a green goodbye | woodland burials can …

Utne Reader published this piece. They asked for about 950 words. Then—doubtless ad pages took priority, and they cut it off well above the knees. Here’s the link—but come back here to finish it:


“I’m no fern-sniffing tree-hugger, but I want to do the right thing by the land,” Wilkerson says. “This idea is so exciting, it makes me laugh out loud.” Wilkerson has a sawmill and wood shop and plenty of plantation pine he planted in carefully spaced rows before he understood how ecological reforestation really ought to work. He’s got to thin those pines anyway, so he’s happy to make you a coffin right on the premises—a sustainable operation that will save on energy, transport, and storage costs.

Carl Leopold, one of Aldo Leopold’s children (Aldo Leopold wrote the 1948 conservation classic, A Sand County Almanac) is among the group in New York’s Finger Lakes region. “Memorial preserves are a novel way of encouraging land conservation instead of the gravestone monoculture that we see in conventional cemeteries,” says Leopold, now in his mid-80s. “Everyone I talk to gets really excited about this.”

It’s too early in the game for the folks in Ohio to reveal their location (or themselves), but the owners of this nearly two square miles of privately-owned wilderness are psyched. “There are so many ways to help save land,” they say. “But that your last act of will could be to give your body back to the living earth—it’s one of the best.”

Back in South Carolina, Sherrill Hughes wants to help too. So she’s selling the home place she and Roland built, now on Atlanta’s cutting edge, and moving up near Ramsey Creek.

“I’m strong,” she says. “I can work on trails, plant trees, anything that needs doing.” Campbell has moved an abandoned church that stood just a couple of miles up Cobb Ridge Road into that old cotton field so people can hold services there or even have weddings. “So I guess I can’t hang up my caulk gun and paintbrush yet,” says Hughes. She hopes her grandkids will get married there someday.

Now when Hughes is out gardening or in the house watching TV or whatever, and her mind suddenly drifts and she hears, unbidden, that solid thunk—those clods of red Carolina clay sliding off her shovel and striking that plain pine box six feet down, scattering the 33 yellow roses she laid upon Roland’s coffin—he won’t be so far away.


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