Most of us of a certain age grew up with a single image of funerals, burials and cemeteries: Embalmed bodies in heavy caskets surrounded by elaborate floral arrangements. But as we've come to learn through books and articles over the last 30 years, this common practice is quite recent in human history and has been inculcated into our thoughts by the funeral industry and other cultural influences. Recently, alternative modes of handling our dead have become more popular, such as cremation, donation to medicine and science, and natural, or green burial.
The last is, confusingly, one of the more difficult to pull off. According to Georgianna Wood, of Northcoast Natural Burial, a non-profit organization devoted to the promotion of green burials, it's simply the act of interring the body in a shroud or other biodegradable enclosure such as a wood coffin, and allowing the natural processes of decomposition to take its course. But apparently, because of regulations, this is not as simple as it sounds.
The first hurdle is that you need to take possession of the body. Since 70% of people die in a hospital or nursing home (another trend that would be good to reverse), the chances are you will need to give the facility explicit instructions that you wish to take charge of the body. You will also need to arrange for a transportation certificate from the County's Public Health Department to allow you to move the body whether to home or to the burial site. Of course, if an autopsy is required, you have a more complex situation.
The second hurdle is finding a proper place for burial. The state requires burial in certified locations and keeps a "Death Registry" so they know "where all the bodies are buried". So putting your loved one in the back yard isn't considered an option, no matter how big the yard.
A few local cemeteries allow natural burials. These include Loleta and Fortuna. But there the shroud or wood coffin needs to be contained in a concrete crypt. The Blue Lake Cemetery now has an area for green burials that can be done without a concrete crypt. But currently, grave sites in Blue Lake cannot be pre-selected. Each new grave is simply placed next to the last burial spot.
Northcoast Natural Burial is hoping to find a piece of land that can be converted into a dedicated green burial site. But finding the ideal property and going through the certification process is daunting. If you would like to help with their cause or learn more, find them on Facebook. For more information on green burial in general, see the Green Burial Council.