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Sunflowers: The Talk of our Town


A Stunning sight that will lift your spirits.


Above: Rod in our sunflower field

bigThe fields around the Stone Creek subdivision in Urbana, Illinois, were blooming with gorgeous sunflowers. These fields are an unexpected sight here, as our parks have regular flower plantings, or restored prairie, and the fields out of town are devoted to corn and soybeans. The Atkins group, which owned the property before handing it over to University of Illinois ownership, planted the 42 acres with sunflowers, to give some beauty and pleasure to the community in this rough year. And they are certainly doing that, as comments and photos on social media show. This glorious sight is soothing to the soul, something that we all probably need right now.


We’ve always loved sunflowers, and they are our daughter’s favorite flower as they are a symbol of happiness, optimism and congratulations. The color yellow also symbolizes friendship. Sunflowers also symbolize worship and faithfulness in various religions because of their resemblance to the sun, which is associated with spiritual knowledge and the desire to seek light and truth. The Incas used sunflowers to symbolize the Sun God, and brought them to temples for worship. The priestesses also wore sunflowers on their garments and as crowns. Sunflowers genus is ‘helianthus’, from two Greek words; ‘helios’ the sun, and ‘anthus’ meaning flower.


Rod and I went a few weekends ago and were amazed to see so many beautiful blooms, all turning their faces to the sun. In fact, in French they are called “tournesols”, which means ‘turn to the sun’. Sunflowers as a crop are very popular in France, with the aim of producing domestic and edible oil to substitute for butter (health concerns) and for groundnut oil and other oils from Africa. Young sunflowers do move their faces east to west as they are growing but apparently face fully east when fully grown. They are beautiful to look at and every part of the plant is useful: the seeds for eating, cooking, or extracting oil; and the leaves for cattle feed.


It’s not certain whether our Urbana sunflowers will be harvested, as they were planted late and there may not be enough time for them to mature before the first frost here.


We first drove along Stone Creek Boulevard admiring the sea of yellow-golden blooms on tall stalks on either side. As you look out, it’s almost as though there is a golden chorus of sunflowers standing in rows, celebrating the sun. Then we stopped in one of the small parking areas along the winding road and walked. It’s possible to get really close to the plants and it’s a wonderful sensation—sun warm on our faces, gorgeous sunflowers, bees buzzing busily. We felt we could have been in France, where we have also stopped many times for sunflower fields, admired and taken (way too many) photos. But, these beauties are so photogenic it’s hard not to keep snapping away, trying to capture “that perfect shot”. Walking in and around these fields was therapeutic for us, as we were supposed to visit France this year but, of course, all international travel was cancelled. So, we could briefly imagine and dream we were in fact in France.

Below: me in a field in France






Nath and I

Part 2: The Walk-Through (zoo section) at Aikman Wildlife Adventure

As I wrote in the previous post, we decided on going to the Aikman Wildlife Adventure near Arcola, central Illinois, as a mini substitute to our cancelled real-African safari this summer.

They offer a Drive-Through Adventure, which I wrote about in the last post, and the Walk-Through Adventure, which is like a small zoo. We did the Drive-Through first, which is about a mile-and-a-half one-way loop that cars slowly drive around, stopping for photos, driving, stopping. We then parked in the huge (very full) parking lot and entered the Walk-Through Adventure via the gift shop (with toilets), which is also the exit. In the zoo section they have something called the Museum of Prehistoric Life, for which you pay extra. My daughter and I took our little person, as she was excited about seeing dinosaurs. It was a great disappointment—but I’ll write about that separately.


The ring-tailed lemur is in a glassed enclosure in the gift shop. This is a cute photo as it looks as though the lemur is sitting on Sonya’s shoulder!


Sulcata Tortoise, or African spurred tortoise


African crested porcupine, the largest porcupine in the world

During our Walk-Through Adventure, we did see most of the animals but could not get a photo of them all—such as the wolfdog (a hybrid between dog and wolf), the hyena, and the coatimundi—as they were either at the back of their enclosure or went into hiding as we got close to the fence. In the zoo, there are good information boards about the various animals.


We were lucky to see the serval so well


There’s a small petting zoo—where kids can pat and feed animals (with pellets, $1 per cup) through the fence. There are good information boards in the zoo area about the different animals.


The petting zoo enclosure


Patagonian Cavy


One of the information boards

Note: it was pretty crowded and not everyone of the visitors was wearing a face covering nor being careful about social distancing, so it was up to us to keep a distance. All the staff were observing the rules.

The Watering Hole café has various snacks for take-away.

See their web site https://aikmanwildlife.com



A break-down of costs involved here


Dromedary and emu


A Scottish Highlander



Aikman Wildlife Adventure

Part 1: the Drive-Through Adventure

Our family had a trip to South Africa planned this summer, but it was, of course, cancelled due to all the travel restrictions, canceled flights, and lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was hugely disappointing to us all, especially seeing various family members, but also because we’d planned a trip to the Kruger National Park to spend 5 days driving around on our own safari and viewing South Africa’s famous and amazing wildlife.


Female elk and baby




A llama. Many animals congregate around the pond


A Bactrian camel 

So, Rod and I, plus the St Louis family (who can visit us because they’ve all had the Covid-19 virus and recovered), planned a very small substitute. I’d found out about Aikman Wildlife Adventure, in Arcola, Central Illinois. They advertise that you can “take a drive on the wild side”, like a mini-safari, called the Drive-Through Adventure. They say there are over 100 free-roaming animals. They also have the Walk-Through Adventure, which is access to a mini-zoo.

We thought, well, why not, it’s better than nothing. I booked tickets online ($11 per adult and $8 for kids 3-12 years old for two “adventures”) and we went one hot sunny Saturday, as did many other people! It’s situated in the former Rockome Gardens, a few remnants of which you can see still dotted around (such as pillars decorated with rocks of different shapes).


A Longhorn


That Water Buffalo looks very happy in the pond




A magnificent Blackbuck antelope

Note: I have a LOT of photos, so please scroll through and enjoy. I’ll have to post them in 2 parts I think, so as not to make this too unwieldy: this is Part 1, with the Drive-Through photos. Then Part 2 will have the Walk-Through photos.

We did the Drive-Through Adventure first, which is about a mile-and-a-half one-way loop that cars slowly drive around, stopping for photos, driving, stopping. We then parked in the huge (very full) parking lot and entered the Walk-Through Adventure via the gift shop (with toilets), which is also the exit. In the zoo section they have something called the Museum of Prehistoric Life, for which you pay extra. My daughter and I took our little person, as she was excited about seeing dinosaurs. It was a great disappointment—but I’ll write about that separately.




Fallow Deer


Aoudad sign

For those who’ve been on a real safari this is a bit of a let-down, but it was still fun and we have to give kudos to the owners/organizers for being able to do this at all, right here in central Illinois! And we all learned a new word on this outing: aoudad! We discovered that an aoudad is a Barbary Sheep, originally native to north Africa but now found in a number of other countries. They are not actually sheep or goats but a breed on their own, and Aikman has a few. There are also a number of other sheep, such as Mouflan Sheep, Black Hawaiian Sheep and Corsican Sheep.




Other sheep


Entrance sign, which is the same as the pamphlet with check-list

At the gate to the drive-through the cashier checks your reservation and gives out pamphlets with a map and a check list of animals—10 for the walk-through, 2 for the Prehistoric area and 12 for the drive-through. We saw most of the drive-through animals, plus a couple extra that must be new. I’d say that the checklist is a bit out of date, as not all animals are on it, and some that are on it are no longer there.





An Elk, known as wapiti with the Shawnee Indians, meaning ‘white rump’.


A Scottish Highlander

It was actually quite exciting to get so close to some of the animals, which are all used to cars obviously and so are not perturbed at all when people stop. Our little girl grabbed her mom’s phone and happily clicked away! Some of the animals are native to the US, but others are from Africa, Eurasia, Australia and South America.

First, this is a selection of photos of our Drive-Through. We didn’t get any photos of the blue wildebeest but saw it clearly. Next will be Part 2 with some photos of the Walk-Through.


We love this photo of an eland, as it looks like the animal is laughing!


An Ibex

Something to help brighten people’s time at Common Ground



In our neighborhood

This has been a tumultuous year in so many ways, and it’s not over yet: coronavirus and a Covid-19 pandemic, with all the health, economic and educational side effects; police brutality against Black people, resulting in protests and riots against systemic racism and a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement; an upcoming presidential election in the USA, which is probably the most critical in decades, if not longer.

So, it’s no wonder that people are stressed and tired, worried about their kids and their education, their jobs, a roof over their heads even. All true in our town, which is trying to come to grips with returning students at the university, and which is largely supportive of diversity and racial equity. Many people display Black Lives Matter signs in their yards and many people have joined protests.


facade2Now, a local store has an initiative to show support for diversity and that Black lives matter, as do all lives. Common Ground is our local food co-op, focusing on fresh and local produce mainly, plus organic and sustainable products. From now until the end of the year, Common Ground is celebrating the work of six Illinois black artists in a new outdoor art installation, with the intention of bolstering these artists and showcasing their work. The store commissioned some of their existing art with Black, Indigenous and People of Color as the main subject. They hope this will celebrate the diversity of our community, and that looking at these art works will give people pleasure.

These art works certainly brought a smile to our faces, and it was fun to stop and examine them more closely, and try to understand what the artists were intending.


Close-up of part of the panel by Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure

The six artists are Mooki, Haiku, Kofi Bazzell-Smith, Nailah Davis, Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure, and Keenan Daily. Three artists are shown on each side of the entrance to Common Ground, bright paintings that are a colorful band for the outdoor seating behind.

Mooki’s main focus is to spotlight diversity. She works with traditional and digital mediums, her work inspired by video games, animation and her day-to-day life.



Haiku would like to be a comic artist, whose goal is to show the viewers that there are characters who look like them, and like the artist.


Kofi Bazzell-Smith, who is based in Champaign, focuses on manga, the Japanese-style comics. He has studied manga in Japan and speaks Japanese. Here he focuses on many different facets of Black lives in America.



Note the Japanese script


“Black art matters”

Nailah Davis was born in Chicago but is now based in Brooklyn, New York. Davis works in multiple disciplines, such as photography, performance, mixed media collages, video and instrumental music, with the focus on Africana life, with regard to race, gender and identity politics. Davis wants to highlight under-represented groups within the Africana diaspora.



Ja Nelle Davenport-Pleasure makes her art by re-using and recycling whatever materials she has. So, every piece is made from sustainable materials. She also works in the literary world, and dance and fashion.



Keenan Daily’s work focuses on disenfranchised and marginalized groups in society, hoping the works will help end suffering and allow those groups to express their trauma.



wonder what Dailey “means” with people and wild animals together?



I recently wrote about a wonderful museum to the sculptor Antoine Bourdelle in Paris (see here https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2020/07/27/paris-maison-bourdelle/ ).

VstatueOne of the main pieces there is a “Dying Centaur”, so we were very happy to find a Bourdelle “Dying Centaur” in Allerton Park, central Illinois.

I posted that in the French blog as a follow-up to the museum, but it’s also relevant here as it’s basically our home town. So, here’s the link https://vivsfrenchadventures.wordpress.com/2020/08/13/bourdelles-dying-centaur/

“Naked Ladies” in Urbana, IL



closeThere’s been an explosion of Naked Lady lilies here in Urbana in the last few weeks. Clusters of fragrant pink flowers on tall stems without leaves make a bright splash in many gardens and parks.

What are they and why are they called “Naked Ladies”? For many, they are a plant of mystery, contrary to what the name might suggest. They flower early- to mid-August once their green foliage has died back, giving them the common name of “Naked Ladies” because of the exposed stalks.



closerThey are actually Amaryllis Belladonna and there are at least 6 different types of Naked Lady flowers. Many of the amaryllis types originated from the western Cape region in South Africa. They are not related to the true lily (scientific name Lilium) but the names for the amaryllis belladonna often include a “lily” at the end. For example, Easter Lily (white, native to southern Japan), Jersey Lily and Surprise Lily are all types of amaryllis belladonna or “Naked Lady Lily”.

According to the Victorian Language of Flowers, amaryllis means pride, strength and determination. In Latin belladonna means beautiful lady. They are definitely beautiful and they do show strength—those tall stems don’t often seem to buckle or bend much, even with heavy rains or high winds.


We had ferocious straight-line winds 2 days ago (that damaged many trees), but these Naked Ladies are just bent.

markerThese gorgeous lilies are very popular—millions of bulbs are sold every year—and we, like many other neighbors, were out taking photos of them. There is a big bed of them in our local park, Meadowbrook Park—where there is another naked lady and a mystery.

It’s a statue of a naked woman on the edge of one of the paths around the park, gazing serenely out at the restored prairie. It is just called “Marker”, 1998, cast and fabricated bronze, by Peter Fagan. One wonders why “Marker”. Is she marking a special spot? Some event? Another mystery to this lovely piece is a skull on the edge of the base on which she stands. Why a skull? We wonder what the artist intended, what its significance or symbolism is.



signaturePeter Fagan is an American artist, born 1939. He taught portrait and figurative sculpture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for more than 30 years. His focus is on three-dimensional representations of figures and animals, and his work is displayed in many different places around the country, including many UIUC buildings and state buildings. Some of his female figures are a little reminiscent of those of Degas, with their grace and delicate features. This naked lady does, we think, resemble some of the works of Degas.




Saying hallo to Sassy the Sasquatch, or Bigfoot


The Outpost

Offbeat roadside attractions dot America’s highways and we came across one in southeastern Illinois on our recent short road trip. A very large Bigfoot.

Sassy is a 7-foot-tall Bigfoot statue at a crossroads on Karbers Ridge Road and the road to Garden of the Gods, just outside Herod, Illinois. It was put up by the owners of Shawnee Forest Cabins, Doug and Carrie deVore and it’s proved extremely popular.

It’s directly opposite a store called The Outpost on the corner where many people stop to buy snacks, cool drinks, souvenirs and gifts on their way to or from the many natural attractions around here. You can’t help seeing the large statue and crossing the road to have a closer look and take photos. The setting on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest is perfect, as supposedly these creatures live in the woods.


I take a photo of our group with Sassy


Definitely hairy!


That is indeed a big foot!

Bigfoot or Sasquatch are said to be large hairy creatures in American and Canadian folklore and have been around for centuries. The Salish Indians of the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver Island were the first to use the name Sasquatch, a derivative of the Salish word “se’sxac” meaning “wild men”. They are upright-walking, ape-like or humanoid with dark fur that live in the wilderness and leave huge footprints. Some believe they are a “missing link” between early ancestors or other great apes, and humans. It would appear that there is no hard evidence to prove their existence, despite many attempts. Whatever the truth or reality of this, the legend persists and many claim to have seen a Bigfoot, including here in southern Illinois. Locals claim that several Bigfoot once roamed here, one of which was called the Big Muddy Monster, and a case of a sighting of an unknown creature emerging in Murphysboro in 1973 has still not been closed.

We, like most other travelers along this road, had to stop for photos. We may never see another Bigfoot!


….And Colored Bicycles in Southern Illinois

Most people know about the colored ribbons, or flags, or pins, or spinning pinwheels that we see in many different places, and that they stand for different causes, crusades or campaigns.


Yellow for support for troops

The history of awareness ribbons isn’t clear, but the roots may date back to medieval times when ladies gave knights tokens of their love and affection. A clearer modern beginning was in November 1979 when Penny Laingen tied a yellow ribbon on a tree in front of her house in support of her husband Ambassador Bruce Laingen, who’d been taken hostage by Iranian revolutionaries when the US Embassy was seized in Tehran. She was inspired to do this by the well-known song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”. All the hostages were released in January 1981, but the concept of the ribbons was here to stay.


Pink for breast cancer awareness



Green for bipolar disorder and childhood depression


Red for HIV/AIDS, among others

They are popular in the healthcare sector where the use of colored ribbons helps to create public awareness of disability, medical conditions, health and other issues. An awareness ribbon is usually just a short piece of colored ribbon that is folded in a loop, and they can be in many forms, such as car/fridge magnets, door signs, or notebook stickers. These ribbons are used by people from many countries such as United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, as a support for the issue or cause.

Probably the most well-known one is pink for breast cancer, but there are many others, and many more are being created to support hundreds of causes. There’s red for AIDS/HIV, but also blood cancer and burn victims. There’s purple for pancreatic cancer, but also ADHD and Alzheimer’s. And blue and white for Prevention of Child Abuse.

child abuse

Blue and while pinwheels for prevention of child abuse


Yellow for troop support, suicide awareness and bone and bladder cancers 

Others are teal, yellow and green. Teal is for a number of causes, including autism, rape victims, PTSD, and victims of Hurricane Katrina. Yellow shows support for our troops, suicide awareness, and bone and bladder cancers. Orange is for gun control (especially after the Parkland shootings in Florida), Leukeumia awareness, and multiple schlerosis. Green is for childhood depression, bipolar disorder, and cerebral palsy.



Orange, primarily for gun control


Purple for pancreatic cancer, ADHD and Alzheimer’s


Another green, and a red in the background

Last weekend we were at Cave-in-Rock, a small village in south-eastern Illinois on the Ohio River, and we found a new and novel way to show awareness colors: painted bicycles. A few of the village streets are decorated with these painted bikes, large and small, all in different colors and adorned with flowers and/or flags. We asked a local person, who told us that a couple, who has a house here and another in Florida, saw these bikes for causes in Florida and decided to bring the idea to Cave-in -Rock. It looks like the village liked the idea!

We didn’t get photos of all the bikes, some of different colors. But, this gives a good idea of how nice they look in this small village.


Teal for autism, rape victims and PTSD, among others


Another yellow





Statues at Allerton Park



statueRSun Singer (1926), by Carl Milles (1875-1955)

As I mentioned before, we visited the Robert Allerton Park in central Illinois a number of times in the spring, as we could still walk outside during our stay-at-home orders in the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

Besides enjoying the fantastic peony garden, which flowered in the spring, and walking the trails, we had fun trying to track down all the outdoor sculptures for which the park is famous.

Probably the most famous is the Sun Singer, which is in the center of a circular raised platform that’s in the center of a circular drive in a large meadow towards the end of the park. Most people drive there, but some also walk from the main car park.

It’s a large bronze statue of a nude youth, 15 ft 2 ins high on a bronze base set on a tall pedestal. He greets the morning sky with song and extended arms. We wonder about the history and story behind this lovely sculpture.


front2Carl Milles, a Swedish sculptor, created three Sun Singer statues: one is in Stockholm; another in National Memorial Park south of Falls Church, Virginia; and this one here in Allerton Park. Milles created them to honor the Swedish poet Esaias Tegner (1782-1846), who helped the public know about Norse sagas and Scandinavian legends. One poem was “Song to the Sun”. But, for his statues Milles chose not to use Norse warriors and gods, but instead used Apollo, the Greek god of the sun, music and poetry.

He has a helmet with a rearing horse Pegasus, and a tortoise under his right foot—this is an allusion to the first lyre made of tortoise shell and given to Apollo by Hermes. On the base are draped and nude figures of the nine Muses usually associated with Apollo festivals.


view2Allerton first saw the Sun Singer in Stockholm and liked it so much that he commissioned one for himself. He wanted a scaled-down version but there were miscommunications in the language, and Allerton got a full-version one in 1932. He had planned to place it close to the mansion, but instead set it in a huge meadow surrounded by low shrubbery (which is now much taller trees). John Allerton (Robert’s father) designed both the setting and the landscaping. Milles asked Allerton for photographs of the statue in place and apparently was really happy and thought the setting was the most magnificent he’d ever seen.

As we approach the circular drive and the statue these days we have to agree—the setting really does set off the dramatic statue.




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