FULTONVILLE - A ceremony on Saturday in the village cemetery was not a burial but a celebration of burials the way nature intended.
Ryan Weitz, the village historian and sexton of the cemetery, led the ceremony to dedicate part of the site as a new natural burial ground.
"A rock decays and forms soil," Weitz said Saturday, quoting Aldo Leopold. "In the soil forms an oak, which bears an acorn, which feeds a squirrel, which feeds an Indian, who ultimately lays down to his last sleep in the great tomb of man to grow another oak."
Mark Harris, author of “Grave Matters,” speaks Saturday at the dedication of the new natural burial ground at the Fultonville Cemetery. Seated are the cemetery’s sexton, Ryan Weitz, center, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. (The Leader-Herald/Casey Croucher)
Natural, or "green," burials involve no preservation. That means no embalming fluids are used. The burials happen soon after a person's death, and the person is buried in a biodegradable shroud composed of natural fibers.
Weitz said the project started three years ago, when be stumbled upon an internet article about the natural burial method. He found that two wooded acres next to the village cemetery were "the ideal embodiment for natural burials."
Weitz proposed the idea to the Village Board, which unanimously voted to allow natural burials in the wooded section of the cemetery.
On Saturday, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, presented Weitz a citation recognizing the Fultonville Cemetery as the first of its kind in the Capital Region.
Also at Saturday's event was Mark Harris, a proponent of natural burials and author of "Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial."
He congratulated Weitz on establishing the possibility of green burials in Fultonville and explained the concept in his remarks.
"When you actually see this setting [the natural burial grounds], you don't have to sell this concept," Harris said. "It's an old concept; it's one that resonates with us, and I don't want to get too spiritual about this, but I do think there is something within many of us that feels this desire on some level to go back to the Earth, to go back to where we came from, to rejoin the elements and what's left of our life, become part of a life that continues.
Harris, who traveled from Pennsylvania to attend the ceremony, said he doesn't think the greatest benefit of green burials is that it's good for the environment or that it's more affordable than traditional burial. He thinks the greatest benefit is that "it really perpetuates life."
"This cemetery is not a place of death, it's a place of life," he said.
Weitz agreed, saying a burial ground is a place for people to leave their lasting legacies.
Each 10-foot-by-10-foot plot in the new natural burial ground will cost $500 for Montgomery County residents or $700 for non-residents.
The next step for the burial ground is cleaning up some ditch diggings that were abandoned in the early '90s, putting in a perimeter road around the area and creating trails.
Weitz said the cemetery will do sequential burials, so the lot won't be cleared of trees all at once.
"What we'll do is get 50 feet cleared and basically go from there," he said.
Weitz said the cemetery is ready for anyone who's interested in a green burial.