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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.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

NATURAL BURIAL GROUND

Journey Journal... Fultonville, New York

A NEW BEGINNING AT THE END OF THE ROAD

The word “cloistered” might aptly describe the Fultonville Cemetery and Natural Burial Ground.  Though not really isolated from the mainstream world, at least it feels sequestered within a haven of established trees and wooded borders.  A stone’s throw away from the cacophony of highway sounds emanating from the New York State Thruway, access to it is less than a two-mile drive.  Yet within this shelter of seclusion, only bird songs and rustling leaves are audible amid the shaded, late afternoon splendor.  Though a housing development adjacent to the property hints of potential visual and auditory intrusion, there is a sense of insulated separateness.  

Photo Source:  Fultonville Cemetery Facebook Page

Founded in 1848 when purchased from the Protestant Dutch Church for conversion to a public cemetery, it bespeaks historical significance as well as present-day progress.  Among notable figures interred here were two United States Congressman from the 1800s era as well as veterans who served in various wars.  
  
In recent years this municipal asset has garnered interest because of its status as the first nonsectarian cemetery to offer natural burials in New York’s Capital district.  Conception of the idea took place in the mind of a high school student who came across an Internet article about green burials three years before the option materialized here.  Ryan Weitz, having been a student of a teacher who was also the town’s mayor and knew of his interest in matters of the past, had been appointed by the village Board as town historian – the youngest in the state.  For him, probably the cemetery was a major focal point of his attention.  He suggested that two wooded acres next to the established cemetery would be ideal as a site for natural burials.  The village Board unanimously approved his proposal.  

Over the course of a few months, public information sessions and hearings as well as open houses preceded the dedication ceremony that took place on October 5, 2013.  


Photos Source:  Fultonville Cemetery Facebook Page

As historian and originator of the project, Ryan Weitz led the proceedings, during which he referenced the words of Aldo Leopold, an ecologist and educator who was a key figure in promoting environmental ethics and wilderness conservation.  His germane encapsulation of organic processes spoke to the underlying principle of natural burials:  

                                           "A rock decays and forms soil.  
                                            In the soil forms an oak, 
                                            which bears an acorn, 
                                            which feeds a squirrel, 
                                            which feeds an Indian, 
                                            who ultimately lays down to his last sleep 
                                            in the great tomb of man to grow another oak.”

Public officials were in attendance at this event in addition to Mark Harris, author of the book, Grave Matters:  A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial, which sheds light on the worthiness of green burials.  


Photo Source:  Fultonville Cemetery Facebook Page

The renowned proponent of the reincarnated practice declared a belief that even more than its positive effect on the environment and its affordability is the fact that a green burial “perpetuates life.”  Within such a framework, then, this type of burial ground is a place of life rather than death.  

This new offering, ostensibly of the modern era, may spark interest among travelers along New York’s well-traveled byway.  Easy accessibility adds to its allure as an alternative to the redundancy of cookie-cutter rest stops.  A turn off of a main thoroughfare and another quick turn shortly thereafter takes a visitor to this place of tranquil respite.

Coursing upward along a gradual hill, images of traditional stone monuments come into view, rendering familiarity of convention.  



But an unusual element interrupts an interpretation of sameness.  Rocking chairs alongside a few grave sites invite repose – a novelty of note.  


The journey continues along a dirt road until reaching the end of it by an open field of interment sites.  Yet after scanning the property’s layout, a primary mission to find the latest ecologically friendly addition to the cemetery may not necessarily be accomplished.  Exploration on foot, likewise, might be futile.  


Foiled by the absence of a sign marking the natural burial section, a palpable sense of defeat could threaten… that is, until spotting another rocking chair.  This one in a nakedly wooded area off to the side of the common burial grounds is bound to ignite conjecture that the pursuit has not been in vain.


At the time of inauguration, ten-foot by ten-foot burial plots here cost $500. for Montgomery County residents and $700. for non-residents.  Pre-need purchases afford interment rights only, without designation of a specific location.  According to a practice of sequential burials, interments take place in order of occurrence, within space that is available at the time. 


Imperatives reflect stipulations common to natural burials in general, namely, proscriptions that preclude infusions of chemical preservation, the use  of concrete or steel vaults and liners, cut, machined, or polished memorial stones in any form, alterations to existing vegetation, and artificial flowers or other types of decorations.  

Bodily clothing or wrappings must be made of natural fibers and containment must be in biodegradable receptacles.  Anything deposited in the ground in conjunction with a burial is necessarily biodegradable.  

Native natural stones may be used as grave markers and may be engraved or carved.  



Unfinished wooden memorial structures are acceptable also.


Native plants and grasses except for trees may be planted over a grave as a memorial.  
A list of approved plants is available.  




Live flowers on a grave are also acceptable.

During growing season, the entire cemetery is bedecked with floral adornment.  Evidence of involvement and community pride is apparent through Facebook posts, where pictures of donated potted plants and flowers abound and availability of memorial plantings is announced.  Beyond the blossoms, a pronouncement alerts followers that among the assortment of wild strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries, a certain species of them is ready for picking.  A suggestion to stop by for a stroll to enjoy the latest blooms complements a separate notation that this is a perfect place for a man and his dog to spend an afternoon.  

In this quaint, off-the-beaten-track village of fewer than a thousand residents (named for Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat), here lies a cemetery of significance.  An Old World, traditional  flavor honors the past amid a contemporary, burgeoning trend toward ecological sustenance in the future.  The participation of local folks in the cemetery’s maintenance, their concerted efforts, donations of embellishments, and homespun touches render this a welcoming milieu that truly embodies a reference to death as “going home.”

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