They say everything old becomes new again. For centuries our American ancestors chose to bury their beloved dead in simple wooden caskets, lowering the body into holes dug into the earth and letting nature take its course.
Now a group of North Fork Valley folks are determined to make this simple option readily available once more. Their new nonprofit is Wild Sage Natural Burial Preserve.
The math is basic: Each year conventional burials consume 20 million board feet of hardwoods, add 4.3 million tons of embalming fluid containing carcinogenic formaldehyde to the earth, use 1.6 million tons of concrete for vaults, and require 17,000 tons of copper and bronze as well as 62,500 tons of steel. A single conventional burial produces 250 pounds of carbon, while a green burial sequesters 25 pounds over time.
Imagine a different way of death, where your body is lovingly prepared for its final journey by those who cared about you in life. Imagine a different kind of cemetery, a green burial preserve where the land is left as unchanged as possible, a nature sanctuary that is also the final resting place for individuals memorialized by a flat stone or living vegetation. (GPS coordinates register each of the deceased for posterity.)
“Many people prefer the clean simplicity of a shroud, or a cardboard or untreated pine box as was in use not so long ago,” states Carolyn Ringo, a founding member of Wild Sage, “rather than embalming and the use of non-biodegradable materials. More and more people want to be as environmentally-conscious about what happens to their remains as they do about their actions during their life.”
Ringo is one of seven individuals who spearhead the effort to create a green burial preserve in the North Fork Valley. The group includes a retired attorney, a chaplain for HopeWest Hospice, a web designer, the manager of a conventional cemetery, a career writer with a background in social work, a certified Death Midwife and Home Funeral Guide, and the president of the board for North Fork Senior Connections. All are committed to protecting the environment and providing an earth-friendly alternative to industry-standard burial.
Since spring Wild Sage has worked hard on plans to offer “wrap-around care,” with pre-death planning, post-death care of the body, memorial services and navigation of paperwork. Bethlehem Cemetery is now full and Cedar Hill nearly so, and the Wild Sage committee is seeking sufficient land to provide a preserve with trails open to the public, a portion of which would be a green burial place in perpetuity. Their concept includes handicapped access and affordability as well as the opportunity to connect with nature.
Most green burial cemeteries develop a reciprocal relationship with land trusts, offering tax credits to the landowners while protecting water, soil, and wildlife, and formalizing an easement so the land won’t be developed. If you or someone you know owns an appropriate piece of land that would benefit from such an arrangement, contact Janice Thorup at firstname.lastname@example.org
Silver Sage Natural Burial Preserve wants to offer a serene resting place for loved ones that will also honor the environmental integrity of our Valley. It’s a circling back to the old way of looking at end-of-life, when families and friends cared for their dead and returned them gently to the earth. You can learn far more about green burial when the Silver Sage Natural Burial Preserve committee offers an absorbing presentation at 6:30 p.m on Tuesday, Dec. 7 at Paonia Town Hall.