Sunday 29 September 2013. A Little Rain on the First Fall Colors

The temperature was 59 degrees F this morning at 6:45, and the sky was cloudy, though the texture and shapes of clouds were visible.

It had rained early this morning, a very welcome though small rain in a very dry late summer and now early fall.

There were small puddles along Race Street, along with apples near the very prolific tree across from the high school soccer field. 20130929-074330.jpg
It would be a short ride this morning; no matter, the important thing was to be moving outside, witnessing the first “turning” leaves, which have started appearing in the past few days.

And for flowers, there still were some at the “Prairie Zone” planting on Florida and Orchard.
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Noticed a few kinds of goldenrods and also of asters.

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Saw several bees barely moving on the goldenrods. The end of the season, likely the end of their individual lives. This is the way it works. Not so much about loss as about process.

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The little prairie planting was moving toward the neutral colors of the end if the season, but it still was possible to get colorful close-ups. Still, most of the plants had fallen over and were lying at casual and various angles, not standing on ceremony, as it were.

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The foliage of a few prairie plants was going red, as if it had been spray-painted.

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The sky after I’d taken a few pictures seemed to be clearing, or trying to clear. The seed heads and old flowers made nice compositions against the brightening sky.

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Alas, the rides for miles don’t seem to have been happening, but each breath on Rhododendron gives me life-sustaining contact with the world and a window on the way
it changes. It’s good to do it while I can.

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Wednesday 25 September 2013. The Time of Bottle Gentians

It was already 3 pm today before I got out on Rhododendron to check on the bottle gentians at Meadowbrook Park. The iphone weather report was “unavailable,” but the weather plainly was gorgeous: I’d say 75-78 degrees F and partly cloudy, the air calm.

On the way to Meadowbrook noticed the leaves on some trees just starting to turn yellow.

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Leaves actually have been falling from many trees for a while, probably because of it being so dry for the past couple months, but this seems to be the leading edge of the standard way for the deciduous trees to let go of their energy-gathering apparatus for the year.

Wanted to focus this trip on the bottle gentians, but did stop at the rabbit bridge to see where the cardinal flowers had been. The creek bed was so dry; There was little to stop one from climbing right down into it.

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The goldenrod definitely were mostly past bloom, though some yellow flowers remained.

Saw a good number of yellow and white Pierid butterflies but no monarchs or swallowtails. Was lucky enough to catch this skipper on one of the remaining thistle flowers.

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(And later saw what I believe was a buckeye.)

At last, arrived at the Marker statue and set about looking for the bottle gentians. They were invisible from the edge of the still-thick grass, but a short walk into the grass revealed quite a few flower-laden plants.

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But the individual flowers seemed like miniatures of what they were the last couple years.

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Walked Rhododendron down the “soft” path to see if there were any bottle gentians in the mid-prairie.

Somehow did find some!

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They were on the right side of the path as I walked westward. Also, saw some cream gentians that still had white flowers, but mostly they were brown.

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It was getting a bit uncomfortably warm as I made my way along the path. Also the tall grass leaning into the path slightly impeded my progress, as well as my enthusiasm, but did manage to catch that observation without letting it take over, to see it was just like that for a while.

Noticed many of the cup plants near the western end of the soft path were standing but with curled, brown, “crispy” leaves.

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Crossed the dry bed of McCullough Creek on a different little wooden bridge than usual and there saw a stump with lots of roots showing and a pointed top, the old remains of a beaver-felled tree. The beavers are gone (for now), but their mark remains, at least for a while.

Near the end of my visit to Meadowbrook gave in to the urge to stop, lie on my back in the grass and observe the edge of a large cloud.

20130930-222957.jpg I’m not a stranger to watching clouds, but seldom do I notice how the edges can peel off and swirl around before disappearing. A nice detail to see; just takes a little focus.

And then back on Rhododendron and home.

Sunday 22 September 2013. Gently Waning Goldenrod

On this beautiful, clear Sunday morning it was 50 degrees F at 6:25, the air mostly calm, and the slightly less than full moon bright and well-defined in the upper southwest quadrant of the cloudless sky. I filled Rhododendron’s tires full and departed for Meadowbrook Park, paying close attention to the knees that will have to behave for my upcoming yoga teacher assessment.

Already down to weekly velos! And the mileage is not much, even though the weather is still comfortable. Well, there’s no use worrying about that when here is a beautiful ride right now!

Rode along the north side of Meadowbrook to see what the wide view of the mid-September prairie was like: there were a whole lot of seed heads among the goldenrod, which themselves were not as brightly gold as they were last week.

20130922-081948.jpg There still were several Gaura with fresh, delicate white-pink blooms.

20130922-082043.jpg The Baptisia seed pods made lovely arrangements amid the goldenrod and the other seed heads.

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Saw no cream gentians along Windsor, where they’d been abundant last year, though they may be there, out of my view.

Saw milkweed with milkweed bugs but no monarchs, neither larvae nor adults.

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The cream gentians at the Freyfogel Overlook (at which point I turned back) were small and mostly brown, the peak of their season well passed.

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Hoped to come back and focus on bottle gentians later in the week.

Got a shot of some of the figures from the “Folk Art” sculpture amid the goldenrods. They always make me think “difficult emotions” or even “flavors of unhappiness.”

20130928-065355.jpg One could imagine them anticipating the stark winter ahead. Checked my own mood barometer and found a not unpleasant reading, though it was more on the “sober” than the “elated” side. Here it is, whatever it is. Still plenty of sunny yellow.

Rode out Windsor toward High Cross Road; stopped and turned around at the Stone Creek development, because of the water there–always the possibility of seeing something interesting. Sure enough, saw some non-bird critter swimming away, then suddenly three forms quickly submerged together. Don’t know what they were.

Saw ducks at the west end of the pond; then a belted kingfisher swooped down from a little tree on the bank to the water and up again, flying to the other side. Did not get a photo, of course. But then after getting a shot of the skittish ducks, the kingfisher came back, sat on the little tree, and posed for this just recognizable portrait.

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Though nature abhors a golf course (a lot of chemicals sustain them, from what I understand), can’t help liking the little artificial water landscape at Stone Creek. Sometimes a very artificial place can be a window to nature.

Sunday 15 September 2013. Goldenrod, Bottle Gentians, and the Limits of Nature-Love

At last! Another sunrise ride!

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It was 52 degrees at 6:15 this morning. The sky seemed clear, but closer inspection revealed thin clouds, and the horizon was streaked with pink, though it shifted and faded rapidly.

So off to Meadowbrook Park on Rhododendron I went.

Wore a light long-sleeved shirt under my bright orange tee shirt and thought it would be enough, but was very glad I brought the (inconspicuous blue) fleece jacket: the biker’s breeze chilled things down a lot! Need to get a brightly colored jacket.

After coasting full speed over the rabbit bridge and making the turn without hitting the brakes (!?! there must be something slowing it down that I should investigate) came back to see if there were any cardinal flowers at all still blooming. Had to look a little while, but there they were, the last very few! 20130915-083811.jpg
Was happy to see them, even though they were the last I’d see till next year. Sometimes one can be satisfied with one’s (in this case quite generous!) portion. Santosha.

The sun rose, and and a con-trail bisected the sky, making it look especially wide.

And the goldenrod, the common and the less common stiff goldenrod, were in full yellow bloom. They are so very photogenic, especially with thistles and asters for purple accents. Could have stayed all day photographing their various angles and groupings.

Wondered whether the Gaura were done blooming, and just then saw a nice spray of them; they were fresh and very light pink.

Checked near the Marker statue for bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii). They were there, with small blue flowers,

20130916-091929.jpgeven with the recent hot, dry weather. It’s always a thrill and a comfort to see them, the prairie’s annual swan-song. Saw plants in at least two spots; one was very close to a cream gentian. Didn’t look too extensively for more plants, contented myself with these for now.

Walked on the “soft” path to see if there were bottle gentians in the middle of the prairie. (Found a few there last year.) didnt’t lock Rhododendron but just walked it along with me. Figured (hoped) the “No Bikes” sign referred to riding them.

Saw the ripe seed pods of the tick trefoil.

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Here, also, the goldenrods were lovely in the morning sun.

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Whatever else was fading, the goldenrod picked up the slack and made the scene lively and beautiful.

Cream gentian blooms still were abundant, but some were already brown, though still shapely and with green foliage.

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Didn’t see any royal catchfly. Didn’t search too diligently, but was pretty sure it was done blooming for the year.
I was ready for it; the letting go was not too painful.

Thought I’d allowed time to linger this morning, but alas, already it was time to go. Made me think of the beginning of The Sound of Music, which I loved as a child. “My day in the hills [prairie, that is] has come to an end….” (Actually, I think only the Broadway version with Mary Martin starts that way, but this is better than nothing.) Felt like Maria Von Trapp (though she wasn’t Von Trapp at that point) in the Alps, at one with nature.

But then as I hurried down the path, my way became obstructed with tall grass and goldenrod leaning into the middle.

20130918-093030.jpg Which would be ok for a little while, but it continued on a ways and got to be rather unpleasant and claustrophobic. Made me think that we nature-lovers take our paths for granted but that they actually are rare in nature. Also, started to worry about whether there were ticks about (as there were, alas, when my husband took his class to beautiful Bell Smith Springs and other sites in Southern Illinois). They certainly would find me if there were. Did Maria Von Trapp ever worry about ticks? Felt a little disappointed in myself for being distracted from the rapture of the sun on the goldenrod by some tall grass in the path. Reminded me of the complex relationship people have with nature. We can project our ideals on nature just like we do on other people. And then, even those of us who profess to love it can be ready to retreat when it threatens our safety, or even our comfort. Not shameful, exactly, but perhaps sobering.

On the way back noticed deer bones in the dry bed of McCullough Creek.

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Was glad, once again, to have realized the possibility of this ride, this encounter with nature and with myself.

Riding home in the comfortable air contemplated the word “equanimity.”

Sunday 8 September 2013. Of Blue Gentians, Milkweed, and Semi-Unconditional Joy

Been thinking a lot about the concept, (the possibility?) of “unconditional joy.”
Not that I feel so very close to it, but I do consider Velo du Jour not totally unrelated to it. The idea is to use the little time rolling on two wheels to be open to whatever comes up. It happens partially…

This morning, for example, at 6:18 and 68 degrees F, under thick but defined clouds, was ready to take a modest ride on Rhododendron, the road bike, to Meadowbrook Park with as little fuss as possible, so as to be ready for whatever would greet me.

Well, the air was about perfectly comfortable! But then, Rhododendron started making squeaking noises, from the pedal crank, I think, which reminded me of my own joints with their little but annoying aches, that, despite yoga, insist on keeping me company.

Went to see another of the last days of the cardinal flower. Good to the last red bloom!
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Farther along the path, stopped to get a shot of the common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), which looked so lovely as a foil for the cardinal flowers when they bloomed in this area. (The last time I saw the cardinal flowers here was 2011.)
20130908-085015.jpg Their spherical centers with multi-lobed petals at the base make them look like heads with Elizabethan collars (not the veterinary kind).

The goldenrod bloom, accented with thistles, was gathering momentum.

Saw a group of goldfinches, with fledglings begging from their parents. As the parent of a teenager and a young adult, that image really speaks to me. They made sounds that were not unlike that of my squeaking bike.

Thought it might be time for the bottle gentians to bloom, or maybe it was a little early. It always seems so unlikely to find them, in this harsh, waning time of year. And they grow so low amid so much tall grass. But looked near the Marker statue, where I’ve seen them every year since 2010, and voila! The little buds definitely showed some blue.
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Hooray!

As usual, felt pressed for time, but some little purple-blue flowers along the path close to the playground caught my eye. They were a kind of aster, I think.

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rode over the Windsor/ Vine bridge; saw at least one frog and a lot of little fish concentrated in the unconnected pool of McCullough Creek at that location.

At the other side of the bridge were >20130919-165407.jpg</a sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosserseratus)Which occurred in other places and are not unusual, but do love their intense yellow flowers atop their tall, dark, elongate-leafed stems, so here is a shot of some.

Actually was feeling only moderate contentment, being in a hurry and all. Would not call it joy, exactly.

Rode homeward along McCullough Creek, on the “small loop.”
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A milkweed with lots of pods, including one starting to release downy seeds, caught my eye. Saw other milkweeds with damage from aphids and milkweed bugs; not as welcome as another consumer of the plant: monarch butterfly larvae. “Where have they been?“, I wondered.

THEN, actually saw a good-sized Monarch butterfly caterpillar, chewing on the petiole of a milkweed leaf. Could actually hear the munching.
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This was a small but joyful thing, which was a nice state in which to ride home. The joy was not quite unconditional, but maybe joy about small things is a step in that direction.

Wednesday 4 September 2013. The Decline of the Cardinal Flowers.

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It’s getting to be a while since this ride, so there will be fewer details than there would have been otherwise.

It was afternoon, again, and the day was so gorgeous, and I had a little time, so off Rhododendron and I went to Meadowbrook Park.

Was surprised, almost shocked, to see the cardinal flowers so far through their bloom.

20130912-153603.jpgSeems they lasted longer last year. Maybe it was the recent heat wave combined with lack of rain late in the summer. Ah, these, too pass. Like they do every year.

As long as I kept moving, the temperature was comfortable, but stopping in the full sun was pretty warm. Wasn’t able to notice much new. But the cream gentians still were compelling.

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Wondered whether the deer or some other mammal had been eating gentian flowers; these plants looked kind of ravaged.

20130912-154253.jpg Wondered if these would have been blue ones (bottle gentians). No sign yet if those.

Just another shot of cream gentians and back home.

20130912-154831.jpg Not a day for getting swept into the glory of nature and waxing on the details, but the brief, somber days count, too.

Wednesday 4 September 2013. The Decline of the Cardinal Flowers.

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It’s getting to be a while since this ride, so there will be fewer details than there would have been otherwise.

It was afternoon, again, and the day was so gorgeous, and I had a little time, so off Rhododendron and I went to Meadowbrook Park.

Was surprised, almost shocked, to see the cardinal flowers so far through their bloom.

20130912-153603.jpgSeems they lasted longer last year. Maybe it was the recent heat wave combined with lack of rain late in the summer. Ah, these, too pass. Like they do every year.

As long as I kept moving, the temperature was comfortable, but stopping in the full sun was pretty warm. Wasn’t able to notice much new. But the cream gentians still were compelling.

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Wondered whether the deer or some other mammal had been eating gentian flowers; these plants looked kind of ravaged.

20130912-154253.jpg Wondered if these would have been blue ones (bottle gentians). No sign yet if those.

Just another shot of cream gentians and back home.

20130912-154831.jpg Not a day for getting swept into the glory of nature and waxing on the details, but the brief, somber days count, too.