Gift of Time for Service

The photo is of Ruth standing on in a verdant field which is bordered by trees in the background. A few clouds dot the sky. Ruth is wearing a wide-brimmed green hat, sunglasses which are reflecting a blue tint and a blue and tan mottled facemask.

#28hike of my 52 Hike Challenge

Trail/Park: Coldwater Spring, Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldier Memorial Cemetery

I want to acknowledge these stewardship activities took place on the traditional territory of the Wahpekute, Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux).

Gift of Time

If there has been one silver lining to the last few months it is that I have had time to lean into volunteer work and even help out in a few places that have been on my list, but didn’t work because I was working. My last few posts have highlighted what I’ve been doing and this week is a continuation of that theme. Supporting the trails on which I recreate as well as youth leadership development figured into this weeks efforts. While I’d prefer to be exploring the great outdoors with my Women Who Hike friends or the Scouts of the local Boy Scout Troop, these latest opportunities gave me just enough time doing good outdoors.

By By Burdock!

Each time I return to Coldwater Spring, I have had the opportunity to get to know a new species of plant that is considered invasive to the region. I’ve always been challenged to learn the common names (please don’t ask me for their genealogical names) for the plants I encounter on my adventures. I’ve discovered that spending a few hours actively seeking a plant does wonders for my ability to identify it. Yet another benefit of taking a deep dive into removing an invasive plant.

This week’s effort for me was focused on the the burdock plant. This time of year they aren’t hard to spot once you know what they are. The burdock, which originated in Asia and Europe can grow to several feet tall and has huge leaves which crowd out sun to surrounding plants. The burdock plant has a variety of uses – from food to medicinal – which is likely why it was imported here.

Like most invasives, the plant has a unique way of spreading its seeds. The plant develops seed pods that have long spines with a tiny hook at the end. The hooks, even in seed pods that are still green and firmly attached to the plant, have a remarkable way of attaching to clothes and the fur of animals. It’s likely if you have a dog, you’ve removed these pods from them at some point. A fun fact is that the burdock seed hook was the inspiration for velcro!

As we moved through the park’s prairie areas the plants were easily found. We clipped the seed heads, bagging them for disposal. Then a crew member would dig out the plant and root casting it aside. The plants don’t regrow from roots like many others of the invasives I’ve been working on this past few weeks. Thankfully it was a cloudy day otherwise most of the work would have been in full sun. Hunting down as much as we could in the cooler day left work in the shade for a future sunny day. The prairie was wet from the previous night’s rain so I was grateful I’d kept to my long pants and long sleeve wicking shirt. By the time we were done, my pants and boots were soaked.

I’ve also learned over the past few weeks of the importance of long sleeves for this kind of work. The first few outings, I arrived in a t-shirt and pants only to later have my arms covered in itchy welts. I use 3M Ultrathon to ward off bugs so I was certain I’d moved though plants to which I have a sensitivity. We managed to fill two contractor sized garbage bags completely with seed heads before wrapping up the day’s work. Doing this work has helped me find connection to the land, provided me time to think and reflect. I have come to appreciate the time in the outdoors in the deepest way. I am grateful for it every time I head out.

Uncovering a Piece of History

Saturday I had the opportunity to help an Eagle Scout candidate get one step closer to his Eagle rank by spending a few hours volunteering at the Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldier Memorial Cemetery cleaning moss from some of the cemetery’s gravestones. I’ve written about my Microadventure to the cemetery back in May 2020 where I spent time picking up garbage while meandering through the gravestones. This visit would be different. I’d be assigned a headstone and get to the slow work of removing the moss that was covering it, slowing breaking down the stone it self.

When I arrived the Scout explained how to go about removing the moss and provided me with the simple tools that I’d use to accomplish the task. Armed with a spray bottle filled with water, a few wooden popsicle sticks and a toothbrush he escorted me to a moss covered stone to get to work. The shape of the stone and the emblem on it told me this was a veteran’s stone but the name and other information was difficult to read under the crust of green, orange and black moss.

Working from the top, I sprayed the moss letting the water soak in and then carefully scraping it away with a popsicle stick. Wetting the stone again I worked from the top gently working the toothbrush to loosen the rest of the moss. I’d spray, then brush, then spray and brush again. For nearly an hour I worked my way from top to back to front.

Photo of the gravestone of Ruben Burley, Company C, 25th U.S. Infantry. The stone is a tan color with the name and unit information in relief on the stone. There are trees  covered in green leaves in the the background. The ground around the stone is covered with bright green grass.

As I progressed I slowly revealed the name – Ruben Burley. Continuing my work, I considered who Ruben might be. The last name Burley made me wonder if he’d been an immigrant who’s last name, perhaps unknown or undecipherable at his point of entry to the country, had been changed due to his stature. I’ve heard many stories of this happening in the early history of our country. I wondered if he’d been born here in Minnesota or simply died here. So many questions filled my head. So as I waited to get the next marker assignment, I checked the Friends of the Cemetery website to see what I could learn.

I found that Ruben Burley was a member of the 25th U.S. Infantry. A little research uncovered that the 25th Infantry was a black regimen during the late 1800s and early 1900s. His burial record only shows that he died on February 8, 1905 of liver cancer at the age of 47. What little I’d found gave me pause. What lead him to be buried here? Was he still a member of the regimen at the time of his death? Where had he grown up? How did he come to be a member of what would eventually be known as the Buffalo Soliders? Few answers, only more questions.

My next headstone was one that we weren’t sure if there would be any readable information once it was cleaned, but the shape drew me to it so I got to work. After another hour or so, I’d cleaned the front and back of it. Nothing that I could make out, even when I later enhanced the image at home.

Looking around as I prepared to leave, the remaining Scouts were walking around to look at the cleaned headstones, taking pictures of several. The experience had obviously given them a new perspective or peaked their curiosity. Curiosity about the people who had been laid to their final rest in this particular cemetery.

Walking back to our cars, I noticed movement in a spot not far from my car. A pair of hawks were keeping watch over a recent kill. I kept my distance, watching one hop on the ground, take flight to the top of a headstone and then returning to the ground. As I turned to my car, I caught glimpse of the resident deer – Fern – and her new companion as they moved across the cemetery. The day had provided me three surprises that reminded me the importance of quiet contemplation and being observant. The importance of making time for others and listening.

I’ve been doing more research on the regimen and Ruben, but have not found his name in any of my initial searches beyond what is available online from the Friends website. What I did find are a couple articles about the black soldiers interned at the cemetery and the infantry. Something tells me that Ruben is going to be an ongoing research project. I want to know more about him and how his final resting place came to be this tiny cemetery on what, at the time, was the edge of a small city.

The experiences of the last few weeks have given me a new appreciation for slowing down to get to know a place where I hike. While I’d like to think that as I resume my goal of hiking in all the Minnesota State Parks in the future that I will take more time in each one, I also know time is fleeting. I will likely use my time hiking in those parks to be the jumping point for learning more about the land, it’s inhabitants and how the parks came to into their use as places to recreate.

Additional reading:

Black history unearthed in Mpls’ oldest cemetery,  – by Jonika Stowes – this article offers information on the known black burials in the cemetery as of 2018.

25TH Infantry Regiment (1866-1947), Black Past, OCTOBER 9, 2018, Contributed by Frank Schubert – an article on the history of the 25th Infantry Reigmen

GEAR: Vasque Talus Mid UltraDry Hiking Boots – Women’s, Under Armour Iso-Chill hoodie, Marmot Kompressor Pack, SPOT GEN3 Satellite GPS Messenger, Dueter Dirtbag, Kula Cloth, Nalgene Narrow Mouth 32oz water bottle. Want to know more about my gear selections? Head on over to Gear & Gadgets.


Photo of a group of hikers on a sunny day in a field heading towards a wooded area. The photographer has taken the photo from behind the group.

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