In search of greener pastures
by Jennie Lay
Name Laina Corazon Coit
Vocation Hemp ice cream maker
Home Base Near Briggsdale, Colo.
Noted for Working to create Colorado’s first green burial grounds, on the eastern prairie
She says "I’m for earthworms. We intend to use every possible way to make sure the land remains sacred to the grave sites and the wild animals."
Way out on the eastern Colorado prairie, at the edge of the golden Pawnee Grasslands, Laina Corazon Coit’s do-it-yourself moving van sits in front of her modest new home. Out here on the brittle, windswept plains, beyond subdivision sprawl, irrigated crops and feedlots, the bustle of her old home in Denver seems far away. Expansive views break only at the western horizon, where fall’s first snow illuminates the Rocky Mountain peaks. For Coit, a shy woman with a passion for prairie dogs, this grassland is a spot to call home — for eternity.
But how would you describe a place intended to host both wildlife and green burials? Is it a memorial park, a cemetery, or a wildlife refuge? Coit, a thoughtful woman with gray-blond hair and wire-rimmed glasses, is trying to envision the tranquil green haven she hopes to establish near here one day.
Coit and her brother, Rick Chase, kick up dirt and shiny rocks as they ramble around the 70-acre spread. "Oh, that’s a good rock. We have wonderful rocks," Coit says, turning one over with genuine admiration. A few steps later, "And we have a good red anthill. Have you ever heard about anting?" she asks, launching into pesticide-free advice for getting rid of houseplant aphids or roaches infesting furniture by placing the items atop an anthill for a day or two.
Coit has clearly thought a lot about the merits of decomposition. After concluding a couple of years ago that conventional cemeteries are a waste of natural space, water and financial resources, Coit and her brother decided to create Colorado’s first green burial grounds. They wanted it to be financially accessible, especially for those willing to dig the grave themselves or conduct their own services. This is a longtime interest of Coit’s; over the years, she has helped several friends keep loved ones legally dry-iced at home prior to burial. A mere $10 in dry ice does the trick for an average-sized person, she says. That’s compared to the $6,700 average cost for a funeral, not including a gravesite. When Coit and Chase’s father died last spring, their idea came to life.
Coit buried her father on family land in Idaho. The family dug the grave and orchestrated the service. No hardwood casket, no embalming chemicals: Just the simple satisfaction of burying her father six feet under, wrapped in a cotton sheet. Coit hopes to one day offer this option to folks from places like Denver and Boulder, people who might not have family land but seek a similar solution. "Death doesn’t have to bury you," Coit says.
Coit initially considered looking for land in the mountains, but that seemed impractical. "Those are the Rocky Mountains, after all, and when you dig a grave … well, we figured the plains are more compatible," she says.
"The land gets priority over the aesthetic needs of the people," she says, explaining that burial sites would rotate with the needs of the land. Conventional cemeteries use vaults to keep corpses sealed in their caskets and the earth above gravesites from sinking as decomposition occurs, a process that takes from weeks to years, depending on the environment. Coit says she’d prefer to keep filling in the gravesites with native seed and soil. No mowing, no watering the lawn, no fertilizers. "Unfortunately, the people who die earlier might get the better spots … but you and your loved one will be buried close enough for comfort."
Coit plans a bird sanctuary to start, but dreams of a 12,000-acre reserve fit for low-impact burials and wandering bison. She stops to admire a giant black beetle picking its way through the pebbles, studies a burrow and hoots at a jackrabbit as it scoots across the prairie. She is confident that human remains will help nurture the delicate prairie environment. "We’re going to make sure we have good flora," she says, "and the good fauna will follow."
The author writes from Steamboat Springs, Colorado.© High Country News