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!


Saturday 27 May 2017. Out Yankee Ridge Road via Lush Meadowbrook

It was 64 degrees F at 6:20 under cloudy skies this morning as I got Rhododendron the road bike out for a long-awaited spin!
The nice people at Neutral Cycle put the pedal crank back into is working position, replaced the cables and brake pads, and reduced the number of speeds to five (really, who needs more than that, at least in central Illinois?) by removing the rusted-out front derailleur.

Was amazed by Rhododendron’s speed and smoothness and didn’t stop until Windsor Road, where I did not wait long to cross.

Made the customary stop at the rabbit-statue bridge.


Then sought blue flag irises, which I found, more abundant and widespread than I ever remember seeing them.



And of course there were spiderwort


and Penstemon.


Pasture rose provided a pink counterpoint to the greens, white and blue.


At the Freyfogle overlook was lead plant, with its festive-looking foliage.


The clouds broke up enough to reveal some blue sky and cloud-shapes over the land.


Saw dew-beaded spiderwebs.


The flowers and foliage at Meadowbrook this morning were spectacular and particularly uplifting, at least to this observer!

Then rode along Windsor road on the “sidewalk,” (which I see more as a multi-use path) to Philo Road and east on Old Church, then south on Yankee Ridge Road.

Here is Yankee Ridge at Old Church Road, viewed from the west


as ever, a place of quiet. I think of it as a bit of sacred silence, accompanied by its stark and subtly beautiful view.

Wanted to go on


but time limitations prompted me to turn back at the road that is paved to the east but is wet and unpaved to the west.


Returning home rode into a north wind (which explains the ease of the trip out) and just wanted to get back!


The fog blew toward me and I was sure it would rain even though the phone Ap assured me it wouldn’t. There was nothing to do (as is so common in so many aspects of life!) but hunker down and press on.

After some discomfort just settled into it as if I were lost, but not in a bad way, just absorbed in the present. And made it back with some satisfaction.

Friday 3 June 2016. A Good Look at the Old Iris Patch

It was 59 degrees F at 5:20 this (yet another!) beautiful morning.

Rode Discovery II to Meadowbrook Park, today via Vine Street.

The early morning sky was decorated with pink clouds. Was happy to have been there for it!

Rode through the woods along McCullough Creek (the “small loop”) and saw lots of spiderwort and foxglove Penstemon.

Passed through the Hickman wildflower walk, which seemed less devastated by the current management regime since some new vegetation has appeared, but did not photograph it.

Rode to the rabbit-statue bridge to get the customary view of the sun coming up on McCullough Creek.

Then on to check out the iris, to which a path had been cut through the willow shoots.

Availed myself of it and, lo and behold, there was the old patch in bloom.

The color and simple, graceful lines of this flower make one want to take a lot of pictures of it,

Against the sky or close-up.

Farther down were more foxglove Penstemon with sunrise clouds behind them,

more spiderwort with the morning dew starting to evaporate.

Caught the first glimpse this year of pasture rose (Rosa carolina), tolerant of disturbed conditions but native and a beautiful contrast to all the beautiful blue and white of the spiderwort and Penstemon.

Then another view of spiderwort against the sky

and a spiderwort close-up

before checking the handsome-leafed lead plant

Stopped to take in the bright array of service berries (where did that name come from?) near the Vine street entrance to the park

before riding homeward.

Sunday 30 May 2016. Ten Miles Out West Windsor Road

This morning at 6:10 it was 63 degrees F under mostly cloudy but clearing skies.

Didn’t have much of a plan, because, frankly, I’m getting behind in my blog posts!

But it was a a holiday and the weather was beautiful so what else was there to do but head out on Rhododendron?

Tried to resolve not to stop for a lot of pics, but this time of year it’s not so easy….

Stopped for a shot of the bifurcated ash tree on the edge of Blair Park.

Will it survive? Odds are, not. Alas. Oh, ravaging emerald ash-borer! Change keeps happening.

Made my way generally to the south and wondered how the prairie planting on Florida was coming along, which was wonderfully.

First, false sunflower, Heliopsis helianthoides

Then, prairie cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta).

Of course there was white and pink-tinged foxglove Penstemon.

Was pleasantly surprised to see blue flag iris

img_6779, which looked like it had been blooming for a while.

Was a little surprised not to see spiderwort everywhere, but a little way west, there they were. Profuse and blue and gorgeous!


Rode on. Stopped at the City of Champaign Prairie Restoration to see how the lead plants were coming along

which was just fine, and also there were foxglove Penstemon around the sign. Saw more gorgeous, abundant spiderwort farther down but didn’t stop for it.

Managed to ride on almost all the way to Rising Road, to the where the sewage treatment plant (which was pretty “fragrant” today)emptied into Phinney Branch, where I got a photo

img_6805 with that peculiar red sculpture in the background.

Then kept on until Phinney Branch turned south and under Windsor Road. To the south of the bridge, a great blue heron waded in a riffle.

It didn’t seem concerned by stopping to observe it. Lucky for me.

Not far along crossed another bridge, this one over Kaskaskia Ditch (no herons) from which could be seen county road 600 E, or Barker Road,

img_6816 where Windsor Road (or county road 1300 N)
jogged north, and it was inviting to keep going. But noticed 10 miles recorded on the Strava phone ap and felt that was good, and turned back.

From Windsor back into town took Fox Drive

where below a bridge there were yellow flag iris in bloom.

Took St. Mary’s road back to Urbana and got a pic of a couple of surviving round barns.

The roof shingles looked pretty worn. Hoped they eventually would be replaced.

Then enjoyed speeding down to Lincoln Avenue and on home.

Thursday 26 May 2016. Weaver Pond

At 5:45 this morning it was 66 degrees F under thinly cloudy skies.

Absentmindedly took Discovery II (hybrid bike) rather than Rhododendron (road bike) so decided to go for a quick trip rather than a long ride and just check on the “buffalo-wallow” pond at Weaver Park.

Did not really see the sunrise. Funny how riding eastward (on Washington, anyway) is not a good way to see the sunrise. Lots of obstructions.

As I rode toward Weaver Park the clouds thickened and the sky became quite overcast.

Which drew my thoughts in and down, toward people around and close to me and their various struggles. Care as one might, it’s not always easy to respond helpfully. Sometimes trying to comfort another amounts to urging them to “lighten up” so they stop making one so uncomfortable. Then there is the valid but not enjoyable struggle of, say, a teen who needs a target for their understandable anger. Really, is it humanly possible to absorb that gracefully? What to do but put yourself out there and believe that your flawed presence will have some net positive effect? Abyasa, Vairagya.

Got to the end of the Prairie Gymnasium, at the newly renamed Preston Williams elementary school and approached (with the usual required effort) the “buffalo wallow” pond. In the water were lily pads of a species I don’t know (yes, need to look it up) and, on the other side of the pond, blue flag iris,

img_6612 even even less approachable than the ones at Meadowbrook.

On the banks were golden Alexanders, but saw no spiderwort, which surprised me.

Saw no ducks, though did hear one. Saw several geese on the dry bank of the pond. Those wild geese that make such good use of human habitat, that take over and drive out other species. Takes one to know one.

There were as well plenty of adaptable red-winged blackbirds about, playing the three introductory notes of the theme of the first Star Trek TV series.

Was very dismayed to see garbage in the water.

img_6617 Alas.

Thought with all the emergent plants and irregular shore line, there must be more critters that use this pond than I was seeing in this inspection.

Then did hear, toward the other end of the pond, a bullfrog, then more, then a whole Georgian chorus (minus the high voices) of them. They didn’t sing very long at one time. But the music was stirring .

And before shifting back to rest-of-the-day mode was attracted to some peonies on Washington Street that were past peak bloom but of an unusual color combination.


Wednesday 25 May 2016. The Beginning of the Flower Explosion

This morning, beautiful morning, at 5:30 it was 64 degrees F and mostly clear but with some long, light clouds.

Took Discovery II and headed to Meadowbrook Park because I knew it was time for some long-anticipated beloved flowers to be blooming. A few warm days had passed since I saw their first signs….

Did not get far before I wanted to stop. First the lupines,

then the yellow cabbage roses.


Then a little way down was a bed of garden iris that rarely drew my attention before but today was as dense and compelling as a painting by Van Gough or Monet

Even yesterday’s expired blooms contributed to the overall effect.

Continued south on Race street. The morning was was soft and fragrant. Felt light and at one with my surroundings.

At Meadowbrook stopped at the “wonky Christmas tree,” the humorously drooping branches of which were lush with new growth. It so looked like the Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street.


At the rabbit statue bridge over McCullough Creek got a nice sunrise shot in the customary place.

The water level is down from where it’s been, but it still is fairly high.

And down the path went to look for blue flag irises. On the way noticed the first blooming foxglove Penstemon among the willow shoots

Then saw among the willows in a little tree a crested, almost cardinal-sized bird that wasn’t a cardinal–it was too dark.

A waxwing of some kind?

Did not see iris flowers in the spot where I’d seen them before, but then saw them in a new place, not far away.

img_6530 Beautiful.

As happens commonly at this time of year, saw deer who ventured close to the paths, decorated with foregrounds and backgrounds of spiderwort, beardtongue, and blackberry blossoms.


And rode on, past more lovely spiderwort and Penstemon. Near the Freyfogel observation deck got a look at the attractive foliage of the lead plant, whose bloom draws nearer,

as well as the sky over the prairie.

As I progressed along the path, noticed how the spiderwort occurred in endless lovely arrangements, e.g.,

img_6562 with some sky above,

with foils of, e.g., compass plant leaves,

or very blue and close-up.
The Penstemon, snowy and majestic in their own right, only made them look more lovely.

The clouds,

which looked like they’d been pulled apart suddenly, were nice, too.

The abundance of this beginning of bloom, the color, texture, shape, etc, especially as the memory of the long, uniform winter still lingered, and my desire to capture it somehow made me think of the five Yamas, the first of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s tree of yoga, and the first to come to mind was the last of the five: Aparigraha, or “non-greed”. Trying to get better and better photos of the unfolding bloom starts to make me feel greedy, especially when it means going off the path to get an even better view of a yet more beautiful flower, to spend more time than I actually have in the pursuit. And then thought of Bramacharya, or propriety (“continence” is another word that’s been used) in sensual engagement. Flowers are the sexual parts of plants, after all, so appropriate for human courtship. At the same time, their beauty is every bit as appropriate as comfort in illness and grief. Next thought of Asteya, non-stealing. Could understand how someone might want to pick the spiderwort or Penstemon flowers and bring them home. Satya, or truthfulness: remembered people with whom I’ve been in this beautiful place and the limits of my truthfulness with them, and with myself. Even the first Yama, Ahimsa, or non-harming, seemed to have an application. Maybe my tramping off the path to get close to treasured flowers doesn’t cause a lot of harm, but it seems to be the human way to leave a path of harm (garbage, disease, etc.) in the wake of exploring new places.

Thought also, the season’s bloom is like a firework display in slow motion. It is and will be a glorious show!

Friday 13 May 2016. Lots of Friendly Deer but No Iris and No Shooting Star

This morning I made it out the door by 5:30 am, before the reported time of sunrise! It was a good start for witnessing the season of light! (Now to continue the “trend!”)

Did stop for lupines

And for the white irises that had bloomed the previous fall.


Approached Meadowbrook this morning from Vine Street and stopped at the Windsor/Vine bridge, which was full of foliage, especially of alders.


Rode on the path close to the creek. Near the Peg Richardson Hickman Wildflower Walk saw a small group of deer that did not seem bothered by my approach.

In fact, one came closer to me when I stopped.

It’s hard not to gently talk to them when they’re so “friendly”. But soon was on my way toward the rabbit-statue bridge to see what today’s manifestation of this part of McCullough Creek would be.

Farther on the path got a sunrise shot

and saw another group of curious deer.


A little way down, looked among the willow shoots to see whether there were any blue flag iris in bloom. Actually had prepared for the iris foray by wearing protective shoes, knowing that the ground between the path and the patch where they grew would be wet.

Walked on into the wet, soft ground to the iris place but saw no sign of flowers! It was disappointing, but at least got accurate data.

Then walked with the bike on the soft path into the middle of the prairie to see about the shooting stars.

On the way in saw what looked to me like popcorn scattered over the ground,

which on closer examination revealed to be blackberry blossoms.

At the shooting star site there were a few leaves visible but not a single flower or flower stalk. Shooting stars certainly aren’t the kind of plants to leave their seeds lingering about in view much after the flowers finish. Wondered if the deer had eaten them. Their season is so brief. (Also, it’s still pretty dark at at 6 am in April, the month when they start to bloom, so I have fewer opportunities to follow their progress.)

The deer were some consolation, but did feel a sobering (a very useful word that implies objectivity and detachment) sense of the inexorable transience of nature.