MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED since Randy and I stopped at the Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse, rural Dundas. But on a recent weekend afternoon, we picnicked on the school grounds, next to a cornfield and a stone’s throw away from a vintage outhouse.
I embraced this rural Bridgewater Township setting as I ate my sandwich and watched the occasional vehicle fly by on paved Rice County Road 8. Mostly, though, quiet prevailed.
Little Prairie—a name that resonates with my prairie roots—was settled in 1855 when Jacob and Eliza Emery homesteaded here. He’s noted as the church founder on a paver at the Little Prairie Community Memorial, new since our last visit. Emery, as history goes, cut a 3-mile track through the Big Woods to find this 60-acre prairie. Little Prairie.
A study of the memorial pavers reveals names of early settlers, farmers, teachers, families and others with connections to this prairie place. History imprinted upon stone.
Beyond that, when I let this place speak to me, I could hear the voices of children as they played tag on the playground. Or circled on the aged merry-go-round. Screams. Laughter. Joy. Maybe even pleas to stop the dizziness.
I could hear, too, the scraping of shoes on the mud scraper bolted to cement steps outside the front doors.
I could hear the creak of the water pump handle moving up and down, up and down.
I could hear the bang of the outhouse door.
Locked doors kept me from accessing the school. But I imagined the determined voice of a teacher, the recitation of spelling words, the scratch of chalk upon slate, the clomp of shoes upon wooden floor…
This schoolhouse, built in 1858, holds no personal meaning to me. Yet, I cherish it. Within these walls, children learned. They flourished. They grew friendships and knowledge and, I expect, a deep appreciation for their community. This place. This Little Prairie.
DOWN THE GRAVEL ROAD, I saw him exit the ditch, cross the roadway and then climb into his red pick-up truck.
“That’s Keith,” I told Randy. Even from a distance I recognized the tall, lean profile of Keith Radel. Known as Mr. Bluebird, he travels the backroads of Rice County checking bluebird nests.
Randy and I had just finished a short hike at the nearby Cannon River Wilderness Park when I spotted Keith on a gravel road in rural Dundas. We paused, his pick-up and our van pulled side-by-side, windows rolled down, the three of us conversing like farmers meeting on a rural road to talk crops.
I didn’t take notes when we were talking, although I recall Keith saying major ice storms in Texas this year had a devastating effect on the current bluebird population. He keeps meticulous notes on each nesting box.
Mostly, I focused on being in the moment. When Keith offered to show us two bluebird nesting boxes just down the road, we didn’t hesitate, reversed course, our van following his truck in a trail of dust. Once parked, Keith led us down the side of a ditch, lifting the nest cylinder from its post to reveal three beautiful blue eggs inside. The next nest held only a single egg.
Soon we were on our way, Randy and I looking for a place to eat a picnic lunch and Keith continuing with his bluebird checks.
Place connects us. Most people in Rice County are clueless as to the location of Vesta, or even our home county of Redwood some 120 miles to the west. So whenever I see Keith, I feel this sense of connection to my home area, to the land. When we met on that gravel road on a July afternoon, Keith understood my need to exit Faribault, to follow gravel roads, to reconnect with the land. And, yes, even to look at the crops.
When I published that post, I was unaware of the podcast. But Minnesota Prairie Roots reader Sandy Varley directed me to the NY Times podcast and for that I feel grateful. Please, take 20 minutes of your time to listen to Tilly talk about her Papa.
About the grandfather who climbed with her onto their special spot on the roof of his house to talk and star gaze. About the grandfather who would show up unexpectedly at school to eat lunch with Tilly (even stealing her chips) and tell stories to her and her friends. About the grandfather whose t-shirt she slept in when he lay dying in the hospital.
I admire the strength of this 12-year-old in telling her story, sharing her grief. Her words are powerful, her insights remarkable for someone so young. Via this podcast, via the bravery and honesty of Tilly, Rice County’s first COVID-19 death transforms from a statistic to a granddaughter remembering and grieving her grandfather. Her beloved Papa.
I remember well the shocking headline in the local newspaper: Faribault pastor dies from COVID-19 complications. That singular head and the story that followed shook me and imprinted upon me the seriousness of this virus. This was no longer a virus an ocean away or half a country away in New York. This was here. In Minnesota. In my county. In my community.
MORE THANNUMBERS, THESE WERE INDIVIDUALS WHO LOVED & WERE LOVED
Now more than ever with the highly-contagious and more serious delta variant, we need to care. And take care. Breimhorst’s online obituary ends with this requirement: Everyone not vaccinated of all ages are requested to wear a mask (at the funeral). Among Rice County residents ages 12 and older, 60.7 percent are fully-vaccinated, according to data listed by the Centers for Disease Control. Additional stats show 52.3 percent of the county’s population fully-vaccinated. That leaves a lot of unvaccinated people in Rice County. Too many by choice. And then those under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination and have no choice.
PLEASE, WEAR A FACE MASK
Rice County remains in the high community transmission category for COVID. And that is leading our local school district to rethink its “no masks when school starts” stand of just a few weeks ago. The Faribault School Board will vote soon on whether to require masks of staff and students when classes resume. We, as a community, owe it to our kids to protect them, to offer the safest and healthiest environment possible in which to learn. I cannot even fathom why anyone would object to masks to protect our children, especially. But then I can’t fathom either why people refuse vaccination.
A recent article in the Faribault Daily News quotes local student representatives saying that students feel wearing masks “is a small request…if it means staying in school in person.” Additionally, those reps state that vaccine hesitancy “seems to come from parents more than students themselves.” That doesn’t surprise me. Even though I don’t have kids in school, I still care about kids in Faribault.
I feel thankful for businesses, churches and others who are now asking, even requiring, the public (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) to wear face masks in an effort to stop the spread of COVID. Rice County is once again requiring face coverings to be worn in all county government buildings. And, yes, I’m definitely masking in indoor public places, adding another layer of protection to my vaccine protection. I don’t want to get a break-through case of COVID and then perhaps unknowingly spread COVID to my friends, family, neighbors or strangers. I feel a strong sense of personal, social and community responsibility.
I would like to think that I am also honoring the Rev. Craig Breimhorst by masking. A line in his obit reads: With Craig, love always won and love will always win. Those are words to ponder, to take to heart as this pandemic rages, to remember that love is more than a word. It is an action.
NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine or anti-masking, please do not comment. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to those views on this, my personal blog.My stands on wearing face masks and vaccination are rooted in care. And in love.
WHENEVER I NEED TO CONNECT with nature nearby, my go-to destination is River Bend Nature Center, just across the Straight River on Faribault’s east side.
In this 743-acre natural space, I can immerse myself in a diverse landscape of woods, prairie and wetland. Each setting provides not only a sensory change from the noise and motion of living along a busy street, but also a much-needed mental break.
When I’m at River Bend, I forget about what’s happening in my life or the world. Rather, I focus on being present in nature. Listening. Observing. Connecting.
That word, connecting, fits River Bend, which emphasizes its purpose as helping connect people to outdoor education, recreation and natural resource conservation close to home.
My own children, while growing up and attending school in Faribault, went on many field trips to River Bend. I remember also one winter evening when our then-young son delighted in a star-gazing event, complete with telescopes, on prairie’s edge. Today I occasionally take my grandchildren to walk RBNC’s trails. Randy and I also hike the paths.
Perhaps my favorite part of this spacious nature center is the prairie. It reconnects me with my prairie roots. With southwestern Minnesota, the land of open spaces and spacious skies. I love to walk through the path sliced into the prairie at River Bend. The path edged by tall prairie grasses and wildflowers. The path where I can pause to take in the vast sky with no trees blocking my view. I need to visually breathe.
On my most recent visits, the prairie has focused my attention. Specifically the wildflowers—those interspersed among the grass and those planted in the rain garden near the interpretative center. While fading, the flowers remain an integral part of the prairie eco-system as they form seeds and then grow and/or re-sprout in the spring.
I also spent time in the nearby woods, stopping at the Turtle Pond to photograph turtles sunning on logs. They delight me and generations of kids, including mine, fascinated by those lazing turtles.
River Bend holds generational appeal. I’ve seen young families pushing babies in strollers, teens driving remote-controlled vehicles on limestone shelves, older couples like us walking, and much more.
Among the newest of parks is Fleckenstein Bluffs Park, located near downtown (First Avenue NE) and along the Straight River. Next door sits an under-construction apartment complex. A riverside recreational trail runs nearby. This park is sure to be well-used, especially once a picnic shelter, canoe launch site and river overlook are in place.
Recently, I stopped at the park to check out the nature-themed playground equipment. The closer I looked, the more I discovered—like animals and fossils hidden in the mini rock climbing walls and stacked logs, the acorn caps, the replica branch supports, the toadstool and stump stepping points, and much more. What a creative way to incorporate nature in to play. I expect my grandchildren will delight in finding a chipmunk, for example, among the logs.
Opportunities to create music on an over-sized xylophone also impress me.
I appreciate, too, that this playground is subdued in brown hues, fitting into the natural environment rather than splashing bold colors. This spot, after all, highlights the river, the woods, the backdrop bluffs. Nearby, the Fleckenstein Brewery once stood—thus the park name.
Across the river on the east side of town, another new park offers diverse playground equipment. My friend Brenda, who lived in Faribault until moving to Connecticut with her family, tipped me off to Meadows Park during a summer visit. Her daughter, Lyla, played with friends at this park along 14th Street NE across from Milestone Senior Living Faribault.
I appreciate Brenda’s recommendation as this will be a good play space for my grandchildren, especially given their age differences. The park offers distinct play areas marked for specific ages—one for ages 2-5 and another for ages 5-12. I don’t always feel comfortable with Isaac playing on the same equipment as his big sister, Isabelle. So this arrangement is ideal.
And, if I ever decide to pick up pickleball, Meadows Park also has courts.
Likewise, Windsor Park in south Faribault offers pickleball courts and playground equipment sized to various ages. I liked what I saw from a distance, although I didn’t stop to investigate close-up.
And just up the hill from my home, the city recently installed a basketball court in Wapacuta Park. It was much-needed and is already well-used. In the evening, especially, I hear young people playing basketball, their voices drifting over and down the wooded hillside. I smile thinking of these teens bouncing balls and shooting hoops outdoors rather than locked inside staring at screens. Years ago this park housed basketball and tennis courts, which, for whatever reason, were removed. I’m thankful the tall metal slide that our daughters climbed is gone and replaced with safer playground equipment. The grandkids enjoy Wapacuta, too.
Finally, I’m especially excited about another planned park, this one in a green space under and around our historic viaduct. The park, as yet unnamed, will be in a highly-visible location along Minnesota State Highway 60 and just a block from Central Avenue (the main street through our historic downtown). So many possibilities and opportunities exist to make this a community gathering spot. A place for the arts. For enjoying the outdoors. For recreation. For showcasing Faribault.
PHLOX IN VIBRANT SHADES of purple and pink, interspersed with occasional white blossoms, fill my flowerbeds. They thrive, their fragrance scenting the air that drifts through my office window.
Occasionally I spot butterflies flitting among the phlox, random milkweeds, wild orange tiger lilies, ferns and other unidentified plants growing in a tangled mess of wildness. I love watching them—the monarchs and the swallowtails—their wings flapping with such incredible grace. They swoop and dip and pause. As if dancing. As if performing. As if penning poetry.
Moments like this imprint upon me the importance of pausing to appreciate the beauty of nature. The details of a flower petal. The curve of a butterfly wing. The bend of a milkweed pod.
Now, more than ever, I need this connection to nature, these moments to reset. To see that, even as a pandemic rages, flowers still bloom and butterflies still fly.
AS I WRITE THIS EARLY WEDNESDAY afternoon, the civil defense siren blares. There’s no emergency, just a monthly routine testing of the system.
This time of day, after lunch, my energy dips. The wail of the siren interrupted my dozing off in the recliner while reading a book. It’s not often I fall asleep during the day, which is revealing in itself. I am tired because I’m not sleeping well. Lots on my mind. I tend to overthink. To ruminate. Uncertainty stresses me.
We’re all different personalities, different in the ways we handle whatever life throws at us. And that’s OK. Some of us are early risers, work best in the morning people while others are evening/night people. Nothing right or wrong about either. I’m up early, focusing on mental tasks in the morning.
Shortly I’m heading outside to pull crabgrass, a job I started last evening and which I found incredibly satisfying, even if labor intensive and sometimes difficult. To dislodge those strong roots from the soil and then toss the clump empowered me. I felt like I was ridding our yard of an unwanted invader. And I was.
Since the digging of our yard and replacement of a water line in June, the crabgrass has had plenty of time to take hold. I was happy just to see green again rather than bare earth as we await the right time to sod or seed in this drought. Randy informed me that the crabgrass needs to go. He wants to use chemicals. I don’t. Thus I am willing to pull weeds, although, in the end, he may still need to apply a weedkiller.
This isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, but about eventually solving a problem. About different approaches. About trying and evaluating. And, for me, about satisfaction that comes from doing something with my hands. Touching the soil. Reconnecting with the land. Remembering all the summers I pulled weeds from the family garden and cockleburrs and thistles from my dad’s soybean fields. We didn’t use chemicals back then to eradicate weeds.
But farming has changed. The world has changed. Life has changed. Yet, the satisfaction of pulling weeds by hand has not changed. Not for me.
ON PAGES 444 and 445 of my 2003 Webster’s New World Thesaurus, I read synonyms for the word together. (Jointly) collectively, unitedly, commonly…
Clearly, together means everyone working toward a common goal/purpose for the good of all.
Many times people have come together, especially during disasters, to help others. I recall when my second daughter traveled twice to New Orleans to help with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. Recently, rescuers worked tirelessly to find victims and survivors following the collapse of a condo in Surfside, Florida. Locally, folks are providing financial support for a professional juggler who broke both wrists after falling from a ladder during a performance.
These examples of togetherness, rooted in genuine care for others, encourage me. They give me hope. They uplift me.
DISHEARTENED & FRUSTRATED
As I reflect further, though, I grow disheartened. Disheartened because, as much as the “We’re all in this together” motto defines many official/marketing statements about COVID-19, I don’t feel it. I don’t see it. I don’t experience it. Perhaps it’s time for public health officials and others to ditch the word together as it relates to this global pandemic.
Like many, I feel such frustration that COVID is now back full force in the much more contagious and deadly delta variant. This didn’t need to happen…if only people would get vaccinated. I’m thankful to read that vaccination rates are rising. I hope that continues.
Now some retailers, colleges, entertainment venues and more in Minnesota are embracing those CDC guidelines and reinstating masking. For that I feel great gratitude.
My healthcare provider has also joined a growing number of providers requiring vaccination of all employees. Finally. I have never understood how anyone in the medical profession (and that includes those working in long-term care and assisted living) can, ethically or morally, continue to care for patients/residents while unvaccinated. And, looking at it from a patient perspective, I don’t want an unvaccinated nurse/doctor/lab tech/whoever near me, even if I am vaccinated.
WHAT HAPPENED TO KEEPING STUDENTS SAFE?
That brings me to education. I really struggle with preschool-high schools that are not requiring students and staff to wear face masks going into the new school year. I fail to understand that thinking. Our public health officials tell us that masking is one very basic, and easy, way to help stop the spread of COVID. My concern focuses primarily on those under age 12, who can’t yet be vaccinated. Schools owe it to children, like my 5-year-old granddaughter, to implement the strongest health and safety protocols possible. Teachers fought last year for the best protection for themselves, and rightly so. Protecting our kids is equally as important.
When I hear people say, “Well, just keep your child home or send them to school in a mask,” I cringe. Most parents want their kids in the classroom. And putting the burden of protecting himself/herself on a young child seems pretty selfish and childish behavior on the part of adults. Most kids prefer to “fit it” with their peers. A parent may send their child to school with the directive to “wear your mask.” But we all know that doesn’t mean they will, especially if masking is optional and their classmates are mask-less.
Where’s the compassion, the care, the willingness to provide access to education for all in a safe school environment? It’s best, from a health and safety perspective, to require (rather than recommend) face masks in schools for everyone.
So, yeah, I’m not seeing much togetherness during this global pandemic. I’m disheartened. I’m disappointed. And, yes, I’m even angry. I feel like, just as we were making progress in ending the pandemic, we are now back to START, farther than ever from the FINISH LINE. I’m beyond frustrated. (Just like Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.)
That all said, we can decide, right now, to work together. to mask up, to get vaccinated, to make choices that protect ourselves and each other. To end this pandemic sooner rather than later.
NOTE: I welcome readers’ comments. However, if you are anti-vaccine or anti-mask, I will not give voice to those viewpoints on this, my personal blog. As always, with any posts, I screen/moderate comments and determine which I will, or won’t, publish.
During a recent cabin stay in the Brainerd lakes region, Randy and I routed through Cuyuna on our way to Crosby some four miles to the south. We often follow the road less traveled because doing so can lead to fascinating finds.
And for us on this day, it was the woodtick-dubbed bar and grill and, of all things, Woodtick Races. The Inn hosts the races annually on the second Saturday of June.
But let’s back up a minute. What, exactly, is a woodtick? It’s a parasitic arachnid. Yup, a nasty bug that will latch into your skin and suck your blood. Many varieties of woodticks exist. But those raced in Cuyuna are the common American Dog Tick. And, yes, these ticks will find a host in a dog.
Many years have passed since a woodtick determined I would be a good feeding source. But, as a child, I often found ticks stuck to my skin after playing outdoors. And, yes, they can spread diseases. And, no, I don’t like them. Not one bit.
And I expect the annual Woodtick Races also draw plenty of participants and curious observers. This year, the 42nd annual event, the top three cash prizes ranged from $224-$560. That’s a good chunk of change for a race with a $5 entry fee and an additional $1 if you buy a “caught” tick rather than bring your own.
I wondered aloud how event organizers gather woodticks for the races. “Send a kid into the woods,” Randy joked.
However those ticks are gathered, the rules call for racers to place their woodticks in the middle of a circle on a table. Whichever tick reaches the outside of the circle first wins. And, yes, referees oversee the races.
Some day I hope to witness these races at the Woodtick Inn in Cuyuna. And I need to further explore the spread-out town named after surveyor Cuyler Adams and his Saint Bernard, Una. The Cuyuna I saw is vastly different from a boom town that once housed a hospital, high school, theater, hotels, saloons, grocery stores and much more. A town once teeming with iron ore miners and their families. And today, woodticks.