This was my walking route this morning. The cemetery is right down the road from my home, but until today it never occurred to me to turn in. Not because it’s creepy, because it isn’t (at least not by day). I think it felt a bit…off, treating a burial ground like a walk through the woods.
It was more open and welcoming than I expected. The cemetery is well sited on a beautiful piece of land, following the natural contours of hills with old-growth trees. Headstones of different sizes, shapes, and ages are spaced well apart. Flowers next to gravemarkers show upkeep. A small line of rocks, a horizontal cairn, suggests visitors.
There’s a backhoe clearing a lower area of the cemetery closer to the road. An article in the local paper says the project is making way for an additional 2,500 gravesites, that at a rate of 80 interments a year, it had run out of space.
It got me wondering how many people are buried vs. cremated these days, and whether there’d eventually be a tipping point — a time when land-use politics, environmental issues, and population growth makes tracts of land like this impractical. As it turns out, it’s already happened. Three years ago was the first time the number of cremations exceeded burials in the U.S., and it has risen each year since then, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. In 2035 it’s expected to be 80 percent.
For me, the cognitive shift away from burial, retaining space I no longer need, began when I checked the box to be an organ donor on my driver’s license. It struck me powerfully, the idea that others’ lives could be saved by the things I didn’t need anymore. I guess it’s a natural progression that the older I get, the more I want to shed. A thousand miles/ Just to slip this skin.—Philadelphia, Bruce Springsteen