Sunday 31 May 2015. More Weather than Expected

At 5:45 this morning it was 50 degrees and uniformly cloudy. The iphone weather ap said there would be clouds but not rain for the rest of today, and I believed it.

Chose Rhododendron (with its new, fully inflated inner tube) for today’s ride, and soon was speeding toward Meadowbrook Park. Ultimately, the destination was west on Curtis Road to Rising Road.

Again there was that cloudy, sad mood. Didn’t think I was so susceptible to the weather, but there it was. Well, the point is not to manipulate (within reason) the mood but to observe it.

Seemed like a light rain was falling, but I ascribed it to raindrops being shaken off the tree leaves.

Only, the raindrops continued even as I crossed Windsor Road–it was actual, unexpected rain. For which I was not dressed.

But rode on, coasting (speeding!) all the way from the entrance to the park to (and over!) the rabbit-statue bridge, applying the brakes at the turn after the crossing. Turned back to get a shot of the high, fast water.

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Noticed how Davis Creek brought in mud.

Saw two deer on the turf grass north of the rabbit-statue bridge.

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Noticed their coats were no longer winter-grey but the reddish color of early summer.

Riding north with the intent of turning west on Windsor could feel the north wind coming at me and the rain (ok, it was quite light) continue. This would be mild weather for the winter, when I was out in single-digit temperatures and in freezing rain. But once you see flowers your resources are not allocated to being warm. Or something.

Anyway, I headed home, to where it was warm and dry.

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Saturday 30 May 2015. A Little Rain on Prairie Flowers

This morning at 5:45 it was 68 degrees F and raining lightly.

Didn’t want to range too far out in case the weather got worse, so donned my new raincoat and headed on Discovery II to the prairie planting on Florida Avenue and Orchard Street, which was full of flowers. The inventory follows.

Most abundant were the foxglove Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis), but also there were spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) and surprisingly already many false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides).

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And couldn’t resist the close up.

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Found a statuesque prairie cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta),

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a large wild quinine (Parthenium integrtifolium)

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and new purple coneflowers, (Echinacea pallida) (could not tell for sure that they weren’t E. purpuria; guessed they were pallida because they’re out so early) with budding butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) behind them.

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Though I was prepared for the rain, the rain was not especially uncomfortable, and the flowers were truly lovely, could not get away from a note of generalized sadness. What is it about this kind of weather that nudges the emotions toward the sad side? At the same time, it was not altogether unpleasant; there was in it a component of something like contentment, perhaps “appropriate” sadness. Suggests that it’s not sadness by itself that makes us miserable.

Headed on to Lincoln Avenue and turned south, tempted to stop at the Idea Garden, but went on. Saw from the street the beautiful collection of hostas under the bald cypresses near Japan House but passed them also.
Just wanted to ride long enough to be able to start writing (lots of blogging on which to catch up!) at 7.

There was time to ride to Windsor and Neil to check the lead plants at the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration Project.

On the way saw lots of unmistakeable wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)

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a non-native that looks a lot like golden Alexanders but tends to grow larger.

At the CCPRP noticed a great blue heron in the creek at fairly close range. But the dedicated camera wad buried within the rain gear, and by the time I dug it out the heron was gone.

Noticed then a little specificity in my rainy-day mood: finding a particular flaw in myself, a place where the difficulty, now clearly seen, is not not the fault of another person. Ouch. Yet that, too, is a kind of relief.

There was plenty of beautiful blue spiderwort (so hardy, so lovely!) and white Penstemon (the perfect spiderwort counterpart!) at the CCPRP. The lead plants (Amorpha canescens) were there in tight bud, no further along than the ones at Meadowbrook.

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Noticed behind them,on the other side of the creek, a patch of yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus)

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Had forgotten, I guess, that yellow iris is exotic and not native, even potentially invasive, alas. But they were attractive yellow flowers.

On the way to Neil Street a bright yellow (with black wing accents) goldfinch (Spinus tristus) caught my eye.

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He sat there placidly for a long time while I took lots of photos of him. To paraphrase Winnie-the-Pooh, nobody can be uncheered with a late-spring male gold finch sitting near you. Joy attained!

The goldfinch and the exertion of zooming north on Neil Street shifted the mood to solidly up. Felt engaged with the world around me and grateful again
to be part of it, grateful for the light and the growing season.

Friday 29 May 2015. The First Prairie Bloom Crescendo

At 5:15 this morning it was 70 degrees F, the sky partly cloudy.

With the summer solstice approaching, want to be out in the bonus light to see how the symphony of bloom on the prairie moves through the season. Planning at this point to get out of the house to ride before 5 am every day in the month of June. We’ll see how that goes.

Today headed to Meadowbrook Park on Discovery II to catch the rise of the Penstemon among the thick and thickening blue glorious blue spiderwort.

Stopped for the yellow roses next to “my” apple tree. Not native, either, highly selected (an early form of genetic engineering), but I like their abundant soft, pale yellow petals. Busted.

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At Meadowbrook stopped at the rabbit-statue bridge to get another (but never exactly the same) sunrise shot of McCullough and Davis creeks.

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Down a little ways, the clouds made a lovely sunrise portrait at a bend in the path.

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Saw spiderwort and golden Alexanders together,

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and, of course, spiderwort and Penstemon.

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Then, there was another nice sky/path view

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and then a white-tailed deer, visible, with a little imagination, behind the spiderwort and Penstemon in the photo below.

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The spiderwort were becoming beautifully dense!

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Near the northwest edge of the park, in the recently burned area, were spiderwort and new purple coneflowers.

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The prairie flower display is rapidly gathering momentum. Seems incredible now, with the recent memory of months of winter brown and grey, that such an abundance and variety of plant life could be manifesting and developing in such a short time. I, for one, am so glad to be a witness.

Thursday 28 May 2015. First Penstemon, and Small Critters at the Creek

This morning at 9:00 it was an optimal 68 degrees F under mostly sunny skies.

Had a gap in my schedule and so used the time to ride on Discovery II to Meadowbrook Park. Wanted to see the first Penstemon (pale beardtongue), the blue flag iris, and of course the still-increasing spiderwort.

The weather was perfect.

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Looked over the west side of the rabbit-statue bridge over McCullough Creek and saw what looked like it might be a frog, or even two. So zoomed with the iPhone and was able to get a recognizable image.

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A little way along the path stopped to get a spiderwort shot.

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Caught some early Penstemon.

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And a little way down were the blue flag iris, which bloomed in three close but distinct patches, one quite close to the path,

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one in a different place than I remember seeing before,

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and the fairly dense patch I’ve observed for the past several years.

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Checked the lead plant near the Freyfogel Overlook

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The foliage was identifiable but the flowers still were at an early stage of development.

Rode the small loop along McCullough Creek and stopped at the place where beavers had chewed the bright orange alder bark during winters long past–new growth had all but obliterated the evidence of beaver activity.

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Was amazed at how dense and tall the vegetation was, after dying back to the ground in winter.

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The power of photosynthesis, so evident at this time of year, was amazing.

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Sunday 24 May 2015. Canine Encounters in the Way to Homer Lake.

At 5:20 this morning it was 63 (though felt warmer) degrees F and cloudy. The phone weather ap promised no rain till 1 pm so was fearless about that, anyway.

Today’s destination on Discovery II (had not yet repaired the flat on Rhododendron) was to be Homer Lake.

The mood was was a bit dampened by the clouds again, but not so much as last week, and I was determined just to roll with it, so to speak.

So headed east on lushly green Washington Street 20150524-082725.jpg
Stopped at Weaver Park to see what might be blooming around the alleged buffalo-wallow pond.

There were golden Alexanders and one
Little patch of wild quinine, which I was surprised to see so early in the season. 20150524-083820.jpg
Heard the low-pitched double-bass sound of a bullfrog chorus. Wondered what (if anything) John Cage thought of bullfrogs.

Then spotted something blue (spiderwort?) across the pond,
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dug out the camera-only and zoomed it up (not shown above): blue flag iris!

Kept going eastward and traversed High Cross Road legally–it finally was open!
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Had a smooth ride on E Washington and was about to make the jog to Homer Lake Road when I noticed an animal in the road a way up ahead, too large for a ground hog and slightly reddish. A fox? When it took off into the adjacent field thought it might be a deer. But managed to extract the camera and get a zoom (barely, so no photo here) enough to see that it was a coyote! Common as they are, this was my first certain siting of one.

Rode on, then stopped in a couple places to document where the road was not perfectly straight.

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Even these small deviations do help to provide variety and interest when the landscape is otherwise rather uniform.

Farther along Homer Lake Road passed a farm house with a fence around the yard and saw a large nut-brown dog, perhaps a German shepherd, take off running in my direction. But took courage (if that’s what it was), mostly, and trusted the fence. Anyway, kept going and said, “Good dog! Thank you for letting me by!”

Farther along, however, just past the crossing of the first little Salt Fork tributary, could see a large chocolate brown dog that did not seem to be contained by a fence. It barked and I turned back. Wise discretion? Lack of courage? Who knows? I could be wrong, but I think dogs are about as fond of cyclists as they are of mail carriers. Did not feel a need to test that idea just then.

Had wanted to score at least 10 miles one way on the trip odometer, but was ok with just under 9. It would mean more time to write.

Closer to home on East Washington saw a couple of killdeer (birds, sketch below),

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which are everywhere out in Illinois farm fields (and sometimes parking lots), but they rarely let me close enough for a photo. Today when I stopped one of them seemed to approach me and do the “broken-wing display.”

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What a curious way to protect one’s nest, a curious metaphor of parental devotion.
Saw a nice patch of butterweed near High Cross Road and stopped for a habitat shot

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and a decent close-up

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of butterweed, which I’ve noticed for many springs, but only in this one have I been stopping to consider it. Just goes to show how much there is to observe, how it can’t be taken in and considered all at once.

And some time before the end of this summer I really want to deal with this fear of dogs (in a cycling context; think they are wonderful otherwise) and consider Homer Lake.

Saturday 23 May 2015. Inter-Urban: Urbana toTolono

It was 57 degrees F at 5:15 this morning, the cloudy sky slightly delaying the first morning light.

Decided, after going back and forth about it, to take Rhododendron for this morning’s trip to Tolono, about 10 miles away from Urbana, mostly to the south and a little to the west.
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Made sure to pump the tires to a good pressure, having enjoyed the results of Discovery II’s tires being well-filled.

Was amazed, after a time away from it, by the ease of riding Rhododendron, and the speed! That settled it: the bike to celebrate my 60th birthday would be a perfectly-fitting road bike. Would just have to delve deeply into the book of neck-and-shoulders yoga and figure out how to counteract the shoulder-mischief the bike might make.

As the sun came up, the clouds began to thin and move apart, and the north-eastern horizon glowed.

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The day was promising: the sky had a bit of color, the temperature was comfortable, and my cold had receded enough not to distract from enjoying the ride.

Caught the western edge of Meadowbrook Park and sped over McCullough Creek on the rabbit-statue bridge. Actually applied the brakes on the turn–was going faster than I’ve gotten used to on Discovery II.
Stopped a little way down for a sunrise shot at a favorite place.

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Then turned back to the “Texas exit” on to Race Street and rode southward,
after first stopping to look at McCullough Creek to the west of Race Street, where it flowed into the U of I forest plantation. There were enough trees and little enough understory for the voices of the birds (like the eastern wood peewee I heard) to have a hint of echo. Made me think “lovely, dark, and deep.”

Rode on to the south, as the landscape opened into fields and the shape and distribution of clouds allowed one to perceive the hugeness of the sky. The expression “It doesn’t get any better than this!” occurred to me.

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Rode to Old Church Road, where the post of the stop sign was festooned with metal and plastic objects, or parts thereof.

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Made me curious about how and why the stuff was put there. Was this a one-time piece or something that was added to by different people over time? Did it have a title? Made me want to put something of mine with the collection, but instead rode on to First Street and south again toward Tolono.

The corn and now beans, too, were developing and enlarging by the day, it seemed.

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Stopped at a roadside prairie garden where a lot of purple Baptisia were blooming, also blackberry and lovely spiderwort.

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The closer the better!

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About that time, my knees started to complain, the left (the “good” one) especially. Hello?!? Surprisingly, the shoulder was fine. And fortunately, the knees got better. Glad for that!

Got to see a train going east on the tracks that connected Philo and Tolono, but was too far away to get an intelligible shot.

The road to Tolono turned west following the tracks on the north side. There were prairie plants (blooming golden Alexanders, blackberry, a few small patches of spiderwort, and leaves of compass plant and prairie dock) growing along the tracks, but not as abundantly as I would have expected. Looked like there may have been herbicide applied close to the tracks.

Rode to the edge of Tolono.

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Remembered then from a trip last year that it was not the expensive side of town. Wanted to keep going till I could photograph something that said, “Tolono” like the town hall or a welcome sign, but caught sight of and heard a dog barking up ahead, which can really take away my spirit of adventure. So turned back. Courage another day, discretion today.

On the way back stopped to photo what grew next to the tracks and discovered some asparagus among the golden Alexanders and compass plant leaves.

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It was mostly bolted, but a few shoots might have been edible.

Was taking photos when another train came by, an this time was able to get a shot.

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Then headed on, amazed at how good my shoulder felt, and even the knees were back to being quite comfortable! Did not miss the opportunity for gratitude!

Just after crossing Windsor Road at First Street, felt like I was really going uphill. Remembered from my days of working in this area that the road went up and down in places, but was surprised because Rhododendron had been good about minimizing the distinction between them. So glanced at the front tire, which turned out to be quite low, almost flat!?! When did that happen?

Luckily, very luckily, had packed a mini tire pump. What an awesome invention! Was able to fill the tire full enough to get home without having to refill it. Was glad it didn’t happen in Tolono, glad it wasn’t worse, glad to have been out in the road this beautiful morning!

Thursday 21 May 2015. Pushing the Limits of Comfort to Greet the Spiderwort

At 6:30 this morning it was 45 degrees under cloudy skies. Don’t know if it was the virus I’ve been fighting, but even with a fleece jacket felt quite chilly. Was glad to have sleeves long enough cover my hands, but wished I’d thought to bring gloves.

Had been meaning to add air to Discovery II’s front tire and finally did so. Departure for Meadowbrook Park on the full tire was delightfully smooth!

Took my time and made a point to stop for a picture of the glorious lupines that were the centerpiece of the garden in which they grew.

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And a little way down stopped at “my” apple tree, but at last did not find the old, shriveling remains of the last of year’s apples.

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Time (perhaps way past time) to let it go, already. What I did find was an abundance of little new apples! (Amazing how long it takes them to grow and ripen!) Could be a metaphor for letting go of old grievances or inviable plans and making way for growth that is possible.

Had to make one more local photo stop for the multicolored planting of peonies,

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some of which were quite far along in their bloom.

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Not feeling a hundred percent well helped with restraining the urge to fill the phone memory with photos.

Rode on to Meadowbrook, not observing as much as I might have if I’d felt better.

At the rabbit-statue bridge stopped to get a photo.

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Had just been thinking about butterweed (Packera glabella) and its strange distribution: corners of farm fields, the edges of streams. Remembered seeing it when I used to visit streams all over Illinois in my past life as a biologist. And then there it was on the point where Davis Creek ran into Mc Cullough Creek. (The place where, if conditions are right, cardinal flowers will bloom in late summer. It’s that faint yellow spot in the photo. Really.

Right after crossing the bridge, noticed a spiderwort among the golden Alexanders.

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A little way down the path, remembered the blue flag iris that I was sure were soon to appear, so stepped off to the south of the path and into the wet area to check how far along they were.

Have such mixed feelings about going off the path in pursuit of flowers: really hate to violate the place with my steps, but also really want to see the flowers. So my comprmise is to do it infrequently, carefully, mindfully. Makes me wish for a telephoto camera.

Anyway, they were in bud, a reasonable stand of them!

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A little farther down, there were nice clumps of spiderwort.

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Rode through the grey chill and didn’t stop even when I noticed the emerging foliage of the lead plant.

But did stop at the prairie bordered by Windsor road, the part that had recently been burned, because the spiderwort blooms were abundant and lovely, with lots of green background from other species to set off their gorgeous blue.

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Took a couple of shots and shot home.
Felt rather unwell when I got there; lay down on the couch for a good half hour before feeling recovered. Decided that next time I have a cold and feel so tired and achy will sleep in. But it was nice to see the iris buds and the spiderworts, as well as the lupines and peonies.