Monday 1 June 2020 Out East Washington, for the Reassuring Sunrise Under the All-Embracing Sky

It was 54 degrees F and mostly clear but for some decorative clouds, just enough of them to make the sky look huge, 6 mph E breeze.

Headed east on Washington Street.

In this time of uncertainty, mistrust, and unrest, this beautiful sky that we all, without exception, share, was soothing and encouraging.

Saw a coyote cross the road not far east of High Cross.

Then saw a red-tailed hawk sitting atop a utility pole take off and soar toward the rising sun.

The invasive poison hemlock was fresh and delicate like lace against the morning sky.

Rode as far east as “Gehenna,” a spot used for burning over the years I’ve been riding this way,

though the oil drums and bottle of fuel that had been there on many past visits were gone.

Oh lovely, spacious sky!

A sign of the times.

But how comforting it was to witness the sunrise just as it has happened in the past and likely will continue, no matter how confused and uncertain our lives become.

Friday 29 May 2020. Yankee Ridge then West on Old Church; the Spiderwort Flowers Have Arrived!

It was 64 degrees F with a textured cloudy sky at 5:15 this morning as I headed straight from bed (with minimal preparation) to Meadowbrook Park. Ah, the time of sunrise! Even if the actual sun is obscured.

Rode over the rabbit-statue bridge but stopped at the smaller bridge over Douglas Creek.

The sky was huge and dramatic.

Rode on then stopped near the Freyfogle overlook to examine the lead plants.

There seemed to be plenty of bare places on the branches of the shrubby plants but a good number of leaves were developing.

In front of the overlook structure were blue spiderwort flowers (!), set off by white blackberry (now there’s some integration) buds.

From Meadowbrook rode east on Windsor and south on Philo Road.

Then headed south to Old Church Road and east to the subtle yet compelling rise of Yankee Ridge.

Here is a view from the top of the ridge, looking east.

A little farther east looked slightly up to see the the clouds bunch and gather.

Then turned and looked west.

Loved the slight curves in the land.

Stopped at the Barnhart Prairie, where there had been installed a strong gate, which was locked, though easy to go around on a bicycle.

The most obvious flowers were golden Alexanders.

Across the street was cock pheasant (actually, I think there were two) displaying in the open field. (Look for a small dark spot on the right side in the middle of the field. Documentary rather than artistic.)

At First Street turned north and saw a field thick with the mysterious butter weed.

Then rode north to Windsor and east to Race, the morning advancing.

Sunday 24 May 2020. Ride to the Center of the Universe, and Thereabouts

It was 67 degrees F and mostly clear, with only thin, high (cirrus) clouds above as I headed south and east toward Yankee Ridge and then to Philo, the self-proclaimed (by its water tower) center of the universe.

Rode east on Windsor Road along the north edge of Meadowbrook Park and looked for the first spiderwort blooms, which are due to appear any time now.

Saw plants full of buds, which promise a good bloom soon.

Kept riding east on Windsor and stopped to catch this healthy growth of poison ivy. It’s a good example for anyone wanting to know how to recognize it.

Rode south on Philo Road, enjoying that feeling of expanding my senses into the open landscape.

The sunrise reflected on wet fields.

Made my way to that magical spot at the crest of Yankee Ridge.

A little austere, perhaps, not obviously special. But it never fails to make me take a calming breath and know exactly where I am.

Along Yankee Ridge Road, corn was coming up in slightly wiggling rows, those lovely hints of not-complete flatness.

Was sorry to see these ash trees, which I’ve passed on these rides many times, be in such advanced decline. Dying trees make one sad.

Had a brief but uphill ride on Champaign County Highway 18 to Illinois 130 and into Philo. Was glad it carried almost no traffic.

Rode in to Washington Street to look for a good view of the bold claim on the Philo water tower, taking in the features of downtown Philo on the way, including the post office,

the Philo Tavern,

and some nicely maintained old buildings.

Getting a good, readable view of the water tower was not easy.

So rode around looking for a better angle. On the way passed the buildings and statues of St. Thomas parish.

Found a place where the text on the water tower could be seen.

I guess you have to know where the center of the universe is to be able to find it. Or, as when I saw it for the first time, it is a complete and delightful surprise.

Headed back on Illinois 130 and Champaign County 18 (downhill!)

Just outside of this picture a great blue heron flew overhead to the northeast. If you look up during the warm months, it’s not unusual to see one.

Saw butter weed along the road.

Also there was plenty of goat’s beard.

Back on Yankee Ridge Road stopped to document the hills,

which were overall of descending grade on the way back.

Made the trip back on Old Church Road over Yankee Ridge, with the appropriate pause, and west on Old Church. Stopped at the Barnhart Prairie Restoration, which now showed no evidence of its recent closure.

Heard (but barely saw) plenty of dickcissels.

Saw golden Alexanders and wild hyacinth.

Alas, the wild hyacinth were past the peak of their bloom.

It was a lovely jaunt to Yankee Ridge and to Philo, Center of the Universe, and places in between before I headed to my work assignment.

On the way back saw a pretty thick stand of butter weed. Not unattractive, really.

Also indulged in capturing neighborhood irises

and peonies.

I, for one, in these most uncertain times, am beyond grateful for the comfort of the road, the sky, the land, the flowers. Also I am glad to be able to visit the putative center of the universe, and glad be able, at least sometimes, to be centered in the present.

Friday 22 May 2020. Misty Meadowbrook about to Bloom

It was 53 degrees F and a little foggy under pulled-apart clouds at 5:15 this morning, the 3 mph breeze from the ENE as it’s been the last couple of days. Headed to Meadowbrook Park to see whether the spiderwort have started to bloom and to check out what else the early sunrise of late May might reveal.

Wondered whether there was something was wrong with the gingko trees ,

they were not yet leafing out very fully.

At Meadowbrook, McCullough and Douglas creeks were still pretty high.

A layer of mist rested over the ground as the sun’s light spread through the sky.

A group of deer gathered near the Marker statue.

Down the path a short way noticed spider webs beaded with condensed fog.

Stopped at (but did not climb on) the Freyfogle prairie observation platform.

where a tree swallow perched.

Noticed spiderwort flowers in bud.

Checked the lead plants near the platform and observed leaf buds and tiny emerging leaves,

though much of the plant was bare. Wondered whether they were healthy.

The dawn sky, as well as the misty ground below, launched the day with beauty.

Wednesday 20 May 2020. First Post-COVID- Shutdown Trip to the KRT

It was 58 degrees and cloudy at 5:30 this morning as I planned to ride to the southwest and catch a glimpse of a huge patch of butter weed near Carle Clinic on Curtis road. But the 11 mph wind was from the ENE, so decided it was a good time to take a ride on the KRT.

On the way there saw a patch of poppies.

Already they had passed the peak of their bloom. But they are arresting while any red petals remain.

Rode east on Main Street and stopped at Weaver Park. Vultures glided above.

At the Weaver Park prairie, golden Alexanders still were the only obvious prairie flowers in bloom.

The ground was wet.

Was happy to see the beginning of the KRT!

Not exactly picturesque, the Walmart parking lot, but I was on the trail!

The vegetation here is not special, but still it makes the path a little nicer to travel.

It was a bit strenuous on the way out; the wind was in my ears and had to put on the hood from my jacket.

Noticed butterweed in different places; coming up through the the gravel,

at the margins of fields.

When the native golden Alexanders are past the peak of their bloom, the exotic wild parsnips, which they somewhat resemble, begin theirs.

Couldn’t see it but heard a bird that sang what sounded like a medley of different bird songs.

The flowers of this honeysuckle are pretty, but the plant is so invasive.

Standing water near Full’s Siding
Butterweed and golden Alexanders together

Saw two people walking the trail near St.Joe, one to whom I probably got closer than six feet, but got off the trail to avoid the other.

A reminder of pandemic rules
The Salt Fork was high
Frog sounds
Lots of emerging poison hemlock growing over the piled up railroad ties.
Butter weed is lovely close-up
There’s an indigo bunting up in those sapling branches. Honestly.

The ride home was fast and smooth. No longer needed the jacket hood so pulled it down.

Monday 25 May 2020. First Meadowbrook Spiderwort

It was 66 degrees F and partly cloudy at 5:15 this morning, with a slight SSW breeze. There was just enough time to zip to Meadowbrook Park to see how the lead plants are coming along and whether the spiderwort had started to bloom.

Rain last night had filled Douglas/ McCullough creeks.

Deer hung around near the rabbit-statue bridge.

Farther along, a lot of worms were displaced and deposited on the path.

Near the Freyfogle overlook, the lead plants continued to unfurl tiny leaves.

Saw lots of budding spiderwort

and one open flower.

Monday 1 June 2020. Out East Washington, for the Reassuring Sunrise Under the All-Embracing Sky

It was 54 degrees F, the sky mostly clear but with some decorative clouds and a 6 mph E breeze at 5:15 this morning.

My heart was heavy and my head was full of uncertainty as I rode out to meet the sunrise on Washington Street.

Widespread as the righteous anger over the death of George Floyd has been, I cannot believe that the African-American people in my town are organizing to indiscriminately terrorize the white people. Which is a crazy, reactive thought that pops into one’s head at times like this.

Thought briefly that it wasn’t safe to be out on my bike. But my heart was looking for answers, or at least a space to ponder all that was going on and let it permeate my opinion-less human heart and make me ready to act, if necessary, from a place of humanity and peace.

Turned to look back at clouds to the north and west.

Not far east of High Cross Road saw a small coyote (or large fox—the color looked more coyote-like) cross the road and head into a belt of evergreens, but not before stopping to look in my direction.

The coyote is not visible in this photo; this just shows where it was.

Saw a red-tailed hawk on a utility pole, which lifted off and made a big circle above me when I got too close for its comfort.

Got to see the sun break the horizon.

Stopped for this very attractive specimen of the weedy poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) plant,

under the wide, embracing sky.

Rode to where Washington (not still called Washington this far out) came to a “T” and jogged to the south and east to the burnt spot close to the road (there used to be two 55 gallon drums for the burning) I call “Gehenna” that I’ve looked at all the years since I started this blog in 2012. And turned back.

Headed back; periodically stopping to behold the clouds

that float over all of us

struggling on this earth to survive and perhaps to be out best selves.

I prayed that the demonstration scheduled for 3 this afternoon in downtown Urbana would be peaceful.

29 April 2020. Back in the Saddle: Not Far, in the Rain

A lot has happened since the post previous to this one went out, with a corresponding gap in the flow of Vélo du Jour….

Actually some of the posts are out of order, which I try hard not to do, but so be it, for now.

It’s not so much that I haven’t been bike-riding (cycling in the early morning is delightfully socially distant!), it’s more that I used to write a lot of these posts in coffee shops, places that would keep my wandering mind focused on the task. Now the Coronavirus Pandemic has closed them down and I’m home, surrounded by clamoring competing activities, and I need to cultivate a home-writing discipline.

Perhaps I’ll put together a summary of the lost interlude in the “Pages” section of the blog. But am determined to jump back into real time and resume sharing observations from my bike, so here goes.

This morning at 5:50 it was a reasonably pleasant 57 degrees F, though the light-to-moderate rain made it somewhat less so. Was glad to have succeeded in getting out before sunrise, though today there was nothing special to see. Still, it was good practice for the coming progressively earlier sunrises. Glad I’ve stopped using the “snooze” on my alarm. It only makes it harder to get up.

So off I went into the early morning rain, which did not in the least deter the exuberant white-throated sparrows from sending out their exquisitely sweet song. Lovely as it was, and it always is heartbreakingly lovely, in my opinion, today I couldn’t hear the second movement from the Dvorak New World Symphony in it (as I have in the past). Could have been a different variation.

Rode Race Street to Pennsylvania to Lincoln, still pretty much in the dark, with front and rear bike lights flashing. Bumped over a sweet gum “seed-ball” and had a slight jolt of a thought that extra caution is needed in low light.

Stopped at the Idea Garden where some daffodils and tulips were finishing their bloom,

and some candytuft flowers spread a patch of perennial white amid less-burgeoning areas.

The rain fell harder, and though I did sport rain gear, decided it was ok to return home via Florida Avenue.

The crab apples are having their turn to show off.

On the way back stopped at the prairie planting on Florida and Orchard. No flowers were evident where I stopped, but foliage was progressing.

Noticed a line of signs along the edge.

Another thing we wouldn’t have understood last year at this time.

Headed back and out of the rain.

Friday 8 May 2020. Shooting Stars at Meadowbrook, and Looking Over Yankee Ridge

It was 51 degrees F with light rain and wind from the NW (as I discovered on the way back).

Wore raincoat, rain pants and boots; was ready for the weather, though felt a curious combination of cold and sweaty.

Was drawn the color of these late tulips. Wondered what made some have pointed petals and others not.

Checked the spruce trees just south of Florida Avenue for vultures and saw two, though there may have been more.

How do such large birds perch on such thin branches?

Rode to Meadowbrook Park, with the mandatory stop at the rabbit-statue bridge.

Rode on to find the shooting stars, dismounting the bike (Shadow, which is not as fast as Rhododendron but easier on my shoulders) at the entrance to the soft path.

Was glad to have worn boots, but the soft path was not as wet and muddy as last time.

Walked the bike along the soft path and stopped for this shrub covered with white blossoms.

Though not a prairie plant, this apple-relative leant some floral interest to the otherwise rather uniformly leafy landscape.

And deep in the middle of the prairie were the shooting stars, which appeared to be in the middle of their bloom.

The fencing around the patch of white flowers definitely seemed to protect them; there were many inside of it and almost none just outside of it,

though several yards away was a smaller patch that survived unprotected.

Farther along and across the path were a few pink shooting stars.

Precious few.

What happened to the flower on the right?

Back on the bike and out of Meadowbrook, headed out into the country on Philo road.

A wet field invited wildlife.

A pair of puddle ducks in a puddle

At the end of Philo Road turned east on Old Church to climb to the summit of Yankee Ridge,

below which is a wide view of points east. It is a quiet spot, one that always helps me feel a little more centered and calm, and located in the universe.

Yankee Ridge Moraine. Never looks quite so impressive in a photograph as it does in person.

Then turned back and headed west past the Barnhart Prairie Restoration, which was “closed,” presumably because of the pandemic.

“Seriously, this includes YOU!”

The sign didn’t convey a friendly feeling, though sometimes that’s the price of asserting necessary boundaries.

On the way home stopped to see (and smell!) some lilacs,

which one really should never postpone admiring; they bloom for such a brief time.

Thursday 7 May 2020. Mostly West to Phinney Branch

It was 49 degrees F and clear this morning at 5:50. The light wind was from the west, so west was the direction I went.

But before getting very far spotted butterweed

in my driveway. You never know where you’re going to see one (or a whole lot) of these at this time of year. They’re almost like mushrooms the way they suddenly put up a stalk and flowers.

This will be an express version of the blog…

Looking back at the sunrise from Windsor Road.
Looking from Urbana towards Champaign (west) over the little dip and turn in Windsor Road.
Lead plant at the City of Champaign Prairie
Restoration. It looks pretty lifeless at this point, but need to check back and see what happens.
Phinney Branch from Windsor Road
The end of the sign’s tribute message seems a bit anti-climactic.
Always find the little hills in this path to be a bit of a marvel.

The low bridges crossing Phinney Branch were muddy but passable. Did not stop to photograph them up close because passage required continuous momentum.

Signs of economic life during the pandemic.
Documentary shot (i.e., bad photo) of groundhog that scampered through the prairie planting on Florida and Orchard streets
My favorite reminder