The Swirling Dust of 88 Graves
Over the weekend I answered the call to assist in digging a grave with fellow death doula Andrea (Golden Willow Doula) at the White Eagle Memorial Preserve at Ekone Ranch.
She had been there for several days and had already dug one grave and assisted with a green burial. Upon receiving the request to dig another and considering the soreness of her muscles, she gave me a call to lighten the work and spend some long overdue time together. I packed up my shovel and set out on my journey to not only make my first greetings with the land, but to become fully immersed in the experience of the place. Cemetery and conservation director Jodi Buller greeted me at her cabin adorned with bones and giant sunflowers, and Andrea joined me shortly after.
The first day was spent digging and tending to a couple of graves which had sunken a bit. In traditional cemeteries this is avoided by encapsulating the casket in a large cement vault, but is so easily remedied in natural burial grounds by removing the topsoil and adding some earth to even out the grounds and restore beauty to the grave itself through the gathering and arranging of the natural adornments of the landscape. We called it a day as the sun descended and I spent the night nestled in my sheepskin in an empty wooden cabin, bathed in the starlight from the window above me.
I awoke early to the sounds of roosters crowing. The way their calls echoed throughout the hills gave the sound a beautifully haunting resonance. I brought my coffee and my instrument to the steps of the cabin overlooking the hills and offered some songs of my own. I finished my coffee while saying good morning to the horses and goats. Ruth Bader Goatsburg and I shared a silent appreciation of the beautiful dawning day as I scratched her head and her younger counterparts bleated at me from the sidelines.
While the air was still cool, we ventured up the winding path back into the burial grounds to finish our final foot of digging. The rocks we broke and unearthed were a deep and beautiful shade of blue. It brought to mind how in the death folklore of some cultures, blue stones are used to protect from evil spirits. I find comfort in the idea of those buried in these graves being surrounded and protected by these stones of blue.
We were not alone on the grounds as we worked. Throughout the land but sight unseen were 10 people on spirit quests. They had been camping alone yet together in individual campsites for 3 days and 3 nights to nurture a deeper connection with mother earth. This was facilitated by a group based out of Bainbridge Island called Sacred Groves (sacredgroves.com) of which we met the radiant founders, Therese and Tere, at the head of the trail. Our final day on the grounds was also theirs, and the sounds of a steady drum beat echoed throughout the canyon as they emerged, one by one, in the distance. The sounds of digging and drumming and the wind swirling the dust of 88 graves was such a beautiful initiation for me into the realm of green burial.
Ekone Ranch and the White Eagle Memorial cemetery is run almost completely by women and non-binary humans. That itself brings such a sacredness and nurturing to the land and all of its inhabitants; 2-legged, 4-legged, and 3 feet under. To donate to the land and learn more about its offerings, visit ekone.org.