THE SQUEAL OF TIRES, followed by thuds, disrupted our almost-asleep state of being Tuesday evening. “What was that?” I asked Randy. I was more curious than alarmed.
We live along a busy street in Faribault. Odd and loud noises are not uncommon. But, on a week night at 11 pm, this did seem out of the ordinary. Randy waited a bit, then rolled out of bed to check. Curiosity will always get you. He saw nothing except a torn-up patch of boulevard grass outside our bedroom window. No vehicle in sight.
I asked if we should call the police. “What would they do?” Randy asked. He was right. We had nothing to report except the sounds and the displaced patch of lawn. The vehicle was long gone.
Morning shed more light on the situation. Black tire tracks curved toward the curb next to the boulevard. It is likely accurate to assume that a driver was going too fast down Tower Place (the hilly side street by our corner lot) and lost control while turning onto Willow Street. Oops. Should have slowed down and stopped at the bottom of the hill. We’re just thankful he/she did not continue on, plowing into our bedroom.
This is not the first time we’ve dealt with vehicle-related issues on our property. A tire once fell off a car and rolled down the hill, slamming into the side of our house, just missing the gas meter and pipe. Other times vehicles have jumped the curb on icy streets. One landed half-way across our side yard, taking out the stop sign on the way.
While outside examining the lawn damage and tire tracks Wednesday morning, I happened upon a rectangular box tossed on the grass near the stop sign. It was an empty box once containing 2.0 grams of Sunset Sherbert hybrid distillate disposable vape. Pluto Labs, THE FUTURE OF CANNABIS, LIVE RESIN, the box read. I don’t pretend to know much about cannabis, except that the Minnesota legislature recently approved the use of recreational marijuana. But that doesn’t take effect until August 1.
Then I flipped the box to read that this was a SCHEDULED 1 CONTROLLED SUBSTANCE… THE INTOXICATING EFFECTS OF THIS PRODUCT MAY BE DELAYED UP TO TWO HOURS. THIS PRODUCT MAY IMPAIR THE ABILITY TO DRIVE OR OPERATE MACHINERY, PLEASE USE EXTREME CAUTION.
It made me wonder. Did the out-of-control driver toss this empty box from his/her vehicle just before rounding the corner and then slamming into and jumping the curb onto our lawn? The dots seem to connect.
WATER TOWERSAND GRAIN ELEVATORS. They are the defining landmarks of rural communities, the structures that rise high above the land, marking a place. In my native southwestern Minnesota, where the land stretches flat and far with infinite sky, you can see water towers and grain elevators from miles away.
Long ago I left the prairie to settle in a region with a more diverse topography and a heckuva a lot more trees, lakes and people. I appreciate Rice County, my home of 41 years, with its geographical and human diversity.
Faribault, population nearing 25,000 (big by my standards), is located along Interstate 35 an hour south of Minneapolis. To travelers, it likely seems just another unidentifiable city along the endless four-lane. Another place to pass en route to wherever.
Now a new water tower rising aside I-35 a few miles north of Faribault will clearly identify my community. From the interstate, I’ve watched progress on the 750,000 gallon water storage silo that will serve the growing industrial park. The city received a $2 million grant from the Business Development Public Infrastructure Program through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to help fund the estimated nearly $4 million total project.
Recently, City Of Faribault and the city logo, a fleur de lis, were painted onto the top of the tower, which currently sits at the base. It’s a simple, memorable design that is Faribault’s signature signature. The graphic, which resembles a lily and was often used by French royalty, honors the French heritage of town founder Alexander Faribault. It should be noted that he was also of Dakota heritage.
I like the fleur de lis. It’s artistically-pleasing, elegant, timeless, a classy symbol I’ve come to associate with my community of Faribault. Now, for anyone passing by on I-35, that flourish of gold on the water tower accented by blue will flag Faribault. Even here, far from the prairie, water towers are more than just functional. They identify a place, on the land, under the sky.
EACH SPRING I ANTICIPATE the appearance of newborn ducks and geese in the wild. There’s something about these waterfowl that appeals to me. Perhaps it’s the cuteness factor. Or maybe it’s the reassurance that, despite the ever-changing chaotic world, some things remain constant. Eggs hatch. Ducklings and goslings emerge. And the cycle of life continues.
On the recent day I went duck and goose hunting with my camera here in Minnesota, far from Boston, I found only goslings. No ducklings. I approached with caution. I’ve learned from experience that Canada geese are aggressively protective of their young. I already hold childhood trauma from enduring vicious rooster attacks. I don’t need to add to that.
And so I watched and focused, thankful for my zoom lens which allowed getting close to the geese without getting close. The young ones appeared to be at teenage stage, rather than vulnerable baby stage. Thus my trust of even the youngest rated zero.
I was fully aware that the geese were aware of my presence. People occasionally toss bread to waterfowl here (something I wish they wouldn’t do), so they may have expected a hand-out. Not from me. I was simply there to observe and document while dodging excrement, one of the hazards of stepping into a Robert McCloskey scene.
Despite the caution, despite the need to watch my step, I will continue to delight in this annual rite of spring which draws me to the banks of the Cannon River in southern Minnesota. Far from Boston.
EVERYONE OUGHT TO OCCASIONALLY take a drive into the countryside along back county roads and gravel roads trailing dust. It’s good for the soul, spirit and mind to route into a quiet place defined by fields and farm sites. Away from town. Away from houses clumped together in blocks. Into a wide open place where land and sky meet and space seems infinite.
Randy and I found all of that recently as we drove east of Faribault, passing fields sprouting corn, farm sites nudging the highway. We aimed toward our friend Barb and Bob’s farm, invited there to harvest rhubarb. It’s an annual spring rite for us.
But for me, this is about much more than gathering rhubarb. It’s about enveloping myself in the peacefulness of rural Minnesota. When only the trill of birds, the roar of a tractor and conversation with our friends break the silence, I feel utterly, contentedly at home. I feel grounded and rooted and connected and transported back to the farm of my youth, albeit 120 miles to the west.
I never pull a single stalk of rhubarb from the patch next to the aged clay block smokehouse. While Randy harvests, I roam. With my camera.
First, I pause to take in the rural landscape—fields, trees, gravel road below a clear blue sky. Oh, place of my heart.
Then I head toward the silo towering over the farm site. Many times I climbed the ladder into the silo back on my childhood farm to fork silage and toss it down the chute to feed the cows. It was hard, smelly work. But when you worked on a dairy, livestock and crop farm 60-plus years ago, chores were labor intensive.
From the silo, I turn my focus to the weathered plywood quilt block square displayed on the side of a tin-covered pole shed. The artwork, “Star Shadow,” honors Barb’s passion for quilting. It’s a nice addition to the building. I like barn quilt art, which surged in popularity perhaps a decade or more ago. There are places in Minnesota, like the Caledonia area in Houston County, where you can take a self-guided tour and view 59 barn quilts. For my generation, especially, quilts are part of our family history. Patchwork quilts layered beds, providing warmth on frigid Minnesota winter nights. I cherish remembrances of my paternal grandmother’s quilt tops, quilting frame and the quilts she gifted to me and all of her 40-plus grandchildren.
This visit to Barb and Bob’s farm brings back so many memories. I wander among the apple trees, most blossoms spent, and watch an elusive Monarch butterfly flit among the branches. I can almost taste the sweetness of apple jelly spooned onto buttered toast.
I check in with Randy, who hasn’t called me to help with the rhubarb harvest. He understands the pull I feel to photograph. Via photography, I notice details and that is such a gift. He’s gathered a growing stash of thick green stalks tipped in pink. Rhubarb seems such a humble fruit. Perfect for crisp, sauce or pie.
A tractor roars by then, dust rising around and behind as it pulls an unfamiliar farm implement down the gravel road. A roller, Randy notes later when we pass a packed farm field.
Then quiet settles again. Randy gathers the pile of rhubarb leaves, tidying the area around the old smokehouse.
We head back toward the farmhouse, this time rousing Barb and Bob, who earlier did not hear Randy’s knocks. We settle in for a chat which turns into a lengthy conversation in the shade of trees, near the lilac bush, in their front yard garden. Birds sing. Butterflies fly. Words rise. Cold, filtered well water poured from a fancy pitcher into thick, hefty glasses quenches thirst. The four of us simply enjoy each other’s company. No hurry. Nowhere to be.
I step away to photograph several of Barb’s many birdhouses.
And then the orange farm cat appears. I excuse myself again, to photograph Fred, who requires significant coaxing to come closer. But he is skittish. My camera lens, followed by the click of the shutter scares him away.
I circle back to the conversation circle, passing a bird bath with a trio of ballet dancers centering that circle. They are graceful and beautiful and seemingly out of place in this rural setting. Yet, they are not. The countryside overflows with grace and beauty. The grace of silence and solitude. And the beauty of the natural world.
On this day, I need this. To be in the serenity of this quiet place. To take in the countryside. To see the sky, the trees, the land. To talk with Barb and Bob. And then to leave with a clutch of rhubarb and the promise of warm rhubarb crisp pulled from the oven.
MONDAY EVENING RANDY AND I crammed a full-size used mattress and box spring into the back of our van. It was not an easy task, but we squeezed both inside. We intended to drop the worn out set off at the Rice County Landfill the next day upon our return from a medical appointment in Northfield. Sometimes, though, plans go awry.
En route to Northfield early Tuesday morning, we noticed smoke billowing in the distance. Randy said he’d seen the same smoke on Monday, but much thicker, blacker. Burning tires type of smoke. The closer we got to Northfield, the denser the smoke, enough to warrant turning on the headlights. Smoke settled like fog upon the landscape. The air smelled putrid.
Before we left Northfield, we learned the fire was at the county landfill, a blaze which began Monday evening among all that trash. Still, we were hopeful we could drop off the mattress and box spring. What were we thinking? Randy turned the van off Minnesota State Highway 3 onto the road leading to the landfill. There a portable electronic sign flashed that the landfill was closed to the public and open to licensed haulers only.
So here we are, many days later, driving around with an old mattress and box spring filling the bulk of our van. The latest update from the county states that the landfill will remain closed to non-licensed haulers at least through Monday. There are health and environmental concerns related to the still smoldering (maybe still burning) garbage. I appreciate that local and state officials are monitoring, testing, protecting.
For county residents like us who need to get rid of household items, county officials have now provided a list of local licensed garbage haulers who are accepting things like mattresses and box springs. I called two haulers. One quoted me a price of $65, the other $70 for each piece. So we’re talking $130-$140, a price we don’t want to pay.
I then checked the county landfill website for disposal pricing. There are three options: $25 for each piece if they’re recyclable. What makes a mattress and box spring recyclable? I have no idea. Next, $35/each with prior permission. Finally $55/each without prior permission. Permission from whom? And why is prior permission needed? I appreciate clarity. (And I thought to myself, no wonder people dump mattresses and box springs in ditches if disposals costs range from $50-$110.)
What also remains unclear are how long the fire will burn/smolder, how the environment and air quality have been impacted, and how the health of anyone who’s breathed in that smoke has been affected. Randy and I traveled through that smoke, breathed it in on our drive to and from and during our time in Northfield.
And we live only eight miles from the landfill, which was near enough for that smoke to drift…and we did close the windows in our house Thursday evening because of a putrid odor. Was the smell from the landfill fire? I don’t know. As for that bed set, it’s still stuffed in the back of the van.
YEARS AGO, A VARIETY OF WILDLIFE frequented the wooded hillside behind our garage and spilled over into our and our next-door neighbors’ yards. Raccoons, woodchucks, opossums, skunks, even a fox once, and evidence of deer in tracks left behind. Such sightings were not unusual, even though we live in the heart of Faribault along an arterial street. But the Straight River runs only a few blocks away and our property edges Wapacuta Park atop the hill. Both make for inviting wildlife habitat. That doesn’t explain, though, why we no longer see an assortment of animals.
Now only squirrels and rabbits scamper through the woods and yard, along with voles and the mice I never see but which occasionally find a route into the basement of our aged house. (Within the past week, though, I’ve found two dead mice in our backyard. What’s with that?) Feral cats sometimes wander our corner lot, too. I expect other animals may roam my neighborhood in the cover of dark. I’ve heard coyotes howling while attending an evening concert at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and while visiting friends just outside of town.
One wild animal I haven’t seen yet is a black bear. Typically, they don’t venture this far south from their northern Minnesota habitat. But that has changed in recent years. In late April, bear sightings were reported twice in my county of Rice. The first report came at 2:30 pm on April 26 and the second on April 28 at 9:33 pm, according to a bear sighting map published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Around that time Northfield police issued an alert about a bear and warned residents to keep their trash and bird feeders inside. I haven’t heard anything official about that bear since then.
Earlier, a bear and three cubs were spotted in Steele County, the county just to the south of Rice. That was at 2:12 am on March 7. A solo bear doesn’t seem nearly as frightening as a mama with babies. Just like human moms, the instinct is strong to protect one’s young.
As I studied the DNR bear reporting map, I was surprised to see so many sightings in the Twin Cities area, primarily in the north metro. Admittedly a higher density population may lead to more reports. Still. Olmsted, Mower and Winona counties to the southeast of Rice County also had numerous bear sightings. Winona County, especially, with many wooded areas and along the Mississippi River, seems a place where bears would feel right at home.
When we stay at an extended family member’s lake cabin in the Brainerd lakes area of central Minnesota during the summer, we are bear aware. No leaving garbage outside, no doing anything that will draw bears in from the surrounding woods. We understand we are in their habitat.
But here in southern Minnesota, primarily among corn and soybean fields, I don’t expect bears. Yet, I suppose they didn’t expect humans to wander into their homeland either, among the lakes and forests of central and northern Minnesota.
TELL ME: What wild animals have you spotted in and around your home? I’d like to hear, whether you live in Rice County or elsewhere.
IN 41 YEARS OF MARRIAGE, Randy and I have always been together on our wedding anniversary. But this May 15, he was 583 miles away in Lafayette, Indiana. Monday didn’t feel at all like a celebratory day with my husband gone. But I understood. He left southern Minnesota on Friday to attend our son’s graduation with a master’s of science degree from Purdue University. My vestibular neuronitis symptoms made travel and attending the Sunday evening commencement unmanageable. This was one of those moments in life when I experienced profound disappointment.
And so our anniversary passed on Monday with a phone call and loving text messages exchanged. I knew Randy would be home the next day, which was a gift in itself.
When he rolled into the driveway at 1:15 pm Tuesday after an overnight stay with our daughter and her husband in Madison, Wisconsin, my heart filled with gratitude for his safe return and overflowed with love in his presence. One long embrace later, and we were unpacking the van.
This May that story began in Madison, 271 miles to the southeast of Faribault, about a half-way point to Lafayette. When Randy stayed with Miranda and John en route to Indiana, he noticed lilacs blooming on the next-door neighbor’s bush. So on the return trip and his second overnight stay, he remembered those lilacs, asked for permission to take some and then cut two generous branches. John found a vase. Randy added water and then the lovely lilacs.
Some 4.5 hours later, Randy was pulling that clutch of lilacs from the van. I smashed the woody ends with a hammer for better water intake, added more water to the vase and then set the bouquet on a vintage chest of drawers. Soon the heady scent perfumed our living room.
Now each time I pass those lilacs, breathe in their intoxicating sweetness, I think of my dear dear husband. I think of his love for me and me for him. And I think of how something as seemingly simple as a bouquet of lilacs gathered in a Madison yard bring me such joy. Randy’s unexpected gift compensated for his absence on our 41st wedding anniversary. I feel so loved and cherished.
Thank you, Randy, for your thoughtfulness and love.
For a community like mine, with a sizable Somali population, this book proves a natural draw. I always appreciate learning more about my new Faribault neighbors from the east African country of Somalia. The more we know about each other, the more comfortable and connected we feel. Disconnect and conflict often arise from lack of knowledge, fear of the unknown and differences. Differences in dress, food, language, culture, faith.
This book bridges differences via facts and art that carries a signature African style of intense patterns and colors. With every new bit of information, with every turn of the page, I feel more and more connected to this continent of 54 countries. For example, the word hospitality, chosen to represent the letter “H” in this alphabet book, strikes me as exactly what I hope for in Faribault. Africans believe no one is an island; rather everyone is part of the community, the text reads in part. Two clasped hands visually reinforce that belief.
Events like the Faribault Diversity Coalition’s summer International Festival Faribault and now occasional public talks by immigrants and others are ways we join hands and grow community. I’ve seen the art of my neighbors from Africa. I’ve heard the music, tasted the sambusa, admired colorful clothing… Faribault’s newest residents add a depth and richness to my southern Minnesota city.
Consider African proverbs, chosen in Amazing Africa: A to Z to represent the letter “P.” These wise sayings span cultures. The authors include this powerful Swahili proverb, among several, at the end of the book: “Unity is strength, division is weakness.” If only we all read and take those words to heart. I firmly believe that we, as individuals and as community, need to be here for one another. We truly are stronger when not divided.
As I read of 1,000 languages spoken throughout Africa, I think of the Somalians now living in my community. Many have overcome war, poverty and other unimaginable challenges to settle in Minnesota. And now they must also overcome language barriers and resentment. If only we would all pause for a moment and remember that, for most of us Minnesotans, English was not the native tongue of our immigrant forefathers. Mine spoke German. Others spoke Norwegian, French, Dutch…
I certainly can’t pronounce all of the words published in this book about Africa. Words like Uhuru, Yamoussoukro, Ugali and more. But I can appreciate the beauty of language, the way these words speak the rhythm of the continent of Africa.
Africa is the story of slavery, of dancing, of the world’s largest waterfall, of greatness, of so much richness and depth. You’ll find that, see that, read that in Amazing Africa: A to Z.
AS A WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, I view the natural world through a creative lens. I appreciate the nuances that comprise the whole. And right now those details are sharp, vivid and nearly visually overwhelming (in a good way) after living for too many months in a monochromatic environment.
I need only step into my yard to take in the greening of spring. Buds forming and then unfurling on the maple.
Clumped, clamped buds about to open into fuchsia bleeding hearts.
Curled fiddleheads stretching, soon to unfold into fronds of ferns that wave in the wind.
Within the perimeters of my property, spring bursts in new growth. Tiny green buds line the thick wood stalks of old-fashioned hydrangea that will soon fill the spaces flanking my front steps. Red and yellow tulips jolt color into flowerbeds, among a jumbo of irises that will eventually blossom in yellow and purple, their sweet scent a reminder of my mother. Iris was her favorite flower.
Oh, how I love these early days of May. These days when everything appears lush and intensely green. Spring green. Vibrant. It’s as if every bright green in a box of Crayola crayons colors the landscape. And when the sky is intensely blue, the greens seem even more intense.
These are the days when dandelions pop and grass seemingly grows as you watch. These are the days, too, of raking away the leaf remnants of last fall and cutting back dead flower stems and mentally transitioning into this season we’ve been awaiting since the first snow fell.
It was an undeniably long winter in Minnesota with near-record snowfall, with teases of spring (even summer) before snow fell again. We are now only finally beginning to believe that we can put away the snow shovels, shove the snowblowers into the corners of our garages, banish winter coats to the back of the closet.
Every day of warm temps and blue skies and new greens convinces me that this is for real. Spring has finally arrived in southern Minnesota in her poetically beautiful way. I hear it in birdsong, in the piercing whistle of a cardinal flashing red in the wooded hillside behind my house. I hear it in the rhythmic raking of dried leaves. I hear it in the roar of motorcycles flying down my street.
But mostly I see the shift of seasons in the greening of spring, of trees no longer bare, but spreading in a canopy of green. Of wild raspberries stretching across limestone wall to latch into the earth. Of hostas erupting.
This marks a time of renewal, of hope, of emerging from the cocooning quiet and oppressiveness of winter into a world that feels, looks, sounds utterly and joyfully alive.
DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, when I wasn’t attending worship services at my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault, I switched on the radio. In the safety and shelter of my home, I listened to Sunday morning worship services broadcast on Faribault-based KDHL radio. I was grateful for the AM listening option. I could have watched live-streaming. But I preferred the less distracting radio delivery.
Eventually, I returned to in-person worship. But today I’m back tuning the radio to 920 AM at 8 am Sunday because of a health issue that leaves me sensory sensitive and more. I can’t tolerate the sound of the organ or the multi-layered sensory input of being among people in a busy environment.
That’s the backstory behind my personal appreciation of the Trinity Radio Club, which has broadcast church services for 75 years, first airing on April 25, 1948. That’s remarkable in longevity, in decades of sharing the Gospel initially via the air waves and then via live-streaming and other online platforms.
This weekend, April 29 and 30, the Trinity Radio Club celebrates its 75th anniversary during worship and during a special program between Sunday morning services. It’s important to commemorate and honor the work of long ago visionaries who embraced a radio ministry. They initially pledged $5/each toward the effort and also committed to paying 35 cents weekly to support the broadcasts. That doesn’t seem like much money today. But I expect it was a sacrifice in 1948, when the first broadcast cost $46.
Throughout its 75 years, the Trinity Radio Council (today the Trinity Radio Club) has remained strong in its mission of reaching people with the good news of salvation, whether locally or an ocean away. The club has continued to upgrade technology, to make improvements that assure uninterrupted transmission of services via radio and online. Unlike many churches during the COVID pandemic, Trinity was already up and running with a strong, safe and viable way of reaching and connecting with people outside the walls of the sanctuary.
For awhile, Randy and I (mostly Randy) were part of the club’s mission. Once a month, sometimes more, Randy would take a DVD of the 8 am worship service to a local nursing home. Sometimes I accompanied him. He would lead part of the service and then play the sermon part of the recording for residents. Many of them slept through the entire thing. But, yet, when Randy led them in The Lord’s Prayer, they would join in. No memory issues. No sleepiness. Just a roomful of the faithful praying.
That word “faithful” seems appropriate to insert here. Generations have committed to maintaining and expanding the Trinity Radio Club ministry. That comes via financial support and volunteering. When our tech-savvy son was in high school, he volunteered. Every broadcast and streamed service requires people in the soundproof studio working the computer, the switches, all the tech stuff I don’t understand.
But I understand one thing. I understand the importance of this ministry personally. When I can’t be in church, and there are others just like me, I can still be there.
I am grateful to those individuals who saw the need for a radio broadcast 75 years ago. I am grateful for the continuing expansion via technology. I am grateful for a congregation which financially and otherwise supports the Trinity Radio Club. I am grateful for listeners who also donate. It takes a joint effort, a team, dedication and hard work. And for the initial founders of the Trinity Radio Council, it took a vision based on faith to launch this ministry which has blessed so many, including me, during its 75-year history.