Hanging Rock State Park
These days, easiest is to send the nutrients into the sky with flames. But some people are using death to save forests. The current natural-burial movement was started in England. There they have an Association of Natural Burial Grounds, which has developed approved procedures and standards. Members of the association even lobby government agencies to change existing regulations so natural burial will be easier. The first natural-burial site in the United Kingdom was opened in 1993, and just thirteen years later there were 215 natural-burial grounds there. Some of them are operated for profit, but many of them are nonprofit organizations. Around the world people are trying to protect forests, and making them burial sites is one way to do so. In an effort to let one forest return to old growth, a group of friends in Wales joined together to buy eight acres of formerly logged forest.
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As time passes, the burial ground will become a more diverse nature reserve, where the bereaved experience the peace of the trees as they remember those they have lost. The unobtrusive graves, marked by natural stone, wooden memorials and specifically planted trees, will, over decades, fade into the forest background without becoming lost. By being buried in this way, we can continue even after death to help preserve the wonder of life in all its diversity. It is never too late to contribute to the environment.
It is the intention of the original investors that the land never be sold, the bodies never be moved, and the trees never again be cut. This small forest is not only for burials; besides being a haven for wildlife, it is also open to anyone who would just like to take a walk in the woods.
Blue Ridge Parkway
In the United States, the natural-burial movement is much younger and much smaller. Here it is usually called “green burial.” The first green-burial cemetery site in the United States opened in 1998. By 2006 six states had them, and by 2009 a dozen states had green-burial sites. Land trusts and other conservation organizations are beginning to pay attention and to consider offering green burials as a way to both preserve natural land and to provide a service for their members.
Dan requested cremation. He wasn’t a very green guy anyway. He was one of those who thought that Rachel Carson, responsible for the banning of DDT, should have minded her own business. You can imagine that he was somewhat conflicted about my view of the world. I accepted his choice. We should all have choices. I prefer an end for my body that will be part of the Earth’s recovery process. I dedicate this flesh to beauty and diversity. But make it as easy for yourself as possible. Life is for the living.
And here I was living it. I was finally, finally here! And there really were towering trees and clear streams tumbling over cracked rocks, and ferns and moss and trillium and rhododendron. Perhaps if my trip hadn’t been delayed for years, this writing project would not have had the time to germinate and take root in me as it did.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
The moist grove was absolutely lovely, but I was not the only one here. The parking lot was humming with motorcycles, cars, and people. Just as I started up the trail, a group of fifteen children of assorted ages, accompanied by chaperones, started up the trail, too. Some visitors might have been disappointed by all the people, but after visiting many empty old-growth forests I was pleased to see this one being appreciated. As we entered the forest, a girl at the end of the string of children, who appeared to be about eleven years old, said to the adult accompanying her: “This is just like I remembered it in my dreams.”
I was looking at every little thing, as usual, and the children got ahead of me on the trail. Later I passed them when they stopped for a water break.
What do you think you’re standing in? I wanted to say, but I held my tongue and reassured him that he was almost there.
Ahead there was a plaque dedicating the forest to the poet Joyce Kilmer, “until time shall be no more.” Kilmer is famous for his Tree poem, which many school children, including me, were required to memorize: “I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree…” Unfortunately, Kilmer never got to see his forest. He was killed in World War I. I assume it was this plaque the chaperone was heading for.
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