Sunday 21 October 2012. So Little Distance, So Much Color, and Fall Bird Song

Before I forget, because I rely a lot on photos to remind me of details of my rides, want to mention sounds, particularly of birds: especially the white-throated sparrows, which are among the migrants passing through on their way south and which greeted me on my way to the garage to get Discovery for this ride.  In the spring, their sweet, wistful song reminds me of the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, but it sounds less like that in the fall.  Also, the robins, cardinals, etc, seem to be singing more lately.  Wonder what they sing about in the fall–it’s not the breeding season.  Practice?  Song for the sake of song?

The air was cool  but, with proper clothing, pleasant; the sky was clear though moonless.

At the Windsor/Vine bridge still did not see beavers.  Knew better by now than to get all sad about it, but it made me feel like it’s time to talk to someone who knows what’s going on with them.

Realized after a little while that the generalized bird sound near the bridge was largely red-winged blackbirds, back from their late summer absence.  Or at least back from several weeks’ absence in my awareness.

The movement of the water’s surface indicated plenty of activity, though by smallish creatures.

Then in a little quiet space was a soft but distinct “Who, who, who-who-who, who?”: a great horned owl.  A little later it was repeated.  Not unheard of but less common in daylight.

After staying at the bridge a while decided to look just a little more, farther upstream, for beavers.  Saw no sign of


It’s been hard to get to Meadowbrook right at sunrise lately, now that it comes at a less convenient time of the

morning, but was there for it today.  The sky itself was clear and “plain” as these things go, but the new light on all

the fall foliage was gorgeous.


Didn’t get many miles in, nor see anything west of Lincoln Avenue, but indulged in taking some photos of the this episode of the fall color show near the bridge.  The camera doesn’t do it justice, but was happy not to miss it.


Sunday 14 October 2012. Starting Out in the Dark

My little pre-dawn trip to the grocery store on Friday inspired me to use some dark time to get a little farther on this Sunday morning’s velo.  Destination was, first, Meadowbrook Park, and then westward  to that lovely bike path between Curtis Road near US 45 and Prospect and Kirby avenues.

Have missed the bit of additional ease of riding Blue, but between needing to carry things and riding in the dark (recently purchased a set of lights for Blue but haven’t yet installed them), Discovery has lately been the vehicle of choice.

It was wet outside from recent rain, but also unexpectedly warm. Nevertheless put on my fleece jacket, which turned out to be useful against the often stiff south wind and the occasional drizzle.  There was no visible moon, though it was about new and maybe not visible anyway.

Velo du Jour has been largely about visual observations, and these are more limited before dawn, even with street

lights.  But was able to get a couple of images.

Hoped that being at the Windsor/Vine bridge at first light would let me see those crepuscular (yay, I got to use that

word!) beavers.  Actually did see movement on the water, sometimes even those fairly high and long waves that must surely must have been made by beavers.  Heard the squeaks and splashes of frogs jumping into the water and plenty of spreading rings–signs of plenty of animal activity.  Once there was a rather lower-pitched sound of something entering the water (“plunk”).  But never saw any beavers.  Still, was not really disappointed. Felt patient and reasonably confident that they were there, and enjoyed being close, in their world.

Stayed quite a while, until the sun must have cleared the horizon behind the clouds, and headed west on lovely

Windsor Road.  Though this part was not so lovely.

Turned south on First street and was greeted by a stiff headwind.  It was some work!  Noticed a pumpkin patch,

with some good-sized pumpkins, on the west side of First Street.

Didn’t stop at the railroad prairie along US 45.

Enjoyed the bike lane on Curtis and then on Prospect.  My beloved Urbana styles itself, and I must say it does try to live up to this, as a “bicycle-friendly community” (per the signs with that message) but here in our rival Champaign is really what urban-cycling Nirvana must be like: separate, grass-lined lanes for cars, bikes and pedestrians.  Wow.

My only complaint might be that the landscape, while plenty green, had more mowed grass and exotic pines and fewer native plants than I would have preferred.

Another interesting thing was even though there was no bright sunshine, the cloudy light was welcome after riding in the pre-dawn darkness.  The mystery of darkness has its own interest, but on the whole, I prefer more visual information.

Rode back east on Kirby, north on Neil for a little while then east on Stadium Drive and into the U of I campus. The wind was at my back!  In the athletic fields off of Stadium could see a gathering of young soccer players and a beautifully decorated catering truck to feed them and their fans.  The fall colors were in high gear; the wind

plastered recently fallen colored leaves to the fences surrounding the fields.

Remembered that I was close to the little cluster of persimmon trees just south of Gregory Drive near the School of Architecture, wondered what the persimmon crop was like this year and whether there might be some ripe ones in good condition on the ground.  So made a stop there.  It looked like an excellent year for native persimmons, as you

can see in this photo.  There were a lot of fairly smashed fruits under the trees and a few nice ones, which I collected, along with a couple that were not quite ripe that I would wait to eat.

Had the wind at my back, through the fall-colored wooded neighborhood, all the way home.

Fridiay 12 October 2012. One Day, Three Rides

It’s funny how though I love going for rides to see things outdoors, I often procrastinate taking my bike for errands and wind up using the car more times than I’d like.  Not so today!

Ride 1.  A Quest for Juice.  The first ride was to the grocery store to get my son some emergency V-8 Fusion.  Let’s just say that late the night before ,  he realized he “needed” to take it to school in the morning.  So resigned myself to taking the car to my morning workout so I could swing by and pick up the juice on the way home.  But then thought if I went early enough I could take the bike first thing and then proceed with the day as usual. Yes, it would be pitch dark, but it wasn’t a long trip, the streets would be empty, and Discovery is equiped with lights, after all.

And, indeed, it was a lovely, quiet trip to the grocery store and back.  It was no earlier than it had been when I’d begun my rides during the summer, but the darkness made it feel very different.  In the dark I got to see the waning crescent moon and Venus close together, as well as one of the only constellationsI can pick out really easily: Orion.

And the mission was easily accomplished.

Ride 2.  Less Distance, More Shopping
The next trip was with my friend Anne; our plan was to ride to the center of the universe (Philo) and back with a minimum of stops.  The morning was sunny and crisp but not cold. The fall colors were in the process of advancing dramatically;  trees that had been part of the mass of summer green now were asserting their individuality.  We rode through piles of leaves, both flat and newly fallen and also curled crunchy ones, to Meadowbrook Park.  We made a quick loop and a quick stop near the “Marker” statue ;  the gentians still were there.  We looked,  but I  was a able to resist the urge to get out the camera  so we could make some miles with our limited time.

When we got to Philo Road, it was under construction, and cutting through the adjacent subdivision did not put us back on our route, so we just stopped at Cafe Zojo for a beverage, snack, and good conversation: our teenagers, our past adventures, our prospects for the future.  Anne remembered that she needed something from Meijer; I got a couple of items while we were there as well.
Ride 3.  A Quest for Apples.
I had  been craving fresh apples ever since a kind neighbor offered me one from a nearby tree.   Wasn’t sure what I could buy would be quite so exquisite,  but thought maybe our local orchard (and farm-flavored kids’ entertainment center) would have something better than what was available at the grocery stores.

So set off with a padded grocery bag to Curits Orchard, which, logically enough, is located on Curtis Road, the next main road south from Meadowbrook Park, only far to the western edge of Champaign.

Curtis Road was very quiet, even at mid-day.  A field was being fall-plowed (or is it “ploughed?”).  Noticed there were field crickets

calling, which are easy to miss if there are any other sounds, like bird song, which there was not, about.

Stopped at the railroad prairie at Curtis and US Route 45 for a few photos of asters and what surrounded them (a little goldenrod, cattail seed

heads, big bluestem, cup plant.

Was delighted to see the bike path on Curtis Road just west of US 45.  It was lovely to see the open countryside and also feel so safe in

a dedicated bike lane.  In the fields a combine, which stirred up a large cloud of dust,  harvested soybeans.

On the way into Curtis Orchard there were bee hives close to the road.

Curtis Orchard is what you might call a “touristy” kind of place.

I was dismayed to see this sign:

But they have locally grown apples!

Bought two bags of apples, about five pounds each, one Jonagold and one Honeycrisp (which were labeled “seconds,” though there didnt’t seem to be anything obviously wrong with them).  And for the record, the Jonagold were ok but not the best I ever had, but the Honeycrisp were well worth the trip.

Remembered to check out the hidden pond just southwest of Curtis and Prospect.  It was full of mallard ducks but

not geese(!?)

The wind blew from the east on the way home, which always seems strange. So that’s why the trip out was so easy.
Stopped at the Curtis Road  bridge over the upper Embarrass  and looked down to see lots of little fish.

Was so glad to be out on Discovery, carrying food (apples, in this case) home on this gloriously autumnal day.

Sunday 7 October 2012. Westward in the Arctic Cold

Ok, I exaggerate.  More on the temperature later.

Was determined, much as I longed to see the bottle gentians, to head westward this Sunday morning, at least over the Champaign-Urbana border.

Was able, on my short pre-ride, very early this morning, to get a shot of the close-to-perfect half-moon, which I’ve

missed, between the autumn clouds and not riding much mornings.  It felt like greeting an old friend.  Managed to get a pretty  clear shot, though with barely a hint of the halo of clouds that were plainly visible to the unaided eye.

Knew it would be considerably cooler (think it may have gotten down to freezing) this morning than it was last week, so knew the fleece jacket, even with a layer of sweater,  wouldn’t be enough.  The winter jacket seemed like overkill , but it’s what there was.  To protect my hands had a pair of cotton gloves, which I thought may not have been quite enough but better than nothing.

Was wrapped comfortably against the near-freezing temperature, but as soon as I set off down the street, tears started streaming down my face, as if I were weeping for the loss of everything dear to me.  It was strange to observe these tears that were so copious but not connected, at that moment, to any emotion.  Just a reaction  to the autumn chill.

Headed south on Lincoln Avenue toward my modest destination of the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration Project.  Was  not so receptive to the sight of the outside world as I might have been in warmer weather to begin with, and was about to dismiss Lincoln Avenue on the way to Windsor Road as photo-uninteresting when I caught sight of some mushrooms on the floor of Illini grove, among the plastic cups and beer cans.  There was another

luster a little farther down but let it go unphotographed.

Stopped at the Idea Garden to see what late flowers might be there.  Noticed that sawtooth sunflowers largely

missing from the prairie this year were flourishing in cultivation, a vigorous stand of them.

Passed the U of I dairy science operation that I have passed many times and finally got a photo of some of the cows.

Windsor Road, looking northwest toward the Assembly Hall still had some yellow goldenrod, and plenty of green grass.

Got a shot of the construction along Windsor near First Street.  Last  time I was there some common milkweeds

had grown up defiantly, right near the construction, but these seemed to be gone.  That day I saw the site through the eyes of my sons as preschoolers: how cool those big trucks pushing the dirt around were! This time it only looked like devastation: bare dirt instead of plants.

Noticed a puddle with muskrat-to-raccoon-sized lumps in it: something alive?  It was hard to focus in detail through the chill-induced tears.  A zoomed photo revealed only dirt clods, alas.

The City of Champaign Prairie Restoration was still largely yellow with goldenrods.  I’m rushing this idea of aging, maybe.

Heard and then saw red-winged blackbirds, without bright red epaulets.

There were pink asters in the little prairie along with some purple ones.  Wasn’t sure if they were different species

or just a variant of Aster novae-angliae (New England aster).  So did a little research, and according to the Illinois Wildflowers website (see preceding link), they are the same.

Saw a nice example of rose hips, presumably pasture rose.

Riding toward the little prairie I didn’t feel the cold much, aside from the tears (and resultant runny nose),  but after stopping to photograph I was freezing.  The ride back was COLD.  My core was mostly ok, but my hands and ears were very uncomfortable. Made me think of the Himalayan and Antarctic explorers. Right.  Yet it still was kind of a rush to pedal through it.  Like we seek in yoga: comfort within the discomfort.

I hope I can dress for the weather and not let it slow Velo du Jour down too much more.  We’ll see.

Monday 1 October 2012. Three-Bike Velo

This morning, well, closer to noon, rode with not one but two friends among neighborhood trees with rapidly advancing fall colors  to Meadowbrook Park.  We rode three-across, taking up the whole street except to let cars pass, three women over 50, feeling more like teenaged girls playing hookey from school.

We talked about adventures we’d had long ago and, of course, about the joys and challenges of guiding/standing back and beholding our fourteen-year-olds in the midst of high school, the internet, sports, social life, etc.  Not something any parent should do without support from other parents.

We rode to the “Marker” statue to view and take a few pictures of the bottle gentians. It was easier to find them even than yesterday; the grasses were drying quickly and leaving space for them to be visible.

We parked our bikes and headed to the middle of the prairie on the “soft path.”  One friend was really taken  by the

expanse of  vegetation across a little slope.  The other was enchanted by the surviving Gaura, so pink and fresh and

delicate amid so many dying leaves.  We opened a cream gentian seed pod and marveled at the huge numbers of tiny seeds.

We found more bottle gentians, the ones I’d discovered a few days ago.

I was amazed at how rapidly the green, fluid part of so many plants was being withdrawn, leaving them curled,

crisp, dry, in spite of the recent rains (to which the cultivated turf grass was still responding in rich green).  It was just their time to go.

It was good to share this outing, to catch and together hold a little piece of this fragile transition (not so unlike teen-age) to the next season.

Sunday 30 September 2012. The Prairie Slows Down

Now that it doesn’t get light in the morning until close to 7 am, I’ve been doing indoor activities before venturing on the official velo, but did want to report a sighting (was on Discovery at the time) of the full moon going down around 6 am, almost exactly half way between the north and south halves of the sky.  Its light was starting to dim and it was surrounded by a small, soft halo.

By the time I set out for Meadowbrook Park, the sky was clear; the air was still chilly but comfortable with the protection of a fleece jacket and cotton gloves.

Destination was the Windsor/Vine bridge to see whether any beavers might be about.  Yes, it was another non-westward Sunday.  So much for the pattern.

Felt again the joy of on-a-bike mobility, something I try to remember, especially as the years go by, not to take for granted, for it’s never guaranteed.

At the Windsor/Vine bridge, the only obvious animal action was a few spreading  circles on the surface of the water: fish or maybe tadpoles. No bullfrog sounds. And I’ve missed the changes in activity of the beavers.  At the last

several visits I’ve been just standing at the bridge, looking for but not seeing any beavers, feeling bereft of them.  They must be around, but I seem to have lost my attunement to their activities, alas.

After the visit to the bridge, made an atypical (for me) counter-clockwise big loop.  Some patches of fresh, bright

goldenrod remained, but overall the blanket had faded. It made me sad.  The prairie is becoming somber.  You could call it “mature.”

Couldn’t help comparing the state of the prairie vegetation to that of my own life, to the aging process.  Youth is just more attractive, easier to appreciate, something we miss when it fades, let’s face it.

And yet, with a little effort and patience, one can see beauty in the somber prairie, for example, the smooth, dark

Baptisia pods, which make a cool rattling sound in the wind (or if you shake them).

This time of maturity is less about flowers and more about seeds, less about exuberance and more about rest.  Age and its effects, for a season or a lifetime, are, much as we fight them, natural and normal–and not completely without their charms.

Still, even in this somber-ing season, the exuberantly blue bottle gentians, growing down low, almost out of sight,

which I knew would still be there near the marker statue, only now are fully abloom.

Could have stayed all day photographing them.

But that was not possible, so continued to the rabbit bridge to check on the cardinal flowers.   On the way saw   walnut trees that had dropped their leaves already, leaving mostly bare branches with some large ornaments of heavy walnut fruits.

A spike of cardinal flowers remained visible from the bridge.  Didn’t venture close to it,  just got a distant photo

of it, savored its brief existence, recalled the abiding gratitude I felt to have witnessed its appearance this year.

As the flowers of the prairie were fading, though, the leaves of the woody plants were starting to take their fall (yes, so brief!) colors.  They bespoke a defiant joy, even in their fast-approaching demise.

On the way home down Race Street a hawk, probably a red-tail, flew low, over my left shoulder then ahead of me, for a little way before it disappeared into some trees on the right side of the road.  It was a kind of thrilling, an unexpectedly close encounter with ever-changing nature.

Thursday 27 Sept 2012. The Extent and Condition of the Gentians

Had an unexpected little free slot this cool, cloudy morning, so excitedly set off on Discovery to see what was going on with the bottle gentians.

They were there at the Marker statue, and took more pictures, though the actual colors were hard to capture-they seemed either too intense or too pale.

Walked Discovery down the “no bikes” soft path to see whether the bottle gentians might be more widespread than their location by the statue.

Didn’t find a single blooming cream gentian where they had not long ago been thick, but many of the the yellowing

plants bore fruit-looking structures within wrappings of browned flowers.  It was good to see that there would likely be seeds for future seasons.

Had not seen bottle gentians from the “soft path” (the”inner prairie”) last year, and was about to conclude that they were again absent, the early-season light blue examples probably a variation of the cream species.

So ventured out a little away from the path; saw lots of cream gentian fruits but no blue flowers.

Was about to head home when, there they were on the north side of the path!  There were several plants, with every

stage of flower, from small buds to maroon-brown spent blooms. How long had they been there?  It was satisfying to witness these few more blue farewells to this year’s growing season.