Thursday 25 August 2016. Gentian Debut, Royal Catchfly Farewell

This morning at 7:37 it was 70 very comfortable degrees F under a blue sky.

Headed south on Race Street to Meadowbrook Park on Rhododendron, feeling ever so slightly impatient and thinking about what I wanted to and had to after the ride (ha ha!) i.e., not yet awake in the present.

Felt the usual grump about the stoplight at Windsor (which is proving to be a surprisingly challenging obstacle to inner peace! My response to it, that is.) and went directly to the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie, walking Rhododendron, with a stop at the little wooden bridge over McCullough Creek

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The recent rains filled it higher than it typically is this time of year.

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Farther along into the prairie, saw lots of thistles.

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which somehow don’t usually attract my attention unless they hold bees or butterflies, but the abundance of these was striking.

Planned for today’s visit to be focused and brief: gentians, the foliage of which has been visible for a while but not the flowers, royal catchfly, cardinal flower. That proved difficult, however, as other images beckoned: maturing pods of white wild indigo,

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the first stiff goldenrod, accented by ironweed,

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a common milkweed stalk in pod,

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leaning out into the path, prairie dock,

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and delicate pale-pink Gaura.

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Then, there they were, the first cream gentian flowers, which certainly were not there last week,

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and immediately, once I could shift my focus just below the surface of the sea of prairie plants, they seemed to be everywhere. Always find it amazing how well these large, abundant flowers can hide until the first one is recognized.

Noticed that many blooms surrounded stalks that had been severed, presumably by hungry deer

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It was a testament to their vigor.

Noticed also that many blooms were open.

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Here, at least, pollinators were present and seemed to be accomplishing their job.

Looked for royal catchfly where I’d seen them a couple weeks ago and expected to see a few last red flower-stars but did not. Was surprisingly sad about it. Knew they would not be there forever but wished for more of a transition. Made me think of the common human desire to be able to say goodbye. Interesting how it doesn’t change the outcome of a situation, but somehow one feels slightly less “violated” when allowed a conscious acknowledgement before the loss happens.

And then, farther down the path than I expected, against all hope, there they were!

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It was a reprieve, a space to fill with a little more gratitude!

Then it was time to check the area near the Marker statue for evidence of bottle gentians. On the way were sunlit purple coneflowers,

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compass plant blooms,

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“bouquets” of tall coreopsis (or perhaps tickseed) and turning blackberry foliage.

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Then, near the Marker statue was foliage (which didn’t look especially healthy)

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but no blooms of bottle gentian. Their season, however, still is early.

Did see some nice bush clover nearby.

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Moving along the path on the way to the first cardinal flower site saw a fall sunflower, maybe a Jerusalem artichoke.

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There was goldenrod that was not the common species–need to look it up.

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Also noticed the broken branch of a tree

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whose brown, clinging leaves suggested that the trauma had happened earlier this year.

And then on to the upland cardinal flowers!

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Saw even more blooming plants than last time, which I noticed through the aging spikes of blue vervain.

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Walked heedless of my soaking feet through the wet ground to get close to them,

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And they were accented beautifully by the yellow tickseed, which were just starting to bloom.

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So glad for these fabulous flowers that wait until the prairie’s season of decline to make their bold display. Love the metaphor of it.

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Sunday 14 August 2016. Velo Omaha

It was about 68 degrees this morning at about 6:30 as I looked out from my hotel room window. Saw the orange light starting to show over the Missouri River in Omaha, Nebraska, where my nephew had gotten married (with the attendant social merriment) the night before.

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It was time to explore the early morning in downtown Omaha via the system of Heartland BCycles that is one wonderful thing about this lovely city. For a destination chose the Bob Kerrey pedestrian bridge, which had come up in conversation with fellow celebrants of the family event.

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Walked a short distance from the hotel to the first BCycle station and inserted the credit card to pay to rent a bike. Wasn’t even charged for the ride because my pass from yesterday was still good. Sweet! Not only that, but if I docked the bike at another station (and there were at least five of them at various points on this trip) within each hour, I could ride as long as I wanted for no extra charge at all! Sweet, deluxe!

Took a little while to get oriented in this town whose streets I didn’t know at all (even briefly invoked the phone gps). But meanwhile a very nice lady from Switzerland with a little dog intercepted me after our paths had crossed several times, pointed me to the path, and urged me to ride across the bridge and toward “the casino,” and that it was safe and very beautiful. She also told me that she had seen (within the last few years, I gathered) the river so high that only the arm and hammer of this sculpture was out of the water.

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It was nice in this place I’d never been to receive such friendly advice, a kind of blessing for my explorations.

It was quite a magnificent ride up and over the Missouri River.

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Didn’t want to take a lot of time with photos, but did want to document some of the feeling of being way up in the air over the water.

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On the other (Council Bluffs, Iowa) side of the bridge, the path went towards and away from the river, and I rode for a while (after checking in at the bike dock) in the “away” direction along a levee, I guess it was, with woods (including dead cottonwood trees)

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to the left and houses with yards to the right. It seemed like it went on for a long, pleasant distance, but alas,
did have a time limit and turned back toward the river and the casino and the path that followed it.

On the way there was an stage/arena-like area, beyond which were two paths, one closer to,the other farther from the water. I took the farther one on the way out.

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Near the casino was a golf course, in both of which I had no interest, but the river was large enough to make those features seem relatively minor.

Heading back took the path closer to the river.

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through the Tom Hanrahan River Edge Park.

Going west stopped for a shot of the state line

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and signage explaining the history of the bridge.

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Noticed, back on the Nebraska side of the bridge, that the National Park Service building was landscaped with native plants

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but that that all the flowers were black-eyed Susans. Maybe it had been done recently and the hardy, abundant flowers were pressed into service for visual effect. Wondered what species a more mature Nebraska prairiescape would include.

Looked back at at the bridge and was so happy to have experienced it.

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On the way back passed an urban river walk

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which made me think of how nice the Boneyard in Urbana might be one day.

Then returned the bike to its wonderful station.

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which happened to be in front of ConAgra world headquarters. Another interesting feature of the town.

Then was ready to search for coffee.

Which I found at a place called Urban Abbey.

Thought it might a coffeehouse in a building that used to be a church, but turned out to be a coffee shop/fair trade store/functioning (they moved the coffee tables for services) actual Methodist church.

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When I learned this, the coffee snob in me was ready to settle for a mediocre caffeine hit. Did not stay for the service, but oh, my, that Americano was distinctly delicious!

Omaha rocks!

Tuesday 9 August 2016. Red Flowers for Ray

This morning at 7:15 it was 68 degrees F, the sky with clouds very similar to way they were around the same time yesterday. What are the chances of that?

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Headed to Meadowbrook Park with the goal of spending a little time observing the cardinal flowers and also the royal catchfly at close range. Rode with a full but heavy heart because a beautiful soul, who had touched my and so many lives, had just passed from this world. His blog tells the story.

First stopped to see what I could from the rabbit-statue bridge, which was at least three cardinal flower plants!

Proceeded without hesitation through the thorny, stickery streameside vegetation to the site of the flowers. As I got closer noticed more plants, more red flowers, even on my side of the creek!

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Realized that the bottom of Davis Creek was muddy but empty of actual water, so happily got into it to be close to the flaming bird (though not cardinal)-shaped flowers.

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Did not count but found quite a collection of individual plants, many small and presumably young

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and one especially large one, with thick and multiple flower stalks.

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Looked back and got a shot of two small flower spikes with the rabbit-statue bridge in the background

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What a display!

And there was the second cardinal flower site (with compass plant in between)

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the one where I’d mourned their absence for the past couple years and now was overjoyed to see again!

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One plant was located near the two young trees with Liatris nearby

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Got to examine the tree on the right side which turned out to be a willow of some kind, the leaves a little sparse but perhaps not so ill as I’d thought last time.

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Also got a shot of partridge pea,

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which often are literally a-buzz with bees, though I didn’t linger to listen to this one.

Then proceeded along the path, across the little arch bridge over Davis Creek and walked the bike on the soft path to the interior of the prairie, where the royal catchfly reside.

On the way was yet another attractive arrangement of false sunflowers

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and a red-winged blackbird singing atop a compass plant stalk.

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And then there were the flaming red stars, the royal catchfly.

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Nearby was gentian foliage with the tips munched off.

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Was certain that the cream gentians would overcome the herbivory and show blooms eventually but was not so sure another less abundant bottle gentians

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Which these may or may not be.

There still were plenty of blooming royal catchfly plants in the area, as beautiful at a little distance as close up.

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Was so glad to have been able to witness the abundance of red (and not to ignore the yellow ones) flowers, especially this morning, when it seemed like they all were blooming in honor of Ray.

Sunday 21 August 2016. Flowerless Cup Plants and On to Tolono

This morning at 7 it was 61 degrees F and drop-dead beautifully clear. The air was much drier than it’s been for a while and just smelled delicious for the absence of distinctive odors. It was an excellent launch on Rhododendron for south First Street and perhaps Tolono.

Passed the apple tree, the seasonal development of which I used to follow frequently but haven’t this year because it has had so few apples. But there were some.

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Below the apple tree were sweet peas,

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bright fuschia with slender, reaching tendrils.

Rode straight out of town on Race Street. On the way looked under the spruce trees for mushrooms but saw none. Would they be back sometime soon? You’ve got to love the mystery of it.

Out in the central Illinois open caught a few shots of the cornfield with pumpkins growing among the corn plants.

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The pumpkin vines and flowers seemed healthy

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(not to mention very attractive with deep pink morning glory flowers for contrast), and “bee-loud.”

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Turned west on Curtis Road and noticed how mature the corn was getting,

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still green but with yellowing ears that were starting to arch away from the stalk.

At First Street went south and got a nice view to the east of what I believe was Airport Road.

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Stopped at the prairie planting where I’d seen royal catchfly in the past. Figured it likely would be too late to see them, but thought I’d check. Was surprised to see so many cup plants without flowers,

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and a dearth of bloom generally.

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Did notice, however, a nice clump of obedient plants.

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Noticed a few decent yellow coneflowers; on closer inspection saw they were inhabited by some handsome black weevil-looking beetles.

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Made me wonder whether insects were responsible for the stressed look of the little prairielet.

The giant ragweed, of course, looked quite vigorous

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Rode on toward Tolono, following the many “Unity Rockets ” painted on the road.

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Wondered who it was who did all that painting: Students? Parents? School employees?

Saw a lovely bunch of blooming goldenrod,

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which clearly marks the beginning of the end of summer, sigh.

Turned west on county road 800N and rode past Unity High School but didn’t wander into “downtown” Tolono, where I wanted to take a photo. Did wander a bit but still didn’t find “downtown” and settled for a photo of St. Patrick Catholic Church.

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Then back home, along the common ragweed-bordered stretch that had a few nice flowers, here evening primrose with a few contrasting chicory.

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Noticed on the way back some pink flowers at the far shore of a subdivision pond; realized they were pink lotus! Stopped to get closer and startled a great blue heron into flight, but saw that there wasn’t much access to the enticing blooms.

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Need to come back with a camera with a decent zoom.

Felt a little tired–haven’t been biking
as much as I’d like. But it was a perfect day to get back into it!

Friday 5 August 2016. Not One but Two Meadowbrook Cardinal Flower Places!

Actually made it out a little before (5:35) the sunrise this morning,

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when it was 70 degrees F, the sky party cloudy, though the phone ap claimed, erroneously in my exact location, that it was raining (?).

Rode to Meadowbrook Park to see whether the cardinal flowers had appeared and also whether the cream gentians (of which I’d seen the beginning of buds) had started to bloom.

Took the Vine Street route and saw the bifurcated ash tree at the edge of Blair Park,

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which was still mostly leafy. Close to it was a newly planted tree. Was not sure that it wasn’t another ash. Ashes, ashes, so many are falling down….

At Meadowbrook took the loop around the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie

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in a clockwise (not my usual) direction. Was happy to see the colors of the dawn sky over the prairie again, after what seemed like a long time.

Rode fairly directly to the Freyfogel observation deck, where there were tick trefoil

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and a bumble bee getting what it could from an old wild bergamot flower,
full green pods of white wild indigo

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as well as dark, ripe ones,

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aging Culver root,

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tall Coreopsis and two of the “Sylphium sisters” (compass plant and prairie dock) in the same frame,

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and foliage but still barely buds of cream gentian.

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The false sunflower were present and photogenic as ever.

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Liked the human-like forms of rattlesnake master flowers.

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Noticed a lot of “browning” in the flowers;

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wondered whether it was more than maturity, maybe disease.

The sky over the prairie was gorgeous and dramatic this morning.
and it was hard to resist taking lots of photos.

Got a modest shot of the Marker statue with a good sky behind it.

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Whether or not you like the sculpture, I think one has to admit that it really interacts well with its environment.

Saw gentian leaves near the statue

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but wasn’t sure whether they were of the cream or (blue) bottle species. Soon there should be flowers that will tell.

There was more dramatic sky farther along the path

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and then, when I went to get a close shot of the Liatris by the two little trees, saw some blue vervain and, wonder of wonders, in the place they had been for several years, then not for at least the past two, there were cardinal flowers!

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There were at least two different plants with the red flowers!

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Ah, the joy of having let go of something loved and then for it unexpectedly, against hope, to have it return!

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Yielded to the draw of another shot of the sky

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then stopped briefly at the rabbit-statue bridge to check the cardinal flowers there.

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There they were (if you look really carefully!). But was content not to get into the stickers to be close to them; was just glad they were there.

Felt overflowing with the abundance and generosity of my surroundings, this place, this day!

Tuesday 2 August 2016. Lingering with the Tall Coreopsis and Wandering Eastward on Curtis Road

Though I glimpsed the pink sky from inside the house early this morning, a list of things (like headstand, which I never used to leave the house without doing and am returning to that practice) kept me from bringing out Rhododendron, the road bike, until 7:45. It was 73 degrees F and humid at that time, with thinly spread clouds that allowed plenty of light through but kept the sun from blazing too brutally.

The plan for this morning was to ride by the north edge of Meadowbrook Park, the part that I’ve tried (with mixed results) to hurry past toward the end of many a ride, and then eastward on Curtis Road.

After a grumpy passage through the “micromanaging” stoplight system on Windsor and Race streets rode (downhill!) east on the sidewalk along Windsor Road and stopped for lots of photos.

I’ve seen better compositions of August prairie flowers at this edge of the park, but there still was beauty aplenty, if one looked.

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White wild indigo lifted their plump green and darkening pods.

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Blooming purple coneflowers still were abundant, and dense, in places.

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The star of today’s display, it seemed, was the tall Coreopsis.

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many individuals quite worthy of their name.

Here they make a nice background for a thistle

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It certainly was good to be out among the summer-worn bloom: vigorous, colorful, diverse, abundant. But the word “fresh” was not the first to come to mind. Reminded me a little of the awesome week-long yoga intensive I did last week, many (but not all!) of the participants of which were at least as old as I am and/or bearing various manifestations of life’s progression, even as we drank in the sunlight of BKS Iyengar’s teaching through the channel of dear Lois.

Also thought about the current installment of difficulty and pain that happens to be passing through a lot of people in my life (including, I suppose, myself) these days. It’s real and not to be dismissed, especially that of others. But still it has gaps, where, e.g., the summer prairie’s healing glow can shine through. I’m not entirely sure (and others insist to me) that allowing this joy isn’t a form of painting a smiley face over the pain. It just seems like a good alternative to despair.

Saw rosinweed flowers in interesting positions.

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Was not expecting to spend the morning with wet feet, but barely stepped into the mowed edge of the prairie and my Keen sandals and feet were thoroughly soaked. Amazing how much liquid water can be produced by condensation. Oh well. The dew is a fact of August morning prairie life.

Did not intend to turn into the big loop of the “Art and Billie Spomer” prairie,
but there it was,

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featuring compass plants

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whose stacks of large yellow flowers practically throw themselves at your phone camera, white wild indigo pods, and rattlesnake master that look like pompon girls.

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and the always photogenic false sunflowers

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Only went as far as the Freyfogel observation deck then turned back and headed out Windsor to Philo (passing lots of sweet little goldfinches atop the high chain-link fence) and then east on Curtis Road.

Also saw but didn’t try to photograph lots of dickcissels and at least two (or was it the same one twice?) red-tailed hawks gliding over the corn.

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The ride was easy, which made me worry a bit about the return trip, but mostly just enjoyed being out between the corn and beans.

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Went as far as 1250N and 1975E and turned back.

Stopped at creek (must be a tributary of the Salt Fork) where I’d seen wood ducks before, though it was a little ways north. No ducks today but there were quite a few ebony jewelwing damselflies.

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Was glad to get a few good miles in.

And the way back was easy, too.

Wednesday 17 August 2016. Glimpse of Summer Fog

It was 70 degrees F and cloudy at 7:07 this morning, with a bit of distant fog. Am behind in my posts and had intended to make yoga practice and not a bike ride the first item on the morning’s agenda, but the fog was fleeing and did not want to miss it.

So headed south on Rhododendron to Meadowbrook Park. Stopped to get a shot of a ginkgo tree with fog behind it.

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At Meadowbrook, sped over the rabbit-statue bridge and around the bend (did use a bit of brake) and looked for fog images.

Besides the fog, the prairie bloom was muted with maturity (and perhaps disease?)

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but so far there still were flowers, like these cup plants,

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not to mention the giant ragweed.

Noticed a swamp milkweed covered with aphids.

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It was a picture of destruction, but not without its own strange beauty.

Saw early goldenrod with dew-beaded remains of a spiderweb nearby.

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Knew there was not much time but did go as far as the “upland” cardinal flowers site and get a distant shot

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as well as a shot of big bluestem flowers that were not quite fully in bloom.

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Did not examine it (or others of its kind) to see whether it was early or late in its bloom.

Saw a beaded, mostly intact spiderweb

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and knew there must be lots more of them, jewels of condensed fog out there in the rest of the prairie, but, alas, had to leave them undiscovered and make my way back to the day’s demands.

Turned back

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but did stop to see some nice clusters of wingstem

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in front of the dense streameside growth
and, back at the rabbit-statue bridge, the glorious, if partly hidden, riparian cardinal flowers.

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Was grateful to have made it for this visit, another example of how a short time of awareness is WAY better than none!