Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflections at summer’s unofficial end September 4, 2019

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THE SIGNS EXIST EVERYWHERE. In the sunny warm days that give way to nights so cold I’m now closing windows overnight. In the melodic chirp of crickets. Of leaves tinged red.

 

 

These days feel of summer’s end, of autumn slipping in, of days that are shorter, nights that are longer.

 

 

And, unofficially, Labor Day marks the end of summer.

 

 

I expected a different summer from my previous two of broken bones and subsequent therapy. I expected a fun summer of relaxation and exploration. Joy of carefree days. Sunday afternoon drives.

 

 

But sometimes life delivers the unexpected (worse than broken bones) and we learn that we are made of much more than we ever thought possible. Strength stretched. Faith strengthened. Patience tested. Endurance not a choice.

 

 

I learned that I can be assertive and strong and persistent and a fighter. I learned the definition of selflessness, not that I’m a selfish person. I learned the incredible depth of love. Beyond what I even thought possible.

 

 

I learned to prioritize, to drop the unnecessary, to focus on what was most important.

 

 

I learned the enduring value of friendship from those friends who cared from day one and continue to care. It is true what they say about finding out who your friends really are during difficult days.

 

 

When I look back on the past four months, I see a spring and summer that seem unrecognizable. It’s been a journey, one that continues. But as the season of autumn arrives, life is better, calmer. And for that I am thankful.

 

All of these photos were taken last week during an evening walk through Faribault Energy Park.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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My prairie place of peace in Faribault July 8, 2019

 

I’VE FOUND MY PARK in Faribault. The place of wildflowers and waving grasses, of songbirds and waterfowl, of gravel trails that curve around bodies of water.

 

 

Faribault Energy Park reminds me of southwestern Minnesota, the prairie place of my roots. Located on the city’s northwest side and visible from Interstate 35, this Minnesota Municipal Power Agency park invites visitors to walk paths in an ever-changing natural landscape.

 

 

Even with the steady drone of I-35 traffic in the background, birdsong breaks through the noise. The memorable voice of the red-winged blackbird, especially, sounds a sensory delight.

 

 

I’ve visited the park mostly in the evening, when the golden light of sunset falls upon ponds, angles through grasses and flowers, and slices between tree branches.

 

 

Daisies, milkweed, clover, Iris and other flowers familiar but not identifiable to me by name populate the landscape in clusters of white, clumps of purple, flashes of yellow. Focusing my camera causes me to slow down, to notice blossoms I might otherwise miss while following the winding dirt paths.

 

 

But visitors can’t miss the wind turbine towering above the park next to a hillside block of solar panels. Informational signage explains how wind energy converts into electricity. Faribault Energy Park, though, is a dual fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility, not primairly wind-powered, and runs during periods of high demand for electricity.

 

 

This park serves also to educate, welcoming students to tour the plant each May, to view the control room, the steam turbine and then to walk those wetland area trails. Tours are also available by appointment.

 

 

For folks like me simply seeking a place to escape into and photograph nature, Faribault Energy Park wetlands park offers a respite of natural beauty. Some also come here to fish, although I’ve yet to see an angler pull in a catch.

 

 

But I’ve observed geese and ducks claim this property and swim these ponds. I’ve glimpsed, too, an otter gliding through the water.

 

 

And I’ve rested in the gazebo.

 

 

 

In the chaos and busyness of life, reinforced here by the sights and sounds of adjacent I-35 traffic, I still find peace in this place reminiscent of my native southwestern Minnesota prairie.

 

 

FYI: Faribault Energy Park is located at 4100 Park Avenue. The wetlands park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About letting your dog run loose…my story March 29, 2019

Dogwood

 

HE DEFENDED ME with dogwood against the dogs.

 

A scene shot along one of the trails in the Faribault Energy Park toward the energy facility. Trails wrap around multiple ponds where three men fished for crappies Wednesday evening. An otter glided in the same pond, keeping his distance from the fishermen.

 

It seems fitting that dogwood would provide protection from two dogs running free at Faribault Energy Park around sunset on Wednesday. A quick Google search reveals the name of the reddish-tinted bush rooted in the Middle English words dagge/dagger. The thin sticks were once used as daggers or skewers.

 

After the incident with the dogs, I photographed these geese.

 

With that language lesson for the day, I return to the story of a walk on a lovely late March evening that left me upset and frustrated with an irresponsible dog owner.

Here’s the deal. If you have dogs and choose to take them to a public place, then leash them per city ordinance and common sense. Otherwise go to the local dog park and let your dogs run free. Or stay on your property and watch your dogs run.

A dog not under the control of its owner concerns me. I don’t care how supposedly friendly and well-behaved the dog. Any canine in a strange place, among strangers has the potential to do harm.

I feel fortunate that I escaped with only muddied jeans after a large curly-haired black-and-brown dog bounded toward and then jumped onto me, slicking mud down my pant legs. That was enough to kick in the fear factor, especially when a second dog joined the first dog.

By that time I was in semi-panic mode, unsure what these dogs might do to me. Randy picked up on my fear and stepped in with a bundle of dogwood. He thrust it between me and the dogs, held it as a shield as the pair continued to circle.

 

The Faribault Energy Park wind turbine. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We don’t typically carry around dogwood. But minutes earlier I picked up dogwood twigs broken off at the base of a bush. I’ve always wanted dogwood for outdoor flower pots and these would rot if left to the elements. Soon thereafter we encountered the dogs on the gravel road by the wind turbine.

Not only was I afraid, but I was angry. About my muddied jeans and that inconsiderate canine owner. I scanned the park grounds for the absent owner. And I yelled multiple times for that delinquent owner to retrieve his/her dogs. My voice was lost in the drone of heavy traffic from nearby Interstate 35. Randy and I kept moving, hopeful the dogs would leave us alone. Eventually they did and soon the owner rounded the gravel road in a green van, stopped, opened the side door and the dogs leapt inside.

Part of me wanted to turn around, walk to the van and lecture the dog owner. But I recognized that I was still too upset and, in today’s world, you never know how someone may react.

End of story except to say this incident ruined an otherwise lovely walk in the park.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I don’t know dog breeds well enough to identify the dogs referenced in this story. But it doesn’t matter. Dogs should not run loose in a public place.