I’ve visited a lot of natural burial locations this year, but there are three that simply stand out — and I want to lift them up for you in the following REVIEWS OF TOP GREEN BURIAL SITES:
I don’t think you can get a much better recommendation from someone than “I want to be buried there.” That’s how I feel about Ramsey Creek Preserve (http://www.memorialecosystems.com/Locations/WestminsterSC/PhotoGallery/tabid/57/Default.aspx) upstate South Carolina. Ramsey Creek was the very first conservation natural burial ground in America, and 17 years after opening, it remains the premiere green burial location in the U.S. (if not the world).
Founders Billy and Kimberley Campbell still operate Ramsey Creek with the same personal, compassionate care that led them to start the natural burial movement in this country in the 1990s. Billy still digs the graves by hand, carefully maintaining each one long after the burial; Kimberley still meets with each family to craft and create a meaningful, intimate, personalized memorial experience. One week this spring, while I was visiting there, the Campbells had burials on three successive days — yet their care for the deceased and the mourners, and their loving attention to detail, was clearly evident. Though many people have now returned naturally to the earth at Ramsey Creek, it is remains the quintessential “small family business” — in the very best sense of that concept.
Add to that the sheer natural beauty of Ramsey Creek, and you begin to get a sense of what a natural burial sanctuary should — and truly can — be. The original 33 acres have more than doubled (preserving its natural ecosystem in perpetuity), and now a visitor can walk along many lovely trails that wind peacefully through the woods and the graves. The creek itself meanders more than half a mile through the property, offering a sense of calm and serenity as one hikes, remembers, and contemplates.
At the entrance — off a nondescript country road — there is a simple gravel parking lot, a humble home/office, and a field. At one end of the field is a small chapel (an old country church that Billy Campbell — in typical fashion — first saved from destruction, then turned into a thing of beauty to behold). The chapel serves as a non-sectarian place of prayer and remembrance for memorial services, and even the occasional joyous wedding!
By providing personalized service and care, a setting of unrivaled natural beauty, and an on-site chapel for memorial services, Ramsey Creek is the best of the best when it comes to natural burial.
Many in the natural burial movement will be familiar with Pine Forest Memorial Gardens in Wake Forest, North Carolina. (http://www.pineforestmemorial.com/green-burial). The documentary film “A Will for the Woods” (http://www.awillforthewoods.com/about/#about-the-film) chronicles the life and death and burial of Clark Wang, who — with the help of Pine Forest’s manager Dyanne Matzkevich — created the Garden of Renewal at Pine Forest, North Carolina’s first Green Burial Council certified natural burial sanctuary.
I had the pleasure of visting Pine Forest in late April, when spring was in full bloom, and spending some time with Dyanne. Her deep, quiet spirituality and her compassion can be felt everywhere in the Garden of Renewal, which is accessed by walking along a trail called the Path of Clark’s Reflection. On one side of the path, there is a bubbling fountain of overflowing water from a beautiful pond on the other side. The pond creates an understated, natural sense of separation between the conventional cemetery portion of Pine Forest, and the Garden of Renewal.
Since its first burial in 2010, Pine Forest has now buried 40 people in the woods behind the pond. This spring, mayapples abounded throughout the dozen or so acres of the Garden of Renewal, popping up on and around various graves that were, as at many green burial locations, marked by simple, hand-engraved stones placed flat on the ground, in the shade of trees and natural growth. Though one must drive through the conventional cemetery to reach the natural burial ground, it is well worth it — and once there, you will quickly forget (and can scarcely even see) the other part of the cemetery.
Pine Forest is located in a residential area in what has become a suburban bedroom community just north of Raleigh. Unlike Ramsey Creek, it is easily accessible from anywhere in the Triangle Area of North Carolina and, in fact, much of the central eastern seaboard.
The third location I can recommend without reservation is on the other side of the country, in a very different natural setting and with a much different habitat. White Eagle Memorial Preserve (http://naturalburialground.org/) in south central Washington state. Part of the mission and landscape of the Sacred Earth Foundation, which is preserving more than 1,000 acres adjacent to Native American tribal lands in Washington. White Eagle is but one project of the Sacred Earth Foundation — but a very, well, sacred one. Amid tall, stately pine oaks and ponderosa pines, White Eagle steward Jodie Buller oversees what I can only describe as sacred land, put to sacred purpose.
In a dry area prone to wildfires, the graves at White Eagle are each uniquely alive with new, native growth. When I visited there in June, one recently dug grave had experienced a burst of wildflowers and plants in a spot where, prior to the digging of the grave, there had been nothing but brown dirt. There is no better evidence of the benefit to nature itself of natural burial than one can see, everywhere you turn, at White Eagle.
But the benefits to the spirit are even more palpable. I have never felt so surrounded by Spirit than in walking the largely unmarked 20 acres of the White Eagle Memorial Preserve. If you live on the West Coast, or your spirit is particularly drawn to the sacred rhythms of native ways, I encourage you to check out White Eagle.
In fact, you cannot go wrong with any of these three wonderful natural burial sanctuaries.