Dust to Dust

Green burial popped up in today’s Chronicle, which features an interview with Tyler Cassidy, co-owner of no less than six funeral properties including Fernwood, a green cemetery in Mill Valley. While Fernwood is not actually totally green, a reasonable portion of the land is set aside for green burial, and the cemetery also offers cremation services and a variety of memorial options. Most of the interview is about Tyler Cassidy himself, but he has some interesting insights about green burial.

Personally, green burial is an option I’d like to pursue for myself: I’ve written about it elsewhere and I encourage people to think about it. Most people are not really interested in considering their own deaths and mortality, and fewer still think environmentally when it comes to burial. Green burial is a natural, environmentally friendly option: a far cry from commercialized funerals.

Green burial appeals to me on a number of levels.

The first is that it is environmentally logical. I do not want to be buried with toxins that will leach into the Earth, or in a sterile box which will not allow my body to decay naturally and return to my environment. Letting bodies rot is environmentally sound: my body can provide food to a variety of animals, and turn into a neat ecosystem all its own. I like the idea of people visting me in a garden without obvious markers, perhaps planting a tree or plant over me and coming to hang out now and then.

The second is that it is cheap. I do not believe that people should be paying obscene amounts for funerals: the dead body probably does not care what happens to it, after all. Cremation took off because it was cheap, and I have a feeling that green burial might too. Dying is expensive: even a bare bones funeral (ha ha) can cost thousands of dollars.

Finally, green burial is a major rejection of commercial culture. It shuts the commerce out of death. While I’m sure that there is profit in green burial, it’s not the same sort of profit that feeds the deluxe coffin industry, that leads people to have lavish memorials, and that brings families to pickle their loved ones in preservatives. Green burial is an embrace of a simpler sort of life, and the kind of life I want to live.

In Northern California especially, the concept seems to have growing momentum: it is the sort of thing that would appeal to dirty hippies, but I hope others come to embrace it as well. Our cities of the dead can turn into gardens of the dead, with meandering paths and beautiful flowers and fountains, places of contemplation and peace, well fertilized roses and comfortable benches to sit on.

[green burial]