Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Waiting for ducklings & goslings May 23, 2022

A marshy pond near the entry to River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 15, 2022)

MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS. That award-winning children’s picture book by Robert McCloskey comes to mind each spring as ducklings and goslings hatch. McCloskey’s book, which won the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book in 1942, tells the story of a duck family adventuring around Boston. That’s some 1,400 miles from my southern Minnesota home.

Geese atop a nest at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 15, 2022)

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.

New signage graces the entrance to the nature center in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

One of two mallards I saw. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 15, 2022)
An obviously human-made nest in the pond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

Sky and water come together. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

Pond close-up. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And below, in the pond, those skies reflected on the water, among dried and greening grasses.

This sign at River Bend points to an actual spring, not a reference to the season. I love these kitschy homemade signs scattered throughout the nature center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This time in May, especially with a late spring, seasons mix. Textures and remnants of autumn remain, contrasting with the greening of spring.

Just inside the entrance a short distance is the waterfall, between the road and the Minnesota State Correctional Facility, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

A goose swims alone in the pond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But back in the pond, the three geese I watched seemed comfortably settled. Soon, I expect, they will make way for goslings (not ducklings).

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you love books…here’s your sale May 21, 2022

Books I selected from the AAUW’s “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IF YOU LOVE BOOKS and live in the Faribault area, you have four more days to shop for used books during the local American Association of University Women’s annual sale at the Faribo West Mall.

After a break due to COVID, the sale is back. Just a note, though, that Rice County is currently experiencing a medium level of community transmission of the virus. That’s a change from the high transmission level we’ve been in for a few weeks.

But back to those books. As someone who loves to read and who appreciates books sold at a bargain price, this sale is a must shop. Mostly, I read books I get through the library. There’s always a stack in my house. Books I own also line shelves in my living room. There’s something about owning a book. I had so few when I was a child and longed for a library in my hometown.

Minnesota poet Robert Bly autographed this copy of “The Voices.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yes, I’m drawn to books and I’ve found some treasures through the years at the AAUW Faribault Chapter’s Book Sale. The last treasured discovery was a slim volume of poetry, The Voices by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly. It’s a limited first edition copy, #14 of 50, autographed by Bly, a well-known Minnesota poet who died last November.

I found this vintage (perhaps 1960s) booklet at a past AAUW Book Sale. I love the graphics. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2016)

I’m also drawn to “Minnesota” books, whether about Minnesota or written by Minnesotans.

Science fiction books my son bought at the 2011 AAUW Book Sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2011)

When my son was in high school, he’d accompany me to the AAUW sale, hauling home bags of science fiction and fantasy titles.

This year I’ll search for books that interest my grandchildren, ages three and six. And I expect I will find other books that interest me or someone I know. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt, this filing through donated used books packed on tables and sometimes in boxes.

Proceeds from the sale also enable the AAUW to offer scholarships and other programs locally. There are other benefits, like keeping books out of the landfill by recycling them, encouraging reading, making books accessible and affordable…

Here are the remaining sale hours:

Saturday, May 21, 10 am–5 pm

Sunday, May 22, noon–5 pm

Monday, May 23, 4-7 pm ($8 bag sale)

Tuesday, May 24, 4-7 pm (books are FREE)

TELL ME: Do you shop used book sales? If yes, what treasures have you found?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Straight River Art Festival features fine art, music & more May 19, 2022

Promotional graphic created by artist Jeff Jarvis. (Credit: Straight River Art Festival)

WE ARE A CREATIVE BUNCH, we Minnesotans. And this weekend, 20 creatives from Faribault, Northfield and the surrounding area will showcase their work at the Straight River Art Festival.

The new event runs from 9 am–6 pm Saturday, May 21, at Heritage Park, alongside the Straight River, just a block from Faribault’s historic downtown. There fine artists will set up booths to vend their art, engage in conversation and, for some, demonstrate their crafts.

An example of Tami Resler’s pottery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

Featured art includes stained glass, jewelry, pottery, apparel and accessories, photography, hand-blown glass, textile design, painting, drawing, fiber art, quilting and woodcarving. Some of the artists are familiar, others perhaps not as much. Yet each brings talent and enthusiasm to the creative process. To have them all together in an outdoor setting makes their art easily accessible and visible.

Mark Joseph. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Performing artists are also part of the Straight River Art Festival with music by Lil’ Fun Band (11 am-1 pm), Pop Prohibition (1:30-2:30 pm) and Mark Joseph (3-4 pm).

Hands-on art created at a past arts-oriented event in Faribault and unrelated to this Saturday’s festival. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

The Paradise Center for the Arts is involved, too, offering hands-on art activities for kids.

This mural on the back of The Upper East Side in downtown Faribault features the art of Jeff Jarvis, a multi-talented artist at West Cedar Studio, Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

Faribault-based food truck, El Jefe, will be on site vending authentic Mexican food. El Jefe has a restaurant just a block away along Central Avenue, next to Fleur de Lis Gallery. Jess Prill, jewelry artist and gallery owner, is one of the key organizers of the art festival, along with Faribault artists Tami Resler and Paula Person. They’ve also tapped into other artists, like Jeff Jarvis, for help with the fest.

Brigg Evans Textiles are fabric pieces printed from original scanned Seri Batiks created by Suz Klumb, aka Brigg Evans. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Prill loves art festivals. And, obviously, art and artists given her creative bend and home-grown Fleur de Lis Gallery. “Faribault is an amazing town with a ton of talent to highlight so I knew this event would be a great way to do that,” she says. She also notes the need for “more fun things for people in the community to do in town.” Her desire to create a new arts festival drew her to Resler and Person, both actively engaged in the arts and with strong connections to local creatives.

Down to Earth Stoneware, pottery by Diane Lockerby. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

“We are all very passionate about the town and the arts and are very excited to bring this event to the community,” Prill continues.

Bending Sunlight Glassworks, artist Sandra Seelhammer. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

I’m excited, too, as I share Prill’s love of the arts. I cannot imagine a life without writing and photography. Both feed my spirit, my soul, my need to create. And this Saturday 20 creatives who share that passion will fill Heritage Park with their art and creative energy.

FYI: For more information about the participating artists, visit straightriverartfestival.com by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Apartments popping up all over Faribault, plus a new park May 17, 2022

Traffic curves past Straight River Apartments, under construction along First Avenue Northeast in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR now, I’ve observed construction of a new apartment complex near downtown Faribault next to an in-progress city park.

Another view of Straight River Apartments, northeast side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Straight River Apartments stand on the site of a former massive city garage, just north of the American Legion and aside train tracks tracing the Straight River. Fleckenstein Bluffs Park is adjacent. Both are definitely improvements to the properties.

The sprawling nature-themed playground fits the setting along the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)
Animals, like this chipmunk, are incorporated into the playground equipment, following the nature theme. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)
The climbing apparatus at Fleckenstein Bluffs by Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

As I’ve watched developments on this land, I’ve considered how the apartment location will connect renters to nature and downtown. Renters will not only benefit from the next-door park, complete with nature-themed playground, picnic shelter and scenic overlook over the Straight River, but will also have direct access to the Straight River Trail.

A view of the Straight River and the train track crossing, photographed from the Straight River Trail. This scene is by Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
A river overlook at Fleckenstein Bluffs was fenced during my visits. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
A short distance from the park, just off the Straight River Trail, a pathway leads to this opening in the woods along the river. There’s a picnic table in this space. Rocks were hauled in and placed along the river bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Just a short walk, jog or bike ride away along the trail, those who live here can immerse themselves in woods and sidetrack off the paved route to river’s edge for a picnic, to meander or to fish. I thought a canoe and kayak launch were also part of the park plan, but see no indication that will happen.

Photographed in mid-March as workers work on Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Meanwhile, construction continues with an anticipated August opening of the 111-unit “boutique and high-tech apartment complex,” according to INH Properties. Apartment rental prices range from $925/month studio to two-bedroom two-bath plus den starting at $1,500/month. I’ve been out of the apartment market for decades, so rates seem high to me for Faribault. Yet, I realize that’s the going market rate in a community with a rental housing shortage.

A north end view of Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Faribault is seeing a bit of a boom in apartment building construction. Other new complexes include Hillside Apartments across from Buckham Center and The Lofts at Evergreen Knoll on the site of the former Evergreen Knoll restaurant near Walmart.

The restrooms and park shelter being built at Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Plans are also underway to build a 74-unit apartment near the viaduct, just blocks from my Willow Street home. And then even further along Willow, near the Faribault Soccer Complex and Middle School, developers are planning a 200-250 unit apartment complex. All of this new housing will bring even more traffic to my already heavily-traveled city street. And I’m not feeling at all good about that. More traffic equals more noise, more wear and tear on my street. More litter. More pollution.

No matter my concerns about more traffic past my house, the construction of new apartment buildings in Faribault is a good thing for those in need of rental housing. Our growing workforce demands local housing access. At least one Faribault business, C & S Vending, is planning workforce housing of three 12-plexes and one 8-plex. I’m sure there are other projects I’m missing in this summary.

At the Fleckenstein Bluffs Park, a xylophone, among several large scale musical instruments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

We are a growing community. We need rental housing and affordable single family homes and nearby parks. (A new, community-centered park is also planned near the viaduct.) Come August, a whole lot more people will be living near downtown Faribault as Straight River Apartments open. Now we need to focus also on making home ownership available and affordable, if that’s even possible given the tight market and cost of new construction today…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The elusive egret May 16, 2022

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Through blurred trees in the foreground, an egret that has just taken flight. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FROM ONE HOLDING POND to the next, then to the next, they flew. The elusive egrets.

Pond walking. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent evening, I tried to photograph egrets at the Faribault Energy Park, place of dirt trails, ponds, creek, assorted trees, wildflowers and wetlands along Interstate 35.

A wildlife photographer I am not. But that doesn’t keep me from trying.

Wings so broad and white. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Randy spotted the egrets first, in the waterway near the small shelter just off the entry road into the park. I hurried toward the shelter thinking I would quickly get the shots I wanted. But, as I soon discovered, egrets are observant and evasive. Before I even reached the site or had adjusted my camera for action shots, the two egrets were in the air.

Either landing or taking off, I can’t recall which. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

They flew toward the nearest holding pond. I followed, stood on the dirt trail, zoomed from afar and clicked the shutter button multiple times. When I moved, the egret of my focal attention took off. I was intentionally trying to respect the birds and remain unobtrusive. But I suspect, even if I had simply been walking the trails minus my camera, their behavior would have been the same.

Hanging near the shoreline in the third pond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

By this time I determined that egrets are camera, or people, shy, preferring to just be left alone in their watery habitat.

This unfocused image shows motion as the egret takes flight, neck curved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

They are an interesting bird. Long of neck, curved when they fly. Wide white wing span, which leaves me wondering how they possibly keep those feathers so snowy white. Thin black legs resembling sticks. Long, jolt of orange beak. And not exactly graceful in flight. Rather clumsy-appearing, in my opinion.

My final photo as the egret flies during the golden hour or sunset. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I wonder what those egrets thought of me, earthling far below or nearby. Without wings. And although my legs are long given my height, they are no match for an egret’s long twiggy legs. I can’t compete with their vision either. That I observed in the short time I attempted to photograph…the elusive egret.

TELL ME: Do you know anything about egrets and/or their behavior?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods on a lovely spring day in Faribault May 12, 2022

We sat on the bench near this shelter in Teepee Tonka Park to eat our picnic lunch and watch the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

ON THE AFTERNOON of River Bend’s Maple Syrup Fun Run, Randy and I followed a dirt trail into the nature center from Teepee Tonka Park. We’d just finished a picnic lunch alongside the Straight River, where we watched the fast-flowing water, a swooping blue jay and a father hiking with his two young daughters through the riverside woods. We also discussed how Faribault needs a canoe and kayak launch site.

Tree rings drew my interest. There are lots of dead and fallen trees and branches in these woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And then, once we finished eating and planning, we dropped the cooler in the van and walked a ways into the woods. Our pace is typically leisurely. I prefer a take your time, notice, listen and see hike compared to a raising your heart rate pace. My photography factors into that.

Fungi grow on a trailside tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This walk found me pausing to photograph fungi laddering a towering tree.

A worm for lunch. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And a bit further, Randy and I stopped to watch a robin nip at, then fully consume, an earthworm.

The pedestrian bridge crosses the Straight River into the woods on both ends. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
The Straight River as seen from the bridge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Near the river bank, a lone mallard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Onward we went, lingering on the pedestrian bridge to watch the river flow. I never tire of the poetically powerful pull of flowing water. It’s soothing and comforting and peaceful. Something I needed to feel on this Saturday, at the end of an incredibly stressful week.

A railroad trestle crosses the Straight River,. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2020)

A ways down the path, Randy noticed a critter among debris tossed over the hillside by the former state hospital onto land adjoining the trail. Who knows what junk lies here? Or what animals. As hard as I looked, I couldn’t see the creature he noticed.

Then along came a young couple with their dog and we engaged in a brief conversation. They’ve poked around in the junk, they said, and found old bottles. And an old Fresca can from the 1980s. Randy and I caught each others’ eyes. “Old Fresca can from the 1980s.” Inwardly we laughed. The 1980s do not fit our definition of “old.”

Unfurling leaves are greening the landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On they went. On we went. Soon we reversed, retracing our steps. I noticed the greening trees and landscape. I could see spring. Feel it. Finally. I welcomed the nuances of May, of sunshine and warmth, in a spring that has been too cold and rainy. I found spring in the woods. In a robin. In a river. In recognizing the beauty of this unfolding season.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hitting the sauce May 9, 2022

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Cry Baby Craig’s, Faribault made hot sauce, which I love. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

STEREOTYPICAL RURAL MINNESOTANS, especially those of Scandinavian descent—of which there are many—avoid spicy foods. Just a hint of heat in chili is plenty, thank you. And to flavor hotdish, pass the salt and pepper, please. Oh, and that hot sauce, no thank you.

But at least one Minnesota woman, arrested recently in Faribault, loves to spice things up.

Faribault police responded to a disturbance call on April 16 only to find the woman speeding away in her car, evading them. When she eventually stopped, the officer noticed signs of intoxication. But the 32-year-old refused to take field sobriety tests. This is all according to police reports.

A popular mass-produced hot sauce. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As the officer was preparing a preliminary breath test, the woman “grabbed a bottle of hot sauce and began drinking it.” Yes, you read that correctly. She hit the hot sauce in an apparent effort to avoid alcohol detection. Once arrested and taken to jail, the driver refused to take a breathalyzer test.

Made in Faribault, Minnesota, Cry Baby Craig’s hot sauce. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The report about the incident in the April 29 issue of “The Point After” police newsletter doesn’t list the hot sauce brand consumed. I’m wondering because…a popular Minnesota hot sauce, Cry Baby Craig’s, is made right here in historic downtown Faribault. I hope she was at least loyal to her hometown brand.

While the hot sauce consumption rates as not the brightest idea ever, I give the woman credit for creativity and for making me laugh. But the rest of this incident is not at all humorous, entertaining or smart. There is nothing funny or wise about allegedly driving while under the influence. She now faces charges of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, 2nd degree DWI, DWI test refusal and child endangerment. There were two children in the car with her. No amount of hot sauce will hide that fact.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Difficult Mother’s Day experiences & what I learned May 5, 2022

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My friend Kathleen recently created an altered book honoring my mom, who died in January. She included a copy of this 2016 photo of my three adult children. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

TRAUMA WRITES INTO my Mother’s Day history. Two events. Two Mother’s Days. Two memories that, even with the passing of time, remain vivid.

The first occurred in May 1987. Randy and I had just gotten off the phone with our moms. We wished them Happy Mother’s Day and then told them we were expecting our second child, due in November. The grandmas were excited. We were delighted to share the news.

And then it happened. The bleeding. The panic when I realized what was happening. The call to the ER with instructions to lie down and see my doctor in the morning. I recall lying in bed, flat on my back, overwhelmed by fear. “I don’t want to lose my baby,” I sobbed and prayed.

How could this be happening? Moments earlier we’d shared such good news. And now the future of our baby seemed uncertain.

Miranda, five days old. Photo source: hospital photo

In the end, we didn’t lose that precious baby girl born to us six months later. Miranda. Beautiful in every way.

Fast forward to the morning of May 12, two days before Mother’s Day in 2006. Miranda was a senior in high school, her older sister just returned home from college. And their little brother, Caleb, 12, was on his way to the bus stop. Then the unthinkable happened. While crossing the street to his bus, Caleb was struck by a car. He bounced off the car, somersaulted, landed on the side of the road.

The moment when I heard the sirens, when I instinctively knew deep within me that something had happened to my son, terror unlike anything I’d ever felt gripped me. I can’t explain how or why I knew. I just did.

I have a file thick with information related to my son’s hit-and-run. The file includes newspaper clippings, e-mail correspondence with the police, medical and insurance papers and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In the end, Caleb suffered only a broken bone in his hand, cracked ribs, bumps and bruises. While it was a terrifying experience—compounded by the driver who left the scene and to this day has not been found—we felt relief in the outcome.

Even though I endured those Mother’s Day traumas in 1987 and in 2006, I did not lose a child. But in those experiences I gained empathy—for those who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth, disease, illness, accident, violence, suicide… And if that’s you, I am deeply sorry for the pain, grief and loss you’ve felt and feel.

My daughter Miranda and me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.)

Through those experiences I realized how deep my motherly love, how my children hold my heart in a way that the very thought of losing them caused me such angst. I would do anything to protect them from harm. Anything. Even today.

My son and I in 2016, when he graduated from Tuft’s University, Boston skyline in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo by Randy Helbling)

Through those experiences I grew stronger. And I recognized that, no matter what, we are not alone. When Caleb was hit by the car, our family received overwhelming support from family, friends, his school and the greater community. There were prayers, encouraging cards and phone calls, a stuffed animal and even a gift certificate to Dairy Queen. What love, compassion and care.

To my dear readers who are mothers, you are cherished, valued, loved. And the children you raised/are raising are equally as cherished, valued and, above all, loved.

TELL ME: If you have a story or thoughts you would like to share about being a mom or about what your mom meant/means to you, please comment. I’d love to hear from you.

© 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

 

The in-between season at River Bend April 19, 2022

Oh, how lovely the textured bark. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

TREES DEVOID OF LEAVES open the woods to full view. Such is the benefit of this not-winter, not-yet-spring transitional time here in southern Minnesota.

Signage identifies the the Arbor and Outlook Trails at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On a recent walk through Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center, I noticed nuances of nature that might otherwise not be seen in a leaf canopy, or at least not as deeply appreciated.

A woodpecker in flight. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Following the Arbor Trail loop into the woods, I noticed first a red-capped woodpecker. I determined to get a photo. But, if you’ve photographed birds, you understand that such an endeavor requires patience, planning and a bit of luck. I caught the bird in flight. Maybe not the sharpest image, but certainly an unexpected moment I managed to snapshot.

Bare treetops, beautiful against a bold sky. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Trees themselves also draw my interest. I find myself especially drawn to oaks. Their sturdiness and expansive canopy exude strength and artistry. But I find birch trees equally as fascinating. Or at least those with white bark, which could be birch or aspen. Without leaves, trees are much more challenging to identify, at least for me.

I love the beauty of dried grasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

As I forked off the Arbor Trail to the Overlook Trail, the vista opened to prairie. Now, as you would expect, this native prairie girl loves the prairie. No matter the season. I appreciate the tall dried grasses that arch and dip in the wind. Rhythmic. Poetic.

A solo grass stem bends in the wind. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

A single stem of grass reminds me of youthful summers on the farm, of playing in untamed tall grass. It reminds me, too, of the writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, a favorite author. I grew up some 20 miles from her childhood home in Walnut Grove. Her ability to notice details inspires me in my writing.

Beauty in a seed head. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Dried seed heads catch my eye. Details. Promise of new growth from last season’s remnants.

One of the many bluebird houses checked and maintained by volunteers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I notice, too, the bluebird house among the prairie grasses. Thanks to Keith Radel, who hails from my hometown and has lived in Faribault for decades, the bluebird thrives in these parts. Known as Mr. Bluebird, Keith appreciates bluebirds with a passion unequal. He’s determined to protect them, to assure they flourish. It’s heartening to see his devotion to this bird.

I see the deer and the deer see me through a treeline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

As I return to the Arbor Trail, I wonder if I will see any deer, previously spotted in this area. And then Randy, my walking partner, alerts me to their presence. There, on the prairie, I observe four deer. I move quietly toward the edge of the treeline to photograph them through the trees. Careful. Cautious. Not wanting to scare them away before I can lift and focus my lens. But they are already aware, frozen in place, ears upright, faces turned toward me.

The deer vanish, nearly unseen, into the tall prairie grasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Soon they are hightailing it away, vanishing, camouflaged by the high brown prairie grasses. I never tire of watching deer, even though I consider them too numerous and a roadway hazard.

In just a short distance, I’ve noticed nature’s nuances. In a woodpecker. In the bark of trees. In the prairie grasses. And, finally, in a quartet of deer. What a gift in this not winter, not-quite-spring season in southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling