WHY IS HALLOWEEN such a wildly popular and much-loved annual celebration?
Answers may range from the fun component to the scare factor. From costumes to candy. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that Halloween captivates us each year. This year, though, with COVID-19, October 31 will look decidedly different. Or it should with no costume parties, safety-focused trick-or-treating (if at all), and other limitations.
I have no intention of handing out candy this Halloween. Not that many kids ever stop at our house anyway given few live in our neighborhood. So if I’m not sharing treats, I’ll at least share 13 Halloween photos pulled from my archives.
So sit back and scroll through these images while you consider Halloweens past, when life seemed a lot less scary.
AS I VIEW THE LANDSCAPE layered in snow and consider the unseasonably cold temp of 12 degrees, I reflect that only 11 days ago, southern Minnesota looked and felt much different. Like the season of autumn rather than winter.
Today I take you back to October 18, to photos from a Sunday drive that started in Faribault and continued east through Kenyon, Zumbrota, Mazeppa, Oronoco and Pine Island, then back home.
As farm-raised kids, Randy and I enjoy these rural drives that transport us back in time and also give us a much-needed break from the realities of COVID-19, of politics, of life stressors. I never tire of seeing cornfields and farm sites, especially during the harvest.
There’s something about immersing myself in the countryside, about simply being in a rural landscape, that comforts me. That soothes and calms. I need that now more than ever.
We all have, I think, those places which offer us such a respite. Perhaps yours is a room in your house, a place in nature, maybe even within the pages of a book. I’ve been reading a lot lately and highly-recommend Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds.
Fall. It’s my favorite season, cut too short this year by an early significant snowfall. I’m not happy about it and I doubt many Minnesotans are. We often boast about our hardiness. Yet, we grow weary, too, of our long, cold winters. Most of us, anyway.
Yet, we choose to live here. This is home. And always will be for me. No matter the season.
SIGNS. I FIND THEMINTRIGUING. Interesting. Telling. A way to communicate a message, a thought, an idea.
I think we can all agree, though, that during this election year, sign overload exists. Political signs clutter yards and buildings, even vehicles and sides of roadways. It’s visually overwhelming at times.
But some especially meaningful signs have emerged, signs that convey ideas rather than banner a candidate’s name. Those I appreciate because they prompt thought. And that includes the BLACK LIVES MATTER signs I’ve seen, some in Rice County (especially in Northfield), many in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin, and, just last week, two posted on a modest house in Kenyon.
I often wonder about the stories behind those posting the BLACK LIVES MATTER (or similar “issue”) signs. Did a personal experience prompt someone to share their views in such a public way? Or rather do they simply believe so strongly in something that they opt to freely express their opinion via signage? Maybe both. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they care about this social justice issue, this human issue really. Even in small towns like Kenyon, population around 1,800.
I recognize that, when you live in a small community (under 5,000 by my definition), everyone pretty much knows everyone. If you hang a sign like BLACK LIVES MATTER on your front door and porch windows, everyone in town will know. There is no anonymity. You could quickly become the subject of coffee talk or rumors or whatever people choose to circulate. I’m not saying this is the case in Kenyon, just making a general observation.
Whatever, at least people will be thinking. Maybe even engaging in meaningful and respectful conversations that promote understanding and healing. Bring fairness and equality. In the current divisive environment, I recognize that’s not easy to achieve. But we must keep trying.
TOO OFTEN THESE DAYS, I feel discouraged by all the discord in our country, by the selfishness and lack of care for others.
But then I discover something that lifts my spirits and reaffirms my belief in our goodness, our ability to help one another, to think beyond ourselves and our needs to those of the people around us.
This is the story of such a discovery. Of goodness and kindness and care for those we call our family, neighbors, friends. Or strangers. And this I found in Zumbrota, a small town about a 45-minute drive east of Faribault.
On a recent Sunday afternoon drive through the Zumbro River Valley of southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped in Zumbrota for a picnic lunch, or what was supposed to be a picnic lunch. The weather, only in the 30s and blustery, proved too cold for outdoor dining. We opted to eat in the van while parked outside the public library.
Directly in our line of vision stood a sculpture of children near a structure, which I soon determined to be an artistic interpretation of an historic covered bridge on the other side of the library. I planned, upon finishing my sandwich, grapes and protein bar, to photograph the art and then we would be on our way.
On any other day, Randy and I would walk across that aged bridge to the park, explore a bit while stretching our legs. But the weather was just too darned cold. I hurried to photograph the sculpture as my fingers numbed.
Once done, I walked back toward the van, only to notice a Little Free Library next to the public library. I found that odd.
As I drew closer, I found I was mistaken. This was not a LFL but rather a Community Cupboard—a source of food and hygiene products. Free for the taking.
The message thereon invites those opening the door of this small structure, designed like the nearby covered bridge, to TAKE WHAT YOU NEED, LEAVE WHAT YOU CAN. Baby formula. Snacks. Dried legumes. I didn’t poke around to see all of the contents.
Rather, as I photographed the Community Cupboard, I felt a sense of gratitude for this “Sharing Our Saviour” food outreach of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. I thought of the many times Jesus fed the hungry of body and of soul. And how thankful I am that churches and nonprofits and so many others help people in more ways than we will ever know. This lifts my spirits.
TELL ME: How do you or your community or church (or whatever) help individuals and families in need? I’d like to hear more uplifting stories.
As his words slid across me, I felt my anger and frustration flare as they too often do these days. I wanted to lash out at him, this guy who expressed his disdain for wearing a face mask. But I held back as I waited for the bank teller to return with my deposit slip. I suppressed the message I wanted to share with him that wearing a mask protects others from COVID-19.
As I write, I picture Dave with his broad smile, his genuine care and concern for others. To run a funeral home, you have to be an individual of compassion and understanding, of grace and kindness. A listener and comforter.
All these thoughts filter through my mind when I consider how too many people still fail to wear face masks, fail to follow social distancing guidelines, gather in crowds and/or criticize these public health efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
I see this every time I’m in public. The 40-something unmasked dad at the grocery store shopping with his unmasked elementary-aged son while nearby a 4-year-old has no problem masking up. The two men in another grocery store likewise without masks. The customer in the phone store who pulls his mask on and off with no concern for staff or other customers. And the young 20-something who walks into the phone shop like he owns the place, without a care for adhering to the many signs that call for wearing a mask and social distancing inside the business. The waitress at the end of the bar, standing with two other waitresses, her mask below her nose, as we pick up take-out. It is among the reasons I won’t dine at a restaurant. Half-masking doesn’t protect anyone.
I am beyond frustrated with what I perceive as selfishness, lack of care for others and lack of respect for science and our healthcare workers and so much more. At this point in the progression of COVID, I don’t expect opinions to change. I expect the “if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask” attitude to continue.
That brings me back to Dave, now the 10th Rice County resident to die due to complications from COVID-19. But Dave is not just a number. He was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a man who for decades comforted grieving families. Just like the first person, the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, to die of the virus in my county in April.
This is so important to remember. Behind every number, every statistic, is a person. An individual who loved and was loved. Dave was part of my faith family, thus his death from COVID affects me personally. So when I hear someone say, “…if I didn’t have to wear this stupid mask…” or I see people without masks or half-maskers or I hear of people attending sizable social gatherings, I feel my blood pressure and anger rising.
Dave will not have the funeral he deserves, like so many who have passed during COVID-19. His will be a private family service “in consideration of family health risks.” I respect and appreciate that decision. Too many funerals (and weddings) have been the source of COVID outbreaks in Minnesota.
Yes, we’re all getting COVID weary. I get that. I understand the challenges, especially as we move into winter and the holiday season. This is not easy. But we have the power to, at the very least, do our best to protect ourselves and each other. To listen to the scientists and health experts. To don our masks. And to make smart, not stupid, choices.
MANY TIMES I’VE PASSEDthrough Kenyon, usually en route to visit family in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours distant. But many times also, this town of some 1,800 about a half hour east of Faribault has been my specific destination. Last Sunday afternoon on a drive to view the harvest and fall colors (before an unexpected snowstorm changed the landscape to winter), Randy aimed our van north out of Monkey Valley toward Kenyon just a few miles away.
We had no intention of stopping in Kenyon. But the passenger side window needed cleaning so Randy pulled into a corner service station and washed the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.) Then we continued down Minnesota State Highway 60, which runs through the heart of the business district. As luck would have it, I happened to look, just at the right time, at the Held Bus Service building. And there, in the front windows, I spotted a school-themed display. Photo-worthy, I thought, as I asked Randy to swing around the block and return to the bus building. He even pulled ahead so the van wouldn’t reflect in the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.)
Photographing the window art proved challenging given the reflections. But I was determined to do my best. Someone worked hard to craft and create these educational-themed displays that show the importance of the Kenyon-Wanamingo School in this community—right down to the Knights mascot, the happy bus driver in the red cap and the smiling students. Yes, by that time I’d noticed two separate window displays, one an historic classroom and the other themed to school buses.
As someone who grew up riding the bus for 12 years to schools in southwestern Minnesota, I understand the importance of bus drivers. Mine were Jeff and Harley. Great guys. Friendly. Kind. Competent. It’s not easy driving on rural roads during a Minnesota winter. Nor is it necessarily easy dealing with a bus full of kids.
But Jon Held, owner of Held Bus Service, loves kids. According to a 2016 KARE 11 TV feature on him, he is well-loved, too. He knows kids by name, greeting them daily before and after school (pre-COVID), often with hugs. He keeps a candy stash and one year even handed out his company’s signature red caps to some happy students.
That’s a snapshot of the backstory framing these window displays. These are the stories that define small towns like Kenyon as caring communities, more than simply some place to pass through en route to somewhere else.
JUST DAYS AGO, the southern Minnesota landscape looked like autumn. But, after a record-breaking early snowstorm of up to nine inches of snow on Tuesday, this place I call home looks like winter.
Still, I need to share with you the last remnants of autumn, photographed during a Sunday afternoon drive east of Faribault and eventually into the Zumbro River Valley between Zumbrota and Oronoco. Randy and I felt the urge, the need, to take this final drive of the season, although we were really about two weeks late to see the fall colors. Yet, we found much to appreciate.
As usual, I collected photo stories. Drives into the countryside and into small towns yield many such stories that often go untold. Had the day been warmer than about 35 degrees, we would have stopped more than twice to walk in these small communities. Our plans to eat a picnic lunch at a park ended with us parked outside the Zumbrota Public Library eating our ham sandwiches, grapes and protein bars in the van.
I filled my camera with images as we began out eastward drive along Minnesota State Highway 60. I found myself focused on documenting the harvest. Farmers were out in full force on Sunday, sweeping across acres of cornfields to bring in the crop.
Countless times, we encountered farm machinery on the highway, which led to Randy reciting this sound bite: Farmer on the road! That became a familiar refrain each time we slowed behind or met a tractor or combine and attempted to safely pass.
We’ve traveled highway 60 so many times that I struggle to find something new and interesting to photograph. So I suggested exiting onto a gravel road southwest of Kenyon into Monkey Valley.
The name itself intrigues me. As legend goes, the area was named such after a monkey escaped a traveling circus many many years ago. True? I don’t know. But I like the story.
After completing this leg of our day trip, we aimed north for Kenyon. I always find something interesting in this small town, even though I’ve been here many times. Check back for those photo stories tomorrow as I show you my discoveries.
AS I WRITE THIS EARLY Tuesday afternoon, snow falls, layering the landscape in Minnesota’s first measurable snowfall of the season. Several inches are expected in some areas, more in others. This marks an unusually early snow event.
Only yesterday I wrote of the winter ahead. I didn’t expect that to be the next day, but rather late November or early December. This is just a little too early for my liking.
As I look outside, I observe a squirrel rooting around in my backyard, probably intent on finding a place to stash a walnut.
Next door, birds dine at my neighbor’s bird feeders near an almost naked maple tree.
Across the street, snow piles atop jack-o-lanterns on another neighbor’s front steps, reminding me of the 1991 Halloween blizzard of 20-plus inches of snow here in Minnesota.
Already a city plow truck has sprayed a mix of sand/salt/chemicals onto the street at the bottom of a steep hill.
Later a snowplow scrapes the snow from streets.
The first snow of the season always challenges drivers.
A half hour ago, a Fed Ex worker crossed the street after delivering a package to a neighbor. The young man wore shorts. In 32-degree temps with snow falling. Apparently he didn’t get the weather memo or he can tolerate cold.
All of this I observe from inside the warmth and comfort of my home with no reason to go outdoors. Earlier this morning, before the snow began, I hustled to haul flower pots, a water fountain and other garden art into the garage. Now I’m hoping I won’t need to head out later to shovel…because the snow shovels are still stored in the rafters.
LIVING IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, as I have for my entire life, I feel a strong connection to the land rooted in my rural upbringing.
Each autumn, I reflect on this time of bringing in the crops. Of gathering the last of the garden produce. Of harvesting corn and soybeans from the acres of fields that define rural areas. I miss the sights and sounds and scents of farming this time of year. Once-green fields muting to shades of brown, Combines roaring down field rows. The air smelling of drying leaves and of earth.
For those reasons, I always appreciate a drive through the countryside, especially along gravel roads. The pace is decidedly slower than traveling on a paved surface.
Although farming has changed considerably with bigger machinery and bigger farms and bigger yields, the basic connection to the land remains. At least for me. It’s part of my creative spirit, of my being.
Yes, it’s easy to get nostalgic about rural life. I offer no apologies for that because I shall always feel grateful for the 17 years I lived on a farm. I learned the value of hard work, of living with minimal material possessions, of working together, of recognizing that inner strength and fortitude and resilience are important as are honesty and good character.
I am thankful I used an outhouse during my childhood, pitched manure, picked rocks, walked beans, fed cows and calves, pulled weeds, didn’t get birthday gifts… There’s something to be said for having grown up in such a setting, in a way of life that by necessity requires significant physical labor and living within your means.
In the winter, my hands cracked and bled from exposure to water and the elements. In the spring, when I picked rocks from fields, dirt sifted into holes in my canvas tennis shoes. In the summer, the hot sun blistered my skin as I pulled cockleburrs. (We didn’t have sunscreen.)
And so these are my thoughts as I immerse myself in the season of harvest via a country drive. A drive that takes me from the countryside into town, to seasonal displays and thoughts of Halloween and Thanksgiving and the winter ahead.
I fully recognize that the forthcoming winter will challenge all of us. I am determined to stay the course during this ongoing global pandemic. To mask up, to social distance, to wash my hands, to connect only with my small family circle, to try and stay as healthy as possible, to care about others…to tap into my can-do farm girl attitude of strength, common sense and resilience. For this is but a season of life, one which requires each of us to think beyond ourselves, understanding that our choices matter now, more than ever to the health and safety of all.
WHEN MY GIRLS, now in their early 30s, were growing up, sticker books were all the rage. They filled mini books with stickers. Peel stickers from sheets of glossy paper and adhere them to blank pages. Horses. Kitties. And much more. Cute and bold Lisa Frank designs mostly in a vivid rainbow of hues, strong on pinks and purples.
My daughters loved paging through their sticker books. Stickers still hold universal appeal. For all ages. (The stickers of my era were lick-and-stick to scenes printed on pages of a sticker book.)
That segues to Minnesota Nice Enough, a Nisswa-based company that crafts weatherproof vinyl stickers that are not your kids’ mass-produced outsourced stickers. These are promoted as “made by real people who care about quality, art, beer, bicycles & dogs.” Now that appeals to me.
I first learned about this company during a September visit to Nisswa, a small tourist town located in Minnesota’s central lakes region. Randy and I were in the area, staying at a family member’s guest lake cabin. One day, we ventured into nearby Nisswa to check out the many shops that define this town. Those businesses include Zaiser’s Gift Shop, billing itself as “serving the Nisswa lakes area since 1947 with the most kick-ass products this side of the Milky Way!”
Many stickers feature a decidedly northwoods Minnesota theme with buffalo plaid, Paul Bunyan, moose, pines, loons, canoes… Others highlight Minnesotans’ idiosyncrasies like calling pop “pop,” not soda. And calling hotdish “hotdish,” not casserole. And, as promised, beer gets some love in several stickers, including Minnesota and Wisconsin-shaped beer mugs. Yes, Wisconsin also gets lots of love from Minnesota Nice Enough. And, yes, you can purchase a Minnesota Nice Enough sticker, too.
But it was the oversized ALL WELCOME sticker in the front window of Zaiser’s that first grabbed my attention and led me to learn more about Minnesota Nice Enough (which also features products for adult, not kids’, eyes). That spotlight sticker proclaims that all are welcome. All cultures, beliefs, colors, sizes, ages and identities. And at a time when our nation is so divided, so filled with animosity toward one another, I appreciate this message. It gives me hope, uplifts and encourages me. Thank you, Minnesota Nice Enough.