MINNESOTANS LOVE to talk weather. And for good reason. Weather shapes our lives—what we do on any given day, how we feel, where we go…
And right now, when we should be in the throes of spring, we Minnesotans feel like we’re stuck in winter. It’s been an unseasonably cold and rainy April that has truly dampened spirits. We want, OK, need, sunshine and warmth after too many months of winter. That said, I really shouldn’t complain. Up North, snow still layers the ground and ice 20 inches thick freezes some lakes.
Yet, no matter where you live in Minnesota, day after day after day of grey skies coupled with low temps in the 20s and 30s takes a psychological toll. I should be wearing a spring jacket rather than a winter coat. My tulips should be blooming. Heck, the dandelions should be pushing through neighbors’ lawns. Trees should be budding green.
Instead, the overall landscape appears, well, pretty darned drab.
But, last Saturday we experienced a one-day reprieve of unseasonable warmth with the temp soaring to nearly 80 degrees. Typical high this time of year is around 60 degrees. It was a get-outside day. Don’t-waste-a-moment-indoors day. So Randy and I didn’t. We attended the Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, enjoyed craft beer at Chapel Brewing along the banks of the Cannon River in Dundas, walked a section of the Straight River Trail in Faribault and later followed part of the trail along the Cannon in North Alexander Park. Strong winds factored into every facet of our time outdoors, though.
But, oh, how glorious to walk in warmth.
This feeling of remaining stuck in perpetual winter will end. I need to remind myself of that…even as the forecast for more rain and unseasonably cold temps (highs in the 40s) prevails.
BEFORE TUESDAY TEMPS ROSE to around 40 here in southern Minnesota, there was the cold. Brutal cold. Mornings of minus below zero. Strong winds making the outdoors feel even colder.
Late Sunday morning, when the temperature hovered in the 20s with a brisk wind, Randy and I followed the paved trail bordering the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite Faribault walking path.
The river draws me here. I find waterways soothing, calming, quieting to the spirit, even when frozen.
I also appreciate how this particular path wends around trees and along the river. The curving trail invites a leisurely, poetic pace, a time for reflection, a time to slow down and delight in the natural world without distractions.
Little distracted us, except the trumpeting of two Trumpeter Swans gracefully flying high overhead as we exited the van to begin our walk. Absent were the usual crowds of waterfowl frequenting the river in Minnesota’s other seasons.
We encountered only one other person—a biker zooming on a fat tire bike.
It was the winter landscape which focused my attention. The whiteness of it all. The absence of color in a mostly grey and black-and-white world. Only the bold orange outlines on basketball rims and backboards jolted color into the scene. In the summer, young people cram these courts, dribbling and jumping and dunking and scoring points. Raucous play among youth, wonderful to witness.
On this February morning, summer lingers in memories of those pick-up basketball games, riverside picnics and following this trail in flip flops under leafy canopies of green.
Today the branches bare themselves to winter. Naked, exposed, vulnerable.
I notice in the snow, next to the imprint of a boot and a bike tire track, a lone oak leaf. In any other season, I might miss this. But not now. Not in the depth of winter.
I notice, too, finger drifts along trail’s edge. Creeping. Stretching. Wind-blown fingers of snow that may be perceived as threatening. Or artsy. I choose artsy.
Across the river, I see the Faribault Woolen Mill, weaver of wool (and wool blend) blankets, throws, scarves and much more since 1865. The mill is widely-admired, respected for its quality products. Craftsmanship at its finest. As Randy and I retrace our steps, this time leaning into a strong wind, I would welcome a locally-woven wool scarf wrapped around my neck for warmth.
Soon we reach the van, climb inside the wind-sheltered space and head toward the park exit. It is then Randy spots a large bird overhead, following the river. An eagle, we determine, based on wing span, flight and river route. It’s too high for our aging eyes to fully verify identity. But we’ve seen eagles here before and that is enough. Enough to end our Sunday morning winter walk with the wonderment we always feel in watching this majestic bird tracing the Cannon River.
TELL ME: If you live in a cold climate state, do you bundle up and head outdoors for recreational activities? Where do you go? What do you do?
JUNE PROMPTS MEMORIES of Junes past, when our then family of five headed south of Faribault to Straight River Farm to pick strawberries.
We made a game of it, seeing who could harvest the most berries. It added an element of fun as we collectively picked 20-plus pounds of sun-ripened strawberries.
Years have passed since the kids left home and Randy and I picked berries. But now our eldest daughter continues the family tradition by taking her two children to a berry patch. Together the three of them (the kids are two and five) recently picked close to four pounds. While that’s not a lot of strawberries, it’s not all about the quantity. It’s also about time outdoors. About being, and working, together. About learning that strawberries come from fields, not just the produce section at the grocery store.
My grandchildren are a second-generation removed from the land. I want them to understand the origin of their food and to appreciate that their maternal grandparents grew up on family dairy and crop farms. Agriculture is part of their heritage.
As their grandmother, I hold a responsibility to continue that connection to the land. This past weekend, when Isabelle and Isaac stayed overnight, we enjoyed the stunning summer weather with lots of time outdoors. That’s one simple way to link to the land. We packed a picnic lunch, with the kids “helping” to make their own sandwiches. Then it was off to North Alexander Park, where they learned to side step goose poop on the paved trail before we finally found a picnic table in a goose-poop-free zone. (Note to City of Faribault: Please place more picnic tables in the park among all those shade trees.)
While eating our picnic lunch, being in nature spurred conversations, which prompted questions, observations and more. Grandma, how many oak trees are there in the world? Leave that grape on the ground; the ants will eat it. The airplane is in the blue sky. Oh, how I love viewing the world from the perspective of my grandchildren. Life is so uncomplicated and simple and joy-filled.
Later that day, Randy and I took the kids to Wapacuta Park near our home. Rather than follow the most direct path up a steep grassy hill, we diverted onto a narrow dirt path that winds through the woods and leads to a launching point for disc golf. The kids loved that brief adventure into the woods, where we found a broken park bench (Note to City of Faribault: Please repair or replace.) and art flush to the earth. Exposed tree roots and limestone provided insights into the natural world and local terrain.
Randy also posed the kids next to a gigantic boulder near the playground while I snapped photos with my cellphone. Our three adult children responded with enthusiasm to the texted images. Wow! It looks the same as 30 some years ago! It has barely eroded. Amber and I will have to climb it the next time we are in Faribault.
A second trip to Wapacuta the following afternoon led to a lesson about storms as thunder banged, rain fell and we hurried home. Not through the woods this time.
I love every moment with my grandchildren. The time making cut-out star cookies for an upcoming July Fourth celebration. The time in our backyard blowing up a bubble storm. The time at the playground. The time reading and laughing and building block towers and putting dresses on the same Little Mermaid dolls Izzy’s mom and aunt played with some 25-plus (or less) years ago. These are the moments which link generations, which grow family love, which I cherish.
I love walking here in the evening, when the sun begins its golden descent. A paved path curves along the bank of the Cannon River.
I appreciate the gracefulness of the Northern Link Trail, how it winds around trees rather than tracing a straight line.
And I appreciate the power of the river roaring over the dam, over rocks. There’s something about churning water that mesmerizes me. The sound. The sight. The reminder that water, harnessed or unharnessed, is a powerful thing. It’s a bit terrifying.
Standing on the narrow dam walkway widens my perspective to include fishermen/women/children angling from the shoreline. This is a popular fishing spot, any time of year.
And then, if I look directly before me, I see the river flowing under the Second Avenue bridge. A short distance later the Cannon joins the Straight River at Twin Rivers Park.
These past few days, especially, of sunshine and 70-degree temps have sprung spring. To see buds forming, to hear birdsong, to feel sun upon skin…oh, the joy.
On Saturday evening, as the sun set, Randy and I followed the asphalt trail that winds along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite place to walk. Uncrowded. Beautiful.
I love the way the trail curves around trees.
I love how the river draws my eyes to view reflections and to appreciate the ducks and geese which populate this waterway. The quacking of a lone mallard pulled me to river’s edge. I observed how the water trailed in a lengthy V as the duck paddled across the still surface. Poetry seen, not written.
Across the Cannon, the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill focused my eyes as it reflected in the river. And I thought of all the blankets woven here, the history of this place.
At the Cannon River Dam, aside the trail, I noticed how the dam walkway seemingly follows a straight line to the historic mill. Sometimes it’s about perspective, pausing to consider a place in a different way. I challenge myself, in my photography, to view my surroundings creatively. While I created, people fished, a popular activity along this stretch of the Cannon.
The river absorbed the pink tint of twilight. Soft. Muted. Another poem to photograph.
And if I’d had my zoom lens on my Canon EOS 20-D, I would also have photographed the two bald eagles following the river like a road map. I never tire of watching these majestic birds.
As day edged closer to night, Randy and I retraced our route back to the van. A bit farther down the trail, teens packed basketball courts, their raucous voices rising.
To the west, the sun glowed fiery orange like an exclamation mark ending a glorious spring day in southeastern Minnesota.
Well, we never got there. Suffice to say the best-laid plans were thwarted by developing health situations with our parents. Our phones were blowing up on Sunday. And I’d lost my desire to leave Faribault. I’d been awake since 4:55 a.m. and, come afternoon, my energy level plummeted. Randy suggested I nap for a bit. I tried.
As Randy and I walked, I felt my mood shifting away from worry about loved ones to the natural world around me. Bare trees rising above the snow. Others leaning or broken. Black against white.
The river, edged with ice, curving through the woods. Poetic. Artsy. Mostly monochromatic.
I paused at the sound of music, church bells, I thought. Randy pointed to chimes dangling above a balcony at a trail-side apartment building.
We listened, too, to the manic caw of crows circling nearby. I felt like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I thought I saw an eagle through the distant treetops, but then never spotted it again.
A bit farther down the path, we paused to consider an aged limestone building. Abandoned. I wondered aloud at its purpose. And the part of me that appreciates such historic structures lamented its neglect.
I noted the abundance of animal tracks in the snow. And human tracks and sled imprints on the hillside.
When the cellphone in my parka pocket jingled, I ignored it.
When we’d walked a distance, we retraced our steps, took a short cut up the sledding hill and then aimed to another city trail, this one along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. There, masses of ducks flew close to shore near our parking spot. They just kept coming and I couldn’t figure out why.
Randy looked at the paved pathway to traces of smashed bread. Ah, the ducks thought we brought food. We laughed about that and considered that maybe, while we continued our walk, they would swarm our van and leave droppings.
I quickened my pace, anxious to flee the flock of hungry ducks. A few minutes later, we watched them take flight away from the frozen shoreline and land in open water.
We continued through the park, passing picnic shelters packed with stacked picnic tables. Past lone grills enveloped in snow. Past the colorful playground absent of children. And past the vacant ball fields.
The wind cut cold through our bones as we turned onto the park road that would take us back to our van. I felt refreshed, my mind cleared, my spirits buoyed by the simple act of getting outdoors. Away from challenges and concerns. For at least an hour.
RIVERS, STRONG AND MIGHTY, flow through our state. The Mississippi. The Minnesota. And here in my county of Rice, the Cannon and Straight Rivers.
Here, on these waters, early inhabitants traveled via canoe, traded along river banks, built flour and woolen mills. And formed communities like Faribault, Northfield, Dundas and Morristown, all with waterways that run through.
Rivers are as much about nature as they are about our history. Like railroads, they helped to shape our towns and cities. And today, while no longer of the same utilitarian use, they remain valuable assets.
I am naturally drawn to water, as I expect many of you are. There’s something about water—its power, its motion, its almost hypnotic quality, its soothing sound when rushing over rocks. It’s like poetry flowing into the land.
Even in the depth of winter, a river—whether iced over or still running—draws me near. To listen, like poetry read aloud. To view, like words of verse written upon paper. To photograph, like an artist and poet and writer who cares. And I do.
To walk or pause beside a river is to appreciate art and history and nature. I feel connected to the rivers that trace like poetry through the landscape of southern Minnesota. My home. My place of peace and contentment when I walk beside the waters therein.
TELL ME: Do you have a favorite river? If so, please share why you appreciate this waterway.
Businesses and other public places are required by the new Minnesota executive order to post signage requiring masks. This is posted on the door of a downtown Faribault business.
Minnesota’s mask mandate went into effect July 25. I’m happy to report that when I went grocery shopping last Saturday morning, I saw only one unmasked person—an elderly man. At the Faribault Farmers’ Market, some vendors and customers wore masks. Others didn’t. Masks are not required outdoors if you can safely social distance.
I found this strong warning on a notice attached to a side door along a side street in downtown Faribault.
We’re off to a good start, Faribault. It took an executive order from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to do what we should have done along for the health of all. Thank you for complying. And for those of you who have been masking up prior, thank you for long ago recognizing the importance of this simple preventative measure.
The two-page Adult Softball Safety Plan hung on the fence behind home plate and in front of the bleachers.
Page one of the safety plan.
A close-up of the safety plan document, page 2.
While out and about last Sunday, including a morning walk in North Alexander Park, I spotted an abundance of signage posted on fences at a softball diamond. I paused to read messages like the two-page Faribault Parks and Recreation Adult Softball Safety Plan, which focuses on health and safety as it relates to COVID-19.
Softball league rules.
The alcohol ban is noted in rule #4.
But then I found another sign—Adult Softball League Details—which has likely been here for some time and is posted inside the fence behind home plate. Of special interest was rule #4: Drinking of any alcoholic beverage is prohibited by any coach, manager or player while the game’s in progress. An exception allows a player to drink alcohol if he takes himself out of the game and goes to the spectator area.
This dugout sign prohibits alcohol consumption.
Yet, when I saw signs on the exterior of fences surrounding the dugouts I noticed a discrepancy. One read: NO ALCOHOL ALLOWED IN DUGOUTS. The other read: ALCOHOL ALLOWED IN DUGOUTS. So which is it?
But the sign at the other dugout supposedly allows alcohol.
I was momentarily baffled until Randy pointed out that someone had vandalized the sign to remove the word NO. Upon closer inspection, I agreed with that observation.
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.
A turtle spotted recently on a street in northwest Faribault.
YOU KNOW HOW, SOMETIMES, something sparks a memory. Or memories. Turtles do that for me.
I spotted another turtle in the grass at North Alexander Park in Faribault. The Cannon River flows through this park.
Recent sightings of turtles at three locations in Faribault took me back in time. To my youth and the “dime store.” Remember those? The long ago chain variety stores like Ben Franklin and Woolworth’s, precursors of today’s dollar stores.
Anyway, Woolworth’s in Redwood Falls, 20 miles from my childhood home in southwestern Minnesota, featured a small pet section tucked in a far back corner of the store. And the sole “pet” I remember, because I really really really wanted one, were the mini turtles. Probably imported. My sensible manager of a brood of six farm-raised kids mother never caved to my pleas. She was smart.
My other childhood memory is of tortoises. Not quite turtles, tortoises are big, with rounded shells, and spend most of their time on land. Turtles are much smaller, flatter and prefer water to land. I never saw a single turtle (outside of Woolworth’s) or tortoise in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, I encountered my first tortoise at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul. I went on an elementary school class trip there once—a rather big deal to go to “the Cities” when you’re a farm kid. I remember the free-range, lumbering tortoises there and the Sparky the Seal Show.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, photographed in the “Toys & Play, 1970 to Today” Exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2019.
Fast forward decades later to motherhood and the birth of my two daughters in the late 1980s. They soon became fans of “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Saturday morning cartoons and action figurines of the masked turtles and phrases like “Cowabunga!” and “Heroes in a half shell, turtle power!” were parts of their routine and vocabulary. One of the daughters even had a turtle birthday cake one year although I don’t recall which turtle—Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo or Raphael.
Turtles basked in the sun in the Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center on a recent Friday afternoon.
I expect if Woolworth’s sold tiny turtles at the time, my daughters would have begged for one. Instead, I bought them each a goldfish from the “dime store,” still open in downtown Faribault when the girls were young.
This turtle at North Alexander Park was digging in the grass, apparently trying to create a nest.
That takes me to my final story. On a summer afternoon when my second daughter was still in high school, or maybe college (details of time elude me), I glanced out the window to see a tortoise on our driveway. Now we don’t live anywhere near Como Zoo. But we had a neighbor who owned a tortoise and lived across our very busy street. To this day, I have no idea how that tortoise survived crossing through all that traffic. But I wanted the beast off my property. Before I could determine how we would manage that, Miranda picked up the tortoise and carried it back home. With me protesting. I had no idea whether the tortoise would turn on her, or how sharp its teeth or…
This turtle looks so small on a Faribault roadway as it moves toward a nearby pond.
This time of year, turtles are crossing roads in Minnesota, mostly to access familiar nesting locations apparently. While some people will stop to pick up and move a turtle out of traffic, I won’t. I’ll only stop to photograph, if it’s safe to do so and traffic is minimal. I’m smart like my mom and not nearly as brave as my second daughter.