Saturday 3 June 2017. Greeting the Early Sun and Catching the Abundance of Spiderwort and Penstemon

It was 67 degrees F under mostly clear, mostly calm skies at 5:17 this morning as I wheeled Rhododendron down the driveway and toward South Race Street.

Was determined to be present to receive the gift of additional daylight and thus additional time with which to take in the outdoors. I am a morning person but this year have not quite managed to get up with the birds and not squeeze in too many little activities to make it out the door before official sunrise. Until today!

The bike felt smooth and easy, and the morning was fresh and of a perfect temperature, but today I felt very much not quite awake. As an inveterate morning person, this does not happen to me very often, but when it does I think of the night-people who have to be awake early for something unusual and am sorry for my past insufficient empathy for their situation.

Stopped not far into the ride for the irresistible pastel cabbage roses

and the fuchsia-colored sweet peas


Looked like there were lots of little apples on “my” tree.


Saw some Amanita mushrooms under the spruce trees,


but not tons of shiny, new, succulent specimens.


Saw also a couple individuals of another species,

which looked healthy enough.

At Meadowbrook Park, was delighted to welcome the rising sun.


Stopped at several spots to take it in, over McCullough Creek at the rabbit-statue bridge


and down the path a little way


Wondered whether there still would be blue flag irises, and, oh, there were!

Framed by prairie dock leaves,


and close-up.


The park was empty, the morning fresh, already mint-fragrant!
the Penstemon


and the spiderwort


therapeutically abundant!


Stopped at the Freyfogle overlook


to check on the lead plant, which were in bud, but, alas, bearing a collection of robust shiny reddish-brown beetles on their foliage.


Fervently hoped the beetles were just resting there or at least readily sated with little damage to the plant’s integrity.

Rode on through gloriously abundant white Penstemon and blue spiderwort. The landscape was deeply soul-filling. Was happy to be smack in the middle of another stage of the year that’s anticipated before it comes and missed when it’s finished.

Near the Vine Street entrance to the park got a shot of the abundant serviceberries


Then rode west on Windsor to check the lead plant at the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration, which more than ever looked in need of stewardship,


so overgrown with invasive exotics. But the lead plants looked well enough.


Did not want to walk through the overgrowth to check for beetles on these.

Rode south on First Street, which felt mostly uphill! My hip muscles were starting to tire though knees and shoulders were happy enough. At 900 S, turned back.



On the way back stopped at the roadside prairie garden, which featured spiderwort, lace-edged (not an official name, just a description) cup plant,


butterfly weed


and a small, less showy milkweed.


Spied a great blue heron while crossing over a creek on First Street. Parked the bike and carefully walked back to the bridge, Just in time to see the heron take off.


They sure are wary.

Got a shot of a dickcissel (had been hearing lots of these “mini-meadowlarks”) on a fence post.


The way home was mostly downhill, which I gratefully enjoyed!


Sunday 11 October 2015. The Prairie Flowers Fade

It was 46, or so, degrees F at 7 this morning as the sun came up in a partly cloudy sky. Destination on Rhododendron was very specifically to see whether there were any bottle gentians in the middle of the Meadowbrook Park prairie, near the “soft” path. 

But did stop for white iris, 

 apples,  with a spider strung in front of “my” tree,

and of course mushrooms (Amanita muscaria

 which still included young  and large individuals. 


But also, quite a few were getting on in maturity  
and succumbing to disturbance. 

 But at this point still there were plenty of them. 

Then proceeded to Meadowbrook directly to the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie,  

walking Rhododendron across the little wooden bridge over McCullough Creek and stopping to see how still the water was now.  

 No babbling today. 

Moved along at a brisk pace on the path, glad that the grass leaning into the middle was not so dense as it was the last time I tried to look for bottle gentians here.  Seemed like the spent flower-tops of the grasses were weathering down. 

 And the goldenrod flowers were moving from yellow toward ochre.  Was surprised  that the  fragrance of mint was so strong here. Have seen mountain mint around here before, but didn’t realize the scent persists long after the flowers are done  blooming.  

Was surprised that the prairie was so brown and seemingly pretty much done with the bloom for the year. 


It made me sad, less that it had reached this stage, more that I had missed a lot of the process (and isn’t it just about always about the process?).  Yet here I was, with wonders of a more subtle kind in front of me: the task was to refocus. 

Looked carefully for bottle gentians but found none, unless this one counts.  

  Thought maybe it was just cream gentian blooms that got a little purple as they aged.  The leaves seemed narrow like  bottle gentians, but couldn’t be sure.  Looked like I was way late for it; tells me I need to check earlier next year.  

Did also find a couple of straggling  but definitive cream gentian flowers.  

 Noticed so many stalks of gentian leaves with their tips cropped off. Deer food, presumably. Maybe the deer had gotten to all the bottle gentian flowers here. 

Had only a small window of time and now had to get back, a bit sad and regretful, but ever glad and grateful to have been here at all. Makes me think, in life it would be so nice to have the equivalent of scarlet cardinal flowers, golden compass plant blooms, and azure-blue bottle gentians around all year, when what happens is that they may visit only briefly. Still, their very existence, ever, like sweet times, even moments, of harmony and balance is cause for gratitude.

Wednesday 7 October 2015. The Latest from Mushroom Land

It was 50 degrees F and thinly cloudy this morning at 7:30 when I squeezed in a little ride on Discovery II to check on the amazing Amanita muscaria mushrooms. 

And on the way looked at the fall-blooming white iris  

and the apples from “my” tree. 

The mushrooms, which I wasn’t sure had not been ravaged by some unfriendly or even indifferent source, were indeed there!  Was encouraged as soon as I got close to see large, fresh individuals at the very north end of the stand of spruces.  

   The Amanitas were in fact numerous and exhibiting many sizes and states of development. It was not a solid, uniform fruiting of fresh fungus, but it was extensive and amazing!

For example, there were clusters of small and medium-sized mushrooms whose caps had split into flower-like shapes before they could form the inverted-umbrella that larger specimens often make. 


Top view. 

 And worm’s eye. 

Speaking of larger specimens, saw what must be the largest Amanita I’ve ever seen!  So far. Laid a quarter on top of it for scale. 


Noticed that the ground-cover plants under the spruces did not seem to inhibit the mushrooms at all, contrary to what I’d supposed a few weeks ago, when there were so many fewer of them. 

Loved seeing the bunches of round spiky  ones crowded together. 


And liked this large, rather mature one, the inverted top of which made the shape of a bowl. 

Seemed like the ones growing in the ground cover had the deepest orange color. 

Honestly could have stayed a very long time!

But practiced letting go and kept the rich display in my mind and heart to get me over the day’s inevitable humps.  

Thursday 24 September 2015. Apples, Mushrooms, Flowers (Especially Gentians)

It was 55 degrees F at 6:35 this morning as I headed out on Rhododendron for Meadowbrook Park, hoping to see bottle gentians (Gentiana andrewsii), which seem to be blooming early this year. 

Stopped for the white iris,   

the cabbage roses,  

  and the apples on the way.  
Also stopped to check for mushrooms, especially after last week’s deluge. 

Amanita muscaria were not immediately evident; the last episode of fruiting apparently finished. But did see mushrooms of another species  

 which looked distinctive enough to be able to figure out their identity, but for now shall remain nameless.

Closer inspection also revealed the beginning of a new round of mushrooming  Amanita.  

 They are a force with which to be  reckoned!

And speaking of such forces, my trip this morning was even more than usual a fervent prayer for balance, for clarity, for presence in each beautiful moment, for  serenity to accept what I can’t change,  courage to change what I can, and wisdom to know the difference….

 Rode on and passed through the construction zone to Meadowbrook Park.   

Below the rabbit-statue bridge McCullough and Davis creeks were full and still with dead leaves floating on the surface. 


The view of the horizon was clearer than it had been earlier this season: foliage is being shed. 

There was a lot of goldenrod still blooming but it definitely was past its peak. New England asters appeared in surprise clumps among them, lovely and complementary purple.

  Then made my way to the Marker statue in search of bottle gentians.  Wondered whether it would be a good year for them; my last search turned up only a few plants. 

But here they were!   Was even able to get a few “bouquet” shots especially with goldenrod and Bidens


The bottle gentians actually were quite abundant

and from the number of small buds still  quite early in their bloom.


Was happy to see so many plants. 

Noticed the old soapwort gentian, the flowers of which were mostly brown but still quite shapely and handsome.


Kept finding more bottle gentian plants but didn’t try to find every last one.


Was delighted to find a reasonably fresh cream gentian and fit it into the same frame with a blue one. 


Started back then saw a group of deer,  young ones and presumably their mom, in a recently cleared area surrounded by goldenrod. 

I paused and we exchanged recognition. Nice to commune, even in this limited way, with other species. 

Like so many times before, felt quite refreshed by this brief contact with the outside world au vélo.  The apples, the mushrooms, the flowers…. They were like the offerings of flowers that loved ones bring when one feels unwell, symbols of love and comfort. 

Thank you, God. Thank you, beautiful world!

Thursday 17 September 2015. Through Goldenrod to Yankee Ridge

It was 57 degrees F this morning at 6:22 as I headed south on Rhododendron.  Dreamed of a long ride but was ready to settle for a shorter one. It’s goldenrod season, and knew it would greet me no matter the length of the ride. 

First did stop at “my” apple tree, near which the fall bloom of the cabbage roses was beginning.  

and of the white iris was continuing.  

There were lots of apples both hanging from the tree 

and on the ground.   

Then a little way down stopped to check on the Amanita muscaria mushrooms, which were fewer and less “fresh” than at last visit.    

Maybe they were at last finishing their “bloom.”

Liked the view of the underside of this one. 


Wondered though whether this was just the end of their time for this go or whether  this end was was being hastened by some human agency. 

Looked like some that had not fully matured had been pulled out. 


Rode to Meadowbrook Park but then turned east on Windsor Road and only rode along the  northern edge. 

Was glad to see Gaura among the goldenrod. 

Pasture thistle (Ciserium discolor) made a nice occasional purple-pink accent against the goldenrod yellow.   

Above the goldenrod, against the sunrise southern sky, rose the already decomposing remnants of rosinweed 

Along the path into the park was a border of yellow. 


Could not resist catching the message chalked on the path, even though it seemed to discourage leisurely observation.  

Then kept going east on Windsor Road to Philo and then south. The road was lined for a long stretch with goldenrod. 

Loved the golden border, not minding that it’s weedy and invasive. 

 Overhead noticed a great blue heron flying, which appears below  

as a dot in the sunrise clouds between the lowest and the second-lowest utility line. They seem to be so much more common than you’d imagine in central Illinois. Just have to know where to look. 

Liked the spray of goldenrod growing in this drain or whatever it was in the middle of the rip-rap. 

Rode farther south on Philo Road to Old Church Road and because of limited time was going to turn back, but was so close to the summit of Yankee Ridge, and the morning sun was coming up over it, so just turned left and rode on through the familiar remarkable quiet and was rewarded with another lovely view.   

And then headed back, gladdened by this starkly beautiful spot and all the intervening September goldenrod yellow.  

Thursday 3 September 2015. Catching up with Late Summer Meadowbrook 

This morning at about 6:30 it was 68 (or maybe 70) degrees F and mostly clear, though with patches of thin fog in some open areas. Noticed that the bright waning moon was at just about half and pretty close to overhead. 

Wanted so much to take a long ride but also wanted so much to see what the late summer was bringing to Meadowbrook Park. 

So headed there on Rhododendron, but  first stopped to catch the fall iris  

 (is there really a variety that’s supposed to bloom now or is this one odd?) and then “my” apple tree  

 laden with and dropping fruit but not looking super healthy. As with all living things, its future is not guaranteed. 

Then almost passed by the spruce grove where mushrooms have been.  Did not expect to see any in particular but just because it was easy to do stopped to check for them. And they happened to be coming up in abundance.  

 Was amazed by the sheer number of fruiting Amanita muscaria bodies (i.e., mushrooms) that have manifested themselves in this area since last fall.  

  Restrained the urge to get endless photos  but of course indulged a little.  

Noticed that toward the south end there was more of a ground-cover vine under the spruces than last year and that there were fewer mushrooms (that I could see!) in this area than where there was bare ground or “mulch.” Thought maybe the drought of a couple years ago caused a die-back of the ground cover, which later opened more space for the mushrooms.  Hard to resist  looking for an explanation. 

At Windsor Road construction on Race Street continued, but walked Rhododendron across the construction zone to get to the  Meadowbrook path. Felt a bit like I was trespassing.  Really, will go another way next time.  Was amazed to see a pink cement mixer at work.  


The phrase “now I’ve seen it all” came into my head, though of course I haven’t. 

Proceeded on to the rabbit-statue bridge, where the sun was coming up and an isolated layer of fog rested on the ground in the open area on the other side. 

Stood on the bridge and looked down at McCullough and Davis creeks and saw lots of giant ragweed but only a slight hint of red cardinal flower.    


Thought about going in through the overgrowth to get close to the last of this year’s Meadowbrook cardinal flower bloom, but between not wanting to disturb the site and not wanting at the moment to get scratched, bitten, and covered with clinging seed pods, decided to be satisfied with what I’d already seen, which was plenty awesome. 

Around the corner and down the path a little way got a shot of the sunrise reflecting on the layer of fog on the ground, goldenrod in the foreground. 


Was amazed at how quickly the fog vanished as I passed near it, feeling as I went the layers of cool moist air and warm moist air that hadn’t yet mixed.   

Continued on  toward the “Marker” statue to see how the bottle gentians were doing.

Near the statue, noticed a lot of big bluestem in bloom, the anther part of the flower dangling along each “branch” of the inflorescence in neat, trembling rows. (“Den alles fleisch es ist wie grass…” The setting by Brahms.  It’s like a trigger.)


Without too much searching found the  bottle gentians, and which were pristine and gorgeous, and full of buds of all sizes as well as mature blooms. 


Looked for but did not find other plants of its kind, which seemed odd given that during every one of the past five years there had been a lot of them at that site. 

Then realized this probably was not the same species of gentian I’d assumed it was; perhaps it was Gentiana saponaria  (soapwort gentian) rather than G. andrewsii, which would explain its paler color and earlier than anticipated bloom. 

Saw a spike of flowers I didn’t recognize.

So looked it up later and decided it was swamp lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata), which apparently is parasitic on the roots of other plants. 

Behind me heard a deer snorting. Or maybe coughing.   Ordinarily they are ghostly quiet; wondered whether there was any occasion beside the rut (a curious, counterintuitive expression) for which it would make that kind of noise. Maybe it was sick. 

Stopped at the Freyfogel Overlook to photograph some cream gentians

which were abundant but beyond their peak bloom. Still quite regal, I think. 

The grasses were rising all through the prairie, which gave a distinctly vertical element to the landscape.  Also just now the goldenrod were budding, showing yellow-green.  

And tall Coreopsis were common, though not all plants were especially tall. 

It was a quick visit but quite enough to view the resplendent offerings of this late summer morning.  

Tuesday 25 August 2015. South to the End of Race Street, with a Meadowbrook Stop

At 6:15 this morning it was 52 degrees F and the sky clear. 

Took Discovery II today because, though a road bike allows the best position for getting power from the legs as well as for an aerodynamic shape, I missed viewing the scenery from a more upright position. 

Again wanted both to link in to the maturing summer at Meadowbrook Park as well as just ride for some miles  through the corn and beans, today south on Race Street. 

But first stopped for a shot of “my” apple tree with its smallish reddening fruit.  

 When you observe a living thing many times through the different seasons, especially over repeated years, it becomes like a friend. 

Then rode on, wondering what might be happening at the little prairie on Florida and Orchard, or at the Japan House Garden.  It’s a full time of year for native flowers in east-central Illinois, but it makes more sense to enjoy what I can fit in than to worry about what I’m missing.  🙂

At Windsor Road, Race Street was closed, as anticipated,

 but figured there would be a way for a bike to get in to Meadowbrook Park.  There kind of was, though it didn’t appear very official. Just proceeded on toward the rabbit-statue bridge, took a photo of McCullough Creek in the sunrise, with a spiderweb to the left and what appeared to be a spider to the right.  

(Another barely detectable image, but it is at least an indication, like the fox last time, of something very cool. 

The sun over the creek was lovely, too.  

Didn’t see the cardinal flowers right away, but walked down into the stream-side vegetation (which left my shorts and shoes full of little clinging seed-pods), stopping on the way to photograph a wingstem plant   

 and then, there they were, cardinal flowers.


The topmost buds were large and the flowers were coming to the late part of their bloom.  But noticed several plants scattered around the site,  

 most on the bank close to me,  

  so didn’t have to cross Davis creek.   

Almost got away to continue the trip but was pulled back by another, larger spike of red flowers.  

Yes, could easily have spent a long time there!

But moved on to see whether the very first signs of bottle gentians (near the “Marker” statue) might be evident. On the way, saw an abundance of Gaura flowers,  


delicate pink and white, quite a contrast with the fiery cardinal flowers! They were unmistakably more abundant this year than last. 

Saw many blooming cream gentians but didn’t stop for photos. There will be other opportunities. 

Near the Marker statue the grasses were getting taller. Did not really expect to see bottle gentians yet but looked where I’d seen them before. Mostly the search was negative.  Then, saw a couple of tight but plainly bluish buds–here they were!  

Looked forward to coming back to observe the bloom develop.  Ah, hard not to slip away from the present in anticipation of  the future…. 

 On the way back to Race Street these thistles against the Black-eyed Susans near the rabbit-statue bridge caught my eye. 


Another eye-catching image near the bridge was a fluffy, brown and white striped feather resting on a leaf, just above eye level. 

Turned back toward Race Street (took the official exit) and headed south. It was good to ride. The simpler the landscape got, the smoother my breathing became. It felt good to push the speed a little and breathe deeply. 

Couldn’t resist stopping just long enough to catch the mighty late-August corn with its ears beginning to bend back away from the stalks. 

Noticed that I was getting colder: feet, hands and ears, as I rode along, exertion and deep breathing notwithstanding. Walking through plants in the morning means getting wet feet.  Closed shoes probably would be good as fall approaches. 

Stopped (per the sign) where Race Street ran into country road 900 N. 


When there is more time will jog to the left or right and keep going. 

On the way back noticed these huge utility poles that hadn’t yet been strung with wires. 

Made me wonder how they accomplish that. Could be that they’re actually wireless, I guess, like the wifi I’m using to work on this post. Must return and see what they look like in a couple weeks. 

Enjoyed the continuous stretch on the way back. There is something comforting about the familiarity of the way back. There is something comforting about letting go of thinking for a while and just residing in the physical motion. 

Closer to home, observed that the U of I egg sales place on south Race Street was open for business–just then it happened to be within the three and a half hour window each week when it’s open. So stopped and bought a dozen. 

Aside from being cold, was very pleased with this morning’s ride grateful that it  included both great scenery and decent milage.