Shelves for life

As you may or may not know, here at Foxfield Preserve we only allow the use of biodegradable burial containers. These can be woven sea grass or bamboo caskets, cardboard caskets, fabric burial shrouds, or plain wooden caskets.

The families that we work with are often seeking out an alternative that is simpler and more appropriate for how they’ve lived, with more opportunities for family involvement and personalization. I am often asked by the families that we serve if they might be able to build a casket themselves. The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

To me, the bittersweet thought of building your own casket, or the casket of someone you love is a fairly romantic notion. It seems a real act of love and care. Then each sanding stroke would seem a caress, and each nail hammered in would be filled with meaning.

So when someone sent me a link to the description of these Shelves for Life created by designer William Warren, I was thrilled! This takes that beautiful notion of building your own casket one step further. Create a bookshelf that you will use everyday, which can then be transitioned to become your casket.shelvesforlife_WilliamWarren

I just love the idea of making my casket a useful piece of furniture. A piece of furniture that I would use and look at everyday. Bookshelves that would be full of the mementos of my life – favorite novels, family photos, heirloom china, special keepsakes. A piece of furniture that could hold my past and my future. It would be such a powerful reminder to embrace every beautiful fleeting moment. What do you think?



Inspiring “My Wish”

Today I received an email from a woman who had recently visited the Foxfield Preserve. She had been considering green burial for several years, and had finally come to visit the location to determine if this option suited her. Following her visit, she felt inspired to write down her reflections on her decision:

My Wish

Lay me under
The forest floor
Let lost leaves cover me
And chipmunks be my guardians
Let summer trees whisper lullabies
And wild violets be my memorial
In this place
Let me rest
Let the rain percolate
And release my flesh
To return to that which nourished my soul
Allow me to repay
All that was taken
Do not encumber me with chemicals, concrete, or coffin
Let my organic self restore
And my spiritual self rejoice
For Nature
Inspired me
To reside in its Glory
My wish

Barbara L. Acker
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Barbara! We are so very pleased to know that we have inspired such lovely thoughts, and we endeavor to fulfill your wish.

A Simple Thank You

I recently presided over my 50th burial since I joined the Foxfield Preserve. That wouldn’t seem like much to someone who runs a conventional cemetery – they could probably see that many services in a couple of months. But since our cemetery is so new, the majority of our sales are to people who are making their arrangements in advance.

Short_openHonestly, I prefer it this way. I have worked here for 4 years and have only just completed my 50th burial. Because of this I have clear memories of moments from every single one of those services. I am still able to remember the stories that people share with me as they make their arrangements – they paint me pictures of those they’ve lost. Because of this I can look through the prairie grasses and know that she was an avid gardener and chose that spot so she could be near the prairie cone flowers, or that the couple buried beneath that tree split the sandstone stoop of the farmhouse they lived in to make their stone markers.

It is hard to describe what it means to me to be able to carry these small details with me as I walk among the prairie grasses. How deeply it touches me to remember the heart-breaking, uplifting, funny and melancholy moments that I have been permitted to stand witness to at those 50 burials.

Without fail, at each of those Short_closedservices,someone has approached to thank me. And in spite  of standing quietly by for 50 burials, I have not been able to find a response that seems to communicate how that makes me feel. It humbles me. I wish I could clearly state how honored I am to serve them. I don’t know how to put my gratitude into words – for their gesture in giving the body of this person they loved back to the earth, and giving generously back to the community at the same time. Gratitude for sharing their beautiful, intimate moment of farewell with me; poignant lessons and reminders that I hope to carry with me through my life. Each of these moments, these 50 simple thank yous, overflow my heart. All I can give in response is my own simple, heartfelt thanks.

Scattered water

One of our recent burials at the Foxfield Preserve took place on a particularly lovely day – an especially spring-like mid-February day with a bright blue sky and balmy temperatures. As I prepared the site in the early morning hours I was treated to an eastern bluebird singing and enjoyed the flash of a mockingbird flitting along the edge of the wood.

Standing on the hillside looking out over the Sugarcreek valley as the stark stalks of last year’s prairie grasses waved gently in the breeze, the family gathered to say their goodbyes. With such a beautiful setting for a farewell, the passage they read seemed particularly apropos:


Water isn’t created by being ladled into a bucket.
Simply put, the water of the whole Universe
has been ladled into a bucket.

The water does not disappear
because it has been scattered over the ground.

It is only that the water of the whole Universe
has been emptied into the whole Universe.

Life is not born because a person is born.
The life of the whole Universe has been ladled
into the concrete being called “I.”

Life does not disappear because a person dies.
Simply, the life of the whole Universe has been poured
out of this concrete “I” back into the Universe

– Kosho Uchiyama, 1912 – 1998


With such a lovely message, so meaningful in regards to their choice of a natural burial, this service left me filled with warmth.

Stillness of a Snowy Wood

Whenever we have a burial at Foxfield Preserve, we line the bottom of the grave with pine boughs. It creates a beautiful, soft place to lay your loved one to rest.

This means that each time I am preparing for a service, I head out for a walk along our trails to cut pine boughs. These solitary walks tend to be full of reflection for me. Inevitably, my thoughts linger with the families that I am assisting with arrangements. My mind wanders through the stories and memories they’ve shared with me of the loved one they’ve lost.

My mind was full of such bittersweet thoughts as I walked to the stand of pines this week. The blanket of snow underfoot created a soft muffled sensation within the wood, and a gentle crunch with each step. There was an incredible peace and calm that fell, with very few noises of birdsong or rustling. As I rounded the corner to my favorite location to cut boughs, I came upon two young deer. They seemed surprised by my appearance, but not terribly concerned. One stood a few feet away and held my gaze for a few seconds before turning and leaping off.

Walking deeper into the forest, ruminating on the task at hand and soaking in the peaceful stillness surrounding me, I thought of a quote by John Burroughs:


The Giving Tree

About two months ago I received a package in the mail from a family with which I had recently worked. I had helped this couple to make arrangements to inter the ashes of their son at the foot of a young oak tree on the Preserve. Though he had passed a few years before, the depth of their grief for their child (grown or not, he was still their child) was still heavy within their hearts.

In their message, they shared that their son had “loved to climb trees and would be happy that he now lies under a beautiful oak tree.” Along with this message they also enclosed a gift – “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, which was a favorite among their family.

The_Giving_TreeI read this story many times as a child. As a little girl, it always made me a tad uncomfortable. I never liked the progression of the little boy taking so much from the tree – perhaps feeling guilty for my own selfish, childish demands. Maybe this was why my mother would occasionally insist that this story make its way into the bedtime rotation…?

The little boy and the tree have made an appearance a few times as I am now reading to my own son. When I became a parent, the story took on a whole new flavor. My focus shifted to the tree, who gave without regard for herself. The love of the tree was so like the love of a parent; giving with no expectations. But the tree gives so much that by the end she is left a lonely stump.

Morethanherself As the book has sat upon my shelf for a few weeks, though, I have begun to consider the story differently. As many have before me, I see an environmental message underlying the story. It seems to me now that we all are the little boy, and the tree is all of Nature. We come into the world like the boy, full of carefree innocence as we climb and explore our world. As we age we become caught up with the demands of our lives, viewing nature as a commodity and often disconnecting ourselves from it. When we reach the end of our lives we will all return to Nature – to the earth – to rest.

Obviously everyone’s interpretation of any work of art will be different and personal. In the wake of my time spent with this family, this environmental interpretation feels like an appropriate and important reminder. A reminder to live my life mindfully, not taking too much from the tree. A reminder to cling to that young boy within me, swinging in the branches of the tree with a heart full of love and joy. A reminder to ensure that, when I reach the end of my life, I can return and rejoin her in peace.

I can only hope that those I leave behind will be able to carry with them the image of me swinging among her branches.


Volunteers on the Prairie

The United Way of Stark county organized their annual Day of Caring this past week, and The Wilderness Center was so very thankful to have a great group of volunteers from Synchrony Financial joining us for an afternoon of hard work.


Some of the volunteers worked on picking up litter. Others pulled weeds and cleared our Nature Playscape area. Another portion joined me in to work on prairie restoration at the Foxfield Preserve.



Right now Indian grass and Switch grass seeds are ready to be harvested. This group collected a large amount of these seeds from the prairie near TWC’s Interpretive Building. Then we took them, along with some milkweed seeds which had been frozen and stratified over the winter from last fall, and spread this seed through the lower prairie at Foxfield.



With restoration efforts like these, and the help of wonderful volunteers like Synchrony Financial, the Foxfield prairies continue to grow in beauty each year. Come on out and hike our trails to enjoy the beautiful views and peaceful surroundings.


Raising a glass

Last night I sat back with a glass of wine to reflect on a full day. It had been a bit hectic – meeting with a couple of families, returning numerous phone calls, and performing a burial. I had not had the time to truly process the events of the day until this quiet moment after dinner was cleaned and the children were in bed.

Malmquist1My reflections on yesterday’s burial brought me a deep sense of contentment. The woman we were honoring was a passionate botanist and native plant enthusiast. She had been pleased to choose Foxfield as her final resting place, and would have been gratified by the service performed there in her memory. Each of her children offered fitting tributes which spoke honestly and lovingly to different aspects of her character and their relationship with her. There were poetry readings, prayers, humorous memories and messages of gratitude. All were lovely, but the stand-out moments for me were not these loving tributes.

What will stick with me will be watching one of her sons rest his hand lovingly upon the lid of her casket for a moment as he placed it down upon the grave, lingering with her a moment longer. It will be the sight of her children, grandchildren and sisters surrounding the grave and raising wine glasses high overhead in a solemn toast, before laughing at the fact that she would have hated this wine. It will certainly be the moment Malmquist3that I stepped up to her dear friend to inform him that we had grave diggers standing by to finish filling in the grave. He took a break from shoveling and his stormy eyes were full of emotion as he told me “That’s okay. I think it’s good for me to do this.”And I hope to forever remember the loving hands of her children as they planted beautiful native flowers atop her burial mound.

These beautifully poignant moments seem to shimmer in my memory; gestures so full of love and life. As I reflected upon them, and the love shared by this family, I raised my own glass in a silent toast.


Thank you to the Malmquist family for generously sharing their images from these beautiful services.

Photo Flower-Picking

The sun shining through the office window was beckoning me this past Saturday. I had my own “Julie Andrews/Sound of Music” moment as I strolled through the Foxfield prairie, enjoying the ‘music’ of pollinators buzzing through the flowers and birds singing overhead. The flutter of butterflies skimming amidst the colorful blooms underneath a powdery blue sky added to the picturesque setting.

The beauty of the day and of so many lovely flowers blowing in a light breeze, took me back to sunny summer days of childhood spent flower-picking. Grabbing a camera, I decided to “pick” myself a lovely photo bouquet that would never wilt (and that I could share!).


A thick patch of prairie coneflower has establised itself on a hillside overlooking the Sugar Creek valley. With tree swallows circling overhead, I could have sat there for a while enjoying this beautiful view.


I was thrilled to see my first rattlesnake master popping up its head! The insects were certainly enjoying its spiny-looking blossoms.


One of my personal favorites, ironweed is just beginning to blossom. Love that deep purple.


I chased this black swallowtail butterfly for a while before it would land and pose for me!


Nice, tall Joe Pyeweed was stretching up towards the bright blue sky, its tight little buds preparing to burst open with light pink blossoms.


I had never seen St. Johnswort before. Luckily a TWC naturalist was able to help me identify this bright, bushy plant growing on the Preserve.


The heavenly fragrance of the mountain mint was hanging on the breeze. Sweet and alluring to me, it was completely irresistible to the many insects flocking to the plant.


The delicate blossoms of the tick trefoil were not easily noticeable until I was upon them. Their dainty purple blossoms were particularly lovely, and I felt rewarded when I noticed their beauty among the tall grasses.


As I was enjoying a tuft of bergamot covered with happy bees, I was able to quickly snap a photo of a silver-spotted skipper drinking nectar from the underside.


The delicate white of queen anne’s lace was floating among the green prairie grasses like fluffy clouds.


I had also never seen this lovely and delicate flower growing near the entrance of the Preserve. Our TWC naturalists have been trying to key it out, but haven’t put their fingers on it yet. Hope it isn’t some horrible, invasive non-native because it is SO PRETTY. Anyone have any ideas?


I caught a tiger swallowtail (dark form) enjoying a nice long drink on this liatris growing on the crest of the prairie. Great for us both, as it gave me ample opportunity to capture her photo for this beautiful photo bouquet!




At peace

We recently hosted a beautiful burial service at Foxfield Preserve for Richard Schultz. Unlike many of us, he was granted time to prepare for his approaching end. He had accepted his death. He was at peace with his god. He was able to plan the services he desired, and communicated his feelings to his family.

In crafting his memorial, he prepared a final message to be read to his family. It was incredibly moving. Within that message, he addressed his decision to choose Foxfield as his final resting place. As we stood at the graveside, in the midst of his heartfelt message to his family, I was overcome with the beauty and selflessness of his statements.

In speaking with his family following the services, they permitted me to share what he had written. “We all agreed that he would want to have his message shared.  He was a teacher and advocated for his beliefs.  He would be pleased that his choice is being used to show others they have a choice.”

“Why the natural burial in a nature preserve? 
It’s a beautiful cemetery, a beautiful place Milkweedfor you to visit. The remains will quickly return to the soil and provide nutrients for the continuation of the life cycle. I am of this earth, from this earth, supported by this earth, and to this earth I return. The final gift of my body back to the earth is in recognition and gratitude for the gifts the earth gave to sustain my life.

Life is eternal – Not in some far away by-and-by, but right here, right now and all the time. The Spirit of Life is my Father and the Earth is my mother and to her womb, I return.” Richard Schultz

This was humbling to witness. I can only hope that one day I can greet my own end with such beautiful understanding and peace.