The Natural Way

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time in cemeteries. Cemeteries, of all kinds.

Since I’m a minister, you might consider that to be pretty normal – but my cemetery-going this year has not been professional in nature. It has, instead, been because of nature. Nature with a capital “N.”

I have been on sabbatical since the first of February, and am devoting part of my sabbatical study and travel to learning all I can about a subject that has become something of a passion (some might say a morbid obsession) of mine: natural burial.

You may have heard the term “green burial.” I prefer “natural burial” – for a number of reasons. For one thing, “green” has become a decidedly overused word, to the point of being practically meaningless. Then there are the crunchy-granola and politically-correct connotations that come with “green.” People seem to be scrambling to out-“green” one another these days, and big business has seen an opportunity to cash in on the trend. The funeral industry, sadly, is no different.

sign at the entrance to the Gupton Cemetery in Middle Tennessee
One cemetery I made sure to visit was that of my 18th and 19th century ancestors, in Middle Tennessee

Besides, “natural” is, to me, a more accurate description of the kind of burial of the dead I want to promote – through this blog, through activism and education, and (someday), through the creation of one or more natural burial sanctuaries. What could be more natural than burying our loved ones in the ground, to return to the earth, “dust to dust”? What could be more respectful than honoring those loved ones, while at the same time respecting the natural world from which come, of which we are a part, and to which we ultimately return? As Gordon Maupin, retired executive director of the Wilderness Center (which created Ohio’s first nature preserve cemetery, Foxfield Preserve), once told an interviewer, “Natural burial … is a good term because the thought is that the molecules that make up your body get back into the cycle of life pretty quickly.” Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t need to use terms like “natural burial.” We just called it burial. But that was before the funeral industry began distancing Americans from death, dying and burial.

Which brings me back to cemeteries. In the past few months, I have visited numerous natural burial grounds, ranging from the very first of its kind in America (Ramsey Creek in South Carolina), to one in my home state of Ohio that is so new, it’s not yet open for business (Kokosing Nature Preserve). I have visited conventional cemeteries with their manicured lawns and plastic flowers, in the process paying my respects to deceased parents and loved ones. In the course of some genealogical research, I found and visited a cemetery (Gupton Cemetery in Middle Tennessee) where some of my 18th century ancestors are buried –- no doubt, quite buried quite naturally, since that’s the only way it was done back then. I’ve even participated in a natural burial, helping to shovel soil into the grave around a simple pine coffin –- a solemn, spiritual, and moving task that in modern America has been hired out to paid laborers and heavy machinery.

If you’re still with me -– if the wide-ranging but ever-growing field of natural or “green” burial interests you –- if you’re one of those folks who agrees with me that talking about death isn’t morbid, but is, in fact, “only natural” – then I invite you to join my email list to receive an email when a new blog entry is posted. Check back often, and keep your eyes open for upcoming topics including a natural burial “Summer Reading List,” another list of must-see movies and TV shows, reviews of natural burial sites across the U.S., information on how you can plan for a natural burial, and more. Welcome to “It’s Only Natural”!