Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than a fall hike at Falls Creek Park October 6, 2020

A cluster of maple leaves in fall colors photographed at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault, Minnesota.

AS A LIFE-LONG MINNESOTAN, I remain fully cognizant that the season will soon change to one of cold, colorless and confining.

In the woods at Falls Creek Park, some trees are already stripped of leaves.

Thus, a week like the one predicted with sunny skies and temps in the 60s and possibly 70s, is to be celebrated.

Maple leaves cover the earth, from my backyard to here, at Falls Creek Park.

As I look out my office window mid-Monday morning while writing this post, I see sunshine. Sunshine which casts shadows of leaves swaying in the wind onto my office walls.

Subtle colors color these leaves at Falls Creek.

For today, the wind blows with a fierceness that assures the laundry pinned to my backyard clothesline will dry quickly. I’ve taken extra measures to assure the wash stays clipped to the line. The wind is that strong.

Throughout southern Minnesota, leaves are changing color and falling from trees.

Leaves spiral from the backyard maple at a dizzying rate that makes me melancholy. Soon the branches will be stripped bare, exposed to the sky, a strong visual reminder to me that Autumn is nearing her exit.

Fungi ladder on a fallen tree trunk.

I need to hold onto this season, to embrace and celebrate her for as long as I can because I recognize also that this winter ahead—this winter of COVID-19—will prove particularly challenging. The sense of isolation will be heightened as Randy and I continue to keep our circle small.

And so now, while we can, we spend a lot of time outdoors, walking on trails through woods and along rivers. Like at Falls Creek County Park, about a mile east of Faribault just off Minnesota State Highway 60. The 61-acre park seems mostly undiscovered. We last visited in June, although when the kids were still home, we went there more often to picnic and hike.

An opening in the woods leads to a bridge across Falls Creek.

On a recent weekend, we revisited this peaceful and primarily wooded destination, which includes about 3,000 feet of creek footage. After parking in the over-sized gravel parking lot pocked with potholes, we headed down the hill and across an expansive grassy space toward an opening in the woods.

Water rushes around rocks, like this one, in the creek.

Through that gap, a picturesque bridge crosses Falls Creek. I love that cute little bridge spanning the narrow waterway. There’s something magical and fairy tale like about the arc of that bridge, where I stand and listen to water rush over rocks. Clear water, mostly unseen in this area of southern Minnesota with most waterways polluted by fertilizer run-off.

The creek curves through the woods.

After that creekside pause, Randy and I headed onto the dirt trail into the woods. It runs along the creek bank, in some sections nearly eroded away. In one spot, we walk upon thick sticks laid on the pathway to stabilize the walk way.

Sticks laid on the path to stabilize it in an eroded area.

Randy makes it all the way to the falls, only to find it eroded, too, and not as he remembers. I’ve stopped just short of that destination and turned back to retrace our steps. There are no trails spidering through the woods, only this solo one and another that, for a short distance, veers to our right.

Randy walks on the leaf-covered trail, embraced by the woods.

Yet, we delight in being here. In the woods, even if not particularly colorful. Beside the creek. Just us, until we hear voices in the distance and eventually meet a couple from a neighboring town. They are lovely in every way for not only their appreciation of this place but also of others they’ve met here. That includes a group of young men from Somalia, immigrants who’ve resettled locally and spoke to the couple about past challenges. It was incredibly refreshing for me to hear the couple’s kind words about these young men rather than the unkind words I all too often hear about individuals who’ve fled war-torn countries and atrocities we can’t even imagine for a new life in Minnesota.

The lovely bridge across Falls Creek.

Even though I digress from the nature theme of this post, I feel it important to share this sidebar. There are stories to be heard, lessons to be learned, when we take pause to appreciate, to listen. To cross bridges into the woods.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


13 Responses to “More than a fall hike at Falls Creek Park”

  1. Cheryl schrader Says:

    You do have a wonderful life exploring I would not have known such wonderful places existed on the prairie. Your comments About our Somali neighbors give me hope about the future. They have been through so much and yet are able to keep it together and function We should all take time to really talk to them about their stories

    • Cheryl, these photos were taken just outside Faribault, which is not on the prairie. My home area in southwestern Minnesota is prairie.

      And, yes, we should all take time to listen to the stories of our immigrant neighbors. It is through conversations like this couple had they we connect, form relationships and develop an appreciation for all others have experienced. Thank you for your kind comment.

  2. valeriebollinger Says:

    We were at this park a number of years ago for an outdoor wedding. Nice to see it in the fall. Thanks.

  3. Beautiful. I think it is important that each of us try to interact with those who have given up so much to leave their homelands. None of us who have lived a comfortable life in the US can even in our worst nightmares imagine what they have had to endure to leave and travel to a strange and new country. There are still some of us who believe that we feel the Constitution protects all who seek refuge from war and social injustice and wish to live in freedom. Thanks for sharing your recent experience Audrey. Hope!

    • I’m glad you chose that word, “hope,” to close your comment. It’s my go-to word and I have it posted in many places in my office. I believe in hope. I believe in freedom and desire to keep it. Thank you for doing your part to secure freedom. And thank you for caring as deeply as you do about your/our country. And for caring about others.

      • I know sometimes I care too much. But, that is maybe I have seen personally the outcomes of when democratic societies fall into dictatorship. I also know “hope” is the only thing that keeps people going in survival situations. Just think of all those who lost hope in their quest to leave their homelands in search of a better future for themselves and their children outside a war zone. These are the forgotten number.

      • I don’t think anyone can ever care too much. Truly. The problem is that many don’t care enough and are self-focused. We need more empathy, compassion, understanding, kindness…the list could go on and on…in this country. Especially now. You know that and I appreciate your qualities of compassion and understanding and much more. Truly.

        I also appreciate your insightful comment about those who are forgotten. Thank you, as always, Paula, for speaking truth and being the person you are.

  4. We look at so many of the same things except in different states. I love that – it connects me to you from a distance. 🙂

  5. Susan Ready Says:

    A much needed mantra- embrace nature and find a sense of peacefulness being outdoors does give one a feeling of calmness and a respite for the constant barrage of news

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