Tuesday 29 October 2013. Micro-Velo: Autumn Leaves on Cedar Street

Was on a very short, utilitarian ride, with no temperature measurement nor sky description this morning and felt frustrated that I wasn’t out enjoying the fall colors (which have turned out to be stunning and prolonged–so much for the idea that good colors require plentiful moisture in summer) “au velo.”

Also fretted about taking so many pictures that I could never organize: every flaming tree, let alone groups of them, makes me want to capture an image….

But then just decided for this little stretch of Cedar Street to indulge in beholding the glorious, fleeting masses of fire-colored leaves through the iPhone; to love it like any full-fledged bike ride about which I might post: voici!

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At Green Street

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At Illinois Street, looking east.

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At Illinois Street, looking west

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At California Street, east side

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At California Street, west side

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Near Oregon Street

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Near Nevada Street

Was happy to catch a few moments of the changing, passing autumn in its glory. It was strange and amazing, though, to note how all these masses of leaves had been for months an inconspicuous green and then one day, it seemed, became e.g., bright red. When was the transition?

Yes, there is always more beauty and wonder out there, just about any way one might turn, down the block or across the ocean, always moving and passing, than we can possibly take in! But any little part of it for which we can stop and be present, like these few moments today, is as large as eternity.

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Wednesday 23 October 2013. Turning Leaves and Waning Gentians

45 degrees F at 1:45 pm. The sky was mostly cloudy. Destination was Meadowbrook Park, to see whether any bottle gentian flowers still could be found.

Had missed my usual Sunday ride because I was out of town, having just completed my Introductory 1 level assessment for teaching Iyengar yoga!
(Oh, yeah, suffice to say!) So of course was eager to get out and see how the autumn had progressed while I was gone.

Fall colors are spreading, even to the foliage of perennial garden flowers, like this mass on Race Street.

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At Meadowbrook was glad to look over the rabbit bridge and see water in McCullough Creek.

Besides the gentians, wanted to find something strange and wonderful that my friend Christina and I discovered when we looked for gentians the week before: a crazy-late-blooming royal catchfly plant!

20131101-133040.jpg Strictly speaking, this photo shouldn’t be here: we drove to the park to see it. But it was so strange I felt compelled to share it.

So headed first to the soft path to look. Didn’t find the miraculous royal catchfly but did eventually find world-worn bottle gentians, still lovely in their fading–a destiny to which I modestly aspire. On the inside, right? Where it matters? Yes, wherever possible.

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The moody sky was a fitting backdrop for the gentians, which were moving closer to the colors of the rest of the prairie. Felt full and grateful to be exactly there.

20131101-135109.jpg The blackberry leaves, and even the stems with their thorns, were dramatic in fall red.

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Stopped also (of course) to see whether any blue gentian flowers remained at the Marker statue site, which they did, at almost the same stage as the others.

20131101-135643.jpg Farewell for the year, my beautiful blue friends!

On the way back noticed the Windsor/Vine bridge (from which I used to see beavers!) was closed off, and the path on its west side had been painted in bright primary colors, enough to compete (?) with the colors of the prairie. I kind of liked the indications of sky and water, and the generalized sunflower. But I wished the other painted flowers, which were vague and unidentifiable, could have been more specifically the particular flowers of this prairie. (So easy to be a critic!)

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Home, then, remembering gentians.

Thursday 10 October 2013, Continued. Just Gentians

Since the previous post was getting long with bottle gentian pictures and since I really wanted to show the eye-feast in some detail, here is a post dedicated to them.

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Can you spot the bottle gentians?

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A “bouquet” of gentian blooms, with Pentatomid bug.

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Closeup of Pentatomid in gentians.

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Bottle gentians in mid-morning light.

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Dry compass plant leaf arching over bottle gentians.

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Gentians among dry prairie grass.

How comforting to have the image of these blue flowers among the dying leaves to carry one through the approaching winter!

Sunday 13 October 2013. A Wider View of Fall on the Way to First Street

Decided ahead of time to steel my will and bypass Meadowbrook Park this morning, as had made plans with a friend to visit the bottle gentians tomorrow and thus get my fix of them.
Headed south (with the plan of then going west and south again) on Rhododendron at about 6:45, when the temperature was 45 degrees F. Almost brought gloves; this is the the temperature where my hands start to get cold, on the bike, anyway. Fortunately was able to do without them. But definitely had found the edge.

My focus today was to document, “au velo,” the descent of autum, the particular, unique way it was happening in this year of wet spring but very dry late summer. Also wanted just to ride a lot, not stop too much. No flower close-ups (well, maybe one) today, which would take restraint, though it was easier with the gentians safely away.

20131013-084610.jpg Rode west on Windsor Road just as the sun was coming up.

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It was good, very good, to be riding through the open central Illinois landscape, fast and smooth on Rhododendron, the vintage road bike. This, at least, is smooth! What a wonder to be moving smoothly forward, balancing on two thin spinning wheels, through the fresh air, greeting the sun!

Then stopped, just at the stroke of 7:00 (my watch beeped), and turned to look behind me to see the sun crowning. Got a crazy shot of it that the iPhone camera made to look much larger than it appeared with the naked eye.

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Detoured briefly to the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration; aside from the past-peak goldenrods right by the sign, the flowers were pretty well cashed for the season. Got a shot, then headed back south on First Street.

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Enjoyed the smoothness of the pavement and the open view, but, alas, time was once again short, so turned back north near Curtis Road, at an apartment complex called “The Place.” Funny name.

On the bike path along the U of I Research Park got a shot of the yellow, curled, and falling leaves of the planted hackberries.

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On the way home, breezed by the “Prairie Zone” on Florida and Orchard, where just then were lots of birds and bees: fall-plumed goldfinches snacking on the seed heads and medium-sized bees working the remaining asters. It looked completely post-bloom, but for the asters, here still the showy purple New England species.

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So was the progress of autumn 2013 on this October morning.

Thursday 11 October 2013. Old Flowers Against the Sky

Didn’t plan on a trip today, but needed an accessory for the homecoming dance (for my son, that is) and was trying to decide between taking the car to Target or biking on Rhododendron to Meijer.

Don’t remember the temperature, but it was nice enough that I risked not finding what I was looking for to be out in it.

And also it would take me by Meadowbrook Park, of which I could at least get a wide, quick view.

Mostly there were no visible flowers, (yes, of course the bottle gentians were hidden out there somewhere, the object for a future expedition) but here and there were some late bloomers asserting their colors, like these Heliopsis.

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Noticed a plant with long curling ends that looked whimsical against the clouded sky and wondered what flowers had been on them.

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Later figured out it was a giant ragweed.

Really liked the shapes of the seed heads of what were the different prairie flowers, especially against the clouds.

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Monarda

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Yellow coneflower

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Mountain mint, Monarda, purple coneflower

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Baptisia

Noticed I wasn’t sad about the lack of flowers; the plants made interesting compositions in their present state. Was content with how things were, at least for these moments.

Them did succeed in getting the accessory, as well. It was a victory for cycling over driving!

Thursday 10 October 2013. Discovering an Eye-Feast of Bottle Gentians

Have been fighting a cold the past few days; even didn’t venture out yesterday afternoon, in spite of the absolutely gorgeous, perfect weather. Was not planning to go out for an actual ride this morning, but right out of the door on the short pre-dawn circuit saw clearly large clouds in the dark sky with narrow spaces (in which stars were visible!) between them. Thought of the word “fracture,” that the clouds must be breaking up.

Later in the morning could see from the kitchen window the “fractured” clouds illuminated from the east, and even though I felt a bit woozy, decided not to miss seeing those clouds over Meadowbrook Park. The bottle gentians won’t be there forever, either: here was a chance to pay them a visit.

So rode out slowly at 8:20 am on Rhododendron and didn’t worry too much about observing details this morning. It felt good to move through the 54 degrees F air. Sometimes, like this morning, it’s possible actually to enjoy the feeling of mild illness, the achy fatigue that limits sensory input and keeps one tuned more inward. It has a quieting effect, which can be welcome to those of us who easily get distracted by the variety in our surroundings.

Noticed the progression of fall colors and lack thereof. It’s just how it is this time around.

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Decided to focus this visit on the bottle gentians near the “soft” path, but did stop at the rabbit bridge to see an already mostly empty bed of McCullough Creek.

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Also noticed more blooming Gaura

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Not so flamboyant as the bottle gentians, but, like the gentians, still blooming.

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Near the entrance to the soft path, realized how close I was to the “Marker” gentians, so could not resist a stop. Looked in a different section than last time; there were even more than I knew! Are there so many this (so austere!) year, or am I just getting better at finding them?

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Then tore myself away and proceeded down the soft path.

The light at this time of day was more intense and glaring than I’m used to around sunrise, so it was harder to get some photos that were appealing just from looking. Also, the lovely clouds had moved wide apart and thinned out, but then they showed a lot of lovely blue sky. The air was so fresh, as if still recalling Sunday’s rain.

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Saw a number of birds, maybe bluebirds among them, and one that looked bluish and with a longish tail that rose silently out above the tall grass, glided a short way, and then descended lightly back down into it. Made me wonder just how many birds and other creatures were right near me but out of view.

Almost stepped on a large male pheasant, which squawked and burst into the air, with undulating tail, right in front of me–it was quite a start.

So then set about searching near the path for bottle gentians. To the north side, not quite half way in, saw what might have been some blue among the tan, brown, and green. Walked in a little way, and, sure enough, there they were! Lots of them, right about where the royal catchfly had bloomed earlier in the season.

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Rather than make this post too long and also dilute the grandeur of the gentians, decided to devote an entire post to bottle gentian photos. See, “Thursday 10 October 2013, Continued” for those.

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On the path out saw a mink up ahead, which stopped for a moment to look at me before running back into the grass.

Near the Freyfogel Overlook saw a lone monarch butterfly giding over the almost flowerless prairie. Maybe it would find some of those little asters to power its flight south.

Then home again on Rhododendron, slowly, gently.

Stopped to examine an apple tree along Race Street that was heavy with yellow-green apples. Smiled at this sign of the fullness of the season’s end and because I succeeded in pushing a little past my comfort zone to witness it.

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Sunday 6 October 2013. The Prairie’s (Finally with Rain) 2013 Swan Song

It finally started to get light about 6:30 this morning, and yesterday’s wonderful inch or more of rain was just ending. Still was mostly cloudy, 55 degrees F.

Rode Blue today because I think it was the better choice to expose to the rain, in case it was not quite finished. Blue had had a tune-up and was scrubbed clean and re-lubed this summer. It rode extremely nicely, but wouldn’t you know, I missed Rhododendron’s speed.

The late summer-early fall has been harsh, that is, dry, and the tree leaves have been falling for a while without changing color. Now there is starting to be some color on the remaining leaves.

20131009-201659.jpgIt will be interesting to see what kind of colors will show up after such a dry stretch.

Today’s destination was Meadowbrook Park, surprise, surprise. What could be more enticing than the bottle gentians, the last (to my knowledge) prairie flowers to bloom? What perfect (for my liking, for what that’s worth) timing: their gorgeous blue bottle-like blooms appearing just when everything else is finished and going brown. So really focused on seeing them in favor of other exploration.

Did, of course stop at the rabbit bridge (meaning, the bridge near the large stone rabbit sculpture) over McCullough Creek to behold the water again filling its bed.

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But then proceeded directly to the Marker statue to gaze into the dry grass near it

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and distinguish the quite abundant population of bottle gentians. It would be hard to stumble on them unless one wandered into the middle of the tall grasses. But knowing they were likely to be there, it took only a short poke into the grass to see them. And it looked from the parting of grass in a few places like they’d been discovered by at least a few other observers.

There were so many of them! Took lots of photos, needless to say.

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Tried to capture how they were living jewels deeply hidden among the dying grass, but it was hard to get them both, grass and gentians, equally represented in the same shot.

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As I looked farther away from the closest plants, kept finding more.

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But stopped short of trying to find every one.

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So wonderful for there to be so many that some went undiscovered.

Still standing in the gentian-rich grass, heard a squawk overhead and saw a couple of herons flying to the east.

Then went on, but stopped briefly to get a wide view of the fading prairie just past the Freyfogel Overlook and was startled by a squawking male pheasant flushing out of the grass right in front of me.

On the way home, away from the bottle gentians, near the northwest corner of Meadowbrook noticed a still-blooming Gaura and a prairie dock plant with one yellow blossom amid the fading green and brown of the other prairie plants, like a little coda to the season’s symphony of bloom.

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