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 vĂ©lo,” glad to have gotten the physical and especially the spiritual exercise.


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 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.

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.


A layer of mist rested on the prairie and spread out the light of the climbing sun.


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.


Might have gotten a really nice shot of the deer in the mist if I’d arrived at the site two minutes earlier.

Oh well. Nice enough.

Did get a nice yellow coneflower-misty sunrise.


Stopped at The Freyfogle overlook and saw fresh Culver’s root with mountain mint,


spherical pink common milkweed blooms and already-red blackberries.


Noticed how lovely were the lead plants,
which seemed to thrive despite a recent onslaught of insects.


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.

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.


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,


exotic weeds, but so softly pink and fresh and dewey.


Even these plantain weeds looked like stately sculptures in this morning’s fine light.


Farther on, saw a sign I thought was rather humorous


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!


There is something special about this place.

Then rode to where the road bent to the north

A little way and then “T’d” into Homer Lake Road.


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.


The bloom seemed different from what I recall from last year. Lots more milkweed.


Stopped for a view of the beautiful Salt Fork


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.

Sunday 9 October 2016. Meadowbrook Bottle Gentians!

It was 47 degrees F at 6 am today, but did not check the temperature at 7-ish when I rolled down the driveway on Rhododendron toward Meadowbrook Park. Did notice that the sky was clear.

Eagerly awaited this trip, as important and enjoyable events had prevented a number of usual morning bike rides. Was ready to meet the gentians!

On the way stopped at the site of the Amanita muscaria mushrooms, which definitely were approaching the end of this round of their fruiting.

Couldn’t help being a little sad at how the meta-fungus on them detracted from their characteristic beauty.


Yet they still had a kind of understated beauty that also was part of the wondrous workings of nature and tried to turn the lens of my perceptions and responses in that direction.

At Meadowbrook the goldenrod were well toward the completion of their bloom, and other plants were mostly shades of pale yellow and brown,

including brown stars of compass plant seed heads


Saw a few late blooms of yellow coneflower

img_1519 a coda for their season.

Saw a pretty good abundance of (dark) white wild indigo pods, including one with an insect (or two?) of the order Hemiptera (as near as I can tell) resting on one of them.


Rode along without stopping at the Freyfogle observation deck because someone was up there luxuriating with the Sunday newspaper. Looked like they were enjoying the space.

Proceeded to the Marker statue, and with just a little searching found the blue jewels of flowers.

Noticed that the flower stems branched from a cropped middle stalk, which seemed to be more the rule than the exception. Appears that the deer (I assume) search them out. It’s perhaps a wonder they manage to bloom at all.

A lot of plants looked worse for whatever else was trying to appropriate their biomass,


or whatever kept them from thriving more, but there were plenty that were healthy enough and lovely,


especially with the light as it was and the dew as if diamond-encrusting the gentian.


Then wanted to see whether there were any bottle gentian flowers in the middle of the prairie, via the “soft” path.


On the way in were still-blooming goldenrod


bush clover


more indigo pods,


one of which was open, revealing the seeds within.


Did not see any bottle gentian flowers, but did see bitten-off stalks,


which I was not sure weren’t those of cream rather than bottle gentians. And maybe if I’d looked longer I’d have found some flowers. But moved on to the next possible site.

First reached, paused for a photo, then crossed McCullough Creek,


and proceeded to the “upland cardinal flower site,” where there were cardinal flowers gone to seed


red-leafed vervain gone to seed,


the source of mountain mint fragrance,


the last of the turtlehead, one with a bee.


At first could not locate the bottle gentians I’d seen here before, but then saw it, one lonely flower (like the one that managed to bloom in my backyard after planting this spring!), next to some contrasting sneezweed.


Felt glad to see even that one and was getting back on Rhododendron to go home when, right next to the path, saw a generous bloom of bottle gentians.


Mother lode!

There were plants with blooms stacked along the stalk


and dense clusters of them,

some flowers pristine and smooth and others already faded.

It was reassuring to see gentians in the old location and joy to find them in a new place!