CINCINNATI -- Seventy-five-year-old Kathy Wade, a self-described "tree hugger," feels most at home when she's surrounded by grass, singing birds and trees. She hopes she can stay that way forever -- even after her own death.
Wade is among a growing number of Americans pursuing a "green burial," which advocates describe as an especially eco-friendly alternative to the traditional Western headstone-and-casket funeral.
"I realize that everything that I am is a gift from Mother Earth and that giving my body back after death is a way to give back," she said.
"Green burials" involve the bodies of the dead being buried unembalmed at least 3.5 feet underground, where they naturally decompose and become fertilizer for other organisms.
Although Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum has offered such a burial option since 2016, there are no fully "green" cemeteries in the Greater Cincinnati area.
Bill Gupton wants his to be the first.
He hopes to purchase land to create a green burial-only cemetery called Heritage Acres Memorial Sanctuary in the Tri-State area. According to him, it's a matter of respecting the planet and reimagining burial traditions to include the creation of new life.
"There are over 2 billion pounds of concrete in our Earth in America today from burials," he said. "There are over 100 million tons of steel and metal and almost a million tons of formaldehyde buried each and every year in America in conventional burials."
These substances are all non-biodegradable. "Green burials," by contrast, involve a biodegradable bamboo casket that will break down as the body does.
He envisions Heritage Acres as a peaceful space with walking trails and benches where both mourners and hikers can come to reflect.
Let's be real, though: This all sounds a little weird to those of us accustomed to concrete vaults and headstones, right? Wouldn't there be a risk of a smell or of getting snacked on by wild animals?
No, according to Gupton. The minimum required depth for burials is too deep for any animals -- humans included -- to smell the body, he said, and "animals are much more interested in living prey above the ground than in working that hard."
Gupton is in the process of acquiring a plot of land to make his vision of a peaceful, eco-friendly post-mortem retreat a reality. He hopes it can open in 2019.
Anyone wishing to donate or learn more can do so here.