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  • Ken Ilgunas

Ridiculous Idea #1: The Forest Cemetery

[In some ways, I think I was meant to be a capitalist. Like Seinfeld’s Kramer, I come up with a new idea or invention on an almost weekly basis. The problem is that my ideas are all implausible, inane, and downright ridiculous. And without the time, energy, and entrepreneurial spirit, these ideas will never realize their potential. Nevertheless—with no other forum to showcase them other than this blog—I present to you my first of several ridiculous ideas: The Forest Cemetery.]

So grandpa was as sturdy as an oak? Maybe he should become one…

I view nearly everything with a skeptical eye. It’s a tiresome way to live and, in some ways, a curse that I, and those close to me, will forever have to deal with. I can’t help but question everything: how we live, eat, travel, raise our children. Everything. Customs like sweaters on dogs, the phrase “god bless you” after a sneeze, giant inflatable grinches on lawns, boob jobs, and metrosexuals befuddle me beyond measure.

Our burial rituals are no exception. To me, it’s amazing how few of us deviate from the traditional way of doing things even when they make little sense. The custom of burying loved ones in sealed, air-tight caskets wearing their Sunday best is just—I’m sorry—insane. Same goes for turning someone into ash and displaying their remains in a glorified Tupperware container surrounded by Christmas cards.

Tapping into our society’s newfound love for all-things eco-friendly and revitalizing the age-old myth that with death comes life, I have another way of doing things. Instead of plopping a stone atop the deceased, why not plant a tree? As the body decomposes, the tree’s roots, soil, and what’s left of grandpa will become one. Instead of placing fake flowers around an immutable stone, families and friends can spread mulch and admire the tree’s (and grandpa’s) growth.

The body will be lowered in a bio-degradable wooden casket packed with rich, nutritious soil. Trees to be planted atop the grave will be selected either by the family or by the person-to-be-buried who can make arrangements beforehand. You want to be a maple, you get to be a maple. (Of course there will be regional limitations since a palm wouldn’t survive in New York, or a spruce in Hawaii.)

All parties involved will be welcomed to visit the tree and watch its growth. But it should be understood that the tree—like any life form—will not last forever. There will be floods, forest fires and disease. It must be emphasized that the tree is no longer just a tree, but a part of an ever-revitalizing ecosystem. It’s now part of a continuous life and death cycle—a natural process ignored by current rituals. Our current rituals seem to imply that death is the end; that whatever afterlife there may be certainly does not exist (on this planet, at least). Even the most casual observer of nature knows that this isn’t the case. A fallen tree becomes home to bugs, rodents, animals, fungi. Its bark breaks down and becomes soil for future trees. Just the same: when a human passes, a door is opened for new life to enter.

The Forest Cemetery could be instituted in many places. Perhaps a farm gone fallow or a vacant city lot. Eventually the trees will grow long and healthy and thick and begin competing for sunlight. It will be impossible to protect each and every tree, but the forest will be protected as a sacred grove—a place to celebrate life and death; a place that will give solace to the bereaved who now can see the beautiful processes that govern our mortality unfurl, blooming, withering, growing, dying, but always continuing.

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