Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Edging toward spring in Minnesota, sort of March 28, 2022

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Biking at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, on March 19. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

GIVE MINNESOTANS A STRING of warm March days like we experienced briefly around the official first day of spring, and we’ll pop out of hibernation in full force.

Note that as I write this, though, snow globe snowflakes descend, layering the landscape and reminding us that, even if the calendar shows spring, in reality it is not. Temps are back into the 30s and 40s after those few days of 50s and 60s, topping 70 degrees.

During that brief hiatus from winter, I observed lots of people out and about while I was out and about. Walkers. Bikers. Babies in strollers. Kids playing in yards. A teen on a hoverboard. And a teen on a skateboard.

Warm weather multiplies the number of motorcycles on the road, too, as they roar out of storage. Note that some bikers ride even in winter, although not during snowfalls.

On that Monday of 70 degrees, I hung laundry on the line and then threw open windows to air out the house. Within minutes of opening windows, the street sweeper crept by, spinning dust clouds. I raced to close street-side windows.

Spring will come. As a life-long Minnesotan, I realize that. It’s just that as I age, winter seems longer. And colder.

TELL ME: Has spring arrived where you live? How do you define spring’s arrival?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hints of spring at Two Rivers March 10, 2022

A wide view of the frozen Cannon River and dam adjacent to the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE SHIFT IN SEASONS seems subtle. But it’s there. In the lengthening of days. In brilliant sunshine that cuts through snowbanks, streams of water flowing and puddling. Iced rivers, too, are beginning to thaw.

Signage marks this park just off Second Avenue on Faribault’s north side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On a recent stop at Two Rivers Park followed by a hike along the Straight River Trail in Faribault, I witnessed the evolving transition from winter toward spring.

Fishing where the Cannon and Straight Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

At the convergence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers, an angler fishes in the open water. His orange stocking cap covered by his hooded sweatshirt layered beneath black coveralls jolt color into an otherwise muted landscape. Randy and I watch as he reels in a large fish, then unhooks and plops it onto the snow. A northern, Randy guesses. We watch for awhile, content to see the river flow, sun glinting upon the surface.

The beautiful open Cannon River at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We make our way back to the parking lot, after I pause to photograph the mostly open river sweeping between snowy woods. There’s sometime serene about such a scene. Peaceful, even as traffic drones by on nearby Second Avenue.

Pedestrian bridge over the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On the trail, we cross bridges constructed of uneven angled boards that always trip me. I pause to peer into the river.

Ice rings a pedestrian bridge support post in the otherwise open river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Birdsong, a sure auditory sign of spring’s approach, resounds as I lean over the bridge railing to see the open water below. Both hint of winter’s retreat.

Animal tracks remind me of tic-tac-toe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Far below I observe animal tracks crossing the snow in a tic-tac-toe pattern leading to water’s icy edge.

Following the Straight River Trail alongside the former vegetable canning company. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Curving along the path near the former Faribault Foods canning company, stationary boxcars sidle against the building.

Boxcar graffiti. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Graffiti colors the boxcar canvases.

Biking the Straight River Trail in March. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We walk for awhile, then retrace our steps. Randy warns of an approaching cyclist and we step to the right of the trail in single file. “Hi, Randy,” the guy on the fat tire bike shouts as he zooms past. We look at each other. His identity remains a mystery.

The scenic Cannon River snakes toward the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Back on the bridges, I pause again to view the Cannon River snaking across the landscape like a pencil path following a maze. More photographs.

Randy follows the tunnel under Second Avenue toward North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Before heading home, we divert briefly toward North Alexander Park, taking the tunnel under the Second Avenue bridge where, on the other side, the scene opens wide to the frozen, snow-layered river. In warm weather, anglers fish here, below the dam in open water.

Picnic shelter at Father Slevin Park by the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Now the place is mostly vacant, just like the riverside picnic shelter.

Shadowing of the trailside fence outside the tunnel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

By now we are cold, ready to conclude our afternoon jaunt. As I stride downhill toward the tunnel, I notice shadows of fence slats spaced upon the concrete. Art to my eyes. I stop, photograph the fence and fence shadows as they arc. Even in this moment, I see signs of spring along the river, beneath the blue sky.

© Copyright 2022 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

 

Spring fling in Minnesota March 11, 2021

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My two-year-old grandson splashes in melted snow while on a walk Sunday afternoon in Faribault.

MARCH BRINGS TO MINNESOTA the teasing of spring.

Recent sun-filled days of unseasonable temps soaring into the sixties proved a respite. And this winter, especially, I needed a break from cold and snow, from the sheltering in.

Tuesday afternoon I threw open the windows. Fresh air breezed through the house. I kept the kitchen screen door open long after dinner, the scent of sautéing onions carried outdoors.

Outside, two fleece throws flapped on the clothesline. Dancing in the wind, occasionally twisting.

Faribo Frosty still stands tall in the Hoisington family’s front yard Sunday afternoon when Randy and I stopped to show our grandkids, Isabelle and Isaac.

As the wind blew and the sun shone, the snow pack continued to melt. Only remnants of snow remain in shadowed spots next to the fence, along the north side of the house, next to the driveway.

Dormant brown grass defines the landscape now.

Crocus emerging.

In my front yard, tender crocus shoots poke through the mulch leaves of autumn. Too early. As always. But the crocus react to sunshine and temps, not to the calendar.

A single maple leaf lies atop the snow along the fenceline in my backyard Tuesday afternoon.

March in Minnesota tempts us with spring. Melting snow and puddles. And, as I write this Wednesday morning, grey skies drizzle rain. Snow is back in the forecast. As are possible thunderstorms. Even tornadoes. A mixed bag of March weather. Typical Minnesota.

A weather graphic from KSTP posted Wednesday afternoon.

Now as I update this Wednesday evening, southern Minnesota has experienced its first severe weather scare of the season. Tornado warnings were issued late this afternoon in multiple counties, including my county of Rice. When warning sirens blew in Faribault, I headed to the basement while Randy kept me updated on weather in Northfield (where he works) and our eldest texted from her south metro basement.

I stepped into my backyard shortly after the sirens blared to snap this image of a towering cloud late Wednesday afternoon.

While clouds appeared sometimes overpowering and ominous, no tornadoes developed. To the north, in the central and northern parts of Minnesota, snow fell. Up to six inches in some locales. It’s almost as if two seasons collided with spring bumping against winter.

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FYI: I invite you to read another blogger’s take on March in Minnesota by clicking here. Kathleen Mickelson is an incredibly gifted writer with a strong poetic voice. Yes, she’s a published poet. She loves the craft of writing and is a pretty darned good photographer, too. And an all-around lovely individual.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Minnesota: Neither rain nor snow or… March 12, 2017

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…shall stop my husband from grilling in our Faribault backyard.

Grilling conditions: 19 degrees Fahrenheit and heavy snow falling around 6 p.m. Sunday

On the menu: Chicken breasts, baby red potatoes and asparagus.

Bonus for the husband’s work lunches: brats

TELL ME: Would you grill in these conditions or worse? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ice cream season, or not March 8, 2017

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peanut-buster-parfait

 

SPRING HAS UNOFFICIALLY arrived in Faribault. The walk-up/drive-through Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue is open.

Sunday afternoon I clipped a $1.99 Peanut Buster Parfait coupon from the Faribault Daily News to celebrate. DQ is a rare treat for Randy and me, afforded only when money-saving coupons are available. Opening weekend at the DQ always brings deals. Perfect.

I envisioned sitting on the DQ patio under sunny blue skies in predicted 60-degree temps. Perfect.

But forecasts do not always equal reality. I suggested Plan B—going to a park. In hindsight, I wonder what I was thinking. After an attempt to eat our parfaits on a park bench, I caved and headed back to the warmth of the van. There we sat, savoring ice cream, peanuts and fudge while grey skies hung and the temp locked at 48 degrees in a still slightly snowy landscape.

Monday brought much warmer temps, like those promised on Sunday, along with intense wind followed by storms. Remaining snow melted.  And two tornadoes touched down, causing damage near Zimmerman and Clarks Grove. These are the earliest tornadoes of the season ever in Minnesota, breaking a record set in 1968. Here in Faribault, we experienced heavy rain and even small hail for a brief time Monday evening. A light dusting of snow fell overnight. The Dairy Queen may be hinting at spring. But winter seems determined to cling to March in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Moody March in Minnesota March 8, 2012

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An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

WINTER IN MINNESOTA this time of year and in November often seems stripped of color, a drab world of black-and-white mimicking the melancholy mood of those who wish only for spring.

So it takes some effort to appreciate this month of March which can’t quite decide whether to pursue spring or linger awhile yet in winter.

One day she’s dark and brooding, the next bright and cheery. Understanding her mood swings can be a challenge.

Sometimes you just have to accept who she is and realize that even in her colorless world, a certain sense of beauty prevails.

An aging windmill and a cluster of old buildings define this picturesque farm site along Minnesota State Highway 60 just west of Waterville in southeastern Minnesota.

The sweeping curves in the field drew my eye to photograph this scene west of Waterville along State Highway 60.

A lone tree along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Waterville on a brooding March morning.

Farm sites mark the landscape along a back county road between New Ulm and Morgan.

All of these images were taken last Saturday morning from a moving vehicle while traveling through southern Minnesota. Each has been edited to create a more artsy, earthy feel.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling