Here we are many weeks into one of the strangest situations any of us could have imagined. We have been deprived of our normal contact with each other at every level, driven into uncertainty in ways with which we are unfamiliar, left sleepless with dread about what comes next, and are meeting each day with a growing fear we may not be able to return to life as we left it such a short time ago. All of this is beginning to feel surreal. And yet……. here we are.
Maybe you are like me in that you are beginning to think about what needs to change when we get back together. That is a disturbing thought, mostly because I do not feel equipped to define what that should look like. Furthermore, I don’t trust anyone else is either. Soooo…. this is too much. Let’s just go back to a few months ago.
The grackles are back. We are happy to see them. Throughout the day they come and go, taking baths in the fountain in our front courtyard. They always look perfectly dressed for any social occasion. In the evenings they gather in a tall, dense evergreen tree just beyond our backyard fence chattering loudly to each other before roosting. They have a lot to say and they could care less who hears them. They like being in the middle of things here in the heart of Albuquerque. They are very social with each other and with their human neighbors. They are one of the more intelligent birds joining the ranks of magpies, ravens, and crows. Completely black with golden eyes, their feathers shine and reflect shimmering colors in the sunlight. Their most unusual behavior is to lift their heads toward the sky while perched. However, they do not sit still for long. They love to fly.
There is a large area of irrigated fields near where we and our neighbors live, commonly called The Open Space. Acres of corn and maize are raised and harvested there every year. It is open to the public for walking, jogging, biking, horseback riding and photography along the wide dirt roads between the fields. These fields provide a safe resting and feeding place for migratory foul such as Canadian geese and sandhill cranes. We are very fortunate to have easy access to such a wonderful place. I personally am drawn to the sandhill cranes. They are tall, sleek, and graceful birds designed by nature for the sky. In addition, the slow approach and formation of drag, near and within ground effect as they land, is amazing to watch and the development of lift as they launch from the grain fields demonstrates what the desire for flight is all about. Without question, humans have taken their lead from such creatures in the successful effort to lift themselves into the space above and beyond the earth.
Ok, that’s enough avoidance. Where do we go from here? How should we reconstruct the space between us? Who do we trust to define it?
The answers may not be very clear at the moment, however, the methods for moving forward have a long history. We have always found our way, right or wrong, together. The space between us is deceptive. The degree of separateness is an illusion. We are in this strange time together more than we are alone. Beyond that, we of the present age did not arrive here on our own but owe a deep acknowledgement to those upon whose shoulders we stand. And, if that weren’t enough, those who come after us are greatly dependent upon us to make good choices about the world we are about to leave them. What should that new world look like? Well, you and I are not sure at this moment, however, can we agree to put it together based upon as much consideration for each other as is needed for securing our future?
Donal’s thoughts from a recent interview -
What are some of the significant ways in which you’ve seen the world change in your lifetime (both positively and negatively)?
When I was a boy my world was very small. My experiences were limited to a small town surrounded by farms and ranches. I was ten years old before ever seeing a large city. There were a limited number of people in my world and fewer in the world at large. As time went on I was able to take more into my personal knowledge and experience. The world expanded, not just my experience of it but the world itself grew rapidly across the globe. What was knowable expanded and changed, and then changed again, and again, ad infinitum. It became less certain, it felt less stable, it felt less trustworthy in some ways. Then, to confuse things even more, the world seemed to get smaller again but not in the same way as when I was young. It became more tentatively comprehensible. It began to shrink given the greater level of access to information and there seemed to be less room --- a lot more people. Rather than the world being narrowed, it became filled with complexity. That complexity may have some features that are within themselves either positive or negative. However, the tools available to us are unlike any in history and will be used to continually form and reform our world as we individually and collectively see fit.
How has your worldview shifted over your lifetime? (may include views on relationships, friendships, education, career, spirituality etc.)
In my case, all of those things have shifted. They have all gone through migrations. My concepts, my worldview has changed dramatically since I was a young adult. My relationships have grown stronger and more productive and have become more significant to me. The relationships that I have felt were not contributing anything to my life or that were not being enhanced by my presence tended to drop away. The relationships that have deep meaning to me, I feel very compelled to contribute to. These relationships have become more succinct and consequently have much deeper roots than relationships when I was younger. The people in my life have changed to some degree because of my primary relationship, my wife. Even though my life in the past was significant, my life has developed a much deeper quality. Consequently, the relationship with her and the children have deeper meaning to me than I could ever explain. It’s not that other people are less significant than they were but that those relationships, by comparison, did not have the same depth to them.
My views of philosophy and education continue to change because I have taken in more knowledge of the world, of myself, and of people in general. I feel my formal education no longer keeps up with what my real education level is. I feel good about that. On a personal level, this feels more significant to me than what my formal education level represents.
Religion has been one of the greatest migrations of all, having been raised in a very narrow and confining religious perspective. I’ve escaped that over time, but it has taken the majority of my life to incorporate that dramatic shift on a personal level.
Although all of these things have changed, it may be that no one migration is more significant than another. They don’t seem to work in isolation. They each seem to contribute to the evolution of the other.
What would you like others to know about older adults?
People are not necessarily diminished by age. They are quite often expanded. I think there may be a general tendency to discount older people. That is the opposite way people who have aged would like to be treated. We often feel that younger people don’t really see us. It’s almost like we’re invisible. It doesn’t feel good to be discounted simply because of age, either direction. We may not be less viable, less intelligent, less productive, or less anything simply because of age. From our standpoint, we are more present to the world around us than ever before but viewed in the opposite way. Because of that, a lot of what we have to offer is not even taken into consideration. In that way, a lot gets missed by the larger population.
Looking back over your lifetime, what are the moments that stand out most to you?
The older I’ve gotten, I’ve been able to look back and see the arc of life. Another way of expressing that is to look back and see a thread that has run through the whole of my life that has a uniformity to it. That surprises me because as living goes day to day it feels disconnected. But, looking back it seems more uniform. Even when you experience the day to day, being aware of that thread becomes part of the meaning of life. You are more able to proceed knowing that there is some uniformity or even some purpose to it which may be found in that thread, that overall arc.
There are moments in history, external to my own, that are vivid in my memory and have served as transformative events both for myself and the world at large; the end of World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of the 1960’s, the moon landing, the development of the Internet, and the present displacement of peoples from their homeland all over the world.
As you reflect on your interview responses, what would you like to add?
As you leave middle age behind and approach being older there is a point at which you realize you’re not just growing older, you’re actually old. There is a certain sadness to that but there is also a certain challenge as well. The challenge becomes one of intensity, things begin to matter greatly, probably more so than in any other stage in your life. It determines how you feel about the future and how you handle the future because there is less of it. Time becomes more precious. It sits heavier on your shoulder. It’s not heavy because it is unbearable, it is weighted because there is less of it. It becomes extremely important.
This is one of the things I thought about when I was younger, but I could put off taking it seriously because there was more time. It didn’t feel like it was so weighted. It becomes really incumbent on the person who is old to be careful not to become calloused or burdensome with that issue to the people who make up their world. It is very important to me personally that I don’t become weight, weight from the standpoint of being burdensome to my family or the people that I encounter every day. I don’t talk about some of the things that I think might be negative about the world that I see as it unfolds into the future. I don’t want my negativity, if there is any and sometimes there is, to be impactful to the hopefulness of the world as it unfolds into the future. I’d rather contribute something that is positive instead of becoming a grumpy old man who doesn’t see any good in the world, because that isn’t true. There is good in the world. Although there are problems, I don’t know that they are more fatal than what we’ve gone through in the past. They’re different problems. Although there may be challenges, the world has always changed. The progression of the world has always been driven by people who have vision and the courage (or foolishness) to act to bring about that which will be different.
This article is from the national Green Burial Council’s October newsletter.
The Silver Tsunami
contributed by: Rob Caughlan
For thirty years, scientists have been predicting that the global temperature increases were going to have significant consequences such as more extreme weather- bigger and more frequent storms, more flooding, longer droughts, more wildfires, rising sea levels and tens of thousands of environmental refugees.
The consequences of climate change are already evident. It doesn’t take another international study by 2000 scholars and scientists to confirm this. In the United States alone, the Maine lobsters are moving to Canada. The armadillos are moving up to Illinois. Wildfires in California have burned more than 800,000 acres of land. Texas has had three (3) five-hundred year floods in the last three (3) years. The frequency and severity of the hurricane season all across the planet isn’t a coincidence.
Predictions about the future are difficult to make accurately. But there is no larger environmental issue that is more foreseeable than the fact that 80 million of us baby boomers are going to need end of life services in the near future. This huge demographic anomaly provides our country (United States) with an important way to help solve several problems. The first is that most cemeteries are already full. The second is that green burial can reduce significant amounts of unnecessary climate changing pollution.
This demographic anomaly has been called The Silver Tsunami.
Here’s the situation. When Americans are buried in a conventional cemetery (one allowing or requiring concrete liners and embalmed bodies), they are interred below the flat green grass that has been watered and probably treated with pesticides. (A cemetery in San Mateo, CA uses $300,000 worth of water every year).
Prior to burial, many bodies in the United States are filled with embalming chemicals. Every year, over four million gallons of embalming fluid containing formaldehyde is placed into the ground. Twenty (20) million board feet of lumber a year is used to make caskets. I don’t have any problem with that if it is not endangered South American hardwood. A good book about all of this, Grave Matters by Mark Harris estimates that the average 10 acre swatch of cemetery ground contains 1000 tons of casket steel. But worst of all, all of this is put inside a cement vault. These concrete boxes keep the lawns flat, and allow the cemetery to pack more caskets closer together.
Unless we can provide people with better alternatives about 40%, or 30 million of us 80 million boomers will probably have to be buried in this manner. Now, mainly because it is less expensive, the other 60% of the baby boomers, about 50 million people will choose to be cremated.
Then of course there is the smoke and particulate matter from 50 million burning bodies. Cremation is correctly viewed as being easier on the planet than full body burial of an embalmed body, and cremation will probably continue to be a bit less expensive than natural burial plots, but taking up less space isn’t necessarily a good argument. In Japan, 95% of the people are cremated because it’s a small country. They don’t have a lot of space. In the United States, we have plenty.
But from an environmental point of view natural burial is by far the best.
There is a growing movement in Europe and the United States for natural burials. The so-called “green burials” are really just a return to the old ways, like the Pilgrims did. Bury the person in a pine box or a shroud and plant a tree over the grave. “What we now call green burial, used to be called burial.”
The United States is lagging behind England. They have more than 250 green cemeteries, or natural burial parks or ancestral groves. We only have a couple dozen of the all natural parks: Although that number is growing. I just saw the plans for a new one in Florida.
Green burials, typically, are not as expensive as a the conventional cemetery with upright and/or flat markers. There are many within the funeral industry, that are, understandably, not big fans of the natural burial movement. They won’t get to sell as much concrete or brass or perform their embalming services.
But more and more of the typical flat lawn cemeteries are starting to respond to the increasing interest in and demand for green burials by dedicating parcels of their properties for green burial. These are now being called hybrid cemeteries.
But hybrid cemeteries will not be enough. Most of our typical tombstone cemeteries are already almost full! We need to start planning and creating a large quantity of new cemeteries to accommodate the millions of Americans who will choose full body burial. We will need to accommodate about eight million people right here in California in the very near future. Like I said, there is no future problem that is more accurately predictable.
It is difficult to set up new cemeteries. The rules in California are tough. But I think we could help solve the shortage of cemeteries and provide people with a green burial option by working with land trust organizations.
The concept is simple. Land trusts dedicate a small portion of their holdings for a natural burial park. The consumers purchase a plot and the burial service. The land trust oversees the planting of trees or native grasses over the graves and uses the proceeds to protect more open space. It’s called a conservation cemetery; it has a higher purpose than just storage.
All the trends are showing that people want more participation in the end of life events. Home funerals, hospice midwives, and innovative burial events are increasingly popular.
Star Trek’s, James Doohan, had a portion of his ashes shot into the Earth’s orbit. Outdoorsman John Grayson Rogers had his ashes put into an eternal reef ball placed near the coral reefs in the Chesapeake Bay.
I believe that there are many thousands of people in California and around the country, like Prius buyers and Whole Foods shoppers, who care strongly about environmental issues and climate change who would rather spend their money for a more ecological end of life alternative.
Marshall McLuhan said, “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”
I believe natural burial can be a win, win-win, idea. It’s a win for open space preservation because it would help fund land trust protection efforts. And, it is a double win for us boomer consumers. We save some money. And we benefit from knowing that our last act made a small yet positive contribution to the overheated little planet that we will soon be leaving to our grandchildren. And that makes it a win for the planet.
The eloquent environmental philosopher Aldo Leopold wrote,
“A rock decays and forms soil. In the soil grows an oak,
Which bears an acorn, which feeds a squirrel,
Which feeds an Indian, Who ultimately lays him
down to his last sleep in the great tomb of man
– to grow another oak.”
Aldo Leopold (1887 – 1948) is considered the father of modern wildlife ecology and he spent many years of his life in New Mexico, leaving behind an environmental legacy. He began his professional career in 1909 when he joined the U.S. Forest Service.
Among his many accomplishments are the creation of the Gila Wilderness near Silver City (the first proclaimed Wilderness area in the U.S.) and the foundation of the Albuquerque Wildlife Federation. Leopold had a special love for Albuquerque, and strongly advocated for the responsible growth of the city when he served as Secretary of Albuquerque’s Chamber of Commerce. He and his wife Estella lived in a home and created a visionary garden near the Rio Grande off of 14thand Central.
At this time, Leopold also promoted the creation of what would later become the Rio Grande Valley State Park. His vision and efforts eventually lead to the creation of the Rio Grande Zoological Park, Botanic Gardens, and the Rio Grande Nature Center.
The Aldo Leopold Forest was dedicated on Feb. 15, 2009. This forest is approximately 53 acres in size, extending from the north boundary of the Nature Center to the southeast side of the Montaño Bridge. There are naturally surfaced trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians on this beautifully maintained trail system, with signage along the way honoring Leopold’s legacy in New Mexico and promoting his vision of an ethical relationship with the land.
Please read a few of Mr. Leopold’s quotes from the signage along the trail –
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.
We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.
We at Natural Burial New Mexico believe in treating the land with love and respect and in preserving the integrity and beauty of La Puerta Natural Burial Ground.
Thank you to all of you who share in our vision and have chosen La Puerta as a final resting place for yourselves and your loved ones. We are truly honored, and pledge to you that we will continue to cherish La Puerta as “a fountain of energy that flows through the soil, plants, and animals”, and your loved ones buried there.
Linda Canyon, 8/3/2018
Dream #1: Fear of Death
The water supply was a hand-dug earthen well just outside the yard fence at the rear of the house. A path led from the back porch off the kitchen to a gate in the fence at the opposite corner from the well. Inside the yard, nearest the well at the back of the kitchen was a peach tree.
I was five years old, and in the dream, I had been sent to draw water in the dark. The soft light from the kitchen window made visible the well, the peach tree, and the path.
After filling the bucket, I turned to start back up the fence to the gate. Movement from behind the peach tree caught my eye. When I looked more closely, I found myself staring into the eyes of a huge African lion. With every step I took toward the gate the lion took one too. I looked at the distance I had to cover to get to the porch and realized it was twice the distance the lion had to go to reach me. In addition, I knew the lion was much faster. For a few seconds, I stood frozen, aware I was going to die, then decided to make a run for it anyway.
At that point, I woke up with my mother sitting beside me on the bed, wiping the sweat from my brow.
Dream #2: The Questions
After a two-year struggle with a terminal illness, my father passed away. A month after his burial I had this dream:
He and I were sitting in his living room talking as we had done so many times before. He said, “I told you I would let you know what death is like and what you can expect when your time comes.” He continued, “I am happy to say we got some of it right in our conversations, about 50%. As for the rest of it, we were way off. So, here it is.” Then for a very long time, my father proceeded to tell me in great detail what death and beyond is really like.
I awoke from the dream that was so real it took a few seconds for me to separate it from the wakefulness. I hurriedly got out of bed, went to my desk for paper and pen, and sat down ready to write every word. What had been so clear and so exciting just a few moments before had completely vanished.
Dream #3: La Puerta
When my father was nineteen, he caught an empty boxcar in the small Texas town near his parents’ farm, rode it to Mountainair, New Mexico, and worked in the bean harvest for two seasons. He then returned to his roots, and at twenty-three married the girl who became my mother. She was nineteen when I was born.
I grew up with those stories about my father’s adventures in the Manzano Mountains, the Indian ruins, and the railroad.
About three years ago, my wife Linda and I began to dream of a place where one could be laid to rest in a kinder, gentler way than we have grown used to in our fast-moving society. We searched for land along the Rio Grande corridor and found the land of our dreams at the western base of the Manzano Mountains, where Abo Canyon empties into the desert.
That dream, La Puerta Natural Burial Ground, has been a reality for just over a year now, and we are very pleased and honored that so many of you have discovered it.
BURY ME OUT ON THE PRAIRIE by Dr. Donal W. Key
In 1902, the railroad began construction of a series of trestles up Abo Canyon, the first and largest at the western base of the Manzano Mountains where the confluence of drainage enters Abo Wash on its way to the Rio Grande some twenty miles across the prairie.
Three smaller trestles on the north side of Abo Wash were put in place approaching the curve in the rail-line crossing the wash. To undertake this massive endeavor, the railroad hired some 700 men, mostly from Kansas and China. Right-of-way for the project cut through a large cattle ranch where water wells had been dug to an abundant under-ground water source.
The railroad made a deal with the rancher to set up camp on the east end of the ranch and south side of Abo Wash, very near the largest trestle. A corral, expansive enough to hold 500 mules and horses, was constructed near-by.
As the work progressed, so did the difficulties of camp life. With a little money in their pockets, and not much to do after hours, the men gambled and otherwise entertained themselves by settling disputes with force. Those who did not survive these rough encounters were buried inside the corral under the cover of darkness, so that by morning, all evidence of the graves had been thoroughly stamped out by mule and horse hooves. No record or remaining evidence exists of the number of men buried inside the corral.
At some point during construction, or shortly after the line opened to rail traffic in 1906, a family of five traveling by covered wagon got caught in a massive snow storm, taking refuge under the smaller trestle. They did not survive. Their bodies were discovered by a rail worker, and they were buried on a slight rise within the railroad right-of-way on the north side of the track, about fifty yards from where they died. Their graves were marked with natural stones and the area was fenced to preserve this family’s private cemetery, protected to this day by the railroad.
La Puerta Natural Burial Ground lies on the south side of the tracks about 500 yards to the west of the site where this family was buried over a hundred years ago. A half-mile to the south and east of La Puerta, across Abo Wash, is the location of the mule corral that became a cemetery of unmarked graves. In the spirit of the history and the choices made to honor the dead, La Puerta allows graves to be marked by natural stone or native plant, or to remain unmarked.
The setting of La Puerta is peaceful, beautiful, and historic. The Manzano Mountains rise to 10,000 feet on the northeast; Abo Wash is a short distance to the south. The two 100-foot railroad trestles that cross it are always in view, with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) trains coming and going at close intervals throughout the day.
The canyon is home to Bighorn sheep, deer, mountain lion, and birds both large and small. At several hundred feet of elevation, crystal clear spring water flows from inside the mountain to collect in natural rock basins, while vegetation growing on the upper banks allows a hidden and cautious approach to the stream, providing a rich wildlife meeting place. Life and death are close neighbors.
Standing in the sunlight near the stream, the mountains rising sharply a thousand feet on either side, a feeling of serenity is unavoidable. Flying through the pass from east to west, the earth drops away sharply and the expansive view ahead widens abruptly fifty miles in every direction. Being held close by nature or soaring free in the space above it causes something to awaken at the core, reaffirming how valuable each moment truly is.
JOHNNIE RAY - BURY ME OUT ON THE LONE PRAIRIE - YouTube
1.) Harvey House Museum, Belen, NM
2.) Robert Bilbry, ranch owner south of La Puerta
3.) Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad
THE JOURNEY with Dr. Donal W. Key, Natural Burial New Mexico
Every individual life matters, or nothing matters at all.
In a series of writings, my intention is to share stories of an individual nature in the hope of inspiring those who read them to give value to their own unique experiences and to find meaning at that level, as well as collectively.
For thousands of years humans have struggled with making sense of their evolutionary journey. One of the major components preventing clarity of understanding has always been the brevity of time allowed for personal experience. In other words, life is too short to sort it out.
For this reason, as a species, beginning long ago we placed our trust in structures spanning longer duration. We have been taught to embrace numbers, large numbers. If a belief, a thought, a perspective can endure over a large number of years, it must hold more value than individual ones. The larger the number of people embracing a value, the greater the proof it must be so. Without a doubt, there is something to be said for deference to those collective concepts.
However, there is much to be lost if life only has value at this level. In fact, a central point has been overlooked – life is lived one life at a time, not collectively. We are not born together, we are not experiencing life the same, we die as a single life extinguished, even if we die together in some mass event.
Yes, every individual life matters, or nothing matters at all. Please read on -
It was a warm, early summer day. Dad was in the lead carrying a toy boat he made for the occasion. Mom brought up the rear, avoiding the thorny branches on either side of the narrow trail. From the right, just a little way off came the gentle sound of a stream meandering through the forest undergrowth. The trees were tall and had been racing each other to the sun above their canopy. Over the briars, Yaupon, and grape vines was an unobstructed open space where small birds flew this way and that, calling to each other and meeting up on the branches above them. The deep blue ones, Jays, and the bright red ones, Cardinals, could be seen and heard above the others. Way off, crows chattered to each other, and flew above the top of the forest to destinations higher up on Gee Mountain. Cottontail rabbits were everywhere, scurrying across the path to crouch motionless just out of reach, watching as we passed by.
We came to a small grassy clearing where the world became bright again and the hidden stream collected itself into a deep, narrow sandstone pool. Near the bottom of the pool, yellow and silver-sided perch, lazily opening and closing their gills extended their fins periodically to hold themselves in place in an invisible current.
Our farm house was a few miles south on higher ground, cleared a generation before to grow corn. The soil had already lost much of its richness and the rains didn’t come consistently. Soon my dad would be forced to take a truck-driving job in town to make ends meet. Our way of life would change and we would move from this place to a boarding-house apartment some sixty miles to the north. Another world entirely.
But, not so fast. Stay with me on Briar Branch. Here, all nature seemed to have what it needed to thrive; the sounds joyful, the setting peaceful. Life was everywhere.
Dad helped me put the boat in the pool and we followed along the bank as it slowly drifted to the far end and stopped, waiting to be carried back for another trip. As the boat moved along the surface, its shadow, clearly defined, followed along the bottom some eight feet below, passing over the fish and pebbles. Neither moved.
Over the years of my life, I have returned to that day again and again. There, walking between my parents listening to their voices – calm, natural, and expressive, as though the present moment, this present reality, would always be, would never end. I had nothing to fear.
As you know, everything changes. My mother did not stay twenty-three, and my dad did not stay twenty-nine, and in a few months, I was no longer four years old. As time moved on, Briar Branch, as I experienced that day, ceased to exist. All of that rich bottom land fell prey to the oil boom. The trees were dozed, the stream became mud-laden, and the spring that fed it dried up. Later, the land sold to a large ranch and where all that nature had been, only cows grazed on what was left of the grass. Gee Mountain turned out to be a hundred-foot-tall hill with an abrupt rock outcropping on the north side overlooking the stream below.
This may seem like a sad story, and in some ways, it is. But, what would be truly sad would be to have never experienced that day; to have that place never exist, to not know about a reality so well-balanced that everything seemed possible. What a gift my parents gave me. The gift did last a life-time.
If you are afraid, you may need to run. Know when to do so. When you run, run under briars, not into the clearing. When you are well out of reach, crouch down and watch for the danger to pass. Never run through the briars, as they will cut you. Learn to live in the middle; in the open spaces between the dense undergrowth and the top of the forest. That’s where you can truly fly and sing your own song. While at rest, if a cloud passes over, don’t panic. It may only be a small boy’s toy boat sailing on a clear day over the surface of a perfect world.
Living kinder, gentler, and better produces the greatest possibility of a finish one can feel good about.
Natural Burial New Mexico has its origins in the promotion of a kinder, gentler, and better life. We feel that concept should be extended to include all of life, all the way through to the ending.
The seminars and speaking engagements that we do are all about living well in spite of the disappointments, failures, illnesses, tragedies, unexpected events, discomfort regarding mortality, and uncertainties about the future.
We welcome the common ground within science, philosophy, psychology, spirituality, and the developments in the exploration of consciousness.
We believe in the possibility of better based on:
Opening La Puerta del Cielo
Natural Jewish Burial: A Jewish woman died in Albuquerque last week. She was not just anyone; she was a very special person with whom Abq Jew became acquainted, alas, only after her death.
When a Jew dies in Albuquerque, his or her remains are usually delivered to a local funeral home, where those remains are prepared for burial.
The funeral home usually works with a local rabbi to schedule a funeral service, and often (not always) calls in the Chevre Kaddisha (Jewish Burial Society) to wash, purify, and dress the deceased, and place him or her in a kosher casket.
The deceased is then usually transported to a local cemetery, where the funeral service is performed and the deceased is buried.
All of this is done with dignity and respect.
And all of this (except, of course, the services of the Chevre Kaddisha) costs money.
The family of the special person whom Abq Jew met last week did not have enough money to follow the "usual" procedure.
In such a case, what is the responsibility of the Albuquerque Jewish community? And how does the Albuquerque Jewish community fulfill that responsibility?
Respectful treatment and burial of the dead
is one of the greatest mitzvot.
When the family of the deceased cannot perform this mitzvah for financial reasons, the Albuquerque Jewish community - through the Jewish Federation of New Mexico - steps in.
Through the JFNM's Indigent Burial Fund, the mitzvah of
kavod hamet כּבוד המת (honoring the dead) is fulfilled.
The JFNM's kosher pine caskets are usually procured through Fathers Building Futures, a local organization that helps
ensure parents and families experiencing barriers from incarceration have the best opportunities for stability - emotionally, socially and financially.
This project has been inspired by the courageous men who have, and who will continue to, overcome obstacles in order to succeed as providers for their children and community.
And JFNM's burial plots? While Fairview Memorial Park in Albuquerque and Vista Verde Memorial Park in Rio Rancho still have some plots available for Jewish burials, there is a new alternative: La Puerta Natural Burial Ground -
a 40-acre private, serene, conservation burial site at the base of the Manzano Mountains. Fully certified by the national Green Burial Council, La Puerta's mission is to ensure low cost, environmentally sound, and respectful burial for all.
La Puerta is located about 15 miles southeast of Belen. That's about an hour's ride from downtown Albuquerque - about half an hour on I-25, a quick swing through Belen, and then onto Highway 47.
Yes, it's a bit of a schlep, but the reward for those visiting La Puerta is blue sky, beautiful mountains, acres upon acres of magnificent open fields ... and trains.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway runs through Belen and then heads southeast, crossing Highway 47 just north of the La Puerta turnoff.
The 40-car, 60-car, 80-car freight trains that move across the tranquil La Puerta horizon - silently and powerfully - only add to the serenity of the place. The trains convey continuity - a feeling that, whatever happens, we will go on.
For the very special lady Abq Jew helped bury last week - well, her family (also very special) said she would have been pleased. Which is all we can ask for.
The JFNM has been proud to assist in the proper Jewish burial of several indigent New Mexicans during the past few months. But -
The Indigent Burial Fund is almost empty.
Can you help the JFNM perform this important mitzvah?
Click here to donate to the Jewish Federation of New Mexico, and please direct a portion of your contribution to the Indigent Burial Fund.
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Some twenty years ago one of my sons gifted me with a Blue Merle Australian Shepherd puppy named Kaci for my birthday. Kaci’s mother, Katie, belonged to my son, and Kaci’s sire was a Red Heeler. Kaci was only six weeks old and a beautiful bouncing ball of fur.
Kaci began her life with me sleeping every night against the top of my head on my pillow. During the day she rode with me in the pickup truck everywhere I went. In warm weather, she loved to ride in the truck bed, running from side to side, with the wind blowing in her face. In bad weather she rode up front in the passenger’s seat, watching the road ahead without moving a muscle and a very serious look on her face. I accused her of not trusting my driving.
Kaci grew up with me at a time in my life when I sorely needed her kind of company. She and I lived in a log cabin on the side of a mountain. Our nearest neighbors were deer, elk, bear, and cougars.
On warm evenings, when the moon came up full, Kaci would lie outside the cabin and watch it slowly rise over Mt. Nebo across the valley. Watching her take it all in made me wonder what she was thinking, and I wished she could tell me.
Kaci has been gone for several years now. I still miss her and have a difficult time talking about her. Conversing with people about La Puerta Natural Burial Ground has given rise to discussions about what to do for animal companions like Kaci. In answer to that question, Natural Burial New Mexico has established a pet cemetery adjacent to La Puerta. All those we love deserve our respectful care in life and in death.