Saturday 12 January 2013. Lots of Park Visitors and Amazing Alders on a Balmy January Morning

Was totally psyched to ride to Meadowbrook Park this morning. It was 48 degrees F (!), with yesterday’s rain still in evidence.  January, and already it’s ” mud luscious.”  Yes, the evidence of global warming is disturbing and requires what response we can make, but I’m trying hard to accept the day’s weather as it comes.  Today’s was making it easier to do something I liked to do; hard to complain about that.

The sky was full but not packed solid with large but mostly thin clouds.  Loved the way the hint of color crept across the sky from the

Early Morning Color 12 Jan 13, 1

horizon as the sun made its way up.  But that was before the “official” ride, which did’t happen till 8 am, when the sun made a yellowish streak amid grey clouds.

Stopped near the beginning of the trip to photo some fallen apples that I’ve been observing since late summer.  The decay process

January's Apples, Closeup

(aided, no doubt, by recent freeze-thaw) is underway.

Strangely enough, felt cold!  Seemed to be appropriately dressed (details in mild weather don’t seem necessary), but the southerly breeze (or was it just ” biker’s breeze?”) seemed to rob my heat.  Just wasn’t all joyfully engaged at that point.  Realized I missed the regularity of my rides.  It’s probably more important in winter to ride a lot so one can be comfortable in different conditions.  Alas.

There were so many people at Meadowbrook (though did not photograph them).  Saw several people I used to see first thing in the morning in summer, and lots of others.  Thought it was strange till I remembered that it was late enough for the not-quite-so-early risers to be there, and also that it was a beautifully mild, beckoning kind if day to be out.

Made a big loop and caught sight (actually was alerted by someone walking the other direction) of several deer, large, antler-less, and

Deer Way in There 12 Jan 13

grey-brown like the dry grass and leafless shrubs.  Again, missed the old camera’s zoom.

Noticed the Santa hats were still on the “Processing Difficult Emotions” sculpture. (The hat from memory was way too small.)

Photo of One Face I Drew

Parked Blue at the play structure rack and walked to the Windsor/Vine bridge.  The water was clear and the surface moved with some kind of animal life beneath, but long as I looked, couldn’t see a single tadpole or fish.  Was it all the human company that made it hard to focus?  The angle of the light?

Walked along the path near the creek  (the “small loop”) and then in all the way to the bank where worn paths connected it with the main path. Noticed a lot of green moss on the ground near the stream.  Does it grow more green in winter (at least on relatively warm

Death and Life 12 Jan 13

days) or does one just notice it more amid all the color-drained dead vegetation?

Noted and photographed the chewed alders, the holes in mounds near the banks, and what looked to be entrances to burrows from the

Two Orange-Chewed Alders and Reflection

Beaver-Chewed Flaming Orange Alder Closeup 1, 12 Jan 13

stream-bank.  Saw ducks a ways downstream but no beavers nor any tracks in the mud that were clearly beavers’.  Saw, floating, a thick

Muddy Bank 12 Jan 13

piece of (alder, I guess) stripped stick that looked very much like a Flaming Hot Cheeto, or maybe a carrot.

Cheeto? Carrot?

Noticed how different it was, from the last time I was there,  to observe the same sites,  even the same structures,  from the other side of the creek, in warmer weather, with less solitude.

Was amazed that I never noticed the alder trees by McCullough Creek.  Never noticed how both their pollen- and seed-producing structures remain dangling on the tree all year, as could clearly be seen in this example right by the Windsor/Vine bridge.  Was amazed

Alder at W:V Bridge 1

at how orange an alder’s cambium (beneath the bark), exposed by beaver teeth, could be.

Rode back through the Peg Richardson Hickman Wildflower Walk and heard a woodpecker tapping, not the rapid-fire of excavating a home nor of calling a mate, but just slowly tapping, I assume looking for food.  Tried really hard to get a photo of it that was at all

Somewhere in There is a Woodpecker, I'm Pretty Sure

recognizable, but was unable, alas!  The tree-tops and sky are nice enough, I guess.  Do miss that zoom capacity of my lost camera for documenting shy critters.

Saw, on the way home, in the field on the west side of Race Street, a couple of crows chasing off a hawk.

Looking forward to catching up on my old posts, which I hope to do this week!


Sunday 6 January 2013. Crows, Ducks, Lead Plants, and More Cold

For this this morning’s ride, the temperature was a not exactly extreme, for winter, 30 degrees, the sky again like a sheet of grey parchment paper.  There was a westerly breeze, not hard, but it was another heat-subtracting factor.

As semi-customary for Sunday mornings, headed west.  Wanted to check out the winter landscape along Windsor Road and also see what the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration looked like at this time of year.

It seemed dark for 7:30 AM, though the level of traffic was usual for that time. Headed south on Lincoln Avenue; got a shot of the Illini Grove larches.

Illini Grove Larches with Snow
Near Windsor got a shot of the black, tan, grey, and still slightly green landscape, trimmed for now with some winter white.  The fields along Windsor were populated with crows I didn’t try to

Winter Cattails along Lincoln Near Windsor

photograph.  The construction along the south side of Windsor was gradually being accomplished.

Heap of Dirt w: Plateau, Windsor Road

At the Prairie Restoration had a better view of the water in the middle of it, with last season’s growth of vegetation dried up and crumbling away.  There was a group of skittish ducks that flew off as soon as I spotted them, the specks, I’m pretty sure, around the tower in the upper left quarter of the picture.

Ducks Flying Away, Really

Near the sign for the prairie restoration, the dried remains of last summer’s lead plants were still discernible.

Lead Plant Remains
Carried two packs of hand warmers but didn’t use them.  Hands (and toes!) did get cold, but not constantly.  It seemed to help to make sure my shoulders were relaxed, so there was better circulation.  Not obvious, somehow; had to keep reminding myself.

Turned and rode north on Neil Street before going east on Kirby.  Was feeling both uncomfortably warm in the core and cold in the extremities.  It seemed like a long ride.  Such is winter cycling: more effort and overall less exhilaration.  Something to learn and observe, of course.  Still, I won’t mind the time when feeling cold won’t take up so much of my attention.

Friday 4 January 2013. Ice and Chewed Alders

Happy New Year!

Photos again!

It was 12 degrees F this Friday morning, under a clear sky that held an about perfectly half moon just to the western side.

Prepared carefully for today’s ride to Meadowbrook Park: layers, balaclava, toe warmers, performance gloves, and hand warmer-took a chance on one being enough (would switch it back and forth between both hands).

At a little after 8 am (love this year’s longer vacation!) hit the road on Blue.  There has been snow and ice on the roads and sidewalks.–not a lot in one place, but it’s fairly widespread–for the past several days.  I used to “draw the line ” for bike-riding at snow and ice, but knew there were people who do ride in those conditions.  And since doing Velo du Jour, have decided to erase that line and learn to negotiate the depths of winter au velo.

Had extra incentive to ride to Meadowbrook this morning: wanted to go back and get a few photos of McCullough Creek downstream from the Windsor/Vine bridge.  I’d gotten quite a few of them a few days ago, but then, most unfortunately, lost my camera, with its SD card and the photos.  During a New Year’s walk in the woods the camera fell out of my pocket when I was focused on finding a good log for getting across the stream.  It’s slightly comforting to know that the camera is out in the woods and not in the middle of a road, but alas, alas, Velo du Jour is missing some good photos.  It may still eventually be found, but loss does happen, and this is not, of course, one of the worst.   Not that I like the thought of replacing a camera (the i-phone now does pretty well, though I miss the better zoom), but it hurts more to lose the photos.  How funny to have so many pictures from so many rides and to grieve over the missing few.

So was just going to get two or three shots to document the possible beaver activity I’d observed earlier, especially the chewed bases of the stream-side alder trees and chewed pieces of branch that looked like giant flaming hot Cheetos.

But of course, there were other irresistible things to photograph before reaching the bridge: ice on the path, a red-headed woodpecker

Ice on the Path

(way too small to see-no zoom to speak of on the phone camera but with the angle of the sun making its red head about light up.  The

Rabbit Bridge with Shadows

photo isn’t here, but trust me),  views of and from the “rabbit bridge,” a compass plant stalk before the ever-diminishing dry prairie

Clear January Compass Plant Remains

grass, the moon above the Windsor/Vine bridge.

Early Jan Windsor:Vine Br with Moon

Saw a group of Mallard ducks upstream from the Windsor/Vine bridge, but it was hard to get their photograph, alas.

And there were sounds to stop and listen to: woodpeckers, unfamiliar bird-songs.

So spent more time stopping than I’d planned, and even with the preps (next time two hand warmers, for sure!) my

Beaver Lodge Entrance? with Sculpture

Animal Burows?

Chewed Alder Trunks and Chewed Fallen Log

Piece of Cheeto-Colored Alder Branch
hands were cold, even with keeping on the gloves.  The gloves happened to have a special surface that work on a touch screen, which was somewhat handy but not reliable for making the shutter work.  Guess it would have been worse if I’d taken off the gloves.

Riding in the snow/ice went well, though I’ve found it requires the right (and very alert!) state of mind.  What seems to work is to create and hold a feeling of balance and steadiness and use one’s forward momentum; not to think of gaining purchase on the surface,  but rather to imagine gliding, even flying, over it.  It’s an exhilarating feeling!  But it requires being convinced one won’t fall.  In fact, yesterday I was on an icy place that wasn’t much worse than places on the trail at Meadowbrook, but the minute I started to worry that I might slip, the bike went flying out from under me!

Learning to ride on snow and ice has felt like a real accomplishment!

Monday 31 December 2012. A Close Look at Aquatic Rodent Engineering

Wednesday 16 January 2013.  Still catching up, but this will be the last post about trips from which the pictures were lost.

At 7am this morning, it was 30 degrees F, with a bit of a south breeze. The sky was solidly cloudy, dark for the time of day.  There was no sunrise (“show”) to speak of: the whole colorless sky just got lighter, eventually.

Prepared to defend fingers and toes against the cold: wool socks and hiking boots; new high-tech gloves (and resolve not to take them off for any reason).

Thought this morning of going on Blue to High Cross Road to check on the possum bones, but then changed my mind and headed south to Meadowbrook Park.  Surprise!
Took Vine instead of Race today;  felt like meandering a little rather than making the straight shot.

Thought about just stopping a little while at the bridge and continuing toward High Cross, but the views of the stream around the bridge, so different from how they were before leaf drop, were compelling; couldn’t resist getting some shots. Then decided to park Blue and walk by the stream (was that a path along its east bank?) and document the major examples of where the Meadowbrook beavers have been.

Beaver Work w: Snow 31 Dec 12
Once I started taking pics, couldn’t stop. [Alas, I miss them.]  Yes, indeed, they’d been busy as beavers!  Made me wonder how long they could be sustained here: there didn’t seem to be all that many trees left.  Maybe they’ll have to move  (where?) and find another home.  Noticed there was no dam the whole length I walked, where I knew there had been at least one large one.  Had it been  dismantled by the beavers or by the Park District?

Not sure what beavers do in the winter (here is a link with a little information), but didn’t see any moving about.  Did see obviously animal-made holes in the ground. Also noticed the roots of some trees at the water line recently chewed to reveal red-orange cambium

Beaver Work and Chewed Alders 31 Dec 12

(the juicy layer between bark and wood).  There were a few brightly colored chewed sticks floating in the water that looked like huge flaming hot Cheetos.  Did the beavers do this within the past week?

Saw a group of Mallard ducks that were very shy at first but then let me get a little closer.  [There were some decent shots on the lost SD card.]  Eventually they flew off.

My hands and feet were not exactly toasty but not frozen, either.  Think it’s really important not to remove the gloves, though even with touch-screen-activating fingertips, it’s harder to keep the camera still with gloves on.

Didn’t walk the whole length of the creek through the park;  maybe got half way.  More adventure another day.

Friday 28 December 2012. Little Things, Like Winter Tadpoles. Still No Photos

Sunday 13 January 2013. Still catching up….  And still no photos.

The temperature was a seemingly reasonable 30 F this Friday morning at 7:30 am, and the sky had the color and texture of white parchment paper.  The air was calm.

Headed for Meadowbrook Park on a very quiet post-Christmas Race Street.  Resolved not to take the camera out unless something really grabbed me.  Was able to keep it in my pocket up to the south edge of the big loop, where the path swung this way and that and the branches of small trees stretched over the ever-decreasing remnants of last season’s prairie  growth.

Heard a lot of crows in the field to the east of the park but didn’t get close enough to get a photo.

Greeted some people I knew on the path.  They’d seen “a bunch of deer and pheasants hunkered down,” but I did not.

Saw movement on the water surface at the Windsor/Vine bridge.  Was encouraged to stop and investigate because the water was so

Tadpoles 28 Dec 12

clear, but it still took a while to figure out that the source of the water movement was a bunch of good-sized tadpoles.  Next spring’s singing bullfrogs.

Went on along the stream, past a beaver-felled tree that still had chips around it.  But hadn’t been looking in that area for quite a while and didn’t know how long ago (within the past year, of course) it had been done.  It was strange to see so much of the stream visible. The area looked so much smaller.

Parked Blue and took a little walk on the “soft path,” over the little wooden bridge that spanned running water, through a channel that had been very dry this past summer.

Liked how the mashed-down grass looked with the last of the standing compass plant stalks poking up through it, though it was kind of subtle to capture.

Identified a dry plant with brown seed-heads as a rattlesnake master.  It’s fun to figure out what the less-obvious old plants used to be.

Didn’t stay long because my hands and feet were cold.  Made me admire winter photographers.  Still need to develop a strategy for my winter photography.  Think it helped some to imagine a fire close by; I know it helped to not take off the mittens, though it also made it harder to maneuver the camera.  Also, really need to bring hand warmers (of which I was out this morning).

Noted that winter riding takes more effort and yields somewhat less for the blog.  Let myself wander a little away from the present just enough to remember that when it did come, spring would be really welcome.

Tuesday 25 December 2012. Christmas Velo

Sunday 13 January 2013.  Still catching up.  No photos yet, but soon; here is why.

Got out of the house about 6:45, eager to see the Christmas sunrise. The temperature was about 25 and the sky was cloudy.  Couldn’t find my felted mittens but at least found two good (if not matched) woolen ones.  Also put on the  balaclava; it provides strategic warmth.

Blue was again the velo du jour;  still haven’t repaired Discovery‘s tire.

The streets were of course empty, it being Christmas.  Maybe lots of restless kids were finally allowed to get up and open their presents.  But they were inside.

Rode to Meadowbrook Park, of course. Had planned to make a Christmas morning visit even if I had to take the car,  but was glad I did make it au velo.

As I approached Windsor Road was surprised by the bit of color in the sky; thought the clouds portended a monochrome sunrise.  There

Meadowbrook Sunrise Christmas 2012

was a diagonal gap in the clouds and yellow-orange light coming through it.

Once in the park, stopped just to gather the silence on this day of many memories, this day that celebrates the miracle of birth, the uniting of humanity and divinity, the choice of vulnerability over power.  Lay down on my back on the turf grass in an open place, felt the support of the ground, let the breath come slowly and fully, and looked up at the sky.  Could see the clouds change as I watched; the sun was coming up, its light revealing their texture.  Stayed just a short time, but kept the sight and the feel of it with me.

Made the customary counter-clockwise big loop, not intending to lose heat by stopping for a lot of pictures.  But did stop at the observation platform (Freyfogel Overlook) and got a couple wide shots.  Also noticed and photo’d some irresistible Baptisia pods, and a view to the distant southeast framed by compass plant skeletons.  [Darn, I miss that one.]

Saw a couple of people on the trail and wanted to greet them with “Merry Christmas!” as I would have done without hesitation not so long ago, but did hesitate, refrained, in fact, with ignorance of their experience and expectation of this day, quite possibly different from my own.

Stopped briefly at the Windsor/Vine bridge and was struck by the different views that were possible with so much of the vegetation gone.  Saw no obvious sign of animal life, not even fish, though the water was really clear.

On the way back my hands were cold, but overall felt a nice balance of discomfort (“biker’s breeze” takes on a whole new meaning in the winter) with satisfaction at getting through the cold.

Nourished by this little, conscious visit outdoors, was ready to embrace Christmas morning with my family.

Saturday 22 December 2012. First Official Winter Ride

Saturday 12 January 2012. Still trying to catch up, and there are no photos in this posts, only a sketch. See this link for details.

At 7am this morning the sky was clear and the sun just beginning to show. The temperature was 10 degrees F. A thin crust of snow remained on the ground from the season’s first snowfall, almost right on cue for the first day of winter and, as it turned out, the relatively uneventful last day of the Mayan calendar.

Was excited, maybe a little nervous, to prepare for an actual winter ride, destination Meadowbrook Park. Made me laugh to remember a velo in October where the “cold” reminded me of stories of Ernest Shackleton and the Antarctic. Put on layers, chemical hand warmers (cheating?) in my felted wool mittens, a fleece balaclava, wool-blend socks and light boots and was off.

Still hadn’t fixed Discovery‘s flat; good thing Blue was in the garage. Blue also could have done with some attention: one pedal was cracked and the chain slipped on the gears quite frequently (maybe an effect of the cold). Just couldn’t psyche up for working on them in this weather. But Blue would serve for this trip.

Once on the road, was glad to see that Race Street was mostly dry. Must say, though, that the beginning of the ride was not comfortable–mostly it was too hot. Took the hand warmers out of the mittens and put them in a coat pocket. Strangely, the sleeve cuffs of my sweater layer held a large amount of heat; felt much better when I folded them back over the coat sleeves.

After a little while still felt too warm but now also cold on my face (would have been worse without the balaclava). Would I be able to pay attention to anything on this ride except feeling uncomfortable?

Made myself stop to photograph what a ride on a winter morning looked like at all.

Wondered how long would be enough, when to turn back. Would I make it to the Windsor/Vine bridge? Was a little disappointed in myself that this not very long ride felt like such effort.

Near Windsor there was some ice on the bike lane–was a bit nervous about it but very glad I was doing the winter ride with no traffic to speak of.

Didn’t think the paths through Meadowbrook Park would be very clear, so rode on Windsor Road toward the bridge, which I hadn’t yet decided would or wouldn’t be the farthest extent of this trip. Approaching the bridge noticed a small group of ducks in the stream below. Remembering how wary the ducks I’d seen lately have been, got the camera immediately ready, even setting the zoom before framing the shot. Was able to get a few shots as they retreated. Between the ducks moving quickly away and starting to feel cold, didn’t do a lot of observing. Was eager to do that when I’d sit down with the photos. [Oh,well!]

Quite suddenly, it seemed, my toes were now freezing! Hands were still ok so slipped the hand warmers into the boots. Thus equipped, headed for a clockwise big loop around the park.

The Santa hats someone had put on the “processing difficult emotions” (my nickname for them) figures looked a bit weathered.

The sun was coming up over the horizon and casting its strip of gold across the interior of the prairie, compass plant skeletons making a contrasting foreground. Then noticed a lovely clump of frosty Baptisia pods. Images of the winter prairie drew me in, which began to overcome the discomfort and make me want to stay longer with them.

Heard and saw both sexes of pheasants, apparently not deterred by the cold. Heard distinct rustling in the dry vegetation but saw no movement whatsoever, even when I stood for a time absolutely (or pretty close to it) still. Strange.

The snow sparkled in patterns around the blades of dry grass, but knew I’d freeze if I got going with the camera, so mostly kept moving along and shooting the occasional wider view.

Twice when I stopped for a photo of something else saw a male pheasant rise majestically in a diagonal line from the ground to the sky.

Flushing Pheasant 22 Dec 12

Each one was large and boldly patterned and trailed long, undulating tail feathers, slow compared to other birds but too sudden for me to get a photo.

A “murder” of crows ascended from the Walker Grove on the southwest side of the park, a couple of them each grasping something with their feet; couldn’t make out what it was. They lighted briefly in a nearby tree, but it’s harder than one expects to photo them; they don’t like to pose (true for most wild creatures, actually).

The trail was amazingly dry most of the way; then a runner warned me of ice ahead on the south edge of the big loop. Decided crossing ice might be safe if one is going at a steady rate and doesn’t try to change direction at all. This turned out to be true; at least I did ride over several icy places, including the small and the Rabbit bridge, without falling. Good data.

Saw another bundled cyclist on the path and thought “How adventurous (crazy?) of them!” Hmm.

Wanted to stop at the Rabbit bridge, under which water flowed actively, but was cold and went on.

Coming back in a slight northerly breeze, realized how calm the air had been and felt grateful there wasn’t also the wind to deal with. Was very glad to have made this adventure but wondered how many more I’d be up for this winter. We’ll see.