Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Winter walk: Of woods & river & hungry ducks February 3, 2021

I WAS DETERMINED this past Sunday to get out of Dodge. I needed a change of place, something new to photograph. So I decided we’d head about 20 minutes south on Interstate 35 to check out the snow sculptures at Owatonna’s Bold & Cold Winter Festival.

Well, we never got there. Suffice to say the best-laid plans were thwarted by developing health situations with our parents. Our phones were blowing up on Sunday. And I’d lost my desire to leave Faribault. I’d been awake since 4:55 a.m. and, come afternoon, my energy level plummeted. Randy suggested I nap for a bit. I tried.

The trail we walked edges the Straight River.

Then, about mid-afternoon, I declared myself weary of everything and ready for a walk. I pulled on a warm parka, laced my snow boots, grabbed a stocking cap and mittens, switched out the lens on my camera and headed out the door. Destination: A Faribault city trail that runs parallel to Central Avenue and along the Straight River.

Branches overhang the Straight River.

As Randy and I walked, I felt my mood shifting away from worry about loved ones to the natural world around me. Bare trees rising above the snow. Others leaning or broken. Black against white.

The river curves through the woods.

The river, edged with ice, curving through the woods. Poetic. Artsy. Mostly monochromatic.

The wind chimes that created such beautiful music.

I paused at the sound of music, church bells, I thought. Randy pointed to chimes dangling above a balcony at a trail-side apartment building.

Photographed on the Cannon River at North Alexander Park. Randy claimed the bird followed us from the other trail we walked. Photo was edited.

We listened, too, to the manic caw of crows circling nearby. I felt like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I thought I saw an eagle through the distant treetops, but then never spotted it again.

This limestone building along the Straight River Trail caused me to pause. I need to research its history. Watch for a future post with more images.

A bit farther down the path, we paused to consider an aged limestone building. Abandoned. I wondered aloud at its purpose. And the part of me that appreciates such historic structures lamented its neglect.

Art on ice.

I noted the abundance of animal tracks in the snow. And human tracks and sled imprints on the hillside.

When the cellphone in my parka pocket jingled, I ignored it.

The first two ducks to land near us along the shore of the Cannon River. Edited photo.

When we’d walked a distance, we retraced our steps, took a short cut up the sledding hill and then aimed to another city trail, this one along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. There, masses of ducks flew close to shore near our parking spot. They just kept coming and I couldn’t figure out why.

The ducks just kept coming, landing on the frozen river. Edited photo.

Randy looked at the paved pathway to traces of smashed bread. Ah, the ducks thought we brought food. We laughed about that and considered that maybe, while we continued our walk, they would swarm our van and leave droppings.

The ducks hung around until we distanced ourselves from them and they determined we weren’t feeding them. Edited photo.

I quickened my pace, anxious to flee the flock of hungry ducks. A few minutes later, we watched them take flight away from the frozen shoreline and land in open water.

One of the many picnic shelters in North Alexander Park, where picnic tables are stacked in the winter to protect them from the weather.

We continued through the park, passing picnic shelters packed with stacked picnic tables. Past lone grills enveloped in snow. Past the colorful playground absent of children. And past the vacant ball fields.

Posted on a softball diamond fence at the park.

The wind cut cold through our bones as we turned onto the park road that would take us back to our van. I felt refreshed, my mind cleared, my spirits buoyed by the simple act of getting outdoors. Away from challenges and concerns. For at least an hour.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


14 Responses to “Winter walk: Of woods & river & hungry ducks”

  1. Lovely photos, Audrey. You were smart to take that walk.

  2. Larry Gavin Says:

    Sorry for your troubles. Nature heals us, you know that well. Thanks for the nice essay.

  3. Glad you and Randy got out and lost yourselves away from thoughts of family worry. I’d love to know what you find out about that limestone building. I always do the same when I stumble across an interesting building here in the city.

    Many days I long for a car that we can just get into and escape the city for a day or two. I am a long distance cyclist, but the weather here at this time, cold, icy wet, is preventing me from going out over the George Washington Bridge and getting lost in my head for a few hours ride. Ethan’s birthday is coming up in a week or so and thankfully it is during the winter school recess. I plan to take the week off and we rented a car for three days. We all need to get out of Dodge! I now have permission to go into the work office following building COVID protocols. I plan on doing that for a day next week.

    I hope all is well with the family.

    • Keith, I am so happy you have that get-away planned with your family to celebrate Ethan’s birthday. I’m sure he will appreciate that a lot as will Nicole. I’m also glad you can return to the office safely. I think that will help also. Winter plus COVID restrictions can get to be a lot. Be well, my friend.

      Thank you for your concern about our family. Those issues remain.

      I’ll get info up one of these days about that aged limestone building. I looked back in previous blog posts and saw I’d already researched it. Hmm, that proves the memory isn’t the best always.

  4. Sandra Van Erp Says:

    I pray the family situation has calmed. The trails system in Faribault is amazing. You started at Alexander, parked there? To think a person could bike from the south to north ends of town on a scenic route…when did the Straight River Trail get finished, assume took a while? I just did research on the mills, had to ask Jeff Jarvis the name of Parvena Elevator where Heritage Bluff apts are now. There are mills remains everywhere, many gone by the time my memory starts, but I did walk 3rd St. past that big grey building to the old high school, did get that right. If you wanted to do a photo essay just on the 5-8 mi of the Straight River Trail…and looking at this map! I’ll be coming to Donahue’s in June, will plan my own drive….just to get out!! Stay safe!

    • The family situation remains. Thanks for asking.

      As far as our walk, we parked by the apartment on Central and walked the trail for a while before driving to North Alexander and walking some more. Yes, Faribault has a great trail system. And, yes, Jeff Jarvis is a wealth of historical information. Since I didn’t grow up here, I really don’t know any of this, including about the Parvena Elevator. I looked back on previous blog posts and see that the limestone building was the Faribault Gas & Electric Company (according to Jeff).

  5. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    I’m sorry your heart was troubled my friend, but I’m glad you were able to get out and do what you love to do. I will be praying for you and Randy, you can be sure of that!

  6. Missy’s Crafty Mess Says:

    Beautiful pictures! Praying for the best for your loved ones.

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