Sunday 10 February 2013. An Express Ride to the Labyrinth in Light Rain

The morning’s activities left enough time only for a short ride, which would be to the Crystal Lake Labyrinth.  So short, in fact, it would not include even the customary run around the corner down the hill by Busey Woods, alas.

The temperature was just above freezing, with light rain.  Noticed that even this Must have been raining for a long time, or more heavily previously, because there were puddles along the pavement.  I’ve always liked to look at puddles in the street, even in the very urban Chicago neighborhood

February Puddles in the Street

where I grew up, and see little lakes or streams.  They also reminded me of my older son as a toddler, who announced as he put the plug in the bathroom sink and turned on the water, “I’m making a pond!”

At Crystal Lake, the geese were back, despite the lights that had (apparently unsuccessfully) been installed to keep them away.

The Geese Have Returned

At one of the entrances to the park stopped to photograph the striking  “leaning” sycamore tree, though the light wasn’t especially favorable and none of the shots turned out very well.

Near the labyrinth were prominently visible several red “No Smoking” signs posted, on posts.  Guess the signs are better than

No Smoking, Seriously

having people use the space for smoking breaks, but I think the signs themselves rather detract from the intended atmosphere.

Parked Blue and began to walk the labyrinth.  Could not resist stopping to take pictures at first, but then decided the stopping defeated

Beginning the Walk

the purpose of the continuous, looping walk.  Even so, it was hard to quiet the menagerie of thoughts today, especially the “I don’t have much time here!”  one.  Well, not every walk yields great insight.  Was nevertheless glad to see the landscaping around the labyrinth, a lush oasis in the growing season, in its more sparse, somber winter dress.

On the way back tried again to get a shot of the leaning sycamore; was slightly more successful. The rain stopped for a while and then

Striking Sycamore

started again, fortunately not hard enough to interfere with navigation.


Sunday 4 February 2013. Light Snow and Running Water

I lost the notes for this trip, which I’d taken down the same day of this trip–a mysterious casualty of a glitch in the “Notes” ap on my phone.  The iPhone gives and the iPhone takes away.  All that to say that these recollections may be a little sketchier than usual.  Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

It was below freezing, though can’t remember how much.  It was cold enough for the precipitation, light mist, I think, to freeze on my glasses, though not enough to really impair my vision.  There was a light frosting of snow on the ground, except for the salted street, which was liquid-wet in some places and slushy in others.  The snow on the ground and clouds in the sky made the scene mostly black-and-white.  I do remember that it was good to be heading out on Blue to Meadowbrook Park on this snow day.  It made me smile.

Along Race Street noticed some oak trees with leaves still clinging.  Will they all be off before the new ones come?

Clinging Oak Leaves and Snow on Race St

At Meadowbrook, parked Blue on the rack near the garden plots and walked downstream along McCullough Creek.  I think I remember a number of species of birds singing, including red-winged blackbirds and a cardinal that repeated what almost (others have been almost spot-on) sounded like my name.  Heard woodpeckers do their slow forage-pecking and always there some bird songs I haven’t yet learned.  Maybe this year!

At the stream, there were several logs fallen across the channel and a little “waterfall,” which looked like it might have been an old beaver dam, with a little ice on its edges.

Little Waterfall With Snow

Noticed another pile of logs and sticks that I would guess was made by beavers.  I’d always known that beavers tend to make a dam with a pond, but I’d never known how many structures they put in their environment.  This winter I’ve counted at least five little dams between the Windsor/Vine and rabbit bridges.

Small Beaver Dam, with Snow

Remembered how much I’d m0urned the passing of color from the landscape in the late fall.  But this black-and-white was enchanting in a different way.  Winter’s sparseness reveals the structure of the stream and of the trees that growing vegetation hides for most of the year.

Large, Medium, Small Tree Trunks

Followed a branch of the creek to a hole in the ground from which it flowed–a spring?  Looked like there was broken field tile at its


bottom, so it probably was not exactly “natural.”  But water coming out of the ground without obvious hardware is always something of a wonder.

Probably had the usual cycle of cold and warming hands but interestingly have no exact memory of that.

It was another lovely, quiet Sunday morning, ok not to run into anyone.  Walked almost to the rabbit bridge and turned back.

Was happy to be able to unlock Blue (a couple of days earlier couldn’t get the key to turn and had to leave it where it was and walk home).  Another reason to smile.

Snow at Race, Almost Windsor

Sunday 27 January 2013. McCullough Creek, Farther Downstream: Revising the Mental Map

The plan this morning was to ride to Meadowbrook, park Blue, and explore farther downstream than last time around McCullough Creek.

The temperature was 25 degrees F with a breeze that felt like it came mostly from the southeast. The sky was cloudy, but not enough to preclude a quite pink sunrise.  The full moon was not visible, however, nor did the disc of sun ever come into view.

Pink and Blue Sunrise 27 Jan 13

Parked Blue at the playground rack  and started at the Windsor/Vine bridge.

Right at the bridge, McCullough Creek ran without ice, but farther downstream, ice covered much of its surface.

Walked on the grassy area a little way away from the creek for a while before going in to the stream bank.

In several places the ice had cracked or broken into pieces and refrozen.

Broken Ice Refrozen

The beaver-chewed parts of the stream-side alders were not as bright orange as they were last week or the week before.  Looked like the beavers hadn’t done any more chewing since last time.  Noticed also that the alders didn’t go as far downstream as I’d assumed.

Less-Flaming Chew Marks
My walk farther downstream revealed, contrary to what I’d speculated in an earlier post, that the main beaver dam was quite intact.

Main Dam and Drain

Well, it can take a while, and some correction, (especially for some of us) to get the exact configuration of features pictured in one’s mind.  During the growing season there’s so much going on with the prairie plants that there isn’t much time to investigate the stream in any detail.  Also, when there is foliage all around it’s harder to get to the bank or even see much of the stream.  Now in winter so much more is visible. (Still think there had been one or two smaller dams, farther upstream, that were now dismantled.)  Farther downstream were a couple of additional smaller dams, as well as beaver-piled mounds of sticks on the bank to one side.

Small Dam, Ice, Waterfall, Beaver Bridge, and Stick Pile

Noticed a curious set of frozen tracks going from the bank to the middle of the stream.  At its end at right angles on either side was a

Frozen Evidence-What Happened?

small bunch of short, straight lines (bird wing “tracks ?”)  Another set of tracks from a refrozen break in the ice a little way upstream ended at the same spot.  Must have been some kind of interaction; not sure what.

Hands got really cold (!) after removing gloves/mittens for photos, but then warmed quickly once they were replaced into glove/mitten protection.

Saw a tree at the very edge of the stream, with large proportion of its roots exposed.  How long before it would fall over?

Tree Hanging Over the Edge

Noticed quite a few standing dead trees with woodpecker holes.  So that’s where they live.

Downstream Limit 27 Jan 13

Turned back before I got to the rabbit bridge: that adventure would have to wait for another day.

Took the (more direct) path away from the stream on the way back to Blue.  Saw a tiny dead shrew, I believe it was, on the path.  Its frosty grey fur was amazingly dense and its feet and the underside of its snout were an eye-catching bright pink; its smooth tail was a slightly more subdued shade of pink.

Saw no one on my walk by the stream in the morning cold and really enjoyed the sensation, however enhanced by imagination, of being in a remote, wild, quiet, sacred place.

Sunday 20 January 2013. A Ride into the Winter Sunrise to Visit the Bones

Missed an unseasonably warm day for a ride yesterday; this morning it was a seasonable 21 degrees F.  But  was ready to get out and see whatever might be there, prepared with hand warmers (two of them!), toe warmers, layers, balaclava.

This morning was eager to go (on Blue) somewhere I hadn’t been for a while: to see whether the possum remains I’d seen several times at the NE corner of the High Cross Road bridge over I-74 were still there, and if so, in what condition they might be.

Set out on Blue and got about half a block away when the creak of its chain was just too much–turned back to the house and gave it a couple if squirts of lube.  Aaaah!

Headed north and east as the morning light was coming up.  Realized that there are certain better places to see the sun rise (and set, if I could focus on it at that time if day), even in town.  Main Street in downtown Urbana actually is a pretty good place to see the sun rise.  Here is this morning’s.

Sunrise and Clock Tower, Green Light

Hardly made it to downtown and already the northerly breeze was a challenge to my cycling comfort and a distraction.  Ok.  Just a little at a time.

Fortunately, the sky, which seemed at first to be just clear and plain, provided a compelling little drama for me to anticipate and follow, to compete with my cold face and fingers for my attention.  It was lovely to be riding directly into it as hints of pinks and mauves bloomed into orange and gold.

Got a shot of the former Solo Cup plant, which, since the last time I took a photo has been renamed “Dart.”  Noticed that the front of the

Was Solo Now Dart

plant has been cleared of obstructing vegetation even beyond leaf drop, like they intend to stay in operation for a while.  Not sure whether they still make “red Solo cups” there, if in fact, they ever did, or at least did recently.

Stopped for a sunrise shot of Weaver Park and was tempted to go in and look around, but fought the urge.  Really wanted to see the

Sunrise over Weaver Park 20 Jan 13

bones, which would be a satisfying, quick endpoint.  Got back on the bike, only to stop again to photo two little crab trees, a nest in

Crab Apple 1 with Nest

Crab Apple 2 with Nest


Thought maybe the trip was long  enough, and was ready again to go home, but pushed on. Did a lot of taking the fingers out of the glove fingers and holding the hand warmers.  Brrrr!

Made it to the I-74 bridge and rode up into a stiff northerly breeze. Oh, man.  Had those Antarctic thoughts.  Even wondered if it was safe to be doing this on a busy-ish road with my attention so taken up with being cold.  My hands were so stiff I couldn’t change gears; had to just climb slowly on cruising gear.  Just focused on the task, with patience and persistence.  But then it was exciting, being in the wind, up over the interstate, which provided some warmth, I think.

And on the north side of the bridge, just over the east guardrail,  there were the bones!!

What Happens to the Bones

They were almost all clean and disarticulated, and rather jumbled, no longer held together with skin and fur, gruesome and grimacing, as they were when I’d first seen them in May, but perfectly suitable for viewing by general audiences. Was interesting to see also some of the same debris accompanying them as I’d seen through the summer.   Actually felt a kind of reverence for the bones, these remaining smooth, dry shapes that once together supported a living, moving, moist being, honored that I was able to observe as it went through the process of coming apart and returning to the earth.  It was a good place to turn back, and I was glad to have made it here.

Glad no cars came by while I took pictures. It’s really not the best place to stop.

The traffic heading west on Main street was quiet, less actually than it was for a while earlier heading east.  Wasn’t a problem

On the way back, the sun lit up this sycamore.  Ah, morning!

Illuminated Sycamore, Main St.

Got a shot of a road hazard I recalled  being as bad as ice (sweet gum seed “balls”), though this particular collection seemed pretty much flattened by the wheels of motor vehicles and safer than when they’d been newly fallen and round as ball bearings.

Road Hazzard

Cold, yes, but oh so good to be out!

Sunday 13 January 2013. A Bit of Freezing Rain.

Felt this morning like I was still behind in my posts and maybe shouldn’t pile on more trips till I catch up, but there was a new kind of biking weather (for me) out there this morning, and really wanted to try it.  Well, here it is.

The temperature was 30 degrees F and the sky was a uniform light grey.  There had been rain: could see unfrozen puddles but also some dry areas.   Still, the mud was firmer (i.e., getting frozen), and thought I could hear tree branches clicking when the wind blew: there definitely was ice about.

Wasn’t sure how far to push the adventure: there might be some actual danger involved.  But it wasn’t presently raining, there were very few cars on the streets, and I was feeling decidedly adventurous.

“So, if there is ice just remember: balance, keep steady, relax into the forward momentum,…” told myself as I headed south on Lincoln Avenue.

Small Tree w: Ice

Did stop to get a few shots of ice on branches and grass along Lincoln, including the Illini Grove larches.

Icy Grass Closeup 13 Jan 13

Icy Shrub 13 Jan 13

Icy Larches 13 Jan 13

The pavement, fortunately, was mostly free of ice.

Noticed that, as usual, I wasn’t the only cyclist on the road.  Also saw a group of intrepid runners.

Intrepid Ice Runners

Headed west on Florida to my destination of Kirby and Neil.  The streets were empty, so, even with the questionable weather, decided to practice my “savvy cycling” and ride in the normally busy street.

Was not sure it was a good decision (a few cars joined me on the street) and felt a pang of fear out there with only blocks and blocks of the edge of the cemetery (i.e., no sidewalk) next to me.  But did manage to make it.

Documented frozen rain on this sign at Neil and Kirby.

Ice on Crossing Signal

On the way back noticed the sidewalk (on which I pedaled in safety) along Kirby/Florida was sprinkled with pellets–had it been recently salted?

Noticed the same kind of pellets in my driveway at home–too early for anyone else in my house to have put out salt.  Had one of our neighbors generously done this?   Not until I noticed the same pellets on the lawn (no reason to put salt there) did I realize the pellets actually were ice, frozen drops shaken from branches above.  Not a dangerous layer, but more evidence of this mini-ice storm, which I felt satisfied to have gone out in and from which to have returned safely.