Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Escape to the tropics in Minnesota at Como November 15, 2018

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The Sunken Garden at the Como Park Conservatory.

 

WHETHER HE SOUGHT A RESPITE from single digit temps or whether he wanted to see the bonsai trees, I’m not sure. But the son wanted to visit Como Park Conservatory before his return flight from Minnesota to Boston on Monday.

 

A section of the conservatory features bonsai trees.

 

So after an early lunch, we loaded his luggage and that of his girlfriend into our van and headed north an hour to the Twin Cities metro. Our oldest daughter and granddaughter joined us at this St. Paul site they frequent. Izzy’s comfortable familiarity showed as her two year old legs ran more than walked. On a slow day at Como, no danger existed of separation from the five adults.

 

 

I could take photos at my leisure without worry of stalling foot traffic winding through lush greenery inside the balmy conservatory. It was a luxury not to feel hurried or pressed by crowds at Como, which ranked as the third top tourist attraction in Minnesota in 2017 with 5.3 million visitors.

 

Heading to the animal exhibits.

 

And it was a luxury to escape temporarily from the cold and snow of Minnesota. With temps dipping to six degrees overnight, winter has arrived way too early. We have a brief respite this week with the temp pushing back up to 40 degrees during the day.

 

A close-up of a mum inside the Sunken Garden where flowers are changed out seasonally.

 

Yes, we dwell on the weather here in Minnesota. My son claims everywhere. He’s probably right. Conversations too often begin with weather. If they stick on that topic, then I’m concerned.

 

 

 

While inside the conservatory, I pulled off my winter garb and focused instead on the florals,

 

 

the greenery,

 

 

the art, the water.

 

 

Anything but the weather.

 

Lovely orchids.

 

These tropics offer an ideal escape if you can’t afford a real escape to warmth or the tropics.

 

As I photographed this bird, I was cognizant of the possibility of mice.

 

When the daughter warned me about mice inside one section of the conservatory, I hurried. I wish she hadn’t told me about the varmints I detest. “I didn’t want you to scream if you saw a mouse,” she explained. Alright then, that makes sense.

 

Art outside the primates building set against a backdrop of snow.

 

And later, when I commented on the stench of manure in the Como Zoo primate and giraffe buildings, she said, “You grew up on a farm.” Yes, I did. A dairy farm. But, in my memory, cows don’t stink.

 

 

Cold temps and construction shortened our time at the zoo. And that was OK by me. I could see the son wasn’t thrilled with viewing caged critters. I, too, felt a certain sadness for these animals. Izzy kept telling us she didn’t like the monkeys, then stood watching them. Next week she might love monkeys. I admired the mama gorilla who turned her back on me when I stepped up to the viewing window.

 

 

Soon enough, we exited the zoo and conservatory complex, bending into the frigid wind on our way to the parking lot. For a short time we’d escaped winter. And now, as warmer temps ease into Minnesota for several days, the cold air moves east, toward Boston.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Finding spring in Minnesota at the conservatory April 6, 2018

 

TO ALL MY WINTER WEARY readers in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota and any other place where cold and snow are lingering too long into spring, I offer you a visual respite.

 

 

This is for you, as much as for me.

 

 

 

 

A spot exists in Minnesota where flowers now bloom, the air hangs humid and palm trees rise. The proof lies in the photos I took in February 2017 at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul. I should have gone there this winter, just to take in the greenery, to pretend for an hour or so that I wasn’t in Minnesota.

 

 

Since I can’t physically flee to a warm climate of sunshine and seashore, I must mentally and visually escape. I can imagine I’m in Hawaii or Florida or California or some such spot through these photos I took just a little over a year ago inside the Conservatory.

 

 

 

 

Currently, the Spring Flower Show is in bloom inside the Sunken Garden, differing from the flowers in the photos showcased here. Imagine daffodils, tulips, hyacinths…the perfumed scent and bright hues of spring.

 

 

Mostly, imagine that you are in a setting devoid of snow and cold, that winter has vanished and spring arrived.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the conservatory with the camera, Part II March 5, 2014

GROWING UP, I LOVED the mystery board game Clue. Determine the murderer, weapon and mansion room in which the crime was committed and you win the game.

Simple? Not necessarily. The game requires a great deal of concentration, plotting and even some deception.

While Clue includes a cast of characters with interesting names like Colonel Mustard and Mrs. Peacock, what most intrigues me are the rooms. Imagine a home with a lounge, a billiard room and a conservatory. Yes, a conservatory, smaller in scale than the one I toured Sunday afternoon at Como Park.

The Mzarjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Mzarjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, with its winding paths, nooks and extensive foliage, would present the perfect setting for a St. Paul-based mystery. In the shrouded mist of the Fern Room, I can almost imagine a shadowy figure lurking. In the Palm Dome, I can envision a chase. Inside the Sunken Garden, I can picture a stand-off on opposite ends of the garden.

Ah, yes, my imagination appears to be in overdrive. Blame winter madness. Blame the need to escape.

And so we shall…

Follow this path through the North Garden.

Follow this path through the North Garden.

Stop to enjoy the orchids, these in the Palm Dome.

Stop to enjoy the orchids, these in the Palm Dome.

Appreciate leaves as big as an elephant's ears.

Appreciate leaves as big as an elephant’s ears.

Admire the art, including this statue in a Palm Dome fountain.

Admire the art, including this statue in a Palm Dome fountain.

Or create art like this member of the Metro Sketchers working in the Sunken Garden.

Observe a member of the Metro Sketchers creating art in the Sunken Garden.

Or photograph the film crew filming the artist's work.

Photograph the cameraman filming the artist’s work.

Admire the simplistic beauty of orchids.

Admire the simplistic beauty of orchids.

Notice the contrast of a bonsai tree against a steamed window knowing only glass separate the plant from a snowy landscape.

Notice the contrast of a bonsai tree against windows, knowing only glass separates the plant from a snowy landscape.

Mention to your daughter and son-in-law how nice one of these bonsai trees would look sitting on a window ledge in their St. Paul apartment.

Mention to your daughter and son-in-law how nice one of these bonsai trees would look on a window ledge in their  apartment.

Because you are so smitten by these mini trees, consider for a moment how you might smuggle one out of the conservatory. You realize this is an impossibility given the crowd, the staffing and that you left your winter coat in the car.

Because you are so smitten by these mini trees, consider for a moment how you might smuggle one out of the conservatory. You realize this is an impossibility given the crowd, the staffing and that you left your winter coat in the car.

Imagine that you are aboard a ship in a fleet transporting exotic spices.

Pretend you are aboard a ship in a fleet transporting exotic spices.

If only you were a little taller, you'd grasp one of those oranges. Wait a minute. Where's that tall son-in-law?

Banish the temptation to pick a juicy orange. (Where’s that tall son-in-law?)

If only you could snip a few lilies to take home, to carry you through the next few months. Until spring...

If only you could snip a few blooms to take home, to carry you through the next few months. Until spring…

FYI: To read my first post from Como Park Conservatory, click here.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Guilty of escaping a Minnesota winter: In the conservatory with the camera… March 4, 2014

Photographing the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in the cold Sunday afternoon.

The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul on Sunday afternoon.

“SHE’S CRAZY,” the woman remarked to her companion, not realizing I overheard her as I photographed the exterior of the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory.

I wasn't the only one racing from vehicle to the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory minus a coat.

I wasn’t the only one racing from vehicle to the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory minus a winter coat.

The outdoor air temp hovered around five degrees Fahrenheit. Add in the windchill and the “feels like” temp likely plummeted to minus 25 degrees. And I was coatless.

Was I crazy? Perhaps. But stir craziness marked precisely the reason I came here on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the second day of March with my husband, eldest daughter and son-in-law. I needed a respite from the coldest Minnesota winter in 35 years. And I might add a particularly snowy one.

Looking up at the palm trees.

Looking up at the palm trees.

For a snippet of an afternoon, I pretended I was in the tropics, in a land of lush greenery and flowing rivers and blooming flowers.

Temps were downright hot inside the Conservatory, the reason I left my coat in the car.

Temps were downright hot inside the North Garden, the reason I left my coat in the car.

Not difficult to imagine in the 80-degree warmth of the North Garden,

I tucked my Canon inside my camera bag before entering the humid/misty Fern Room.

I tucked my Canon inside my camera bag before entering the humid/misty/foggy Fern Room.

in the smothering humidity of the Fern Room

Lilies and other flowers perfumed the Sunken Garden.

Lilies and other flowers perfumed the Sunken Garden.

or in the Sunken Garden scented by the blossoms of blooming flowers.

Lines of people streamed through the Sunken Garden, by far the most crowded space.

Lines of people streamed through the Sunken Garden, by far the most crowded space.

This was exactly what I needed, as did hundreds of others. Conservatory paths were packed with people meandering through the gardens, pausing to photograph flowers and/or simply basking in the warmth and beauty.

I can't recall the name of this flower, but I paused to photograph it because I like its shape and sheen.

I can’t recall the name of this flower, but I paused to photograph it because I like its shape and sheen.

Crowded conditions were not conducive to creative photography as I had to move along lest I hold up others. But I managed.

An artist sketching in the Sunken Garden flipped his sketchbook back to reveal his favorite sketch of the day, that of a bonsai tree. His art is spectacular.

An artist sketching in the Sunken Garden flipped his sketchbook back to reveal his favorite sketch of the day, that of a bonsai tree. His art is spectacular. My apologies for failing to ask his name.

Metro Sketchers, artists who monthly gather to create art at a chosen location, recorded the scenes unfolding before them.

Thomas Winterstein of St. Paul sketches a scene in the Palm Dome.

Thomas Winterstein of St. Paul sketches a scene in the Palm Dome.

I chatted with a few,

Thomas Winterstein's sketch.

Thomas Winterstein’s sketch.

admired their art and their ability to create with paint and pencils and other mediums.

Watercolor artist Kathleen Richert paints a fountain in the Palm Dome.

Watercolor artist Kathleen Richert paints a fountain scene in the Palm Dome.

I wondered, too, if my California native son-in-law was at all impressed. After all, palm trees and other warm climate plants certainly aren’t foreign to him.

I have no idea what plant this is, but I love the leaves.

I have no idea what plant this is, but I love the leaves.

To this Minnesotan, though, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park in St. Paul proved impressive and mentally uplifting in this longest and coldest of Minnesota winters.

Even though you're not supposed to snap posed portraits, I managed to take a quick shot of my daughter and her husband in the Palm Dome.

I managed a quick shot of my daughter and her husband in the Palm Dome, even though portraits are banned.

FYI: Just for the record, I left my coat in the daughter’s car as I did not want to carry it around in the Conservatory while also juggling a camera. The daughter was kind enough to drop Mom and Dad off at the sidewalk leading to the Conservatory. She and her husband then circled the parking areas for an incredibly long time before squeezing into a tight parking space. I’d advise driving a small vehicle here and not attempting to park in the unplowed gravel lot where vehicles were getting stuck.

Check back for more photos.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling