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 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!

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 4 June 2017. West on Curtis Road to Kaskaskia Ditch

It was 73 perfect degrees with thin scattered clouds and just a hint of westerly breeze at 5:40 this morning as I headed Rhododendron southward toward Curtis Road.

Lovely as they were, did not stop for the yellow and pale pink cabbage roses nor the laden apple tree but did stop to check on the Amanita mushrooms. Wondered whether the increasing ground cover was inhibiting the appearance of fruiting bodies, but it seemed not.

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But overall it still did not look like a healthy population.

Turned west on Windsor Road without thinking then cut south toward Curtis on a gravel (“authorized vehicles only”–should have taken a clue) road and regretted it.

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It was a mile on semi-loose (could have been worse, but still) gravel that reminded me of riding on uneven ice. Had to concentrate, going slow and steady, balancing as if “flying”. Don’t want to do it again any time soon, however.

Headed west, enjoying the sky, along Curtis Road, to its intersection with Prospect Avenue and the sunken pond.

Around the pond were Penstemon,

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spiderwort,

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purple indigo,

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and the season’s first purple coneflowers.

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Did not see many waterfowl: one mallard duck and a few Canada geese.

Continued west on Curtis, and saw a great blue heron wading in the stream that cut under the road east of Mattis. Stopped and got the iPhone camera ready before carefully going back to get a photo before it took off. Those great bue herons sure are wary!

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Got a view of the decaying farm building across Curtis from the large and growing Carle Clinic on Curtis facility. It was a glimpse of the past and future of the area.

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Then farther west, just over the I-57 bridge, was a large structure under construction, which at first I thought was a new high school. But it turned out to be yet another Carle facility. I guess that means jobs for our community, or even improved medical care. But sometimes it seems like Carle is Everywhere. At the same time it seems like health care is becoming a luxury.

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Noticed that both the corn and soybeans were well along in their growth

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Rode as far as the crossing of Kaskaskia Ditch

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and then got a text from a friend inviting me to talk over morning beverage. So turned and headed back.

The ride was a satisfying 20 miles!

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.

Tuesday 2 August 2016. Lingering with the Tall Coreopsis and Wandering Eastward on Curtis Road

Though I glimpsed the pink sky from inside the house early this morning, a list of things (like headstand, which I never used to leave the house without doing and am returning to that practice) kept me from bringing out Rhododendron, the road bike, until 7:45. It was 73 degrees F and humid at that time, with thinly spread clouds that allowed plenty of light through but kept the sun from blazing too brutally.

The plan for this morning was to ride by the north edge of Meadowbrook Park, the part that I’ve tried (with mixed results) to hurry past toward the end of many a ride, and then eastward on Curtis Road.

After a grumpy passage through the “micromanaging” stoplight system on Windsor and Race streets rode (downhill!) east on the sidewalk along Windsor Road and stopped for lots of photos.

I’ve seen better compositions of August prairie flowers at this edge of the park, but there still was beauty aplenty, if one looked.

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White wild indigo lifted their plump green and darkening pods.

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Blooming purple coneflowers still were abundant, and dense, in places.

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The star of today’s display, it seemed, was the tall Coreopsis.

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many individuals quite worthy of their name.

Here they make a nice background for a thistle

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It certainly was good to be out among the summer-worn bloom: vigorous, colorful, diverse, abundant. But the word “fresh” was not the first to come to mind. Reminded me a little of the awesome week-long yoga intensive I did last week, many (but not all!) of the participants of which were at least as old as I am and/or bearing various manifestations of life’s progression, even as we drank in the sunlight of BKS Iyengar’s teaching through the channel of dear Lois.

Also thought about the current installment of difficulty and pain that happens to be passing through a lot of people in my life (including, I suppose, myself) these days. It’s real and not to be dismissed, especially that of others. But still it has gaps, where, e.g., the summer prairie’s healing glow can shine through. I’m not entirely sure (and others insist to me) that allowing this joy isn’t a form of painting a smiley face over the pain. It just seems like a good alternative to despair.

Saw rosinweed flowers in interesting positions.

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Was not expecting to spend the morning with wet feet, but barely stepped into the mowed edge of the prairie and my Keen sandals and feet were thoroughly soaked. Amazing how much liquid water can be produced by condensation. Oh well. The dew is a fact of August morning prairie life.

Did not intend to turn into the big loop of the “Art and Billie Spomer” prairie,
but there it was,

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featuring compass plants

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whose stacks of large yellow flowers practically throw themselves at your phone camera, white wild indigo pods, and rattlesnake master that look like pompon girls.

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and the always photogenic false sunflowers

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Only went as far as the Freyfogel observation deck then turned back and headed out Windsor to Philo (passing lots of sweet little goldfinches atop the high chain-link fence) and then east on Curtis Road.

Also saw but didn’t try to photograph lots of dickcissels and at least two (or was it the same one twice?) red-tailed hawks gliding over the corn.

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The ride was easy, which made me worry a bit about the return trip, but mostly just enjoyed being out between the corn and beans.

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Went as far as 1250N and 1975E and turned back.

Stopped at creek (must be a tributary of the Salt Fork) where I’d seen wood ducks before, though it was a little ways north. No ducks today but there were quite a few ebony jewelwing damselflies.

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Was glad to get a few good miles in.

And the way back was easy, too.