Saturday 29 July 2017. Height of the Summer Bloom

It was 61 beautiful degrees under clear skies a little after sunrise (6:15) this morning as I headed south on Race Street toward Meadowbrook Park.

I apologize here for having fallen behind in getting my notes of summer rides (that keep receding further into the past and my recollection of the details less certain!) shaped up to release on the blog. But still want to share these distinctive markers of the seasons, so here they are.

For a stretch of ten yards or so, several newly blooming cardinal flowers (a single plant would have been stunning!) graced the banks of dry McCullough and Davis creeks below the rabbit-statue bridge

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Also were contrasting purple-blue self-heal, aka “heal-all.” It must be good medicine of some kind.

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The cardinal flowers really were in their full glory.

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Farther down the path in the wet (iris, in spring) area Liatris were staring to manifest their blazing feathery stars.

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Noticed nearby a strangely curled stem, maybe a goldenrod.

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And farther on still, on the soft path to the middle of the prairie, was the splendor of the royal catchfly,

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accompanied by lots of rattlesnake master.

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There was Culver’s root, though past its peak bloom.

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Also past peak but still holding forth were purple coneflowers.

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At least three of the “Sylphium sisters” were in bloom there, S.integrifolium (rosinweed), with its simpler leaves and smaller flowers

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square-stemmed, cup-leafed S. perfoliatum (cup plant)

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And S. lacineata (compass plant), the little suns of its blooms stacked high over the prairie, as tall as the emerging big bluestem grass.

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and sometimes topped with a goldfinch

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It was the time of abundant, fresh bloom for yellow coneflower, ironweed,

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and of pink-purple Monarda.

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As I write, it’s been a while already since the prairie was in full bloom, but it’s nice to revisit that time as October draws life inward.

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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.

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 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

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and the fuchsia-colored sweet peas

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

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Saw some Amanita mushrooms under the spruce trees,

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but not tons of shiny, new, succulent specimens.

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Saw also a couple individuals of another species,

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which looked healthy enough.

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

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

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and down the path a little way

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

Framed by prairie dock leaves,

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and close-up.

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

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and the spiderwort

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therapeutically abundant!

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Stopped at the Freyfogle overlook

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

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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

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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,

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

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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.

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

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butterfly weed

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and a small, less showy milkweed.

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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.

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They sure are wary.

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

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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.

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

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And of course there were spiderwort

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and Penstemon.

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

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

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

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Saw dew-beaded spiderwebs.

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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

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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

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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.

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

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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.

Sunday 21 May 2017. Spiderwort and Penstemon at Meadowbrook and the Curtis and Prospect Sunken Pond

It was 54 degrees F at about 6:15 am under cloudy skies, which seemed certain to produce rain, though the weather ap said no, as I rolled Shadow out of the garage. Wanted to see the spiderwort at Meadowbrook and whether the Penstemon (beardtongue) were yet in bloom.

Contemplated this portion of time that I devote to biking and how it might be used for other things that need attention in my life. At the beginning of a ride sometimes recently, I’ve been feeling impatient and uncomfortable, especially if it’s rainy and cold, and I think ahead to sitting in the coffee shop writing or knitting. But decided the physical exercise alone is worth pushing through zones of reduced joy and so resolved to protect this ritual.

Rode on Race Street near the grove of spruces that shelter the Amanita mushrooms (when they appear) and planned to check for fruiting bodies (mushrooms), but stopped because there was a fox nearby. The fox ran off before I could aim my iPhone camera at it, but then it appeared again and I recorded a glimpse.

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Had yet another pleasant passage across Windsor Road and headed to the rabbit-statue bridge across McCullough Creek, but first stopped for the view of shadows under these precisely shaped haw trees.

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Davis and McCullough creeks were full and fast-moving.

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Over the bridge and around the corner, right away were spiderwort, so many more in bloom since last week.

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And the first Penstemon were showing, with lots of little buds for coming days.

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Was surprised and delighted to see the blue flag irises!

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It seemed to be a good year for them; in addition to the main large patch, iris flowers could be see in at least three directions a little way from it.
As a bonus, the area had been “managed” to allow a decent view without having to walk in water through willow shoots and other vegetation. Was really glad for that bit of close view and glad to have been able to content myself with a shot at this distance, though it was tempting to get closer to the “mother” patch.

Filled me with that joy I do this for, it even summoned the not eternally profound but entirely appropriate lyrics from the band Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park”, “Listen children, all is not lost, oh no!” Which I really can stand to hear lately.

Soon the clouds were starting to break up and make sky-sculptures.

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And the spiderwort! Something about spiderwort makes one (me, at least) want to take endless photographs of their simple, graceful blueness against the tender green of May foliage.

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I indulged a small portion of that urge.

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It was the same, perhaps on a smaller scale, with the Penstemon.

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Rode around and back through the small loop and back to Race and on to Curtis Road where the clouds were large and shapely and the sky felt huge!

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Rode to the sunken pond on Curtis and Prospect, which featured more spiderwort but also purple Baptisia
(indigo).

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On the way back were weedy but handsome Erygeron

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and attenuated but peaceful looking
clouds.

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The many gorgeous flowers, decent mileage, and lovely sky made for a very enjoyable trip!

Saturday 6 May 2017. Wet Meadowbrook, After the Shooting Star Bloom

It was 45 degrees F and mostly cloudy, not raining but with fresh puddles in the street

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at 6:30 am when I headed out in Shadow in the direction of Meadowbrook Park. It was a little past dawn, but the sky still spoke of the sunrise.

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Stopped on the way at the Amanita mushroom site, where there only were remnants of last year’s appearance. Getting back on my bike, puzzling in my mind about how one might make sure nursing home residents get their showers on schedule, my foot slipped on the pedal and the bike went down, taking me with it, something pinching my left middle finger hard. I think I saw the bike over my head for a bit(!?!). Was shaken and embarrassed but not seriously hurt, and very grateful it hadn’t happened in traffic!

Proceeded then, carefully, to Meadowbrook Park.

The “wonky Christmas tree” was full of pale green growth shoots,

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somewhat obscuring its resemblance to a four-limbed creature.

At the rabbit-statue bridge, the water in McCullough and Davis creeks ran high and fast.

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The park was quiet!

Puddles reflected the sky.

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The burr oak trees still had tiny leaves.

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The sky was sculptural and dramatic.

Walked in on the soft path, which was was quite wet and true to the name, to see whether the recent cool weather had prolonged the shooting star bloom enough to be able to still see any of it.

Alas, no, it was done. Only the slightest evidence of their presence remained.

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Could not help feeling sad for the brevity of their graceful presence.

It now was the time of the golden Alexanders

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which are nice enough but to me are humble place holders between the shooting stars and the more spectacular coming spiderwort and beardtongue. Not proud of my prejudice, but there it is.

The sky had some lovely cloud shapes

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Saw a group of 3-4 deer ahead of me and then one in the path that took a while to decide to move. I waited for it to do so, thinking it unwise to try to approach it head on.

Rode on and over the Windsor/Vine bridge, beneath which a mallard drake swam with speed and determination, as if it were late for an appointment.

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Glad at this point I wore mittens!

Then home.