Sunday 12 March 2017. Spring Forward–Brrr!

It was 21 degrees F under a cloudless sky at 7:55 this morning on which, just a short time ago, we (the entire USA, except Indiana, as far as I know) had just purposely removed an hour from the day. As if the day wasn’t barely long enough already. But there it was, Daylight Savings Time. Nothing to but embrace the remaining day. And look forward to when the hour returns in the fall.

One encouraging event for this morning was that I’d finally fixed Rhododendron’s (rear) flat tire and was happy to be rolling the road bike out of the garage. I’ve enjoyed riding Shadow (a mountain bike), but in the flatlands, those 27-inch road-bike wheels can move a body along at an exhilarating clip. Oh, yes!

Nevertheless it was cold this morning, which curtailed my thirst for a long ride. So set the modest destination of the Japan House garden.

Rode between the rows of cherry trees lining the path to Japan House, noticing the sparseness of buds on their branches.

The sun slanted on the carpet of bald cypress needles with the sizable, vertically furrowed trunks with horizontal branches rising above it.

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Checked on the Winter’s Ghost” Hellebores

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which were full of blooms, if turned down toward the ground.

Saw that the weeping willow by the pond was well into greening,

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and that robins were out in force.

Heard but didn’t photograph plenty of vocal red-winged blackbirds, and noticed that grackles also had returned.

Turned back homeward before my fingers got too cold.

Cold as it was, 21 degrees F is not especially unusual for March, it’s just that it’s been so mild till now that the spring bloom is well along, and this blast of cold feels like an affront. But the daffodils in the neighborhood were not collapsed in limp heaps, the way impatiens are after the first hard frost in fall would be.

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Was glad for these hardy yellow star-faces standing up to the cold!

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Sunday 5 March 2017. Inexorable Spring

At 7:51 this morning it was about 38 degrees F under mostly clear skies.

My rides seem to be getting shorter and shorter, but at least there was time to behold some splendid spring (so early!) blooms in the neighborhood.

There were hellebores, or “Lenten rose,”

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of which, somehow, I was barely aware until not long ago. Now I see them everywhere and even have some in my yard! They are quintessential party-down flowers: they arrive early and stay late!

Also gorgeous were the dwarf iris.

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They are smaller than their later-blooming relatives but still spectacular.

When the weather warms I’m hoping to expand my bike travels!

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Sunday 26 February 2017. Still Grey but with Redwinged Blackbirds

It was 24 degrees F at 7:38 this morning as I rolled Shadow out of the garage for a spin to Meadowbrook Park.

The water was up at McCullough-Davis creeks below the rabbit-statue bridge.

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Woodpeckers and nuthatches provided sound, also visual interest, once they could be located. It takes a trained eye to find little birds: they don’t like to be stared at.

And around the bend on the south side of the bridge could be heard the returned red-winged blackbirds. No doubt: the season is advancing.

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Saw deer (a few; didn’t count) on the other side of hidden Davis Creek.

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Was surprised to see that one had small but apparently smooth and well-formed antlers. Thought the antlers would have been fuzzy stubs this early in the year.

Along the creek, many of the slim trees bore (bracket?) fungus.

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Even the young trees seem to be stressed.

The prairie below the clouds was still painted in neutral shades.

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But the odds are good that soon it will be green.

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Saturday 25 February 2017. A Return of Winter

It was 27 degrees F at 7:30 this morning under cloudy skies, as I recall. Had the briefest of rides but did get out to record the bit of snow. (Yesterday it was in the 50s.)

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Noticed witch hazel in festive bloom.

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Early irises also were beginning to emerge, and, of course, there were hellebores.

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Elsewhere were unphotographed snowdrops, aconite, and crocuses. And the day, as the season, proceeded.

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Sunday 19 February 2017. Signs of Life

This morning at 8 it was 47 degrees F under cloudy, foggy skies as I wheeled out Shadow for a ride, at least to Meadowbrook Park. Been trying to get back to a little mileage in my rides, though still am working on shaking off the fatigue of a tenacious winter virus.

The first sign of early spring greeted me on the pavement of the street just around the corner from my house:

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Silver maple flowers! They are very early bloomers, but they mark the beginning of a process that soon will clothe the landscape in vegetation.

The fog lent a bit of drama to the familiar path to Meadowbrook.

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At the park, enjoyed speeding downhill toward and over the rabbit-statue bridge, Shadow’s smaller-than-road-bike (26, as opposed to 27-inch) wheels easily handling the sharp turn left on the path.

Then doubled back to get the customary shot of the confluence of Davis and McCullough creeks.

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Just past the little bridge over Davis creek saw a pair of ducks in the fenced-off pond.

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Loved the softness of the fog

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punctuated by the sharp stalks of last year’s compass plants.

Then cut over to the “short loop” along McCullough Creek and stopped at a years-old beaver-fallen tree.

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Noticed also the recently scraped bark of the tree seedling (sapling?) in the foreground, presumably the work of a deer.

Along McCullough Creek noticed a lot of dead (standing and fallen) trees.

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I think some of that is intentional riparian management, but it reminds me that there seem to be so many diseased trees around these days.

Everywhere I look
I see dead and dying trees:
Climate change at work.

Farther along, in the Meadowbrook sensory garden, pussy willows (don’t think they’re native) were in their early stages of bloom.

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Also, there were some winter aconite (also not native) blooms emerging from beneath the mulch of fallen leaves.

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Then got back on Race Street and rode through the fog a little while south. Turned back at Curtis Road and stopped at the sign welcoming travelers to Urbana, just above where Race Street crossed McCullough Creek.

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Likely there will be more cold weather ahead, but the rise of green and the other colors of plant growth is not far away.

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Saturday 11 February 2017. Weaver Park and to Cottonwood Road

It was 43 degrees F at 7:48 this morning under thinly cloudy skies as I departed on Shadow for Weaver Park.

Meadowbrook would have been satisfying even if it were the only place to go, but wanted to check out another favorite place, so headed east on Main Street, stopping for a view of the little oak grove across Main from the Dart plant.

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Was surprised by the volume of traffic already on Main Street and wondered whether that was why I didn’t see the fox I have seen there several times before, though only on Sundays. Maybe that explains it.

Stopped at the first sign of non-living but beautiful plant forms at Weaver.

There were goldenrod,

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Monarda, or was it false sunflower?

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Thought of being content with just that, but the path was so accessible I couldn’t resist following it a little longer, first to the right, where there were a lot of blackberry brambles,

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and then to the left, bordered by old oak trees.

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Saw an abundance of of brushy, dark-brown bush clover seed heads.

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And oh, the refreshment of standing under a stream of flying (common sometimes to the point of pestilence, but still) wild geese

img_5320 there in the oasis of winter prairie!

Then a surge of energy, provided perhaps by this refreshment, as well as thinking of the birth, late last night during the full moon, of my newest great nephew(!), carried me off farther east on Main, through the Beringer subdivision to High Cross Road over I-74 and east on Airport again to Cottonwood Road. Felt like I barely pedaled!

Crossed US Rte 150 and beheld with joy, gratitude, and anticipation the incipient Kickapoo bike trail!

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Proceeded south on Cottonwood, which still sported a bordering strip of snow.

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Then the almost effortless ride became noticeably effort-full as I pointed Shadow to the west on Washington Street.

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Aha, full circle!

So it goes. Sometimes life is easy, sometimes it’s hard, it can be either way at any time. And hard is not necessarily horrible, thought not to deny that horrible sometimes happens. It was not happening today, however. Just pleasantly challenging. I like to think we have some degree (not unlimited!) of choice about whether to view a difficulty as horrible or pleasantly challenging. It depends on our inner state, which has its own parameters.

Back in town, just east of Lierman Road stopped for a splash of color along the bike lane:

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on the ground were little bright-red haws that had clung to their branches through most of the winter until they came down last night, or not much before. They made me anticipate the coming spring and its move away from muted, neutral shades and into color.

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Sunday 5 February 2017. Meadowbrook, Barely

It was 30 degrees F under clear skies at 8:18 this morning as Shadow and I hit the road for Meadowbrook Park.

Stopped close to home to observe two trees, not huge, but that grew right up to the street,

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the roots constrained and shaped by the curb.

Been looking lately at the branching structure of trees, while it still is unobscured by leaves. Here is one:

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Then on to Meadowbrook, where the “wonky Christmas tree” today looked especially like an elephant, or like the Snuffelupagus from Sesame Street.

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A thin one, perhaps.

Coasting toward the rabbit-statue bridge, found color in the brown landscape: purple-red blackberry brambles.

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Stopped at the rabbit-statue bridge to see that McCullough Creek was clearer than last week.

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The site was graced by twittering (in the original sense) woodpeckers and nuthatches in the walnut trees overhead.

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How did nuthatches escape my notice for so much of my life? I must have been 50 before I realized how common they were!

Had thought of riding south on Race Street for some miles but the hour felt late so turned back.

Saw across Race Street the continued cutting of trees in the University plantation I’d taken for granted for so many years. It used to be a stop for migrating birds and a popular site for bird watchers.

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Before heading homeward stopped for a look at a felled walnut tree. The orange of the fresh cut stood out: stump and severed limb.

Hoped someone would make something beautiful with the precious wood on which birds could no longer perch.

Then it was back to the rest of the day.

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Saturday 4 February 2017. Wandering Instead of Working

It was 17 degrees F with thin clouds spread overhead but plenty of welcome sunshine.

Rode Shadow out to the “research park” because I thought I was scheduled to work this morning. When I got there, however, the office was dark and parking lot empty. Checked my phone but couldn’t find an early email to explain. Digging back a couple of days earlier, did find an email that said the office would be closed Saturday. Ok. I can do something else with this unexpected free time!

Geese flew honking overhead and I managed to capture a glimpse of them.

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Lingered a little while at the pond next to the building where I work and observed the trees nearby.

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Then headed for the nearby Champaign library and on the way saw a hawk perch in a pine tree.

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Then saw another one soar overhead in the direction of the pine, carrying with its talons a bit of dry, viney plant material.

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Nesting, I’d guess!

Inside the glass-walled, light-bathed library perused the new-book shelves, where there were many interesting titles, like these.

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Enjoyed opening to things like photographs of gorgeous knitted lace and vegan shepherd’s pie, to a philosopher’s discourse on love.

Spent more time than I’d intended, but it was hard to break away from all the attractive books.

Finally headed home and cut through campus, some areas seemingly untouched since I attended the U of I in 1978; others completely unrecognizable

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Liked the installation of sculptures honoring a famous U of I alum.

After the time when my shift would have ended, returned to my usual Saturday schedule, glad to have enjoyed the little gifts of this bonus time.

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Sunday 29 January 2017. Meadowbrook with a Tiny Amount of Snow

It was 28 degrees F and cloudy at about 7:40 this morning as I rolled Shadow down the driveway toward Meadowbrook Park, for a change by way of Vine Street. There were scattered snowflakes descending. And blowing; had some understanding of the concept of “windchill.”

Stopped not far along to see a very large, low-branching maple tree.

img_5065 wondered how old it must be.

At Windsor Road waited at the signal-less crossing for one car then crossed without fuss and went to the left for an atypical (counterclockwise) big loop of the park.

Felt the embrace of the quiet prairie: the sky and the brown expanse of last year’s whispering plant growth. Breathed in the quiet and exhaled gratitude for this place of refreshment.

The cold discouraged me from stopping though several images were appealing enough to overcome the inertia.

Baptisia pods,

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compass plant remains,

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which are so photogenic in all the stages of their decomposition.

Tall Coreopsis seed heads topped sinuously twisting dry stems.

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Bush clover seed heads were handsome dark brushes against the pale winter prairie.

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At the rabbit-statue bridge, the railing was sprinkled with snow

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as I peered down to check on a fairly clear McCullough (and what I could see of Davis) Creek.

Quickly headed homeward as the snowfall increased.

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Saturday 28 January 2017. Hellebore Check at Japan House Garden

This morning at 7:20 it was 27 degrees F under, surprise, surprise, cloudy skies.

Was pressed for time but felt an urgency to connect with “nature,” to be present with things that grow (even if now dormant) things outdoors, to have a personal relationship with the weather. However brief, it’s so much better than not doing it.

So rode on Shadow to Japan House Garden to check the condition of the Hellebores, the blooms of which sometimes already are out at this time of year.

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Last year’s foliage hadn’t gone completely brown, but couldn’t see this year’s coming up yet.

Last year some plants had flowers in early February. And unlike, e.g., snowdrops or crocuses, which come a little later, they don’t die back to the ground after a brief bloom but persist (often with flower-shaped structures that remain after the actual flowers are spent)robustly until winter They are a most intriguing species.

While in the area got a few shots of the lovely bald cypresses with their thick, folded trunks and horizontal (on average) branches

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that rose above the rust-colored carpet of last year’s growth of needles.

It was good to touch the earth even at these few points.

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