‘Being the Smoke’: One Man’s Choice to Be Cremated Under the Open Sky

About 70 people have been cremated at the pyre in Crestone since it opened more than a decade ago.

Ruth Graham writes for the New York Times on Dr. Philip Incao’s cremation at Crestone, Colorado, which is currently the site of the only outdoor funeral pyre in the USA:

Dr. Incao’s ceremony began with family members and friends laying juniper branches and flowers on the body. Incense burned in a terra cotta pot tended by a volunteer, while others added logs until they were piled above the rim of the pyre. Then Jennifer and Dr. Incao’s sons lit large sticks in the incense pot and ignited the pyre together.

As the fire started to burn, Sylvan put his arm around Sebastian. A harpist played a tune as the flames crackled. Quentin wiped tears from his eyes, from smoke or emotion or both.

Smoke billowed thickly for about 10 minutes, and died down. By then, fire was putting off enough heat to warm the circle. Flaky ashes swirled in the air, which smelled of incense.

A “threshold choir,” which specializes in singing for the dying, performed some of the tunes they had sung for Dr. Incao in his last few months. “Safe passage, pilgrim of the spirit,” they sang. “We are all just walking each other home.”

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