Thursday 6 June 2013. No Photos: Meadowbrook and Yankee Ridge with a Friend

Left the phone/camera at home again and rode with a friend to Meadowbrook Park. The temperature was about 62 degrees F; the sky was partly cloudy.

The Penstemon at Meadowbrook were like snow, not everywhere but widespread and thick in places.

More spiderwort were closed than open.

Saw the two patches of blue flag iris but didn’t get close. Curious that they are less spectacular in this wet spring. At least so far.

My friend and I almost ran into a deer.

The lead plant by the Freyfogel Overlook was showing clear buds.

Rode east out Windsor Road and then south on Philo to Old Church. Yankee Ridge was a breeze on Rhododendron.
Made the first right turn; rode as far as the first horse stable.

Overhead flew nine ducks, to the south, then one flew east. Close by in a puddle in a field were a couple of good-sized birds I thought at first were ducks. On closer observation, their thin, curved bills suggested they were some kind of shore bird.

The ride reminded my friend of living in France, where she frequently rode her bike through the countryside. Her stories reminded me about possible opportunities for my son to go to Europe next summer. Does time fly or what??
At about 6:30, the sun started to break through the clouds, sending rays of light in a dramatic way around it. It made me think, “God.”
Sunrise w:Rays Th 6 June 13

Grateful for another June morning.

Wednesday 26 June 2013. Transition to the Summer Prairie

It was about 5:20 under wide but thin clouds as Rododendron and I hit the road this morning. Had stayed up late to finish one thing and another and was really tired, almost to the point of having to be careful to keep control of the bike. But it was a summer morning on the bike, after all, worth enduring a little initial discomfort to get to the ease that I knew would soon come.

Couldn’t get the phone weather ap but guessed the temperature to be about 65. Felt chilly and wished I’d brought a sweater, but had very little time, so pressed on with reasonable confidence that, being late June, it would quickly get warmer. Hmm. Not exactly living in the present so far this morning.

Been taking Vine Street more frequently, what with the construction on Race. Took a route different from my usual: turned left into the path that divided Meadowbrook and Clark-Lindsay Village, which gave a good view of the sunrise.

Felt a little sad that my trips to Meadowbrook Park have been less frequent than last year–one actually can see more the more one observes, and so felt less sensitive to what might be going on. But always there is something to see, and here I was.

Today there was little evidence of the once-profuse Penstemon. Purple coneflowers, relatively large blooms whose petals radiated at different length and different angles on different flowers, were now prominent. Got a nice close-up shot of one next to a Heliopsis bloom.

The spiderwort were still a presence, and purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Heliopsis, and Baptisia were becoming more numerous.

Got a shot of the sun just breaking above a couple of purple coneflowers and some grass spotted with water drops.

Farther down, around the stone sculpture that reminded me of the word “to” was a very thick stand of rattlesnake master (a runner-up in the funniest plant name contest).

A little farther still was an arresting patch of common milkweed in bloom,

complete with several orange and black milkweed beetles. The plants were laden with pink spheres of star-shaped flowers and were very fragrant. Last year it took reading about them in another blog to catch my attention and focus on them, but this year they seem unusually striking. I think this is a better than average year for them.

Rode fast south and downhill toward the rabbit bridge over McCullough/Davis creeks, hitting the brakes before the bridge to stop and look at the water. It was high with the rain from last night’s storms.

Just east of the south edge of the big loop saw the year’s first Monarda. Got a shot of the sunrise over the middle of the prairie facing north from the south edge, from between young walnut trees.

20130628-140342.jpgThe trees are filing in most of the prairie sunrise views I used to get from this length of the big loop.

Also saw the feather- like foliage of the
Liatris between the two little trees where it soon would be blooming. I’m guessing it’s a marsh blazing star (L. spicata) rather than L. pycnostachya, the prairie blazing star, only because it’s growing in a wet area.

Many red-winged blackbirds were giving their “Star Trek” call.

Caught a whiff of strong, fresh mountain mint. It was confined to a small area but so pleasant.

Around the southeast bend did not noticeCoreopsis or pasture roses where they’d been several days ago.

At the Freyfogel Overlook was a beautiful scene of early light spreading over the taller Baptisia and various plants getting ready to bloom.

And, of course, had to see the lead plant, many of the little purple flowers of which were abloom. It never disappoints! Got a shot of it with the golden light of dawn.

20130628-140834.jpgAlso the butterfly weed was stunning.

Then homeward at high speed (awake!) on Race street (mostly), with a brief stop to greet and discuss summer travel with a couple of friends out for a walk.


Friday 21 June 2013. A Sunrise Ride and Walk on the Summer Solstice

Got out just about 5 this morning, not before, but it was ok. The temperature was 70 degrees F, with a few small clouds floating above the northeast horizon.
Avoided the Race Street construction by veering to the east, but got back on shortly.
Was eager to witness the summer solstice sunrise at Meadowbrook Park and to park Rhododendron and walk a little bit in the middle of the prairie on the “soft” path.
It’s been harder to get a view of the sunrise from the southwest edge of the big loop where I’ve gotten shots in the past–the vegetation is growing more thickly there. Did get a view of pre-dawn light at the small bridge over Davis Creek, farther east.

Tried to move on and focus on the walk part of the trip, but did stop for a rapidly bolting (new!) compass plant

20130707-211737.jpgand to check the lead plant, the tiny flower buds of which were just beginning to open.

Also caught a hen mallard and her six almost adult-sized ducklings just passing downstream under the Windsor/Vine bridge over McCullough Creek.

Went to check the chewed alders, glad for the clear markers (a steel sculpture just the other side of the path and a distinct wooden beaver-carved sculpture) of their location. The growth of vegetation around the site since the winter was just amazing. The chew-marks have gotten really dark and obscure.

Caught a view of the rising solstice sun-disc just as the path branched, the Hickman wildflower walk to the west and some river birches (I think) and a nice assortment of prairie flowers to the east.

20130707-212615.jpgThe longest day of 2013 begins.
The Penstemon in their decline no longer were quite the visually dominant element in the landscape. Purple coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, Baptisia, rattlesnake master, and false sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides) blooms were becoming more abundant. There were still more species in bud. The green was thick, the plants so crowded. The word “competition” occurred to me.

Locked Rhododendron to the rack and proceeded to the “soft path.” Noticed crossing McCullough Creek that the deer bones were still there in on the bottom in the water.

At the beginning of the soft path were grape vines with small bunches of little green grapes.

20130707-214810.jpgThe scene made by the path and how it curved into the
morning light, with a curtain of grapes on the side made me think of waking up and going outside after sleeping in a vacation cottage. It was a sweet morning.

Noticed that the walnut trees to the west of the path were already bearing good-sized fruit.

Saw a common milkweed with its developing spheres of blooms, the first pink star-shaped ones showing, illuminated by the new summer sun.


Got a shot of the new player, purple coneflower, increasing among the old Penstemon and spiderwort.

Welcome summer!

Thursday 20 June 2013. No Photos: Blazing Sunrise and a Smorgasbord of Smells

Today, the longest, or almost the longest, day of the year, was pretty sure I made it out of the house before 5! 4:55 counts!

The overhead clouds were tinged with pink; the northeastern horizon was a blaze of hot pink, orange, and magenta. It was a proper dramatic sunrise, what keeps us early birds getting out of bed at what some would consider ridiculous hours.

It was 66 degrees F but quite humid so felt warmer. Still the light sweater was comfortable in the biker’s breeze.
The sky was full of clouds–thicker at the horizon but with plenty of blue space among the ones overhead. The horizon was an intense pink-magenta–made me think of the word “blazing.”
Race Street was under construction, so took Vine to Meadowbrook Park.

Occasionally there was the lovely scent of linden, the bloom of which seemed a lot more staggered than I remember from the last few years.

Rode west on Windsor Road and took the big loop, speeding over the rabbit bridge without braking! Did, however apply the brakes at the sharp left turn just after the bridge.

The Penstemon were declining. Spiderwort were harder to assess because of their diurnal bloom cycle; at the moment it seemed they were not at the peak of opening. More Baptisia spikes were rising magestically; more purple coneflowers.

Think there must have been at least one place where one could smell mountain mint (it’s getting to be a while, already). Do remember that its fresh fragrance seems to have been confined to smaller areas this year, though the plants seem to be widespread.

The lead plant at the Freyfogel Overlook was almost, by not quite, blooming.
The deep orange butterfly weed blooms were just starting to open.

Rode to Philo Road then to Old Church. On the way caught a whiff of skunk.
Went only to the top of Yankee Ridge. Loved the quiet of that place and also the vantage over the spreading central Illinois landscape. Came back on Old Church past the Barnhart Prairie Restoration. The flower roll call was much like that at Meadowbrook: Baptisia, purple coneflower, black-eyed Susan, etc.

Saw a hawk (large, presumably a red-tailed) perched on a utility pole with a smaller bird (red-winged blackbird?) boldly flying at it, trying, it seemed, to chase it away. Courage!


Near the large livestock-housing structure at the corner of Od Church and Race could smell a strong scent of manure. Remembered the smell from many previous trips (not sure why I almost always forget to mention it). It’s unpleasant when you’re not used to it–ask a new U of I freshman from the Chicago area–but otherwise it just means “farm,” which has other, pleasant connotations. Quite subjective.

Farther north, close to Meadowbrook, saw one great blue heron flying due east. A little later, saw another one flying southeastward. What would a summer morning be without a great blue heron sighting? Or two?

At the southwest corner of the big loop around Meadowbrook, in front of the electrical transformer, or whatever it is, stood an antlerless deer. It seemed a strange place for it to stop; wondered whether it was getting ready to bound across the road in front of me. But it didn’t; I (and presumably the deer, also) made it safely home.

Saturday 15 June 2013. Thick Clouds and More over Starbuck’s.

Took my time getting out this morning; it was 5:45 as I rolled out on Rhododendron. It was 66 degrees F and the grey clouds were thick and lumpy, preventing a view of the sun-disc. Hoped it wouldn’t rain; Rhododendron already has rust (carefully contained, but still,) from its many years of existence.

The neighborhood linden flowers were (at last!) generously giving off their June fragrance.

Rode north through downtown Urbana toward, ok, one of the thousands of scarily ubiquitous Starbuck’s cafes of the world.

20130702-080917.jpgBut it calms and centers me to sit at a table around which I’m not responsible for the maintenance of order, sipping the miraculous substance of coffee and writing or sketching a little.

Also, the location of this particular Starbuck’s affords a decent view of the sky, which, by the time I left for home at 6:30, seemed like it was beginning to clear. The clouds looked like they were pulling apart and getting thinner, and the sun was partly visible. Then, looked up from unlocking Rhododendron and clearly saw a great blue heron heading west and a little south. Like the view of the sun, unexpected!

Thought the frequent flight of herons over central Illinois was a good example of how many beautiful, wonderful, yes, and horrific, things go on right next to us but outside of our notice.


Friday 14 June 2013. Very Quick Visit to Meadowbrook:Lead Plant, No Deer.

On this clear, calm morning, it was 57 degrees at 5:02. Still haven’t made it out before 5, but getting closer!
Well, I’m getting so behind in these posts, decided to take the shortest possible trip to Meadowbrook Park and limit myself to three photos. Talk about a challenge!

So straight to the Freyfogel Overlook, via Vine Street, which I’m getting to appreciate more, went on Rhododendron. My mind was crowded with the kinds of concerns common to parents of teens and young adults in the summertime, but still was able to feel the privelige of riding a bike on an empty street on a fresh summer morning.

And the little expanse of prairie at Meadowbrook once again opened its calm and its comfort to me. Even with all the hurry of squeezing things in, was able to receive its riches.

Stopped to observe some new black-eyed Susans, but didn’t want to walk in for a shot. Closer to the path was a handsome pair of pre-blooming common milkweed plants, of which I got a shot in front of the western sky, which the sunrise had tinted mauve.
Common Milkweed and Western Sky at Sunrise
Then checked on the lead plant, with its “festive” foliage, which was still in bud.
Lead Plant, Coreopsis, and Sky
Noticed a patch of yellow flowers I didn’t recognize, which looked near the end of their bloom; how come I only now spotted them? They seemed to be food for quite a number of leaf beetles.
Unknown Yellow Flowers w:Lots of Beetles
The Penstemon and spiderwort were still widespread but on the decline. Wanted to come back later to see if more spiderwort would be open.
The Coreopsis, which seemed unusually abundant this year, still made a nice foil around the lead plant, but there were fewer blooms than last time in the two patches just south of the overlook. Remembered expecting them to cover the prairie like the spiderwort when I’d seen them first blooming in previous years, but they turn out to be much more confined, as well as shorter-blooming. Still, for a time, their gold-yellow enlivens the prairie’s spring palate.
Wide View Prairie w: Waning Penstemon and Western Sunrise Sky
Unlike during the past few visits, did not see any deer this morning.

Went over my 3-photo limit, but did restrain myself from photographing the stately Baptisia.
Then headed home, amazed again by how satisfying even a short trip to the prairie can be.

Thursday 13 June 2013. Too Threatening

Almost got out before the stroke of 5, but then forgot something and then it was 5:04. 😦 The temperature was 72 degrees F, and there was a fairly stiff head wind as Rhododendron and I headed north. The sky was covered with a lumpy blanket of clouds, with darker ones to the north. No rising sun-disc show today. Yet, the phone weather information did not
Downtown U Sunrise 13 June 13indicate rain, so off I went in the direction of Weaver Park.

The sky seemed to get darker rather than lighter as time went by. Noticed a feeling of fear about the clouds; it annoys me to be so easily scared by clouds. Just had to start the self-talk (“How bad do you really think it is right now?”), and it was better.

Seems I’m not the only one who has trouble getting out of the house by 5. The streets were empty of pedestrians/cyclists and only a very few cars passed.

Not quite to the Dart plant felt raindrops; did not want Rhododendron’s rust to get worse so headed back.

Tuesday 11 June 2013. The Death of Possums and Other Images of a June Morning.

Been trying to get out of the house before 5 to really see the light come up, but still only managed 5:04 this morning, when it was 63 degrees F, under mostly clear, calm skies.

Tomorrow, so the sign says, Race Street will be closed for construction. I’ll miss checking on the roses across from the high school (see photo) but it will be Crowded Pink Cabbage Roses good to have to go another way.

Farther along Race Street, just outside of Meadowbrook Park,
saw what looked like a road-killed possum. Wondered if maybe it was only “playing possum,” though it seemed to have a large wound in its abdomen. But closer inspection revealed the “wound” to be its marsupial (yes, like a kangaroo) pouch, and in the pouch were squirming, pink baby possums. It was horrifying, disturbing. So didn’t include a photo but just a rough sketch of it. 20130704-084830.jpg Wondered if something could have been done to save the possum babies, but they were so small and still pink and apparently blind, and without their mother didn’t seem to have much chance to survive. It gave me a visceral sensation of orphanhood, of the kind I think that, at some level, adoptees all must have.

The image of the possum was distracting, kept me from noticing the usual things. Even the sunrise seemed obscured.
MB Formerly Good Sunrise View
By the southeast corner of the big loop, however, my attention was drawn to two deer inside the loop. A couple or bucks, as it turned out. Their antlers were small and fuzzy.
Mid-June Buck in Distance
Got to see one bound in its graceful deer way across the snowy Penstemon toward the east. Struck me how a buck deer evokes both masculine and feminine images: it has those “masculine” weapon-like antlers, yet also “feminine” large eyes and sleek lines. Made me wonder, if the Disney story of Bambi had continued, what would the other bucks have called him–“Bamb?” “The Bamb?”

The bounding deer reminded me of life running in abundant parallel with death.
 Nestbox, Penstemon, Mostly Clear Sunrise Sky
Thought later that maybe a coyote or hawk (or vulture?) had a needed meal of the possums. Hoped anyway that they didn’t just become part of the road, though I know that often happens. I suppose there was a small chance that the mom actually was “playing possum.”

The imminent lead plant blooms, surrounded by bright, golden Coreopsis, were another sign of life going, surging, onward.
Lead Plant in Bud w:Lots of Welcoming Coreopsis

Sunday 9 June 2013. Good Clouds over New Purple Coneflowers.

Been trying to make it out of the house before 5, but so far this morning’s 5:04 is the closest I’ve come. The temperature was 64 degrees F, the sky filled with medium-sized clouds loosely jammed together.
Today’s destination was somewhere southwest, but yielded first to the temptation to loop through Meadowbrook Park. It was a good place to see the shapes of the clouds change color as the sun rose.
Rosy Bunch of Sunrise Clouds
Saw a picturesque deer browsing in a snowy expanse of Penstemon under the clouds.Deer, Penstemon, Spiderwort
Red-winged blackbirds with their graphic red-and-yellow accents decorated either side of the path and made a whole array of different sounds, including one with two notes that kind of reminded me of the beginning of the theme from The Bridge on the River Kwai, though it was not exactly the same interval. Heard one say “Mom!” in a different place (near the Marker statue) as well as in the usual place near the Freyfogel Overlook.
Got a decent shot of spiderwort, Penstemon, and clouds.

Saw a common yellowthroat (no photo) near the lead plants, which were getting closer to blooming.

Saw my first blooming Meadowbrook purple coneflower, along Windsor Road a little west of Vine. But didn’t get a picture; maybe thought there would be another, better one.

Saw not a sign of other human beings at Meadowbrook this morning. Had a kind of satisfied-greed feeling, like a sweet little time of having it all to myself, of not having to share. (Something left over from being one of seven siblings?)

Stopped at the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration, where there were lots of spiderwort, some Penstemon, the amazing lead plants near the sign, at least one new purple coneflower, and a newly blooming Baptista all around which had been mown. Also there were lots of invasive non-natives (like, e.g., my own people): crown vetch, sweet clover, curly dock, and that pervasive, huge white umbel that kind of resembles Queen Anne’s lace, poison hemlock.

Backtracked slightly and rode down First Street at good speed under the clouds,

in the comfort of the June morning, out to what eventually turned into Airport Road, which ran into US 45, the only way to proceed northward to Old Church without considerable backtracking. Yikes! But there was a wide shoulder and very little traffic (whew!). Turned west on Old Church to that lovely stretch of bike path that becomes south Prospect.

Really liked this road marking, the sentiment of which followed me home.

Sunday 23 June 2013. Penstemon Passes the Torch, and a Quick Visit to Yankee Ridge

Darn; thought I’d already published this one…. Well, here it is: a little flashback.

It was 68 degrees F and cloudy at 5:15 this morning as Rhododendron and I headed to Meadowbrook Park. The cloud shapes were interesting, but the colors were relatively muted.


Detoured around the construction and then back south on Race Street and around the usual big loop of Meadowbrook.

Penstemon flowers were visible, but no longer so common. The composition of the bloom was in flux, without a strongly dominant species. Baptisia were becoming more common. There still were patches of spiderwort, but most plants bore developing seeds with few or no blooms.

Got another shot of the handsome new bush clover leaves growing among the old seed heads.


At the Freyfogel Overlook got my first glimpse this year of yellow coneflowers coming into bloom.


The lead plant was coming into full, gorgeous, blue-violet and orange bloom. The sky was dramatic behind it.


The butterfly weed was in full, gorgeous, very orange bloom.


Almost to Windsor Road, a blooming common milkweed caught my eye, and then my nose. Didn’t recall noticing how pleasantly fragrant they are.


Rode out on Philo Road, where there was standing water in parts of the fields.


At Yankee Ridge on Old Church Road (such a quiet place!) saw cool light rays from holes in the clouds.


Turned right onto what is called, at least for some of its length, “Yankee Ridge Road.” There was new, loose gravel in the road, which made me a little nervous, but remembered my experience on the ice last winter and boldly imagined flying over it, balancing.

On the way home along the north edge of Meadowbrook got a shot of the increasingly dense purple coneflower blooms and the sky above them.