Leslie Jocelyn Aickin   1947 ~ 20??   “She loved the Earth, and now the earth is loving her right back.”  

Feature photo courtesy of mainelyurns.com

I’m old.  I’m going to die.  Probably not this year, but it’s going to happen.

Will I leave this world a little better for having lived in it?  Will I have been forgiven my trespasses as I have forgiven those who have trespassed against me?  Will I ever have lost those extra few pounds?  I don’t have a clue.  But I hope that my final resting place will be somewhere in this lovely and fascinating corner of the world where I’ve lived most of my life. And I hope to have a stone marker at that place because I know it will weather away with time, just as I am now weathering away.

Some might say that burial thoughts are a bit morbid, but I don’t say that.  I’ve taken care to come to terms with dying and death.  My paperwork is in order and I am (mostly) peaceful and at ease.  I certainly have no interest in living beyond all my friends and family.

So, I’m going to die and there will be a body.  Hmmm…what to do with the body?  I’ve considered donating parts of it to medical research and having the rest cremated (check out MedCure at https://medcure.org), or just cremating the whole thing (check out Kosec Funeral Home and Crematory at https://www.kosecfh.com).  Or, for about $5,500, I could be composted back into soil at a Recompose facility (check this out at https://www.recompose.life).

But there may soon be another option right here at home—a locally owned and operated green burial service!  Our own Jefferson Land Trust will soon be considering whether or not to proceed with establishing a local, certified, green-burial cemetery that would also serve to restore distressed land.  If this should come to pass and I choose to be buried there, my body would decompose or recompose (what graceful words!) as I feed the earth that has fed me and would help to restore the distressed land, all under the protection of the Land Trust.  For me, such a burial would be a perfect reflection of the best of my life…simple, grounded, and of use in this world.

Unlike a conventional burial, a green burial (sometimes called a natural burial) wouldn’t include embalming fluids or cosmetology or a concrete grave liner or a casket to delay my decomposition.  Instead, my body would probably be wrapped in a shroud, perhaps lying on a biodegradable platform or in a long, woven basket. And here’s the best part—in my 3’-to-4’ deep grave, my body would lie directly in contact with the earth.

For some people, such a burial has a pretty big ick-factor; I know it did for me when I first learned about green burials.  But then I saw the film, “Fantastic Fungi”, at the Rose Theater (thank you, Rocky) and I realized how exquisitely beautiful and essential fungus is in helping all of life return to the elements so they can re-emerge in some new form.  Quite suddenly, I moved from “ick” to “what a privilege to make my final nest in the arms of the living earth!”

So I’ve moved from being a theoretical supporter of green burials (so politically correct) to being a possible future customer.  There could still be a burial service or a memorial service and these could be largely created by my family and friends (remember…I don’t plan to outlive them all).  There can still be a marker of some sort to help guide a visitor to my gravesite.  And there will be earth and trees and shrubs and rocks and flowers and birds and critters all around.

But if I die tomorrow, I’m out of luck.  For years, folks have been encouraging the Jefferson Land Trust to provide conservation burials—green burials on lands protected by a conservation entity, such as a land trust.  The idea is to support sustainable cemetery management practices while restoring and protecting the ecology of the land. In the words of Jefferson Land Trust Executive Director Richard Tucker and Conservation Burial Committee chair Lucas Hart: “This is a great opportunity to satisfy the community’s desire for alternative end-of-life options and restoring and conserving our forest lands.” 

One scenario under consideration by the Conservation Burial Committee is to use distressed, high-quality land as home to a Conservation Burial Wildland Cemetery. Restoration would be a critical part of the mission and, by choosing such a burial, my legacy would be to contribute to healing the land both with my funds paid for services and with my body.  Restoration of distressed land could be as minimal as the removal of invasive plants or reworking a clear cut area to provide a meadow for graves.  Other lands might benefit from replanting native species as the land is re-wilded and restored to a natural state.

But it’s early days in the Land Trust process and other alternatives for land choices could arise as the Committee addresses considerations about public health and safety, soil dampness and drainage rates, space for a parking lot and ADA-compliant public access to the graves, an assurance of meeting all best-practices standards, and either using land already owned by the Land Trust or beginning a capital campaign to purchase suitable land.

And if I do decide to go with cremation?  My cremation would only yield about as much CO2 as my car emits when I drive 750 miles and, while I’d rather not generate another carbon emission as my parting legacy, I could choose cremation, as have many others in Jefferson County.  For those who prefer cremation, the Land Trust Board has already committed to planning for the creation of a Memorial Forest—a natural woodland for returning my ashes (cremains) to the earth with the land protected in perpetuity by the Land Trust.  No urn involved, just scattering my ashes on the ground and covering them with a dusting of earth.  How nice to know that folks could come to visit, pay their respects, and enjoy the serenity of a conserved forest!

Green burial or a scattering of ashes.  Either way, there will be three basic processes.

Cemetery services: providing the cemetery and memorial forest, opening and closing a grave for a burial, and perpetual conservation protection.  The Jefferson Land Trust is very well able to accomplish all this.

Body care and services: body transport and care, cremation or internment preparation, and transport to the cemetery or memorial forest.  These may best be provided by a partner, such as a local funeral-cremation service.

Ancillary services: coordination with family, friends, clergy; assistance with an obituary, options for body preparation, and creation of a service at the site.  Here there are some tantalizing possibilities for another partner that could include shroud-sewers, woodworkers, weavers, flower growers, writers, grief counselors.  Perhaps a new local business?

Cost?  Without a lot of expensive trimmings, a cremation and ash scattering could be around $2,000 and a grave burial around $3,000.  Don’t hold me to this.  If necessary, the cost of new land acquisition could have an impact.  When?  The Memorial Forest for ashes will likely be created fairly soon.  And if the Land Trust Board gives the go-ahead, a Conservation Burial Wildland Cemetery for graves could be created within 5 years.

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  I’m okay with that.  I hope that the Jefferson Land Trust will be able to bring conservation burials to us…and before I die.  Right now, the Land Trust is doing a survey to begin assessing the need and desire for conservation burials.  Just go to  saveland.org/cbsurvey   and complete their survey.  Please!  Those results and all the many challenges and opportunities inherent in such an undertaking (Ouch! Get it?) will be considered this December by the Land Trust Board.  My hope is that they will choose the path that will someday lead to my final resting place in a lovely and protected place of earth and trees and shrubs and rocks and flowers and birds and critters all around.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Very helpful article. I would like to add something.
    Funerals are for the living. The dead are gone. Having been a genealogist for over 25 years I know about death. Each generation seems to redefine what will happen when we die. My ancestors have done it all, from being wrapped in a shroud and buried on the family farm, to elaborate funerals. Other cultures have their own rituals and beliefs. To me personally, death is a part of life. A beginning and an ending like everything in nature. There is one thing that I will insist on and you should also, write an obituary before you die. Then you can tell future generations who you were. Be sure and give some information such as when you were born, where, who your parents were. Tell your story briefly, but include information that you want people to know about you. You will be doing this for the future generations. Your descendants will thank you.

  2. Thanks for the article. There is a cooperative funeral home for the greater Seattle area. https://funerals.coop/ Not only is it a cooperative business, meaning democratic management, lower prices, and all of that, but they have green burial options and they buy carbon offsets.
    They are about to offer aquamation, which has just become legal in Washington State. Aquamation, also called alkaline hydrolysis, uses water, temperature, pressure, and alkalinity to reduce the body to bones which are then processed into “ashes” and returned to the family in an urn.

  3. Thank you for the heads up, Leslie. I appreaciated the info on the carbobn stomp footprint of creamation being equivalant to driving a family car ~750 miles. That obviously goes up if one is significantly over weight. However,assuming that is an average, that is a significant aqmount of CO2/generation. Especially when any is already too much. I have long thought that a solar power Creamnatorium would be a good business opportunity. Especially assuming the volital gasses given off burning fat were recycled into closed loop electrical generation.

  4. I too am excited to see what the Land Trust will create for our final resting places. There is a woman in Port Townsend who has a small business with a heartfelt vision of harvesting and weaving willow into beautiful coffins, “vessels” as she calls them. For more information about her work, go to her website at https://www.woventhresholds.com

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