Sunday 23 September 2012. Weaver Park after the Rains

The sun was blazing in the clear sky  (though the shadows were still long and the light soft and golden) by the time I started out on Blue this morning.  The cool temperature called for a fleece jacket and cotton gloves; properly dressed, it was comfortable.

Forsook Champaign again this Sunday morning and headed east on Washington Street so I could see what was happening at Weaver Park, which I haven’t visited since the height of the drought.

Noticed that the markings on the Washington Street bike lane, like those on Race Street, had been refreshed

recently.  The street, even at 7:15 am, was beautifully empty, although there did seem to  be more dead squirrels around than usual ( (probably a result of increased activity of live squirrels) including one quite flattened in a face-down position.  (No photos.  Road kill is reality, but photography of it, at least of fresh examples, feels disrespectful to me.)

Entered Weaver Park from the Prairie School parking lot. The construction project, which I later learned would be

the new Urbana Early Childhood Center, was well along.  I guess it was better having that than a factory or car dealership near Weaver Park.  Hoped the kids would get a chance to walk through their back-yard prairie.

Crossed the wide expanse of mowed grass (now lush green) to the beginning  of a mowed path through the prairie,

going west.  Hoped it would eventually curve back eastward to the pond, but I turned back when it seemed like it wasn’t going to do that.

Was immediately greeted by goldenrod, then noticed the asters, which were considerably fewer but lovely as an accent. The gold-and-purple was such an enchanting combination I had a hard time looking for whatever else might have been there.

The prairie grasses added a nice russet tone to the brighter yellow of the goldenrod.

Did see a couple of late-blooming plants; my guess is they were responding to the post-drought rains: white wild

quinine and orange butterfly weed.

The alleged buffalo-wallow pond was again noticeably full of water.  The emergent vegetation, especially common arrowhead  and pickerel weed looked healthy again, though the surface of the water was textured with what may

have been the decaying remains of plants that had succumbed to the drought.  Saw a few red-winged blackbirds from a distance (where have they been for the last month or so??) and heard their simple “check” sound.

When it was time to get back was going to exit at Illinois Street, but discovered a barricade across it.  So much for

the “official” entrance.”

The red of true fall (as opposed to the strange reds of early spring and drought) was starting to tinge the tree leaves:

the leading edge of fall color.

Riding with gloves, one is a little less comfortably immersed in the moving air, maybe a little less giddy than at the height of summer.  And, alas, one loses some acuity of observation when the rides aren’t daily.  But today it was oh, so good to be out in this limited time of leaves and good weather.

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Thursday 20 September 2012. Reprieve and Comfort in Red, Blue, and Yellow.

It’s been hard to get out on the bike these days, for one reason and another.  The fall approaches with the changes in texture and color it brings, and I’ve just been hungering to see what’s happening, especially you-know-where.

Being “au velo” seemed almost a life-preserving necessity today, when I managed, around 11:30am, to get out on Blue.

The latest (though oh, so predictable) growing pains of my little family were filling my head, and heart, and hoped that a ride would help put them in perspective, as it has  more than once in the past.

The air was just chilly enough for a light sweater,  like early morning in mid-summer.  The sky was filled with scattered wispy clouds, but it was  mostly sunny.  There was a bit of a breeze from the south, mostly, which made me realize that during most of the summer there was little wind.

Noticed at least three road-killed squirrels on a short stretch of Race Street.  A coincidence?

Not much farther down, the magic of riding began to work, and I noticed the release of a question on which I’d been chewing like a dog on a bone: “Nurture or enabling nurture or enabling nurture or enabling???”  Which shifted to, “More of that later.  It won’t all be solved right now.”  Aaah!

And Meadowbrook awaited!  Knew I’d see blankets of goldenrod, and that, too, lifted my spirits.  Set out for a big loop, and as I sped downhill toward the rabbit bridge decided I’d stop to check the water level ( there was a pool under the bridge, but the bed of Douglas Creek upstream was dry).  Couldn’t believe my eyes when I noticed a fresh,

gorgeous spike of cardinal flowers at the edge if the water, right where McCullough and Douglas Creeks join!  Well,

I’d thought they were done for the year.  Felt like my heart had been sent a soft, red blanket!  Some of the nearby goldenrod was starting to fade, but there still was enough yellow to set off the red: extra beautiful because of the surprise.

Of course I had to get down in there, close to this wonder.  As I got close to the water, heard little frogs chirp as they jumped in the water.  At least I think they were frogs; heard the chirps and splashes and saw the water disturbed, but missed seeing any actual critters.

Took lots of pictures of the cardinal flowers and admired their intense color and graceful shape.  Also found a couple of other, smaller spikes with paler, smaller blooms.  What a treat!  Nothing like being surprised by the

continued existence of something thought to have been gone.

Of course, between the cardinal flowers,  the gorgeous day, all the yellow and everything in between,  and not having been there for a while, I could have stayed all afternoon, though a brief viewing of the cardinal flower alone

would have made the entire trip worthwhile.  Even so, this sighting renewed the hope that the old cardinal flower site might still reveal yet more red flowers.  (More, more, always more!)  I checked, but it didn’t.

The only other goal I had then was to see whether there might be bottle gentians near the “Marker” statue.

On the way were, yes, goldenrod, yellow and more furry yellow, standing tall and arching over, in small and large

patches.

Noticed still more purple coneflowers in their second bloom.  Some purple thistle flowers also (many gone to seed),

and here and there purple asters.

Near the statue found again the foliage I suspected might belong to a bottle gentian but still it bore no flowers.  Didn’t see any cream ones, either, but knew they were there.  So looked more carefully and lo and behold did find some, nice ones, even.  Was just about done photographing them when I spotted a BLUE one!!  It was that blue

(darker than the pale blue ones from last month, near the “soft” path) I remembered from last year, a a blue that’s uncommon on the prairie, or in the garden, for that matter.  And it wasn’t just one plant;  several others

subsequently appeared.  Funny how that works.  They had not been blooming long; also found several plants with buds.  So after I took a bunch of photos, knew I could come back later for more.

The gentians were another cause for joy.  Felt awash in the the lavish generosity of it.  A red and a blue reprieve!  Surely life is good and no problem too difficult to face as long as there are red cardinal flowers and blue gentians blooming beyond expectation nearby in the fall.

Around and between these gems of red and blue was lots of goldenrod, in which there were many species of busy insects: bees, flies, beetles, like this buckeye butterfly.  I have had some experience with insects and am a great

admirer of them; one of these days I think I will be able to give the flower excitement a rest (it can still be about color) and focus on them.

Sunday 16 September 2012. Just Meadowbrook, in Yellow

The sun was blazing well above the horizon, almost white, and with after-images, by the time I got out on Blue this morning.  The sky was clear, the air cool enough for my fleece jacket to be very comfortable as I headed south on Race Street.  It was nice to see the newly refreshed markings for the bike lanes.

Yes, it’s Sunday, my customary day for a westward velo, but haven’t  been to see Meadowbrook  for days and had to rectify the situation.
The prairie was decked in the full bloom of common and stiff (and maybe more species I haven’t discerned) goldenrod.  Toward the south edge of the park (the Walker Grove), a deer walked through the profusion of them.  It

sank down lower into the yellow as I trained my attention on it.

A little farther down there was a patch of sawtooth sunflowers, which I remember as being much more abundant in

previous years, though there still may be time for them to make more of a showing.

The “Marker” statue was bordered by thick Indian grass and big bluestem, all covered with dewdrops that sparkled

in the climbing sun.  It was lovely but with so much light was hard to photograph. On the west side at the mowed edge there was a thick clump of Bidens and a sprinkling of goldenrod.  Looked to see if maybe the bottle gentians

were still going to show up.  None were in bloom but did see some fresh gentian foliage, barely forming little buds.

Maybe would get to see them there after all.

Looked for the white ones (without walking in; my feet were wet from the dew already); the grass was just too thick to see anything easily.

Got a portrait of the present composition of plants (not all yellow) near the prairie viewing station (observation

platform).  Made me think of all the other compositions at that place that have gone by since the spring.

At the prairie viewing station ran into the couple who had enthused with me about the royal catchfly in July.  We discussed the Gaura and looked at the cream gentians near the platform.  They said they’d missed seeing me

recently,  I told them it was because the later sunrise made it harder to squeeze in an early trip.  It was good to see them and share our interest in the prairie.

Near the northeast corner of the park, near the collection of statues I think of as representing “processing difficult emotions,” there was a dense stand of intense yellow goldenrod, with a bit of contrasting thistle.  It was oh, so

golden yellow, and my brakes squealed as I stopped for them.  Made me think, “I brake for goldenrod,” or at least goldenrod intensified with purple flowers.

The Windsor/Vine bridge was covered with good-sized dew drops and quite cold.  Just didn’t want to put my elbows on it.  But looked over it into the water.  A collection of little clouds was reflected in the still water.

Didn’t see any beavers or hear any frogs, but the water surface moved lightly with widening circles from the activity of fish, or maybe tadpoles.

Along Windsor Road heading back admired all the yellow goldenrods, and the Heliopsis, adding yellow to yellow.  For now.

Monday 10 September 2012. Traversing the Copper Slough Path

This cool, gorgeous, cloudless morning headed west again so I could ride all the way along Copper Slough from Kaufman Park to Heritage Park.

The waning, c-shaped moon was faint but visible, generally overhead but to the west and south of the zenith.  (Now

there’s a word I could have been using for a long time already.)

On Florida Avenue, close to the U of I president’s house, passed a new prairie planting.  An assortment of yellow flowers already showed themselves.  It’s a nice location for native plants, in my opinion.  Look forward to watching it develop.

Pedaled and pedaled down Florida, which then  became Kirby, in the bright sun and on the sidewalk.  (No advanced assertive cycling today.)  Here and there were gaps in the pavement, debris, a sharp turn.  Realized how many hazards are out there for cyclists; was grateful for my safety so far and motivated to stay alert to maintain it.  In fact, was pretty occupied with maintaining safety and  was not tempted to stop for pictures.

Turned North at Duncan Road, where there was no sidewalk for a good stretch.  But the traffic was reasonably light; made it comfortably almost to Springfield Avenue, not far away from which was a bridge over Copper Slough.  Stopped on the narrow footbridge to look down at the fish and get a few photos.  (The movies were recognizable but not the stills.)  It’s interesting how similar the bridges of Champaign-Urbana are.  Maybe they all are of some optimal design.

Noticed again how calming it is to watch fish.

Before getting across the bridge noticed an Alaskan husky dog watching me, apparently not in a very welcoming

way.  But it was behind a fence and also tethered on a leash, so I boldly, but quickly, took its picture.  It didn’t bark as I passed.

Then found myself trying to get across Springfield and east to Kauffman Lake, which I believe is one of the most bike-unfriendly places to cross a road that I’ve ever seen.  There were no sidewalks, no shoulders, and a train track

cutting across to make things even more difficult.  At least it was not a peak time for traffic.  Ended up hiking through some grass (fortunately mowed) and climbing up gravel along the train tracks to cross over and back again to get to the park.

Inside the park rode through a gate that discouraged motor vehicles but, I assumed, not bicycles, and around the

lake to the end and half way toward the other end.  Looked down into the stream next to the lake and saw more soothing little fish in their staying-mostly-stationary-in-the-moving-water motions.

At the north end of the lake, under the interstate and along the train tracks there was a narrow gravel path that connected to the trail through Heritage Park. The whole trail seemed a bit forbidding, with its rough surface and

highway supports with abundant, elaborate graffiti, which must be why my son and his friend were so attracted to it not long ago as a place to explore.

So I completed the path between the parks, and it was time to get back. Wanted to look for more beaver activity (saw a freshly beaver-felled tree last visit) but no time, alas.

Did hear the squawk of a great blue heron and get a distant (not great) shot of it when it landed in the pond in the middle of the park.

Almost decided to go all the way to Staley Road to avoid that awful corner of Springfield and Duncan, but it wasn’t so bad just going across southward.  Back at where Duncan crosses I-57, there was a thick planting (?) of side oats, I

think, along both sides of the sidewalk near the bridge.  That was a surprise.

On the way home, on the freshly resurfaced part of Windsor Road where the road dropped off abruptly on the side, I imagined riding carefully but daringly along the top of a cliff.  In central Illinois we use our imaginations.

Although didn’t get far out in the country today, felt like I put on some good miles.

Friday 7 September 2012. Mushrooms, Meadowbrook, and a Bit of a Storm

Made it out for a ride on Discovery to Meadowbrook Park this cool, cloudy mid-morning.  Went out prepared for rain: a poncho and zip lock bag for my purse.

There was no moon to see in the mid-morning, but I can report from my early morning mini-trip that it was just about half and quite high in the sky.  I noticed there is a lot of space up there, that it’s farther than I was thinking to “directly overhead.”  So it’s still on the southern half of a north-south transect, but at the time I saw it, it was pretty darned close to half way between easy and west: high noon for the “lunar day.”

Not far down Race Street, something under the Orchard Downs spruce trees caught my eye: mushrooms?  Had already seen some around town, e.g., yesterday on Washington Street.  I love mushrooms because they come up, often so ridiculously large, seemingly out of nowhere.  They should be the symbol for the concept of  “surprise.”  Parked Discovery and went to investigate; sure enough, there were a good dozen of them scattered, some in approximations of rings, in the mulch beneath the line of spruce

trees, some like clubs just emerging, some like open umbrellas.

At Meadorbrook,  locked Discovery to the rack by the garden plots and crossed the little bridge to the “Inner Prairie.”

The prairie was yellow with goldenrod (common and stiff) and the occasional Bidens–or were they tall Coreopsis?–and

punctuated with purple thistle.  The big bluestem grass leaned thickly into the path in places and made me think of how a wild

prairie would have been to walk through: a directionless ocean of tall plants.  Yes, it’s easy to forget in this domesticated world, where we are so hungry for the beauty of nature, that it can also be scary.

Speaking of scary nature,  heard a sudden rustling while (unsuccessfully, alas) stalking blue gentians and saw movement in the plants that looked like it was made by something of a size between a squirrel and a fawn.  Wondered if it could have been a coyote, which I know are around but which I’ve yet to see, except maybe once, far down the road.  Suppose it could also have been a rabbit.  Did not get to find out what it was.

Really wanted to find some bottle gentians but only saw, even after wandering off the path a bit, the white (cream) ones.  But the cream gentians still were profuse and lovely, and it was nice to see newer flowers among the old brown ones.

Noticed purple coneflowers in several places putting out new blooms, their swan song.

There was a low roll of thunder and darker clouds were moving in, but it was hard to leave the lovely scene, especially since I could almost feel how soon its yellow loveliness would be fading.

But did then quicken the pace through the thick grass.

On the way back to Discovery slowed down to notice beaver activity, far from the place where I usually see them,  and photographed a

partly gnawed tree (why was it left half-done?).  Then noticed a deer standing still,  not far away.  Hoped it wasn’t a hormone-crazed buck (still too early in the season for that?).  Wouldn’t want to surprise one and make him feel cornered.  But it was a doe.

Then saw another, with a lighter,  more reddish coat, possibly an almost-grown fawn.

Raced eastward along Windsor Road as it started to rain.  Settled comfortably in Cafe Zojo as some dark clouds, even doing some

swirling,  moved through with a good amount of rain and a bit of electrical activity.  Then it stopped long enough to make it home without needing the poncho.

Thursday 6 September 2012. Surprises on High Cross Road

Even though my velo time is limited these days, and as much as I could go to Meadowbrook Park every time and be happy, really wanted to get some miles in this morning.

Also was curious about whether the possum remains on the High Cross Road bridge over I-74 were still there.

So headed out east on Washington Street on Blue (I think!?).  Not far along noticed some good-sized white mushrooms that had come up, along with a variety of other, less conspicuous fungi, in response to the recent, drought quenching  (Yes!) rains.  It’s always fun to see where and what kind of mushrooms will appear.

Don’t usually like riding with the traffic on High Cross Road between Washington and Main Street, but this morning it wasn’t too busy.  Looked at the the place on the north side of the bridge over I-74 where I’d seen the possum remains and at first did not see the them, which was a little disappointing.  But then noticed the familiar bones, with less additional substance and in more

disorder than last time,  just on the other side of the guard rail.  Wondered whether it was a human or animal (what kind?) that had moved them.

It was pleasant to ride north on a mostly quiet High Cross Road, between yellowing soybean and corn fields.  There were morning glories on the edges here and there: dark pink and white ones, especially.

Along Brownfield Woods were large clumps of yellow wingstems in vigorous bloom, the diagnostic “wings” very evident.

At the north end of Brownfield were fine-petaled asters, which were not New England asters, but I’m not sure which species they were.

Farther along, was surprised to see common milkweeds blooming.  Was it the rains after the drought?  Also saw Japanese beetles on the flowers–aren’t milkweeds toxic to insects that are not milkweed specialists?  Guess it was a plant without much toxin or some tough Japanese beetles.

Was kind of startled to see backhoes and level ground at a place where there used to be a house (albeit with broken windows) and some farm-related structures.  But wasn’t completely sad to see it go; I was always a little uneasy going past it.

The goldenrod decorated the roadside with their shape and color.


On the way back, just passed the house where had been an invisible fence “dog in training” didn’t remember seeing the sign.  Doubled back to check, and sure enough, the sign was gone.  Hopefully it meant that the dog had completed its training.

Got a fleeting glimpse of Weaver Park from Main Street on the way home.  Hopefully can get into it before all the yellow flowers finish for the season.

Friday 31 August 2012. Hiatus and Return to Meadowbrook

With the sun rising later on the morning and other schedule changes, I haven’t been out, alas, on either Discovery or Blue except for short errands, and the camera hasn’t come out for those. Not to mention there being less time to sit at the computer to sort pictures and write….

So it was a pleasure to get out on Friday, even if it meant forgoing other usual morning activities. And a pleasure to recall and describe it.

Got out on the road on Discovery (the bike with lights) as soon as there was enough light by which to see more than just where I was going, though Meadowbrook Park when I got there still was rather dark.

But was treated to a gorgeous showing of the full (mostly, anyway) moon!

It wasn’t light enough to see the cardinal flowers, but got an interesting shot of the Gaura against the glowing horizon.

The delicate Gaura were in full bloom and seemed to be more abundant than in previous years.

Stopped at the bridge, the railing of which was cool and just damp.  At least one bullfrog sang for several repetitions of his refrain.  Then, at last, there was a beaver!  Just saw one. It came from downstream carrying a long streamer of plant material and

stopped to chew a while under the bridge.  Was able to look (if not get a great photo) directly down between the boards of the bridge and see the beaver munching below.  Was happy to see just one.  Seemed like there was more activity downstream but didn’t have time to see if the others would appear.

Made another loop as the sun came up.  Didn’t look at the disc but at the golden light it spread, which looked lovely against the trace of mist lying for a while in patches on the ground.

Saw the cardinal flowers with the buds near the top of the large spike almost all opened but didn’t have time to try to get close to them.

Around the southwest corner of the path and down a little ways, where there were cardinal flowers last year, lots of showy tickseed flowers ( Bidens polylepis, I’m pretty sure, the long-bracted tickseed sunflower) were blooming.

They were lovely, but still I missed seeing the cardinal flowers among them.  Maybe the cardinal flowers have just moved their “headquarters” to the bridge site.  It will be interesting to see what happens next year.

Saw a hummingbird in some Gaura on the second loop but didn’t move fast enough to get a photo.


Checked for bottle gentians near the Marker statue: none. They also may have “moved” since last year, although the grass is so dense at this site that they could easily be missed.  Anyway, there were none obvious.  At the observation platform, the cream gentians were blooming even more profusely than the last time I was there.

Came upon a strange sight in the big bluestem grass at the southeast corner, the coolest (nice, but I mean temperature-wise)
spot in the park: honeybees working the grass flowers. They really must be desperate to resort to gathering nectar–didn’t think grass had nectar, or was it just pollen they wanted?–from wind-pollinated flowers.

Did notice their pollen baskets seemed full.

The areas of turf grass that not long ago had been yellow and crispy already were soft and green. How quick to respond, (and, as a metaphor in my human projection, to forgive) the grass is.

It seemed like my absence of several days had made the composition of flowers more difficult to read, like I needed more time to catch up on how things had changed since last time. It was a bit frustrating because I really couldn’t stay long enough to do that. But still it was so good to be there, and I got what photos I could.

Really had to get home so cut down Vine Street rather than get pulled into being with, e.g., the Gaura, gentians, and newly blooming goldenrod west of Vine along Windsor Road. Eagerly (patience necessary) anticipating the next visit.