Category Archives: Outdoors

Parks, Outside, and Pretentiousness

I used to volunteer with the local park system regularly, but it’s been a while. A couple weeks ago seemed like a good time to get back into it, so I pulled my bike out of the garage, knocked off the spiders and pumped up the tires (it had been a few months), and headed out to presumably hack down some honeysuckle. (Getting rid of this invasive species seems to be the most common activity. I’ve also pulled garlic mustard and collected seeds.)

They’d canceled the work day, but I got a nice walk out of it. I sat on a bench by the creek and did some sketches of a tree along the bank before going on a walk through the prairie. The redwing blackbirds are back, screeching constantly from the trees along the edges of the prairie. (Story title for anyone who wants it: “The Redwing Blackbirds Cry Good Morning”)

In places the path was covered in ice. Sometimes it was thin sheets suspended in air where the water beneath had vanished. Other places, it could support my weight. The grass sounded like it was dripping.

The past two weeks I’ve planned to go on a bird walk run by the park district. I changed my mind last weekend when snow was forecast, and this weekend when an hour disappeared in the middle of the night. I went out this afternoon and walked around. It was a balmy 45 and the park was crowded. For a while I sat on a bench and sketched some grasses. (I ordered a proper sketchbook that arrived Friday, and sitting out in public with it and my set of pencils made me feel pretentious.) I found an interesting tutorial for drawing grass, so later this week I might go back to my favorite of the sketches and turn it into a drawing.

Pretentiousness aside, drawing is a great excuse to just sit and soak up the outside-ness for a while without feeling guilty for doing nothing.

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Almost spring

Last fall, I planted bulbs in the front planter and a small patch of the back garden. I drew a map so I’d know what they were when they started to grow, and I know I put it someplace clever where it’d be easy to find…

The bulbs are starting to sprout. A few in the front, a few in the back. I’m starting to believe winter might end someday.

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Parks

My parents visited several weeks ago, so we went to see the prairie at Meadowbrook Park , the prairie grove at Busey Woods, and Kickapoo State Park. The latter, a former strip mine, is slated to close on Nov. 30 due to state budget woes, though that may change.

Monarch on thistle (Meadowbrook Park). Butterflies rarely hold still for me, so I’m happy this turned out.

Spider vs dragonfly (Busey Woods). This is a yellow and black garden spider. We came by the web shortly after the dragonfly was caught, so got to see most of the struggle. There were quite a few of these spiders at one spot along the path.

Sephski, this is for you. (Meadowbrook Park, where there is a lot of sculpture, most of it less identifiable)

Two weeks ago, J and I helped clear bush honeysuckle at Weaver Park, which is a relatively recent purchase by the city of Urbana. They plan to put ball and soccer fields there; people also want to preserve the 7 or 8 oak trees (red, white, and chinkapin) that are 300-400 years old. It’s neat to get in at the start of a project like that.

Yesterday, I went to Meadowbrook Park to collect seeds, which the park district uses there and at other parks (including Weaver) and sells. We had about a dozen plants we could have collected from, but most of us focused on one or two because it’s not easy to learn to id plants by seed head, especially when the leaves have already fallen off.

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Flowers – Meadowbrook Park

Sunday I went to Meadowbrook Park in Urbana, which has a patch of restored prairie.

The prairie is larger than you might think given the line of trees; it extends quite a bit off the left of the picture.

More photos behind the cut; click for larger versions.
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Weekly Summary July 1

Yesterday I did my first volunteer stint at the park, which mostly consisted of more detailed training. Watered the butterfly garden, made hummingbird food and filled feeders, fed the fish and turtles and frogs, sent visitors with questions to the naturalist because I know nothing yet…. :)

One of my tomatoes is very orange, and my lettuce seems to have stopped dying. Soon I can have a very tiny homegrown salad. Quite exciting.

Links:

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Park Volunteering, Revising

Elizabeth Bear remarks: It’s harder to revise old text to anything like not sucking than just to write new less sucky text from scratch. It’s like the suck gets ossified in.

Thursday I had my volunteer interview at the park and learned about all the very cool things I can do. Saturday I have my first volunteer stint at the nature center (on a weekend, yikes); I also have a butterfly survey to sign up for. They’re also going to put me in touch with the people who monitor which wildflowers are blooming, which is very different than what I did before (counting populations of rare species), and will require me to actually learn my plants.

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Wildflowers – April 22

Only a month late, here are the photos I took on a wildflower hike in Highbanks Metropark in late April.

The fun part about posting these so long after I took them was re-identifying all the plants, although I remembered them all except for the toothwort.

Dutchman's breeches Dutchman’s breeches
So-named because they look like a pair of trousers.
Trout lily - yellow Trout lily – yellow
It was tricky to get the camera close to the plant while not casting a shadow or stepping on other plants…

The rest of the photos (10 total) are in the Highbanks Apr 22 2007 gallery.

I’ve applied (it’s a much more involved process here than in Toledo) to monitor rare plants in the park system again, and I’m looking forward to that. This time I can take photos. With luck (and practice) I’ll get better at them.

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Spotted

Monday I went plant monitoring, looking for puccoon again. Unlike last time, it was a highly successful trip: over 1,000 plants in three hours.

Also saw a bluebird, a red-headed woodpecker, and an oriole. Heard lots of orioles, too. I had to ask the naturalist what the orange bird with dark wings I’d seen was, because I really don’t know much about birds. My parents will laugh.

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Puccoon

This morning I went plant monitoring for the first time this year, looking for puccoon (or perhaps puccoon). We found a whole bunch at one spot that wasn’t on our map, but the places we were supposed to be looking didn’t have many specimens, even though the puccoon usually hangs out with the lupine and there was plenty of that.

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Lack of hawkweed

Plant monitoring: We were looking for hawkweed and didn’t see any. On a brighter note, we returned to the spot where we’d seen one prairie thimbleweed plant so the naturalist could GPS it, and found a patch of at least nine more plants.

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