30 May 2012. Rattlesnake Master

I wish I could do everything I need/ want to do between the hours of  4:30 and 10 AM.   After that, it’s all so much more difficult. Wanted to get in some other activities this morning so limited my velo to another direct Meadowbrook trip.  Put some good pedaling effort on Blue, the mountain bike.  Funny how going faster didn’t make the trip to Meadowbrook seem shorter; I think it may be one of those Einsteinian time-space things.  Or not.

Still it smells like linden!  So many fragrant days.  When it’s done, I’ll miss it.  There will still be fragrant flowers, but none so profligate (generous!) with their gift of scent.

At any rate, sped directly to the Windsor bridge to check for beavers.  Didn’t see anything right away but heard movement in the vegetation and then splashing: first it was the larger one swimming toward the dam, then the smaller one going in the opposite direction, toward Windsor Road.  Watching them swim was like being at the seal exhibit  at Lincoln Park Zoo.  Also made me feel a little jealous, and glad the pool where I normally swim will be open again next week.  Could tell the light was not good for photos so didn’t even try. 

From the south edge of  the park, the sunrise–not one with a viewable orange disc but the aggressive, immediately blazing type–was as clear as it seemed it could be.  The irises were done blooming.  I miss them but must say that thinking of what’s coming next makes it easier to take.  Felt kind of proud to have witnessed and marked the entire period of its bloom for the year.  Without the showy iris, was reminded that this is where the cardinal flowers will be later in the summer.  Well, I have to not overdo the anticipation–just a little farther down there is plenty to get excited about right now!

Rattlesnake master, spiderwort, Coreopsis, Baptisia, purple coneflower, and compass plant are easily identifiable. I think the plant in the foreground is prairie clover. Watch for more on that one.

Penstemon flowers are getting less numerous, spiderwort keep coming, like they’ll never stop.  They are endlessly photogenic, though some days, like today, I just can’t seem to get them in focus–maybe it’s that the light is not quite right.

Rattlesnake master (Eryingium yuccifolium), with spherical flower heads on their spine-edged, sword-shaped, light green foliage is becoming prominent.  What a strange, cool name for a plant.  Makes me want to pronounce it, with some force, “Rattlesnake master!”

Weirdly cool, as well, and talk about photogenic,  is the lead plant.  Can’t resist yet another shot, even though I got a bunch yesterday.  Here are two.

Also hard to resist any decent shot of those handsome red-winged blackbirds.  Heard one (same as yesterday’s?) saying “Mom” again this morning.

Tomorrow, a longer trip.

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29 May 2012. Two Beavers, Etc., after the Rain

This morning I rode by evidence of a storm through which I slept soundly last night: branches and debris on the ground, puddles in the street, cool, clean-smelling (yes, there still is the linden) air.

Made a short all-Meadowbrook trip, carrying a raincoat in case there would be more rain.  No disc above the horizon today, still quite a few clouds.  There were no deer in sight–they must have some other place to stay when it rains.  Mostly the flowers were the same as yesterday, though you actually can tell differences from one day to the next.  For example, there were more Heliopsis helianthoides (false sunflower) blooming today than yesterday.  And the bright purple and orange little flowers of the lead plant–not visible yesterday– are beginning to open.

Checked the Windsor/Vine (playground) bridge for beavers or birds but there wasn’t much action.  So rode downstream a little way where I’d seen a beaver before and just stood there quielty watching.  Very soon I could see the water moving and then a large

Dang, it’s hard to photograph beavers!

beaver swimming, followed by a slightly smaller one!  Couldn’t imagine one beaver going to all the trouble, even if it were able to do,  to rearrange so much of Meadowbrook Park to live all by itself.  Well there must be a whole family story.  Probably there are local biologists (from, e.g. the Park District, Natural History Survey, etc.) following it.

While watching for where the beavers went spotted a gray bird with a black “cap” on top of its head–a catbird, which likes to hide in dense cover but is not uncommon in town.  Another handsome bird.

Clouds on the way home were just a little dramatic.

28 May 2012. Memorial Day: Meadowbrook and First Street

It was a holiday and the streets were empty!  The air was getting ready to be uncomfortably hot, but this early in the morning was exactly perfect. Still the linden trees are loaded with flowers and the air on the way to Meadowbrook Park was perfumed.

First went directly to the playground bridge (oh, it smelled ripe with decomposition!) and was excited to see the beaver swimming below.  Got what I thought were a couple of pretty good photos, but all of them turned out to be blurry so will not post them.  The beaver crawled up the bank so silently–the lack of sound was amazing.  The beaver was so plump it reminded me of a manatee on land.

Below the bridge there were plenty of frogs.  Also there were two gorgeous green herons, one of which flew off when it saw it was being observed.  The other one stayed a while, but still all I got were blurry photos.

After the bridge made a big loop of the park and saw a hummingbird, sipping, I believe, from the Penstemon.  It was there and gone.  Saw a good-sized deer sink into the prairie plants and disappear!  The spiderwort still are thick, even as new flowers start to bloom and get more numerous.  Mostly it was like yesterday, just gorgeous again.  Spotted a yellowthroat, a bird commonly heard but harder to see.  Again, the photo I got was not worth posting.  At least I could use it to make an identification.

Did make a point of getting a few good shots of wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium).  It’s a nice plant when you get to know it.  The flowers really do kind of look like little cauliflowers, as the article I saw said.  The butterfly weed was really lovely and vigorous this year; couldn’t resist a closeup shot of it.

Saw a tree swallow go into the nest box.  Saw a red-winged blackbird that, I swear, said “Mom,” in that monotone, repetitious way my kids used to use to get my attention when they were younger.

After Meadowbrook headed west and then south on First Street.  Residential development extended a long way down, especially on the west side of the road,  But the view to the east was rural; fact, it looked like there actually were hills out there.

On the west side of the road at the most southerly subdivision was a little prairie, or maybe a “prairie garden” that had been planted there.  There was a lot of butterfly weed (with at least one black swallowtail butterfly on it), what looked like Baptisia but with purple flowers, and also pre-blooming cup plants (Silphium perfoliatum).

Toward the end of the developed area was a farm house with a field behind it that was full of pink and some blue flags.  Can’t imagine what they were marking, but they reminded me of the idea of Memorial Day.

First Street was fun to ride: on the way south there was a slight, pretty much constant incline, and on the way back there was a lot of coasting.  The view was pleasant: the little hills to the east; to the west I-57 was just visible and it was quite flat.

The air was so comfortable, the sun was shining, there was so much plant and animal activity going on–ah, summer!

27 May 2012. Haste and Leisure

Being that it’s Sunday and that there is little traffic even on larger roads, I would have liked to take a long ride out west and south, but it turned out that I didn’t have as much time as usual for the morning velo.  So just defaulted to a Meadowbrook visit, through the warm linden-scented air.

Note tiny deer in foreground.

Since time was limited, decided to crank up the velo-city (so to speak) and get more of that exercise I’ve been missing by not swimming.  Used our other family bike, a mountain bike I call Blue, which is faster than Discovery, (a “comfort” bike) and pedaled hard.   Ah, yes, there was that deeper breathing and increased heart rate!  The scenery flew by and soon I was at Meadowbrook Park.

Started the loop around the park at a good pace, but after turning east after crossing the bridge, it all slowed down: sunrise, deer, still so many Tradescantia and Penstemon, still a few irises, a new yellow flower, I think Heliothis, already.  In fact, I just gave up and got off to walk.  So much for speed.  And it got richer as I got closer to the observation platform: more new purple coneflowers, Baptisia, Coreopsis.  Also a white flower I’ve kind of neglected because I wasn’t familiar with it and find it a little less attractive (oh, judgement, oh prejudice!) than the others.  I mention it now because a fellow explorer stopped to ask me if it was wild quinine, and I said, “Yes, that sounds right,” hoping it was.  (I just Googled it and in fact it does seem to be wild quinine.)  Saw a flash of pink, actually thought it could have been a bag from junk food, it was so bright!  No, it was a very intensely pink pasture rose, Rosa carolina.  On the other side of the platform the butterfly weed was still as orange as floruescent spray paint, and the lead plant flowers spikes had minute buds. Can’t wait to see them open!  The floral composition of the prairie was building like a developing chorus, adding different and more numerous voices.  Such riches!While I was trying to follow a red-faced pheasant head out in the vegetation, a group of four ducks entered the scene from the air and circled around about three times.  It was hard to get a non-very blurry shot of them.  I apologize for their blurriness, but  I do think that even blurry, the different shapes of their flying duck bodies was interesting.

Once I made it to the playground part of the park, was able to hop back on the bike and zoom back towards home.

26 May 2012. Two-Bike Velo #3

My cycling friend texted me at 4:30 this morning to ask if I wanted to meet her for a ride–so she could get out while it was still cool and before she and her family left for their Memorial weekend trip.

But of course I did!  We met at 5:20.   The air was more humid than it had been until now but still quite comfortable.  The warmer weather had dispersed the linden fragrance more generally through the neighborhood, not just right near each blooming tree.  We did another one-hour ride, mostly along the same route as last time (see 24 May 2012 post) except for turning west at Old Church and coming back on Race St.  We had more great conversation but still managed to catch some sights.

The deer we saw at Meadowbrook had antlers noticeable larger than the ones on the last buck I’d seen, not long ago.  They grow fast!  Antlers are amazing–all that growth just to fall off and re-grow every year.  It kind of seems like growing new bones over and over again.

We saw lots of young rabbits on the path.  They looked so vulnerable.  I wonder if they had wandered away from their families, or were “encouraged” to go out and explore.  As we passed the iris patch I noticed there were still a few blooms.

Saw two new flowers blooming: butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and lead plant (Amorpha canscens, which I didn’t recognize right off and had to look up.  While I was at it I looked up the species name for the Meadowbrook Tradescantia, which is “ohiensis.”).  Both were near the observation platform on the east side of the park.

The horizon was hazy enough that we got to look at the orange disc for a while above the the horizon.

In a field on south Race Street we could see lots of meadow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius) in seed, looking like giant dandelions.

In the evening, on a short errand trip, was happy to see the backward-c shape of the moon toward middle of the western sky.

25 May 2012. Do You Know the Way (sin Perros) to San Jose?

Today decided to take the velo du jour up a notch and do a planned trip to another town, beyond Champaign or Savoy.  On the last day of 30 Days of Biking (http://30daysofbiking.com), I went on Google Maps and got bicycling directions to go from Urbana to St. Joseph.  Almost made it, I think, to St. Joe, but didn’t like the looks of the sky then and just turned back.

But today I planned to get all the way there and maybe stop somewhere for coffee.  Just to be sure it would happen, didn’t go anywhere near Meadowbrook Park.

On the way out of town could smell linden here and there, punctuated by frying bacon (which I don’t eat, as a rule, but still it’s one of those Proustian triggers for memories of “morning”).

Two vultures were flying low over the Solo bean field.

Sunrise was an example of “not exciting;” there was little color and no disc until it was small and bright yellow and getting fairly high in the sky.

But the atmosphere was peaceful, especially out among the rows of soybeans (seem to be more popular than corn this year).  Did notice that there was not a non-grass flower for long stretches of road. Such mowing diligence.  I photographed each turning corner of the trip.

On 1900E there was activity in a large metal-walled barn. Strange how I so seldom see human activity when I ride out in the country.  Must not hit it at the right times.  Noticed a good-sized dog standing in front of the open barn.  Wasn’t too concerned because people, probably including its owner, were nearby.  At the corner of 1900E and 1575N was an irrigation rig and two men standing outside of it.

Was thinking about how the mood of these trips is one mostly of calm or even exhilaration. But sometimes the tentacles of fear can intrude.  One source is the sky (i.e., threatening weather) and another is dogs.  The thought of dogs gives me pause when trying a new route.  I’m sure the presence of dogs was not a consideration for Google Maps’ bike route.   I’ve heard other people describe their  bad experiences  with dogs while cycling, but so far the worst for me was a dog following me all the way back to town.

Anyway,  was admiring County Road 1575 N, which was a lovely, smooth, narrow road that looked like it was made for bikes.  Then  saw a well-made little building that looked like it could be a dog house.   Held my kryptonite lock at the ready while crooning “nice doggy!” while passing;  sure enough could hear the running and breathing of  a dog coming up behind me. Chanced the acceleration option and thankfully it didn’t follow me very long. Whew!  But I did not want to go back this way!

The Google route soon put me on US 150. Traffic was light but fast and there was no shoulder; had to ride on the highway.  There’s another fear tentacle: traffic.  At 6:30 AM, going away from Urbana, it was still ok, but I was  conerned about coming back on 150 with a lot of people going into town to work. So much for coffee. And I couldn’t really tell where St. Joe actually started. But there was a Pioneer Seed place that said ” St. Joseph Production Plant” on it’s sign, so decided I’d made it to my destination, and that was where I turned around.

Rather than risk another dog encounter I opted for the devil I knew: route 150 and the traffic.

It was a good trip for getting exercise, of which I’d been feeling a lack up to now.

Highlights of sights along 150 included Mount Olive Cemetary, which was as close to the highway as it could possibly have been, semi-imbedded medium-small mammal remains, an old church with sound structure but not much paint left on it, and a mailbox shaped like a largemouth bass.

At County Road 1800E got off of US 150 and then headed back west to town on lovely, dog-free east Washington St.  Along the sides of the road were blue chickory, red clover, and yellow sweet clover.  Wondered whether I would think they were more lovely if I didn’t know they were alien and not native flowers.

The wind was mostly calm and sky partly cloudy as I finished the almost 2-hour trip.

24 May 2012. Shifting Gears

This morning’s was another two-bike velo.  The camera stayed in its case.  This ride was about conversation.  My friend and I talked a lot about our kids as we looped through Meadowbrook Park and then east and south, and it was interesting to observe how many fewer details of our surroundings were available to my attention.

Not that I didn’t notice anything.  For example, the fragrance of linden in the neighborhood is more widely noticeable than it’s been till now.  (And since this is a short post, I will mention that all three of the books by Orhan Pamuk that I’ve read include some reference to linden.)  There still were a few iris blooms holding forth on the east side of Meadowbrook.  The Baptisia plant that started to bloom a few days ago is putting out secondary flower spikes, and its foliage is spreading horizontally, giving it the look of a tutu-wearing ballet dancer.  Many of the the Tradescantia flowers were closed.   And we caught the breaking of the sun above south Philo Road.  The dark orange disc shone through just enough haze to allow viewing as it hovered a little above the horizon.

It was about a one-hour ride.  We’re planning a longer one within the next week.