by: Eric Schnieder
Eco, friendly burials let people become one with the earth.
About 15 miles southwest of Ithaca, New York, off a country road in the state's placid Finger Lakes region, a lovely expanse of hilltop meadow is punctuated by occasional clusters of trees. It is the kind of spot that is ideal for a leisurely hikeùa place that quietly and gently asserts the beauty and simplicity of nature.
This peaceful setting is also a cemetery, a fact that might be lost on anyone who misses the subtle markers that designate the area as a burial ground. There is not a stone in sight: no monuments, no mausoleums, no statues, no tombstones. All that meets the eye is the flora and fauna of the field and the forest. This is Greensprings— or, as the charmingly rustic sign announces, "A Natural Burial Preserve.”
Greensprings is one of a growing number of cemeteries across the United States that has wholly embraced the concept of "green burials," an alternative to conventional interment methods that does not use embalming chemicals and only incorporates ecofriendly, biodegradable materials.
Mary Woodsen, president of Greensprings and a science writer at nearby Cornell University, explains that there are generally three kinds of people who want natural burials. About half the clients are from a "traditional 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust' background"; others want to keep things simple, often citing cost as a key issue. Not surprisingly, the last group comprises environmentally conscious people. "The greenies are strong;' Woodsen says. Of course,
these rationales can, and do, easily overlap, but the ecofriendly aspect of green burial is certainly one of its main draws.
Few people know about the growing popularity of ecofriendly burials better than Joe Sehee, executive director of the Green Burial Council in Santa Fe, New Mexico (www. greenburialcouncil.org), who has been promoting the idea of green cemeteries across the country. "For many, getting in sync with the natural cycle of life, death, decay and rebirth provides a great deal of solace;' Sehee says. The GBC has more than 140 approved providers nationally, up from a handful in 2008.
Every year burials in the nation's 22,500 conventional cemeteries result in approximately 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid being placed into the earth, along with 90,272 tons of steel and more than 30 million board feet of hardwoods (much of it from tropical varieties) in the form of caskets, according to Greensprings. And while cremation has long been considered a more environmentally conscious option as opposed to conventional burial, the process uses a surprising amount of energy per person— the equivalent of driving nearly 5,000 miles. What's more, cremation releases trace amounts of harmful mercury into the air. Cremation does not quite qualify as green, according to green burial proponents.
Green burial allows you to "return to the earth naturally and become part of your surroundings," says Theresa Kay Purcell, the Minnesota chapter president of Trust for Natural Legacies, Inc., which is currently developing that state's first green cemetery. Though such a natural approach to death may seem radical in a society accustomed to embalmment, opencasket viewing and lavish funeral arrangements, it actually is in line with the traditions of past centuries. "I believe that a lot of people are realizing that this is not a new idea;' Purcell notes. "In the grand scheme of things, natural burial is what we have always done up until the past 100 years or so, when embalming became popular."
The green burial movement is starting to gain more recognition, according to Sehee. "The [Green Burial] Council has been working hard to engage the conventional deathcare industry," he says. "We've been invited by every major trade association to educate their membership on ways to embrace more environmentally sustainable practices and products:' Adding to the interest shown by industry, Sehee explains, is the enhanced credibility that comes with having input from leading authorities in the fields of restoration ecology, sustainable landscape design, conservation management and consumer affairs in creating the GBC standards.
By attending to these elements in the planning of burial sites, green cemeteries can provide much more than just resting places that don't pollute their surroundings. Such burial grounds can also benefit the earth by maintaining open space and by protecting natural habitats for both wildlife and native plants. Woodsen says Greensprings manages its land as if it were a nature preserve.
Sehee notes that the GBC determines any biological, geological and hydrological constraints on the land "so that burial will never degrade an ecosystem:' In addition, he maintains that a conservation easement or deed restriction must be utilized to ensure that a green cemetery "never devolves into anything else:'
A growing number of people want to live lightly upon the earth. The green burial movement lets them carry that intention to its logical conclusion in settings of beauty and peace.
— Eric Schnieder
by:: Hansel Z Clydesdale
Industry in America is relentless. As in any battle, the ridiculousness of Y2K, was challenged by me from the very beginning to the very end. Tickets to a Cirque duSoliel production of Allegria!, which was very poorly attended, was my final “in your face” gesture to the fear and dread.
My battle cry: "American Industry is far too greedy to let a date code, hard wired into a computer chip get in the way of commerce!"
The Y2K fear mongers were like mice who were saying, “If the fabled Lion ever gets a splinter in his paw...” Foolishness. Lunacy of the highest order. Take rest in the comfort that we rest in beds made by Serta. Our air is conditioned by Rheem, drive a Toyota. We eat organic foods, wear designer clothes, live in the ‘west end’, there is no limit to what we have been told is the rite thing to do.
People expect to see me in my “uniform.” Rarely do I stray from khaki shorts and black T-shirt. Even the logo that I had designed for the business that I have given my life to is now understated... black— embroidered on black. Subtle. Beautiful.
When there is nothing left, the least appealing thought, is that my body continues to feed industry. Fancy coffins, concrete vaults (that leak, but who complains), especially the invasion of embalming and perish the thought, an autopsy— violations of the highest order!
“Let your body return to earth” screamed at me when this article crossed my path. How appealing! A fan of the book Deaths Acre, the foundation for the sensational and silly CSI programs, put the graphic thought into my head. Allow my body to return to the earth. It’s more like allow the earth to reclaim my body. Since my mother drank gallons of carrot juice when she was expecting me, it would seem appropriate that I be planted in a carrot patch— give back, so to speak. I liked the idea very much.
I queried a client, Ky Griffin of Stringer & Griffin Funeral Home in Jasper, TX, about this whole crazy proposition. “Oh, that’s... I know what that is, wooden casket, no metal holding it together... that’s... a Jewish Orthodox Burial. No embalming. Very simple. Have you ever smelled a body after two days without embalming?”
Even the article in Energy Times implies a lot of industry... natural embalming and so forth. I don’t want to be green, I want my grave to collapse the way it did 100 years ago. Let my ashes return to “ashes” and let my body nourish the very earth that nourished it for so many years. Frankincense and murre were among the gifts presented to the Christ child at His birth. Burial spices. That may not be bad. But once again, let it be known: I prefer Patchouli!
So my mind rests. Such a thing is available. Do they check to see if you are a card carrying member of a synagogue when they find what’s left? Who knows, and how do I make my wishes clear? I will already be wearing what I want to be buried in, so you don’t even need to change my clothes. Just find me a nice sunshiny spot where carrots and flowers can grow. I hereby declare these are my wishes: A Jewish Orthodox Burial. This is the most sensible way of going that I have seen, or not seen. Allow the earth to reclaim what is hers. Allow nature to take it’s course and realize that I am grateful for every day of life I have been given. I am grateful for every moment that I have been allowed to use this clay vessel, shaped by The Creator Himself, and given the breath of life. When I pass on, I have no attachment to something that was never mine to begin with. Oh, and don’t wait two days... get it over with!