Sunday 29 December 2013. The Sky Changes, Like Everything

At 6:45 this morning it was 36 degrees F. The sky was grey with darker-grey shapes. Overall it was still rather dark, and what was visible of the sunrise was not dramatic.

A few widely scattered little piles of snow survived, but generally, travel on Rhododendron to Meadowbrook Park was not hindered by precipitation or excessive cold.

The first stop was for a shot of the weathering apples.

Then on to Meadowbrook. There, got another shot of the “wonky Christmas tree.” Today it suggested to me someone going into the yoga pose Ardha Chandrasana (half-moon).

Near the rabbit bridge over McCullough Creek heard what sounded like a large number of crows (more than a “murder,” I think!) cawing. This morning I’d hoped to use the zoom on the new camera Santa had so generously given me to photograph birds, but these were too far off even for the zoom.

Looked downstream from the bridge at a pile of sticks in the creek and did see the two (or more?) birds I’d noticed scurrying around there before but could not see well enough to get any shot with the iPhone or even identify. Did train the new camera on them and get a couple of shots where you could tell for sure they were birds (an improvement over the iPhone), but still couldn’t tell which ones and so not worth posting.

Noticed (bracket?) fungi on the sapling trees a little way down the path, near where I’d noticed all the lichens last time.

Saw after crossing the little bridge over Davis Creek what seemed like a large group of deer near the Marker statue. Tried the new camera on them; the shots looked “washed out.” Need to learn those settings better.

Took some shots of the dark bush clover against the sky and pale grass.

Tried the panoramic feature of the new camera on the lovely clouds which seemed to be breaking up above the prairie. Here is the iPhone approximation.

Visited the closed Windsor/Vine bridge,

20140105-174039.jpg the bolted barricade of which I carefully scaled to stand on the middle of its span. Understood the purpose of the closure: to not take people by surprise with the slipperiness of the surface, and since I was quite mindful of this hazard figured I still was in compliance with the spirit of the direction.

Looking upstream got a close view of the old and budding flower/seed parts of an alder, decorated like a Christmas tree.

Looking downstream took picture of the winter creek as the clouds above started to thicken again.


Wednesday 25 December 2013. Overcoming Obstacles on Christmas Morning

Got a late start–after 7!– this morning–up late once again with Christmas preparations, though not so late as some years.

But what would Christmas morning be without a visit to Meadowbrook Park? So determined to squeeze in a ride.

The temperature was 25 degrees F and the sky was a uniform parchment-paper light grey. Was glad there was no dramatic sunrise to have missed. The wind blew fairly stiffly from the west.

As soon as Rhododendron and I headed out of the garage, noticed a frozen rear brake, which I tried to free up by squeezing its control lever. This action, however, only clamped the brakes more firmly on the rim. Thought the friction of riding would warm the brake and free it, but rode a tiring while and it did not. So stopped for a rest and to photograph “my” wintering Race Street apple tree. Alas, my iPhone said I had no more space for photos (!?!). So had to use some of my limited time to delete pictures so I could get a few new ones, which I did.
Stopped again and pulled at the rear brake pads–finally got them to release the rim and then rode much more easily, hurray!

At Meadowbrook spent a little time observing the “wonky Christmas tree” near the Race Street Path. It looks like it was caught in the process of trying to sneak away–like it didn’t want to be a part of all the festivities. It makes me laugh.

My time limit reduced the insights that have visited me on Christmas mornings past, but did get to lie on the ground in a clearing for a short time and look up at the grey Christmas sky, connecting just a little with something beyond the usual mundane concerns.

Went only as far as the rabbit statue bridge over McCullough Creek. The water level was already lower than it was last Sunday, but it still ran, trimmed in places with ice.

Then back home, ready enough to tackle Christmas morning, hopeful that amid the stress of the season we’d light an island of peace.

Sunday 22 December 2013. Light, Dark, and Lichens

At 6:45 this cloudy morning, after the longest night of the year, it was 34 degrees and a bit misty but not quite raining, for which I was grateful.

Was prepared this morning with a new pair of Nepalese-made glove/mittens.

20131222-085426.jpg would like to have made them but there they already were, in a colorful pile at the Food Co-op. Not sure why it took me so long to figure out that this kind of glove is what I need to do winter photography without freezing my fingers–big time discomfort reduction!

Headed out on Rhododendron toward Meadowbrook Park, last week’s copious snow reduced by rain and warm temperatures to scattered weathered piles. Was grateful to roll freely among them.

McCullough Creek ran full; below the rabbit statue bridge, Davis Creek also was in evidence.

Right away a song I’d discovered wandering through YouTube-land (“Am Fluss” by Hannes Wader) started playing in my head and provided a fitting soundtrack for this morning’s solitary outdoor encounter. (Must say it’s more mysterious and fitting for your own purposes when you only know the sound of it and a few words like “Fluss”–“river,” and “grune Haar”–“green hair,” I think.) It played as I continued through the quiet winter prairie.

Much of the dry vegetation, especially the grass, was lying horizontally, close to the ground. It made the remaining vertical elements stand out. Also striking was the contrast of bleached grass with the dark, curled remains of, e.g, the compass plants and the dots of dark grey of dry mountain mint.

Noticed that a lot of sapling branches next to Davis Creek were covered with
something rough and light-colored, which turned out to be lichens. Wondered if they’d just been hidden by the leaves in the growing season or if they’d grown in the cold weather.

Reminded me of when my teenaged son was small and liked things like lichens. Was happy to be with the lichens, especially since they were a surprise–had no expectation of them.

Was pleased also to see shiny dark Baptisia pods among them.

Continued my ride through Meadowbrook, expecting nothing in particular, noticing the dark bush clover among the pale, dry grasses.


Noticed more lichens on larger trees, including the cottonwood near the Windsor/Vine bridge. Something green, awake in the sleep of winter. Yin and Yang changing paces.

Was overjoyed to return with warm hands, ready, from what I can tell now, for getting out to witness the rest of the winter.

Sunday 15 December 2013. Snow and Ice

It was 16 degrees F this morning at 6:30, and the ground outside was covered with about 5 inches of snow.

It had fallen the night before last, and so at least the streets had been plowed, though also they were icy as the snow that had begun to melt refroze. Had no idea of where or how far I would go this morning; the snow in front of the garage door was not encouraging. But this is Velo du Jour (!) and I was eager to venture on Rhododendron into the ambient weather!

Rode slowly and carefully. Balancing, balancing, like skating. Was glad for the sparsity of traffic; even so, there were cars here and there. Gave them as wide a berth as possible.

Had to get a shot of “my” apple tree with the snow.

Rode carefully. How does one ride a bike through snow and ice? Very, very carefully! With a lot of attention. Maybe also tension, on top of that. Had some fear, all right, but kept going.

Wanted to ride on to Meadowbrook Park to see frozen, snow-covered McCullough Creek. The trip there would be ok, but did not like the thought of freezing, freezing hands on the way back. So set a modest goal of the Japan House garden.

Stopped carefully and got a shot at the prairie planting on Florida and Orchard.

It was nice to ride on the cleared bike path along Lincoln Avenue, but even here there were patches of ice, with treacherous re-frozen ice balls.

20131215-080214.jpg Thought of the word “zamboni.”

Stopped in the parking area for the U of I Arboretum, on the north side of the Japan House garden and got a couple of photos.

But then realized my hands were FREEZING and decided to head back. It’s stopping for pictures that makes the heat disappear!

Not an ambitious trek, this morning, but a trek, and intimacy with the outside world as it, nevertheless!

Sunday 8 December 2013. After the “Bitter End”

At 6:30 this morning it was 19 degrees F and snowing lightly, with a thin dusting on the ground.

Was very eager to get to Meadowbrook Park to see McCullough Creek, more visible now that the active growth around it has died back for the season. Was a little nervous about riding with Rhododendron’s thin wheels on the snow, but remembered that it’s less a matter of grip than of balance. Think “skating,” even “flying.”

Checked out the Race Street apple tree, to which quite a few apples still clung like ornaments, though it was starting to show that they’d been through a few freeze-thaw cycles.

Pedaled slowly and deliberately toward Meadowbrook, glad for the special snow-quiet, for the lack of traffic. Reassured myself that if I went slowly enough, even a wipe-out would not cause too much damage.

At Meadowbrook locked Rhododendron to the rack near the Race Street pavilion and walked toward McCullough Creek. Its bed seemed to be dry, though it was hard to tell with the snow.

Walked upstream, glad to be out in the snow but still feeling a little unfocused. Had been paying so much attention to the last of the active signs of plant life in late fall was almost shocked it could shut down so much. Bare trees, somber colors. Such stopping! Such reminders of loss, of death.

Still, the bare branches were starkly beautiful, especially along the winding stream and with the snow, enough to be pretty but not problematic coming down.

Then heard a woodpecker tapping. Thought it was on the other side of the largish dead tree in front of me, but it turned out to be on quite a thin branch farther away. Got a shot of it. Look carefully in the upper left quadrant; it’s there, really.

20131214-182850.jpg Stood and watched and listened a while.

Then a flock, I guess you could say, of six or eight roughy bluebird-sized birds came and landed in the nearby trees, seeming to linger a while to investigate the figure standing looking at the woodpecker. Wished yet again for a camera with a nice zoom–couldn’t tell what the birds were–maybe house finches. Anyway they were two-toned, as bluebirds (or house finches) would be. Need to look up the winter habits of bluebirds; seems like they should go south in winter.

Felt focused and glad to make a winter avian connection–life still stirring in the sleep and starkness.

Wandered a little longer; now there was obvious water in the creek. Liked its swaying path, accented by the snow,

20131214-184452.jpg with piles of logs and sticks, assembled by I’m not sure what human or natural force.

On the way back, my hands were FREEZING. Need to figure out how to optimize the riding/walking/photography ratio to make winter trips more sensible.

But still was happy to be out in the falling snow.


Sunday 1 December 2013. Late Fall at Japan Garden

This morning at 6:35 it was 30 degrees F and clear, the air mostly calm. Took a chance on going without hand or toe warmers, but had wool socks and two layers of knitted wool mittens.

Knew the moon would be even smaller today; couldn’t see it at all until there was a fairly wide expanse of sky to scan. Almost gave up on seeing it but then caught the slightest little curve of light, like a white eyelash, slightly above tree-level in the brightening southeastern sky. Dear moon, the trace that’s left of it for this cycle. Took a photo in which it’s not visible just to remember its position.

Today’s destination on Rhododendron was the garden around Japan House, which is not far away. Stopped for a shot of the prairie planting on Florida and Orchard; got a nice assemblage of seed heads and dry leaves and stems: goldenrod, Monarda, purple and yellow coneflower.

Decided to make use of the reasonable weather and pass my destination, to ride a while before stopping on the way back.

Took a photo of the cows on Lincoln Avenue. Usually I pass them by, but stopped today because they reminded me of the Thanksgiving I just enjoyed at my sister’s farm in Wisconsin.

Saw the dawn break over Windsor Road, then headed back.

At Japan House, liked the mounds of evergreens around the gravel.

There was ice on the pond, also noticed an anti-goose device. Did not see any geese. Too many geese is a problem, but it’s nice to see a few. Maybe they’ve just moved away for the winter.

The whole time was trying to understand at all how the the news of the death of an eleven-year-old child fits into the scheme of this day, this world….