Family Groves for Life-Cycle Rituals
Green Burial with Trees

Vision

Walking along a gently used path, family members gather on the forest-covered hillside just as the sun breaks through the fog. Downhill, it will be a couple of hours before the grey mists disperse, exposing a sweeping view of the ocean and shoreline from the ridgetop redwood groves. The walk to the family grove always brought the conversations to a halt, for a moment.

The families each bring their own cultural traditions, but share an awe of the place where they have come to remember their departed ones.

The memorial sites on the hillside in northwest Sonoma County all have in common what they lack: no headstones or above-ground monuments, no crypts or vaults, no toxic embalming fluids. Bodies are buried in simple caskets or shrouds, meant to decompose, or added to the earth as cremated remains. Family groves are available, ranging from planting a small redwood grove yourself, to adopting an existing second-growth or old- growth grove, or being buried under a fruit tree in an orchard. A 70-acre meadow in a basin facing the ocean provides a grassland alternative.

Memorial sites are not limited to human remains. A family pet, a placenta, or a tree planted for a newborn child or another family event are all within bounds. The notion is to foster traditions of marking key events in family histories and associating them with a place in nature that will be preserved as it has existed for centuries.

Incorporation in the active root zone makes 100% of the body’s nutrients available in the local ecosystem, much to be taken up in the redwoods and other conifers that dominate this 1,640-acre, old homestead and redwood forest, now preserved as part of a conservation network of biodiversity in the region. “Entreement” is offered as an alternative to interment, with the body’s physical elements ascending into the trees. Our entreed bodies thus become one with the earth, providing their nutrients to enrich soils, roots, and trees, becoming part of the web of life that sustains forest and meadow ecosystems.

The pressure to turn this relatively natural area into vineyards was strong: it is one of the last suitable large sites not yet developed in the exclusive True Sonoma Coast appellation, known for its Pinot Noir grapes. Conservation easements tied to internment agreements are a creative way of keeping the land in “production” economically, while permanently protecting it from subdivision or intensive agricultural development. 100-year carbon offsets allow companies and individuals to buy in, to offset a portion of their carbon air emissions under California’s Cap-and-Trade program for reducing contributions to global warming. Currently the entire property is a fully verified and active Carbon Project under the auspices of the Climate Action Reserve. A Conservation Easement protecting the property is held by the Sonoma County Agricultural Protection and Open Space District. The Easement allows the property to be used for green burial purposes. Certification by the Green Burial Council will verify that the facility meets the highest conservation standards.

The property

The remote property, known as Rips Redwoods, is three miles from U.S. Highway 1 at the hamlet of Stewart’s Point, about 11 miles from the town of Gualala and 9 miles from The Sea Ranch; about a 3-hour drive from San Francisco. It is in the traditional territory of the Kashia people, who still live in the area. Old ranch homes and barns on the property currently are used for ranch and educational activities. An historic orchard on the site may be expanded including natural burial sites. Facilities for visitors will include water, toilets, and beautiful campground on the South Fork of the Gualala River. A chapel and retreat huts for overnight stays are planned.

Depending on their location on the property, some sites will be accessible at any time from the public road; other sites on the property will require an appointment. Families may choose to plant a grove before it is needed.

The property is managed by a nonprofit organization, the Trust for Working Lands, working with the legal owner, Rips Redwoods, LLC. The Trust will continue to manage the carbon project and oversees restoration forestry on the site, replanting trees and selectively thinning to bring the forest back to a diverse, productive ecosystem similar to the primary forest of old growth. The Trust is currently working to finalize a transaction with the cooperative owner to acquire the property in fee. A California non-profit religious organization, Sacred Groves, will operate all green burial activities.

Natural burial traditions exist in most human cultures. Now commonly called “green burial”, recent interest in creating burial alternatives to cement-lined cemetery crypts, which came into fashion around 150 years ago, mainly for ease of maintenance in urban cemeteries, has led to creation of natural-burial sections in some existing cemeteries, and to new conservation reserves like this one.

Contact

Michael Furniss   mjfurniss@gmail.com  707.616-5254

David Katz davidkat@sonic.net 707.484.6283

Biographies

David Katz – is a long-term social activist, conservationist, and entrepreneur.  He has played major roles in founding organic farming movement in CA, co-founder of the Farallones Institute – a pioneer in alternative technologies and education, CEO of agAccess, served as Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust, and on many boards. David has comprehensive experience as a natural resource and land management advisor to families and institutions with extensive transaction management capability.

He is co-developer of the innovative and highly effective Nigiri Project for salmon in the Sacramento River and Bay Delta. He holds degrees from UC Davis and Yale School of Forestry. He is a farmer and horticulturist, fruit tree specialist, and life-long social activist.

Michael    Furniss – is a forest and wildland soil scientist, hydrologist and climate scientist.   Michael  worked for the Research and Development Branch of the US Forest Service for 33 years. Has taught climate change and conducted climate vulnerability assessments in 14 countries and is the author of numerous seminal publications.

Michael is currently an Adjunct professor of Forestry and Wildland Science at Humboldt State University teaching upper-division class in “Climate Change and Land Use”, “Climate and Energy”, and “Wildland Hydrology.” He is a 16-year member of the Board of Directors of 2,400-acre Arcata Community Forest. Michael has been researching and passionately thinking through green burial for decades. He holds BS and  MS degrees from UC Berkeley in  soil science. www.watershed.org

Copyright 2018: Sacred Groves, a California Religious Corporation

Sacred Groves at Gualala

Copyright 2020. Sacred Groves, a California Religious Corporation