Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Left behind November 23, 2020

I found this kindness rock lying on the ground in Nisswa Lake Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I LOVE FINDING KINDNESS STONES. I appreciate the effort an artist or wordsmith takes to craft a message, add some art and then drop the stone in a public place. Each time I discover these sweet surprises, I feel uplifted. And I wonder about the individual inspired to show such kindness.

On a recent weekend, while out and about, I didn’t discover any inspirational stones. Rather I found several items left behind, the first at Medford Straight River Park. An abandoned purple scooter leaned against a picnic table in the shelterhouse near the playground with no kid in sight. As Randy and I ate our picnic lunch, a Grandma showed up with her 5-year-old granddaughter to reclaim the well-used scooter, forgotten the previous evening. How small town, I thought.

The next day, while picnicking again, this time at Mill Park in Dundas, I noted black-frame glasses stuck in the crack of a picnic table. What is it about picnic tables and stuff left behind? Now, if I’d left my glasses behind, I would struggle to see, such is the state of my vision. Randy checked and confirmed the lost glasses were cheaters. Whew.

From Mill Park, we crossed the Cannon River pedestrian bridge to Memorial Park by the ball field.

There, by the playground, sat two perfectly fine lawn chairs. Opened, as if someone had recently occupied the two spots. But there were no adults, no kids, anywhere, except a couple picnicking by the ball diamond, bikes parked nearby. Obviously not their chairs.

Next, we drove to Northfield, parked downtown and walked around. While crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River, I discovered a mini skull atop dirt in an otherwise empty flower box hanging on the bridge. The skull looked pretty darned real to me. But then I remembered that just days earlier it was Halloween and I figured that was the reason someone left a skull behind.

TELL ME: Have you ever found something particularly interesting left in a public place? I’d like to hear about your odd discoveries.

© 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Escape into the Cannon River Wilderness Area November 20, 2020

SOME DAYS I WISH I could simply disappear, vanish into the woods or wheel across the prairie like the Ingalls family to an unknown destination. Far from reality. Far from COVID-19.

But, since I must live in the context of a pandemic, in the place I call home, I look for places to escape nearby. And, on a recent Sunday afternoon, Randy and I disappeared into the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield off Minnesota State Highway 3.

In the nearly 40 years we have lived in Rice County, we’ve only stopped here once, many years ago for a family picnic, but never to hike. On this day we followed the rutted gravel road along the river, past a junkyard and into the wilderness parking lot. We walked a short path to the Cannon River, then a longer one along the river to a foot bridge.

To get there, we passed two tents in the primitive camping area. I delighted in watching a young family gathered in the woods near river’s edge, enjoying the outdoors, away from distracting/detracting technology. At the next tent down, I observed a caged dog.

After passing the campers, we spotted a hillside bluff of limestone looming to the side of the trail.

Springs bubbled water across the muddy path partially covered by a thin layer of wood chips. I found myself tensing at the thought of traversing mud. My slip-on shoes, unlike Randy’s treaded boots, offered zero traction. And, with a history of two falls, one on rain-slicked wooden steps that resulted in a broken wrist and subsequent surgery to implant a plate, I felt angst.

But Randy offered his hand to steady me as we walked across mud, atop slippery rocks and balanced on railroad ties. Eventually, we reached the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon.

If anything soothes me, it is water and wind. And, on this early November day, I stood on that wooden bridge, taking in the elements that calm me. River rushing over rocks. Wind roaring through woods.

 

 

The sun, too, warming me and casting artsy criss-cross shadows upon the bridge deck.

Then I noticed the trees. Tornado trees, I term them. Two years ago, in September 2018, tornadoes ravaged Rice County, including the 800-acre Cannon River Wilderness Area. Evidence of the storm remains in fallen trees, limbless trees, trees stripped of branches. In the woods. In the river. Along the riverbank. Thoughts of tornadoes invite distress as I recall the 1968 deadly tornado in Tracy, Minnesota, a storm I remember from my childhood in southwestern Minnesota. Some things you never forget.

But for a short time, I forgot about COVID as I immersed myself in the natural world. Even among tornado trees, some of which groaned in the strong wind.

As Randy and I retraced our steps along the muddy path, I focused on getting safely back to the parking lot without falling. But in a single step onto a rounded rock, my shoes slipped and I felt myself falling to the right. Thoughts of another broken bone flashed. As did the likelihood that my camera would be destroyed. Yet, Randy, who had been gripping my hand, caught me, even as he, too, nearly landed in the mud. I felt gratitude for his strength, for his support, for his care. We have traversed many a difficult journey through life. Together. And for that I am grateful, especially during a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Saturday in November in southern Minnesota November 19, 2020

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The weather on Saturday, November 7, was warm enough to put the top down on the convertible, this one driving along Rice County Road 45 toward Medford.

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.

Before the recent snow, fallen leaves defined the lawn at the Medford City Park.

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.

An artsy roofline on the shelter where we ate our picnic lunch.
A plaque on a bench: Kevin loved this park!
The expansive playground next to the shelterhouse.

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.

The Straight River winds past the park.
The second shelter sits by the ballpark.
A view of the ball field.

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.

I laughed at this sign, at the “softball landing area” warning.

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 love small town scoreboards like this with character.

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?

Love the colorful bleachers…

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.

Posted on the ball field fence. Small towns have a knack for finding creative ways to fund projects.

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.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than a fall hike at Falls Creek Park October 6, 2020

A cluster of maple leaves in fall colors photographed at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault, Minnesota.

AS A LIFE-LONG MINNESOTAN, I remain fully cognizant that the season will soon change to one of cold, colorless and confining.

In the woods at Falls Creek Park, some trees are already stripped of leaves.

Thus, a week like the one predicted with sunny skies and temps in the 60s and possibly 70s, is to be celebrated.

Maple leaves cover the earth, from my backyard to here, at Falls Creek Park.

As I look out my office window mid-Monday morning while writing this post, I see sunshine. Sunshine which casts shadows of leaves swaying in the wind onto my office walls.

Subtle colors color these leaves at Falls Creek.

For today, the wind blows with a fierceness that assures the laundry pinned to my backyard clothesline will dry quickly. I’ve taken extra measures to assure the wash stays clipped to the line. The wind is that strong.

Throughout southern Minnesota, leaves are changing color and falling from trees.

Leaves spiral from the backyard maple at a dizzying rate that makes me melancholy. Soon the branches will be stripped bare, exposed to the sky, a strong visual reminder to me that Autumn is nearing her exit.

Fungi ladder on a fallen tree trunk.

I need to hold onto this season, to embrace and celebrate her for as long as I can because I recognize also that this winter ahead—this winter of COVID-19—will prove particularly challenging. The sense of isolation will be heightened as Randy and I continue to keep our circle small.

And so now, while we can, we spend a lot of time outdoors, walking on trails through woods and along rivers. Like at Falls Creek County Park, about a mile east of Faribault just off Minnesota State Highway 60. The 61-acre park seems mostly undiscovered. We last visited in June, although when the kids were still home, we went there more often to picnic and hike.

An opening in the woods leads to a bridge across Falls Creek.

On a recent weekend, we revisited this peaceful and primarily wooded destination, which includes about 3,000 feet of creek footage. After parking in the over-sized gravel parking lot pocked with potholes, we headed down the hill and across an expansive grassy space toward an opening in the woods.

Water rushes around rocks, like this one, in the creek.

Through that gap, a picturesque bridge crosses Falls Creek. I love that cute little bridge spanning the narrow waterway. There’s something magical and fairy tale like about the arc of that bridge, where I stand and listen to water rush over rocks. Clear water, mostly unseen in this area of southern Minnesota with most waterways polluted by fertilizer run-off.

The creek curves through the woods.

After that creekside pause, Randy and I headed onto the dirt trail into the woods. It runs along the creek bank, in some sections nearly eroded away. In one spot, we walk upon thick sticks laid on the pathway to stabilize the walk way.

Sticks laid on the path to stabilize it in an eroded area.

Randy makes it all the way to the falls, only to find it eroded, too, and not as he remembers. I’ve stopped just short of that destination and turned back to retrace our steps. There are no trails spidering through the woods, only this solo one and another that, for a short distance, veers to our right.

Randy walks on the leaf-covered trail, embraced by the woods.

Yet, we delight in being here. In the woods, even if not particularly colorful. Beside the creek. Just us, until we hear voices in the distance and eventually meet a couple from a neighboring town. They are lovely in every way for not only their appreciation of this place but also of others they’ve met here. That includes a group of young men from Somalia, immigrants who’ve resettled locally and spoke to the couple about past challenges. It was incredibly refreshing for me to hear the couple’s kind words about these young men rather than the unkind words I all too often hear about individuals who’ve fled war-torn countries and atrocities we can’t even imagine for a new life in Minnesota.

The lovely bridge across Falls Creek.

Even though I digress from the nature theme of this post, I feel it important to share this sidebar. There are stories to be heard, lessons to be learned, when we take pause to appreciate, to listen. To cross bridges into the woods.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nisswa Lake Park delivers, with a bonus surprise September 30, 2020

Signage directs trail users to Nisswa, via the tunnel.

 

The city’s newest park is all about nature; featuring walking paths, water garden, pavilion, picnic tables, benches and garbage cans, along with breathtaking views of Nisswa Lake.

 

Randy finishes his picnic lunch.

 

That description of Nisswa Lake Park in a printed travel guide drew my interest as I researched for a recent lake cabin get-away to the central Minnesota lakes region. Randy and I planned a day trip into the small tourist town of Nisswa. That included a picnic lunch since we are not comfortable dining out at a restaurant, even if outdoors. The community’s newest park seemed an ideal place, especially with those noted garbage cans. That notation caused us to laugh. But, hey, trash cans are vital if you’re dining outdoors in a park.

 

Tunnel graffiti with an encouraging message.

 

A simple, but powerful, word especially during these trying times in our nation.

 

Another timely message on the tunnel wall.

 

After some time browsing the many shops, we stopped at the local tourism office for directions to the lakeside park. We drove to the south end of town, parked the van and headed down flights of stairs toward a tunnel leading into Nisswa Lake Park. As we walked through the short tunnel under busy Minnesota State Highway 371, I noted the graffiti already written on the walls.

 

The tunnel to the park and trails passes under the highway. On the other side, you can see the stairway leading up to downtown Nisswa. This photo was taken from the park side.

 

And then we emerged on the other side, wondering exactly which direction to head with multiple trail options. We chose what seemed the most obvious route and soon found ourselves in a clearing, surrounded by woods.

 

This pavilion sits atop a hill, complete with the advertised garbage cans.

 

We also found the promised picnic tables, benches, pavilion and garbage cans. Along with porta potties.

 

The public dock at Nisswa Lake Park.

 

After lunch, we followed a trail leading to the public landing and dock along Nisswa Lake.

 

Leaves were already turning color during our visit nearly two weeks ago.

 

A simple, but powerful, word imprinted on the back of a bench.

 

The last of summer’s flowers, black-eyed susans, linger.

 

If there was a water garden, I missed it. But I didn’t miss the leaves, messages, flowers.

 

I found this kindness rock lying on the ground in Nisswa Lake Park.

 

The flip side of the kindness rock.

 

And I didn’t miss the painted heart-shaped stone with the printed message: Have a great Day. Whenever I discover such an unexpected “Kindness Rock,” as these are technically termed, I feel uplifted. Joyful. And, most of all, thankful for those creative and caring people who paint and print and place these inspirational gems in public places.

 

A plaque atop a picnic table inside the pavilion expresses gratitude.

 

So while the garbage can rated important, and the lake view proved lovely and the bathrooms necessary, it was this single small item which meant the most to me upon my first visit to Nisswa’s newest park.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road: A favorite nature break in Zimmerman September 28, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

THE SHERBURNE COUNTY PARK has become, for us, a stopping point on the drive north to an extended family member’s guest lake cabin south of Crosslake.

 

Birds take flight from the prairie area of Grams Park last September. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

Photographed in Grams Park during an early September 2019 visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The park features a mix of woods, prairie and swampland. I took this photo about 10 days ago.

 

Randy and I typically pack a picnic lunch for a noonish stop at Grams Regional Park in Zimmerman. It’s a lovely spot not far off U.S. Highway 169. Here we eat our sandwiches, fruit and other picnic food before stretching our legs along trails that trace through this 100-acre park.

 

 

 

 

Typically, we follow the paths into the woods and then along curving boardwalks across wetlands or bogs, or whatever the proper terminology for the swampy areas lush with cattails.

 

Wildflowers photographed last September at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

At the prairie on the edge of the woods, this native pocket prairie has been planted.

 

Wildflowers along a wooded trail.

 

It’s a welcome break from the highway, this temporary immersion in nature—among the trees and wildflowers and peace in a place we’ve grown to appreciate.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

Ten days ago, the leaves at Grams Park were morphing into beautiful autumn hues.

 

A cluster of oak leaves by our picnic table.

 

And, during this season, the woods are particularly beautiful as leaves morph into the golden, brown and sometimes fiery hues of autumn. I may not love that autumn signals the transition toward winter. But I delight in the way she moves there.

 

I love this aspect of Grams Park, a nature discovery play space for kids.

 

Kids can play with these wooden discs…

 

…and learn about the rusty patched bumblebee.

 

If one positive change comes from COVID-19, I think it’s that we all hold a deeper appreciation of the outdoors, of the spaces which give us a respite from reality. And Grams Regional Park is such a place, more than a stop for lunch en route to the lake cabin.

 

Berries photographed in early September of last year. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite park that you’ve grown even more fond of during the global pandemic?

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Signs: Wear a mask, don’t drink… July 31, 2020

Posted on a softball diamond fence in North Alexander Park, but applicable to all Faribault city parks.

 

SIGNS, OR PERHAPS more accurately notices, are posted seemingly everywhere these days. Mostly to inform us about COVID-19 related issues. They are necessary reminders and sometimes required by executive mandates, like the new order in Minnesota requiring face masks to be worn in indoor public places.

 

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.

I expect those involved with softball in Faribault know the no drinking rule. It’s common sense that if you’re actively playing a sport, consuming alcohol seems a bad idea. Just like going mask-less and/or congregating at a bar during a global pandemic are really bad ideas. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey this week issued an emergency order, effective Saturday evening, which limits service in bars. Patrons can no longer order or drink at the bar/counter. Now all drinks must be served while patrons are seated at tables. The reason: Nearly 400 cases of COVID-19 linked to people going to bars in Minneapolis.

Let’s continue to mask up. Social distance. Wash/sanitize your hands. Avoid gatherings. And, in general, use common sense.

Think of others, not just yourself. Be safe. Stay healthy.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Unexpected discoveries at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault June 30, 2020

Falls Creek County Park is located one mile east of Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60, just off the highway an eighth of a mile along a gravel road to the north. This sign is visible from Highway 60.

 

YEARS HAVE PASSED since I visited Falls Creek County Park just east of Faribault off Minnesota State Highway 60. I remembered the hill and the expanse of lawn leading to a shelter house. And the creek at the edge of the surrounding woods.

 

Beautiful wild roses.

 

I didn’t recall wild roses. Those I would remember because I love wild roses. They remind me of my native prairie home, where, decades ago, pink roses grew random in road ditches. Oh, the sweet scent and the sweet memories.

 

These wild rose bushes edge a section of the massive gravel parking lot.

 

Randy noticed the roses first at Falls Creek. We both paused to breathe in the old-fashioned fragrance and to share our rose stories of yesteryear. What an unexpected delight.

 

Randy termed this a “weed.” I called it a “flower.”

 

If you’re dipping your nose into roses, check for bees first. They love this flower.

 

This elusive dragonfly proved incredibly challenging to photograph.

 

Another wildflower, or weed, depending on your perspective.

 

After a picnic lunch, I grabbed my camera to photograph roses and wildflowers and an elusive dragonfly before we aimed for the bridge over the creek.

 

A foot bridge over Falls Creek leads to a path into the woods that follows the creek.

 

Looking into the creek from the bridge, I watched water tumble over rocks.

 

I love the sound and sight of water rushing over rocks. It’s mesmerizing, calming, soothing.

 

What a wonderful surprise to find this clean and clear creek water.

 

And, as we walked to water’s edge at a crook in the creek, we found water running clear. That is mostly unseen in these parts where rivers and other waterways and lakes are muddy and murky and often nothing you would want to wade into. I dipped my hand into the clean, cool water. Happy at this unexpected discovery, at this untainted water flowing past me.

 

Greenery galore.

 

I navigated this path in the woods.

 

This fallen tree was jammed into the hillside, half the tree on one side of the path, the other half on the opposite side.

 

From there, we followed the narrow dirt path hugging the creek. In parts, the trail had eroded. Tree roots underfoot and a makeshift crossing of rocks and branches caused me to slow my pace, to watch my feet, to walk with care. The last thing I needed was to stumble and tumble and break a bone or land in the creek with my camera.

 

Looking up toward the wooded hillside from the creek path.

 

The woods proved a lovely place of greenery and dappled sunshine filtering through the trees…until the mosquitoes discovered our presence. My body reacts intensely to bug bites. So I needed to turn back and exit the woods.

 

The shelterhouse sits in a large open grassy area.

 

Back in the open, across the lawn and up the hill and on the far side of the massive gravel parking lot circled with tire track donuts, Randy spotted more wild roses. These were larger, better positioned to get sunshine. Once again, we paused to admire these dainty-looking, yet strong, prairie flowers. Once again, I breathed in the sweet scent.

 

Before leaving, we smelled the wild roses one final time.

 

I will remember Falls Creek County Park now for more than the falls I have yet to see—because of those mosquitoes. I will remember this place for the wild roses that edge the woods. And remind me of my native Minnesota prairie home, where there are no woods.

NOTE: This visit occurred several weeks ago, when the roses were nearly done blooming. We’ve also had substantial rainfall in the past two days, meaning the creek may now be muddy, the trail more eroded.

© 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

 

My nature escape in Faribault April 17, 2020

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Geese take flight from one of several ponds at Faribault Energy Park in this edited photo.

 

LAST SATURDAY, WHEN I NEEDED an escape into nature, Randy and I drove to the northwest side of Faribault and a favorite outdoors destination, the Faribault Energy Park.

 

I especially enjoy walking at Faribault Energy Park near sunset. The buidling in the distance is across Interstate 35 from the park.

 

I anticipated our walk there along dirt trails that wind past ponds. Even with Interstate 35 in sight and traffic droning in the background, I still enjoy this spot.

 

Cattail remnants edge a pond.

 

The openness of the landscape, the tall grasses and wildflowers (when in season) and the mix of wetlands remind me of the prairie.

 

I always hear birds here, even above the noise of I-35 traffic.

 

An on-site birdhouse.

 

A creek runs through the property with plenty of places for birds.

 

I delight, too, in the birdsong and the glimpses of red wing blackbirds, waterfowl and other birds. I don’t like, though, the dogs sometimes unleashed here by irresponsible dog owners. This isn’t a dog park. On one occasion, a large dog jumped on me, slicking me in mud. This is not OK and it angers me when people have no respect for others.

 

I notice details, like these dried, curled leaves that survived our harsh Minnesota winter intact.

 

Dried milkweed pods, too, have always seemed artfully beautiful to me.

 

Like a fossil, a leaf in the muddy trail.

 

But on this Saturday, there would be no walk through the Energy Park, no dogs to dodge. The gate into the park, typically open from sunrise to sunset daily, was closed and locked. I didn’t understand, until I observed police vehicles and a group of law enforcement officers gathered nearby. Later I would learn of a shooting in a local hotel parking lot and the hunt for a suspect in the northern industrial park where the Energy Park is located.

 

The graceful arc of sumac drew my attention (photo edited).

 

My plans to escape into this natural setting vanished and so we went to Plan B, a walk along the trail in North Alexander Park, a favorite spot bordering the Cannon River. Seems others had much the same idea. The park and trail were busy.

 

The beautiful sunset filters through the cloud bank.

 

I still prefer the mostly undiscovered Energy Park. I hope the gate will be unlocked this weekend, when the weather forecast calls for sunshine and 60 glorious degrees.

 

Berries add a splash of color to the mostly drab mid-March landscape.

 

Note: I took the above photos in mid-March at Faribault Energy Park, which is owned by the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling