Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota mining disaster up close & personal at Milford Mine Memorial Park September 2, 2021

A peaceful and lovely scene at Milford Mine Memorial Park on a hazy July afternoon, rural Crosby. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

IN A BEAUTIFUL NATURAL SETTING, among the woods and water and wetlands, an American tragedy unfolded nearly 100 years ago on the Cuyuna Iron Range. In the late afternoon of February 5, 1924, water seeped into and then flooded the Milford Mine near Crosby, killing 41 miners in Minnesota’s worst mining disaster.

Information about the mine disaster is included in a traveling exhibit from the Minnesota Historical Society. I photographed this at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Their deaths left 38 women without husbands. And 83 children without fathers.

This sign marks the gravel road entry to the memorial park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Today the memories of those 41 hardworking iron ore miners, and the seven who survived the mine collapse, are honored at Milford Mine Memorial Park. The Crow Wing County Park is located four miles north of Crosby, just off County Road 30. The Milford Mine Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places, so important is this to the region’s mining history.

Those who died in the mine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
The first boardwalk lists the victims’ names, spaced along the path. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Signs along the trail honor each miner. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

This is truly a remarkable park that covers the history of this event in a deeply personal way. Through names on boardwalks and brief bios on signs, this park moves this disaster beyond statistics. Only then do we begin to understand, to feel the loss.

Honoring George Butkovich. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

George Butkovich, 29, an Austrian immigrant married to Anna Perpich (a well-known name to Minnesotans who remember our 34th and 36th governor, Rudy Perpich, a native of the Iron Range) died in the mine. He lived with Anna and their three children in Ironton.

A summary of the disaster. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Emil A. Carlson, 29, from Finland, was the father of four and married to Elma. They lived in Crosby.

The bios of four who died in the mine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Nels R. Pitari, 37, also a Finnish immigrant, was married to Hilda. They lived in Brainerd and had four children, one only five months old at the time of his father’s death.

The park is not only a great place to learn about history, but also a great place to hike and enjoy nature.
Bold berries pop alongside the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Not to be missed, the many wildflowers gracing this park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

According to signage at Milford Memorial Park, the park “is an attempt to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives to pursue the American dream, provide for their families and build their community.” That’s necessary to understand given the importance of iron ore mining in this region. The high grade ore from the Milford Mine was used in the production of steel. This region of Minnesota was built around iron ore mining.

History honored and shared… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Many who came to this area arrived from across the US, Canada and the European continent. They were a diverse group, looking to better their lives, to raise their families in a new place, to build strong communities.

Site of the timber shaft. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
What I presume to be iron ore. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
The entry to the mine shaft is fenced around and over. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

In walking through the park, pausing often to read the history of this place and to view marked sites like the machine and blacksmith shops and the mine and timber shafts, I felt a sense of reverence, a sense of understanding of the loss connected to this land.

Originally named Lake Foley, the lake has since been renamed Milford Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Water lilies in Milford Lake, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
A flower brightens woods’ edge near the lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Investigators determined that pressure from Lake Foley, connected to adjoining wetlands, caused water to rush into the mine resulting in the collapse of the mine’s walls. Within 20 minutes of that occurrence, the 200-foot deep mine shaft filled to within 15 feet of the surface. That allowed only minimal time for the miners to attempt an escape. Only seven got out. They, too, are recognized at the memorial park on a survivors’ boardwalk: Carl Frals, Harry Hosford, Mike Zakotnik…

Lengthy memorial boardwalks curve into the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

As I walked the boardwalks and trails, I felt sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer tragedy of the Milford Mine Disaster. So much loss. So much grief and pain. So many father-less children. And it is that, perhaps, which touched me the most.

NOTE: Milford Mine Memorial Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. I encourage you to visit, to experience this important part of Minnesota history.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating River Bend Nature Center in Faribault August 11, 2021

Black-eyed susans on the prairie at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

WHENEVER I NEED TO CONNECT with nature nearby, my go-to destination is River Bend Nature Center, just across the Straight River on Faribault’s east side.

A viewing and resting spot by the prairie wetlands, now drying up due to the drought. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

In this 743-acre natural space, I can immerse myself in a diverse landscape of woods, prairie and wetland. Each setting provides not only a sensory change from the noise and motion of living along a busy street, but also a much-needed mental break.

An unknown to me prairie plant. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

When I’m at River Bend, I forget about what’s happening in my life or the world. Rather, I focus on being present in nature. Listening. Observing. Connecting.

Rain gardens front the RBNC interpretative center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

That word, connecting, fits River Bend, which emphasizes its purpose as helping connect people to outdoor education, recreation and natural resource conservation close to home.

River Bend has an extensive trail system, some paved, some not. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

My own children, while growing up and attending school in Faribault, went on many field trips to River Bend. I remember also one winter evening when our then-young son delighted in a star-gazing event, complete with telescopes, on prairie’s edge. Today I occasionally take my grandchildren to walk RBNC’s trails. Randy and I also hike the paths.

A prairie path. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Perhaps my favorite part of this spacious nature center is the prairie. It reconnects me with my prairie roots. With southwestern Minnesota, the land of open spaces and spacious skies. I love to walk through the path sliced into the prairie at River Bend. The path edged by tall prairie grasses and wildflowers. The path where I can pause to take in the vast sky with no trees blocking my view. I need to visually breathe.

Coneflowers, one of my favorite prairie flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
“Rattlesnake Master,” Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Wildflowers and grasses mix on the prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

On my most recent visits, the prairie has focused my attention. Specifically the wildflowers—those interspersed among the grass and those planted in the rain garden near the interpretative center. While fading, the flowers remain an integral part of the prairie eco-system as they form seeds and then grow and/or re-sprout in the spring.

A lone turtle suns itself on a log. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I also spent time in the nearby woods, stopping at the Turtle Pond to photograph turtles sunning on logs. They delight me and generations of kids, including mine, fascinated by those lazing turtles.

Signage helps visitors identify plants and flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

River Bend holds generational appeal. I’ve seen young families pushing babies in strollers, teens driving remote-controlled vehicles on limestone shelves, older couples like us walking, and much more.

A lone daisy blooms among the prairie grass. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Next week, August 16-20, River Bend focuses on its annual Ramble fundraising campaign. As a nonprofit, RBNC relies on fundraising, donations and memberships to keep the center open and operating. For more information about the Ramble, visit the RCNC website.

TELL ME: Where’s your favorite place to escape into nature near your home?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take time at River Bend July 15, 2021

I noticed this beautifully veined leaf lying on a trail at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

TAKE TIME. Two simple words. Take time to pause. To look and truly see. To focus on the details. To appreciate the beauty of our natural world.

Crossing the viaduct on the way to River Bend Nature Center on Faribault’s east side. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

In Faribault, River Bend Nature Center offers a prime place to immerse one’s self in nature. And I did just that on a recent walk through the woods and then into the prairie.

Flowers… Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.
A jolt of color in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.
Lacey flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

I usually carry my camera while at River Bend. That causes me to really notice my surroundings. This most recent visit, I spotted an abundance of wildflowers. From woods to prairie, flowers thrive in the summer heat.

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

A plaque on a bench reminds hikers to take time to smell the flowers, although I didn’t dip my nose into any blossoms. Rather, I appreciated the simple beauty of color splashed in the otherwise green woods.

On the way to the Turtle Pond, I spotted this interesting grass. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.
Maple leaves. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

Even the greenery holds visual appeal in the rolling droop of grass, the lace of maple leaves, the woods that hug trails.

This paver in honor of my friend’s parents reminds me of Psalm 46:10. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

Messages on pavers at Honor Point, overlooking the Straight River, inspire. Be still. Pause. Appreciate.

River Bend features a natural play space for kids in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

There’s something to be said for being still. Simply being. Listening. Connecting to the earth. Perhaps remembering how you felt as a child, exploring.

A fort and “tunnel” in the kids’ play area. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

In my youth, I “lived” outdoors, coming indoors only to eat and to sleep. With my siblings, we built forts in the grove, rode our bikes along dirt trails, hid in prairie grasses higher than us.

At the edge of the woods, a map details River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

I took time. Time to play in nature. To become part of it. To imagine. When I hike at River Bend, I reclaim that childhood joy.

Wild raspberries edge the woods near the prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

I savor the moments. The sights. The tastes. The scents. The sounds. All that which defines the natural world.

To be avoided: wild parsnip. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

WARNING: Stay away from this plant, wild parsnip. It looks a lot like dill and is growing alongside trails. Wild parsnip will burn your skin. Do NOT touch it.

Clover grows in sun dappled spots in the woods by the prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo June 2021.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photo rich posts from my recent visit to River Bend. Next, I’ll take you into the prairie.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods & among the flowers at Grams Regional Park June 30, 2021

Into the woods via a boardwalk at Grams Regional Park, Zimmerman, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

AFTER MULTIPLE VISITS to Grams Regional Park, Randy and I feel comfortably familiar with this 100-plus acre natural area. The Sherburne County park in Zimmerman has become a lunch-time stopping point on our way to a family lake cabin south of Crosslake.

Flowers bloom in a Native Pocket Prairie Garden at Grams. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

We exit US Highway 169 onto county road 4, drive a short way, then turn left and snake back to the park across the road from Lake Fremont. Here, among the oaks, we eat our picnic lunch before stretching our legs.

Into the woods at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

The park features two miles of trails and boardwalks in a diverse landscape of open natural space, oak forest, tamarack bog and wetlands.

Wildflowers bloom in the woods in mid-May. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
An overview of those same purple flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Flowering in the Native Pocket Prairie Garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

We’ve enjoyed the wildflowers of spring, the wild raspberries of summer and the flaming hues of autumn here in this quiet natural setting.

I appreciate this aspect of the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Beautiful prairie flowers in the garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
A flowering prairie grass in the prairie garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

On our most recent stop in late May, we met a couple, Connie and Dale, lunching at the same picnic table we’d used prior to a hike through the park. It was a chance meeting which turned out to be a history lesson. Connie’s grandparents moved onto this land in 1919. She grew up here and eventually convinced her mother to sell the property to Sherburne County. The county, according to information on its website, acquired the park land from Howard and Marvel Grams in 2002.

A work in progress at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Spotted while walking in the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Photographed in an educational/play space for kids. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Had the property not been sold to the county, it would have become a housing development, Connie said. I could hear her gratitude that the Grams family legacy is one of a park and not of houses. I shared how much we enjoy this natural space.

Another found, painted stone in the park. Love this. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Connie also pointed to a nearby 200-years-plus-old oak tree, now under study. I couldn’t help but think how an oak often symbolizes a family tree. The Grams family may have owned this land at one time and grew their family here. But now the branches have spread to include the broader family of those of us who appreciate this place among the oaks.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Among the wildflowers in Kaplan’s Woods May 5, 2021

Spring wildflowers at Kaplan’s Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

FLOWERS OF SPRING EMERGE in the woods. Among layers of dried leaves. Among fallen limbs. Sometimes blanketing hillsides.

White trout lilies. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
A mass of white trout lilies in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
An unidentified, by me, wildflower cluster. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Saturday morning, as Randy and I hiked through Kaplan’s Woods Park in Owatonna, I found myself searching the edges of the wood chip covered trails for wildflowers.

A sign inside the woods details the Parkway. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I love this foot bridge which crosses the creek and leads into the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Near the creek, this solo boulder seems out of place in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

This time of year, especially, I crave flowers. They represent the shifting of seasons, of plant life erupting as the landscape transforms.

Dainty violets are among the spring wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The largest of the wildflowers I saw. Can anyone identify these? Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The brightest of the flowers I spotted, this one also unknown to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Green begins to fill the woods, accented by bursts of violet and yellow and white hugging the earth. Low to the ground, easily missed if you focus only on the trail ahead.

Low water. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

We have walked Kaplan’s only a few times and this visit I noticed the low water level of the creek that winds through the woods.

Hillside wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I noticed also the noise of traffic from nearby Interstate 35. Motorists en route somewhere on an incredibly warm and sunny morning in southern Minnesota. I hope that at some point they paused to appreciate the day. The sun. The trees. Maybe even the wildflowers. And the brush strokes of green tinting the landscape.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods at Falls Creek Park March 31, 2021

Moss feathers across the end of a hewn tree.

AS SPRING EASES INTO MINNESOTA, I embrace the transition of seasons in indecisive weather and in the subtle greening of the landscape.

A greening vine in the otherwise muted landscape.

I don’t trust that winter has really, truly, exited. Yet, these early glimpses of spring assure me that the bulk of winter lies behind us.

Randy walks in the woods.

I saw that in the woods of Falls Creek County Park on Sunday afternoon. Randy and I hiked in this 61-acre park a mile east of Faribault off Minnesota State Highway 60. It’s a relatively unused park, one of the reasons we are drawn here.

Water rushes under the bridge and over rocks.

Here a dirt hiking path curves along the waterway winding through woods. Access to that path comes via an arched pedestrian bridge. There water rushes over rocks and we always pause to appreciate the soothing sound of rushing water.

The creek meanders, wide in some areas, narrow in others.
In places, the creek runs clear.
A fork in the creek.

And we also always walk to the side of the creek, to examine the water at the bend, before it flows under the bridge. Recent rain left that water muddied. Later we would find the creek flowing clear.

Loving the light, color and texture on this tree trunk moss.

Entering the woods, I determined to photograph signs of spring in the muted landscape. That requires focus. Examples of spring are elusive and seen mostly in vivid green moss carpeting fallen tree trunks.

A fallen tree provides a canvas for art.

But I can photograph only so much moss. Thus I expanded my perspective. Nature writes details upon the landscape. Even in a scene of mostly muted browns.

Hillsides of trees rising

and fungi laddering

and dried leaves curling.

Nature’s “antlers.”

And the branches of a tree twisting like antlers.

Nature’s sculpture.

And felled trees that appear like natural sculptures.

The makeshift bridge.

All of these nuances I noticed as we walked, as I stopped to take in my surroundings, as Randy steadied me while I crossed a makeshift branch bridge across a spillway.

Randy crosses the bridge out of the woods.

There is much to see in this seasonal transition, if only we pause to appreciate. To look. And really see. To hear. And really listen. It’s there. The poetry of wind and water and woods and words.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

River Bend in March, before the latest winter storm March 16, 2021

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Ice edges a pond Sunday afternoon at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

AS I WRITE MONDAY AFTERNOON, snow continues to fall. Steady, for hours and hours. Layering the landscape that, only the day prior, was devoid of snow.

After an especially lovely Saturday of sunshine and 50 some degrees, this return of winter seems like a mean trick of Mother Nature. I rather enjoyed pre-spring. But as a life-long Minnesotan, I expected snow and cold to return. Yet, maybe not with such force, as if the weather has something to prove.

That all said, let’s forget the winter storm and backtrack to Sunday afternoon, when Randy and I hiked the trails at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. It’s one of our favorite places to escape into nature.

I always carry my camera. And here’s what I found: Natural beauty even in a drab landscape transitioning between seasons.

Signs of spring in maple sap collection bags and buckets.

And sap dripping slowly into the containers.

Signs of winter in ice edging the Turtle Pond.

A lone child’s snow boot, which left me wondering how that got lost without anyone noticing.

And the photo I didn’t take of young people clustered along a limestone ledge with their remote control vehicles climbing the layered rock. Limestone was once quarried from this area.

And then the bark-less fallen tree Randy pointed to with shades of brown sweeping like waves lapping at the lakeshore. Artistically beautiful. Poetic.

Just like words imprinted upon plaques adhered to memorial benches honoring those who loved this place, this River Bend.

Moss carpeting the ground in a line across a ridge of land in the woods. The only green in a landscape of brown tones.

Dried grasses and dried weeds on the prairie. The muted remnants of autumn.

Tracks muddied into the earth.

And birch

and fungi and all those things you notice if you only take the time to pause. To appreciate the natural world. To step into the woods. To walk the asphalt trails heaved by frost and tree roots. Or to follow the dirt trails that connect soles to ground. Soul to nature.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A lovely November day at River Bend December 1, 2020

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Outside the River Bend Nature Center interpretative center, berries pop color into the November sky.

NOVEMBER 2020, while a dreadfully awful month for COVID-19 in Minnesota, brought the gift of some lovely days. Weather-wise. Any November day without snow and with temps in the 40s or higher delights me. Warm, sunny, blue-sky, snow-less days in the 11th month mean a shorter winter.

We crossed paths with this jogger running her dog.

On one of those above-average afternoons in early November, Randy and I headed across the viaduct to the east side of Faribault and River Bend Nature Center. It’s one of our favorite local spots to hike and immerse ourselves in the peace, solitude and beauty of the outdoors.

River Bend, appreciated by so many who come here to explore.

This marked the busiest we’d ever seen River Bend outside of a scheduled event. Yet, despite the high number of parked vehicles, we didn’t encounter all that many people in the nearly 750-acre nature center. Exactly what we had hoped.

There’s a certain beauty even in dried plants.

Any visit here always finds me with camera slung over my shoulder or around my neck. Even in the mostly grey and muted browns of November, I can still find something to photograph. Each season presents a unique perspective of nature when focused through a viewfinder. I love that about photography, how it invites me to notice the details in my surroundings.

Into the woods at River Bend…
I noticed artistic beauty in the bare branches of a lone tree.
I’m always intrigued by fungi on trees, stumps or elsewhere in the woods.

And so we walked along paved paths into the woods. Occasionally I paused to document a discovery with my camera. Whatever caught my eye or interest. Or whatever Randy noticed and thought I may want to capture. I appreciate his awareness of our surroundings, too, and how he values my interest in photography.

One of the few places on earth to find the dwarf trout lily in the spring.
Not far from the Straight River overlook, Randy spotted what we presume to be a fossil in stone.
A personalized paver at the overlook.

At an overlook above the Straight River, near the Trout Lily Trail and near fossils imprinted in stone, I stopped to photograph pavers that speak to others’ love of this place.

Later I would find a bench marker noting the same.

The woods open to and edge the prairie, where I feel particularly at home.

There’s so much to love about River Bend from the woods to the prairie, from the river bottom to the waterfall.

The only bold color in the November landscape.

Mostly, I simply enjoy being here, immersed in the quiet, in the details of earth and sky. Taking in the trees, now barren of leaves, except for the stubborn oak. Wrinkled berries still clinging to branches.

I watched a muskrat swim near these houses in the pond.

And, out of the woods, I observed a muskrat swimming in the pond not yet iced over.

The look-out dock along pond’s edge.

This unseasonably warm November day proved uplifting, reminding me that even in a month when COVID-19 raged in Minnesota, places to find peace remain. Enduring. A bit of bright hope in an otherwise typically grey and dreary month.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Escape into the Cannon River Wilderness Area November 20, 2020

SOME DAYS I WISH I could simply disappear, vanish into the woods or wheel across the prairie like the Ingalls family to an unknown destination. Far from reality. Far from COVID-19.

But, since I must live in the context of a pandemic, in the place I call home, I look for places to escape nearby. And, on a recent Sunday afternoon, Randy and I disappeared into the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield off Minnesota State Highway 3.

In the nearly 40 years we have lived in Rice County, we’ve only stopped here once, many years ago for a family picnic, but never to hike. On this day we followed the rutted gravel road along the river, past a junkyard and into the wilderness parking lot. We walked a short path to the Cannon River, then a longer one along the river to a foot bridge.

To get there, we passed two tents in the primitive camping area. I delighted in watching a young family gathered in the woods near river’s edge, enjoying the outdoors, away from distracting/detracting technology. At the next tent down, I observed a caged dog.

After passing the campers, we spotted a hillside bluff of limestone looming to the side of the trail.

Springs bubbled water across the muddy path partially covered by a thin layer of wood chips. I found myself tensing at the thought of traversing mud. My slip-on shoes, unlike Randy’s treaded boots, offered zero traction. And, with a history of two falls, one on rain-slicked wooden steps that resulted in a broken wrist and subsequent surgery to implant a plate, I felt angst.

But Randy offered his hand to steady me as we walked across mud, atop slippery rocks and balanced on railroad ties. Eventually, we reached the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon.

If anything soothes me, it is water and wind. And, on this early November day, I stood on that wooden bridge, taking in the elements that calm me. River rushing over rocks. Wind roaring through woods.

 

 

The sun, too, warming me and casting artsy criss-cross shadows upon the bridge deck.

Then I noticed the trees. Tornado trees, I term them. Two years ago, in September 2018, tornadoes ravaged Rice County, including the 800-acre Cannon River Wilderness Area. Evidence of the storm remains in fallen trees, limbless trees, trees stripped of branches. In the woods. In the river. Along the riverbank. Thoughts of tornadoes invite distress as I recall the 1968 deadly tornado in Tracy, Minnesota, a storm I remember from my childhood in southwestern Minnesota. Some things you never forget.

But for a short time, I forgot about COVID as I immersed myself in the natural world. Even among tornado trees, some of which groaned in the strong wind.

As Randy and I retraced our steps along the muddy path, I focused on getting safely back to the parking lot without falling. But in a single step onto a rounded rock, my shoes slipped and I felt myself falling to the right. Thoughts of another broken bone flashed. As did the likelihood that my camera would be destroyed. Yet, Randy, who had been gripping my hand, caught me, even as he, too, nearly landed in the mud. I felt gratitude for his strength, for his support, for his care. We have traversed many a difficult journey through life. Together. And for that I am grateful, especially during a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road: A favorite nature break in Zimmerman September 28, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

THE SHERBURNE COUNTY PARK has become, for us, a stopping point on the drive north to an extended family member’s guest lake cabin south of Crosslake.

 

Birds take flight from the prairie area of Grams Park last September. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

Photographed in Grams Park during an early September 2019 visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The park features a mix of woods, prairie and swampland. I took this photo about 10 days ago.

 

Randy and I typically pack a picnic lunch for a noonish stop at Grams Regional Park in Zimmerman. It’s a lovely spot not far off U.S. Highway 169. Here we eat our sandwiches, fruit and other picnic food before stretching our legs along trails that trace through this 100-acre park.

 

 

 

 

Typically, we follow the paths into the woods and then along curving boardwalks across wetlands or bogs, or whatever the proper terminology for the swampy areas lush with cattails.

 

Wildflowers photographed last September at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

At the prairie on the edge of the woods, this native pocket prairie has been planted.

 

Wildflowers along a wooded trail.

 

It’s a welcome break from the highway, this temporary immersion in nature—among the trees and wildflowers and peace in a place we’ve grown to appreciate.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

Ten days ago, the leaves at Grams Park were morphing into beautiful autumn hues.

 

A cluster of oak leaves by our picnic table.

 

And, during this season, the woods are particularly beautiful as leaves morph into the golden, brown and sometimes fiery hues of autumn. I may not love that autumn signals the transition toward winter. But I delight in the way she moves there.

 

I love this aspect of Grams Park, a nature discovery play space for kids.

 

Kids can play with these wooden discs…

 

…and learn about the rusty patched bumblebee.

 

If one positive change comes from COVID-19, I think it’s that we all hold a deeper appreciation of the outdoors, of the spaces which give us a respite from reality. And Grams Regional Park is such a place, more than a stop for lunch en route to the lake cabin.

 

Berries photographed in early September of last year. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite park that you’ve grown even more fond of during the global pandemic?

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling