Ever go for a drive through central Queens or along Long Island’s Southern State Parkway and feel amazed that so many square miles of real estate are dedicated to rows of headstones? Not only does that seem like a waste of valuable land in a densely populated part of the country, but between the embalming fluid in the corpses and the glue holding together the chipboard or particleboard of which many caskets are made, there’s also an awful lot of formaldehyde – a suspected carcinogen, possible cause of ALS and neurotoxin – going into that ground.
If you’re among those who think that this is a high price to pay for the privilege of decomposing slowly, you have several alternative options open to you. Many opt for cremation nowadays, but that requires the burning of enough fossil fuel to achieve very high temperatures. And plenty of people still value a permanent gravesite as a destination for quiet contemplation and communing with the deceased loved one. For them, there’s now a middle ground, thanks to the efforts of activists in the “green burial” movement. The Green Burial Council is working to encourage sustainability in the interment industry, and the Trust for Natural Legacies is working to establish cemetery nature preserves.
But state health departments have been slow to amend their regulations regarding the disposal of human remains, and you can’t just bury unembalmed, organic-cotton-shrouded Uncle Fred any old place you please. There are only about 40 designated green burial sites across America, and the Rhinebeck Cemetery is the second of its ilk in New York State. Nice to know that we Hudson Valley residents now have the option.
If this topic piques your interest at all, you’ll want to catch the screening on Sunday afternoon, August 24 at Upstate Films Rhinebeck of A Will for the Woods, a new documentary about the green burial movement that focuses on one man’s decision to have a low-impact interment. Musician, folk dancer and psychiatrist Clark Wang battles lymphoma while facing a potentially imminent need for funeral plans. Determined that his last act will not harm the environment and may even help protect it, Wang discovers the movement to further sustainable funerals and helps move a local cemetarian to establish the first natural burial ground in North Carolina.
Filmmakers Jeremy Kaplan, Amy Browne, Tony Hale and Brian Wilson will be on hand for a live discussion following the 12:30 p.m. screening. Joining them for questions will be Suzanne Kelly, chair of the Rhinebeck Cemetery Committee and co-founder of Friends of Rhinebeck Cemetery. General admission to most movies at Upstate Films costs $10, $6 for members.
For more information about arranging a green burial in Rhinebeck, you can contact Suzanne Kelly at (845) 876-6436 or (914) 489-3668. Upstate Films is located at 6415 Montgomery Street (Route 9) in Rhinebeck. For more info about the screening, call (845) 876-2515 or visit https://upstatefilms.org.