Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Into the woods March 25, 2020

Hiking at River Bend Nature Center on Sunday afternoon, March 22.


THE NEED TO GET AWAY from it all—the barrage of COVID-19 thoughts and media reports—and the need to exit the house brought Randy and me to River Bend Nature Center in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

The weather still feels very much like winter here in southern Minnesota with a cold wind, temps in the 30s and 40s, and patches of snow remaining in shaded areas or unmelted piles. So we dressed warmly, pulled on gloves and snugged on stocking caps before setting out.


Social distancing of vehicles in the parking lot at River Bend Nature Center on March 22.


As our vehicle rounded the curve and descended the hill into the heart of River Bend, I noticed something unusual in the parking lot. Social distancing. Most vehicles were parked every other space, with more vehicles than usual.


The entrance to the interpretative center, now closed.


I grabbed my camera, photographed the parking lot and then started downhill toward the trail-side center, eventually angling right toward the Turtle Pond. Along the way we met clusters of people, whom I assumed to be families as no social distancing was happening. Most, in passing, dropped into single file lines to distance themselves from others like us. I found myself fully aware of the space between us and other hikers on paths not always wide enough for the suggested six feet of separation.


This couple kept their distance from us, as they should have.


At one point I stepped to a side look-out and waited while other walkers passed, thus avoiding the too-close contact. I noticed, too, a young couple cut through the woods with their dog rather than come near us.

It was an odd feeling, this conscious effort to keep at a distance. It didn’t feel right. I tried to make up for that by greeting others with a smile and a “hello.” We can still be friendly.


I saw moss on rock piles and on fallen logs.


Randy starts across the bridge over the iced over Turtle Pond.


The process of collecting sap is underway at River Bend, pandemic or not.


As Randy and I walked, I scanned the woods for signs of spring and that seemed mostly fruitless. Ice still sealed the pond. Icy snow still covered sections of trails. Dried leaves still clung to trees while carpets of green moss and maple sap collection bags hinted of spring.


I often lag behind Randy because I stop to take photos.


Yet, I felt grateful to be outdoors, healthy and walking beside Randy.


Our friend’s daughter had a captive audience to watch her show off her biking skills.


We stopped once to talk with a friend who was out with her two young daughters. The 4 ½ -year-old showed off her bike riding skills. And for a moment or ten, we three adults forgot about the global pandemic and focused on the joy of watching a preschooler who recently mastered biking without assistance. The world seemed normal in that small space of time. Except for the awareness that we needed to stay six feet apart.


There on the prairie grass, an unexpected find.


Then we continued on, eventually crossing the windswept prairie. There Randy spotted a fuzzy caterpillar and we wondered aloud about its early appearance in these still too cold days of March.


Looking across the prairie pond.


After a brief stop at the prairie pond, we decided we were too cold to continue on. We turned back toward the interpretative center—now shuttered to the public—and aimed for the parking lot. But in getting there, we passed a group of young people tossing a football. Had it been any other day in any other time, I likely would not have thought much of it. But I found myself wondering, “Should they really be doing that?”


Trails remain open, but the interpretative center is closed.


These are unsettling times when even a walk into the woods to enjoy nature feels anything but normal.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


15 Responses to “Into the woods”

  1. You were fortunate to be able to get out in nature for a bit. All of our state and national parks are even closing their trails now because we have had a huge influx of people coming to the mountains to escape. They are flooding our trails and parks and it is just not a good thing. We are so fortunate that our “neighborhood” is on 4000 acres here and we have our own trails, lakes and places to walk and hike without endangering ourselves or others. Today looks to be a beautiful day so we will definitely be getting out after 2 days of rain to enjoy some outside time. That is what is keeping me sane! Stay well, Audrey.

    • Thank you for that report. I’m sorry people are overwhelming the mountains resulting in those trail and park closings. On my list of to-dos today is contacting someone about Minnesota trails for a freelance story assignment.

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    Thank you for sharing about your hike! It still looks very cold up there! We are seeing some 60’s and 70’s now, and I understand today will reach 80 and tomorrow close to 90! Gads!! I took Lollipop and Oscar out for a buggy ride yesterday and noticed a group of teenage boys playing basketball down at the park across from our orchard. What is it about young people that make them rebellious or perhaps thinking “it won’t happen to me”? Who knows why people do what they do, but I’ve learned not to entertain those thoughts too much anymore. I made plenty of blunders and poor decisions in life too. All we can do is the best we know how as individuals. I truly pray we all keep safe and healthy.

  3. Nice area, Audrey. So cold for you still! Looking at the ice on that water as Randy approached that little bridge made me nervous just looking at it! Glad you are well. Stay safe Dear Friend.

  4. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    Getting outside is an absolute sanity saver. We take an early morning walk daily – keeping our distance if we see anyone else doing the same – on the streets in our neighborhood. It’s nice to hear the birds, see geese flying overhead, see the sky color with the sunrise, hear the wind. The lack of traffic noise now is a stunning development.

  5. BERNADETTE Thomasy Says:

    This may sound silly but my favorite photo today was the caterpillar crawling along. He/she seems like such a survivor, hopefully reminding us we’ll all get through this, little by little. Thanks for the nature walk.

  6. valeriebollinger Says:

    We went to Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park on Sunday and the parking lot was full, and cars were parking on the street! No social distancing with cars. Whew. We walked in the opposite direction of most people. I know people need to get outside for fresh air and exercise.

  7. Audrey- I keep thanking you for your reports, I know that maybe it is not needed but really for me I don’t know when you find the time with all that is going on. I finally posted yesterday after what seemed like years, it was only days, but so much has happened!!!
    Loved the wooly bear. Most likely hatched with that warm spell you guys had and now is crawling around in search of food. Hopefully he will survive.
    I thought the social distancing with the cars was cool!! Strange about the people getting out now into nature when it has always been there. Makes you wonder if and when this returns to normal if people will change their ways, be more centered, less materialistic, more in tune with the environment and nature and how precious it all is to the survival of the human race. God or the Devine has a plan for this situation and we are all in for one heck of a ride.
    Stay safe, healthy and humble.

    • I appreciate your observations. I think we are all already learning from this, about what’s really important in life.

      Yeah, I’ve been busy between freelance assignments, my work for Warner Press, blogging (I do this because I love it and feel the need to keep my readers informed) and connecting with family. But it’s good to do what I love. I feel blessed.

      Be well, my friend. And your loved ones also.

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