Article and Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
We all go through life facing the unknown. Our emotions remind us that we are human, that we live and we die.
Cemeteries, mausoleums, urns or the scattering of ashes are traditional choices for a final resting place. However, there is another option, a natural alternative to the traditional burial. For many, this option has helped them gain a new perspective about death as well as a peaceful way towards closure.
While attending a National Lands Land Conservation Conference back in 2006, Laura Starkey learned of a new alternative burial concept that focuses on conservation, but it took over ten years for her break ground.
“It was in 2010 I was really picking up the idea of the burial ground, and it was something I wanted to do,” Starkey said.
When Laura traveled to North South Carolina’s Ramsey Creek Preserve to meet with Dr. Billy Campbell and Kimberley Campbell, she needed to personally experience what all is involved in operating a ‘green burial’ property.
Founded in 1998, Ramsey Creek Preserve was the first conservation burial ground in the United States, and this gave Laura an opportunity to learn more about natural burial from the couple who developed most of the standards for what is now known as conservation burial. They provided her with more than just insight; they enabled her to leave experiencing a different perspective of one’s final resting place.
“When I walked onto the property and went to the first burial mound, I had an interesting reaction. I have been to countless cemeteries, and I don’t have this feeling when I go into cemeteries. When I saw it, it was a different type of feeling.” She said that she felt death within the cemetery, “but yet this place was so rich with life.”
Within five years she obtained 41 acres of what was once her family’s original 2500-acre Starkey Ranch and transformed the property into Heartwood Preserve.
The entrance to Heartwood Preserve is pleasantly welcoming. You see how pure and beautiful nature is. Patches of saw palmettos, an array of longleaf and slash pines, colorful wildflowers, and even wildlife flourish in this preserve.
“These woods are incredibly special,” Starkey said. “It doesn’t take long to walk through these woods and feel how beautiful they are and how peaceful it is out here.”
Natural burial is more than just a concept or a business; it’s deeply personal, and it’s actually really hard to explain because everyone can feel something different, have different emotions, absorb a different and personal experience.
With Conservation burial there are no lines of headstones, no artificial flowers that are fading to give that feeling of heaviness.
“At Heartwood Preserve, the deceased is not embalmed; vaults are not used, and the deceased is buried either in a biodegradable casket or wrapped in a shroud (a large cloth used to wrap the body for burial). Cremated remains are also buried in a biodegradable container.
The burial is performed directly into the ground, with the remains covered and mounded over with the same dirt that was removed. The site is then reseeded with the surrounding natural vegetation.”
“You’re becoming part of this forest. It’s about something bigger than ourselves,” Starkey said.
To learn more about natural burial visit Heartwood Preserve. The preserve is open Monday through Saturday 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Sundays 11:00 to 4:30. The Welcome Center is open Monday through Friday, 9:30 – 4:30 or by appointment. It is located at 4100 Starkey Blvd, Trinity, FL. 727-376-5111.
For residents in Hernando County, there is a natural resting place located within the Brooksville Cemetery called Green Meadows.
A staff member from the Brewer & Sons Funeral Home suggested the idea and the concept went in front of the cemetery advisory board as well as the city council.
“They blessed the concept, and it has been in place for eight years,” said Mike Walker former director of parks and recreation for the city of Brooksville.
“There are a lot of people that like this, we get a lot of inquiries,” said Mike Hughes, sexton for the Brooksville Cemetery. Hughes has been the caretaker for the Brooksville Cemetery for three years.
To get more information about Brooksville Cemetery natural burial call 352-544-5455.