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The Green Burial Journey

1. Here is a statement that my father helped to write about the decision to be buried in Herland Forest:

When Jim first heard about green burial, the idea resonated with him immediately. Green burial means that the body is not embalmed and is buried in a relatively shallow grave in a biodegradable container. This promotes the return of the body's biomass to the earth so that the nutrients available therein can be made available to future living beings. All living things die and decompose, their remains return in a great cycle that nurtures future life.

In a tour of Herland Forest, Walt Patrick, a leader of the Windward Intentional Community, stressed ecology and the relationships among the living members of Herland Forest. This forest lies in a convergence of ecosystems and has three dominant species of trees; Douglas Fir, Ponderosa Pine, and Garry Oak. Based on the structure of their root systems underground,  the trees decide on the best location for the burial of human remains. Mindful of the root systems, members of the Windward Community dig the grave and fill it with wood chips. Wood chips encourage growth of mycorrhizal fungi that provide nutrients to the trees in a symbiotic relationship. Having the grave filled with wood chips also allows for easy digging in the winter.

Jim really understood the value of his nutrients being given to other living things. He fully embraced that his remains should nurture human life.




2. On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, after three days of home vigil and cosmic celebrations, plus one day after a Catholic Funeral Mass, Dad's remains were placed into a vehicle for the journey to Herland Forest, 264 miles from home. Dad's body lay within a shroud placed in a wicker basket. Around 26 people gathered that morning in the parking lot of Saint Patrick's Church in Seattle to accompany Dad on the journey, mostly loading up and into a 24-passenger charter bus.

The Herland Forest is located near the Klikitat River, which travels down and into the Columbia River, so the journey first went south towards Portland, then east along the Columbia River, before turning northeast along the Klikitat River. On the ride south towards Portland, the bus paused at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to take a break and spend a few minutes in the peaceful space along the shore.

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

When the bus and other vehicles arrived at the Herland Forest, they were met by community members from the neighboring Windward Community, who were present to facilitate transport to the burial site and who oversee the safekeeping of Herland Forest.

Preparing to walk

This winter, Herland Forest received around three feet of snow. Although some of the snow has melted, there was still a lot of snow to traverse to reach the burial site. Community members placed Dad's remains on the back of a vehicle which could carry his body at least partway up the road. From there, we placed him onto a small sled fitted with skis, and worked together to bring his body the remaining distance.

Towing the casket

Other members of our group were then able to follow along and proceed to the burial site.

Walking to the grave

Walking to the grave

Procession

At the burial site, a grave had been prepared. I noticed that it was not as deep as other graves I have seen elsewhere in the past. We sang some ritual songs while the wind blew through the trees, then said our goodbyes as we placed Dad into the earth and began the process of spreading woodchips over his body.

Unloading the sled

He is buried in a peaceful space, surrounded by the oak, pine, and fir trees. To me, each tree type symbolizes the different places where Dad has lived over the course of his life, including Montana, where he grew up, eastern Washington and California, and Seattle.

Dad's new neighbors

Solitary tree keeping Dad company

The Windward community members let us know that Memorial Day Weekend is an especially special time at the Herland Forest, when they encourage people to return to camp and visit loved ones and spend time with the community there sharing stories and memories. It is an incredibly beautiful and peaceful place and it feels right to be anchored there by love for my father.

From there, we returned in the bus to Seattle.

Return journey along the Columbia River

This entry was originally posted at https://rebeccmeister.dreamwidth.org/1285667.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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