Last goodbyes are said in these woods with wildflowers placed on a shrouded body, or with the beloved wrapped in a favorite childhood blanket. Dirt shoveled back into the graves leaves behind slowly sinking mounds of earth on the forest floor, marked with stones.
“Green burials” like these at Rhinebeck Cemetery in New York’s Hudson Valley shun coffins, embalming fluid and concrete “vaults” so everything in the ground decomposes. It’s a movement that goes back more than a decade, but advocates say public attention has increased in recent years, with more cemeteries tweaking practices to accommodate people who want to tread lightly, even in death.
“I love the thing about just being wrapped up and going back to the ground,” said 59-year-old Gina Walker Fox, who purchased a plot right by a tulip tree and wild berries she imagines her children picking on graveside visits. “And that seems to be a very easy way on the environment, and an easy way on the human body.”
Green burials turn back the clock to the days before the Civil War, when embalming caught on as a way to preserve soldiers who died far from home. Burial vaults, which keep graves from collapsing and lawns level for mowing, became more widespread after World War II.
Advocates argue it’s best to avoid introducing concrete vaults and potentially toxic embalming fluids into the ground. And unlike cremation, no fossil fuels are required to break down the body.
Of the thousands of cemeteries nationwide, there are maybe around 125 that now offer options for green burial, said Suzanne Kelly, Rhinebeck Cemetery committee chairwoman and author of “Greening Death.” Many, like Rhinebeck 80 miles (128 kilometers) north of New York City, create natural burial grounds near the neatly ordered markers of their traditional plots.
In Vermont, a new law taking effect July 1 changes the minimum depth for burying bodies from 5 feet (1.5 meters) to 3 ? (1 meter) — a depth advocates say is conducive to decomposition and…