Thursday 29 August 2013. Gentianmania and Its Accompaniments in the Midday Heat

Was really itching to ride today and see what was going on at Meadowbrook Park, even if it was 2:30 in the afternoon (really have become a morning cyclist, traffic being lightest and the temperatures cooler at that time of day). At least the way to Meadowbrook doesn’t involve a lot of traffic. The temperature was 82 degrees F at the beginning of the ride on Rhododendron, the road bike, but earlier it had been overcast and cool, and later it would be sunny and quite warm: a point of inflection. Now the clouds were in the process of breaking up. I think there was a slight breeze but don’t remember the direction from which it came. Maybe I actually do need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing.

First stop was, of course, the cardinal flowers below the rabbit bridge, at the confluence (when there is water, which there was not, today) of Davis and McCullough creeks. They were holding forth amid the company of more yellow flowers: the first goldenrod in addition to the wing stem and the brown-eyed Susans that had been there a while. One seems not to be able to get enough pictures of the dear flaming-bird cardinal flowers, from close up

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Farther along the big loop path, the Bidens were starting to appear in their thick masses of very yellow composite flowers. But it’s hard to get a good shot of all that yellow, especially in the full afternoon sun. Besides, have to learn to use restraint with the photos.

Locked Rhododendron to the little bridge over Davis creek close to the beginning of the “soft” path and walked in toward the heart of the prairie. The big bluestem and Indian grasses were lank and tall as basketball players (or taller!) against the partly cloudy sky and blooming, with dangling (the only word for it) yellow stamens.

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It was getting warmer as I walked toward the middle of the prairie and started spotting the cream gentians amid the tall Coreopsis, purple thistles, and budding and newly blooming stiff goldenrod. Oh, those gentians were numerous!

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A good number of the blooms were open, and could hear and see bees of various kinds buzzing around, but was not able to get a photo of a bee going into a gentian flower, alas. Maybe I’d have had more patience to pursue one if the air were cooler. Still, got way more photos than I can use my limited storage capacity on Velo du Jour to show here. Their groupings made endlessly interesting compositions.

Was surprised and delighted that there still were quite a few bright red royal catchfly blooms, even if there were only two or three of them to a plant. It was past expectation to see them still there and made me glad for the privelige of seeing them at the end (talked about the last of the royal catchfly too soon) of their glorious bloom.

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Saw pink Gaura and yellow tall Coreopsis blooms against the blue sky, though the Gaura flowers were shriveled-looking. Thought it was from the recent heat and lack of rain, but maybe they just do that at this time of day.

Speaking of which, the afternoon sun was getting unpleasantly warm; missed the way the air was in the morning.

20130905-171500.jpgWas somewhat distracted by the discomfort. Nevertheless felt once again the delight of and gratitude for traveling by bike to be among the prairie flowers.

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Sunday 25 August 2013. Ford Harris to the West

At 5:50 this morning, it was 61 degrees F and still pretty darned dark. The sky was mostly clear, the more than half-full but waning moon clear and high, just to the south of the zenith.

Having experienced a generous helping of August flowers on Friday, was ready to set off through the stark central Illinois landscape in the direction of Ford Harris Road, part of the way to Lake of the Woods in Mahomet.

The way began with traversing the site of the Urbana Sweet Corn Festival, which was pretty well packed up. Still the atmosphere at this point was more of the end of Saturday night, featuring, for example, three pedestrians ambling along together like they’d been awake all night, than of the beginning of a fresh Sunday morning.

Rode past the Crystal Lake Park Labyrinth but did not stop: too dark to feel comfortable there and wanted to get moving along.

Did stop at the Lincoln bindery micro-prairie just to make sure to take in some native beauty, like these compass plant flowers .

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Then headed north on Lincoln Avenue. Was glad it was Sunday morning, because it’s quite a busy street. Also, north of I-74 are lots of heavy recycling facilities, junk yards, and places where they smash up hunks of demolished buildings and roads, I guess. Even on this mostly quiet Sunday morning could still hear the deep concussive sound of metal on rock.

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North Lincoln Avenue snaked this way and that up to Ford Harris, passing small, old-looking structures that may or may not have been inhabited. Was not entirely comfortable in this neighborhood.

Crossed over a little bridge across the Saline Ditch that had raccoons splashing in the water to the left and a large white heron or egret to the right–a good wildlife show.

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Got a shot of the large white wading bird, honestly.

Ford Harris Road was straight and reasonably smooth but with a thin coating of fine gravel.

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Not really a problem. It was a great road: a way to get all the way from Urbana to western Champaign without a lot of traffic. It was kind of like being out in the country, though the city of Champaign was ever visible to the south.

Rode as far as Prospect then turned south. It was a good time to be there; traffic was light. Smelled a strong odor of gasoline on the south wind. Wondered what manner of disaster would cause such a strong, sustained smell for such a distance. But then saw a truck filing the tanks at the Meijer gas station. It seemed to be the source of the odor. Yikes.

Rode a while and stopped at Trevett-Finch Park to read the historical marker and admire the incredible sprawling, ancient Osage orange tree that I’ve passed hundreds of times and never examined closely. Amazing!

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Almost home, stopped for a shot of the colorful Liatris and rosinweed at the little prairie restoration on Florida Avenue.

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Friday, 23 August 2013. Summer Matures

The temperature was 70 degrees F under partly cloudy skies at 8:50 am, with a slight breeze from the north.

Today’s trip on Rhododendron would be a leisurely ride to Meadowbrook Park to catch up on the progress of the summer prairie, especially the cardinal flowers and cream gentians and maybe catch the very last red royal catchflies.

Again, sunrise was a thing of the past. There were a good number of other visitors, of all ages, to the park, most wide-awake and occupied with their own interests. It’s different at dawn, when most of us are still in the process of awakening, and we normally greet one another, stranger or not, understanding that we also are greeting the rising sun together.

Nevertheless, there was no unfriendliness in this independence; even stopped to chat with some people I knew.

And the higher sun gave better illumination to the shaded cardinal flowers, which continued to bloom gorgeously at the dry “confluence” of Davis and McCullough creeks.

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Just immersed myself in the group of red flowers, with accents of yellow.

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Was happy to see how many plants there were, especially the small ones, which would be larger next year.

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Noticed a lot of giant ragweed blooming nearby; the phone/camera was dusted with yellow pollen. This is a bad time of year for allergies.

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Decided to make a full loop around the park before checking for royal catchfly, and stopped at the Marker statue to check for gentians. Was amazed by the tall, thick grasses and wondered how anything could grow between them, but there they were, visible after a bit of searching.

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Farther along got shots of bush clover

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and stunted compass plants (really was not a great year for them at Meadowbrook),

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as well as tall Coreopsis, which were more abundant and lovely than I remember from last year.

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As usual, each little group of flowers presented endless images, but I pressed on to the soft path. Checked the now-dry bed of McCullough Creek just in front of the path for deer bones I’d seen (then not seen) and after some searching, there they were, moved from the place I first saw them.

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Walked through the “gauntlet of grass” toward the royal catchfly, wondering if they were still there and already grieving their loss. On the way were more, a lot more, cream gentians. They are one of those flowers that make one go crazy wanting to get another photo of them. The flowers are so large, their tips closed in a spiral and beautifully set on the stems, arranged in groups and tiers of groups…. And they are so abundant!

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And then to get them together with other flowers, like this one with an old tickseed….

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Thought of the word “gluttonous” to describe my pursuit to photograph them.

And then, there was the royal catchfly, “partying down” in fierce red till the end!

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Hardly could take in the the ironweed (also making a prominent showing this year)/Coreopsis combination.

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It was a day for a lot more botanizing and a lot less cycling. So much to enjoy, so little time!

Thursday 22 August 2013. To Ford Harris Park

It was 72 degrees F under mostly cloudy skies this morning at 8:35. The sun (visible or no) had cleared the horizon a couple of hours ago. There was a lot more traffic out on the road than I’m used to. In fact, being alert to the traffic made it hard to pay attention much of anything else, alas.

But had the urge to go north to Ford Harris Park, partly to ride out in the country and be next to trees, and partly to explore a route from Urbana to (ultimately) Lake of the Woods in Mahomet.

The Main Street traffic did thin out by the time I got to Weaver Park, which was the first time the camera (phone, whatever) came out for a photo. 20130822-103433.jpg The goldenrod were starting to bloom, and there still were some Heliopsis flowers. This is the time of year to see flowers in lots of shades of yellow. Promised myself I wouldn’t linger or even get close to the purported buffalo-wallow pond. There was man standing by the sign in front of the park whose purpose was not clearly apparent, and I wondered whether it was wise to stop at all. But he was gone after I’d taken my few pictures. 20130822-103914.jpg Noticed blooming butterfly weed, later in the season for it, compared to Meadowbrook, e.g. Noticed the same thing last year.

Headed north on High Cross Road and over I-74. There were lovely red apples hanging from a tree next to the bridge, but it was a frightfully bad place to stop. Have noticed them several times before and always thought it was a bad place to stop.

Not that the place of the possum bones, at the northeast corner of the bridge, was a whole lot better.
20130822-144015.jpg But at least there was a little room in which to squeeze as the cars and trucks came by. The bones seemed to be spreading out and actually decreasing in number, as if they were being carried off. Tried to get a shot showing their proximity to the road.

Continued north; the road seemed newly finished and pleasantly smooth as the “Dark Woods” around the Saline Ditch approached. Always like entering the atmospherically dark “tunnel” of foliage. 20130822-150353.jpg
At the eastern edge of Brownfield Woods, the road and the bordering vegetation were dusty from a recent application of fine gravel, which made me a little nervous. There was a narrow dark strip on either side of the road that

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was relatively free of loose gravel, and the very middle of the road was ok, even with the gravel, but in the slope between them (makes one realize how the road is bowed up in the middle for drainage rather than flat) seemed like it could be slippery.

But out here the traffic was not bad, and could mostly stay on the safest part of the road. Started to feel more in the usual way of being out on the road in the morning, able to pay attention. Missed the quiet of sunrise but knew this was another kind of ride to observe.

Turned left at Ford Harris Road. Noticed more trees than I usually see out in the country, not counting Brownfield Woods, around here.

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Before reaching Ford Harris Park had to cross US Route 45, about which was not crazy, but it could have been worse.

Ford Harris Park was small and simple

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with a baseball field, picnic pavilion, and some nice trees. I hear (from my husband, the tree enthusiast) that some of the trees may be survivors, or descendants of survivors, of the pre-settlement Big Grove.

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On the way back got an interesting shot of a dry creekbed next to Brownfield Woods.

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Closer to home, caught the captive royal catchfly (the plant that looked a little different from the ones at Meadowbrook: there was another like them that had finished blooming) still in bloom.

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School is in, but out in the road, summer continues.

Sunday 18 August 2013. Last of the Royal Catchfly, Peak of the Cardinal Flowers, and First Gentians

This morning it was 63 degrees F as I got out on Rhododendron at 6:03.

Felt thirsty for this trip: thirsty for the road and thirsty for the red flowers, and the others, at Meadowbrook Park, especially since at my last visit (it was at 5:20 am) everything there was grey and indistinguishable (if mysterious and interesting), just vague shapes.

Was able to ride through on Race, even though the barriers that said “NO THROUGH TRAFFIC” still were up. Stopped at the place with the cabbage roses and the apple tree, where I was

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greeted by a very friendly ginger cat.

Rode along Windsor, knowing that the glorious purple and yellow coneflowers were declining and not expecting a spectacular show. But the tall Coreopsis were abundant, and the rosinweed and other Sylphiums gave the landscape plenty of interest.

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The delicate Gaura blooms were becoming more abundant. Felt quite delighted to be there with them all in their modest yet vibrant beauty.

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Could have stayed a long time just there, just at one little spot of my gorgeous Meadowbrook, but also wanted to ride out in the country, of which my trip Tuesday to Homer Lake had given me a an enticing taste. So headed out to Philo Road.

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Only went as far as Old Church Road and didn’t even make the little detour east up Yankee Ridge but turned west toward the Barnhart Prairie Restoration. Could see compass plant and prairie dock but didn’t stay to explore, as I was getting antsy to see the red flowers at Meadowbrook.

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Noticed that being antsy is one way not to be in the present.

But did notice yet another lovely common milkweed in bloom and got a shot of this one at Barnhart. It didn’t have much fragrance–maybe the late-bloomers don’t.

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Then headed to Meadowbrook and made a beeline for the cardinal flowers, which were in splendid full bloom.

20130818-213407.jpg There were not so many as at Homer Lake, but their composition among the trees was just as stunning. Still was after a good close shot.

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Did manage, with effort, to tear myself away from that enchanted place, and proceeded toward the soft prairie path to see the royal catchfly. On the way saw yet another bloom on the halberd-leafed rose mallow plant!

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On the soft path heard lots of pheasants: a group of hens and then a hen and cock running together (too fast, of course for a photo). Their mating season?

The flowers on the way to the royal catchfly place were lovely and enticing in the morning light: dewy tick trefoil, ironweed, tall Coreopsis, Gaura, and the blooming big bluestem and Indian grass with its delicate, dangling flower parts. But my mission in the limited time was to check on the royal catchfly. There were fewer plants visible than last time, but those remaining were as bright and bold as the very first of them. So glad to have witnessed their course this summer!

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Was surprised not to see any cream gentians yet, but then spotted one, and they were everywhere. Just love how they hide and then almost magically appear.

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Got another Gaura shot; they so delicately play the white-pink edge.

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Wanted to stay a lot longer, but was glad to have seen what was there this morning!

Friday 16 August 2013. In the Dark

The temperature was 61 degrees F, the sky was cloudy. Wanted to see exactly when the first light came up, and did indeed accomplish that.

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Was still quite dark, almost scary dark, when I got to Meadowbrook Park. No speeding over the rabbit bridge today! Stayed dark all the way around the big loop and through the path by McCullough Creek and the Hickman wildflower walk. The cloudy sky delayed the already late light.

Was surprised to see (barely) a few other souls there, recognizable mostly by their gait.

The light started to come up only when I got back on Race Street At Windsor Road.

Already miss the early sunrise! How brief and beautiful the season is! How grateful, if also sad, I am to have watched it pass!

Tuesday 13 August 2013. Homer Lake at Last!

One of the items on my summer to-do list was to ride to Homer Lake, and since there was only about a week of real summer (i.e., before school starts) left, thought I’d better jump on today’s opportunity.

Fussed more (truly believe the secret of happiness is to fuss less) than would have liked with packing a pump, spare inner tube, and sunscreen and didn’t get out on Rhododendron till close to 6:30 am. The temperature was 66 degrees F, The sky was mostly cloudy, though the phone weather ap suggested that there were fewer clouds and that it would be sunny soon.

So headed east on Washington Street on the newly surfaced street with newly marked bike lanes. Oh, yeah!

Noticed the crab apple tree laden with beautiful elongate, red-violet fruit that I remembered passing when I used to run (briefly!) with my son’s middle school cross-country team.
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Saw a pale orange slice of the sun-disc that disappeared just as I got the camera ready. 20130813-092028.jpg
Seemed like fog was descending; it got darker and seemed like it could start raining any minute. Seriously considered postponing the trip: really didn’t relish the thought of riding back all wet. But decided it would be a good opportunity to practice facing my fears and went on.20130813-093043.jpg
Rhododendron rode smoothly, and my joints were pretty happy as the road, beans to the left, corn to the right, common ragweed at the very edges, or slight variations thereof, rolled by. The air was about optimally comfortable. The clouds turned my thoughts inward more than they would be if the sun had been shining, but overall felt peaceful and glad I finally would do the Homer Lake trip.

There was more traffic than I’m used to on these rides, but that meant less worry about dogs.

Stopped at the first access point to Homer Lake. There was a historical marker describing Abraham Lincoln’s activities in the area.

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Noticed a great blue heron standing out in the lake; tried to get a photo close enough that it could be identified as such,

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when a couple of red flower spikes caught my eye. Could it be?

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Oh, yeah, it was! CARDINAL FLOWERS! They were all along the water’s edge, in a narrow strip that extended at least 50 yards. I’d never seen so many in one place in all my life! Not only that, they looked nice against the water and next to other flowers from wet places, especially swamp milkweed

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and a species I haven’t seen yet at Meadowbrook this year, great blue Lobelia, Lobelia siphilitica.

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Actually, the great blue Lobelia was pretty awesome on its own.

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The cardinal flowers looked about half way through their bloom, farther along than the Meadowbrook population. Could have been the difference between having full sun as opposed to part shade. Still, they were plenty full and just could not believe the extravagance of it! Made me wonder what I would do if I lived (or even traveled) in a place with truly dramatic scenery….

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Rode home happily, with the sun starting to appear and some concerns I’d brought along starting to sort themselves out. The whole ride took about two hours; hope to get another one like it in soon!