One important lesson that the Master Naturalist training has taught me is to be observant of the natural world around me. The most amazing things can be revealed by watching and listening carefully to the land.
I had always noticed a tall stand of grass in the middle of a neighbor's field since the time I first moved to the area. I watched the color of this grass change with the seasons so I knew it was not just an ordinary lawn gone weedy. Later I learned it was a small graveyard called Bruner Cemetery.
Located in Rio Township on the northern edge of Knox County, this cemetery dates back to early settlement in Illinois. It contains the remains of members of the Bruner Family and others who came to the area around the early 1800's. At the time they settled here, it was still a frontier with Native Americans living nearby. Two family members were Revolutionary War Veterans and several others were Civil War Soldiers. There are thought to be 105 persons buried here with the last burial occurring in 1922. The old tombstones are now worn down but some information can still be gathered from them. Most tragically, many of these graves represent young children who did not live to be even a year old. Life out here was very hard then.
The extraordinary feature of this plot of ground is it's mature stand of Big Blue Stem Grass (Andropogon gerardi). It can be seen from quite a distance especially in fall as it takes on a bronze glow. The current owner of the farm property that surrounds this cemetery has been faithfully burning this ground so the grass has thrived. There are a few scattered remnants of Goldenrod and a pasture thistle or two. Mulberry trees have tried to get started but are driven back by the fire and by attendants cutting down invaders. The Blue Stem is dominant – thick, tall and luxurious! It is strange to think that this entire farm field was once mostly grass like this. What a fine source of seed this could be for future prairie restoration projects within the county. It is an original.
Every year on Memorial Day, veterans from the area pay tribute to the soldiers buried here. It is also a fitting tribute that this fine stand of native grass remains here to remind us of the people who came before us and of the Illinois landscape they called home.
Master Naturalist Intern
Journal Entry on October 11, 2016