Tuesday 30 July 2013. Birthday Mushrooms!

Really hate to publish posts out of order, but today is my birthday and I’m going to deliver this one today, in grateful celebration of my first breath.

It was about 5:45 on the morning of this, my 58th birthday, and what I could see of the northeastern edge of the sky was close to the color of Rhododendron’s frame (light magenta!). A fancy birthday sunrise! Was surprised at the color because the sky was so overcast; even a sprinkle of rain had fallen. But it didn’t last long; by University Avenue, it was much more grey.

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Stopped at the Crystal Lake Labyrinth for a birthday walk. As someone who often suffers indecision about itineraries, found the twisting but complete path comforting, “The path lies before you. You have only to follow it.” Like swimming laps, a different kind of exploration.

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Stopped at the Lincoln Bindery prairie garden and liked the swaying, bending compass plants. Wished I’d seen the prairie clover in full bloom.

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Sped down the tiny but briefly exhilarating hill between the cemetery and the woods. Wheeeeee! Maybe some day I’ll try it with no hands!

Had a lovely swim in the new pool! It’s not quite done but quite beautiful. So nice to swim directly under the sun or even the clouds.

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Near the exit of the park to Broadway Street my attention was arrested by a group of jumbo mushrooms!! They were 4-6 inches in diameter, though the scale may not be apparent in this shot. I love mushrooms for their unpredictability, for the way they arrive in their their hugeness without warning. They could be the official symbol for “spontaneity.”

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Was glad it didn’t rain, that Rhododendron didn’t get wet.

May do more riding today or just wait till tomorrow, when I swear I’m going to take a LONG ride!!

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Sunday 28 July 2013. Blankets of Monarda, and Other Sweet Bits of Summer

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At least for the week of my birthday, I am determined to ride and keep up with Velo du Jour! When time passes between rides, must remember and keep remembering that this beautiful world is stuffed full of treasures I will miss, in time and in space, and that it’s ok, each little point of wonder I don’t miss is vast and eternal, and the only appropriate response is gratitude!

So off to Meadowbrook Park I went (after considering so many other routes I also haven’t ridden of late) this morning. Also planned to see what was happening at the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration on Windsor near Neil street. The temperature was 50 degrees F (July?!?) at about 5:45, sky clear (a bit of cloud on the western horizon) air mostly calm.

The clear sunrise made me think of a line from a more obscure James Taylor song, “Daddy’s Baby”: “…Silently as the dawn was breaking, soft and clear, and my tears were dry, and my fears had flown…” It felt like I was being shown a path leading from difficulty to contentment and hope. What a great beginning to the ride, the day, the week!

Didn’t really mind the 50 degrees (at first!), though last night the poor katydids could barely get their song, usually so vigorous and urgent this time of year), out to their katydid listeners.

Took the standard clockwise big loop of Meadowbrook from Race Street.

Here is how McCullough/Davis creeks above the rabbit bridge looked today. What a good place to observe change!20130728-084340.jpg
Have to say I came with some anxiety about what to expect, and how to take it in. Even was a bit overwhelmed by memories of past enchantment and enjoyment–could it ever be so good again? Have I “already done it?” On top of that, haven’t been around as much this year to register the details of the landscape, the composition of the plants and their stages of development. And passing the wet area of willows, arrowhead plants, and swamp milkweeds, 20130728-165508.jpg
wondered whether the cardinal flowers would bloom again after not appearing there last summer. But did walk in a little way, carefully, through the sawgrass to get close to the swamp milkweed to check whether the flowers actually smelled like cinnamon. They didn’t, though maybe they were just too wet and cold.
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The patch of Liatris between and around the two close-together small trees near the wet area was in glorious bloom, more extensive than last year, it seemed.

Tried to take in the net effect of the burgeoning summer prairie flowers that were all coming at me: was struck most by the lush Monarda, which were joined in close color harmony by the bunches of purple coneflowers and more occasionally by the taller, lace-like prairie tick trefoil. In counterpoint were yellow flowers: the masses of yellow coneflowers with their downward-streaming petals, the Sylphium “sisters” with their prominent, robust, rough and characteristically sculpted foliage (S. perfoliatum, cup plant; S. lacineatum; compass plant, S. terebinthinaceum, prairie dock, and S. integrifolium, rosinweed), all of which had big yellow flowers in various stages of bloom.

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Then, here and there Culver’s root, mountain mint, rattlesnake master, and Baptisia added notes of faint pink and white.

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Did not see a soul until close to the Freyfogel Overlook. Felt the exquisite edge between the sweetness of solitude and the bitterness of lonliness.

Stopped at the overlook to check for the patch of royal catchfly I’d seen for several summers past, but did not detect it. Which doesn’t mean it’s not there. Usually it takes several attempts, including walking a ways in, which I wasn’t prepared to do on this cold, dewy morning, to locate this patch. But had already seen it a few days previously from the soft path, so the chances are good that it’s here, too.

Proceeded north toward Windsor Road, when the sun on the dense masses of pink-purple and yellow was arresting! Here was a unified portrait of Meadowbrook Park on Sunday, 28 July 2013.

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And finally saw some more characteristically tall compass plants. There seem to be more in bud coming along.

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Even though I didn’t walk far into the plants, my sandaled feet still got wet, and I was cold. My fingers were getting numb. Thought, “people get hypothermia at unexpected times in unexpected places.”

Stopped at the Windsor/Vine bridge: McCullough Creek was very clear and the banks were full of flowers; so different from last year.

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Almost let go of the second part of the trip, but pressed on through the westerly breeze along Windsor. Stopped and stood in the sun at Lincoln and felt some warmth come.

Was glad I did. Rhododendron is not a performance bike, but I so loved just rolling along the open, green-flanked road on my two smooth, balanced, 27-inch wheels.

The City of Champaign Prairie Restoration had many of the same species as Meadowbrook but with far smaller populations. It did, however, also have some pink Hibiscus, and also a quite a stand of past-bloom lead plant.

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On the way home, the sky was clear blue, the air so pleasantly cool. Again felt the sheer joy of rolling on two wheels. Don’t know whether the road bike leaning-forward position is really good for my aging body; it may actually be undoing the alignment I work so hard in yoga to attain. And it could be that my more recent aches and pains are from Rhododendron. But, oh, the joy of riding this morning! Even the worry about a low balance of grown-up accomplishment points was rendered meaningless.

Felt safe and contented, like a Daddy’s baby.

Sunday 21 July 2013. Spectacular Prairie Garden on Florida

The temperature was 68 degrees F with a southerly breeze and a layer of moving fog on the ground.

Intended to visit the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration but only made it as far as Florida and Orchard.

Knew there was a recently (as in the last couple years) planted prairie garden but was not expecting the spectacular display I found there!

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The dense sea of yellow coneflowers and black-eyed Susans was punctuated with spikes of purple Liatris and blue vervain (Verbena hastata, though I’m not completely sure that’s what it was), and also the intense pinks of the purple coneflowers and the softer pinks of the Monarda.

Was amazed by the density and variety of flowers in this little prairie planting. And the fog just made it that much more lovely. Here are a few of the photos from this morning.

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Rosinweed blooms rise above the sea of yellow and pink.
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Looks like a white Liatris, though I don’t think it’s a different species from L. pychnostachya, the prairie blazing star. Also note the fine-leafed, white mountain mint among the black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers.
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Rattlesnake master (foreground) yellow coneflower (middle front), ironweed (middle back), and prairie dock, back, tallest plant visible
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Note in foreground–purple prairie clover (L) and thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica) (R)
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The foliage in the left foreground is of stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum), in the middle are flower spikes of prairie blazing star (Liatris pychnostachya).

Used up my time at this little spot but easily got lots of photos. On the way back the lovely neighborhood gardens seemed pale by comparison.

Friday 19 July 2013. No Photos. Ironweed and Swamp Mikweed

Succeeded in getting out of the house just about 5 am and without smart phone!!

So this will be brief, just a sketch of a pink flower that caught my eye from a distance in the wet area near the southwest corner of Meadowbrook Park. Suspected it was something different from the very purple ironweed (genus Vernonia, not sure which species) that was starting to appear, but did not tramp into the wet ground and high vegetation to get the i.d. (Which I did do a couple days later to determine that it was a non-common, presumably swamp, –Asclepias incarnata-milkweed. And what a cool name!)

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Otherwise the prairie flower-chorus was led by yellow coneflowers and purple-pink Monarda: summer-gorgeous!

Friday 11 July 2013. The Water at Meadowbrook and Lots of Blooming Milkweed

The morning, at just about 5, was delightfully cool (62 degrees F) and clear; the breeze was from the south.

Even though I’m still behind on this blog, had to go to Meadowbrook and see what the prairie was like. Seemed like such a long time since last visit: only a few days, but it was so brief. Went with questions: what did the lead plant look like? Had the royal catchfly started to bloom? What were the compass plants doing?

On Race, across the street from the park saw the shape of a large bird in a tree. Passed it wondering whether it was a hawk or owl, so went back for another look. Was hard to tell in the dim early light, but thought it might be a great horned. Its wings and head looked dark with contrasting light breast feathers. It took off when I stopped to look at it. Thought the wings looked shorter and broader than a hawk’s, and it flew into the trees, so concluded it probably was an owl.

Had intended to make a camera-free trip, but just really missed the prairie flowers and wanted a record of how they had changed.

Stood on the bridge an saw those wide ripples on the water that meant some creature was stirring, but couldn’t identify it.

Then followed the creek downstream, where the camera first came out. Wanted to document the beaver-chewed alders and the increasingly “stream-y” McCullough Creek, post-beaver dam. There was so much leaf growth and so little evidence of the once flame-colored chew marks. Was then surprised by the tight group of adult-sized brown Mallard ducks: the source of those ripples upstream, presumably the family I’d seen below the bridge several times before.

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Saw what seemed to be water trickling from the ground right across the stream from where I stood. Another spring?

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Rode through the lush summer woods along the bank, the “short loop.” Parked Rhododendron and walked toward the small wooden ridge across McCullough Creek and the soft path.

Checked but didn’t see any deer bones in the water where I’d seem them before. There was a pile of sticks across the stream, flotsam, I think, rather than beaver work. Just upstream was still the tiny “waterfall” I’d seen in winter. It was the proverbial babbling brook.


The soft path was flooded, first time I’d seen so much water there.

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Walked a short distance past the flooded part of the path and saw the light of the rising sun on several common milkweed plants. They were in almost-full bloom, most with a pair or two of handsome orange and black milkweed beetles. It might just be where my awareness is landing, but it really seems to be a good year for common milkweed.

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Maybe it’s all the water.

Thursday 17 July 2013. A Rich Summer Bloom, with Mist

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It’s getting to be a while already since I took this trip; don’t remember the temperature or wind conditions, nor what time I got out of the house.

But I do know there was a layer of mist over Meadowbrook Park, which always makes for an atmosphere of mystery and interesting pictures.
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Showy tick trefoil(Desmodium canadense) rose above the misty horizon. 20130801-091245.jpg
The compass plants were blooming, though a lot if them are not very tall. Also, there were, as seen in this shot, plenty of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, mountain mint, and Monarda in bud.

The purple prairie clover were still in bloom, though haven’t been able to follow the trajectory.
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The common milkweed are still blooming and also making pods. This one had two pairs of handsome (presumably aposomatic) “longhorned” milkweed beetles. But still have seen no sign of monarch butterflies, alas!

20130801-092949.jpghad to include a shot with more yellow coneflowers; they are so photogenic.

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Sunday 14 July 2013. Velo Chicago

Was in Chicago this weekend to, among other things, celebrate my sister Lisa’s (number five of my parents’ seven children) fiftieth birthday!

The weather was sunny and beautiful, and a highlight of the weekend was a bike ride along the Chicago lakefront.

As soon as I arrived in town, was struck by a couple features, namely, there were abundant racks of handsome, sturdy, Chicago-blue “city bikes” that, for a fee, were available for short trips and could be returned at a different rack, at one’s destination. Not cheap but the right idea!

Another thing I noticed was the large number of old (as in of the vintage of Rhododendron) Schwinn bikes that were locked to the general-use racks downtown.

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To digress slightly, I remember that when I was a college student and young adult, in the days when bike traffic on campus was so thick it was dangerous, that Schwinn bikes, especially the heavy steel Varsity or even the next level up: the Continental, definitely were not cool, not like the French, Italian, and Japanese makes.

But here were all these old Schwinns, still rolling, just like my own Rhododendron. Of course, another reason they are so common could be that they’re less attractive to thieves, no doubt well-represented among the dense downtown throngs. Also, having one myself, they are just more on my “radar.” In fact, on closer inspection, at least two of these had rusty chains. Guess they may have survived and made it downtown but still are not so well-loved, after all.

But back to the birthday bike ride….

We rented Trek “comfort” bikes from a private vendor located just north of Millennium Park. Each bike had a rack with bungee cord to hold a purse on the back and an insulated bag to keep a water bottle cool in the front. Also, it had a bell, which would come in handy alerting the many pedestrians of our presence. We got the bikes for two hours, which was not as long as I would have liked, but long enough to see a fair amount of the lake shore.

Lisa, the birthday girl, who regularly bikes the lake front, led the way. Our youngest sister, Barb, who said she hadn’t been in a bike for years, was safely in the middle, and yours truly brought up the rear.

The day was oh so lovely as we headed out through the plantings of flowers and along the beautified Chicago River.

At the lake, the sky and the water were full-summer blue. Wished I could have stopped to photograph, but there was no stopping in this ride in the big city, especially with the Taste of Chicago going on.

So our itinerary was first south to the Adler Planetarium and then back north to Fullerton Avenue.

Between Burnham (I believe it is) Harbor and the Aquarium there were a number of people swimming along the shore. Couldn’t tell whether there was some event or whether they were just having a fitness swim.
We did stop in front of the Shedd

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The only down side of the ride was the large number of people out on bikes and walking when we headed north. It took some attention away from the comaraderie and beautiful scenery.

But all in all it was a most satisfying and enjoyable ride.