Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The reality of COVID-19 October 9, 2020

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A portrait I took of my mom during my last in-person visit with her in early March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

I EXPECTED THIS. Yet, the news that an employee in my mom’s southwestern Minnesota care center has tested positive for COVID-19 hit me hard. I felt my heart race, my blood pressure rise, my worry spike when my daughter alerted me to this development Wednesday afternoon. It took awhile for me to process this and what this might mean.

I’m more settled now with the passage of time and answers from the care center administrator who advised, in a Facebook post, to email her with any concerns or questions. She was prompt and thorough in her reply to my inquiry and for that I am grateful. I feel better if I am informed, rather than guessing or wondering.

I photographed my mom’s hands during that last in-person visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2020.

Time and testing will tell if Mom has been exposed to the virus. I am confident the care center is doing the best it can to protect staff and residents. But I also recognize that the best, when it comes to this potentially deadly virus, may not be enough. I am preparing myself mentally.

Simultaneously, my father-in-law is now in in-room quarantine after a resident of his wing in a central Minnesota care center tested positive for COVID.

And our second daughter, who works as a letter carrier in Madison, Wisconsin, texted Wednesday evening that an individual in her office tested positive for the virus. She was not surprised. She has shared often that masking up is about the only safety measure being taken to protect her and other postal employees. Thankfully she was not told she needed to quarantine, meaning she was not exposed to the infected co-worker.

All of this, as you would guess, is stressing me. These cases are getting way too close to people I love.

To those of you in similar situations or who have lost loved ones to COVID, my heart breaks for you. This is hard, just plain hard.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I especially appreciated, as part of her Facebook post, the administrator at my mom’s care center adding this:

“We have kept a close eye on the increase in cases within our county; however, we can only do so much. To help continue to keep our residents safe and allow them to live without all of these restrictions, we ask that our community members please take this virus seriously. Please mask if you are able and social distance from others.”

That’s prudent advice no matter where you live. No place is immune. I continue to see way too many people not wearing masks or wearing them under their noses (which does no good). I hear stories from my husband about co-workers and customers exhibiting the same careless behavior. This frustrates me to no end. Why don’t people care? I just do not understand.

COVID-19 kills. In Minnesota, most of those who have lost their lives lived in long-term congregate care centers or assisted living facilities. I’ve heard nonchalant comments like, “Oh, they are old, they were going to die anyway.” As if that’s OK. It’s not. Sure, my mom has major health issues that could end her life any day. But her life still has value. And I’d rather she didn’t die of COVID-19.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Weekend events celebrate art, diversity & food October 8, 2020

The pottery of Tom Willis, displayed at a past Studio ARTour. He will be among six artists at Studio #7, 10754 Farrel Avenue, Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ART, FOOD, FUN and more food. All will focus events in the Faribault area this weekend. And even though I’m uncertain yet whether I will attend any—because of my COVID-19 comfort level—I want to pass along this community information. These are all worthy events which I’ve attended in past years.

First up is the annual south central Minnesota Studio ARTour, featuring the work of 16 regional artists either in studios or, in Faribault, also at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Some of those studios will be open from 4-8 pm Friday in addition to weekend hours that start at 10 am and continue until 6 pm on Saturday and until 5 pm on Sunday.

The tour is scaled back from previous years, but still includes a variety of artists who paint, shape clay into pottery, practice the Norwegian art of rosemaling, engage in fiber art, design jewelry, create with photography and more. I’ve always appreciated the opportunity to meet these artists, to view their work and where they work.

Promotional info for the tour emphasizes that health and safety come first and that participants—yes, that includes everyone—must wear a mask and that hand sanitizer will be used. Some artists will set up outdoors.

A previous flag ceremony featured national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Likewise, the Faribault Diversity Coalition, organizers of the 15th annual International Festival Faribault, promises plenty of safety protocol during the 10 am – 4 pm Saturday fest at Faribault’s Central Park. If you’re comfortable attending, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s a great opportunity to learn more about the diverse people who call Faribault home. The fest is aptly billed as “Neighbor Meeting Neighbor.”

This celebration of our cultural diversity includes a full day of entertainment from Native American, Guatemalan and Aztec dancers to Guatemalan and Hispanic singers and more. Other highlights include a Naturalization Ceremony and a Flag Ceremony, both in the early afternoon.

And there’s more—arts and crafts, kids’ activities, informational booths and food. Let’s not forget the food. Food from around the world. The fest offers a great opportunity to try ethnic foods.

My plate full of food from a past Trinity harvest dinner. Not all foods served are on this plate. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Food centers the final local event I want to highlight. That’s the annual Trinity North Morristown Harvest Dinner from 11 am – 1 pm Sunday. I’ve attended this annual church dinner many times and highly-recommend it for the outstanding food. For only $10, you’ll get a meal of turkey, ham and all the trimmings that tastes like it came directly from Grandma’s kitchen.

This year the meal is take-out only with tickets sold on the adjacent Fourth of July picnic grounds and meals then handed out via drive-through on the south side of this rural church. I’ve always enjoyed the dining-in experience of cramming inside the church basement for good food and conversation among this friendly crowd. But, because of COVID, there will be none of that nor will there be a craft or bake sale.

Life goes on, pandemic or not. Just, please, if you attend any of these events, mask up (whether indoors or out), social distance and keep your hands clean. If you’re sick or have COVID symptoms or have been exposed to anyone with COVID or COVID symptoms, stay home.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Embracing nature, seeking peace in chaos October 7, 2020

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Posted near the amphitheater at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, Minnesota.

IN EVERY WALK with nature one receives far more than he seeks—John Muir.

A scene at River Bend, looking from the swamp across the prairie to the distant treeline on Sunday afternoon.

Those words, imprinted upon a memorial plaque at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, hold a depth of meaning worth pondering. To think that every walk outdoors gives us more than we expect, or search out, seems valid. Especially now, during COVID-19, when many of us are rediscovering the beauty and healing power of the natural world.

Even the drying swamp grasses prove beautiful against the autumn sky.

Are you among the many embracing the outdoors with renewed enthusiasm and appreciation? I certainly am.

This is an example of the many beautiful tree-lined streets in Faribault. I shot this along Second Avenue, with Central Park on the left and The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior on the right.
To the northeast of Cannon City, we stopped along a back gravel road so I could photograph this distant, colorful hillside across acres of ripening corn.
Northbound along Interstate 35 just north of Faribault, leaves are changing color.

Whether walking at a local park or hiking through a nature center or following a city street or driving along a back country road or even traveling along a busy interstate, I feel a heightened sense of gratitude for the sky, the trees, the land, all that surrounds me.

Wildflowers still bloom at River Bend as autumn wanes.

And as autumn presses on toward winter, I also feel an urgency to get outside. On foot before ice and snow pack trails and I feel less secure in my footing. Maybe this will be the winter I buy metal grippers that clamp onto my boots. Maybe this will be the winter I reclaim my youthful enthusiasm for the season.

A prairie plaque honors a volunteer at River Bend.

Many days I long to get away. Away from traffic and noise and busyness and people to the quiet of woods, the silence of the prairie, the peace that nature offers.

Autumn colors trees at River Bend.

There’s so much turmoil now. Too much hatred. Too much dissent and too much untruth and too much of everything that’s mean and unkind and disrespectful of others. I yearn for a world where we all hold genuine compassion and care for one another.

The hole, the decay, in this tree reminds me in some ways of our country right now.

I’ve never, in my sixty-plus decades on this earth, witnessed such chaos, discord, selfishness…

Like these bold berries pop color into the River Bend landscape, we can pop positivity into the world. We can choose to be bold, to stand for decency and the common good.

I have within me the power to act with decency, with empathy, with understanding. With kindness.

North of Faribault along I-35.

To settle my mind into a frame of peacefulness, I embrace prayer and nature. To do so is to receive more than I seek.

Currently, I am reading The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu. A friend, who recently moved to the lakes region of central Minnesota, gifted Katja Pantzar’s book to me. I’m only 58 pages into the read. But already the words written therein about the Finns’ resilience and close connection to nature resonate. In two more chapters, I’ll be into “Nature Therapy, The Benefits of a Walk in the Woods.”

In the woods at River Bend…

I don’t expect the contents of that chapter to surprise me. Whether walking in the woods or through a city park, we can benefit from simply being in nature. To feel the warmth of sunshine, to hear the rush of wind through trees, to watch water tumble over rocks, to smell the scent of autumn…all calm the spirit, restore peace, and lift moods. What a gift.

TELL ME: Are you rediscovering nature during COVID-19? If so, in what ways has this helped you deal with the pandemic? What’s your favorite nature spot?

© Copyright 2020 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

 

“A beautiful day in Faribault,” at River Bend October 5, 2020

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A grassy trail runs along the prairie at River Bend, leading to the woods.

TYPICALLY, I STICK to paved and grassy trails when hiking at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. I feel more secure on a firm surface, mostly free of hidden obstacles.

Following the river bottom trail into the woods.
Beautiful maples color the woods.
A view of the Straight River along a trail through River Bend Nature Center.

But, on a recent visit to River Bend, Randy and I followed a dirt trail down a steep hill to the Straight River. I felt apprehensive as we navigated, like mountain goats, down the limestone-pocked hill. He’s always willing to grab my hand, a reassuring act that makes me feel more confident. With two broken bones resulting from falls in my medical history, I hold a heightened awareness of keeping myself safe.

Sumac pop color into the autumn landscape.
Getting creative in the woods with a tipi style structure.
I found myself pausing often to look toward the treetops.

So, as we followed the dirt path covered with leaves and tripping tree roots, I watched my step more than my surroundings. And when you’re a photographer always alert to her environment, this is not ideal. I found myself stopping often to take in the woods and details therein. Randy is also great about alerting me to possible photo subjects. I deeply appreciate that about him, that he values my interest in photography.

Trails are sometimes well-marked, sometimes not.
I may get directionally lost, but I’ve never lost a shoe. I spotted this along a trail.
You don’t see many birch trees in the southern part of Minnesota, so I always delight in spotting one.

He also recognizes that my map-reading skills rate at about zero as does my sense of direction, unless I’m in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie of straight, gridded lines. I rely on him to know where we are going. And sometimes, I’ve found, he fakes that knowledge. That makes me uncomfortable. But we always emerge out of the woods, safe and sound.

Beautiful prairie wildflowers.
Prairie grasses and woods at River Bend.
Goldenrod add an autumnal hue to the landscape.

No visit to River Bend is complete without a walk through the prairie to take in the tall grasses and wildflowers defining that landscape. I need to see wide sky and open land, so much a part of me. Of my history as a daughter of the prairie.

Looking up to the treetops, I see such beauty.
Bold berries burst color on a tree outside the visitor center.
Any day at River Bend is a truly beautiful day as noted on this paver at a look-out patio above the Straight River. Thank you, A, B, C and D for this gift honoring your parents.

Yet, having lived in southeastern Minnesota for nearly 40 years, I’ve grown to appreciate the woods and hills and lakes, mostly absent from the landscape of my youth. Every place, every landscape, possesses a certain beauty, if only we stop in the busyness of life to recognize that. These days, especially, call for each of us to pause and reassess. To consider what we most value. And on my list of faith, family, friends and health, I also add nature.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

And the winner is… October 3, 2020

Graphic from Minnesota Library Association

POWERFUL AND EMPOWERING.

Those two words describe the winner of the first-ever Minnesota Author Project: Communities Create Award announced Thursday during the Minnesota Library Association’s annual conference.

Justice Makes a Difference—The Story of Miss Freedom Fighter, Esquire by Artika Tyner and Jacklyn M. Milton won the award. And it’s a well-deserved honor bestowed on the 16-page book themed on making a difference in this world. Illustrators Jeremy Norton and Janos Orban also deserve credit for exceptional art.

The book tells the story of Justice and her grandmother, who teaches her granddaughter about her value. “…don’t let someone tell you that you’re too young to make a difference.” And then she goes on to cite numerous individuals who have made a difference, like Ida B. Wells, a journalist who advanced racial equality through her writing.

“Words are powerful,” Grandma tells Justice. “They can be used in powerful ways to do good or to do harm.”

And so the storyline goes with the authors weaving historical figures into the heart of their message—that we each hold within us the power to effect change, to help others, to make a difference. Individuals like Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for U.S. President, or attorney Charles Hamilton Houston, who worked to end segregation in schools. Or Justice.

This book is as fitting today as 60-plus years ago, which says something. We still need to hear the message that what we say and do, or what we don’t say or don’t do, matters.

I’d encourage you to read this award-winning book penned by Tyner, an educator, civil rights attorney and founder of Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, and Milton, an educator and community advocate. Proceeds from the book will support educational programming at Planting People, an organization seeking to plant seeds of social change via education, training and community outreach.

By reading this book, I learned more about individuals who cared and led and worked hard for change. Brief bios on those six leaders who inspired Justice end this powerful and empowering book.

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SIX BOOKS COMPETED for the Minnesota Author Projects: Communities Create Award, including one in which my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” published. Although our collection of poetry, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills, did not win, I am honored to have been in the group of six books selected as award finalists.

Congratulations to all five finalists and to the winner, Justice Makes a Difference. Because yes, it does. And, yes she can.

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SPECIAL THANKS to Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy for submitting the collection of poems by 16 Rice County poets to this competition. He is an enthusiastic and much-appreciated poet and ambassador for poets and our poetry. I appreciate you, Rob.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Following the backroads of Rice County into autumn October 2, 2020

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Fall colors as photographed in rural Rice County, Minnesota, on September 26.

 

THIS AUTUMN FEELS especially fleeting, as if the days are slipping too quickly into the cold and dark of winter’s grip. The sun now rises shortly after 7 a.m. and sets just before 7 p.m. The darkness is closing in and I feel it.

 

Ripening corn and soybean fields surround this farm site in Rice County.

 

This year, more than ever, I feel an urgency to get outdoors, to delight in every single moment of autumnal beauty, of semi warm temps, of days without snow.

 

Heading uphill on the backroads of Rice County last Saturday.

 

And I feel this way due to COVID-19. The reality is that the winter ahead will prove challenging as we hunker down indoors, limiting our contact with others as we attempt to stay healthy and protect others. At least that’s my plan, Randy’s plan.

 

Cornfields ripen, awaiting the harvest. I feel like we’re all waiting. Just waiting in this season of COVID.

 

We’ve already managed seven months of this cautiousness, this recognition that we hold a responsibility to do our part. For ourselves. And for our friends, family and neighbors. I’m particularly worried these days about the upsurge in cases in Wisconsin, where our daughter and her husband and our son live. But I worry, too, about Randy facing potential COVID exposure daily at work because of a failure among others to mask, mask properly or to follow other safety/health regulations. I am beyond frustrated, as I’ve stated here in previous posts.

 

Another Rice County farm site. COVID knows no differences between rural and urban. We’re seeing that now in Minnesota, where cases of the virus in rural counties are spiking.

 

We’re weary of it all. Truly weary. Who isn’t experiencing COVID fatigue? But, as our health officials have advised, this is no time to let down our guard, to give up, to live our lives like there’s no pandemic. Because Randy and I are trying to be careful, we gravitate outdoors, whether on countryside drives or hiking. Nature and time outdoors provide a peaceful and uplifting escape.

 

Driving down Rice County’s backroads to view the ripening crops and fall colors.

 

Last Saturday took us onto backroads in our county of Rice, where we’ve found fall colors to be especially lovely. And mostly undiscovered. We had no particular destination and I can’t even tell you where we drove. But we drive and turn and turn and drive and follow whatever roads seem interesting.

 

Farm sites prove interesting to me on these rural drives.

 

The overcast day wasn’t especially beautiful for leaf-viewing. But, this time of year, you take what you get and enjoy whatever appears before you.

 

Color tints treelines in rural Rice County.

 

I encourage each of you, especially if you live in the Rice County area or other parts of Minnesota, to take a fall color drive this weekend. These days are fleeting as leaves change colors and fall, moving us closer and closer to the long winter ahead.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a recommendation for a great place to view fall colors?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of a Turtle October 1, 2020

 

Leonardo, up close in Zimmerman, Minnesota.

 

THE SIGHT OF LEONARDO standing strong and tall at the wheel of a motorboat left me feeling simultaneously nostalgic and amused.

Amused because, well, who expects a fictional turtle piloting a parked boat in Zimmerman, Minnesota? The scene caused me to laugh. And, today more than ever during these unsettling and difficult times, I need laughter.

I need laughter to loosen muscles that are too often tight. A head that too often hurts from hearing too much hatred and rhetoric. I need this momentary visual escape from reality.

 

Figurines displayed at a past toy exhibit at the Steele County History Center, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And so, as I photographed this cartoon character manning a stationery boat in a residential neighborhood, I also remembered how my daughters—children of the 80s— watched the superhero cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And embraced the four turtles named after Italian Renaissance artists. Leonardo. Michelangelo. Donatello. Raphael.

They played with Turtle figurines, sang the cartoon theme song, even celebrated a birthday with a home-crafted Turtle cake, although I no longer recall which character or which daughter.

The masked hero in the boat is Leonardo, the leader of the quartet and named for artist, engineer and scientist Leonardo da Vinci.

 

A design allowing actors to fly across a stage, included in the “Machines in Motion” exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

In 2012, I toured an exhibit, “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion,” at The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin. To see a show originating in Florence, Italy, here in the Midwest was a gift. The exhibit featured 40 operating machines built from da Vinci designs. Amazing. (I encourage you to check out my photos and story about “Machines in Motion” by clicking here.)

 

One last look at the unusual “public art” in Zimmerman.

 

Now, eight years later, I am reminded of that museum exhibit. I am reminded, too, of my daughters, now grown into adulthood and one with children of her own. I am reminded also that, in the chaos and uncertainties of today, I can find a reason to laugh. Thank you, Zimmerman boater, for placing Leonardo inside your boat parked on your front lawn. You made me laugh.

TELL ME: What has caused you to laugh recently?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nisswa Lake Park delivers, with a bonus surprise September 30, 2020

Signage directs trail users to Nisswa, via the tunnel.

 

The city’s newest park is all about nature; featuring walking paths, water garden, pavilion, picnic tables, benches and garbage cans, along with breathtaking views of Nisswa Lake.

 

Randy finishes his picnic lunch.

 

That description of Nisswa Lake Park in a printed travel guide drew my interest as I researched for a recent lake cabin get-away to the central Minnesota lakes region. Randy and I planned a day trip into the small tourist town of Nisswa. That included a picnic lunch since we are not comfortable dining out at a restaurant, even if outdoors. The community’s newest park seemed an ideal place, especially with those noted garbage cans. That notation caused us to laugh. But, hey, trash cans are vital if you’re dining outdoors in a park.

 

Tunnel graffiti with an encouraging message.

 

A simple, but powerful, word especially during these trying times in our nation.

 

Another timely message on the tunnel wall.

 

After some time browsing the many shops, we stopped at the local tourism office for directions to the lakeside park. We drove to the south end of town, parked the van and headed down flights of stairs toward a tunnel leading into Nisswa Lake Park. As we walked through the short tunnel under busy Minnesota State Highway 371, I noted the graffiti already written on the walls.

 

The tunnel to the park and trails passes under the highway. On the other side, you can see the stairway leading up to downtown Nisswa. This photo was taken from the park side.

 

And then we emerged on the other side, wondering exactly which direction to head with multiple trail options. We chose what seemed the most obvious route and soon found ourselves in a clearing, surrounded by woods.

 

This pavilion sits atop a hill, complete with the advertised garbage cans.

 

We also found the promised picnic tables, benches, pavilion and garbage cans. Along with porta potties.

 

The public dock at Nisswa Lake Park.

 

After lunch, we followed a trail leading to the public landing and dock along Nisswa Lake.

 

Leaves were already turning color during our visit nearly two weeks ago.

 

A simple, but powerful, word imprinted on the back of a bench.

 

The last of summer’s flowers, black-eyed susans, linger.

 

If there was a water garden, I missed it. But I didn’t miss the leaves, messages, flowers.

 

I found this kindness rock lying on the ground in Nisswa Lake Park.

 

The flip side of the kindness rock.

 

And I didn’t miss the painted heart-shaped stone with the printed message: Have a great Day. Whenever I discover such an unexpected “Kindness Rock,” as these are technically termed, I feel uplifted. Joyful. And, most of all, thankful for those creative and caring people who paint and print and place these inspirational gems in public places.

 

A plaque atop a picnic table inside the pavilion expresses gratitude.

 

So while the garbage can rated important, and the lake view proved lovely and the bathrooms necessary, it was this single small item which meant the most to me upon my first visit to Nisswa’s newest park.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up North at the lake cabin September 29, 2020

The residuals of sunset tint the sky and the water on Horseshoe Lake.

 

JUST OVER A YEAR AGO, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law purchased a lakeside property in central Minnesota with a guest cabin. That bonus cabin, located a short walk from the year-round lake home, was among the main reasons they chose to buy this place. They wanted to invite family and friends to stay.

 

We fished from the dock while others fished from boats. Randy caught three fish. My solo catch got away after it flipped out of Randy’s hand on the dock. I then found a net.

 

What an incredible blessing the cabin has already proven to be to many in the family, especially during a global pandemic. Randy and I recently spent several days at the cabin, our third stay there in a year, and our first time without any other family. It was exactly what I needed. A respite. A break from reality while immersed in nature.

 

Signs like this mark lake properties in the central Minnesota lakes region. I find these collections, and signature art at the ends of driveways, to be visually, artistically and historically fascinating.

 

A speed boat flies across the water on the opposite side of the lake.

 

On the weekend of our September visit, neighboring lake properties remained unused. Nice and quiet, just how we like it.

 

Unlike many Minnesotans, I did not grow up with trips Up North to the cabin. I didn’t even grow up with vacations, except two—one to Duluth at age four and the other to the Black Hills of South Dakota around age ten. Such is the reality of a childhood on a crop and dairy farm, where the cows don’t allow for vacations. Randy grew up the same way.

 

Skies opened to beautiful blue reflecting on the water. We lounged lakeside for awhile.

 

Because of that and because, even as adults, we’ve vacationed minimally (due to cost and few vacation days until recently), we deeply appreciate, enjoy and delight in this time at the family lake cabin. We are experiencing something—time off and time at the lake—that many take for granted.

 

Pines border the driveway into the lake property. This scene is so Minnesota northwoods.

 

The central lakes region of Minnesota feels vastly different from life in Faribault south of the metro. And that’s exactly the point of getting away to the cabin. There I feel much more connected to the natural world. By the lake. By the family of resident eagles. By the crowded woods of thin pines that stretch tall and lean along the driveway into the lake property. By the rush of wind through those pines.

 

Chairs on a neighboring dock…

 

Combined, all of those differences create a sense of peace that only nature can deliver.

 

Randy cooks an evening meal of buffalo burgers, bacon and vegetables over a lakeside campfire.

 

Our brother-in-law has chopped plenty of wood for campfires and fireplace fires.

 

Even though the weather during our most recent visit was sometimes cool and exceptionally windy, Randy and I spent most of our times outdoors. Fishing. Hiking. And, in the evenings, pulled up to the warmth of a campfire. Oak chunks flamed before burning to red hot coals and embers. We talked. And sometimes just sat, lost in our thoughts. One evening we listened to band music carrying across the landscape from a nearby bar and grill.

 

A daytime view looking to the pine tops.

 

After our campfire time, before heading indoors, we paused to look skyward. To the stars filling the night sky. Beautiful in the lack of light pollution. Bright points in the inky darkness. Earlier in the summer, we showed those same stars to our four-year-old granddaughter, who was staying with us at the cabin along with her family. Isabelle was “too excited to sleep,” she told us. So outside we went to view the stars. Not that that helped settle her excitement. But why not take our granddaughter outside in her pajamas to see the stars?

 

Randy takes a quiet walk along the beach.

 

Such moments are part of a cabin vacation. Or any vacation. As Randy and I stood under the starry sky in September, we remembered that moment with Izzy and how we look forward to future stays at the lake cabin with our family. Building memories. Memories we never had, but which are now making. Because Randy’s youngest sister and her husband are sharing their piece/peace of heaven with us, their family. We are grateful.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling