Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Autumn ablaze at Maplewood State Park October 14, 2019

 

 

BEFORE THE WINTER STORM arrived with predictions of feet of snow in nearby North Dakota, we embraced autumn at, for us, a previously unvisited state park. Maplewood State Park east of Pelican Rapids in northwestern Minnesota fits its name. This place blazes with hillsides of trees set among prairie and lakes.

 

A rutted and narrow gravel road takes motorists on a scenic drive through the park.

 

These horseback riders led their horses to the lake for a quick drink.

 

Restored prairies are found throughout Maplewood State Park, this one along a trail to a scenic overlook.

 

Last Wednesday, only days before that predicted winter storm (which also edged into western Minnesota), we toured this park that features scenic overlooks, miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, and a five-mile driving loop.

 

Driving into Maplewood State Park.

 

A glorious fall scene repeated throughout the park.

 

Trees ablaze at the picnic grounds.

 

We hit the park at the peak of fall color. So did many others—busloads of school children, generations of families, couples, horseback riders…

 

Wildflowers on the prairie.

 

Acres and acres of prairie grass wave in the wind.

 

Even dried seed heads hold beauty.

 

When you live in Minnesota or the Dakotas, you need to take in every single last glorious day of autumn before the snow flies, the leaves fall and winter settles in for months.

 

 

 

We enjoyed a sunshine-filled, albeit windy, afternoon exploring Maplewood. There’s something incredibly soothing about immersing one’s self in the outdoors, far from work and worries. Spirits soar in sunshine in a place that is spectacularly beautiful in this season of autumn.

 

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite location to view fall colors?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring afternoon at River Bend, a photo essay April 9, 2019

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AUTUMN’S OAK LEAVES cling to branches.

 

 

Swatches of green pop in the woods.

 

 

Fungi ladder tree trunks.

 

 

 

 

Brilliant red flashes against weathered grey.

 

 

Ponds populated by trilling peepers reflect the changing blue of the sky.

 

 

Geese honk territorial warnings best respected.

 

 

A camouflaged bird blends into stands of invasive buckthorn.

 

 

Dried vegetation proves a visual reminder that spring is not yet fully here in Minnesota.

 

 

But tell that to the woman walking barefoot.

 

 

Just behind the boys with feet still snugged inside winter boots.

 

 

At River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, people hiked and biked and rested on benches and even tracked squirrels in Sunday’s 60-degree temps. (More on the squirrels later.)

 

 

If not for the forecast of major snowfall later this week, I might believe these brown woods will soon leaf into a canopy of green.

 

 

No one would doubt that on Sunday, an ideal day to delight in the outdoors, to read poetry in the woods.

 

 

Spring spread her wings over River Bend on a lovely early April afternoon in southern Minnesota.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, for birds & flowers & more on a spring day at River Bend May 17, 2017

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THIS PAST WEEKEND took me from the quiet of a nature center to the heart of a city to the neighborhood of a suburb. And, in each place, family surrounded me. It was a good weekend. There is nothing better than to be in the presence of those you love and those who love you. And the bonus was weather so perfect that I wished I could clasp the sunshine and warmth and blue skies to release many months from now in the deep of a Minnesota winter.

In today’s post, I take you to River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, one of my favorite local places to flee the busyness and noise of life. On this Saturday afternoon, I meandered the trails with my husband, second daughter and her husband, visiting from far eastern Wisconsin.

 

Wild columbines.

 

This was no purposeful hike to burn off calories, but rather a pausing to appreciate woods-born wildflowers,

 

 

mushrooms snugged into trees,

 

 

red-winged blackbirds trilling at the pond,

 

 

pastel pink petals dancing in the wind,

 

 

a goose gliding into pond rushes,

 

Along a trail we met a soon-to-be Faribault High School graduate and a photographer shooting senior portraits.

 

and, for Miranda, the memories of elementary school field trips here.

 

This fort I spied in the woods reminded me of the forts I built as a child in the grove on our family farm.

 

This blossom covered tree flowers next to River Bend’s interpretative center.

 

The gnarled branches of this tree drew my eye and interest to compose this image.

 

The slow pace of our hour at the nature center matched our desire to enjoy every single facet of a glorious mid May day defined by blue skies, sun beating 80-some degrees and a landscape lush with the greenery of spring.

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite outdoor nature space to visit/explore in May?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A pleasant afternoon hiking & photographing at River Bend Nature Center until… April 10, 2017

 

SUNDAY’S UNUSUALLY WARM weather drew me back to Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center, this time for a walk that centered more on prairie than woods.

 

My husband, Randy, poses by one of River Bend’s biggest cottonwoods next to a parking lot nearest the center’s entrance.

 

With camera once again in hand, I scanned for photo ops, many pointed out by my hiking companion husband. I appreciate that he understands and supports my interest in photography.

 

 

As we hiked, I noticed a theme connecting nearly everything that drew my interest. I was focusing on texture—in dried prairie grass,

 

The deeply textured bark of a cedar tree.

 

bark,

 

 

new leaves,

 

 

a cone of seeds,

 

 

fungi,

 

 

a milkweed pod,

 

 

moss,

 

 

pussy willow,

 

 

 

the remnants of last season’s cattails…

Because the landscape remains so stark yet in early April in Minnesota, the eye catches such details. Or at least my eyes.

 

 

Yet several things distracted me from texture: the red dot of a bug and the red dash of a cardinal,

 

Randy and I hung out on the pond dock for awhile listening to the frogs and watching the geese.

 

the overwhelming roar of frogs,

 

 

the mating antics and flight of geese and then, the most unexpected—the sight of a sixty-something man walking toward us with a gun holstered and strapped to his belt.

 

We met the gun-carrying man not far from a bird observation deck marked by this sign.

 

The surprise showing of that weapon unsettled me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this just was not right for a person to be walking in a nature center on a Sunday afternoon with a handgun at his waist for all—including children—to see. Back home I checked the nature center website. Under Visitor Rules and Regulations, I found this:

Therefore, it shall be unlawful, except upon permission of the Executive Director or his/her agent, for any person to:

15. Possess or use any firearms, air guns, paintball guns, archery equipment, or other weapons within the nature center; or discharge any missile or other projectile from such a weapon into the nature center from beyond nature center boundaries without prior approval by River Bend’s board of directors (example: prescribed deer management hunts);

In my opinion, common sense should tell anyone not to carry a weapon into a nature center.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring emerges at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault April 5, 2017

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WITH THE CALENDAR flipped to April, the greening of the grey is subtly emerging in Minnesota as the season shifts from winter to spring.

 

 

The Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center.

 

Nesting pond along the entry to River Bend Nature Center.

 

Wisps of buds. Greening in the pond and woods. Skies and water so incredibly blue you wonder if your winter weary eyes are fooling you.

 

A frog camouflaged in the Turtle Pond.

 

 

The banks of the Straight River proved a popular spot Saturday afternoon. The woman in the purple is wearing a t-shirt with this message: “Leave me alone. I’m only speaking to my dog today.”

 

Frogs making more noise than raucous children on a playground. Geese nesting. River flowing.

 

Saturday’s weather proved perfect for motorized and non-motorized bking.

 

I almost cried when I met this trio of walkers as I thought of my mom and wished I could guide her on a walk through the woods.

 

Two teens parked their bikes trailside to explore the waterfall.

 

Give us Minnesotans a nice day of warmth and sunshine, like that on Saturday, and we, too, emerge from our homes to celebrate this changing of the seasons.

 

My husband, oldest daughter and granddaughter walking through River Bend Sunday afternoon.

 

My husband and I were among the throngs of visitors hiking at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault during Saturday’s respite warmth. We returned Sunday with our eldest daughter and her daughter. By then conditions had changed from sunny to cloudy with a brisk wind and much lower temps. The weather required stocking caps and winter coats (for the oldsters) unlike the sweatshirts of the previous day. Few others were out and about.

 

If not for Randy’s sharp eye, we may have stepped on this toad (or is it a frog?) sitting on a trail Saturday afternoon.

 

Another immobile amphibian sitting in the parking lot Sunday afternoon.

 

Even the frogs, a deafening chorus on Saturday, were quiet in Sunday’s cold. The toads hunched immobile.

 

Blue skies reflected Saturday afternoon in the nesting pond for geese.

 

As a Minnesotan, I understand how weather can change, just like that. So I accept each warm and sunny day as a gift.

 

Rustic signs mark trails at River Bend Nature Center.

 

TELL ME: Are there signs of spring where you live? Please share.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Glorious autumn in Faribault October 21, 2016

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river-bend-59-treeline

 

THE TIME OF LOVELY, stunning days in Minnesota is fleeting, moving from autumn toward winter. Those of us who live here understand that. And we appreciate each day that brings sunshine, warmth and no precipitation, especially snow.

 

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With that mindset, it’s as if we can’t get enough of the outdoors. Raking leaves, clearing flowerbeds and other pre-winter activities fill our days. As do walks in the woods or drives to see the fall colors, which are nearly gone now except in portions of southern Minnesota.

 

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Last Sunday afternoon, I slung my camera across my shoulder and joined my husband on a walk through Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center. We had about a half hour to hike before an afternoon obligation would draw us indoors.

 

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I am not, by craft, a nature photographer. But I am an observer and a detail-oriented person. Put a camera in my hands and I begin to view my surroundings with even more detail. That’s one of the things I love about photography.

 

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Through the lens of my camera, I notice the play of light, degrees of color or lack thereof, curves and lines and shapes.

 

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Autumn is, if anything, a season when color fades, when muted earth tones prevail.

 

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Except for the occasional flare of fiery red-orange maples and oaks. And the blazing yellow.

 

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I love the cobalt blue skies of this season. While that hue was absent on the afternoon of my walk, I still tilted my head up to a canopy of clinging leaves.

 

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river-bend-62-milkweed-pods

 

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I also aimed my eyes and camera lens horizontally to appreciate plants drying. Cattails dry to a cottony fluff. Milkweed pods burst with the promise of next year’s growth.

 

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The seasons cycle. And as they do, I observe. I notice. I photograph.

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

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TELL ME: What’s your favorite fall activity? What do you appreciate about autumn?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A May evening at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault May 6, 2016

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River Bend Nature Center, 27 trail through woods

 

SUNLIGHT FILTERED THROUGH THE WOODS, cutting sharp angles across trails, spotlighting wildflower blossoms, gloaming with an ethereal quality.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 42 violet

 

The end of the day was nearing as my husband and I walked the trails of River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, first at a fast pace to raise our heart rates. That didn’t last long.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 29 white wildflowers close-up

 

Soon I unslung my camera from my shoulder, stopped to photograph wildflowers carpeting the woods lush with green growth. Green always seems incredibly vivid in the spring. I often wonder if that’s because it is or because we Minnesotans haven’t seen a green landscape in way too long.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 34 white wildflowers in woods

 

It doesn’t matter. I am thankful for spring’s early arrival, with winter but a memory now, although Randy mentioned the white wildflowers looked a lot like snow blanketing the ground.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 36 family on trail

 

Walkers and bikers, solo and with family or pets, traversed the nature center. We paused occasionally, wondering about the history of this place, about the pockets of limestone clearly quarried, about the Faribault Regional Center residents who once worked this land and tended livestock here, about the land before then.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 35 names carved in tree

 

I wondered, too, about Aron and Kristi who carved their names into the soft wood of a trail-side tree.

As we emerged from the woods, I scanned the vista of sky and prairie. I am most comfortable in a place where my eyes can wander, where I am not visually hemmed in by trees. The imprint of my rural southwestern Minnesota upbringing remains strong even forty years removed from the prairie.

Crossing the prairie, I watched my steps on the uneven grass trail and thought about ticks. I felt a bump on the left side of my head, my fingers drawing blood as I scratched. There was no tick, Randy assured me.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 50 Randy sitting by pond

 

We soon settled onto a bench next to the prairie pond and listened to the trill of red-winged blackbirds.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 55 cattails at twilight

 

Dried cattails plumed in the lovely light. I felt comfortably at peace.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 62 crab apple blossoms

 

After awhile we aimed back toward the parking lot, where I paused to photograph pink blossoms against deep blue sky.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 67 red-headed woodpecker

 

River Bend Nature Center, 77 bird at feeder

 

River Bend Nature Center, 80 red-winged blackbird

 

I diverted to bird feeders behind the nature center interpretative center. The birds scattered, wary of my presence. But soon they returned and I photographed them, admiring splashes of red on heads, wings and breasts. I’m not particularly fond of winged creatures up close. But from afar, I can appreciate them.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 18 geese

 

According to Randy, I should have kept my distance upon photographing a pair of geese and seven goslings earlier. It’s interesting how a camera can create confidence that perhaps we shouldn’t always have when encountering nature.

On this stunning May evening in Minnesota, all felt right in my world. And all it took was a walk in the woods and across the prairie of River Bend Nature Center.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 59 interpretative center

 

TELL ME, WHAT’S YOUR go-to place to escape into nature?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling