NOVEMBER MARKS A MONTH of transition from autumn to winter here in Minnesota.
Trees stand against an often grey sky, brisk winds stripping the last of their leaves to bare branches. Nests crafted by squirrels high in treetops appear vulnerable, unsheltered, exposed to the elements while far below these busy oversized rodents munch on maple seeds, hide walnuts, prepare for winter. Their smaller cousins find their way into our aged house and garage, necessitating a daily check of the trap-line.
Harvest is done. Corn and soybeans reaped. A once lush rural landscape now looks drab, awash in muted earth-tones.
For farmers, long days and nights in the field are but a memory. Stress and rush easing into a slower rhythm of life.
The early days of autumn hold such beauty in landscape, such promise in anticipation of harvest. I’ve always loved September and October. This autumn, particularly, in the unchanging season of COVID-19, I’ve needed to reconnect with the earth. To witness the harvest. To view farm sites. To follow back country gravel roads, dust trailing the van. To find peace.
My appreciation for rural traces to my rural roots. I shall always feel gratitude for my 18 years on the farm. The southwestern Minnesota prairie shaped me as a writer and a photographer in that I noticed, still notice, details. The brutal slice of the winter prairie wind. The remarkable beauty of a flaming sun edging down. The taste of earth in potatoes dug from the garden. The sound of silence in hearing nothing. The unmistakable smell of harvest carried from combine to farmyard.
These farm memories I carry with me as autumn wanes, as November days move Minnesota toward winter. Harvest done.
NOTE: All of these photos were taken a month ago. The landscape looks much different now. Grey. Stark.
Polka music pulsed through the van in a rhythmic beat. It was an unusual station choice given I listen primarily to contemporary Christian music on KTIS and Randy enjoys talk radio. But, occasionally on his 22-minute drive home from work, Randy tunes in to KCHK to listen to late afternoon featured 50s-70s music.
In the heart of Czech country, though, the radio station is known for its day-time polka programming.
As we drove along back country gravel roads—past farm sites and harvested fields and farmers working in the fields—the rhythm of polkas, of accordions pushed in and pulled out to create music, set a joyful tone. The music fit the scenes unfolding before us.
The music reminded me, too, of wedding dances back home decades ago in southwestern Minnesota. Of couples twirling across a well-worn wooden dance floor. Of booze bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. Of extended families gathered in a simple town hall to celebrate a marriage. Of The Bunny Hop and The Butterfly and all those dances that brought people together for an evening of fun.
Those memories lingered as polkas played on KCHK. As just-harvested corn flowed into a grain truck. As we passed a mailbox with the name Skluzacek posted thereon. We were deep in the heart of Czech country near New Prague/Lonsdale/Montgomery.
There is something incredibly comforting about the mix of memory and music and meandering in rural Minnesota. Moments like this impress upon me the need to simply be. To recognize the value in an afternoon drive in the country. No destination. No haste. No agenda.
Time to just appreciate. The hard work of the farmer during harvest. The farm sites. Gravel roads.
And the unexpected sighting of horseshoe art where horses graze.
I treasure the memories shared and made with my husband of nearly 40 years as we followed rural routes, polka music thrumming in the background.
DUST RISES FROM FIELDS, clouding the air as combines rake through rows of dry soybeans.
Combines comb corn rows, too, in this season of harvest in southern Minnesota.
Take a drive in the countryside these days and you will observe farmers hard at work, bringing in the crops.
As October moves to mid-month, a sense of urgency presses into long days in the field. By 7 pm, darkness envelopes the land and farm machinery still moves, like a mammoth beast lumbering across acres of corn and soybeans, eyes aglow.
It is in this season of harvest that I feel a bit melancholy, missing my once close connection to the land. The scent of earth. The view of acres and acres and acres of crops drying to muted hues, visual evidence of a farmer’s work. The sound of combines roaring. The taste of dust and dirt. Golden orbs of soybeans sifting between fingers spread wide.
While I once experienced all those first-hand on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota, today I feel an outsider looking in. Watching. Remembering. Feeling grateful for the years I lived on a farm, never realizing then just how much those days would mean to me later in life.
Each autumn I yield to the call of harvest. I reconnect to the land. Observing. Recalling. Missing my farmer dad and my Uncle Mike, a bachelor farmer who lived the next farm place over to the east. They are decades gone now, their final harvests long-finished.
These emotions rush like a blustery October wind into my thoughts as winter approaches. As harvest continues, as seasons pass and life goes on.
TELL ME: Do you go for country drives to view the harvest? Or, if you live in a city, how do you celebrate autumn? I’d like to hear, wherever you live. I welcome harvest memories also.
THE MUTED AND VIBRANT HUES of autumn mix in the rural Rice County landscape, creating stunning seasonal scenes. If you crave color and harvest, this is your moment to get out for an afternoon country drive.
Randy and I consider our county a best-kept-secret-place to view fall colors. Last weekend we traveled mostly gravel and county roads from Faribault to the Nerstrand area and back and then west to Kelly Lake. In between, we stopped for a hike at Caron Park, a picnic lunch at the hilltop Valley Grove churches and then for apples at Apple Creek Orchard.
As farm-raised kids—me in southwestern Minnesota and Randy in central Minnesota—we find ourselves drawn to the countryside, especially during spring planting and then again during fall harvest. Our weekend drives updated us on harvest progress as we passed fields of corn and soybeans. Some picked. Some still drying under the intermittent autumn sun.
Across an expanse of cornfield on County Road 84/Falk Avenue (just off County Road 20 between Cannon City and Northfield), we paused to admire a treeline in the distance. We return here each year to simply stop and appreciate the hillside aflame with the hues of autumn.
Likewise, we also follow nearby Farmers Trail, a remote gravel road (off Falk Avenue) which winds through woods. Primarily maples as evidenced by the colors and by the blue maple syrup tube collection system that weaves through the trees.
Caron Park, too, draws us to stop and hike into the woods. It’s a less-crowded option than the nearby popular Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The treeline at Caron Park, behind an open field of muted, dried grasses, is particularly stunning.
We walked into the woods, following a leaf-covered, eroded dirt trail that made me uncomfortable and unsure of my footing. Tree roots presented potential tripping obstacles. I focused more on staying upright than anything. Yet, despite that, I enjoyed the quiet and beauty of the woods. As did others, mostly young families.
As we continued to follow country gravel roads, we sometimes drove in clouds of dust trailing pick-up trucks. That, too, reminds me of my agrarian upbringing. Yes, nostalgia often seeps into our view and our conversations. Once a farm girl/boy, always a farm girl/boy. Even if we’re decades removed from the farm.
I love how the rural countryside of Rice County often sweeps in valleys and hills, providing incredible vistas. Of farmland. Of wooded and open hillsides. Of land and sky connecting. All connected by gravel roads. This rural setting rates as particularly stunning in autumn.
We ended our drive at another favorite fall destination, the public boat landing at Kelly Lake northwest of Faribault. The view of the treeline across the water—which was unusually clear—always looks particularly lovely, although the colors were not at their peak yet during out stop. Soon.
Heading back into Faribault toward home, I admired, too, how beautiful the trees in my community. Seventh Street. Second Avenue. There’s much to be said for looking in your own backyard for autumn’s glory. And I’ve found it. Right here, in Rice County.
FYI: Please check back for more photos from our country drive and for separate posts on Valley Grove churches and Apple Creek Orchard.
AS I VIEW THE LANDSCAPE layered in snow and consider the unseasonably cold temp of 12 degrees, I reflect that only 11 days ago, southern Minnesota looked and felt much different. Like the season of autumn rather than winter.
Today I take you back to October 18, to photos from a Sunday drive that started in Faribault and continued east through Kenyon, Zumbrota, Mazeppa, Oronoco and Pine Island, then back home.
As farm-raised kids, Randy and I enjoy these rural drives that transport us back in time and also give us a much-needed break from the realities of COVID-19, of politics, of life stressors. I never tire of seeing cornfields and farm sites, especially during the harvest.
There’s something about immersing myself in the countryside, about simply being in a rural landscape, that comforts me. That soothes and calms. I need that now more than ever.
We all have, I think, those places which offer us such a respite. Perhaps yours is a room in your house, a place in nature, maybe even within the pages of a book. I’ve been reading a lot lately and highly-recommend Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds.
Fall. It’s my favorite season, cut too short this year by an early significant snowfall. I’m not happy about it and I doubt many Minnesotans are. We often boast about our hardiness. Yet, we grow weary, too, of our long, cold winters. Most of us, anyway.
Yet, we choose to live here. This is home. And always will be for me. No matter the season.
LIVING IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, as I have for my entire life, I feel a strong connection to the land rooted in my rural upbringing.
Each autumn, I reflect on this time of bringing in the crops. Of gathering the last of the garden produce. Of harvesting corn and soybeans from the acres of fields that define rural areas. I miss the sights and sounds and scents of farming this time of year. Once-green fields muting to shades of brown, Combines roaring down field rows. The air smelling of drying leaves and of earth.
For those reasons, I always appreciate a drive through the countryside, especially along gravel roads. The pace is decidedly slower than traveling on a paved surface.
Although farming has changed considerably with bigger machinery and bigger farms and bigger yields, the basic connection to the land remains. At least for me. It’s part of my creative spirit, of my being.
Yes, it’s easy to get nostalgic about rural life. I offer no apologies for that because I shall always feel grateful for the 17 years I lived on a farm. I learned the value of hard work, of living with minimal material possessions, of working together, of recognizing that inner strength and fortitude and resilience are important as are honesty and good character.
I am thankful I used an outhouse during my childhood, pitched manure, picked rocks, walked beans, fed cows and calves, pulled weeds, didn’t get birthday gifts… There’s something to be said for having grown up in such a setting, in a way of life that by necessity requires significant physical labor and living within your means.
In the winter, my hands cracked and bled from exposure to water and the elements. In the spring, when I picked rocks from fields, dirt sifted into holes in my canvas tennis shoes. In the summer, the hot sun blistered my skin as I pulled cockleburrs. (We didn’t have sunscreen.)
And so these are my thoughts as I immerse myself in the season of harvest via a country drive. A drive that takes me from the countryside into town, to seasonal displays and thoughts of Halloween and Thanksgiving and the winter ahead.
I fully recognize that the forthcoming winter will challenge all of us. I am determined to stay the course during this ongoing global pandemic. To mask up, to social distance, to wash my hands, to connect only with my small family circle, to try and stay as healthy as possible, to care about others…to tap into my can-do farm girl attitude of strength, common sense and resilience. For this is but a season of life, one which requires each of us to think beyond ourselves, understanding that our choices matter now, more than ever to the health and safety of all.
Somewhere on a back road between Detroit Lakes and Hendrum.
TRAVELING NORTHWEST TOWARD the Red River Valley from Detroit Lakes last Thursday morning, I thought I was mentally prepared for the vastness, the flatness that define this area. I am, after all, a native of the southwestern Minnesota prairie. And I’ve been to Fargo-Moorhead, which is tabletop flat.
Trucks hauling crops are the most common vehicles on roads in these parts this time of year.
But this route was different. This nearly 1.5 hour drive took Randy and me off the interstate and onto back county roads and state highways as we aimed toward Hendrum in Norman County. At times we drove for endless miles without sighting another vehicle. It’s unsettling to feel such isolation, to know that you are miles between towns, that the distance between farm places stretches farther and farther.
Our route took us through several small towns, including Borup just 20 miles southeast of Hendrum.
Yet, I tried to make the best of this drive to visit friends who once lived in Faribault. A job relocated the family of seven to this town of 300 some 30 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead along U.S. Highway 75.
Mountains of sugar beets are prevalent in this region.
As we headed toward Hendrum, Randy and I, both Minnesota farm-raised, observed the progress of harvest—seemingly slowed by too much rain. In places, mud from farm equipment stamped the roadway and signs warned of slippery surfaces. Acres and acres of corn remain to be harvested. Muddy conditions, however, apparently don’t stop the picking of sugar beets, a major crop in this region. Our friends’ oldest son works at a sugar beet plant as he saves money to attend a college in Washington, D.C. I can only imagine the cultural shock of moving from remote northwestern Minnesota to our nation’s capital.
Clusters of grain bins are common in this agricultural area.
This is an area that truly is Red River Valley flat, that seems to an outsider rather desolate. But, framed in a positive way, it is a peaceful place. Wide. Spacious. Uncluttered by traffic and housing developments.
It is a land marked by grain bins and by small town elevators, which can be seen for miles—seven miles once, Randy noted.
It is a land marked, too, by rectangles of stacked bales rising like barges along our route toward the Red River.
Here the land and sky seem endless.
Here agriculture anchors the economy.
Although I couldn’t live here given the flatness, the remoteness, I can appreciate that others call this place home.
TELL ME: Have you been to the Red River Valley of Minnesota or neighboring North Dakota?
THE FARMER IN THE HOODED sweatshirt and jeans motions from atop the combine to the trucker across the field. He’s ready to unload just picked corn into the grain truck late on a Sunday morning near Sleepy Eye.
Scenes like this repeat throughout southern Minnesota as the fall harvest is underway. I embrace this season as much for the memories as for the sights, sounds and smells.
The farm-raised girl in me emerges, vicariously experiencing the harvest through a camera lens.
I feel this intense desire to return to the land every autumn. And last weekend an annual horseradish making party with extended family took me back to my home county of Redwood. Along the route there and back, I documented the harvest. It is the closest I come now to being part of the process of bringing in the corn and soybeans.
I miss the closeness to the earth that comes with growing up on a farm. Sure things have changed a lot in the nearly 45 years since I left rural Redwood County. But the imprint of harvest remains, still strong. You can take the girl from the land. But you can’t take the land from the girl.
IN THE SEASON of autumn, farm memories draw me back to the land.
To follow country gravel roads
and county highways
past sweeping fields of corn
A vintage Gleaner combine harvests a cornfield along LeSueur County Road 13 near Lake Jefferson.
Roads lead me by farm sites,
aged stately barns
Near historic Marysburg in LeSueur County.
and mammoth bins awaiting the yield.
Following a tractor pulling a 1970s era gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13.
I observe, too, farmers creeping tractors trailing wagons,
zipping along rural roadways
Visiting at the intersection of LeSueur County roads 13 and 16.
and stalled in conversation at a rural intersection.
Cattle graze along 241st Avenue, just off LeSueur County Road 13.
I scan the landscape with the eyes of someone who misses the farm,
A harvested field glistens with puddled rainwater and mud. Too much rain has slowed the harvest for farmers in southern Minnesota. They will be working long days and nights to catch up and get the crop in before the snow flies.
who remembers the hurry of her farmer father,
Enjoying a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon along Waseca County Road 22.
who follows country roads in the season of autumn.
FYI: I shot these images in Rice, LeSueur and Waseca counties during a Sunday afternoon, October 22, drive with my husband.
A steam engine tractor plows a field. The men standing on the plow guide the blades to the proper plowing depth via levers.
AS SEASONS SHIFT from the growing days of summer to the harvest days of autumn here in Minnesota, aged tractors, threshing machines and other vintage agricultural equipment roll out of storage for annual threshing and steam and gas engine shows.
The engineers at the helm of the steam engine tractor concentrate on guiding it along the field.
On display under plexiglass: a replica 1920s threshing scene crafted by David Terry.
It’s a common scene this clustering of folks around vintage tractors.
These events mark a celebration of the past, a preservation of history, the remembering of a way of life, a focus on the labor intensive efforts of long ago farming. Here retired farmers lean against tractor wheels, men guide massive steam engines, kids learn and an honoring of times past prevails.
After finishing a plowing pass in the field, the steam engine tractor heads back to the other end.
Sunday afternoon I embraced Minnesota’s agricultural history at the annual Labor Day weekend Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas. I didn’t view every aspect of the event, but enough to once again feel a deep appreciation and respect for my rural heritage.
John Deeres were the featured tractor this year.
I love meeting friendly and photogenic vendors who are willing to be photographed.
Flea market vendors offer merchandise ranging from glassware to tools to clothing and lots more, including many agricultural related items.
With camera in hand, I roamed part of the grounds looking for photo ops that would present a personal and unique perspective of the show. From the flea market to the music shed to the rows of tractors and the vintage playground, I found my photos. There is so much heart and soul here and an obvious love of all things related to farming of bygone decades.
These girls rode their vintage banana seat bikes from Northfield. And, yes, there parents were at the show.
Carefree dancing and twirling as only kids will do.
Even the playground equipment is vintage.
I’m especially delighted that so many kids attend. Kids pedaling banana seat bikes. Kids twirling to the old-time music of the Czech Area Concertina Club. Kids steering tractors. Kids swinging on heavy horse swings now banned from most playgrounds.
Some families, like the Pinc family, bring multiple tractors in multiple brands.
Generations spanning infants to elders come to this show ground along Minnesota State Highway 3 under a sky that holds the haze of autumn, of a sun that still blazes heat in the afternoon, of a land that yields its bounty to the harvesters. Here on these acres, memories rise like a prayer of thanksgiving as summer eases into autumn.
TELL ME: Do you attend these types of historic farming shows? If yes, I’d like to hear more.
PLEASE CHECK back for additional photo rich posts as I continue my series from the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.