Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.


Friday, April 4, 2014


JOURNEY JOURNAL... Gainesville, Florida


The sound of a distant vehicle in the great beyond reminds visiting meanderers that life goes on.  Spanish moss clinging to an overhead canvas of rampant trees suggests attachment… like human bonds that prevail and thrive, even though death has intervened.  

Here, biological life cycles are permitted to perpetuate, undeterred by the intrusion of mankind’s manufacturing mania. 

Having become accustomed to memorial stones and arrays of fake flowers dotting conventional burial grounds, at first glance it is difficult to believe that we are traversing a cemetery… until eyes fall upon definitive gravesites plump with mounds of dirt and accented by natural ornamentation.

It is different here amid the grassy meadows and oak trees on this seventy-eight-acre swathe of burial land.  The parcel lies within twelve hundred acres of the Prairie Creek Preserve, owned by Alachua Conservation Trust, a charitable land trust that sustains natural resources of the region.  The cemetery portion merges with the vast property intended for public usage and appreciation. One of four named trails in the Preserve passes through the cemetery domain. 

As a protected nexus of nature, this locus of wetlands and uplands invites the interaction of human life with wildlife.

And speaking of wildlife… you don’t have to look far before seeing evidence of bodies – not only the dead, but also the living – that occupy space beneath the ground surface. Though there had been one hundred and three burials as of the previous year (fifty-five of them bodily), actually, signs of life here outnumber vestiges of death.  Known as pocket gophers because of their large, fur-lined cheek pouches that can be turned inside out for emptying and cleaning, these burrowing rodents create a network of tunnel systems for protection as well as for collection of food.  They are masterful dirt transporters with a capacity to move a ton of soil to the surface each year.

The surface mounds of dirt created by them cause vegetation to be buried deeper and deeper, resulting in natural processes that improve soil quality over time.  Fresh soil in the mounds serves as a seedbed for new plants, possibly augmenting plant variety on site. 

So the concept of natural burial here is more inclusive than anyone may have thought!

The objective underlying a conservation project is to protect and preserve land while encouraging people to experience a natural environment. The Green Burial Council has certified the non-profit Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery, opened in 2010, as a conservation burial ground; it is Florida’s first of its kind.  An easement prohibits future development – the man-made type.  Fees for burials are allocated for two funds.  One is for the purchase of additional land, while the other is for perpetual management and restorative measures.  Since this property was originally an exotic game farm, restoration entails reversing the effects of over-grazing. 

Underground quarters here cannot be purchased ahead of time.  Instead, families buy plots upon need once death has occurred or is imminent.  Assuming that a decedent’s spouse or life partner may want to share a gravesite in the future, or if pet remains are to be buried there, additional space is allotted to allow for that eventuality. The plot size is ten by fifteen feet and the grave depth is three and a half to four feet. 

Anyone who wishes to be buried here can submit a Burial Preference Form that declares such an intention.  Distribution of copies to key individuals heightens awareness. 

Sections of the cemetery may be delineated for sects with distinctly specific burial practices and ties, though no areas are restricted to any particular group or religion.  Contrary to protocol at certain Jewish cemeteries prohibiting burial of mixed Jewish families, anyone may be interred here.  

A stainless steel archway capped by the Hebrew Star of David, sometimes dubbed "the gate of God,"  offers ceremonial enhancement during committal observances.   

Whole body or cremated remains (human or pet) are accepted for burial only if
devoid of casket and vault containment as well as accessories that would deter the natural decomposition process.  That proscription rules out anything that's metal, plastic, ceramic, concrete, or non-degradable in any way.  Instead, biodegradable wooden caskets, cardboard boxes, baskets, or natural-fiber fabric shrouds are used.  Embalming, a procedure that instills a body with chemicals potentially toxic within the underground milieu, is not permitted.      

Beyond the strict protocol outlined by green burial mandates, processes are marked by flexibility. Sometimes cooperating funeral homes provide preliminary services.  But home management is an option that some folks choose as a way to be directly involved in funerary ministrations.  Whether using traditional approaches or devising their own, families are free to implement arrangements that are meaningful and meet individualized needs.  Versatility seems to be a core value.  At one time, a donkey delivered a casketed body to its resting place.  Commemorative activities can proceed according to spontaneous inclinations, unrestricted by pre-determined time constraints.   

A funeral home’s hearse may deliver a body to a gravesite, but is expected to move to an unseen location during the burial ceremony.  In contrast, if a family chooses to personally transport a loved one’s body accompanied by a caravan of motorcycles (or other atypical vehicles), that’s okay.  If particular musical instruments, though blaring, convey significance, they can be played.  There are no neighbors to complain about the noise, so why not?  

Ordinarily, graves are hand-dug by cemetery volunteers, but guests may choose to become directly involved in covering them once a burial has taken place.  The topping of dirt initially taken from beneath the ground will eventually settle as decomposition proceeds over time. 

Though traditional stone memorials are not part of the landscape here and are not permissible, people may choose to festoon gravesites with plants, trees, seeds, or other natural elements, such as wood pieces that either came from the cemetery property or are native to Florida. 

A non-biodegradable tag is attached to each body.  Two-inch round disks with identity data are placed atop graves, with bronze signifying bodily remains and aluminum indicating cremated remains of a person or a pet burial of either sort.  

Burial perimeters are measured and documented as part of a survey grid.   
Families are offered an opportunity to place rudimentary bench by gravesites.  Either they construct the elemental seats themselves or they hire someone. Cemetery personnel do not make or sell benches, but styles that mimic one of four models are required, assuring that they reflect the character of the surroundings. 

A golf cart, chairs, and benches are available for subsequent visits to gravesites. 

Currently, interment of a body costs $2,000, while the fee for burial of cremated remains is $250.  For pets, the prices are $100. (cremated) and $200. – $400. (body).  Donations are solicited for specific proposed purposes, including signs, a boardwalk, memorial benches, electronic mapping of gravesites, and a memorial wall, along with restoration of native plants and other vegetation disrupted by human interference. 

The base of operations is a substantial lodge on the grounds of the Preserve, which houses administrative offices for Conservation Burial Inc. as well as the Alachua Conservation Trust.  

The wood-beamed interior of this rural conference center accents the nature of the coordinate missions.  Within it, Sandhill Stage is the name signifying a venue for a series of regularly scheduled concerts that are presented as fundraisers. 

Education and creation are pivotal building blocks for bolstering the concept of conservation. Various workshops and community programs are held to advance awareness of underlying principles and modes, including options for natural burials.  Serving as a prototype for similar cemeteries in other parts of Florida may be a realistic aspiration. 

The prime mover for this venture is an affable man, Freddie Johnson, whose idea for it in 2007 came to fruition three years later.  As a stalwart ambassador of the earth, he has commitment written all over him.  His down-to-earth principles of operation seem to be governed by an adaptable posture that allows families to “do it their way.” 

From the moment of introduction to the time of one’s departure, Freddie exudes hospitality. His devotion to this enterprise is palpable.  Sometime if Gainesville is in your travel plans, consider stopping by for a chat with him.  You will be charmed.

Prairie Creek Conservation Cemtery WEBSITE

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