The thermometer read 33F, but the bright rising sun and cloudless sky inspired me to leave hat and gloves at home for my first visit of 2012 to Meadowbrook Park. I’ve chosen the 80-acre park in southeast Urbana as my subject for this year’s Changing of the Seasons series; for equal parts aesthetics and metaphor, I wanted my first visit to be in the early morning.
The restored tallgrass prairie that covers nearly half of the park awoke in waves of bronze and gold as the sun emerged from beyond the evergreen treeline that separates Meadowbrook from the abandoned orchard to the east. The tall heads of Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) interspersed with clumps of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) waved softly in a breeze strong enough to move the prairie, but not so much that I rued my optimistically springish attire.
The edge of the sprawling prairie begins along a split-rail fence that draws the line between the children’s playground and open field that make up the recreational area of the park.
I heard a harried rustling as I approached the prairie viewing platform on the outer loop of the network of walking paths through the park. I looked out through the tallgrass to see a small group of deer, cautiously curious of my approach.
The fine stems of Indian grass danced, their movement adorned with gilded halos.
Big bluestem, the Illinois State prairie grass, is not as plentiful in the park as Indian grass, but stands out with its reddish stems in winter. It is commonly called turkey foot because of its shape.
The yellow coneflower are slowly being deseeded by the birds in the park, revealing flower’s inner cone.
The only wildflower to rise above the tallgrass are the compass plants (Silphium laciniatum) whose dried centers remain atop sturdy stems.
|“Marker” by Peter Fagan|
One of my favorite parts of Meadowbrook is the sculpture that is placed throughout the park, blending the masterpiece of nature with that of human hands. While some of the sculpture is beyond my appreciation, others seem the perfect marriage with the prairie.
A juvenile maple grows in the middle of the prairie. I wonder whether the placement of the trees in the park is a conscious effort of the park managers, or a result of a random seed taking advantage of good fortune.
|Cirsium discolor (possible ID)|
Some of the wildflowers in the park, like this thistle, aren’t listed among the official plants in the prairie restoration; nevertheless they make attractive neighbors.
Birds of all kinds formed a choral soundtrack to my walk. The park’s hospitality to our avian friends is obvious, judging by the number of nests I saw. The nest pictured above rested in the branches of a young sapling, and didn’t measure more than 3-4 inches across.
A small stream runs through the middle of Meadowbrook, lined by a narrow woods on each side. This area is currently in transition, as the park managers attempt to remove the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera), a non-native plant that has invaded the woods.
A beaver dam threatens to halt the flow of water, so recently a culvert pipe was installed to route the water under the dam while allowing the beaver to maintain its home. The dam is an engineering marvel, considering the entire thing was built by a small mammal.
I spent more than two hours in Meadowbrook and merely sampled its offerings. My appetite is deliciously whet for another year of being awed by Mother Nature as she changes with the seasons.