Sunday 17 December 2017. Almost to St. Joe on the KRT

It was 38 degrees F under cloudy skies at about 8:00 this morning as I headed toward the Kickapoo Rail to Trail intending to ride its entire length to St Joseph.

Even though the temperature was above freezing, I dressed carefully: down coat, fleece hood, and felted mittens. Cycling is an activity that adds heat to some areas of the body but distractingly subtracts it from others.

Rode out on East Main Street past the little grove of oaks across Main from the Dart plastic factory, a place where I regularly used to see a fox,

but haven’t the past several times I’ve been by.

Stopped at the Main Street edge of Weaver Park to get a glimpse of the winter version of horse nettle fruit and compass plant leaves,

Monarda seed heads,

and yellow coneflowers.

Then proceeded to where Main Street ran into University Avenue, the head of the KRT.

Headed east on that straight line and settled into the rhythm of pedaling.

In a shrubby stretch on the north side of the trail saw more cardinals than I’m used to seeing in one place, a “flock” of them, though they dispersed when I stopped to get a photograph.

Noticed a pile of old railroad ties on the south side of the trail,

evidence of the trail’s former (rails) life.

Passed Full’s Siding, with its towering, humming grain storage structures.

Felt enveloped by the landscape, close with the birds (saw juncos and woodpeckers in addition to the cardinals), the bare shrubs, the expanse of brown and black soil, the grey clouds.

Noticed nests in the bare trees and bushes, including this one topped with golden fluff

There was a strong smell, like sewage, which wasn’t exactly pleasant but which was of the outdoors and for that reason not completely unwelcome.

Light rain fell.

Rode as far as the Pioneer Seed facility just outside of St. Joseph.

The rain seemed to fall a bit more heavily now and didn’t want to have any more distance riding back in it than necessary.

On the way back saw a hidden “Christmas ” tree.

Noticed the seed head of a plant I didn’t quite recognize but that seemed like an unusual growth form, with a broad, flat stem.

Farther down saw that the once-green, erect spade-like leaves of prairie dock now were brown, bent down and curled, transformed with a different kind of beauty.

The rain had disappeared and felt like I could have reached St. Joe, but still was SO full with contentment to have been out on the KRT, “au vélo,” glad to have gotten the physical and especially the spiritual exercise.


Sunday 6 August 2017. New Cardinal Flowers and Homer Lake Road, One Month Later

It was 64 degrees F under thickly cloudy skies at about 6:15 this morning as the New and Improved Rhododendron (especially the new freewheel and chain!) and I headed to Meadowbrook Park.

Saw the wondrous cardinal flowers from the rabbit-statue bridge,


but did not go down to see them close-up.

Close to the banks, cup plants were in bloom.


Rode over the bridge, around the corner, and down the path to look for cardinal flowers in the wet willowy area where they had been in some (not all) years past, but saw none.

But then noticed two spikes of cardinal flowers on the other side of path,


close enough to view without walking in at all!


Then a little farther east, on the south side of the path, was a profusion of pink, purple, and blue-violet flowers: swamp milkweed (some aphid-bearing),




and blue vervain.


Farther down the path were tick trefoil,


which was not as abundant as I’ve seen in past years, victims of insect herbivory, it seems, Monarda, and a spike of American bellflower.


Later focused on the yellow flowers, Sylphium species: compass plants (S.laciniatum)


rosinweed (S.integrifolium),


and even the occasionally prairie dock (S. terebinthinaceum) bloom,


in addition to the cup plants (S. perfoliatum) farther
back: four tall, robust, sandpaper-leafed, yellow-flowered Sylphium “sisters!”

Also in yellow, a little more distantly related and more delicate, were tall Coreopsis.


Interspersed was bush clover,

with its handsome, delicate bluish foliage.

Hidden lower among other foliage saw the first buds of this year’s cream gentians


The list of common native flowers observed this morning still is incomplete; they are so many now! I will just mention: common milkweed with maturing pods, Baptisia with green pods, and remaining though past peak rattlesnake master, purple coneflowers, yellow coneflowers, false sunflowers, and Culver’s root.

Then headed away from Meadowbrook Park, east on Windsor Road.

Corn to the left of me, soybeans to the right, here I am, central Illinois!


Rode next to the creek, a little tributary of the Salt Fork that paralleled Windsor Road for a while.


As I did a month ago on this route, stopped to photograph the exotic but lovely pink soapwort blooms.


There was the sign to warn of the dangerous hill


but still couldn’t tell exactly where it was.


Central Illinois, alright.

Looked down at the crossing of another little tributary where I’d often seen wood ducks before,

but saw none this time.

Did see some nice swamp milkweed.


Rode as far as the junction with Homer Lake Road


and this time instead of doubling back headed left, toward east Washington Street. On the way passed a small clearing at the edge of a cornfield, seemingly devoted to burning things.


It’s been there since the first time I remember passing it in 2011 or so. It makes me think “little Gehenna.”

Back in town, on Washington Street, I pass the Brookins baseball field (it may be called something else), northward across which is the shaded area where my friends from the Champaign County Nursing Home and I have popcorn, brownies, and coffee on nice days.


Back home, there was a Cooper’s hawk in the dead ash tree behind our garage.


Made me wish my phone camera had a better zoom.

If I had to compare this time with my ride of a month ago, I’d say it was slightly less magical (that time has not been displaced!) but it had its own particular, considerable delights.

Especially remembered from October!

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


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


The cardinal flowers really were in their full glory.


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


Noticed nearby a strangely curled stem, maybe a goldenrod.


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


accompanied by lots of rattlesnake master.


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


Also past peak but still holding forth were purple coneflowers.


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


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


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


and sometimes topped with a goldfinch


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


and of pink-purple Monarda.


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.

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.


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.


Got to view of the first flowers opening,


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


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


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


Farther along was rosinweed,


Tall Coreopsis,


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


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


Dramatic clouds billowed over the prairie.

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.


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


then flew off.


There was ironweed,


the ever-photogenic false sunflower,


and Culver’s root.


And, lo, there was royal catchfly!


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


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


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.


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


and purple prairie clover.


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.


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.


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


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


Saw spiderwebs finely beaded with dewdrops.


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

False sunflowers, Monarda,


yellow coneflowers, Liatris,


Culver’s root.


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


large, bursting-yellow radiating flower-discs


stacked on its outrageously tall stalk,


alone and in groups,


was compellingly photogenic.

There were abundant rattlesnake master and mountain mint


purple coneflower.


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




and in combination with other flowers.


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


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


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


Was glad to be there for the presentation!

Tuesday 4 July 2017. Almost to Flatville

It was 68 degrees F and mostly sunny and calm at 6:45 this morning of American Independence Day as I filled up Rhododendron’s tires (it made a helpful difference!) and headed east on Washington Street into the dappled canopy.


Could not skip a stop at Weaver Park, even with having to traverse a stretch of trail-less grass, across which a couple of apparently well-fed ground hogs undulated toward the tree-lined street side of the park.


The edge of the purported buffalo-wallow pond was richly decorated with newly blooming prairie plants, like Monarda,


yellow coneflower, cup plants, an early aster,


and, most whimsically, the candelabra of Culver’s root,


all beautifully set in front of the water lily pads and cattails of the pond.

Then headed back on Washington to Route 130 (High Cross Road), where there is a lovely place to view the sun rising over the landscape


and on past Cottonwood Road to the “T” at 1800N.


A couple of cyclists behind me went right (perhaps to Homer Lake) and I turned left, to the north. The road was narrow but smooth and mostly without farm houses (that is, potential loose dogs) close to it.

The bridge over I-74 was simple and without much bordering vegetation.


Continued north, crossing the Saline Ditch,


and detecting some roll in the grade of the road.


Just before heading back stopped to look down into a creek


then turned back at the road just past Ford Harris Road.


Came back to Ford Harris and an debated just continuing to retrace my path, but craved a little novelty. At the same time, could not remember this stretch, so took a bold gamble about its safety and plunged westward on Ford Harris Road.

Close to High Cross Road was a cemetery on the side of a little (central Illinois) hill.


Got a distant shot of a dickcissel


the calls (which which sounds to me something like “Uru ahim!” (“awake, my brothers!”) from the Israeli folk, song “Hava Nagila”) [Note: the dickcissel recordings I found on YouTube were not exactly like the birds I heard, but maybe you get the idea. Head out on a country road some morning and see what you think.) from conspecifics of which had been accompanying me for much of this trip.

At Perkins Road was a nice prairie planting that included non-native but handsome mullein.


It was another satisfying 20 miles!

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.


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,




mountain mint,


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


common milkweed


butterfly milkweed,




and an early-blooming aster.


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.


Rode as far as High Cross and Ford Harris


and turned back.

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


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.


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.


And, as at Meadowbrook, troubled by Japanese beetles.


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.