Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Turtle time June 15, 2020

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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.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A child’s perspective on face masks with notes from Grandma May 28, 2020

Some of our face masks, crafted by a friend in Texas.

 

“I like your face mask, Grandma.”

Her words nearly broke my heart. But I didn’t let on to 4-year-old Isabelle who sat behind me, buckled in her car seat, waiting for Grandpa to exit the convenience store with a gallon of milk.

My cotton print mask, dangling from the cup holder, was in her favorite color, pink. I grabbed the mask and pointed to the colored circles thereon—yellow, green, white, pink, blue, orange.

“Mine has lady bugs,” Izzy said. “And the other is brown.”

I knew about the masks, which had just arrived in the mail from my granddaughter’s great aunt in New Jersey. I was grateful for that gift. But, still, the thought of a preschooler aware of face coverings made me profoundly sad. Her parents had already talked to Izzy about COVID-19 in terms she could understand—that people are sick. She accepts that as the reason she can’t see her friends, go to the library, visit Como Park or the Minnesota Zoo and much more.

 

Izzy rides her scooter along the trail in North Alexander Park in Faribault.

 

I followed that same simple explanation when we were at a Faribault park with Izzy. I kept a watchful eye as she zoomed ahead of Randy and me on her scooter. When I saw others approaching on the trail, I called for her to stop. She listened. We moved to the side and I formed a barrier between myself and passersby. I feel an overwhelming need to protect my sweet granddaughter.

Isabelle never once asked to play on the playground. She understands that, for now, for her safety, she can’t.

 

Baby ducks are so so cute.

 

Mama duck watches her babies.

 

The drake swims nearby.

 

We tried to make our park visit as ordinary as possible, pausing to watch a family of ducks along the shoreline. It was a moment of grace, observing downy ducklings guarded by their mother. Not unlike me with Izzy. We listened to their incessant cheeping and I wondered what they were communicating to one another. Warnings perhaps.

 

A long row of lilacs in various shades grows in North Alexander Park.

 

We stopped also so Grandpa could clip a spray of lilacs.

 

There are plenty of picnic tables alongside the Cannon River.

 

And we picnicked beside the Cannon River, listening to the noisy chirp of birds. Izzy nibbled at her turkey sandwich, ate too many grapes, tried a few of Grandpa’s chips and enjoyed a chocolate chip cookie we’d baked the day prior. When she was done, I wet a napkin with an ice cube pulled from the cooler and wiped away the melting chocolate circling her lips. I love that sweet little face.

On our way home, we stopped at the convenience store. And had that conversation about face masks. When Grandpa pulled open the van door to set the jug of milk and bananas inside, Izzy watched as I squirted hand sanitizer into his open palm. “I don’t like your face mask, Grandpa,” she said. His is black-and-white checkered like a racing flag. No pink anywhere on the fabric.

Preschoolers are, if anything, honest.

And they need us to protect them and those they love. Like their parents. Their siblings. Their grandparents. Their aunts and uncles and cousins. Their friends. They need us to wear face masks.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Picnicking in the park on a perfect May evening in Minnesota May 19, 2020

From our riverside picnic table in North Alexander Park, a view of the Cannon River last Friday evening.

 

WHAT A GIFT, THIS BEAUTIFUL Friday evening in May in southern Minnesota. The entire day, our 38th wedding anniversary, proved one of the best anniversary celebrations ever. Even in COVID-19.

 

Kayaking in the Cannon River, Faribault.

 

Randy and I took the day off work and spent it together. Outdoors. In the sunshine. In the warmth. In nature. I needed this. The quiet. The surrounding myself with nature. No news. Thoughts focused on the joy of May 15.

 

Another couple brought pizza to the park for a picnic.

 

We ended our anniversary celebration with smoked bbq pork dinners picked up curbside from The Depot Bar and Grill, a favorite Faribault restaurant. Ribs for Randy, pulled pork for me. Sides of mixed baked beans, coleslaw and a bun. And extra orders of fries and onion rings. Too much food, but absolutely delicious.

 

A mallard swims the Cannon in the golden hour before sunset.

 

We enjoyed our meals along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park, the evening sun glowing golden upon the water, across the landscape.

 

Part of a kayaking trio.

 

Others picnicked, too, fished, kayaked. All delighting in the outdoors and the calm that brings especially during a global pandemic.

 

Pausing to watch a family of ducks pass by on the Cannon River.

 

Ducklings trailed their mama across the river while the kayakers paused to appreciate the family. As did we.

 

Orange fences surrounding playground equipment and park shelters are gone, opening both up to public use.

 

Across the park, youngsters played on the re-opened playground.

 

I’ve noticed more hammocks in public places.

 

And a person and dog relaxed in a hammock suspended between trees.

 

Lilacs are beginning to open.

 

After dinner, we walked for a bit, stopping to breathe in the scent of lilacs perfuming the air. Randy clipped a few sprigs for me and carried them back to the van. Days later, those lilacs droop in a vase. But I hesitate to toss them, a sensory reminder of a lovely day in May when we celebrated 38 years of marriage.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of trees at sunset April 14, 2020

 

 

SUNSET. I FIND IT profoundly beautiful. Poetically beautiful.

 

 

Last week while walking a tree-lined trail in Faribault’s North Alexander Park, I stopped to appreciate the sunset through the trees.

 

 

I aimed my camera lens skyward, toward treetops. Branches, like lines drawn in wide chisel and felt tip markers, traced the sky. Sharp against backdrop canvases of blue, pink and orange. Lovely. The literary and visual work of an artist.

 

 

Scenes like this are so ordinary, yet extraordinary. Nature, when viewed in pause mode, seems even more stunning these days.

 

 

When I lift my camera and look through a viewfinder to frame a photo, I see so much. I notice details. Shapes. Colors. Patterns. Light.

 

 

It’s a process similar to writing poetry. I immerse myself in creating something beautiful. Poetry requires sparse, well-chosen words. Photography requires that, too, but in a visual way.

 

 

In this unprecedented time of social distancing, isolation and concern about COVID-19, I feel especially grateful for a quiet place to walk, to appreciate the art of nature and then create my own art via photography.

 

 

April is National Poetry Month. Celebrate by reading a poem, writing a poem or finding a poem in nature, like I did at North Alexander Park on a cold April evening with strong winds gusting from the northwest, sometimes shaking my camera lens.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Five people, two dogs, no kids April 1, 2020

 

Ducks swim in the Cannon River at North Alexander Park, Faribault.

 

NOW, MORE THAN EVER, the desire to get outdoors, to stretch my legs, to connect with nature, to escape all things COVID-19 related intensifies. I need the mental break, the sense of calm that prevails when I distance myself from the current crisis.

I live in a city of some 24,000 with an extensive recreational trail and park system and a sprawling nature center. We can spread out within city limits or quickly drive into the countryside for a rural escape.

 

Walking the dog along the trail in North Alexander Park.

 

On Saturday morning, before a day of rain began, Randy and I drove to North Alexander Park on the other side of Faribault to walk the Northern Link Trail connecting with the Straight River Trail. The paved path hugs the Cannon River, curving past trees, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and clusters of ducks and geese.

 

A section of the trail passes through a space populated by trees, and birds.

 

I enjoy this section of trail for several reasons—the river, the waterfowl, the diversity in open and wooded spaces, and the minimal number of people walking or biking here. It’s always been that way, even pre-coronavirus. While the trail is typically uncrowded, the park itself is usually busy. Teens shoot hoops. Families picnic. Athletes play baseball and softball. Kids use the playgrounds. But not now. Not during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Fences block picnic shelters.

 

A broad view of the now off-limits playground.

 

Stay off the playground.

 

With a “Stay at Home MN” executive order and social distancing in effect, park amenities can no longer be used. Orange snow fences wrap picnic shelters and playgrounds. When I saw those, I stopped. Sadness swept over me to see these places, where families often gather, where kids swing and slide and climb, closed. This is our new reality. Intellectually, I understand. Mentally, I rebel.

 

In my mind’s eye, I see a little one swinging.

 

A playground near the Cannon River.

 

No sliding here…

 

I want to hear the laughter of children. I want to see kids run and slide. And swing sticks at pinatas during family celebrations, as I have during past walks here.

 

Geese line the bank of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

But on this Saturday I saw none of that. Heard none of that. Instead I observed only three other adults (besides Randy and me) and two dogs. And I heard the warning honks of nesting geese, breaking the morning silence.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, glorious Sunday sunshine in southern Minnesota February 3, 2020

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A view of the Cannon River dam, river and surrounding area around Father Slevin and North Alexander Parks in Faribault, on Sunday afternoon. Portions of the river are open and sections iced-over.

 

BLUE STRETCHED WIDE AND FILTERED across the sky accompanied by bright sunshine melting snow and ice, warming backs, dancing across open water.

 

Looking the other direction down the Cannon River from the dam walkway toward the Second Avenue bridge.

 

This weekend brought a welcome end to a nearly 10-day streak of grey skies here in southern Minnesota. And it was glorious.

 

Trees reflect in an open section of the Cannon River next to a frozen section.

 

In multiple conversations, I listened to Minnesotans praise the change in weather, thankful for a respite from winter. I added my own words of gratitude. And, like most everyone, I felt the urgent need to get outdoors, to take in the sunshine we’ve craved. Missed.

 

A lone fisherman angles along the banks of the Cannon River Sunday afternoon.

 

Sunday afternoon, with the temp at 40 degrees, Randy and I followed the recreational trail along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite scenic walking spot in Faribault with no worry of packed ice or snow.

 

Just across the street, the Faribault Public Schools’ football stadium.

 

Occasionally I paused to take photos, my fingers quickly chilling in temps that felt more like 30 degrees given the 15 mph wind. Only when we curved into the shelter of evergreen trees did the cutting wind cease.

 

Photographed in the Ace Hardware parking lot, on our way to North Alexander Park, a woman pushing a stroller.

 

Fishing in the Cannon River on February 2, 2020.

 

From a distance, I observed this jogger attired in shorts as he ran along Second Avenue.

 

Everywhere, people were out and about—fishing from the shore of the Cannon, walking the trail, pushing babies in strollers, jogging (in shorts), pedaling on a fat tire bike, chipping ice from driveways, walking dogs…

 

Looking toward the dam, the shelter in Father Slevin Park and the Faribault Woolen Mill in the distance.

 

Water rushes over the dam.

 

Geese walk across the ice near the Woolen Mill dam.

 

And on the river, water churned over the dam, geese walked on ice and ducks swam in open water.

 

Suspended from a light post along Second Avenue, a relatively new banner defines this as Faribault’s Mill District as part of a branding campaign by the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism.

 

Photographed from the riverside trail, the Second Avenue bridge and Mill District banner.

 

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill (right), with its signature smokestack, located along the banks of the Cannon River.

 

Nearby, vehicles dodged ponding water on busy Second Avenue in this area now bannered as the Mill District. The historic Faribault Woolen Mill sits here along the Cannon.

I love this spot, especially on a lovely sunshine-filled Sunday afternoon in February.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: The golden hour of evening photography in spring May 30, 2019

A view of South Alexander Park from the shores of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

THE GOLDEN HOUR. Those three words hold great meaning to anyone into photography. It is the 60 minutes after sunrise and the 60 minutes before sunset—the time when natural light lends a softness to images.

 

A lone mallard swims in the quiet waters of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

Recently, I grabbed my camera to photograph early evening spring scenes at two Faribault city parks—North Alexander and Two Rivers. The results show the beauty of incredible natural light in making a photo.

Enjoy.

The converging of the Cannon and Straight Rivers at Two Rivers Park.

 

A nearly camouflaged bird along the banks of the Cannon River, North Alexander Park.

 

In the still of a beautiful May evening. trees reflect in the Cannon River as seen from North Alexander Park.

 

Lots of geese populate the Cannon, including this young family photographed in North Alexander Park.

 

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill sits along the Cannon River, photographed here from North Alexander Park.

 

Reflections at Two Rivers Park.

 

Picnic tables placed along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park (next to the recreational trail) provide riverside dining.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring scenes in Faribault April 24, 2019

A scene Sunday afternoon in Faribault. The building in the background is the historic home of our town founder, Alexander Faribault.

 

EASTER WEEKEND BROUGHT sunshine and warmth. Temps pushing near or past 80 degrees. Lovely weather after an especially long Minnesota winter of too much cold and snow.

 

Ducks enjoyed the day too along the banks of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

After the daughter and her husband left for their Wisconsin home on Sunday afternoon and Randy and I completed clean-up tasks and I hung laundered linens on the clothesline, we drove across town to walk along recreational trails. We needed to stretch our legs, to work off some calories, to delight in the stunning spring day.

 

 

With the exception of grass brightening to green, the landscape appears mostly still drab. Yet, the feel, the look, the presence of spring exists.

 

A Canada goose sits atop a mound in the middle of the river near Two Rivers Park.

 

Nesting waterfowl.

 

Biking along a trail in North Alexander Park, Faribault.

 

People biking and walking and shooting hoops.

 

Playing basketball in North Alexander Park.

 

We’ve emerged from our homes to embrace the season—to breathe in the warm air, to feel sunshine upon our backs, to take in a landscape transforming daily.

 

A patch of snow next to the Faribault Foods building.

 

But, when I looked closely, I noted remnants of winter—a snow pile in the shadow of a building.

 

Sandbags protect a portion of the Faribault Foods building along Second Avenue.

 

And I noticed, too, the worry of spring flooding in sandbags circling a section of that same building, protecting it from the nearby swollen river. Just last week Faribault was in a flood warning following torrential rains.

 

Ducks in the Cannon River as seen from the recreational trail in North Alexander Park.

 

For now the sun shines spring into April days here in southern Minnesota. A welcome change from winter.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From southern Minnesota: Winter’s here, so I may as well embrace it January 2, 2019

A view of the Faribault Woolen Mill from the trail along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

WINTER IN MINNESOTA brings challenges. Ice. Snow. Cold. Sometimes I feel like simply curling up under a fleece throw with a good book and staying indoors until spring. But that’s neither realistic nor good for me.

So I determine that, despite the less than ideal weather, I need to get outside and get moving. Embrace winter the best I can.

 

A crack snakes through the semi frozen Cannon River in Faribault.

 

Recently Randy and I decided to hike at River Bend Nature Center, one of our favorite outdoor spots in Faribault. Although I mentioned the possibility of icy trails, we still opted to go there. Well, one shuffling walk down a paved trail across patches of ice and snow and I’d had enough slipperiness.

Yes, I’m a tad paranoid about falling given I’ve endured two broken bones in the past 1 ½ years, neither from falling on snow or ice-covered anything. I’m not risking broken bones simply to walk outside in the winter for recreational pleasure.

 

Randy follows the city trail along the Cannon River, the Faribault Woolen Mill in the distance.

 

I suggested instead that we head to a city trail which hugs the Cannon River in Faribault’s North Alexander Park. I was pretty certain the city would have cleared the paved path. I was right.

 

 

 

The outstretched American flag in the distance shows the strength of the wind on the day we walked the trail.

 

 

So, despite a bitter wind whipping across the water, we walked and I searched for photo ops. Winter offers far less of those. But I managed to grab some images before my fingers got too cold to further expose them to the elements.

 

 

 

 

It wasn’t a particularly long walk. But, still, I stretched my legs, observed nature and appreciated the glint of sunshine across patches of open water. And I wondered, why are those geese still hanging around? I’d be outta here if I had their wings.

 

The trail offers a vantage point to view vintage signage on the Faribault Woolen Mill building.

 

TELL ME: If you live in a cold weather state, how do you embrace the outdoors in winter? Or don’t you?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sober reminder along a recreational trail in Faribault February 16, 2017

SOMETIMES A DEVIATION from the planned can lead to the unexpected. That happened last Sunday afternoon after iced-over trails at River Bend Nature Center prompted Randy and me to walk elsewhere. We chose the Northern Link Trail. Occasional ponding of snow melt covered the ice-free pathway in Faribault’s North Alexander Park. This would work; we were both wearing snow boots.

Stepping from the car, I braced into a brisk wind that whipped across the flat and mostly open terrain along the bank of Faribault Lake, a widening of the Cannon River. Full sunlight and the beautiful bold blue of the river and sky fooled me into thinking this would be a comfortable walk. Only when sheltered in the boughs of windbreak evergreens did I feel any warmth. We cut our walk short because of the cold.

 

minnesota-madd-plaque-98

 

But not before we paused to study an unexpected find. Randy noticed a marker cemented into grass bordering the pathway. It and an adjacent tree honor those injured or killed in drunk driving crashes. The 1989 date led me to believe the Minnesota Mothers Against Drunk Driving plaque was connected to Greg Fette of Faribault. Kim Morrow, Greg’s sister, confirmed that, noting that the death of Tina Johnson of Lonsdale also prompted the marker installation and tree planting. Like Greg, Tina died in 1984. She was 18. Greg was just 16. Both were killed as a result of crashes involving drunk drivers.

Greg died not all that far from the marker site at the intersection of Second Avenue and Minnesota State Highway 3. The driver of the vehicle that struck Greg’s car had a blood alcohol content level of 0.19, according to media reports. He got six months in jail under the Huber law, Kim said. Attitudes toward drunk driving were much different in 1984 than they are today.

After their son’s death, Joyce and Dick Fette worked with Tina’s parents, Nancy and Dennis Johnson, to effect change and create awareness regarding drunk driving. The list of their accomplishments is remarkable as is their tenacity. Joyce remains active in the Rice-Scott Chapter MADD Victim Impact Panel that meets six times annually. Nancy helped found Minnesotans for Safe Driving. Both couples have been honored many times for their efforts.

I admire these parents who, in their grief, actively and vocally took a stand against drunk driving. They have made a difference in Minnesota laws and how we view the problem of drunk driving. And in Faribault, along a recreational trail used by runners and bikers and walkers, this simple plaque serves as a visual reminder of the families affected by the bad choices of others. Because two men chose to drink and drive, Greg and Tina died.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling