Sunday 23 July 2017. First Cardinal Flowers and Other Summer Blooms

77 degrees F under very cloudy skies at 6:15 this morning as I headed out to, where else? Meadowbrook Park to witness the summer bloom of the prairie.

At the rabbit-statue bridge over McCullough Creek could see a faint spot of red, not quite visible in this photo.

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But I could see it, so today made the trek through the “briars and the brambles” to the creekbed, and was rewarded! Was thrilled to see newly blooming cardinal flowers, on both sides of the creek.

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Got to view of the first flowers opening,

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the stalked bulbs of the buds peeling out into their graceful, majestic bird-shapes.

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Around the corner and down the path were more flowers, starting with purple and yellow coneflowers and Monarda.

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Then was taken by surprise by a deer close to this bench.

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Farther along was rosinweed,

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Tall Coreopsis,

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early goldenrod, the exact identity of which I haven’t been able to figure out,

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and wild quinine, the cauliflower-like white flowers of which were more widespread than I remember from previous years and mostly quite healthy-looking.

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Dramatic clouds billowed over the prairie.

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as I dismounted Rhododendron and walked into the prairie on the unpaved path.

Compass plant stalks with their version of sunflowers rose toward the clouds high above the other plants.

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A red-winged blackbird lighted at the top of one,

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then flew off.

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There was ironweed,

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the ever-photogenic false sunflower,

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and Culver’s root.

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And, lo, there was royal catchfly!

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Which was stunning close-up by itself as well as mid-distance, framed by rattlesnake master,

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or as the red splash in a prairie “bouquet.”

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It was the time of the two red prairie flowers, the zenith of the summer!

Noticed (cropped!) cream gentian foliage with the beginnings of buds but no blooms yet.

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On the way back to the paved path noticed white prairie clover

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and purple prairie clover.

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The progression along the inflorescence from pre-bud to bud to flower to spent bloom of both species looked like a flame moving from the bottom to the top.

The clouds continued to threaten rain, which came as I headed, entirely satisfied with the morning’s presentation, north on Race Street, toward home.

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Saturday 15 July 2017. Meadowbrook Summer Prairie Crowned by Royal Catchfly

This morning at 6:07 it was 59 degrees F under party cloudy skies, the air calm.

Just returned from several days in the Colorado mountains (yes, they were awesome!) and was eager to see what what the summer prairie bloom at Meadowbrook Park was doing.

Rode Rhododendron the road bike southward to Windsor Road and barely stopped before pushing the button and crossing. They seemed to have worked the bugs out of the system, hooray!

Then entered Meadowbrook at the Race Street entrance, passed by the Sensory Garden, and walked the bike toward the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie.

On the way, at the edge of the wooded area next to the pavilion were American bellflowers.

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McCullough Creek under the little wooden bridge was low and pooled. Was there some kind of dam upstream? The water level seemed to have gone down quickly.

Out in the prairie, looked for queen-of-the-prairie where I’d seen it a couple years ago but couldn’t see any this morning. Did not walk out into the dew-drenched vegetation to look more carefully.

But saw the early sunlight coming through the thin layer of mist that still lay over the prairie

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and through the condensation on the flowers and leaves of the prairie plants.

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Saw spiderwebs finely beaded with dewdrops.

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There was a gorgeous variety of prairie flowers blooming in synchrony, like a massive bouquet:

False sunflowers, Monarda,

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yellow coneflowers, Liatris,

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Culver’s root.

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Compass plant, with its erect, finger-like leaves,

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large, bursting-yellow radiating flower-discs

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stacked on its outrageously tall stalk,

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alone and in groups,

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was compellingly photogenic.

There were abundant rattlesnake master and mountain mint

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purple coneflower.

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Best of all, the royal catchfly were newly in bloom! They were stunning in bunches,

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close-up,

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and in combination with other flowers.

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On the way out got pretty close to a buck who seemed to have planned to walk right to where I was.

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Was not afraid he would charge me or something, but did have respect for his size, strength, and independence as “wild” creature. So I calmly stood where I was and tried to look at him in a way that conveyed: “No worries, dude, I’m not a threat,” and he veered off to the left.

Got a nice view of the sky over the prairie

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and headed back, stopping first for a view of McCullough Creek from the rabbit-statue bridge.

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Was glad to be there for the presentation!

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.

Sunday 18 June 2017. Dark Clouds but No Rain

It was 71 degrees F and cloudy with a 12-mph WSW wind at 6:25 pm as I took Rhododendron out toward south First Street.

Rode south on Race Street, reasonably comfortable though feeling the somberness of the clouds.

Did not stop before Windsor Road except to examine the bike for the source of a light banging sound, but could not make it happen when I got off and spun each wheel independently. It was annoying but didn’t seem to impair the bike’s performance so just rode on.

Stopped at the linden tree on the corner of Race and Windsor.

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Was not sure whether it had not yet fully bloomed or whether it was mostly done blooming, but it didn’t exude the perfume I remember from past years.

Headed into the westerly breeze on Windsor, noticing dark clouds ahead.

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Observed how the diminished light and color pressed on my mood. The expression “like a wet blanket” came to mind.
There was some current pain in it (everyone has his or her list!), a little fear that the clouds would deliver discomfort-inducing rain or even electrical danger, but also some broody comfort, a little space to allow that pain before going back to face the slings and arrows that caused it.

Nevertheless decided to limit the ride (oh waste of extra daylight and free time!) to checking the lead plant at the City of Champaign “Prairie Restoration.”

The lead plants were starting to bloom,

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lax stewardship notwithstanding.

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And didn’t notice any plague of beetles, either. There is hope for that place, I think.

Thought again that I was missing a chance to get in good ride, but really felt averse to being far from home in a storm, and was not sure that the banging, knocking sound was not the sign of some kind of trouble with the bike.

Then riding north on First Street happened to look look at my right Keen sandal, which had a plastic knob at the end of loop of the elastic lacing, and saw that it was banging on the bike frame. Mystery solved!

So on the way back stopped at Japan House garden

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Where amazing, durable hellebores contributed to the design of the hosta planting.

Also stopped at the prairie planting on Florida and Orchard, where the summer bloom was beginning to build.

There were post-peak spiderwort

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and Penstemon

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Black-eyed Susan,

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common milkweed, in a big way(!)

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false sunflower, sporting either milkweed or box elder bugs,

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and lovely blue vervain.

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Made it home without getting wet, satisfied enough with the ride.

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.

Sunday 11 September 2016. A Little Stop at Meadowbrook, Another Little Ride Out East Curtis Road

This morning at 6:30 (the official time for sunrise) it was 54 degrees F, with clear skies and hardly a breeze.

Decided last night (did not want to waste energy fretting about it in the morning) to check the inner, unpaved path at Meadowbrook Park for bottle gentians and to ride a ways east on that pleasant stretch of Curtis Road.

First, however, had to try again to lure my friend’s cat, for whom I was caring in her absence and whom I had not seen for two days, back to his home.

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To my great relief, he was sitting at the top of the front steps when I arrived and I let him in, and so was able to continue my ride with a light heart.

Approached Meadowbrook Park at the Vine Street entrance and was surprised that the parking lot was rather well-occupied for this time of day.

As soon as I turned into the park was greeted by the beginning of a vast goldenrod bloom.

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And not far down the path were puffy purple-pink spheres of pasture thistle flowers,

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stiff goldenrod (another humorous official name),

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delicate (my description) Gaura

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and false sunflowers, the blooms of which were photogenic when they appeared in late spring and that still are at the end of summer.

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Made it to the Freyfogel overlook and there found white wild indigo pods,

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delicate dangling flower parts of big bluestem grass

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and cream gentians

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Time advanced, and so thought better of exploring the soft path to the middle of the prairie in favor of a bit of mileage. So turned back, stopping for a handsome goldenrod display (with thistle accents)

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close to the turn (to the east) onto the sidewalk next to Windsor Road. Then rode south on Philo Road and east again on pleasant, open, and I do think mostly downhill to the east, Curtis Road.

Much of the bordering abundant corn was very mature, crispy and golden against the blue sky

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Friday’s rains still filled a number of low places along the road, even gushing from the fields,

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forming sloughs

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and ponds.

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Rode as far as Curtis and Cottonwood roads

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and retuned west on Curtis, which did feel uphill this time. But had a nice view of the yellowing soybean leaves under the blue sky.

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Rode all the way on Curtis to Race and then north toward home. Along the outside of the Yankee Ridge subdivision saw some lovely wingstem,

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a very slow-moving bee resting on one of the blooms.

Closer to home, stopped at the U of I gateway and fountain

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which, this morning, was a perfect spot to do a little writing on the blog.

Thursday 25 August 2016. Gentian Debut, Royal Catchfly Farewell

This morning at 7:37 it was 70 very comfortable degrees F under a blue sky.

Headed south on Race Street to Meadowbrook Park on Rhododendron, feeling ever so slightly impatient and thinking about what I wanted to and had to after the ride (ha ha!) i.e., not yet awake in the present.

Felt the usual grump about the stoplight at Windsor (which is proving to be a surprisingly challenging obstacle to inner peace! My response to it, that is.) and went directly to the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie, walking Rhododendron, with a stop at the little wooden bridge over McCullough Creek

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The recent rains filled it higher than it typically is this time of year.

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Farther along into the prairie, saw lots of thistles.

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which somehow don’t usually attract my attention unless they hold bees or butterflies, but the abundance of these was striking.

Planned for today’s visit to be focused and brief: gentians, the foliage of which has been visible for a while but not the flowers, royal catchfly, cardinal flower. That proved difficult, however, as other images beckoned: maturing pods of white wild indigo,

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the first stiff goldenrod, accented by ironweed,

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a common milkweed stalk in pod,

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leaning out into the path, prairie dock,

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and delicate pale-pink Gaura.

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Then, there they were, the first cream gentian flowers, which certainly were not there last week,

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and immediately, once I could shift my focus just below the surface of the sea of prairie plants, they seemed to be everywhere. Always find it amazing how well these large, abundant flowers can hide until the first one is recognized.

Noticed that many blooms surrounded stalks that had been severed, presumably by hungry deer

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It was a testament to their vigor.

Noticed also that many blooms were open.

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Here, at least, pollinators were present and seemed to be accomplishing their job.

Looked for royal catchfly where I’d seen them a couple weeks ago and expected to see a few last red flower-stars but did not. Was surprisingly sad about it. Knew they would not be there forever but wished for more of a transition. Made me think of the common human desire to be able to say goodbye. Interesting how it doesn’t change the outcome of a situation, but somehow one feels slightly less “violated” when allowed a conscious acknowledgement before the loss happens.

And then, farther down the path than I expected, against all hope, there they were!

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It was a reprieve, a space to fill with a little more gratitude!

Then it was time to check the area near the Marker statue for evidence of bottle gentians. On the way were sunlit purple coneflowers,

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compass plant blooms,

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“bouquets” of tall coreopsis (or perhaps tickseed) and turning blackberry foliage.

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Then, near the Marker statue was foliage (which didn’t look especially healthy)

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but no blooms of bottle gentian. Their season, however, still is early.

Did see some nice bush clover nearby.

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Moving along the path on the way to the first cardinal flower site saw a fall sunflower, maybe a Jerusalem artichoke.

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There was goldenrod that was not the common species–need to look it up.

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Also noticed the broken branch of a tree

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whose brown, clinging leaves suggested that the trauma had happened earlier this year.

And then on to the upland cardinal flowers!

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Saw even more blooming plants than last time, which I noticed through the aging spikes of blue vervain.

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Walked heedless of my soaking feet through the wet ground to get close to them,

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And they were accented beautifully by the yellow tickseed, which were just starting to bloom.

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So glad for these fabulous flowers that wait until the prairie’s season of decline to make their bold display. Love the metaphor of it.