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California redwood forest latest alternative burial site

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By Jane Ross

PORTARENA, California (Reuters) – For 70-year-old Kathee Pfalmer, who grew up in the shadow of Northern California’s towering redwood forests, nothing seemed more appropriate than eventually spending an eternity among them.

When Pfalmer dies, the Folsom, California retiree’s ashes will be scattered near a tree in the 20-acre Point Arena Forest, a privately owned grove some 130 miles north of San Francisco that has been set aside as a cemetery.

“It is one of the most beautiful, sacred things I’ve ever done and I think in a way, I’m giving that to my children,” Pfalmer, who grew up near Muir Woods in coastal Marin County, said in an interview with Reuters.

“I would think that coming to see your grandmother or your great-grandmother and having that represented by a beautiful California redwood would bring you peace and also make it not so grim and hard to accept,” she said.

The grove of Redwood, tanoak and madrone trees is owned by Better Place Forests, which was co-founded in 2015 by Sandy Gibson and two friends. He said he wanted to create a better resting place than the old church cemetery where his parents are buried next to a fire station and busy street.

“That’s not how I wanted their life story to end, “Gibson said. “And I realized that everyone has a life story and everyone needs that life story to end somewhere. But we want everyone to have a chance for it to be a beautiful place.”

Gibson said the death of his mother and father when he was young has caused him to spend a lot of time thinking about life and death and inspired the forest cemetery, where he intends to have his own ashes scattered.

Alternative burial strategies are becoming more in vogue as cities run out of room to bury the dead, and with the cost of funerals and caskets increasing. The majority of Americans are choosing cremation partly for that reason.

Other alternatives range from mummification to tree burial, not uncommon in the Philippines where loved ones put the body in trees as a memorial. Lately, some companies have offered composting, which involves placing bodies in vessels and using wood chips and straw to turn them into about two wheelbarrows of soil within a month.

A traditional funeral and plot burial can cost $6,000 (£4,861) to $10,000 according to funeral industry websites.

At Better Place Forests, a deceased person’s ashes are mixed with soil and fertilizer and spread at the base of a protected tree in one of two forests owned by the company for just under $3,000.

Better Place Forests plants a second, so called “impact tree”, in a drought or fire-ravaged part of California for each burial package sold, Gibson said.

(Reporting by Jane Ross; writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and David Gregorio)

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