Saturday 14 October 2017. Patience Rewarded with the Last Bottle Gentians

It was about 64 degrees F at about 7 am under clouds that were breaking up, occasionally letting the sun through.

My schedule lately has prevented me from biking much, alas, but today there was nothing to stop me from riding to Meadowbrook Park to catch the last of the bottle gentian bloom, if, in fact, there were any flowers left.

So headed off on Rhododendron, riding south on Race Street.

Stopped at the place where Amanita muscaria mushrooms had been abundant for the last three years, at least. But did not see a single one.

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And one of the spruce trees looked quite bad. It seems like yet another result of stress from recent droughts. This blog is documenting a little piece of a larger phenomenon. Alas.

At Meadowbrook, there was about to be a walk/run to raise money for breast cancer research and support; pink signs were posted about the trail.

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But did not run into any crowds.

Saw water again (at last, rain) in McCullough Creek below the rabbit-statue bridge.

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Then rode along the path toward the Marker statue and the bottle gentian site. Looked on the way among the willows where I saw some bottle gentians last year, but today there was no sign of them.

The prairie was still green underneath, and above the tree leaves had not turned color, but overall it was somber. Many goldenrod plants were snowy with seeds and their vehicles .

Saw a deer out where the Liatris had earlier bloomed.

Then at the Marker statue looked for the gentians. At first, there seemed to be nothing but dry grass and flowers gone to seed. And I felt sad; could they really have left no trace after two weeks?

I lingered and kept looking, even though it seemed unlikely that more looking would produce any gentians.

Then spotted a single worn bloom, and was grateful for that.

Keep looking, and in a while found a cluster of blooms, worn but still beautiful, as old gentian flowers are.

Then, for the sake of revisiting a spot where I’d seen gentians before, I checked it, and amazingly found one plant, then another.

Then went back to the first place I saw them and as if by magic, there were more, and fresher flowers.

It was comforting and uplifting to see them all. The end was coming but had not yet arrived.

Then walked Rhododendron onto the soft path (where bikes and dogs are prohibited but where I recently saw both a guy riding a wide-tired bike and a guy walking a handsome chocolate Labrador retriever. At low volume it might not actually be a problem. I walk my bike; maybe that doesn’t count, I don’t know.

Along the soft path were wintry manifestations of flowers: rosin weed,

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the curled leaves of which were like illuminated manuscript decorations,

stiff goldenrod, I think,

with clouds above, and Baptisia

with black pods but still plenty of green foliage.

Even found an outlying remaining cream gentian bloom.

Note the cropped stem.

Got a closeup of a dry, prickly compass plant stem.

Then crossed the little wooden bridge over McCullough Creek and headed back,

feeling a sense of impending conclusion but still nourished by the short- and the longer-lasting forms of the landscape.

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Saturday 19 August 2017. First Cream Gentians, Last Royal Catchfly

It was about 64 degrees F, the sky spread with a diaphanous but ragged sheet of cloud this morning at 6:03 as I guided the newly re-born Rhododendron (which has been riding “like butter,” thank you, Neutral Cycle!) toward Meadowbrook Park.

August has been dry and wondered whether any royal catchfly or cardinal flowers would remain. So my quest was to see what they looked like at this stage of summer.

At Meadowbrook walked Rhododendron toward the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie. To the east, the wooded area looked parched and damaged,

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reminding me of some recent events in my life and in the world at large. Is this the direction of everything? Is entropy winning already?

But walked on, over the little wooden bridge spanning a dry bed of McCullough Creek.

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As I walked in, there were wingstem,

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thistle,

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wild senna,

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ironweed,

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delicate big bluestem flowers,

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the last Baptisia flowers,

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Physostegia,

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compass plant,

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Gaura,

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tick trefoil,

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cup plant

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the ever-handsome false sunflower,

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rosinweed.

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And then, cream gentian.

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And then, lots of cream gentian!

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Just under the “vegetation line” they were in recent abundance, the clusters of pointed white flowers, pristine and vigorous. Wondered whether the recent lack of rain was especially favorable for them.

Wondered whether there were any royal catchfly left; did not see any from the path. But walked in a little where I knew they’d been and looked carefully and there they were, the last of the bright red stars.

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Saw a lovely cluster of wild quinine flowers lit by the rising sun

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The prairie was resplendent with the early sun slanting through the mist on this floral array! Thoughts of damage were banished.

Close to the end of the soft path, encountered a deer (maybe more than one; it’s getting hard to remember), a frequent, but because of their size always noteworthy, occurrence at Meadowbrook Park.

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At the end of the soft path where it joined the paved path near the little arch bridge over Davis Creek were blooming wild sage, in their striking shade of light blue.

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On the way to the rabbit-statue bridge saw cardinal flowers, advanced in their bloom, at the recently discovered easy-access location.

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Stopped on the rabbit-statue bridge and saw still several spikes of red!

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Did not go in; was glad at least I’d been close to the red flowers a little earlier.

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They were marvelous, even at a distance.

Then home.

Saturday 22 July 2017. Vervain and a Few Other Summer Blooms

It was 75 degrees F and cloudy this morning at 7:15 as I headed toward Meadowbrook Park on Rhododendron.

The cardinal flowers in front of my house were beginning to bloom, so wanted to check whether they were blooming at Meadowbrook.

Rolled toward, over and past the rabbit-statue bridge across McCullough Creek and around the corner just to the wet area where cardinal flowers have been (though not every year) in the past, parked the bike on its factory kickstand, and walked away from the path and into the willowy wet area. But saw no cardinal flowers.

Saw plenty of newly blooming spikes of vervain,

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and wild senna surrounded by mountain mint, with a bumblebee working the flowers.

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This year have seen wild senna in more places in Meadowbrook than I recall from previous years.

Swamp milkweed, with its two-toned, dark and light-pink blooms, was abundant.

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Liatris (blazing star) was beginning to add its purple plumes to the summer bouquet.

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Saw some especially fresh, robust spikes of American Germander (if that’s what it was) pinker than others I’ve seen (along High Cross Road).

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A late flower spike of Baptisia, with little pods developing in the lower positions, rose toward the dark sky.

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Clouds gathered over the path, which may be why I cut the ride short. [Some time has elapsed between when I was there and this report. Sorry!]

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Always-photogenic compass plant set off the cloudy sky.

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This has been a reasonably good bloom year for them.

On the way back peeked over the rabbit-statue bridge looking for cardinal flowers, but could not quite see any red.

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Tomorrow I would return and investigate further.

Sunday 2 July 2017. A Perfect Ride to Windsor Road to Homer Lake Road

This morning at 5:30 it was 65 degrees and clear, with a 2 mph breeze from the WSW, calm enough to head in pretty much any direction. So headed Rhododendron in toward Windsor Road (which I was pretty sure was free of loose dogs) with the goal of going a ways east.

Was glad to get a reasonably early start without sacrificing headstand or Pranayama, and pedaled smoothly through the perfectly comfortable (with the light cycling jacket) morning air to Windsor Road.

And there was Meadowbrook Park, which I hadn’t planned to visit, but thought, why not? and soon was taking a photo of the sun coming up over McCullough Creek at the rabbit-statue bridge.

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A mud bar separated Davis Creek from its connection with McCullough Creek.

The cup plants on the on the downstream side of the bridge stood vigorous and illuminated with the sunrise.

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A layer of mist rested on the prairie and spread out the light of the climbing sun.

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The air was scented with mint and bergamot.

Wondered if the willowy wet area harbored queen of the prairie but didn’t see any. Did spot a swamp milkweed, but didn’t stop for a photo so I wouldn’t miss the sun rising over the remaining mist.

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Might have gotten a really nice shot of the deer in the mist if I’d arrived at the site two minutes earlier.

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Oh well. Nice enough.

Did get a nice yellow coneflower-misty sunrise.

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Stopped at The Freyfogle overlook and saw fresh Culver’s root with mountain mint,

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spherical pink common milkweed blooms and already-red blackberries.

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Noticed how lovely were the lead plants,
which seemed to thrive despite a recent onslaught of insects.

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Then rode out of the park and straight east on Windsor. The air was calm, except for a “biker’s breeze”, and the grade seemed to go up for stretches (though mostly down), which promised a reasonable return ride.

Was filled with the joy of early morning out in the country in perfect weather.

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Did not expect quite this perfection and tried to let as much of it in as possible. Yes, yes, yes!

Rode past a ditch where I remembered seeing a family of raccoons.

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There were no raccoons today, but it’s always fun to peer down into a stream, a different world from the surrounding farm fields.

Above the creek banks, near the road, were abundant soapwort blooms,

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exotic weeds, but so softly pink and fresh and dewey.

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Even these plantain weeds looked like stately sculptures in this morning’s fine light.

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Farther on, saw a sign I thought was rather humorous

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The dangerous hill actually was hard to detect. Ah, my beloved central Illinois!

Then crossed a little tributary of the Salt Fork (of the Vermillion River)
where I think I always have seen wood ducks whenever I’ve been there, adults and ducklings, no less. Looked into the water, and there they were!

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There is something special about this place.

Then rode to where the road bent to the north

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A little way and then “T’d” into Homer Lake Road.

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Rode east a little way, crossed the Salt Fork, and stopped at the nicely landscaped marker of the historic site of Kelley’s Tavern, where it says Lincoln used to visit.

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The bloom seemed different from what I recall from last year. Lots more milkweed.

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Stopped for a view of the beautiful Salt Fork

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Then turned back and retraced my route. There were horses fenced on the southeast corner where Windsor Road met Homer Lake Road, and the tail of one caught the morning sun as swished and spread wide its long horse-hairs. Didn’t manage to get a photo, but the glittering image stayed with me as I returned home on this pleasant ride, pleasant to the end.

Sunday 25 June 2017. North on High Cross to Ford Harris, with a Glimpse of Weaver’s Early Summer Bloom

At 6:12 this morning it was 56 degrees under clear skies as I pointed Rhododendron to the east and north to check out High Cross Road.

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Did not expect a Meadowbrook-like flower display, but on the way, Weaver Park was just starting to offer a bouquet of prairie flowers:

False sunflower,

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Monarda,

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mountain mint,

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at least three of the Sylphium sisters (cup plant, rosin weed, and prairie dock; cup plant is shown here) and budding yellow coneflowers

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common milkweed

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butterfly milkweed,

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Baptisia,

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and an early-blooming aster.

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And this on a pretty casual inspection.

Then rode on Main Street, across University through the Beringer subdivision and north on High Cross Road.

The corn and soybean crops were well underway.

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Rode as far as High Cross and Ford Harris

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and turned back.

Noticed bone-like pieces (turned out to be wood) imbedded in the road.

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Saw a dead possum, presumably hit by a car, with its immature babies scattered around it. Alas. Almost showed a photo but decided against it. Photographs of violence have their importance, but they always feel disrespectful to the victims.

Stopped on the pleasant ride southward (it seems there is a bit more downward slope in that direction) to get a picture of chicory (exotic weeds) because their discs of pale violet-blue radiating petals seemed exceptionally lovely just then.

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On Main Street on the way back stopped at the place with the native plant garden, across from Weaver Park, where lead plants were blooming.

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And, as at Meadowbrook, troubled by Japanese beetles.

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Shortly afterward I was troubled by the next-door dog, who must have thought I was about to trespass on its territory. I used the high-pitched “Good doggie!” approach, its owner called it back when he saw what was happening, and no damage was done.

Except that I got out of there so fast I didn’t get my phone securely into my pocket. After crossing the street I heard a sound that reminded me of crushing an empty bottled-water bottle and unwisely rode on without investigating it. Only when I stoped for another photo did I realize that the phone was not there.

Alarmed at being without my life-support (sad, I know) phone, I retraced my path and desperately hoped it was near the site of the sound I’d ignored.

Fortunately it was! I retrieved it, and the day proceeded without any more such near-disasters.

Wednesday 21 June 2017. Sunrise on the Solstice at Meadowbrook

It was 64 degrees F at 5:15 this morning of the first day of summer and the longest day of the year!

Was thrilled (and amazed) to have gotten myself going early enough to be heading to Meadowbrook Park on Rhododendron ahead of the phone weather ap’s promised 5:23 sunrise.

Did as little as possible (alas, no Pranayama!) to get out to witness the Solstice sunrise at Meadowbrook.

Sped to the park and caught the sun at the rabbit-statue bridge.

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Over the bridge and around the corner looked to the north out into the prairie and saw a thin layer of mist on the ground, which enhanced the atmosphere of the sunrise.

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Tried not to tarry on the path but noted spiderwort, the occasional lingering Penstemon bloom, black-eyed Susans, false sunflowers, lots of purple coneflowers in early bloom, and emerging Baptisia, with its stately white spikes of blooms that play tag-team with the Penstemon’s white flower spikes.

Got another view of the sunrise over the little bridge across Davis Creek

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and a sunrise view of a handsome Baptisia spike.

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But the flowers in which I was most interested on this solstice ride were the lead plant at the Freyfogle overlook.

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Which, against the slings and arrows of insect attack,

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were well into their micro-gaudy deep blue-violet and orange bloom.

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On the bird house to the north of the overlook were perched unmoving tree swallows, and in front of them (not pictured, alas, you have to trust me), a bright yellow and back goldfinch,

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that amazing stimulator of human endorphins. (At least for some humans. If you’re reading this you probably are one–try focusing on a goldfinch for a moment next time you get a chance and see what happens.)

Felt like I stood firmly and with joyful awareness on the summit of the year. Hooray! Let the summer begin!

Saturday 17 June 2017. Lots of New Flowers at Meadowbrook but No Visible Queen of the Prairie

It was 72 degrees under progressively more cloudy skies at 6:05 this morning as I pointed Rhododendron down the driveway, toward the street and Meadowbrook Park.

First, looked at wild roses in my own back yard, which were attracting lots of pollinators.

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At Meadowbrook stopped at the arresting sensory garden

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where there were poppies, common milkweed, purple coneflowers, Delphinium, (a shameless mixture of natives and exotics, i.e., a garden) and more.

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As I walked toward the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie, noticed that already black-eyed Susans were starting to bloom.

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Crossed the wooden bridge over McCullough Creek

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and walked out, i.e., off the path, into the dew-covered prairie, looking where I’d see them before (but not last year, I don’t believe) for queen of the prairie flowers. Did not, however, see any.

It was pretty much worth the soaking shorts and shoes, though, because I did get decent views of other prairie flowers: common milkweed

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butterfly milkweed

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rattlesnake master

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purple coneflower,

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Baptisia

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false sunflower,

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wild petunia.

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Saw stalks of cup plant

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and compass plant

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elongating upward.

Spiderwort, though past its peak, continued to produce nearly perfect violet-blue triangular flowers.

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Got back on the paved path and rode past the wet area, the place of irises, where my eye was caught by an unusual (two, actually) bird. They turned out to be, unmistakably, two rose-breasted grosbeaks!

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Farther on by the Freyfogle overlook,
lead plant continued its bloom.

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Was sad not to see queen of the prairie, but its absence reminded me not to take it for granted and to appreciate the unique floral symphony that the prairie offers each year.