Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Shifting seasons October 18, 2022

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Trees were ablaze at the end of September in Northfield’s Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FRIDAY MORNING BROUGHT the first snow flurries of the season to southern Minnesota. Not enough snow to stick to the ground here in Faribault, but in other parts of the state flakes accumulated.

Seasonal displays drew my eye to this floral shop on a corner in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We are in the time of transition, shifting from autumn toward winter. One day the sun shines bright on trees still ablaze in color and temps feel comfortable. Other days, grey clouds blanket the sky, blocking the sun, with winter attire needed outdoors.

Inside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, glassware in a seasonal hue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In these waning days of autumn, I am reminded of how much I love this season—for the colors, the mostly moderate temps, the scent, the feel, the gathering in. It’s as if we Minnesotans recognize that every single gloriously sunny day needs to be celebrated, to be photographed in our memories, to be pulled out when winter days draw us in.

Biking across a bridge over the Cannon by Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A few weeks ago I was in neighboring Northfield, about a 20-minute drive away. This art-strong historic college town along the Cannon River presented scenes that hold the essence of the season. From colorful trees to blooming flowers to seasonal displays, the visuals of autumn unfolded before me.

Outside Just Food Co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

People were out and about. Dipping into Just Food Co-op. Shopping at the thrift store. Sitting on a park bench waiting to share a faith message. Walking a dog. Biking across a bridge spanning the river.

Fallen leaves add interest to the Arb creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I felt no hurry, only an appreciation for the day, time to meander while waiting for Randy to complete an appointment. Afterwards we headed to Cowling Arboretum for a short walk and an engaging conversation with another hiker. It was one of those chance encounters that left me feeling uplifted, encouraged, blessed.

Coneflowers flourish at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wild grapes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wildflowers thrive in the sunshine along the Cannon River at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I immersed myself in nature on that final day of September, I noticed wildflowers in bloom, leaves floating in the creek, the curve of grapevines, the hint of color in a few trees. If I was to revisit the Arb today, I would surely view a different scene. Each day moves us nearer, oh, so much closer, to winter.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on harvest from fields to art October 13, 2022

Harvesting, left, in a field along a gravel road near Dundas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

DUST HANGS OVER THE LANDSCAPE like smoke. Hazy. The air dirty with debris kicked up by combines sweeping across corn and soybean fields in southern Minnesota. Harvest is well underway here as farmers bring in the season’s crops.

Trucks haul harvested crops from fields to bins and/or grain elevators. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

From back country gravel roads to the interstate, I’ve witnessed this scene unfolding before me in recent weeks. Combines chomping. Harvested corn and beans spilling into grain trucks.

Harvesting beans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

Farmers work all hours of the day and night in the rush to finish gathering crops before winter arrives. In the dark of night, bright headlights spotlight fields. In daylight, sunlight filters through clouds of dust.

A grain truck pulls into a farmer’s grain drying and storage complex. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvest is part of my DNA by having been raised on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm. Decades removed from the land, I still take notice of the harvest. The smell. The hues. The hurry. I understand this season in rural Minnesota.

“Harvest” by Raymond Jacobson. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In nearby Northfield, I recently happened upon a bronze sculpture, “Harvest,” which had gone unnoticed by me. It’s been there since 2008 at Sesquicentennial Legacy Plaza along the Cannon River, near the post office, near Bridge Square. In all my visits to Northfield, to the Riverwalk area, I missed this public art created by Raymond Jacobson.

Close-up details of the wheat incorporated into “Harvest.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The historic Ames Mill along the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

An interpretation of a stone grist mill for grinding wheat into flour is included in the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

It’s beautiful, fitting for a community rooted in agriculture. The 3,000-pound sculpture symbolizes Northfield’s heritage of wheat farming and milling. Just across the river sits the Ames Mill, where the gristmill in the late 1860s produced 150 barrels of wheat daily.

Malt-O-Meal was a major funder for the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In 1927, John Campbell of the Campbell Cereal Company took over the mill and began producing Malt-O-Meal hot cereal. Today Post Consumer Brands owns the mill and still makes that hot cereal. Dry cereal is manufactured at a nearby production facility. Many days the scent of cereal wafts over Northfield.

Harvested wheat and a plowed field cast into bronze. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

All of this—the smell of cereal, the “Harvest” sculpture, the historic Ames Mill—reminds me of the importance of agriculture in our region. It reminds me, too, of my rural roots. I am grateful for my farm upbringing. I am grateful, too, for those who today plant, tend and harvest crops. They are essential to our economy, feeding the world, providing raw product.

Wheat stalk details on an informational plaque which is nearly impossible to read due to weathering of the writing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

That this season of harvest is honored in a “Harvest” sculpture shows a deep appreciation for history, heritage and agriculture in Northfield. The public art gives me pause to reflect on inspiration in creativity. Today I celebrate the artistic interpretation of harvest displayed along the banks of the Cannon River.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of the Cannon River in Northfield September 13, 2022

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A portion of the Poem Steps descending to the River Walk in Northfield, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

WELCOME TO THE RIVER starry-eyed…

The historic Ames Mill, on the far side of the bridge, hugs the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Thus begins a poem authored by 17 Northfield area poets and gracing steps leading to the River Walk in the heart of this historic southeastern Minnesota community.

The backs of buildings along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Like the poets drawn to the river to create these inspirational Poem Steps, I, too, feel drawn to the river that runs through Northfield. Every time I’m downtown, I aim first for the path that traces the Cannon River behind the mostly aged buildings lining Division Street.

A section of the river-themed poem up close. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

There’s something simply magnetic about a river. Listen to the words of these speaking waters. I can almost hear the stories—of the Indigenous Peoples, here first, of the settlers who followed and harnessed the water to mill flour, of the poets and others who today listen to these speaking waters.

Flowers fill planters on a riverside balcony. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

The Cannon in Northfield, as it has for generations, brings people to water’s edge. To angle for fish, to dine, to gather as community, to celebrate the arts, to simply be in the river’s presence.

A flower-edged pedestrian bridge spans the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I appreciate how this community recognizes the historic, poetic and natural beauty of the river and shares that via the River Walk. It’s such a beautiful walk, beauty enhanced by potted flowers and hanging baskets that jolt vibrant hues into the landscape. A pedestrian bridge provides a middle-of-the-river perspective.

Lush flowers spill from a planter on the River Walk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

Listen. The river tells us where it needs to go.

Historic buildings define downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

And so I follow the river path, then loop up to the fronts of businesses along Division Street. Yet, the essence of the river remains, her poetry inspiring me.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So much to appreciate about Northfield’s Bridge Square September 7, 2022

An overview of Bridge Square looking toward Division Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

BRIDGE SQUARE IN THE HEART of historic downtown Northfield holds a yesteryear appeal as a long-time community gathering spot along the Cannon River. Today its purpose remains as relevant as ever. I’ve observed festivals and concerts here, focused events like Earth Day and the Riverwalk Market Fair, read poetry here, heard music, watched college students chalk messages onto concrete. Individuals, too, pause here to enjoy the fountain sculpture and other art, to picnic, to simply embrace this beautiful spot.

A banner in downtown Northfield promotes the community’s annual celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This park centers Northfield, home to many home-grown shops and eateries and best-known perhaps for the September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank by the James-Younger Gang. This week Northfield honors the long ago townspeople and a heroic bank cashier who stood up to the outlaws. The town will buzz with activities and people, all here to celebrate Defeat of Jesse James Days. That runs September 7-11.

The Northfield Historical Society by Bridge Square once housed the First National Bank. The bank entry is around the corner and not shown here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Weeks before this event I was in Northfield, first touring the Northfield Cemetery to view the gravesites of bank employee Joseph Lee Heywood and Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson, both shot and killed by the outlaws. Gustafson, at the time of the raid, was vending vegetables in, I believe, current day Bridge Square. The First National Bank is located around the corner.

The popcorn wagon has set up in Bridge Square since the 1970s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Popcorn boxes lined up in the wagon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The popcorn wagon brings back memories of Vern’s Popcorn Stand in my hometown of Vesta. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My focus on that afternoon was not on the historic robbery, but rather on Bridge Square. I noticed first the 1918 popcorn wagon which is open from mid-May to mid-September and operated by FiftyNorth, the local center for seniors. It was closed when I was there. But I could imagine the sound of popping kernels, the scent, the taste of buttery popcorn scooped into boxes. There’s something about a popcorn stand that hearkens to bygone days.

“How much for that doggie in the window?” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And there’s something about an old-time barbershop such as Bridge Square Barbers with a barbershop pole and then, bonus, a doggie in the window. I spotted the dog lying on a fleece bed in a corner. Seemingly content, only lifting his head when I approached for a close-up photo.

Love this barbershop dog photographed through the window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Earlier this year a sign in that barbershop window prompted me to write a story, “Barbershop Prompt,” which I submitted to a writing competition. My story earned second place in creative nonfiction and will publish in volume 31 of The Talking Stick, a northern Minnesota-based anthology. I also earned an honorable mention in fiction. Once the book publishes, I’ll share more.

Beautiful flowers circle an art installation in Bridge Square near the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I also took in the art of Bridge Square. Northfield is big on the arts with an Artists on Main Street program, sidewalk poetry and other art installations in addition to the performing arts.

The historic Ames Mill sits along the Cannon River. Originally a flour mill, the mill later was used to produce Malt-O-Meal hot cereals and is today owned by Post Consumer Brands. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the history. Aged buildings like the riverside Ames Mill. The river running through is a real asset to the downtown, especially with a river walk behind buildings hugging Division Street.

Detailed top of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

At the heart of all of it is Bridge Square—a place which melds history and art, land and sky and river, commerce and individuality. Most importantly, the village square brings peoples together to converse, to celebrate, to honor, to discuss, to disagree, to buy popcorn from the popcorn wagon, to simply be.

Bird in flight in the Bridge Square sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

TELL ME: Does your community have an outdoor gathering spot like Bridge Square?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Along the Cannon River, by a dam in Faribault August 16, 2022

The picturesque Faribault Mill along the Cannon River in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

THE RIVERS RUN THROUGH, the Cannon and the Straight converging on Faribault’s north side at Two Rivers Park.

A view of the Cannon River looking west while standing on the walkway over the dam next to Father Slevin Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The history, the founding of my southeastern Minnesota community is channeled through these waterways. In the history of the Dakota who first called this place home. In the history of the fur traders, including town founder Alexander Faribault, who settled along and traveled the rivers. In the history of flour mills and sawmills and the renowned Faribault Woolen Mill, established in 1865.

There’s a buffer of plants along the shores of the Cannon in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Whenever I walk the Northern Link Trail in North Alexander Park along the Cannon River Reservoir, I pause to view the 1892 Faribault Mill. Often I photograph this iconic brick building aside the appropriately-named Woolen Mill Dam. I appreciate this long-standing business, still operating today, weaving fine woolen blankets and more that have garnered national respect for quality craftsmanship.

Ghost signs on the Faribault Mill along the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Ghost signs on the building’s exterior remind me of this mill’s long history here, along the river, by the dam.

There’s a notable absence of water at this dam on the Cannon River in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A grassy patch away, a second dam manages river flow next to Father Slevin Park. But when I last visited the area on August 7, I saw bare concrete with only a trickle of water leaking through boards at that smaller dam. Rather than rushing water defining this place, stagnant ponding water defines it.

The drying river bed and stagnant water below the dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I observed green algae and litter on the water’s surface. I observed exposed rocks and plants growing where water should flow. All are evidence of the drought conditions we are experiencing here in southern Minnesota. We’ve had some rain since I paused beside the dam. But not enough to totally compensate for the lack of moisture.

Fishing in the Cannon River at Father Slevin Park near the Woolen Mill Dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Typically, anglers frequent the river banks below this particular dam. But not now. Not in this summer of drought. These dry weather conditions plague so many locations across the country and world as the effects of climate change continue. One need only look to the West, to the decades of drought, the wildfires and the ever-growing tensions over water to understand the crisis.

I’ve seen more grasshoppers this year than in recent years, including this one among plants on the Cannon River bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Locally, low river levels visually remind me that we are not untouched by evolving weather patterns. There was a time when I held a heightened awareness of weather as my farmer father looked to the sky, waiting for rain clouds to open, to drench his corn and soybean fields. I remember the summer of 1976 when he purchased boxcar loads of hay from Montana to feed our livestock. Worry defined that summer.

I spotted this buoy tucked next to a corner of the dam, hugging the shore above the dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And now worry edges into my thoughts as I observe the stillness. No sound of rushing water. No sight of rushing water. Only the exposed concrete dam and the stagnant water pooling below.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Connecting with nature along the Cannon in Faribault July 7, 2022

A mallard drake in the Cannon River along the shoreline at North Alexander Park, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

NORTH ALEXANDER PARK in Faribault has become, for me, a place of refuge. A place to walk. A place to connect with land, sky and river. The park offers a paved riverside trail, part of the city’s inter-connected trails system, that bends into a tree-filled space.

A canopy of oak leaves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

When life gets especially stressful, as it has thus far in 2022, enveloping myself in nature allows me to temporarily escape reality. Who doesn’t need a break? Focusing on the natural world rather than struggles and challenges brings a sense of peace, of calmness and sometimes clarity.

A mallard hen sits on the riverbank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

This sprawling park on Faribault’s north side is home to many waterfowl, drawn to the Cannon River. I never tire of watching them, whether in flight over the water, in the water or beside the water.

A view of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their numbers seem down this year, perhaps due to avian influenza. Still enough ducks and geese meander the shoreline and trail to make me watch where I step.

A pair of mallards huddle under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Up close under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I even spotted a pair far from shore, under the bleachers at a ball field.

A mallard drake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

While I’ve never been fond of winged anything up close, I certainly admire them (except bats) at a distance. Mallard drakes, with their iridescent green heads, practically shimmer with beauty. And the hens are lovely, too, in their mottled brown feathers.

A family of geese photographed about a month ago along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

In the spring, ducklings and goslings draw my motherly eye. There’s something about a baby.

A pelican comes in for a landing atop the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

The Cannon River also attracts pelicans. And eagles. On a recent riverside walk, I saw an eagle trace the river, reverse course and settle low in a tree along the opposite shoreline. Too far away to photograph even with my zoom lens. It just sat there. I was hoping it would swoop down to grab a fish. But, when I left, the eagle still perched in that tree. Quiet. Still.

A snuggling mallard hen, defined by mottled feathers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

There’s something to be learned from observing waterfowl. How they sit. How they glide. How they navigate wind and water. How they adapt.

So I will continue these riverside walks, immersing myself in nature, discovering the peace and quiet that comes from connecting with ducks and geese, pelicans and eagles at North Alexander Park in Faribault.

TELL ME: Do you escape into nature? If yes, where’s your favorite place to go and how does being in the natural world benefit you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

July Fourth thoughts from southeastern Minnesota July 4, 2022

An American flag graces Welch Mill Innertubing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

BACK IN NOVEMBER 2021, I photographed this symbol of America in the unincorporated village of Welch. Today, the birthday of our country, seems a good day to finally share this image from southeastern Minnesota.

There’s something about the simplicity of this scene which I find particularly appealing. An historic mill. Faded signage. Blue sky on a perfect autumn afternoon. And then the jolt of bold colors in the American flag. It all comes together visually, leading to thoughts of history and what that flag symbolizes. Freedom. Democracy. Maybe even hope in the face of so much division.

A flag inspires us to ponder, to reassess, to consider, to feel gratitude. To celebrate.

In this spot along the Cannon River and the Cannon Valley Trail in Welch Township in Goodhue County, American pride runs strong at the former Welch Feed Mill, now home to Welch Mill Innertubing. The business rents inner tubes, canoes and kayaks.

During my stop eight months ago, I viewed the scene through a photographic lens, with an artist’s eye, grateful for the freedom I have to come and go, to photograph, to express myself as an artist, unencumbered.

Happy Fourth of July from southeastern Minnesota!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota weather talk about this non-spring of 2022 April 28, 2022

At the confluence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers in Faribault, the landscape appears more autumn than spring-like. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

MINNESOTANS LOVE to talk weather. And for good reason. Weather shapes our lives—what we do on any given day, how we feel, where we go…

At the April 23 Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, moody grey skies clouded the day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

And right now, when we should be in the throes of spring, we Minnesotans feel like we’re stuck in winter. It’s been an unseasonably cold and rainy April that has truly dampened spirits. We want, OK, need, sunshine and warmth after too many months of winter. That said, I really shouldn’t complain. Up North, snow still layers the ground and ice 20 inches thick freezes some lakes.

Treetops riverside against a grey sky in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Autumns leaves remain, not yet replaced by spring growth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Devoid of color, the dock and river at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Yet, no matter where you live in Minnesota, day after day after day of grey skies coupled with low temps in the 20s and 30s takes a psychological toll. I should be wearing a spring jacket rather than a winter coat. My tulips should be blooming. Heck, the dandelions should be pushing through neighbors’ lawns. Trees should be budding green.

I spotted clam shells among dried leaves in the river bottom at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Instead, the overall landscape appears, well, pretty darned drab.

Canadian geese swim where the Straight and Cannon Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

But, last Saturday we experienced a one-day reprieve of unseasonable warmth with the temp soaring to nearly 80 degrees. Typical high this time of year is around 60 degrees. It was a get-outside day. Don’t-waste-a-moment-indoors day. So Randy and I didn’t. We attended the Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, enjoyed craft beer at Chapel Brewing along the banks of the Cannon River in Dundas, walked a section of the Straight River Trail in Faribault and later followed part of the trail along the Cannon in North Alexander Park. Strong winds factored into every facet of our time outdoors, though.

An angler makes his way toward the Cannon River in shirt-sleeve weather on April 23. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

But, oh, how glorious to walk in warmth.

I zoomed in on this fungi high in a tree along the recreational trail in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

This feeling of remaining stuck in perpetual winter will end. I need to remind myself of that…even as the forecast for more rain and unseasonably cold temps (highs in the 40s) prevails.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like where you live?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hints of spring at Two Rivers March 10, 2022

A wide view of the frozen Cannon River and dam adjacent to the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE SHIFT IN SEASONS seems subtle. But it’s there. In the lengthening of days. In brilliant sunshine that cuts through snowbanks, streams of water flowing and puddling. Iced rivers, too, are beginning to thaw.

Signage marks this park just off Second Avenue on Faribault’s north side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On a recent stop at Two Rivers Park followed by a hike along the Straight River Trail in Faribault, I witnessed the evolving transition from winter toward spring.

Fishing where the Cannon and Straight Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

At the convergence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers, an angler fishes in the open water. His orange stocking cap covered by his hooded sweatshirt layered beneath black coveralls jolt color into an otherwise muted landscape. Randy and I watch as he reels in a large fish, then unhooks and plops it onto the snow. A northern, Randy guesses. We watch for awhile, content to see the river flow, sun glinting upon the surface.

The beautiful open Cannon River at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We make our way back to the parking lot, after I pause to photograph the mostly open river sweeping between snowy woods. There’s sometime serene about such a scene. Peaceful, even as traffic drones by on nearby Second Avenue.

Pedestrian bridge over the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On the trail, we cross bridges constructed of uneven angled boards that always trip me. I pause to peer into the river.

Ice rings a pedestrian bridge support post in the otherwise open river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Birdsong, a sure auditory sign of spring’s approach, resounds as I lean over the bridge railing to see the open water below. Both hint of winter’s retreat.

Animal tracks remind me of tic-tac-toe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Far below I observe animal tracks crossing the snow in a tic-tac-toe pattern leading to water’s icy edge.

Following the Straight River Trail alongside the former vegetable canning company. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Curving along the path near the former Faribault Foods canning company, stationary boxcars sidle against the building.

Boxcar graffiti. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Graffiti colors the boxcar canvases.

Biking the Straight River Trail in March. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We walk for awhile, then retrace our steps. Randy warns of an approaching cyclist and we step to the right of the trail in single file. “Hi, Randy,” the guy on the fat tire bike shouts as he zooms past. We look at each other. His identity remains a mystery.

The scenic Cannon River snakes toward the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Back on the bridges, I pause again to view the Cannon River snaking across the landscape like a pencil path following a maze. More photographs.

Randy follows the tunnel under Second Avenue toward North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Before heading home, we divert briefly toward North Alexander Park, taking the tunnel under the Second Avenue bridge where, on the other side, the scene opens wide to the frozen, snow-layered river. In warm weather, anglers fish here, below the dam in open water.

Picnic shelter at Father Slevin Park by the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Now the place is mostly vacant, just like the riverside picnic shelter.

Shadowing of the trailside fence outside the tunnel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

By now we are cold, ready to conclude our afternoon jaunt. As I stride downhill toward the tunnel, I notice shadows of fence slats spaced upon the concrete. Art to my eyes. I stop, photograph the fence and fence shadows as they arc. Even in this moment, I see signs of spring along the river, beneath the blue sky.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The creative framing of Northfield February 24, 2022

“Framing the Scene,” a relatively new art installation, right, in the heart of historic downtown Northfield.

AS A MEGA APPRECIATOR of outdoor public art, I delighted in the recent discovery of some new, at least new-to-me, art staged in historic downtown Northfield. This southern Minnesota river town boasts a thriving community of literary, visual and performing artists.

This shows a section of Northfield’s “Poem Steps,” a collaboration of 17 local poets. These poetry steps (covered here with salt residue) are along the Riverwalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Here you’ll find poems imprinted in sidewalks, painted on steps and read at poetry readings in a city with a poet laureate. Here you’ll see outdoor sculptures scattered about town. Here you can listen to a concert at Bridge Square, a local church, St. Olaf or Carleton Colleges or elsewhere. Here you can enjoy live theater. Here you can appreciate the works of creatives at the Northfield Arts Guild and many other venues.

Northfield truly is synonymous with the arts.

The riverside-themed side of Erin Ward’s “Framing the Scene.” In the background water rushes over the Ames Mill Dam next to the historic mill on the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

So when I spied a recently-installed sculpture, “Framing the Scene” by St. Paul glass artist Erin Ward, I felt a jolt of excitement. The free-standing, two-dimensional mosaic frames the nearby Cannon River and Riverwalk on one side and Bridge Square on the other. It’s meant to be an interactive sculpture for framing photos.

The Cannon River flows through downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

Ward was among five artists awarded $2,000 grants from the Minnesota Arts Board for the Northfield Downtown Development Corporation’s 2021 Artists on Main Street projects. That program aspires to get “creative placemaking” into the historic downtown. The intersection of arts and culture, downtown revitalization and historic preservation all factor into the artistic endeavors.

Lovely historic buildings grace downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

“Framing the Scene” meets all of those criteria, in my creative opinion. The artwork itself represents the vision and skills of a talented artist. The art adds to the downtown Northfield experience. That experience is one of dipping in and out of mostly home-grown local shops or of dining in an historic setting. The cliques “quaint and charming” fit Northfield. This is a community rich in history, rich in historic architecture, rich in natural beauty and rich in art.

So much detail in the mosaic… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I appreciate how Ward melded art and nature in creating a mosaic which honors both. As I studied her interpretation of the Cannon River, I recognized the thought she invested in this detailed art of many many pieces. Her river evokes movement in waters teeming with fish and the occasional turtle. Assorted greens and blues evoke a sense of calm and peacefulness. Ward’s art honors this river which runs through. This river of life, now a backdrop to a community which still appreciates her beauty, her recreational qualities, her history, her aesthetic value.

This side of Ward’s mosaic focuses attention toward Bridge Square and buildings downtown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

And then, on the flip side of “Framing the Scene,” bold pieces of mostly yellow, orange and red triangles create a completely different feeling. It’s as if sunbeams fell from the sun in a chaotic, jumbled mix of happiness. That’s my interpretation.

This side of the art looks toward Bridge Square, community gathering spot in downtown Northfield. Place of concerts and popcorn wagon, Santa house and quiet bench-sitting. Place of artistic activism. And beyond that, to the back of the frame, historic buildings rise.

One final look at Ward’s interpretation of the Cannon River in historic Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Art rises in Northfield, enriching the lives of locals and the lives of visitors like me, come to town to follow the Riverwalk, to walk along Division Street and, then, to pause near Bridge Square and frame the scene.

Please check back for more posts about art in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling