Six feet under is too deep for a green burial. I’ll demonstrate with a recent animal burial from Melleray Farmstead.
For those of you just joining in, Melleray Farmstead is the cottage industrial home of Piedmont Pine Coffins. Here in the summer-lush piedmont of central NC, we live off the grid and have animals and a big garden. It’s late October, and, as I write, it’s Halloween. Any day at Melleray Farmstead can be Halloween, or El Dia de Los Muertos — The Day of the Dead. Last Sunday was that day for a little ram lamb who’d had worms all summer. I tried everything (garlic, apple cider vinegar, seaweed, black walnut leaves, diatomaceous earth, farm store wormers and drenches) but he never turned the corner, even after temperatures finally dropped at the start of this month. I found him in a corner of the barn.
Believe me when I say it’s no stretch that living at Melleray Farmstead — with its cycles of life, its sudden funerals, its careening plant and animal sickness and health — has been good preparation for stepping with Piedmont Pine Coffins to the edge of the human drama that is death care.
So what do you do with an animal corpse?
- Eat the meat. No, didn’t find him in time.
- Throw carcass in the woods. No, don’t want to bring coyotes closer.
- Section carcass for dogs. No, the dogs guard our sheep and I don’t want to give them any ideas.
- Sky burial. Now you’re talking. We have a pergola with a platform that vultures frequent. I’m open to it.
How about an immediate interment six feet under? Well, yes and no. I decided to bury the lamb in the barnyard, but six feet under is too deep. Green burialists, take note of the soil profile in the photo at right. There’s only so much brown dirt — bioactive with worms and microbes — before the soil peters out into hard red clay. Deeper, six feet down, oxygen isn’t even penetrating, so you’re into the realm of anaerobic decomposition, which smells bad. For a quick, bioactive, “dust-to-dust” return to ground, you want to be near the brown dirt. That’s why green burial cemeteries like Honey Creek Woodlands in GA and Prairie Creek Conservation Cemetery in FL, where graves are still dug by hand, favor shallower tombs.
At graveside in our barnyard, chickens showed up, as per usual, irreverent, for co(s)mic relief. Their day is nigh, as — who knows — is ours. My daughter and I covered the carcass with handfuls and shovelfuls of good earth. Thank you, pobrecito — poor little lamb who didn’t make it this year.