Sunday 29 January 2017. Meadowbrook with a Tiny Amount of Snow

It was 28 degrees F and cloudy at about 7:40 this morning as I rolled Shadow down the driveway toward Meadowbrook Park, for a change by way of Vine Street. There were scattered snowflakes descending. And blowing; had some understanding of the concept of “windchill.”

Stopped not far along to see a very large, low-branching maple tree.

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At Windsor Road waited at the signal-less crossing for one car then crossed without fuss and went to the left for an atypical (counterclockwise) big loop of the park.

Felt the embrace of the quiet prairie: the sky and the brown expanse of last year’s whispering plant growth. Breathed in the quiet and exhaled gratitude for this place of refreshment.

The cold discouraged me from stopping though several images were appealing enough to overcome the inertia.

Baptisia pods,

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compass plant remains,

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which are so photogenic in all the stages of their decomposition.

Tall Coreopsis seed heads topped sinuously twisting dry stems.

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Bush clover seed heads were handsome dark brushes against the pale winter prairie.

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At the rabbit-statue bridge, the railing was sprinkled with snow

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as I peered down to check on a fairly clear McCullough (and what I could see of Davis) Creek.

Quickly headed homeward as the snowfall increased.

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Saturday 28 January 2017. Hellebore Check at Japan House Garden

This morning at 7:20 it was 27 degrees F under, surprise, surprise, cloudy skies.

Was pressed for time but felt an urgency to connect with “nature,” to be present with things that grow (even if now dormant) things outdoors, to have a personal relationship with the weather. However brief, it’s so much better than not doing it.

So rode on Shadow to Japan House Garden to check the condition of the Hellebores, the blooms of which sometimes already are out at this time of year.

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Last year’s foliage hadn’t gone completely brown, but couldn’t see this year’s coming up yet.

Last year some plants had flowers in early February. And unlike, e.g., snowdrops or crocuses, which come a little later, they don’t die back to the ground after a brief bloom but persist (often with flower-shaped structures that remain after the actual flowers are spent)robustly until winter They are a most intriguing species.

While in the area got a few shots of the lovely bald cypresses with their thick, folded trunks and horizontal (on average) branches

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that rose above the rust-colored carpet of last year’s growth of needles.

It was good to touch the earth even at these few points.

Sunday 22 January 2017. Just Past the Summit of Yankee Ridge

This morning at 7:01 it was 40 degrees F under cloudy skies.

Was eager to get on Shadow and take a slightly more extended ride: the temperature and wind were comfortable for this time of year, and there were no obstacles in the form of precipitation.
Did want to check on Meadowbrook Park and then go a little farther.

Forgot my mittens but didn’t want to go back. Would just have to think warm.

Stopped at the large hackberry tree with the folded lower trunk right next to the bike lane on Race near Florida

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which many times I’ve wanted to photograph but usually don’t stop because it’s so close to the street, not a great place to stop. But a quiet Sunday morning was a good time to go for it.

Had a quick crossing at Windsor Road!

Stopped for the “wonky Christmas tree”

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and the view from the rabbit-statue bridge of McCullough and Davis creeks, which were high and turbid.

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Meadowbrook’s color was darker and even more neutral than last time.

Got a shot of buds as a reminder of what would come after this stretch of grey and brown.

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The brown-grey park was empty of people and other motile macro-creatures (like deer) that I could see. The emptiness occupied that border between solitude and loneliness, heavy, but in a grounding way, even sweet, and evoking deeper breath.

Stopped at the Freyfogle overlook and while dismounting the bike saw a couple of attached earthworms, like a biology book illustration,

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effecting genetic recombination. I hope it’s suitable for more sensitive readers. It reminds one of that force that draws conspecifics together and also engenders, so to speak, so much disagreement among them.

Saw compass plant remains, still tall against the sky.

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And a few Baptisia (wild false indigo) pods

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But it seemed like someone had purposely been cutting them down.

Also saw a gall on a pasture rose cane.

Rode on to Old Church Road, the inclines of which Shadow navigated handily

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Turned around at Illinois Rte 130

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Noticed plant material embedded in the road, which bicycling has taught me contains more animal and vegetable material that I’d ever have guessed.

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Stopped for a view of a flooded plowed field with clods of black prairie loam poking above the water.

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My hands were cold alright, but got home with no actual damage and was happy to have seen those 12 miles in January.

Sunday 15 January 2017. Depth of Winter: After a Bit of Freezing Rain

It was 28 degrees F at 9:10 under cloudy skies, the dogs walked and a rudimentary yoga practice accomplished, as, at last, after weeks of not getting there, I steered the bike toward Meadowbrook Park.

Various obstacles had been preventing the trip until now: other time demands and Rhododendron’s flat tire principal among them. A friend offered her (grown, moved-out) son’s old (but good) mountain bike for me to use and perhaps buy if I liked it. It worked well, and because it’s black and very smooth I’ve dubbed it Shadow.

Had a smooth ride on Shadow, which just happens almost to fit me, though it has a longer reach than I’m used to. Felt absolutely no strain on any muscles or joints yet still was able to get the heart rate up a little. I am a fan of road bikes, but I think this one will serve well through the winter. Thanks, Penny!

Zoomed to Windsor Road and by a miracle did not have to wait to cross either Windsor or Race. Cool.

Noticed that the construction at Clark-Lindsay was winding down, for this phase.

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Greeted the “wonky Christmas tree,” which today made me think of a swimmer doing the front crawl.

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Stopped at the rabbit-statue bridge and got a shot of McCullough and Davis creeks with the ice-trimmed bridge in the foreground.

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Yesterday’s frozen rain persisted also on some of the remaining prairie vegetation like this goldenrod.

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Noticed the large, dark shapes of trees and their branching, how they fill and divide space.

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Then turned back and got a look at the path with a patch of ice

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A little way along saw a bench which first attracted my attention because of this glove with an icicle hanging from one finger.

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Then noticed a marker below it at ground level with a name I recognized. It brought the person vividly to mind, along with her family and people who’d worked with her near the end of her life. At that moment felt connected to them and hoped that the feeling of connection and support reached them in some tiny way. Hoped that it was not the exact mirror image of being angry at someone, even wishing them ill, from a safe distance so they would’t really be harmed. Maybe the difference comes with what comes next, how the thought is sustained or acted upon….

Then sustained the effort of proceeding homeward.

Tuesday 27 December 2016. Winter Prairie in the Sun

This morning at 7:20 it was 35 degrees F under sunny (!) skies. Thought the long down coat would be overkill and chose to wear a shorter jacket, but the crisp southwest breeze made me think the long coat would have been fine. Also my wonderful fleece removable-top mittens have gone awol so finally found some serviceable old woolies. Good enough.

Rolled Rhododendron down the driveway, hearing overhead but not seeing calling birds. Woodpeckers? Nuthatches? They were easy to hear and hard to see, and didn’t stop to confirm their identity.

Farther down on Race Street heard enthusiastic birds again. This time stopped to locate them: a pair of wrens. Hard to believe all that sound was coming from these little birds! No photos, alas.

Stopped to look from under a ginkgo tree across a harvested field toward the sun-streaked bee research area.

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Did not have to wait at the Race/Windsor light, hooray, (am continuing to adjust to it) and rode on to the “wonky Christmas tree”.

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Noticed at my feet frost-edged leaves.

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Stopped for the beloved customary view of the confluence of McCullough and Davis creeks.

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In a short while, on the other side of the bridge, stopped for a view of the sun on bare (walnut, I think, and/or other) branches.

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Unseen birds called here, too. Wondered whether it was the sunlight that activated all the avian vocalization this morning.

Riding on, not intending to stop, felt once again embraced by this manifestation of the prairie. As in the past, it was a safe place to feel heartaches of various kinds and magnitudes, my own and those of others, things that were my fault and things over which I had no control. Felt the soothing envelopment of these sacred surroundings. It was not an all-out catharsis but just an acknowledgment of the way it is what it is, and here I am, ready enough for what’s next.

Could not resist framing some wild indigo pods,

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more and more hanging by open halves as the winter progresses.

Stopped for the sun lighting up a goldenrod seed head

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and for some twisty tall Coreopsis remains with the sunlit-blond prairie and blue sky behind it.

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Then there were remains of a compass plant, so sculptural, architectural, in the stages of its decay.

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Felt filled with the beauty of today’s images and the memory of so many previous ones. How good that the prairie can be taken in through the senses and into the heart, perhaps then ultimately alchemized as art or somehow passed on to others, inviting them to partake of the beauty as well.

Then rode to edge of McCullough Creek where beavers had gnawed on the bordering alder trees and photographed the long-ago (four years, perhaps) beaver-chewed stumps.

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Was glad to have been able to observe these ongoing changes.

My fingers were starting to get cold from stopping to remove my mittens for pictures. And my nose ran like crazy. But somehow it was wonderful to have come out and endure a little discomfort in the cold to connect my body-mind to the sunny winter morning.

Saturday 24 December 2016. Christmas Eve Prairie

It was 38 degrees F at 8:48 this morning as I rolled Rhododendron out of the garage. Alas, last week’s the salty streets had left a coating of orange on the chain and gears. Meant to rinse it but now there only was time for a shot of lubricant to parry the attack of the salt-invited rust. Must take time to care for my faithful Rhododendron.

Stopped at Meadowbrook Park for the wonky Christmas tree

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and for the view of McCullouh/Davis creeks from the rabbit-statue bridge.

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Then down the path, redish leaves clinging to the litte burr oak planted in memory of Bruno Schleileth (so the marker said) lent a touch of color to the neutral landscape.

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Saw skeletal seed-bearing remains of prairie plants

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and lichen-decorated saplings on the other side of the path.

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Did not really want to stop again, but there were the graphic shapes of compass plant remains against the grey sky.

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And closer-up could see their subtle shades of brown, the hairy stems of their seed heads with collections of tiny water droplets: condensation of the fog.

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It reminded me how beauty-and comfort-filled the place I was standing was, how quickly it could fill my heart and restore my soul.

Remembered an approximation of the haiku that came to me last week or so ago, about the winter prairie whispering comfort…

Today wasn’t dwelling on one particular example; there are so many kinds and degrees of heart-ache: one’s own, that of others. For me, the prairie comforts and soothes (not to say, “removes”) them all.

Then headed to Meijer for some final Christmas shopping, so grateful for my soul having been able first to drink at the well of Meadowbrook Park.