Opportunities abound to observe newly-hatched spring waterfowl in my Minnesota community of Faribault, where two rivers run through—the Straight and the Cannon—and assorted ponds dot the landscape.
On a recent stop at River Bend Nature Center, I expected to see goslings and ducklings. But I didn’t. Instead, I saw two adult ducks in the grass aside the road upon entering the center. And then I spotted two grown geese atop a nest and a lone goose cruising the nearby pond. I need to check other locales, like the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. Ducks and geese are prolific there to the point of being a nuisance. I always watch where I step.
Despite the absence of sighting newborn waterfowl at River Bend, I found other scenes to focus my interest. I especially appreciated the sky, a patchwork of blue and white with clouds seemingly suspended overhead.
And below, in the pond, those skies reflected on the water, among dried and greening grasses.
This time in May, especially with a late spring, seasons mix. Textures and remnants of autumn remain, contrasting with the greening of spring.
A short walk to the nearby waterfall yielded disappointment. With the recent rains, I expected water to be rushing over the rock ledges. Rather, there was barely a trickle. The same went for the spring, just off the parking lot near the nature center entrance. No water flowed.
But back in the pond, the three geese I watched seemed comfortably settled. Soon, I expect, they will make way for goslings (not ducklings).
“DUCK, DUCK, GRAY DUCK!” If you’re not a native Minnesotan, you might stop me right here and protest. “It’s Duck, Duck, Goose!” you likely would correct. And then I would protest.
A few years back, in October 2017 to be exact, a tight end for the Minnesota Vikings initiated a game of Duck, Duck, Goose following a touchdown. Ohio native Kyle Rudolph was quickly corrected. Here in Minnesota, we term that children’s game Duck, Duck, Gray Duck. Not Goose. But Gray Duck. That set off a storm of conversations in which many a Minnesotan defended our name for this game which involves participants sitting in a circle, tapping each other on the head and calling out “Duck” or assorted versions thereof. The child pegged as the “Gray Duck” then tries to catch the person who is “It.”
Duck thoughts fly through my head as I consider a scene on the Cannon River in the heart of downtown Northfield Sunday afternoon. There, among the drake mallards with brilliant iridescent green heads and the hens in their unassuming shades of brown, were four white ducks. All white with brilliant orange beaks and webbed feet.
I was thrilled to finally see these white ducks Randy has previously spotted flying over Northfield on his way to work. These, he said, are not domestic ducks given their propensity to fly just like any other wild duck.
We can only guess at their origins since we are uninformed, except when it comes to Duck, Duck, Gray Duck. Perhaps the white ducks resulted from a genetic mutation. Or the mixing of wild and domesticated. Whatever the reason, these waterfowl drew our interest.
I wondered if the other ducks would exclude/shun/avoid the white ducks. As I watched them walk across the ice and swim in patches of open water, I observed no ostracization. We could learn a thing or ten from those ducks.
While River Bend lies a long ways from McCloskey’s Boston Public Gardens pond setting, the universal appeal of ducklings spans the miles between Massachusetts and Minnesota.
Whether in a city, rural area or nature center, downy babies in the care of their parents create, at least for me, a sense that all is well in the world. That no matter the worldwide challenges—especially during a pandemic—no matter the community and personal challenges, the cycle of life continues.
Every spring I make way for ducklings and goslings, celebrating their arrival by documenting their arrival. With my camera. But even more, by framing them in my memory during this season of spring.
Well, we never got there. Suffice to say the best-laid plans were thwarted by developing health situations with our parents. Our phones were blowing up on Sunday. And I’d lost my desire to leave Faribault. I’d been awake since 4:55 a.m. and, come afternoon, my energy level plummeted. Randy suggested I nap for a bit. I tried.
As Randy and I walked, I felt my mood shifting away from worry about loved ones to the natural world around me. Bare trees rising above the snow. Others leaning or broken. Black against white.
The river, edged with ice, curving through the woods. Poetic. Artsy. Mostly monochromatic.
I paused at the sound of music, church bells, I thought. Randy pointed to chimes dangling above a balcony at a trail-side apartment building.
We listened, too, to the manic caw of crows circling nearby. I felt like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I thought I saw an eagle through the distant treetops, but then never spotted it again.
A bit farther down the path, we paused to consider an aged limestone building. Abandoned. I wondered aloud at its purpose. And the part of me that appreciates such historic structures lamented its neglect.
I noted the abundance of animal tracks in the snow. And human tracks and sled imprints on the hillside.
When the cellphone in my parka pocket jingled, I ignored it.
When we’d walked a distance, we retraced our steps, took a short cut up the sledding hill and then aimed to another city trail, this one along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. There, masses of ducks flew close to shore near our parking spot. They just kept coming and I couldn’t figure out why.
Randy looked at the paved pathway to traces of smashed bread. Ah, the ducks thought we brought food. We laughed about that and considered that maybe, while we continued our walk, they would swarm our van and leave droppings.
I quickened my pace, anxious to flee the flock of hungry ducks. A few minutes later, we watched them take flight away from the frozen shoreline and land in open water.
We continued through the park, passing picnic shelters packed with stacked picnic tables. Past lone grills enveloped in snow. Past the colorful playground absent of children. And past the vacant ball fields.
The wind cut cold through our bones as we turned onto the park road that would take us back to our van. I felt refreshed, my mind cleared, my spirits buoyed by the simple act of getting outdoors. Away from challenges and concerns. For at least an hour.
Randy and I walked Sunday morning along a recreational trail in Faribault’s North Alexander Park. The path follows the Cannon River. That’s the Faribault Woolen Mill in the distance.
MID SUNDAY MORNING and I desire to get out of the house. For one reason. A mouse. After I went to bed Saturday evening, Randy spotted a mouse running across the living room. Have I told you yet that I am terrified of mice? I understand that my fear is irrational. But that does not change my feelings about rodents. I’ve had too many mouse encounters—in a bathroom in the dead of night while pregnant. Another with a mouse found floating dead in a crockpot. And a live mouse in a silverware drawer. Yes, I detest mice. I figured if we left the house, we would come home to find the elusive mouse caught in a trap. Snap. Dead. It didn’t happen.
The trail winds through a wooded part of the park. At the distant shelter, a group was setting up for a grad party.
But, hey, we had a nice time at North Alexander Park in Faribault, where we walked a recreational trail and I paused numerous times to take photos. It proved a welcome break from mouse brain. And also provided photos for this blog. Win-win.
Three growing ducklings in a row.
The watchful mama duck trails behind.
Overnight rainfall raised the water level of the Cannon River considerably, but not to flood stage.
As usual, ducks and geese populated this park and I found myself dodging droppings. For the first time ever, I also observed a couple throwing bread to the fowl. I thought to myself, please do not encourage them to wander away from the river and onto the pathways further into the park.
Typically, this playground is swarming with kids.
Randy and I saw a few other humans. Walking dogs. Setting up for a graduation party. A dad and his two kids on the playground.
And on a nearby tree, a beautiful woodpecker searching for bugs. (If only he could scout out mice.)
The empty softball diamond. Check back for some interesting signage photos.
Across the road, the softball diamonds were vacant. On a typical summer weekend, they would likely be busy with tournaments.
Looking through the fence at the Faribault Aquatic Center. No kids. No pool open this summer.
This sign made me laugh. Check the weather forecast before you head to the pool.
On this incredibly hot and humid July day, the pool remained closed due to COVID-19.
Likewise, just down the street, the Faribault Aquatic Center was also vacant, locked down due to COVID-19. I took a few photos and laughed at a sign inside the front entry that advised of no refunds in the event of lightning. It rained all night Saturday into early Sunday morning here in Faribault. Plenty of thunder and lightning.
Across the road at the Rice County Fairgrounds we found one final surprise—a horse show. Not yet underway, but in the process. I’ve always liked horses.
…but they are smart enough to realize that words mean nothing to squirrels either. And if there’s corn available, as in this front yard along Fifth Street in Faribault (across from Trinity Lutheran Church), they will partake.
My question, though, is this: How did these ducks find this food? The house is not located anywhere near a water source. Did one of them fly over, spot the corn and call the family? I can never figure out this ducks wandering away from water thing.
IN THE PAST FEW DAYS, after visiting Bridge Square in Northfield and Morehouse Park in Owatonna, I’ve thought about what makes a great community gathering place. When considering a spot for a picnic or simply a place to relax, what do I seek?
A view of the Straight River from the pedestrian bridge in Morehouse Park.
Water. Whether a river or a fountain or a lake, water tops my list. There’s something about water that soothes, that eases life’s worries. I’m not a water sports person. But I love the sound of rushing water like that of the Straight River roaring over the dam in Morehouse Park or the fountain spraying in Bridge Square, just across the street from the Cannon River.
Water roars over rocks in the Straight River at Morehouse Park.
A trail of geese in the tranquil part of the Straight River.
On a beautiful summer afternoon, a woman fishes the Straight River.
Water offers a place to wish, to think or not, to fish, to canoe, to observe nature. Still as geese gliding. Hopeful as pennies tossed into a fountain. Turbulent water tumbling over rocks as calming as white noise.
A recreational trail slices through Morehouse Park, bridging the Straight River.
I also want a park that’s aesthetically pleasing, clean, green, obviously cared for and appreciated.
Gorgeous flower baskets hang along the recreational bridge.
In Morehouse Park, generous baskets of petunias suspended from a pedestrian bridge make a statement that says this community cares. The park is a busy place with a trail winding through that draws bikers, skaters, walkers and photographers like me.
At Bridge Square, the fountain entices all ages to perch beside the water, to rest on benches, to purchase popcorn from the popcorn wagon.
Morehouse Park includes a playground, tennis court and horseshoe pits along with other amenities.
In both parks I feel a sense of community, of closeness in appreciating a beautiful spot in the heart of a city. There’s a certain vibrancy, a rhythm, a definitive weaving of people and place.
Ducks and geese overrun Morehouse Park. So watch for droppings. Everywhere.
And that is what I seek in a park. Not just a picnic table under a tree. But a certain sense of belonging, of connecting with nature and community on a Minnesota summer day.
BONUS PHOTOS from Sunday afternoon at Morehouse Park:
A sign next to the bridge reads: “When we preserve a historic place, we preserve a part of who we are.”
A robin hops along the bank of the Straight River in the dappled sunlight of a June afternoon.
IT’S BEEN A BIT of an animal menagerie on my property lately. First, three baby ducks bee-lined across the driveway, around the corner of the garage, up the hill and into the lilies that grow wild at woods’ edge. I have not seen them since their surprise showing on my residential lot blocks from the river.
I was pulling weeds in a flowerbed when I discovered this frog.
The frog stayed put for a long time so I could photograph it.
That leaves me wondering also why a frog would appear, perched on a chunk of limestone rimming a garage side flowerbed. But there this bug-eyed amphibian sat in the sun, unmoving except for the pulse of his heartbeat. Unlike the baby fowl, the frog froze, allowing me to take a multitude of images before he slipped into the flowers.
The bunnies always show up each spring when I plant my flowers.
Petunias are a favorite tried and true annual.
No rabbit photos, just more flowers.
And then the rabbits, oh, the rabbits, they have arrived in force since I potted and planted flowers like kale, petunias and impatiens. I’ve noticed a nibble here, a nibble there, but not complete consumption of what, to a rabbit, must seem a salad smorgasbord.
It is the crows, though, which I find bothersome. Ducks are cute. So is a frog in the odd sort of way such a creature can be cute. And bunnies, even if they prefer my flowers to grass, are, undeniably cute.
But crows? There is nothing cute about their annoying and raucous caws that grate at the nerves, that threaten in an unsettling Alfred Hitchock sort of way.
I won’t give crows the satisfaction of photographing them. But I did photograph this bird on a tabletop fountain.
And, no, I have never rushed to grab my camera and photograph a crow.
IT APPEARED TO BE nothing short of a love story played out on a west central Minnesota lake.
Two love birds—or more accurately, ducks—met along the shoreline of Lake Agnes in Alexandria which, to those of you who do not live in Minnesota, claims to be the birthplace of America what with the Kensington Runestone and all found here.
But I digress.
The mallards cared not one wit about the vikings or the Runestone or even me, watching their every move. The drake and the hen had eyes only for each other.
And so the romance spawned on Lake Agnes, on this lake with the name of Greek (not Scandinavian) origin meaning pure/holy/chaste.