Monday 12 November 2012. The Phinney Branch Trail at the End of a Chilly November Ride

Yes, it’s been over a month since I took this ride so have forgotten some of the details.  Fortunately took some notes (and of course photos) back on the day it happened and hopefully can reconstruct the gist of it.

Do remember that it was another victory for cycling as I took a chance on making it on Discovery’s wonky tire back to see the dentist, who had a cancellation in his schedule this morning.  Don’t remember why, exactly, but decided to go ahead and ride to southwest Champaign on the compromised tire that had kept me from using it for Cranksgiving.  It was a day for a little risk-taking.

It must have been close to freezing, or even a little below, but dressed warmly, including felted wool mittens, and psyched up for an “arctic” adventure.

Didn’t stop much, so as not to lose heat and also to make it in time to my appointment.  But did stop to investigate a largish dark furry shape on Windsor Road near Neil across from the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration.  It was close to the size but looked too dark and was just the wrong shape to be a groundhog or beaver.  It didn’t behave like them, either: was quite still for a long

Lurking Predator

time, seemed to be stalking, like a predator.  Hmm.  Well, the camera zoom revealed it to be a large cat;  feral?

After the dentist’s appointment decided to ride along Phinney Branch, which was even more quiet and deserted than the last time I was there.  The sun was shining and it was perfectly wonderful to wind back and forth and over the little bridges from Robeson

Start of the Phinney Branch Ride

Park to the yard of the Westminster Presbyterian Church.

First Low Bridge from the West
Took pictures of the pedestrian bridges: wooden walks that barely cleared low water level.  Likely they are submerged during high

Second Low Bridge

water, as this deposit of flotsam (or is it jetsam?) suggests.  Didn’t photograph the street bridges;  that will have to wait for another

Closeup of Flotsam on Second Low Bridge


Third Low Bridge
At the western end of the Kirby/Florida leg of the trip were a couple of ornamental crab apple trees that owed their color to the

Fruit the Birds Didn't Prefer

fruits with which they were still laden. Not the first food choice of the migratory birds; they’ve been bred not for bird food but for extra showy spring flowers.

And back home.


Sunday 4 November 2012. Cranksgiving!

Today was “Cranksgiving,” an annual event put on by our local bike cooperative.  The goal of Cranksgiving is for cyclists to collect food for our local food bank by riding cross-town to four different grocery stores to shop for Thanksgiving dinner items.

This is my third year of participating in Cranksgiving; Discovery’s front wheel bears two spoke cards from the first two.  I think the

Cranksgiving 2012 Registration

turnout was a little smaller than last year, but a reasonable crowd was assembling as I registered and received a packet that  included a new spoke card, a “manifest” of what items to buy, list of stores, divided into four regions (the idea was to shop at one store from each of the four regions), and an envelope for collecting receipts.

Registered promptly and then had a little time so decided to go back home to to top off Discovery’s tires.  But there discovered that its back tire was starting to come apart (!?!)

Did not relish the thought of a tire failure with baskets of groceries on Curtis Road, so decided to swap Discovery for Blue.  Inconveniently, Blue was not at home then but at the house of friends, my son having recently borrowed it to go there and then returned home by other means.  Fortunately, it wasn’t too far away, so I popped over to get it.

Once there, my friend noticed that Blue had no means of carrying groceries (though I brought a backpack), so she kindly offered her bike for my trip.

We adjusted the seat, secured the baskets, and, with thanks, I was off.

Of course, all this adjustment took longer than the little time there was before the start, so I missed the fun of gathering with everyone and making the big start : (.

Still,  was off and happily headed to my first stop: Aldi on High Cross Road.

The weather this time of year can make the ride more interesting, as it did last year when the wind blew so hard we could barely stay on the road.  But today the air was mostly calm, if a bit cool.  Nothing a reasonably warm jacket and a pair of mittens couldn’t handle.

E Main Bare Oaks, Remaining Color

Rode east on Main Street and stopped to take some photos of the remaining fall colors, also of the edge of  a mostly monochrome Weaver Park.

Weaver Park w: Just a Bit of Color

After Aldi, the next stop was Meijer. Headed along High Cross to Washington to and then south on Philo.
Cranksgiving 12.1 Aldi

Remembered how windy it was parking Discovery at the Meijer bike rack last year, but today it didn’t have that feel of

Cranksgiving 2012.2 Meijer

rugged adventure. After the Meijer stop, headed down Windsor Road, then looped quickly through Meadowbrook Park (restraint, restraint) and then south on Race.  Loved the feeling of heading out into the country after riding in town.  Turned west on Curtis Road through the expanse of black fall-plowed fields dotted with the the occasional tree and bridge over the upper Embarras (Still Douglas Creek at this point?) toward Schnucks in Savoy.  On Curtis began to regret my failure to have eaten before leaving or to pack anything to eat.  So decided to use the opportunity to take a break and indulge in a little ice cream treat at the Marble Slab Creamery.

Did enjoy riding my friend’s relatively new bike.  The expression “like butter” occurred to me several times.  Gave her bike the provisional name of “Zephyr.”

Stopped briefly at the US 45 railroad prairie; got a shot of its early November-ness.

US 45 RR Prairie in Gold

After making my Schnuck’s purchase, stopped at the Marble Slab. Really didn’t intend to have a huge ice cream thing, but you

Cranksgiving 2012.3 Schnucks, Savoy

really couldn’t get anything for less than $5 (which just doesn’t seem right for a place with no ocean nearby).  Oh, well, just went ahead and surrendered to the extravagance and got something called “pumpkin spice latte,” though it didn’t come with coffee– had to request its addition.  The Marble Slab was less of a highlight than I’d anticipated, alas, an example of the limits of the pursuit of happiness.

Thought about making a loop toward the Common Ground Food Coop, my last stop, but really preferred the idea of cycling with a good view of the clouds and landscape to riding through town.  The ride back on Curtis Road was smooth and lovely; the

Back on Curtis, Nice Clouds

westering sun to my back was peeking out from the thinning clouds.

Along Race Street,  most of the trees were bare, but some, like the gingkos, which didn’t do their usual mass leaf-drop this year, still had leaves.

Somehow forgot to get a photograph at the Common Ground Food Coop, my last shopping stop, but it was a short ride from there to the Bike Project, where volunteers

Gathering the Take

collected the Cranksgiving groceries.  The volunteers greeted the returning cyclists warmly.  I didn’t win the prize either for being the first to finish nor for getting the most groceries, but they said won something. (I keep meaning to go collect it…).  A volunteer kindly took my picture after I completed this year’s event.

Zephyr and I, at the End of the Trail

It was a great way to spend an afternoon, to enjoy another ride and also connect with something beyond myself.  I look forward to doing it again next year!

Sunday 28 Oct 2012. Fall Meadowbrook Sunrise, with Chill

Was eager to get out on Discovery this morning: been making fewer, shorter trips as the fall advances.  Aside from being “busy,” like everyone in the world, there just is less daylight in which to ride.  It’s getting to be that time when the sun doesn’t come up till close to 7 am.  I’ve decided that riding in the dark can be ok, but there really is more to see when there’s at least a certain amount of light.  So waited till what felt like pretty late to depart this morning, though it still was a bit dark.  In the dim light photographed

Aging Roses in the Dark

some fading roses in a garden along Race Street.

It was cold, but I don’t think quite freezing.  Remembered a band to keep ears warm, winter jacket, and fleece gloves.  Was quite comfortable as I set out.

Noticed at the first street intersection that my brakes needed adjustment, big time.  Seemed like they were fine last week, but maybe it was something about the recent cold weather.

So rode carefully to Meadowbrook Park.

Been wanting lately to put in some more miles, but miss checking the seasonal developments, even the fading and crumbling of stems and leaves, at Meadowbrook.  Also have been desperate to catch a glimpse of the beavers.  So it was another short trip.

The streets this morning were empty; saw only the sheriff’s car going north on Race Street.

Didn’t see anyone at all walking in the park till I got past the rabbit bridge.

The sky this morning was more colorful than I’ve seen it for a while.  Ah, the sunrise!  Today it featured long stacks of clouds

A Longer View

layered with spaces of  sky.  Took photos at favorite observation spots.  Don’t think I remember ever seeing it in quite that

Late Oct Sunrise at Rabbit Bridge

particular shade of pink-mauve before.  The color did enliven the landscape, which was full of fluffy white goldenrods in seed.

Sunrise with Old Goldenrod Closeup

Down on the land, could see that there were shades of  brown and pale ocher in the landscape and different shapes of these, but they

Late Oct Meadowbrook Yet Another Lovely Sunrise

didn’t leap out and grab me.  It would have taken more time to tune in to this subtlety.  Did stop to shoot the skeletons of compass

Compass Plant Remains and Sky

plants that showed different stages of breakdown.  Was impressed by the ones that still stood straight up, remembering that many if them had fallen over when they still had yellow blooms.

Was surprised to see the last gentians still showing some blue; did not photograph them.

Right about at the observation platform realized I was freezing.  I think it was stopping to take pics that did it.

But still wanted to get to the bridge.

The water at the Windsor/Vine bridge was clear and rather low, considering there had been plenty of rain lately.  Wondered if the

Stumps but No Beavers

beaver dam was what been altered.  There was no sign, except the chewed stumps from a while back, of beavers at the bridge this morning.  They must just be somewhere else.

Was starting to feel  REALLY COLD!

Pedaled home not noticing much except that.

Better figure out a way to stay warm au velo–it’s not even November!

Wednesday 24 and Thursday 25 October 2012. The Crux of Autumn

On Wednesday rode Discovery to my dentist’s appointment in southwest Champaign.  It was a sunny, unseasonably warm but not uncomfortably so, early afternoon.

Noticed that some trees that had been gloriously golden only a day or two ago were now nearly or even completely bare.  This is where it all has been leading.

The ride on open Windsor Road was lovely and aerobic, as I was in a hurry to make my appointment on time.  Just

Coming Home from Seeing the Dentist

drank in the oh so subtly varied landscape and the wide sky.  There and back.  So glad I avoided taking the car.

Thursday  was another warm day, this time with a stiff, sometimes gusty, south wind, into which I rode Discovery, destination: Meadowbrook Park.  On the way got a good view of the progression of fall, including leaves in the process of coming down from trees.  This year I’ve been struck by the observation that the wind can shake the

Leaves in Motion

colored leaves pretty vigorously without them coming off, and on the other hand they can detach (I believe the word “dehisce” may apply) and rain down when the air is quite calm.  They come off when they’re ready. Today they were both falling and blowing around.  Also realized that a pile of colorful, flat leaves under a tree is a pile of leaves that has not been there very long.

At Meadowbrook he cardinal flowers were long gone; wasn’t sure whether any bottle gentians were still hanging on, but checked the “Marker” statue site and first found some dried out, colorless ones, then one with a single dry but

Last Best Gentian 2012b

still blue flower.  Thought it was the very last but then noticed a couple of others that still looked pretty good, for now, even as everything around them was fading.

After a quick pass around the big loop, parked Discovery and set out on the “soft” path to the “inner prairie.”  Was filled with a heavy sadness to see how dry the plants there had become, how curled and neutrally colored: the dark brown of the Sylphium “sisters” (compass plant, prairie dock, cup plant, and rosin weed), the pale beige (not at all the recently abundant floral golden yellow) of the grasses, the white of the goldenrod seed heads.  It all bespoke

Fluffy White Heads

age, the withdrawal of outer life and growth.  The goldenrods looked like a gathering of white-haired, white-bearded old men.  The compass plant and prairie dock leaves were curled in interesting though death-twisted shapes.
Grotesque Dock Leaves
And it wasn’t just that the prairie plants were drying up and crumbling, it was also that I hadn’t been around much to see the details of the ebbing of colors, alas.

There still were some isolated patches of bright color, like these red sumac leaves.  But was more aware of what was

Still the Sumac


Indulged a bit in the feeling of displeasure at this stage of the seasonal cycle.  The succession of new growth was concluded. It was time for the season of loss.  Ready or not, the lushness and the vibrancy of the prairie (even of the neighborhood trees) were being wrenched away.  Year after year we’re forced to let go like this; it’s how the changing seasons work.  But today, just didn’t want it to be this way.  This year, with so much observing, grew to love all the blooming more than ever.  Now that it was done also missed it that much more.  So much death and loss, and didn’t like it.  But here it was.

Late Oct Compass Plant, Baptisia Remnants

Again, it brought to mind the theme in yoga of Pratyahara, with which I tend to have trouble–who wants to withdraw from the beauty brought to us by our senses?  Sometimes nature decides for us.

Knew somehow that this really wasn’t a tragedy, but still kept thinking of a Rumi poem (if I remember it correctly): “Longing is the heart of mystery.  Longing itself brings the cure.  The only rule is, suffer the pain.  Your desires must be disciplined, and what you want to happen, in time, sacrificed.”

Thought maybe this “sacrifice” of growth and color could be good practice for other losses in life that leave one with a feeling of longing.  Thought maybe sitting with the autumnal process of decay could help me to meet more calmly other inevitable losses.

And remembered that, of course, spring is very likely to return.