. When I think of my own mortality, and hope that I can have some control over when and where I go, I often hope to end my earthly life in Algonquin Park. This idea came from what I'd heard about far northern First Peoples, who leave their families and paddle or wander out to die when they sense that they are a burden. I probably don't have all of the details correct, but the thought of slipping away to a peaceful place, and not having the relatives see me waste away attached to machines is ideal. We bring bodies back home so that the friends and family can honor the memory of that person. That makes a lot of sense when someone dies on foreign soil in wartime, or even in a hospital close to home. But if someone dies in a wilderness-type area, doing what they love, it seems fitting that their remains join the ecosystem they so enjoyed. I don't think AP is such a foul place, Alex, and wouldn't mind my corpse joining the food chain there. Of course, if the Park changes for the worse in my lifetime, that could also change my wishes.
Rory, you touch on another important topic that most folks don't want to think about--suicide in old age. I agree--the Park would be the perfect place. Because death is no problem for the dead, it is the living who play the hardest role. Contemporary industrialized, largely urban society has no widely accepted rituals to sanctify euthanasia and make it an honorable alternative while a person is still conscious and rational. Something I think about more often as death gets closer--although it rides on everyone's shoulder 24/7.
I can appreciate what you have said about being burden upon the closing of your life, and wanting to avoid being this. And also, that when someone dies in the wild and loves the wild, it seems fit to leave them there. As Mark pointed, the desires of the deceased are of great importance, along considerations of what to do with a body.
When i said that algonquin is a foul place, i meant not this as a matter of fact, or even as my own sure feelings about the park. Rather, i meant it as from the mind involved in moving or not moving a standard body (i spoke as from that mind in action). Standard being one whose person has not disclosed their desire upon death (a friend or stranger).
Under them conditions, we stand there by the body thinking on what to do. And our default is (i do believe) not to imagine up their will, nor to reason that since they love trips this is where they belong to stay. That is not our business. I think what we actually do is resort to automatic care, which is causing the body changes (of location, of posture, etc), according to our basic instinct and ethic.
And by basic instinct I mean we do things for the body that are fundamental to its needs. Though the body is a corpse we are not good at corpsing the needs we think it has. We do things like straighten the arms that are crooked, or pull the body out of a hole that its half fell into, or blanket it, or carry it out from being abandoned and exposed to the loneliness and wickedness of wilderness (to the foulness-- like the foulness of his arms bent crooked behind his back). I called these gestures, and I still think that is what they are.
But compare these fundamental needs (be them illusions or not) to advanced needs like the body being burnt into the wilderness or decomposed under a lake or simply left in the forests naked to rot. Those needs are quite different in the way that they are produced by the person's special desire or fantasy-- something that has been thought of and chosen consciously by them. It is their preference or taste. It is the kind of need that others could not anticipate.
And that is why there was little mention in this thread as to this aspect of death. However, crooked arms getting corrected or bare bodies blanketed or fragile bodies carried home are needs that can be anticipated (for these needs are more or less patterned among us). And that is why people wrote on carrying bodies out more than leaving them there to stay for good: Our instinct is not to imagine they have some kind of fantasy of becoming the breath of the wilderness; our instinct is to protect and treat the body sort of as if the person was still inside.
What I have said above concerns a very specific part of the process of handling a corpse. Mostly concerned with the natural relation between the corpse and the handler, independent of any other force. But in the real world other forces exist: we think of police and of the family and of leave no trace. We think of helping the Park and its visitors, and about our own safety, etc.
And if we were previously informed by the deceased about their wishes upon death, we would think about this to. And of course, once knowing what their wish was, it matters as much as their crooked arm, and more. But until that point, we automatically care. And that branch refuses to think on what the fantasy (of their death spot) might be. It looks no farther than to the fundamental needs there are to human bodies (and spirit). Be this adventure illusory or not. Even the courts feel it. They think it's possible to cause a corpse indignity.
John, I guess I wasn't thinking of it as suicide, since I never imagined paddling out to the middle of a lake and intentionally dumping, or some other way of intentionally choosing the minute of my death. Rather, I would like to enjoy natural surroundings and trip to the extent of my physical abilities until exertion or some unforeseen accident took me. Perhaps just drifting off to sleep and not waking up. It could take weeks, or months, but however long they would be some of the best days of my life. I have had a few close relatives endure painful last days hooked up to life-support machines. At some point, the doctors know recovery is pretty much impossible. I don't think that knowing the exact second one's heart stops is worth having your family watch you waste away. But I guess I'm just against the flow on this topic.
Alex, I get what you've explained. Overall, if a death occurs amongst a group of younger trippers, I doubt if anyone will actually criticize the survivors if they leave the body or try to carry it out.
This is such a difficult topic, but I would definately write down and photograph absolutely everything so that the legal aspect could be taken care of, or at least made easier. The last thing I would want would be to have to go through countless inquiries.
This would definately be the time when a SPOT would come in handy, that way you can call emergency sources to you, rather than leave a body alone or try and take it with you. I will definately buy one of these, but the question is when will I?
If I didn't have one, I would probaby photograph/record everything there, so that I could prove it was not me. If I was less than two full days from an access, I would take the body with me, because I would regret so baldy leaving it behind, and keep wondering what would be happening to it.
I will most likely, however, canoe trip to cabins, and if I was at a cabin, I would not feel so bad. I would wrap the body in a tarp and keep it mouse-proof so that I could get help.
If I was more than two days away, I still wouldn't leave it. I would probably put up a flag, or yell for help, or search for a road and leave a sign saying that a member of our party is deceased.
I will never be in a highly-traveled area, so it would not be easy, hence why I want to get a SPOT.
Take everything as it comes; the wave passes, deal with the next one. -Tom Thomson
With Trainman's response of the cabin situation, it crossed my mind that it would be quite un-nerving if you held a reservation for a week at a cabin and the previous group experienced and expired member of their party on the last day...so they wrap him up, neat and tidy, in a tarp and tuck him into bed and then begin their day or two journey to get assistance.
Meanwhile, you arrive at the cabin for your week of R & R and come in and find the corpse and a note...
The closest I could find was W (Whiskey)... "I require medical assistance."
It would be appropriate if you were traveling solo and were incapacitated .. or had to leave a member of your party behind to go for help .. all-the-more important if it involved no particular location, away from a campsite or portage. If you were hoping for passers-by to come and help, it would be best hung from a tree. If you were anticipating a search helicopter, it would serve better to lay it out on an exposed flat rock slab.
But this all raises the question .. do most canoeists know this flag from a hole in the wall? I confess, I didn't!
It's relatively easy to arrange rocks on a beach in an "S.O.S.". But that wouldn't be very visible. And what if there were only bushes and trees surrounding the area? Hopefully, a flag could be strung up to be somewhat visible from both the water and overhead. However, if no-one would recognize its message, what's the point?
Obviously a large black-on-fluorescent pink "S.O.S." spelt-out flag would do the trick. But, it would have to be large enough to be legible and discernible from a hung-out drying towel.
I came across this company that produces some sort of collapsable "SOS" flag ..http://sosflag.com/
I've never though to carry any "flag", except a large green-and-white tarp "A-flag" to hang on the waterfront at the 2007 "AA" gathering on Booth Lake. Does anyone carry an emergency flag on a canoe trip, or materials that could be used to assemble a "flag" or marker?
Barry's question, or topic, of an SOS flag or some other kind of distress flag is interesting. Groups of three seems to be the universal method of signaling distress (as mentioned on the back of the Canoe Routes Map). I remember testing this once in Algonquin:
It was about 30 years ago, I was a boy on an organized week long trip of about 15 people (I don't remember how we dealt with the 9 per campsite restriction or if that even existed back then...). One day we were in the lake swimming and playing on the inflatable mattresses we used to use. A ministry plane was spotted on patrol and one of the adults suggested we form the mattresses into a triangle form to see if the plane took notice on the basis it would be a distinct "3" signal. I recall thinking this was silly idea, that the plane surely would not notice or understand the triangle, but we formed a the shape nonetheless... To my surprise the plane altered its course and circled over us, we quickly dispersed the shape and waved (in a calm and non-frantic manner) as is orbited, it actually worked! I felt a pang of guilt and fear that we, the kids, had done something to get us into trouble by attracting the pilot's attention, and at the same learned a valuable safety lesson. As I look back I am still amazed of the pilot's attentiveness, we must have been a relatively small object to identify.
I mention this incident as it highlights the possibility of signaling for help with relative ease with the use of objects at hand; as long as those who see that signal understand what it means.
Interesting place to go with this conversation. I hadn't thought about personal wishes though I think it's because in a situation like that with one person dead the priority becomes the safety of the living.
This is probably due to having no personal affection for my body after I'm dead, I've signed away all my parts for whatever purpose science can use it for. Donate the organs, use the tissue for research and whatever's left over I hope it gets used in a really cool med school prank. I literally feel no sentimentality. A death in the bush means no possibility of donation so in that case to really stick with my wishes my partners must document the decomposition as best as possible. Photo's from multiple angles at regular intervals. I carry an 8 gig memory card so that should help.
But that is an unreasonable task IMO. If something happens to me get yourself out. The only acts I want you to take in regards to my body are ones that will not interfere with your safety (don't drag me home) and will make you feel better about leaving me behind (if you sleep better after sacrificing your tent then so be it). But I repeat, the security of the living bodies takes all priority over my dead body.
But it could be worse. I have a friend that would need to be in the ground within two days and then no fewer than 10 bar-mitzva'd men for the week of daily prayers to follow.
That's a pretty esoteric bit of knowledge. I wouldn't expect help to come soon or anyone to know. Depending where you go, it's more likely to be taken as a political statement if it's understood at all.
Formerly Foxco, Now dmf (Login Foxco) AA Forum Group
Re: When Someone Dies in the Park
January 19 2010, 11:10 AM
It's always best to prepare yourself for any and all emergencies - or, at least, to equip yourself as well as you can.
I've had many conversations with my sons over the years about an ounce of caution/prevention being worth a pound of cure when we're on a trip. Even the slightest injury that might only need a few stitches could turn quite serious when you're a couple of portages away from help.
My paddling companions are my wife, and for a year or two more, perhaps, my sons, and our dogs. If I was just paddling with my wife, as much as I love her and as much as she's tremedously fit, I won't be carrying her back if she succumbs to something; nor would I expect her to. Your own personal safety has to be paramount in such a situation - it needs to be even in the case of a serious injury on the part of your partner.
In the event of such a scenarios as has been desicribed here, my plans would include the following:
1. If we were on a beach site, try the 3 fires signal. Make the fire extra smoky by piling on evergreen boughs - have a pile ready in case a plane goes by. Les Stround did that on one of the pre-Survivorman shows he did on Discovery. I think it's worth breaking the cutting live trees law for that.
2. If that doesn't succeed, pack what's needed, and go. Hang the pack if it would be a burden - the last thing we would need would be a bear poking its nose around. If possible, make some types of piles-of-3-rocks or something.
3. I always take a pad of sketching paper, so I would leave notes at the campsite, and at the start and end of each portage I encountered. The notes would detail the date/time, where the body was, where I was headed, the time I was there, etc.
4. Take care of my own safety - don't push it, stay close to shore in windy conditions, stay well hydrated. Don't take any unecessary risks. The dogs would be with me, so that's another consideration. They would be great company at a time like that, anyway, and would give me something to keep my thoughts occupied with something other than the obvious.
I have thought about this very situation many, many times. It sure makes buying a SPOT a great idea.
Call me lazy, but YES, I would use the Spot. No matter how you slice it, the emergency signal will get out almost instantly, while packing out could take hours if not days. I'd be utterly shocked if SPOT didn't consider a death an emergency situation worthy of a search and rescue.
Besides, after going through something like that, cound my "sences" really be trusted to do anything really safe or productive.
I didn't know whether to add this to the death thread or the first aid thread. Campmor (www.campmor.com) of New Jersey has in their latest catalog two different emergency bags, one weighing 7 oz. ($29.99) and one 4 oz. ($10.99) The heavier one seems as though it would be excellent as not only an emergency shelter but also a way to seal a dead body. We can add that to the SOS flag and the other five kilos of survival gear needed to comfort us when our backs give out.