Saturday 14 October 2017. Patience Rewarded with the Last Bottle Gentians

It was about 64 degrees F at about 7 am under clouds that were breaking up, occasionally letting the sun through.

My schedule lately has prevented me from biking much, alas, but today there was nothing to stop me from riding to Meadowbrook Park to catch the last of the bottle gentian bloom, if, in fact, there were any flowers left.

So headed off on Rhododendron, riding south on Race Street.

Stopped at the place where Amanita muscaria mushrooms had been abundant for the last three years, at least. But did not see a single one.


And one of the spruce trees looked quite bad. It seems like yet another result of stress from recent droughts. This blog is documenting a little piece of a larger phenomenon. Alas.

At Meadowbrook, there was about to be a walk/run to raise money for breast cancer research and support; pink signs were posted about the trail.


But did not run into any crowds.

Saw water again (at last, rain) in McCullough Creek below the rabbit-statue bridge.


Then rode along the path toward the Marker statue and the bottle gentian site. Looked on the way among the willows where I saw some bottle gentians last year, but today there was no sign of them.

The prairie was still green underneath, and above the tree leaves had not turned color, but overall it was somber. Many goldenrod plants were snowy with seeds and their vehicles .

Saw a deer out where the Liatris had earlier bloomed.

Then at the Marker statue looked for the gentians. At first, there seemed to be nothing but dry grass and flowers gone to seed. And I felt sad; could they really have left no trace after two weeks?

I lingered and kept looking, even though it seemed unlikely that more looking would produce any gentians.

Then spotted a single worn bloom, and was grateful for that.

Keep looking, and in a while found a cluster of blooms, worn but still beautiful, as old gentian flowers are.

Then, for the sake of revisiting a spot where I’d seen gentians before, I checked it, and amazingly found one plant, then another.

Then went back to the first place I saw them and as if by magic, there were more, and fresher flowers.

It was comforting and uplifting to see them all. The end was coming but had not yet arrived.

Then walked Rhododendron onto the soft path (where bikes and dogs are prohibited but where I recently saw both a guy riding a wide-tired bike and a guy walking a handsome chocolate Labrador retriever. At low volume it might not actually be a problem. I walk my bike; maybe that doesn’t count, I don’t know.

Along the soft path were wintry manifestations of flowers: rosin weed,

compass plant

the curled leaves of which were like illuminated manuscript decorations,

stiff goldenrod, I think,

with clouds above, and Baptisia

with black pods but still plenty of green foliage.

Even found an outlying remaining cream gentian bloom.

Note the cropped stem.

Got a closeup of a dry, prickly compass plant stem.

Then crossed the little wooden bridge over McCullough Creek and headed back,

feeling a sense of impending conclusion but still nourished by the short- and the longer-lasting forms of the landscape.


Sunday 10 September 2017. A Short, Chilly Ride on the KRT

It was 48 (no way!) degrees F at 7:00 am under clear skies as I headed out Main Street to the Kickapoo Rail to Trail bike path. Usually I’m not a fan of doing the exact same ride so soon, but I like this trail so much just want to keep doing it and observe the subtle differences from one time to the next.

In the interest of warmth, did wear a long-sleeved shirt and my cycling windbreaker but with shorts and Keen sandals. And who would think mittens would have been useful in early September? Big mistake!

So didn’t think too much of the chill I felt stopping at Weaver Park to get some nice early-light views of tall Coreopsis,


Black-eyed Susans


compass plant


and rosinweed,


not to mention that most handsome pairing of common goldenrod and New England aster with a foil of cup plant leaves

img_3645and a tall but leaning-over sawtoothed sunflower


Figured it would get warm as I rode on.

Passed the little grove of oaks where I used to see a fox every time I rode past it on a Sunday, but for the second time (last week also) did not see one. Guess it could be hiding among the soybean plants.

Crossed High Cross Road where the trail begins and recorded a view of its terminus.



The scenery was beautiful, the Helianthus blooms as yellow as road signs,


but I was not warming up. Debated internally whether to push on or to turn back at some point short of the original destination of St Joseph.


My fingers were numb and my toes were cold (Keen sandals had been quite comfortable before today), but pushed on.


Made it to Cottonwood Road


then turned back.

But stopped for the enticing view of white masses of tall boneset among the goldenrod.


Back in town, stopped at the Walmart near the beginning of the trail and bought a pair of socks and a pair of high-vis fleece gloves.


It was too late to really get warm but was glad for the little bit of protection.

At the very beginning of the trail, just west of High Cross Road, saw a nice spray of goldenrod with contrasting thistle and stopped to catch a shot of it.


Then high-tailed it on Washington Street

toward the warmth of home!

Sunday 3 September 2017. To St. Joe with a Stop at Weaver.

It was 64 degrees F under party cloudy skies 8:15 this morning as I headed Rhododendron to the Kickapoo Rail to Trail path and St. Joseph IL.

But first there was morning yoga practice (!!!) wherein I tried to get my shoulders ready for the un-yogic downward reaching for the handlebars, including slithering into a self-assisted shoulder Savasana, lots of Ardha Parsva Hastasana, and Sirsasana using a chumball. Yes, it costs watching the dawn break from the bike, but the rest of day is just so much better if yoga is first!

Rode east on Main Street (did not see the fox) and made a quick detour to the Champaign County Nursing Home to drop a promised pair of sun-viewing glasses for a friend who lives there. Then proceeded to Weaver Park and stopped to see what was blooming there.

The season had advanced and flowers were mostly on the decline, like these cup plants, accompanied by big bluestem and


stiff goldenrod and near rosinweed foliage.


Saw blackeyed Susans


tall Coreopsis,


some remaining compass plant blooms,


and even some late purple coneflowers.


Proceeded along Main Street to University Avenue and the head of the Kickapoo-rail-to-trail towards St. Joseph, Illinois.


And what a pleasant trail it was.


Since the CU Across the Prairie ride there were fewer species in bloom, but still there were plenty of flowers along the way:

Exotic but colorful morning glories,


Jerusalem artichokes (or sawtooth sunflowers–I wasn’t sure which, glorious golden sun-bursts either way.


and sawtooth sunflowers were just coming into bloom.

Also were the beginnings of the goldenrod and more than a few prairie dock sun-flowers


which were complemented by the pink Gaura,


Rode on with minimal photography (I get conflicted between riding on and not interrupting the experience versus stopping to document it) to the town of St Joseph.


Then turned back, and this time photographed the Salt Fork crossing.


Got a shot of the lovely photograph of unionid mussels at the educational marker.

beloved inhabitants of my former life as a biologist.

On the way back stopped for (sawtooth, I’m pretty sure) sunflowers,


including a group visited by monarch butterflies (saw at least four in one small area).


Farther along looked across the paralleling highway and saw soybean fields beginning to turn yellow, with Gaura and tall(?) boneset between the highway and the bike trail.


At the Fulls Siding crossing, stopped to photograph this dear bicycle book-exchange box.


Must remember to bring something to exchange next time.

And on toward home!

My second KRT ride was just as wonderful as the first!

Sunday 27 August 2017. Falling and Rising in Late Summer

It was 59 degrees F at 7:15 under party cloudy skies as I finished yoga practice (wish I could do everything first thing in the morning!) and headed on Rhododendron for Meadowbrook Park. Wanted to get a close look at the cardinal flowers as their bloom was concluding.

Stopped at the rabbit-statue bridge; the bed of McCullough Creek was dry even with heavy rain one night last week.
The cardinal flowers are just barely visible here, with a little imagination.


Since the bloom would be done soon, I climbed down to the creek bed, and actually encountered the red bird-flowers on the close side of the stream.


Saw many cardinal flower plants, their red flower-spikes distributed more widely around the creek bed than I ever remember seeing them!


The contrast of goldenrod gave the red flowers even more intensity.

Noticed also sneezeweed, another lovely yellow counterpoint for the red cardinal flowers.


Was happy to see the last, top blooms above the stack of spent flowers: the process of growth and decay.


Down the path a little way were the annual Bidens, or tickseed, another species of photogenic Compositae.


Got a shot of the beautiful blue sage near the little arched bridge over Davis Creek.


This white flower with handsome dark green foliage, which I’ve decided is tall boneset, was abundant.


The thistle hosted a bumble bee as well as several small beetles.


Saw some handsome bush clover,


with its blue-green leaves and contrasting rusty flowers.

There was rosinweed with a cricket in its center,




compass plant holding forth,


prairie dock above and cream gentian down low,


and lots of invasive but gorgeous goldenrod about to burst into golden yellow,


Fall approaches.

Saturday 19 August 2017. First Cream Gentians, Last Royal Catchfly

It was about 64 degrees F, the sky spread with a diaphanous but ragged sheet of cloud this morning at 6:03 as I guided the newly re-born Rhododendron (which has been riding “like butter,” thank you, Neutral Cycle!) toward Meadowbrook Park.

August has been dry and wondered whether any royal catchfly or cardinal flowers would remain. So my quest was to see what they looked like at this stage of summer.

At Meadowbrook walked Rhododendron toward the Art and Billie Spomer Prairie. To the east, the wooded area looked parched and damaged,


reminding me of some recent events in my life and in the world at large. Is this the direction of everything? Is entropy winning already?

But walked on, over the little wooden bridge spanning a dry bed of McCullough Creek.


As I walked in, there were wingstem,




wild senna,




delicate big bluestem flowers,


the last Baptisia flowers,




compass plant,




tick trefoil,


cup plant


the ever-handsome false sunflower,




And then, cream gentian.


And then, lots of cream gentian!


Just under the “vegetation line” they were in recent abundance, the clusters of pointed white flowers, pristine and vigorous. Wondered whether the recent lack of rain was especially favorable for them.

Wondered whether there were any royal catchfly left; did not see any from the path. But walked in a little where I knew they’d been and looked carefully and there they were, the last of the bright red stars.


Saw a lovely cluster of wild quinine flowers lit by the rising sun


The prairie was resplendent with the early sun slanting through the mist on this floral array! Thoughts of damage were banished.

Close to the end of the soft path, encountered a deer (maybe more than one; it’s getting hard to remember), a frequent, but because of their size always noteworthy, occurrence at Meadowbrook Park.


At the end of the soft path where it joined the paved path near the little arch bridge over Davis Creek were blooming wild sage, in their striking shade of light blue.


On the way to the rabbit-statue bridge saw cardinal flowers, advanced in their bloom, at the recently discovered easy-access location.


Stopped on the rabbit-statue bridge and saw still several spikes of red!


Did not go in; was glad at least I’d been close to the red flowers a little earlier.


They were marvelous, even at a distance.

Then home.

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.