Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting with nature along the Cannon in Faribault July 7, 2022

A mallard drake in the Cannon River along the shoreline at North Alexander Park, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

NORTH ALEXANDER PARK in Faribault has become, for me, a place of refuge. A place to walk. A place to connect with land, sky and river. The park offers a paved riverside trail, part of the city’s inter-connected trails system, that bends into a tree-filled space.

A canopy of oak leaves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

When life gets especially stressful, as it has thus far in 2022, enveloping myself in nature allows me to temporarily escape reality. Who doesn’t need a break? Focusing on the natural world rather than struggles and challenges brings a sense of peace, of calmness and sometimes clarity.

A mallard hen sits on the riverbank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

This sprawling park on Faribault’s north side is home to many waterfowl, drawn to the Cannon River. I never tire of watching them, whether in flight over the water, in the water or beside the water.

A view of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their numbers seem down this year, perhaps due to avian influenza. Still enough ducks and geese meander the shoreline and trail to make me watch where I step.

A pair of mallards huddle under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Up close under the bleachers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I even spotted a pair far from shore, under the bleachers at a ball field.

A mallard drake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

While I’ve never been fond of winged anything up close, I certainly admire them (except bats) at a distance. Mallard drakes, with their iridescent green heads, practically shimmer with beauty. And the hens are lovely, too, in their mottled brown feathers.

A family of geese photographed about a month ago along the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

In the spring, ducklings and goslings draw my motherly eye. There’s something about a baby.

A pelican comes in for a landing atop the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

The Cannon River also attracts pelicans. And eagles. On a recent riverside walk, I saw an eagle trace the river, reverse course and settle low in a tree along the opposite shoreline. Too far away to photograph even with my zoom lens. It just sat there. I was hoping it would swoop down to grab a fish. But, when I left, the eagle still perched in that tree. Quiet. Still.

A snuggling mallard hen, defined by mottled feathers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

There’s something to be learned from observing waterfowl. How they sit. How they glide. How they navigate wind and water. How they adapt.

So I will continue these riverside walks, immersing myself in nature, discovering the peace and quiet that comes from connecting with ducks and geese, pelicans and eagles at North Alexander Park in Faribault.

TELL ME: Do you escape into nature? If yes, where’s your favorite place to go and how does being in the natural world benefit you?

© Copyright 2022 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

 

Make way for goslings (and ducklings) May 11, 2021

Goslings huddle near pond’s edge at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

EVERY SPRING, I FIND myself drawn to pond or river’s edge to watch the goslings, the newborn offspring of Canadian geese navigating the shoreline and water.

Geese are fierce protectors of their young. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

They are just so darned cute. Downy yellow. Sometimes huddling in a circle of sibling closeness.

Swimming into the pond at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Still in the protective care of their parents. And, yes, geese can prove fierce when safeguarding their young. I steer clear of these young families, preferring to frame family photos from afar.

Prairie Pond at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
I love how the goslings are bookended in a protective line. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
A goose is barely visible in the dried grasses of Prairie Pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The ponds of River Bend Nature Center (especially the one along Rustad Road) are good spots to spot geese and ducks. When I see young waterfowl, I am reminded of Robert McCloskey’s children’s picture book, Make Way for Ducklings. It won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book and tells the story of a duck family in Boston.

A duck pair in Prairie Pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

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.

A duck emerges among the grasses in Prairie Pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

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.

Geese nesting at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

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.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: A Sunday morning walk in the park July 27, 2020

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 mice? No. Not one bit…

 

From Faribault: The golden hour of evening photography in spring May 30, 2019

A view of South Alexander Park from the shores of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

THE GOLDEN HOUR. Those three words hold great meaning to anyone into photography. It is the 60 minutes after sunrise and the 60 minutes before sunset—the time when natural light lends a softness to images.

 

A lone mallard swims in the quiet waters of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

Recently, I grabbed my camera to photograph early evening spring scenes at two Faribault city parks—North Alexander and Two Rivers. The results show the beauty of incredible natural light in making a photo.

Enjoy.

The converging of the Cannon and Straight Rivers at Two Rivers Park.

 

A nearly camouflaged bird along the banks of the Cannon River, North Alexander Park.

 

In the still of a beautiful May evening. trees reflect in the Cannon River as seen from North Alexander Park.

 

Lots of geese populate the Cannon, including this young family photographed in North Alexander Park.

 

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill sits along the Cannon River, photographed here from North Alexander Park.

 

Reflections at Two Rivers Park.

 

Picnic tables placed along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park (next to the recreational trail) provide riverside dining.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Make way for geese May 22, 2019

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THE LITERARY SIDE of me wants to write Make Way for Ducklings as the title of this post in reference to Robert McCloskey’s children’s picture book.

 

 

But that would prove inaccurate. These water fowl are geese, not ducks. And they were swimming in the choppy waters of the Cannon River several days ago on their way to wherever.

 

 

That they paddled a safe distance from me eased any concerns about an attack. I stood along the shoreline, amazed at these determined geese, amazed at the natural instinct of parents to shelter, guide and protect their young. A lot, I thought, like us human parents.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What makes a great park, in my opinion June 23, 2015

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.

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 Moreshouse Park.

Water roars over rocks in the Straight River at Morehouse Park.

A trail of geese in the tranquil part of the Straight River.

A trail of geese in the tranquil part of the Straight River.

On a beautiful summer afternoon, a woman fishes 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

A robin hops along the bank of the Straight River in the dappled sunlight of a June afternoon.

Waterfowl aplenty populate sections of the park.

Waterfowl aplenty populate sections of the park.

Geese hug the riverbank.

Geese hug the riverbank.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling