The (R)Evolution of Penn Forest: More than just Green Burials

Penn-Forest-Fall-LeavesAs some of you may already know, Penn Forest is an enchanting green space. A hike around the property yields stunning views of lush canopy cover and ravines that unfold at  Plum Creek, which surges around the forest.  If you’re patient and quiet, you’ll likely see many species of birds, as well as deer, turkeys, ground hogs and foxes.

We manage thirty-two acres of this serene forest . As of right now, only 2.5 acres are allotted to burials. This leaves a whopping 29.5 acres free for other ventures! We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, literally, and we want your ideas!

Here are a few of our ideas for those 29.5 acres…

  • Wildlife refuge
  • Hiking trails, open to the public
  • Apiary (Beekeeping)
  • Community gardens
  • Picnic areas
  • Development of outdoor amphitheater for memorial services and cultural events (plays, poetry readings, music festivals, etc.)
  • Interpretive nature trails
  • Sculpture in the forest, or other art projects

We see this as a community initiative and your input is integral to making the most of what Penn Forest has to offer! Feel free to comment directly on this blog post for how to best utilize this space.  Or if you prefer, email Penn-Forest-Burial-Areapete@pennforestcemetery.com with your comments and ideas.

A space like Penn Forest has the potential to be more than just a green cemetery. We believe the resting place for your loved ones needn’t only be a reminder of the dead, but a celebration of the living as well.

Penn Forest Presents at Mother Earth News Fair

On September 21, Pete McQuillin gave an inspiring presentation about Green Burial at the Mother Earth News Fair.  Mother Earth News Fair is held annually in Seven Springs, PA and among the topics were forest restoration, the potential to use the land for more than just burials, and much more!  You can click here to view the slideshow of the presentation.
Mother Earth News Fair 2012 Penn Forest

 

Looking for education or more information about green burial for your group or organization?  The folks at Penn Forest are available to give education presentations about green burial and forest restoration.  Contact us for next steps.

Redefining a better and greener way of death

By: Elizabeth Fournier, funeral director

Spending my last several years working as a small-town funeral director has given me the unique pleasure and privilege to serve families during their greatest time of need. I am always honored to be chosen to facilitate the journey of their loved one’s passing. It is my role as a small-town minister that allows me to convey to the family that the death of our bodies is a sacred and spiritual passage.

Blessed Mother

As I see it, death is a spiritual transition, especially at the time of death of the physical body. The practical realization of passing away is guided by an advanced spiritual revelation. In the green burial movement, this advanced spiritual revelation is focused on the earth’s well being, and the movement attempts to realize this.

The green burial movement is crucial to restore this freedom and choice, both during the actual death and in the arrangements made after death, and to enable a more ”natural” death, surrounded by one’s loved ones in one’s own surroundings. Important to note, the concept of natural death reaches to include active family involvement and home funerals, as well.

Eschewing chemical embalming and bulletproof metal caskets, elaborate and costly funerals, more and more are embracing a range of natural burial options, new and old, that are redefining a better – and greener – way of death.

It’s been proven that participation by the mourners eases the grieving process. Being involved really does help the constant flow of energy, and the effect is quite evident. The idea is to bring everyone into the actual process. From a personal experience I had recently, it truly helped the distraught family to participate in making all the decisions, and I think in a practical way it helped to be occupied.

The matriarch of the family had finally passed after many months on hospice care. The days following were amazingly powerful and quite personal for all involved. Her family clothed and laid her out on a bed in her living room. All her friends brought food and flowers. They were able to look at her face and touch her hands and say goodbye. After the celebration of her life, she was brought to a burial space in a wooded area and her children slowly lowered her shrouded body. The day was glorious.

Elizabeth Fournier is affectionately known as The Green Reaper in her tiny community of Boring, Oregon. She is the owner and operator of Cornerstone Funeral Services and works as a green mortician, educator and advocate who is always ready to lend a hand, or a shovel. She is the voice of the autopsy exhibit in the forensic wing at the United States National Museum of Medicine, teaches ballroom dancing at Reed College, and recently published her memoir, All Men Are Cremated Equal: My 77 Blind Dates. She writes a monthly column for The Black Lamb and Naturally Savvy, and her green pieces have been seen in American Funeral Director, Community Seeds, and Living Green Magazine.

The Birds of Penn Forest

Birds of Penn Forest

Jeff Giles, our friend and cemetery next-door neighbor, has gone above and beyond once more in creating “The Birds of Penn Forest”  (we have mentioned previously for all of the help he has volunteered at Penn Forest).

Well, we caught up with Jeff a few weeks ago to ask him a few questions about the birds of Penn Forest project…

 

1. What inspired you to start this project? 

I have been watching birds for most of my life.  Because of this interest in birds, I bought a book from the Audubon Society so that I could learn more about these fascinating creatures.  I can now recognize most birds by site and some even by sound.

As a part of the project, I have created a few visual displays that Penn Forest can use to show visitors.

2. How many birds have you catalogued? 

Roughly between 35 and 40 birds.  There were 34 or so on the project board, but I have spotted a few more since then.

3. What is the rarest bird that you’ve seen on the property? 

Pileated Woodpecker

The Pileated Woodpecker is one of the rarest birds I’ve seen. Before I moved here I had only seen one other in my life and that was out in Ligonier.   These birds are not often seen in densely populated areas.  Penn Forest does not have that much Middle Eastern Bluebirdhuman activity, so I think they like it here.  I once witnessed their mating dance and boy was that cool.  They are very unusual birds.

There are Middle Eastern bluebirds are hanging out at Penn Forest too.

 

4. Do you think birds are drawn to Penn Forest?  If so, why? 

For one the lack of humans is a factor that draws some of the birds to Penn Forest.  Another is the availability of water.   Also, the various different kinds of trees and berries available at Penn Forest attract them.  The trees provide insects and birds eat insects.

5. What else can you tell me about the birds of Penn Forest?

I witness all sorts of beauty when I’m sitting on my property at night.  And one of my favorite things is that the robins know me and follow me around when I mow the grass!  I love that.

Thanks Jeff Giles for being such a great friend and neighbor to Penn Forest!

 

A Will For The Woods

We recently caught up with the folks responsible for the first green burial documentary - A Will for the Woods.  Here is what they shared with us…
Will-for-the-woods logoOver the last three years, we have been producing this documentary on the green burial movement, A Will for the Woods.  Initially, the topic of green burial intrigued us due to the environmental issues surrounding contemporary funerals, and the potentially vast and significant environmental benefits of green burial.  However, over the course of producing the film, we have been equally inspired by the cathartic and spiritual power of connecting to nature that one might experience in a green burial.
We have noticed that there is a lack of frank dialogue around death in the United States. We have a culture that is seemingly obsessed with death but frequently treats honest discussions of mortality as taboo. In starting to move the focus away from fear and toward a sense of connectedness with nature, community, and the cycle of life, the green burial movement has begun to shift the paradigm and culture around death. We hope our film will do the same in its intimate portrait of the movement and our main characters, Clark Wang and Joe Sehee.
Clark, battling lymphoma, is fighting for the right to be buried in a natural way and to make his story known to others, in the hopes of changing the culture around death. Meanwhile, Joe, head of the Green Burial Council, is fighting to establish and uphold the standards and environmental aims of the broader movement, as well as advocate its cause to policymakers and the funeral industry. These two story arcs will be delicately woven together to offer a direct encounter with dying and death-care, and the catharsis that green burial can offer, as well as, a window into the trajectory of this movement.
We believe our film, the first feature-length documentary on this topic, will help to further empower this grassroots movement and Will-for-the-woods-teamreach a large audience. Americans are fascinated by death, but looking for new ways to approach the concept. We hope this film can be a tool for discussion. Over the three years making this film, we have watched the growth of this deeply personal and meaningful environmental movement. It has inspired a broad and diverse group of advocates, and we are hopeful that this green burial movement will impact our cultural ideas around death and dying and also our respect for the natural world.

– Amy Browne, Jeremy Kaplan, Tony Hale, and Brian Wilson

Watch the new trailer!

You can learn more about the film by visiting: http://www.awillforthewoods.com

Sharing The 2012 Penn Forest Picnic

Last month we hosted our annual picnic at Penn Forest.  We welcomed over 90 people – friends and family – for food and fun at Penn Forest.  And it was a lovely day!  Below are a few of the pictures from the event.  If you were at the picnic and have pictures you’d like to share, send them our way.  We’ll add them to this post!

Penn Forest Welcomes Furry Friends

 Picnic Tunes Through the woods we goCapturing Penn ForestDiscussing green burial

 

Relaxing at Penn Forest

Zero Fossil Setup

Zero Fossil brochure

Friends Laughing

Chow Line

Dogs Like Clean Energy Too

Power Bikes

Birds of Penn Forest

Picnic Tunes

Lovely Banjo Playing

 

Creating Stories

 

Tree Inspiration Session Cont'd

Penn Forest Tree

 

Explaining Green Burial To Friends & Family

I was recently asked my thoughts on how to explain green burial to a family member from my perspective as a psychologist.  So here they are:

  • Assume your family member knows nothing about green burial and that your first mission is to explain it, as in “I was reading an article about green burial and how it is the most traditional way to handle the body after death. Have you ever heard of it?” Remember while green burial has been practiced for thousands of years, burial with toxic embalming fluids and concrete burial vaults is what most people now think of as “normal.” Be patient; changing attitudes takes time and education.
  • Talk about green burial with friends who are less invested in the  end-of-life decisions you make for yourself. This will help you get better at explaining your own reasons for choosing a natural burial when you talk to a family member.
  • Don’t try to convince your family members that what is right for you is right for them. That will put them on the defensive and they are not likely to stay open to your ideas.
  • If your family member is not open at all to this “new” option for burial, accept that and let it be.  Just be sure that this person is not appointed as your “Agent for Body Disposition” because if they are, you probably will not get that green burial that you want. If you put a “Green burial is the way to go” bumper sticker on your car, everyone will know what you want!

If you purchase a plot ahead of time, it increases the likelihood that you will end up in it (it doesn’t make sense for the family to buy another plot in a non-green cemetery when there is a lovely site already paid for).  Remember – it is your body, your choice, but you have to set up the legal structure NOW because you won’t be able to after you are dead.

If you’d like to take steps to pre-plan your burial, a great place to start is the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western PA.

Have you had experience talking to family and friends about your choice for a green burial?  We’d love to hear more about it.  Feel free to leave remarks in the comments below!

 

Post written by Nancy Chubb, PhD, MBA

Friends

Since we had our picnic on June 9th, I’ve had several people tell me how much they felt at home with the Penn Forest crowd—like they’d been friends for years. Comments like these have led me to reflect on my 4-1/2 years working on this project and how all these new friends have enriched my life.

Friends at Penn ForestI’m 67 years old. Before I started working on green burial—starting this woodland cemetery—my friends were few and close. Now, I can easily count more than 100 people I like to spend time with, and the list keeps growing.

Why is this? What is it about green burial advocates that I like?

Well, they’re people who try to walk gently on the earth. Like me, they like the outdoors and the woods. Like me, they think green burial and forest restoration are important for the future of the planet. But it’s more than that.

In short, I would say they are kind and caring. They want to be nice to others. To help, instead of harm. Nice folks.

So, now that we’re coming up on our one-year anniversary of getting our cemetery license next month, I want to say to everyone, “Thank you for your friendship.”

Friends among the trees

Friends discussing green burial

Young friend at Penn Forest

Youngster at Penn Forest

Maritza at Penn Forest

Pete McQuillin at Penn Forest

Post written by Pete McQuillin | June 25, 2012