Tuesday 26 August 2014. Mysterious Lives of Plants and Fungi

This morning at 6:10 it was 66 degrees F and the sky mostly clear. Planned just to ride, but once I was out, of course wanted to record a few observations….

Wondered if there might be mushrooms in the mulch under the spruces by Orchard Downs, and there were–three of them. This one was open the widest.

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At Meadowbrook saw geese flying in formation over the misty prairie. Common as dirt, geese are anymore, even sometimes a nuisance, but still lovely to see in the morning sky.

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The summer prairie flowers were getting on in their bloom, the grasses filling in more, but still the rosinweed were holding their own.

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Tall Coreopsis, which have been abundant this year, were still making a good showing among the grasses.

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A little way down the path almost ran into this young buck, who paused obliged me for a photo.

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Looked carefully for cream gentians along the north edge of the prairie where I’d photographed them in abundance a couple of years ago but did not find any.

Saw them, however, in spots where I haven’t previously seen them, like on the east side of the path by the Freyfogel Overlook.

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Near the overlook, was surprised also still to see a few lead plant blooms!

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Noticed a fragrance of mint today: strong, fresh, complex, so uplifting! Not sure what releases it: the mountain mint flowers have been in bloom for at least a couple months already, but most days it hasn’t smelled like this. Ah, heavenly!

Under the layer of fog the prairie had a cast of light reddish brown. The recent hot days seem to have been speeding up the maturity of the vegetation, the progress of the season toward its conclusion.

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Sunday 24 August 2014. Prairie Pond to the Southwest

It was 72 degrees and mostly clear this morning as Rhododendron the road bike and I headed south with the aim of turning west and going at least as far as the hidden prairie pond near the corner of Prospect Avenue and Curtis Road.

Was in a slightly funky mood: the same energy of late-summer ripeness and promise can also tip the balance toward thoughts of sadness and loss, recently of BKS Iyengar (95 and with a life as full as humanly possible, but still); Robin Williams, friends close to the door, even of the long days and freedom of summer.

So just pedaled and allowed whatever mood presented itself to come and go, let the outside roll by in a blur, not photographing.

Almost stopped at Meadowbrook Park, but just paused going over McCullough Creek at Race Street and went on.

Did stop to gets shot of the pumpkins growing around the base of corn plants.

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The spectacular orange-yellow blossoms were covered with beetles–to draw them away from the corn? Must be a way to find out.

Then rode west on Old Church, over the Embarras River, the banks of which which were covered with soft, very vigorous and green vegetation, and though there were no wading birds or waterfowl it made a beautifully verdant scene.

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Then to Prospect and north on the lovely bike-only path that always makes me want to have out-of-town visitors to show, especially those with young children.

Approaching Curtis Road could see that the pond was surrounded by summer-blooming prairie plants and mowed enough to be able to get fairly close to the water. Saw a few ducks, which looked a little nervous but did not flee, then around a curve in the pond saw a fair number of them–a “duck dynasty”–ha, ha.

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Saw a lovely, modest little clump of blooming compass plant, which has been so scarce this summer.

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Was thrilled also to see a puffball (mushroom), about the size of a Panera bread bowl, close to the pond.

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Heard the squawk of a great blue heron, which flew and landed in the other side of the pond, where I was able to get a poor iPhone shot of it.

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Noticed water lily pads and some other emergent plants near the heron but didn’t want to risk spooking it by getting closer. And had to get going, anyway.

Must remember this trip for a good combination of pedaling a few miles and also seeing a bit of nature.

Saturday 23 August 2014. Treasures in the August Fog

This morning at 6:20 there was fog all around and already 73 degrees F. Finally the summer seems to have arrived, as if brought by the returning U of I students. Since my arrival in Urbana as an undergraduate 40 years ago (almost to the day!), I think I can count on one hand the number of times it has been cool during the third week of August, no matter what else was happening during the rest of the summer.
The fog was another deterent to heading out in the country on Rhododendron, the road bike: safety in the limited visibility was a concern; also knew that Meadowbrook Park would be full of gorgeous fog-enhanced images, not to mention the red cardinal flowers and royal catchfly.

One crazy image that caught my attention early in the trip, next to “my” apple tree, was a fresh, full iris flower. 20140823-085130.jpg
Was it really unusual or are there late-summer-blooming irises I don’t know about?

And had to take a picture of bunches the apples, some quite red, on the tree.
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The fog was not too dense to ride through comfortably, but it made just about any scene into a lovely, mysterious image, for example, the view of Davis and McCullough creeks upstream from the rabbit-statue bridge, with a tiny dab of red from the cardinal flowers.
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Today was the day to go down and get really close to the cardinal flowers, though a lot of vegetation stood between me and them.

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Carefully bushwhacked all the way into the damp but not running bottom of Davis Creek, and the trouble to get there was rewarded: cardinal flowers, up close!

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Got a shot with surrounding vegetation, especially goldenrod for contrast.

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Looking back toward the bridge, could see a large dew-defined spiderweb in the foreground. Also there were visible spiderwebs on the bridge; could have spent the whole time shooting nothing but spiderwebs! So didn’t include but a few in this post.

Up above the wingstem and elderberries and walnut trees

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heard a good variety of bird song (really need to get some good, small binoculars) and a kind of low-pitched knocking sound–a large woodpecker? Remembered that such a sound once turned out to come from a beaver, but this was definitely coming from quite a ways up in the tree. Perhaps just a squirrel.

Down a little way along the path was a web occupied by a garden spider.

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Out in the prairie, little beads of dew clung to every surface.

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Loved especially the way they lined up along the grass stems.

Saw some delicate spikes of pink Gaura, a lovely counterpoint to all the yellows of late summer.

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Was amazed again by the abundance of cream gentians in a spot where I hadn’t noticed them in previous years, among the partridge peas. Made me wonder how they disperse and how long the plants live. Noticed yet another example of the tip of the plant having been nipped off.

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At the head of the soft path to the middle of the prairie was a compass plant in bloom, fresh and lovely but much shorter than what I saw in previous years. So it wasn’t the drought that limited its growth; last year they were already less abundant than the year before. On the other hand, it might be that this year’s bloom was determined by last year’s moisture levels. We’ll see what happens next year.

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Farther along, a stalk of Indian grass, its flower-top coated with tiny dew drops, leaned out into the path. It and the big bluestem, which seemed to have about concluded their bloom (already!), brushed their little water droplets against my arms as I passed, like a greeting.

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Saw a very tightly woven spiderweb with a tiny spider in the middle.

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Got a shot of bush clover among the gentians with fog in the background, looking very handsome in its shades of white and reddish-brown.

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the slim, leaning, bending bush clover stalks also looked nice near the purple of the ironweed.

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Noticed some freshly-blooming spikes of Baptisia (which starts to bloom fairly early among the prairie flowers), a little amazing among the late summer grasses.

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Found some remaining royal catchfly, fewer in number but still boldly visible in flaming scarlet, set off by the white of the cream gentians.

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Then turned back the way I’d come, passing the thicket with tall trees with undergrowth beneath them. At the top of the trees were quite a number of robin-sized birds, some of which I think were robins but at least one other (it had a grey or brown back, a grey head, and distinctively white breast feathers) that was not. Besides this magical world of fog and its condensation on spiderwebs and plants where I could happily have stayed much longer was one of birds I’d barely touched and about which, without binoculars, I could only wonder.

Heading home was glad not to have missed what I did see and content enough to let go of what I didn’t.

Wednesday 20 August 2014. A Few Clouds of Fog and Prevailing Cream Gentians

It was 66 degrees F and mostly clear as I rolled Rhododendron out of the garage for a trip to Meadowbrook Park.

It was a pretty usual trip until I got close to Windsor Road, where there was a rather discrete blanket, one cloud’s worth, of fog blowing in from the south.

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Rode through a heavy cloud, then was out in the clear, then could see another cloud moving north. A good example of fog as clouds on the ground.

Stopped at the “wonky Christmas tree” because it anchored a spiderweb, made visible by the fog that had passed through and condensed on its threads.

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Sped over the rabbit-statue bridge over McCullough Creek, then came back to peek at the faint red spike of cardinal flowers upstream.

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Must devote a trip to spending time with them up close.

Noticed the big bluestem grass was in bloom, with its rows of delicately dangling stamens.

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Always when I see the big bluestem flowers my brain plays the part of the Brahms German Requiem that goes: “Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras, und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen, wie, des Grases Blumen.” (“All flesh is as grass, and all the goodness of men like the flowers of grass.”)

Had planned to trek to the middle of the prairie to see the royal catchfly but got caught, as it were, by the dew-defined spiderwebs strung up in the grasses.

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Was feeling like I’ve missed a lot of the unique progress of the prairie this year, which prompted a song of the middle-aged (grown up but not yet old) Crosby, Stills, and Nash: “And there’s so much time to make up, everywhere you turn, time we have wasted on the way. So much water moving underneath the bridge…”
Which helped me to let go of the plan to be with the red flowers today.

Noticed the great abundance of cream gentians,

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in the old places (e.g., near the Market statue, below the Freyfogel Overlook, and knew they were thick along the soft path) and also in places I don’t remember seeing them, like closer to the southwestern corner of the park.

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Close examination of the plants revealed that for almost every one the tips had been nipped off.

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Almost seemed like this removal of the tip stimulated the growth of the remaining buds. Seemed like a win/win: the herbivores had something to eat and the plants went on to prosper.

Saw a lovely “bouquet” against the mist, including milkweed with large green pods (with milkweed bugs but no monarch caterpillars I could find), old yellow coneflowers, Monarda, rosinweed, and, not unattractive in this arrangement, the ubiquitous giant ragweed.

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Got a shot of a bush clover with a lot of brown flowers.

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Love how bush clover, though never especially spectacular, looks distinctive and handsome in every stage of its life, even its aging and decay. Good to contemplate as the summer winds down toward autumn.

Friday 15 August 2014. Missed the Red Flowers but Not the Yellows And Purples Nor the Monarchs

It was 57 degrees F, I think, this morning at 5:30 am, under a mostly clear sky, as I set out for a quick ride to Meadowbrook Park Rhododendron, my road bike.

Thought about just parking at one end of the soft path and walking into the middle of the prairie to see the royal catchfly, but once there, did not feel like getting my feet wet on the dewey vegetation when it was so chilly.
So just started on the big paved loop, peeking at, e.g., the cardinal flowers downstream from the rabbit-statue bridge, but not photographing anything, except the lead plant, which was so irresistible, still with some late little flowers.
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Then thought maybe I could walk in to the edge of McCullough Creek downstream from the Windsor-Vine bridge and see whether cardinal flowers might be at any locations along the stream besides the one at the rabbit-statue bridge. But the vegetation between the path and the creek was incredibly thick and also covered with cold dew, and just wasn’t up for as much bush-whacking as it would take to examine the stream banks.
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Was feeling an unfocused, rushed, frustrated, and a bit disappointed. And annoyed with myself for trying to squeeze in too big of a plan instead of just scaling down and enjoying the available time. Inhale. Exhale….

So headed back around the “short loop,” which connected back to Windsor Road, past the “To” statue. At the turn north was a lovely place to see the rising sun, with plenty of delicate tall Coreopsis and slightly darker-yellow and more robust Heliopsis, both of which have been abundant this year.
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Also there was a patch of purple-on purple, coneflowers and Monarda.
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Saw a few milkweeds where I recalled seeing a late-instar monarch caterpillar last year. Lo and behold, there was one again!
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It was smaller, presumably younger than last year’s representative. In fact, there were two of them on one plant, and another on a neighboring plant!

Farther along, saw Liatris in front of the sunrise, toward the end of its bloom but still with some of those soft purple star-like flowers.
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Also accompanying the sunrise was a tall, bending bush clover, the first flowers of which seem to turn russet-brown before the later white ones open.

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As I got closer on the path to Windsor Road, the light seemed to hit the yellow flowers just right, they all looked so handsome and well-defined, rosinweed and yellow coneflowers along with the Heliopsis and tall Coreopsis.
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Even the rosinweed without petals (“rays,” I think, technically) looked whimsical, like a stylized sunburst.
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Thus my monkey-mind was calmed a little and the joy of Velo du Jour restored!

Thursday 14 August 2014. Almost to Thomasboro

Pulled Rhododendron out of the garage at 6:15 this morning, and it was plenty clear and light. The phone ap reported a temperature of 63 degrees F, but it felt warmer to me. Was glad to be comfortable in my bright chartreuse cycling shirt (maillot vert-jaune) with the pocket on the back just the right size for an iPhone.

Wanted to ride to Homer Lake while school was still out and maybe the cardinal flowers were in bloom. But was not sure whether the Washington Street crossing of Rte. 130 (the most direct route) was open, and opted to head north and try once again to ride all the way to Thomasboro.

Was in the mood to ride; knees, hips, shoulder all felt good, and did not feel the urge to pull out the camera very much. Did, however, get the familiar reference shot of sun and the courthouse tower.

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Passed Weaver Park without stopping, no strong colors enticed me away from the road.

Cut through the Beringer subdivision to High Cross Road, and stopped at the north side if the I-74 bridge to see if any possum bones (the ones whose progress I’ve been observing for a couple years now) were visible. Didn’t expect to see anything through the sweet clover, but there was a limb bone of some kind, and next to it a jaw. The process is still observable .

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The air, light, and surface of the road were perfect for riding, and I enjoyed it.

Along Brownfield Woods were pale jewelweed, Joe Pye weed, brown-eyed Susans, as well as lots and lots of giant ragweed. Found an American bellflower, which seemed to be getting toward the end of its bloom; there were not many examples.

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Next to this bellflower plant was a wingstem in bud with a curious dark insect with bright orange antennae and legs perched near its top.

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Not something you see every day. Need to look it up.

Which I later did, and it turned out to be a Mydas fly, Mydas tibialis. Was happy to be able to figure out what it was; brought back memories of my days as a biologist at the INHS.

Stopped for a shot of ironweed on the roadside.

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It’s a common species but so much nicer to look at than common ragweed!

Riding between the corn and bean fields, most of which were tidily mowed on their edges, alas, noticed also several tidy farm houses, one with a little prairie garden in front of it. Made me think of the word “prosperous” and the relationship between prosperity and order. It made me feel safe, like the dogs here might feel less threatened by cyclists. But made me think also there could be perhaps too much order, or too simple of an order, at least from the standpoint of nature. There is order in a prairie community, as of which one becomes painfully aware when it is disturbed by mowing or plowing, the imposition of a different kind of order: the story of humans in the natural world.

The even expanses of healthy crops under the mostly clear sky did make me think of the ocean, with gentle frozen waves.

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At about the ten-mile mark of the ride was starting to feel fatigue and the suggestion of complaint from my knees. But was confident of a second wind and rode on. The way seemed to be heading uphill for some time now, it would be downhill on the way back.

But decided, after following the eastward jog of 1600 E to 2500 N, or Flatville Road, which was the same latitude, as it were, of Thomasboro, it was ok to turn back. It was the closest I’ve come to it so far. I think it was the thought of crossing US 45 that kept me from wanting to keep going into town.

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Maybe another time.

On the way back was taken in by the different colored morning glories (somehow they were not so alluring on the way out) that decorated the outer corn and bean plants. They were blue

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shades of pink,

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and purple

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Not native plants by any stretch of the imagination, but I fell for them.

Noticed adult corn root worm beetles in some of the flowers.

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But they didn’t seem to have done much damage.

A little way down saw a large German shepherd in front of one of the tidy house, running, it seemed, in my direction. What to do? Fight? Flight? Freeze? With no hesitation chose flight, not looking to see whether there was a fence or human to call it off, figuring it would find me less of a threat if I ignored it a f just went on by. It didn’t come after me, and I didn’t look back. Realized I’m not used to riding all-out, whew! But caught my breath and was able to enjoy the way back.

Saw royal catchfly (!) in front of the house across from the end of Weaver Park.

20140814-105718.jpg Noticed a car pulling out of the driveway; the driver smiled and proudly pointed out the royal catchfly I was photographing. I smiled and replied, “Yes!”

Was pleased with this morning’s lovely 23 miles!

Sunday 10 August 2014. Surprises to the South

This morning at 5:45 AM it was 68 degrees and cloudy, and according to the phone weather ap, there was a good chance it would be storming before I got back from my ride. Did prepare to the extent of getting a plastic bag to protect my purse, but did not bring any rain gear for myself. Could always change if it did rain.

Last night I looked at the Illinois gazetteer (Google Maps is great but sometimes I just like to hold the map and put my finger in the route) And noticed I could pretty easily connect two favorite roads, Race and First Streets. Also noticed I’d be circling the upper Embarass River and crossing some small tributaries. The distance of the trip would be somewhere between 18 and 20 miles. At last, a little distance!

So headed south on Race, under the grey clouds. Stopped for a photo of this year’s crop on “my” apple tree. The apples are up high in clumps and partly red.
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Planned to pass Meadowbrook without stopping–way too many sights to observe and still make some miles, but made a “deal” with myself only to peek at the cardinal flowers from the rabbit-statue bridge and move on. It was right on the way, after all. Mostly I kept the deal, except couldn’t resist speeding over the bridge and having to turn back (from where was a nice view of cup plants and tall Coreopsis)
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to stand on it and behold (distantly, alas), the cardinal flowers. Was surprised a tiny red spot showed up in the quick photo. 20140810-082627.jpg
Then made a “Texas exit” (which expression I like mostly because of the alliteration) over the grass back to Race Street.

Loved the opening of the countryside at Curtis Road, even though a fair amount of rain seemed inevitable. Was ready for it! My knees felt good (Think I hit on a good yoga sequence yesterday! Say “yes!” to practice!) and felt energetic and comfortable. Let it rain!

Stopped to photograph a stand of prairie plants that seemed to have been planted like a crop, though there were several species close together: cup plant, big bluestem, and at least one species I haven’t seen before. 20140810-084059.jpg
Looked it up; it’s glade mallow (Napaea dioica), which apparently is rather uncommon.
The corn through which the road passed was still dark green and almost menacing (ok, not quite) in its vigor.
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Still wasn’t sure when the tassels had dangled their polleniferous stamens or whether that still would happen. But there were plenty of large ears, some already starting to bend back like they do when they’re ripe.

At Champaign County Highway 18 was not sure whether to go west right away or jog east first and then south before heading to First street. Wasn’t sure I’d have enough time, and the road was unknown, e.g., with respect to dogs. Almost turned west, but then a little “voice” of daring managed to whisper to me to go for it, and I went for the little jog to the east before heading on south to section road 800 N. Though promised myself to be better prepared for the possible problems of a longer trip, at least to bring a tire pump.

Wasn’t sure that 800 N went through, (didn’t make a note of it during my perusal of the map) so briefly turned on the cellular data for the iPhone and saw a lovely bending road that followed a ditch that emptied into the Embarass.
The road went over the stream parallel to a railroad bridge.

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Next to the stream (to the left of the area photographed) was a marker: a cross with flowers, a person’s name, and the years 1940 and 1964. Supposed this was the site of her untimely death. Didn’t photograph the marker; felt it would have been intrusive.

The rain held off and the ride was pleasant. There were very few houses on the way, and the ones that were there didn’t seem to have a place for outside dogs that might come bounding after me. Did notice, however, an extreme lack of anything like the native plants that were blooming profusely at Meadowbrook; even the exotic clover and chicory were absent for a good stretch. Made me wonder how hard it would be for farmers, or even the state, to plant (or just not totally mow) a few species of natives along the roads.

Soon 800 N ran into 1200 E, First Street.

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On the way north was happy to see cup plants across the road from where a nice mini-prairie had been planted, in front of someone’s home. Looks like they’re spreading. Also was delighted (and surprised) to see bright red star-shaped flowers (with Baptisia leaves in front of them, like at Meadowbrook)–royal catchfly!
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There actually were two (that I spotted) different clumps.

The cup plants in the mini-prairie were vigorous, photogenic, lovely. They were large and lusty, with big flowers blooming from the leaves three sets down from the top.
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It was an altogether lovely ride; was glad to have pushed my limits just a little.