Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

River, woods, train…a reflective winter walk February 8, 2023

A railroad trestle crosses the Straight River by Fleckenstein Bluffs Park near downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

LINES AND LIGHT INTERSECT, layering the snowy landscape on a late afternoon in February.

I find even dried vegetation to be visually interesting. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I am following the Straight River Trail in Faribault from Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. Daylight presses towards early evening with sunlight slanting, shadowing, scripting as I take in the woods, the river, the dried vegetation, then the hard lines of metal and stone.

When I look up, I see a bold blue sky backdropping treetops. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Birds chatter among the trees that border the trail, along the rambling river. I pause. Listen. Appreciate that these feathered creatures manage to survive winter in Minnesota. Even with temps reaching to 30 degrees on this day, I feel the cold.

Randy usually outpaces me as I stop often to take photos. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I move initially at an unhurried pace. Walk too fast and I miss too much. Randy is well ahead of me, yet he also hears the birdsong, notices the robins, chickadees, a lone woodpecker.

In a dip near the park, tracks in the snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Tracks mar the snow. Animal and human. I wonder about the wildlife that venture onto the river where snow meets ice, meets open water.

The poetic Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

A pocked layer of thin ice nudges water which flows, rippling, curving with the topography. The creative in me reads poetry in the way the water wends. I am lost in the moment, in the scene, in the setting, in the wildness.

Lines cross this 120-year-old limestone building along the Straight River Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I press on, toward the aged limestone building hugging the trail. Diagonal lines—power and shadows—cross the stone on the boarded building with a misplaced modern garage door. This 1903 building originally housed Faribault Gas & Electric Company, supplier of power to Faribault via the Cannon Falls hydroelectric plant. Every time I view this building, I wish it could be restored, used in a way that celebrates its history.

The icy river is melting, opening to flowing water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

My thoughts meander here along the Straight River Trail. Focusing on history and nature and introspective observation.

I often meet dogs and their owners while walking the trails. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

But then a dog draws me back to reality. A massive canine, fluffy and white, leashed. His owner stops, allows me to pet his Great Pyrenees with the friendly face, and gorgeous long fur. Ducky. I assess that keeping him clean must be challenging. Ducky’s owner confirms, then continues on.

A sculpture, at least in my eyes, set against a snow-covered hillside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Cold bites at my exposed fingers as I retrace my path, heading back toward the park. I notice a sagging wire fence like graph paper gridding a snowy hillside. Single family homes and an apartment complex rise high above the trail, backyards revealing much in the nakedness of winter.

Boxcar art on exhibit as a train passes over the Straight River by Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Soon a shrill whistle cuts through the bluffs. I race to reach an opening in the woods where I can photograph a train as it crosses a trestle over the river. I miss the locomotive, focusing instead on the moving canvases of art created by transient artists.

Strong fence lines border the river overlook at Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I see art, too, in the fenced lines of a river overlook in the park, a space packed with snow and inaccessible in the winter.

When I’m walking, I appreciate curves in sidewalks and trails. I find them more appealing not only for following, but visually. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Then I curve along the sidewalk that rounds the playground before aiming back to the parking lot. I notice reflections of trees in puddles of melting snow. The bold blue sky. The way light bounces off the segmented walkway. I feel invigorated by all I’ve seen, by the sharp cold air, by the essence of time outdoors on a February afternoon in southern Minnesota.

TELL ME: Where do you walk outdoors in February?

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “River, woods, train…a reflective winter walk”

  1. Rei Clearly Says:

    These came out beautiful! Thank you for sharing!

  2. beth Says:

    you have really captured the serene and natural beauty of winter here, Audrey. all senses engaged. I especially loved the dried plants and the lovely crooked straight river.

  3. Your artistic view of the world is always a joy. Thank you for sharing it. ❤

  4. Washe Koda Says:

    Oh for cool 😎 Audrey: glad to see you still get out and about after… ~Willy

  5. Beautiful captures – for some reason I can feel the cold though. The weather here has been gorgeous to escape to the great outdoors to walk, hike, and kayak. We had our first experience this past weekend in kayaking with gators – we were with an experienced guide. It felt like we stepped back in time to old Florida in kayaking this river. The resurrection ferns, spanish moss, palms, etc. – beautiful place to explore and adventure. Happy Day – Stay Warm – Enjoy 🙂

  6. Michelle Says:

    February is a tricky month in BC. Minus twenty celsium last week, but this week, we’re planning to hit plus twelve. The down side of the moody weather is the muck. It makes my regular wood walks a thing for later. I stick to the paved walks and in my town, they’re not terribly picturesque.

    • I acknowledge the challenges of getting out in a cold weather place. Snow, ice, muck, cold…all factor into choosing where to walk. It sounds like sticking to paved paths is the right choice for you now. There’s hope. Spring WILL come. It always does.

  7. Jaaberg Says:

    Audrey, this is lovely. Thank you for taking us along on your winter walk. Between your images and your magic words you woke up the boy in me, now covered in some 60 winters, the boy who took hundreds of such winter walks in the woods, prairies and fields around Norseland, MN and noticed similar things. Long ago and far away.

    • You are welcome. The poetic way in which you wrote your comment reveals to me that you are an observer, too. I’m familiar with Norseland, having worked for The Gaylord Hub from 1978-1980. I wrote a feature about the Norseland General Store, covered the Scandia Grove Church fire and more. Beautiful area. A second cousin’s husband, the Rev. Craig Ferkenstad, served as pastor at Norseland Lutheran. I recognize your last name of Aaberg (I knew Ted) from my days at Bethany Lutheran College.

      • Jaaberg Says:

        Oh yes, I know Pastor Ferkinstad. He’s such a great appreciator and protector of history. And I was introduced to your online series by my brother Ted. I’ll search for your piece on the Norseland store.
        Thanks again for producing such a lovely ongoing series. I’ve enjoyed them for years now, but this is my first time commenting.

      • I thought Ted might be your brother. I am deeply sorry for his passing. I had the joy of reconnecting with him via email several years prior to his death. That began with him commenting here.

        The Norseland Store piece published in The Gaylord Hub, not on my blog. I don’t know if their back issues are online, but my guess is not. Welcome to the comments section. I appreciate your presence here and I appreciate your readership.

      • Jaaberg Says:

        Thank you for your kind words about Ted. Yes, I miss our conversations and discussions about his own writing.

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