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Bury me naturally

On nature

POSTED: December 27, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Here’s an idea to ponder. How does even our death affect the environment?
The other morning, running, I passed a large truck on its way to the neighborhood graveyard hauling a vault, followed by another truck transporting a backhoe. I got to thinking about how much fossil fuel is used for a funeral, and we all know that fossil fuel emissions are destroying the atmosphere.
That’s not all. The body was going to be filled with embalming fluid and placed in a metal casket, and decorated with plastic flowers.
The cemetery itself was planted with grass and immaculately groomed. So-called perpetual care causes more pollution – all that mowing and applications of biocides around graves.
Soil and water around cemeteries are contaminated by varnishes, preservatives and sealants leaking from caskets and vaults, as well as from carcinogenic formaldehyde and arsenic contained in embalming fluid.
Compare today’s funeral to one a hundred years ago. A family washed and sat with a body, built a wooden casket, and dug and covered the grave. Cemeteries were beautiful resting spots, growing with native trees. Markers were hand-hewn from local rock or from wood.
To avoid the toxicity of burial, some of us choose to be cremated. Yet, a cremation uses about as much energy as a person would use at home in a month, and pollutes the air with mercury and dioxins.
A friend recently sent me a paper titled “Toxic Burials: The Final Insult.” He had scribbled in the margin, “A subject that needs addressing in the U.S.” Then, at a benefit this fall, a woman handed me a brochure. Beth Collins and her business partner are establishing Summerland Natural Cemetery, in east Bibb County, near Macon.
This cemetery is modeled after the successful and visionary Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina, which provides green burials. There, bodies are buried, unembalmed, in biodegradable caskets directly in the earth, or ashes are scattered in a beautiful woodland. The preserve is as natural as possible, with a few trails. Memorial stones are small and unobtrusive.
In these memorial ecosystems, nature is preserved and restored.
All of us care about the kind of world we bequeath to our grandchildren, and natural burial gives us the chance to perform one final act of conservation.

Ray is the author of “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.”
 

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