We were all taught the life cycle as kids in science class. The plant grows from the soil, the bug eats the plant, the frog eats the bug, eventually dies and becomes food for the soil that feeds the plant. Largely as a culture, when we return to the ground we do not return to the soil. We are embalmed (preserved) and put in a ornate box. Some of us will be burnt using a great deal of energy. I guess in that case we may return to the earth, air, sea, jar on the shelf…. Many will have a stone monument or marker to mark a spot to remember them by in the middle of a gigantic lawn with all of the other stones in neat rows. Those in the Natural Burial Movement would like to do things differently.
When it is all totaled up, we bury a million gallons of formaldehyde and embalming fluid every year in North America. These are chemicals that preserve and prevent decay. They do this by killing all of the life (microbes, fungus, molds) that do the very helpful job of breaking down things to be reused by nature. Eventually, these preservatives make their way into the ground water and surrounding environment. The alternative chosen by 30% of Americans, cremation, leaves a legacy of air pollution to the worlds children.
Why not just bury ourselves and let our selves rot? Indeed, some are doing their part and rotting under the ground as you read this. There are, here in the states, cemeteries where you can buy a small plot of land that is left to be “taken back” by nature. You are allowed to be buried there or have your ashed spread. They will sometimes allow you to plant native trees or place a natural stone. That small piece of land, much like those buried in it, returns to nature. This is in contrast to the mowing, fertilizing, pesticides and herbicides used to maintain the lawns with the polished granite markers. In this way you can give back to nature twice – Once with your body to feed the plants, microbes and trees and second by eternally renting a piece of land that is preserved as an ecosystem, not a lawn. Actually three times if you count not poisoning the earth and air.
Instead of an expensive, ornate casket, a simple wooden box or perhaps recycled paper box can be used. It has never made sense to me to spend all of that money on a casket just to bury it under the ground. I think most of us would rather not have our families spend the equivalent of a new car to have us put under the ground. Some of these cemeteries do not even allow grave markers or memorial stones to be used and certainly not the large squares of polished granite.
As more green cemeteries pop up across America, we will be presented with a choice – What legacy do you want to leave your children?