I work seasonally for Hood River County Parks and for the first time, I was asked to perform maintenance on the small county cemetery area.  My tasks were to retrieve errant flowers, both natural and artificial, clear away fallen tree branches, and “weed eat” on every plot.

The loud gas-belching whirr of my machine seemed out of place with the normal serenity of the resting place.  I wondered whether using hand tools might have been more appropriate?  This public cemetery has no headstones, just metal plaques, which are easily hidden, especially after drifting grasses from my handiwork covered the names of the deceased.

On the adjacent church-run cemetery, two riding mowers were at work, nonchalantly cutting grass.  There must be a different model for cemeteries, and I have found a great one, where stewardship is at the forefront.

Ekone Ranch: Land of the Good Spirits

Ray Mitchell had a dream to establish a cemetery at Ekone Ranch, located in south-central Washington, where people could return to the earth without unnatural obstructions caused by embalming fluid, metal caskets and concrete vaults.  When Mitchell died in 2007, his death resulted in the formation of the White Eagle Memorial Preserve, which aims to provide a natural alternative to the death care industry as it currently exists.  Green cemeteries preserve natural landscape through the protective covenants inherent in burial grounds.  They also disallow the use of chemicals on the grounds and embalming fluids in the body.  Caskets are optional.

The 20-acre White Eagle Preserve overlooks the Rock Creek Canyon wild lands, and it appropriate that this cemetery is the only officially certified wilderness burial grounds in the country.  Here, the grave sites are planted with native plants, and graveside markings are comprised of rocks that are native to the area, as opposed to using a tombstone.  People can be buried in a wood casket, animal skin or cloth, amid a natural setting, trees and scenic beauty, all while saving on the fees of more formal cemeteries.  While a typical burial costs an average of $7,000 burials at Ekone start at $2,400.  Six people are interred here.

Three of Ekone’s dogs guide us up the path to the preserve.  we can imagine a procession of people led by a horse-drawn carriage slowly making their way to the burial sites.

Walking feels like the right way to approach the preserve.  the forest around us features mature Ponderosa pine, large white oaks and a gentle breeze.  Upon arriving at the cemetery, we pay tribute to Mitchell’s simple grave, marked only by pine cones and a flat stone.  We then marvel at the views of the large meadow in front of us and just beyond, pristine Rock Creek Canyon.  Though absolutely quite today, we ponder what this scene must look like with the meadow busting with wildflowers, a glistening pond and the melody of nesting birds.  The White Eagle founders have done well by choosing this spot where the living and the non-living can both be honored.  Except for the scattering of tiny red flag markers, there is nothing to indicate that this ground is a burial site, and that is exactly as Mitchell and the Ekone founders most have envisioned it.  ~