NOVEMBER MARKS A MONTH of transition from autumn to winter here in Minnesota.
Trees stand against an often grey sky, brisk winds stripping the last of their leaves to bare branches. Nests crafted by squirrels high in treetops appear vulnerable, unsheltered, exposed to the elements while far below these busy oversized rodents munch on maple seeds, hide walnuts, prepare for winter. Their smaller cousins find their way into our aged house and garage, necessitating a daily check of the trap-line.
Harvest is done. Corn and soybeans reaped. A once lush rural landscape now looks drab, awash in muted earth-tones.
For farmers, long days and nights in the field are but a memory. Stress and rush easing into a slower rhythm of life.
The early days of autumn hold such beauty in landscape, such promise in anticipation of harvest. I’ve always loved September and October. This autumn, particularly, in the unchanging season of COVID-19, I’ve needed to reconnect with the earth. To witness the harvest. To view farm sites. To follow back country gravel roads, dust trailing the van. To find peace.
My appreciation for rural traces to my rural roots. I shall always feel gratitude for my 18 years on the farm. The southwestern Minnesota prairie shaped me as a writer and a photographer in that I noticed, still notice, details. The brutal slice of the winter prairie wind. The remarkable beauty of a flaming sun edging down. The taste of earth in potatoes dug from the garden. The sound of silence in hearing nothing. The unmistakable smell of harvest carried from combine to farmyard.
These farm memories I carry with me as autumn wanes, as November days move Minnesota toward winter. Harvest done.
NOTE: All of these photos were taken a month ago. The landscape looks much different now. Grey. Stark.
WITH TEMPERATURES IN THE LOW 50s here in southern Minnesota on Saturday, the unseasonably warm weather presented another opportunity for some bikers to hit the road before winter settles in for good.
This die-hard Harley rider passed us while we traveled northbound along Interstate 35 in Owatonna early Saturday afternoon.
He looked cold to me with his head hunched into his leather-clad shoulders while gripping the handlebars of his windshield-less bike. With his gloved hands in that high position, no blood flowed warmth to his fingers.
Randy guessed the windchill on that bike to be in the mid-20s based on the air temp and highway speed of 70 mph. Brrr. Now that’s cold, even for a hardy Minnesota Harley rider.
WITH SNOW LAYERING the ground as I write this several days before publication and with the furnace cranking out heat to stave off the cold, warmer days seem but a distant memory. But not that long ago, on November 7 and 8, we were enjoying warm temps and sunshine here in southern Minnesota. And my photos document that.
On that recent weekend, Randy and I finished raking and hauling leaves to the compost pile on Saturday morning. Then we packed a picnic lunch with intentions of an afternoon wandering through rural Minnesota with no specific destination. One of our Sunday afternoon drives, except on a Saturday. Only briefly did we discuss staying home to wash windows. Nope, the weather was too nice and we wanted to enjoy the afternoon. In Minnesota we recognize such beautiful November days as rarities to savor in time spent outdoors. Playing, not working.
So we gased up the van and then headed south on the back county road to Medford. A few miles from Faribault, we heard a clunk and Randy realized he’d left the gas cap at the gas station. We retraced our route, retrieved the cover and restarted our leisurely drive. I was a bit irritated with the husband for forgetting the gas cap. More on that later.
By the time we reached Medford, it was past noon and we were both hungry for that picnic lunch. So we pulled into the city park along the Straight River, settled in at a picnic table inside a wind-whipped shelter and watched kids on the playground while we ate our sandwiches.
Afterward, we walked around the park for a bit, down to the banks of the Straight River, around the ballpark and then back to the van. After more photos—I can always find something interesting to photograph—we were on our way.
Except we weren’t. Two blocks from the park, the power steering went out in the van. The engine light flashed on. Gauges indicated overheating. Randy switched off the van, lifted the hood and investigated. At times like this, I am thankful for a husband who has worked as an automotive machinist for decades and is extremely knowledgeable in diagnosing and dealing with vehicle issues.
I suggested we call a tow truck. Randy insisted we could make it home to Faribault. If the engine didn’t overheat. I was skeptical. Half-way back, he noted that the engine was getting hotter. Long story, but we pulled into friends’ rural property (they weren’t home) and waited about 45 minutes for the engine to cool. Back on the road, with only miles to go, Randy cut the engine at the top of a hill. The van then coasted the final miles into Faribault. At a stop sign, Randy restarted the van to get the remaining blocks home. We made it. Who would have thought?
So much for that planned afternoon outing. Randy was now out in the garage, back under the hood, rooting out the problem. He diagnosed a broken spring inside the tensioner. That caused the belt to come loose which caused the subsequent issues. A trip to the parts store and about an hour later, he had fixed the van.
But here’s the deal. Remember that forgotten gas cap and the irritation I felt over Randy’s forgetfulness? Well, if he hadn’t left the cover, we would have been further down the road, probably to Owatonna. And those extra miles likely would not have allowed us to get the van back home on our own. So, yeah, sometimes when little things like this happen and delay our best-laid plans, it’s for a reason. Lesson learned. On a beautiful day in early November in Minnesota.
Westbound for Fargo on Interstate 94 near the West Union exit on Saturday morning.
NEARLY 10 HOURS in a vehicle traveling almost 600 miles round trip to Fargo, North Dakota, under the gloomiest of grey November skies can test one’s endurance.
The eyes began to wander, to lock onto the slightest patches of color in an otherwise dull and monotone landscape.
Billboards offer a diversion as do the semis which follow Interstate 94, some forking north toward Canada, others continuing even farther west into the endless grey expanse.
A section of the journey where there are still hills. My eyes focus on the brilliant red hue of the barn.
Near Barnesville, a short distance east of Fargo and Moorhead, piles of corn brighten the muted landscape.
Hunters in bright orange roam fields during the opening weekend of firearms deer hunting in Minnesota.
Red barns and piles of golden corn and deer hunters in blaze orange distract me from the barren greyness of this journey to the Red River valley. I wonder at that use of the word “valley,” for I see no indentations in the earth to suggest a valley.
This quaint country church in the distance somewhere east of Fargo/Moorhead always calms my spirits.
I am a prairie native. But even for me, the flat land west of Fergus Falls and into Fargo/Moorhead challenges my spirit. I feel insecure and diminished in this place and that unsettles me.
How can a place seem so flat that I feel as if I will step off the earth should I journey any further than the northwestern fringes of Fargo?
Downtown Fargo late Saturday afternoon under sullen skies with a light mist falling.
More gloomy skies on the return trip from Fargo to Faribault on Sunday afternoon.
Spots of orange (slow moving vehicle signs) provide a respite for my eyes on Sunday’s drive home.