Sunday 25 September 2016. Mushrooms, Bottle Gentians, Goldenrod

It was 66 degrees F at 6:45 (missed official sunrise (6:44 am, which, according to the phone weather ap, today exactly mirrors the predicted sunset of 6:44 pm) by a minute, the sky with some big, puffy clouds and a bit of distant fog.

Was eager already last night for this morning’s ride with anticipation of bottle gentians and whatever today’s manifestation of the leading edge of autumn might be.

Rode Rhododendron south on Race Street, headed for Meadowbrook Park. Cast a cursory glance under the spruce trees where there had been not a single mushroom two weeks ago and was amazed to behold a well-developed population of Amanita muscaria!

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When did they arrive? Was glad to see them again!

Tried to content myself with a couple of shots,

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but it was so difficult to not continue to try to capture their delightful arrangements.

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Made me wish that fairies could make use of the luxurious accommodations.

Rode onward thinking of large white mushrooms I’d seen from a distance last week and just wasn’t able to stop for them. By the time I could return, they were gone. Also thought of the pawpaw trees in our BACKYARD, for crying out loud, whose fruit I’d lovingly observed developing up in their branches earlier in the season, picked up the first one to fall, anticipated pawpaw cream pie, and then saw not a one the next time I made it back there to check on the crop. There is so much to miss out in the world! Which is just to emphasize how precious are the things we catch, when we can catch them. I wonder if the treasures of the past become a burden when we expect them to return, when we seek to repeat some special event, to fit them in among new experiences. Maybe their true value lies in being unique and unrepeatable. Still, the unexpected return of something missed (like the Amanita mushrooms, is a special joy!

Saw the sun disc while waiting at the annoying stop light at Race and Windsor.

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Getting used to the new generation of traffic signals is proving to be ridiculously challenging to my patience. As such, a good spiritual exercise, if I stay with it.

Knew the cardinal flowers would be finished (except maybe for a few blooms, to which one would have to get very close to see) but stopped for the customary view of McCullough Creek from the rabbit-statue bridge.

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Hard to believe that two weeks ago the same place was full of color.

Proceeded to the “upland cardinal flower site,” where there probably still were turtlehead. Knew the cardinal flowers would be gone but was greeted, as if in consolation, by bright sneezeweed.

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Walked in toward the turtlehead and saw pink New England asters

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Purple New England asters against goldenrod,

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and turtlehead against goldenrod

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Saw strange little pink flowers at the end of thin stems

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which, per the suggestion of my husband, appear to be cinnamon willow-herb (Epilobium coloratum).

And then, to my amazement, saw gorgeous blue, healthy-looking bottle gentians!

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pretty as a picture.

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A world with cardinal flowers and bottle gentians surely can’t be hopeless.

Caught the unmistakable scent of mint (still!?!) and sure enough, there the mountain mint were,

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thought for some reason the white flowers were hard to get into focus.

Got a view of the still-lush common goldenrods with the fog-softened sun rising above them.

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Just across the little arch bridge over Davis Creek got a view of the blue wild sage, few flowers of which remained at this point, but still the plants were stately and healthy-looking.

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Close to the Marker Statue were different shapes and shades of yellow.

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Seem to have missed the peak of the tickseed bloom, but the remaining flowers still shone like little suns.

Looked with a little trepidation, (recalling the chewed ends of the plant’s from last time) for bottle gentians near the statue (gentians just don’t jump out at you–you have to go look for them at the foot of taller plants) and eventually did find some.

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They were not so vigorous-looking as the ones At the devious site, but there were a fair number of them,
and there were plenty of developing buds.

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Still, a lot of them looked ravaged,

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which I don’t like to dwell on but did want to document.

Also documented the trailing edge of the cream gentian bloom.

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Got another view of goldenrod, this time amid Indian grass.

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Goldenrod draw one in to their foamy, feathery, shapely yellowness. They are invasive (but native!), yet they can make a disturbed patch of land look glorious for a few days. Was glad to have been there or to miss the prairie’s last golden hurrah!

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Saturday 10 September 2016. Great Company, Gorgeous Morning on the Prairie

At about 11:00am this morning, as the sky continuing to clear after last night’s deluge and nearby tornado(!?!), the temperature in the comfortable 70s, six people on bikes departed from my house, headed for Meadowbrook Park and parts south and east.

It was the happy occasion of a visit from my sister and four of our childhood friends!

Originally I envisioned spending the night at the Allerton Park guest house and riding bikes home from there. But between the football weekend and tight schedules we had to scale things down.
No matter. The only essential ingredient for a successful outing for this group is having us in one place at the same time.

And we were!

Wanted to show them the gorgeous cardinal flowers, so first stop was the rabbit-statue bridge.

McCullough and Davis creeks were swollen with last night’s rain (which actually produced a tornado not far away)

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No one was eager to climb down close to the flowers, but we admired them from a little distance.

And we got a selfie with the creek behind us.

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Stopped only briefly at the upland cardinal flower site, and pointed to the cardinal flowers.

Stopped again near the Marker statue to look for bottle gentians. Noticed nearby, at the entrance to the soft path, a couple spikes of wild blue sage (Salvia azurea)

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Like the red of the cardinal flowers, the blue of this sage gave a touch of contrast with the rising superabundance of golden yellow. The nearby tickseed, for example, were starting to burst with their version of the theme color.

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Saw cream gentians

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but no bottle gentians, except maybe some tiny buds that might have represented future bottle gentian flowers.

Noticed a plant among the cream gentians that was tall and rather stout with off-white flowers, the buds of which could be described as “bulbous.” It looked quite distinctive but had no idea what it was. After posting this will continue to research its identity.

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Close to the statue, we saw a couple of dads with their kids playing Pokemon Go. Must say it took me aback; they were a perfectly endearing family group except that they saw my sacred place as but a Pokemon stop, perhaps something like some soccer players kicking a ball into church in the middle of mass. But at least they were there. Maybe they happened to catch some sense of the beautiful place where more than Pokemon could be found. One can hope.

My dear friends enjoyed the flowers but were starting to get restless to ride. So on we went, stopped just long enough at the Freyfogel overlook to get another group shot above the prairie.

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Then we headed out Windsor to Philo, east on Old Church and over the rise I call “Yankee Ridge,” around the corner and a little way out Yankee Ridge Road. We saw couple of guys in a “Stanley Steamer” (a different brand) type van who were looking for their client’s house, so far without success and asked us if we knew where the blue house was.

We stopped at the house (not blue) of a friend I have been promising to visit on one of my bike rides, but she was not home.

On the way back onto Old Church from Yankee Ridge Road I watched a car speed in front of one one of my friends, who had the quick wits to stop. She was a bit shaken up, more so as she realized how close a call it was. We were extra careful the rest of the way back.

Again we ran into the pseudo-Stanley Steamer guys. Made me wonder if it might be worth paying a little extra for the brand name.

Saw a few spots with water across Old Church Road, the likes of which I’d before on my rides here. But it didn’t carry us away as we crossed through it and went on to have a typically wonderful visit, including having my dear company in my Saturday afternoon yoga class, followed by Thai dinner al fresco. Big thanks!

Sunday 4 September 2016. Cardinal Flowers and Their Companions

It was 57 degrees F at 6:15, already light under a mostly clear sky

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this morning after I dropped off my friend Anne at the train station. Was grateful to have been required to be present outside at just this hour, to have had to dispense with all the little activities that tend to keep me in the house longer than I intend.

Stopped at the apple tree I used to monitor so carefully and got a photo of the sweet peas growing under it.

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There were few apples this year, but did see one on the street.

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Rode south on Race street and stopped to check under the spruce trees for mushrooms, but there was no sign of them.

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The emptiness was remarkable, given what had been there the past two years at this time. They may be back some time, but you just can’t take mushrooms for granted.

Soon was at Meadowbrook, speeding toward the rabbit-statue bridge, not hitting the brakes till the turn on the far side. Turned back toward the bridge and the cardinal flower site and was immediately impressed by the richness of the yellow flowers: wingstem, goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, tickseed, sneezeweed.

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It was especially impressive in a year that seemed to feature plant disease and muted bloom.

And it got better, with the pink-purple of thistles

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and the abundant flaming red cardinal flowers!

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It took some serious bushwhacking through the stickers and thorns, not to mention the abundant hungry mosquitos, to get close to them. But oh, it was well worth the discomfort!

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There were plants on the near side of the creek, so could have gotten a good view of cardinal flowers without getting into the stream bed. But when I did climb down into it was rewarded by the sight of multiple towers of red flower spikes.

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Besides the cardinal flowers being gorgeous on their own, they were accompanied by a profusion of yellow flowers, an accent of light purple thistle, the tree trunks and foliage, and to the right and far behind, the rising sun beginning to illuminate the prairie.

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Could not imagine any place more lovely or pleasant or wanting to be anywhere besides right where I was just then. Even as I’m writing this, days after, still have an imprint of that eternal moment.

But moving farther along, there was even more: a perfect cup plant flower,

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the sky with tiny puffs of clouds,

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a spray of little, palest pink Gaura flowers.

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The air smelled strongly, intoxicatingly of fresh mint; was surprised by it so late in the season.

Stopped at the “upland” cardinal flower site and at first did not see any cardinal flowers at all. So just walked in from the path and toward where they had been, and on the way noticed, among the newly burgeoning tickseed, some white flowers that I supposed could have been a species of aster I hadn’t noticed before.

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Then realized they were mountain mint (usually present earlier in the summer) having a second bloom. Explained the fragrance.

Nearby noticed an almost bloomed-out cardinal flower spike.

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and a variety of other flowers:
great blue Lobelia

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tickseed

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blue vervain,

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the last of which were many and especially handsome here this morning, covered with fine dew, begging to be photographed.

Saw more cardinal flowers farther out and allowed myself to be drawn there, to the “holy of holies,” where the Park District probably does not want me to go (though of course not without reason). My defense, such as it was, was that I was there to witness and honor the treasure of the place and would be very careful to minimize my steps and not stay long.

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Out of the corner of my eye saw large white flowers I assumed were cream gentians but that seemed higher above the ground than cream gentians ordinarily are. Closer inspection revealed them to be turtlehead, which I’d never seen at Meadowbrook before.

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Always exciting to add a new species to the “life list!”

Their bloom seemed to be just getting started.

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Was amazed at how I could previously have missed something (was it there?) now so obvious and abundant.

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Got a “bouquet” farewell shot of the cardinal flowers

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and moved on toward the Marker statue.
Already had witnessed two miraculous places and now was seeking more. Bring on the abundance!

On the way to the Marker statue were a lot of handsome white-flowered, dark-green leafed boneset (Eupetorium– yes, the official common name), though it was hard to get a photo to do it justice. Here is a nice clump,

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and I liked the russet-brown oak leaf (they’re starting to fall!) caught up on end among the blooms, like a butterfly wing.

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At the Marker statue observed someone sitting on the nearby bench, perhaps wanting solitude. So I quickly nodded, checked for bottle gentians, saw none, and moved on.

Then, almost ran over a deer that was about to cross the path. On the other side were two good-sized fawns, likely waiting for the first deer.

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Got off the bike and walked slowly, took a few photos. Was glad I didn’t disturb them into bolting.

Wanted to stop at the Freyfogel overlook, but it, too was occupied: a woman of some years with cropped white hair stood on one leg, the other extended in front of her and supported on the rail, a pose close to Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. It was her turn to stand above the prairie and bask in solitude (but who knows, she may have welcomed company) though I did walk in front of the platform long enough to get a shot of cream gentians.

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Was not disappointed by not getting to linger privately at the previous two stops. It all all was good.

Heading back along Windsor Road saw yellow flowers and brown seed heads

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and the sculptural, ever-irresistible, indigo pods.

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Lingered a while to watch the yellow birds of happiness: twittering goldfinches,


and headed home.

Then noticed how eager I was, after one near-religious experience after another with light, flowers, and animals, to get back, sit down with a cup of coffee, and look at the photos. Too funny!

Sunday 11 September 2016. A Little Stop at Meadowbrook, Another Little Ride Out East Curtis Road

This morning at 6:30 (the official time for sunrise) it was 54 degrees F, with clear skies and hardly a breeze.

Decided last night (did not want to waste energy fretting about it in the morning) to check the inner, unpaved path at Meadowbrook Park for bottle gentians and to ride a ways east on that pleasant stretch of Curtis Road.

First, however, had to try again to lure my friend’s cat, for whom I was caring in her absence and whom I had not seen for two days, back to his home.

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To my great relief, he was sitting at the top of the front steps when I arrived and I let him in, and so was able to continue my ride with a light heart.

Approached Meadowbrook Park at the Vine Street entrance and was surprised that the parking lot was rather well-occupied for this time of day.

As soon as I turned into the park was greeted by the beginning of a vast goldenrod bloom.

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And not far down the path were puffy purple-pink spheres of pasture thistle flowers,

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stiff goldenrod (another humorous official name),

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delicate (my description) Gaura

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and false sunflowers, the blooms of which were photogenic when they appeared in late spring and that still are at the end of summer.

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Made it to the Freyfogel overlook and there found white wild indigo pods,

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delicate dangling flower parts of big bluestem grass

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and cream gentians

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Time advanced, and so thought better of exploring the soft path to the middle of the prairie in favor of a bit of mileage. So turned back, stopping for a handsome goldenrod display (with thistle accents)

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close to the turn (to the east) onto the sidewalk next to Windsor Road. Then rode south on Philo Road and east again on pleasant, open, and I do think mostly downhill to the east, Curtis Road.

Much of the bordering abundant corn was very mature, crispy and golden against the blue sky

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Friday’s rains still filled a number of low places along the road, even gushing from the fields,

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forming sloughs

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and ponds.

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Rode as far as Curtis and Cottonwood roads

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and retuned west on Curtis, which did feel uphill this time. But had a nice view of the yellowing soybean leaves under the blue sky.

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Rode all the way on Curtis to Race and then north toward home. Along the outside of the Yankee Ridge subdivision saw some lovely wingstem,

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a very slow-moving bee resting on one of the blooms.

Closer to home, stopped at the U of I gateway and fountain

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which, this morning, was a perfect spot to do a little writing on the blog.

Sunday 28 August 2016. Meadowbrook and East Curtis Road

It was 72 humid degrees under mostly cloudy skies this morning at 7:15 as I headed out on Discovery II to meet a friend for a Sunday morning ride.

We looped through Meadowbrook Park and discovered great blue Lobelia on the recently managed Peg Richardson Hickman Wildflower Walk.

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Showed my friend the cardinal flower sites, and she liked them but was not up for traversing the stickers and mud for a close look.

Also we stopped to admire the secret legions of cream gentians at the Freyfogel overlook.

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Then on we went toward Philo Road and east on Curtis Road.

Loved being in the open spaces while my friend and I had good conversation! Reminded me again that good conversation may be the most fundamental of human needs and as such the most precious of gifts. We did, however, worked up a good sweat in the humidity and relative stillness of the air. Not usual for a morning ride.

Was usual not to get a lot of photos when with company

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but was glad as always for the ride and grateful for my good friend with whom I could share it.

Saturday 27 August 2016. Late-Blooming Blue Flowers and Other Wonders Near Japan House

It was 72 degrees F and mostly cloudy at 6:45 this morning, pavement and greenery still wet with recent rain.

It would be a quick trip this morning on Discovery II to Japan House garden, where I hoped there would be bottle gentians.

On the way my attention was arrested by large white mushrooms, roughly in a ring.

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Love those manifestations of mystery.

Did not plan to stop on the path to Japan House, but the helebores, up since at least early February, were so astonishingly vigorous-looking, with their shiny green leaves and their flower-like remains of flowers, I couldn’t resist a photo.

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Then to the side of the pond, where I was greeted by an abundance of great blue Lobelia, the blue first cousins of cardinal flowers!

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Made sure to get close-ups of the complex flowers.

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If you look closely you can see why they and cardinal flowers are congeners.

There also was an abundance of bottle gentian!

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Some of the plants looked stressed

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But there were a lot of them

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and it seemed to be fairly early in their bloom.

Got a view of a clump of sneezeweed near the pond’s edge.

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Heard and saw a lot of geese overhead

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These days it’s easier to like them in the sky than on the ground.

Stayed just a short time, enjoying the hint of topographic relief

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and proceeded on with the day.