Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The shifting of seasons in Minnesota August 14, 2020

Sumac are already turning red.

 

THE CHANGING OF SEASONS edges into Minnesota, ever so subtly.

 

You can see the changing of the landscape around this pond, the subtle changes in hues.

 

August marks the month of transition, of shifting from summer to autumn.

 

Beautiful black-eyed susans.

 

Of wildflowers in full bloom.

 

Milkweed, necessary for Monarh butterflies.

 

Milkweed pods will soon burst with seeds and fluff.

 

Milkweeds edge the trails and ponds at Faribault Energy Park.

 

Of blooming milkweeds and those heavy with pods.

 

Unidentified berries.

 

Of berries ripening.

 

A trail winds through Faribault Energy Park. This isn’t a quiet place because of the interstate. But it’s a place of natural beauty and mostly undiscovered (meaning never busy).

 

Evenings fall earlier and cool temps sharpen the air. Folks pull on sweatshirts and jeans to keep off the chill. The urge to get outdoors prevails. Backyard campfires blaze warmth.

 

Plums ripen despite a Japanese beetle infestation.

 

Crickets chirp. Squirrels scamper. And gardeners bustle to bring in the bounty. Preparing for winter.

 

Sumac

 

And, in the landscape, hues morph from the greens of summer to the softer, earthy hues and fiery reds and oranges of autumn.

 

In the light of the setting sun, cattails and grasses.

 

Cattails rise in swampland and tall grasses sway.

 

Randy and I laugh at our long-legged shadow selves.

 

At sunset, shadows lengthen, foreboding and dark. As if hinting at days ahead. The dark days of winter that draw us indoors to snuggle under fleece throws, to crave comfort foods, to shelter in place.

 

An unknown wildflower.

 

And this winter to wonder what lies ahead in the uncertainties of COVID-19.

 

This sign marks the entrance to Faribault Energy Park on Faribault’s north side and visible from Interstate 35.  The wind turbine in the park landmarks this spot near the northbound lane of I-35.

 

Note: These photos were taken during a recent evening walk at the Faribault Energy Park.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, glorious April afternoon in southern Minnesota April 21, 2020

Windsurfing on Cannon Lake, rural Faribault, Minnesota, on Saturday afternoon, April 18. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

APRIL IS A FICKLE month in Minnesota. Sunshine and warmth one day and clouds and brisk temps the next.

 

A wind turbine and solar panels are part of the Faribault Energy Park with the power plant in the distance. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

This past Saturday marked a glorious day here with the temp near 60 under sunny skies. I needed to get out of town, yet honor and respect the Governor’s Stay at Home order. So Randy and I set off, first, for the Faribault Energy Park, where we had the entire place to ourselves. I love that about this mostly undiscovered park. No need to concern ourselves about social distancing or, on this day, loose dogs.

 

Oh, the vibrant hues of red and blue on a sunny April afternoon in the Faribault Energy Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

While walking the dirt paths that wind around wetland ponds, we heard birds above the steady drone of traffic from adjacent Interstate 35. It looked to be a typical busy weekend of travel for folks on the interstate.

 

Greenery is beginning to erupt in the landscape. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Everywhere, people were out and about. When you’ve been cooped up inside during the winter and under the Stay at Home order, which I fully support, there’s a real psychological need to get outdoors on a day as beautiful as Saturday.

 

I couldn’t get enough of the trees set against that amazing blue sky. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

Love the hue and texture of dogwood. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I took my time, noticing and appreciating the signs of spring in the landscape. Brilliant red berries against blue, not grey, skies. Green burst of buds. Twigs of mahogany dogwood flagging paths. Creek running. Path muddied by puddles floating oak leaves of autumn. The reflection of the sky in ponds of blue. It was lovely. All of it.

 

Cannon Lake west of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

After walking in the park, we headed out to the Faribault lakes area west of town for a drive in the country. Pleasure driving, near home, is allowed under the state executive order.

 

Fishing in one of the many area lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

An American flag flies from a dock. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

A beautiful afternoon to be out on the pontoon. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

During our lakes tour, we observed people fishing, pleasure boating, wind surfing and riding motorcycles. At a public boat landing, we met a grandpa out for a motorcycle ride with his granddaughter. Their “wind therapy,” he called it. He sees his granddaughter daily so there was no need to social distance from her.

 

The cloud deck was building as we drove into the countryside late Saturday afternoon. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I even got my barn fix as we turned onto a gravel road. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

A decaying corn crib. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

I felt a sense of peace as we drove along back county and gravel roads in the countryside. Past barns and past fields awaiting planting. Through rural land that, for a brief moment of time on a lovely April afternoon, provided a respite from reality.

TELL ME: How are you getting away without really getting away?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My nature escape in Faribault April 17, 2020

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Geese take flight from one of several ponds at Faribault Energy Park in this edited photo.

 

LAST SATURDAY, WHEN I NEEDED an escape into nature, Randy and I drove to the northwest side of Faribault and a favorite outdoors destination, the Faribault Energy Park.

 

I especially enjoy walking at Faribault Energy Park near sunset. The buidling in the distance is across Interstate 35 from the park.

 

I anticipated our walk there along dirt trails that wind past ponds. Even with Interstate 35 in sight and traffic droning in the background, I still enjoy this spot.

 

Cattail remnants edge a pond.

 

The openness of the landscape, the tall grasses and wildflowers (when in season) and the mix of wetlands remind me of the prairie.

 

I always hear birds here, even above the noise of I-35 traffic.

 

An on-site birdhouse.

 

A creek runs through the property with plenty of places for birds.

 

I delight, too, in the birdsong and the glimpses of red wing blackbirds, waterfowl and other birds. I don’t like, though, the dogs sometimes unleashed here by irresponsible dog owners. This isn’t a dog park. On one occasion, a large dog jumped on me, slicking me in mud. This is not OK and it angers me when people have no respect for others.

 

I notice details, like these dried, curled leaves that survived our harsh Minnesota winter intact.

 

Dried milkweed pods, too, have always seemed artfully beautiful to me.

 

Like a fossil, a leaf in the muddy trail.

 

But on this Saturday, there would be no walk through the Energy Park, no dogs to dodge. The gate into the park, typically open from sunrise to sunset daily, was closed and locked. I didn’t understand, until I observed police vehicles and a group of law enforcement officers gathered nearby. Later I would learn of a shooting in a local hotel parking lot and the hunt for a suspect in the northern industrial park where the Energy Park is located.

 

The graceful arc of sumac drew my attention (photo edited).

 

My plans to escape into this natural setting vanished and so we went to Plan B, a walk along the trail in North Alexander Park, a favorite spot bordering the Cannon River. Seems others had much the same idea. The park and trail were busy.

 

The beautiful sunset filters through the cloud bank.

 

I still prefer the mostly undiscovered Energy Park. I hope the gate will be unlocked this weekend, when the weather forecast calls for sunshine and 60 glorious degrees.

 

Berries add a splash of color to the mostly drab mid-March landscape.

 

Note: I took the above photos in mid-March at Faribault Energy Park, which is owned by the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency.

© Copyright 2020 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

 

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.