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Memorial trees offer alternative way to honor loved ones

Earth Sanctuary on Whidbey Island offers a unique way to celebrate life. #k5evening

FREELAND, Wash. — To Beverly Rose this is more than a Western White Pine.

"That's my tree!” she declared, beaming up at the branches against the blue Whidbey Island sky.

This tree will be her final resting place.

“You know I'm 83 and the closer you get, the closer you get and I thought where do I want to be when I'm dead?”

Chuck Pettis planted these Memorial Trees.  

He's a Tibetan Buddhist, and the creator and owner of Earth Sanctuary -  a 72-acre nature preserve on Whidbey Island that's filled with sacred spaces, some designed and built by Pettis, and others crafted by Mother Nature. All of it is open to the public.

“There’s something really special about trees; you get an attachment to them emotionally.” Said Pettis.

He has planted more than three thousand trees here, and has a 500 year plan for this sanctuary to become an old-growth forest. And now anyone can support that vision - by buying a Memorial Tree.

"The Memorial Tree Program came about because people started coming here and asking if they could have a memorial for a loved one,” said Pettis. "It would be for a person who loves nature who doesn't want to be in a traditional cemetery with a gravestone.”

The new program is capturing country-wide attention.

Karen Norbut McElheny is in Arizona, her family is lives all across the US, but they will spend eternity together, in this grove.

“We picked a tree for each one of my siblings, we have them in a circle,” McElheny explained. She plans to have her ashes spread beneath a Douglas Fir.

"Much better memorial than a gravestone,” she said.

There's a Buddhist prayer Chuck Pettis repeats whenever visits the sacred sites in this Sanctuary -

"May everyone be happy, may everyone be free of suffering. That's my favorite prayer because we sure need that now.”

Celebrating a life with a living thing is doing just that.

Beverly Rose sums it up as she strokes the needles of her pine:

"Up until I found my tree, I had this thing bothering me, where am I going to be when I'm dead? I didn't want to go to a cemetery, I didn't know where I wanted to go. Then this came along and it was so perfect. So perfect."

KING 5's Evening celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email.