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.
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 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.
RURAL MINNESOTA. For Randy and me, that represents our upbringing, the place of our roots, the land that is part of our personal geography.
We both grew up on farms, in large families—his three kids larger than mine at nine. We both picked rock—he more than me as Morrison County in central Minnesota sprouts more rocks than Redwood County. We each labored in fields and barns and understood the value of hard work and our importance in the farming operation. Even at a young age. That carries through in our strong work ethics and our strong link to the land.
And, though we left our rural communities at age 17, we still hold dear the small towns—Buckman and Vesta—that were such an important part of our upbringing. Both have changed with familiar businesses long gone. Society changed and locals began driving farther for groceries and other necessities.
It’s easy to get caught in the memories, of the back then, of wishing nothing had changed. But it has and it does. And life goes on.
Returning to our hometowns, our home areas, causes me to reflect while simultaneously appreciating that which remains. Cafes and churches and hardware stores. Post offices and bars and grain elevators. These are the community gathering spots that still mark many of Minnesota’s smallest communities, those towns that span only blocks from east to west, north to south.
But more than buildings, people form community. Even in Faribault, where Randy and I have lived since 1982, we’ve found our small town in a city of around 25,000. That’s in our faith family at Trinity Lutheran Church, the “town” that centers our lives. An uncle and I discussed this recently. He lives in Minneapolis. His neighborhood is his community, his small town.
No matter where you live, whether in rural Minnesota or New York City, the mountains of Idaho or the plains of Nebraska, I hope you’ve found your community and place of joy.
TODAY I CONTINUE my photo review of 2020, selecting one image from each month, July – December, to highlight here.
In JULY, our family escaped into the peace and natural beauty of the central Minnesota lakes region, staying in a guest lake cabin on property owned by a sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Our eldest and her family and our son joined Randy and me. There, among the towering pines and next to a lake, we delighted in watching loons and the resident eagles. We played in and on the water, dined lakeside, sat around the campfire, made smores and so much more. The first evening, when the 4-year-old granddaughter declared she was “too excited to sleep,” Randy and I took her outside in her pajamas to view the star-studded night sky. Love-filled moments like these imprint upon my memory, reminding me how important my family is to me.
Spring and summer brought voices rising in protest, in strong strong words that resonated with so many, including me. In the small town of Dundas in AUGUST, I photographed banners posted on the windows of an aged stone house. Thoughtful. Powerful. Necessary.
SEPTEMBER took Randy and me back to the family lake cabin for a second short stay, this time just the two of us. While en route, we stopped at Grams Regional Park in Zimmerman for a picnic lunch and hike through the woods. There I photographed a cluster of leaves. Autumn is my favorite season with its warm days, crisp evenings, earthy scents and hues of red, brown, orange and yellow. I never tire of looking at and photographing leaves.
In OCTOBER, the grandchildren stayed overnight with us and we took them to River Bend Nature Center. To walk, and sometimes run (with the grandparents trying to keep up). Again, it is the memories of time spent with those I love most that caused me to choose this image as a favorite.
A lovely afternoon in NOVEMBER drew Randy and me to the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield. With camera in hand, as always, I photographed leaves in the Cannon River, an image that holds the beauty of the season, of the outdoors.
Closing out the year, I photographed a line of decorated Christmas trees showcased in Faribault’s Central Park as part of the Drive-by Tree Display in DECEMBER. The trees later went to families in need. As the sun set, I aimed my camera lens toward tree toppers. I chose this photo because to me this shining star represents hope. Hope that comes in the new year as we leave behind a truly challenging 2020.
I want to leave you with one final message: You are loved. I discovered this message posted along a bike trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin, near our son’s apartment. When life gets difficult, overwhelms and threatens to take away your joy, remember that you are valued, that others care, that you are not alone.
COVID-19 RANKS AS THE STORY of 2020, including here on Minnesota Prairie Roots. Since early March, I’ve photographed hundreds of scenes that relate to the pandemic. I’ve scrolled through my many COVID-themed posts to showcase a selection of images that summarize the pandemic’s effects on our lives.
For me, the most personal image is also a universal one. In early March, I visited my mom, who is in hospice in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home. I didn’t know it then, but this would mark my last in-person visit with her in 2020. The last time I would hug her, kiss her cheeks. For our seniors living in long-term care centers, 2020 brought isolation, separation from family and, for too many, death. The empty chair in this photo symbolizes the absence of family.
March also brought shortages. Of toilet paper. Of hand sanitizer. Of Lysol wipes. Of Tylenol. I stocked up on a few supplies. Just enough to get us by if we got sick and couldn’t get out.
Separation brought a new appreciation for technology with our family connecting via Zoom from the north metro to Madison, Wisconsin, to Faribault.
The deadly reality of COVID-19 hit home when the Rev. Craig Breimhorst of Faribault died in April, the first of now 52 Rice County residents to lose their lives to the virus. My heart hurts for all those who are grieving, some of whom I know.
Signs remind us daily of COVID, including messages bannered on the Paradise Center for the Arts marquee as theaters, restaurants, libraries, museums and more closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Even playgrounds became inaccessible as communities roped and fenced off equipment (including at North Alexander Park in Faribault) to stop the spread of COVID. Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about the virus, with surface spread not the primary form of transmission.
In May, while watching a car cruise in downtown Faribault, I photographed a local walking along the sidewalk wearing a face mask. This is my “favorite” COVID photo. Simple. Yet powerful. Face masks, by mid-summer, became the norm. Yet, some still refuse to wear them, or wear them improperly, an ongoing source of frustration for me. Minnesota has a face mask mandate for a reason—to stop the spread of COVID and to keep us safe. Just wear a mask. And over your nose, please.
The pandemic changed how many of us worship. Randy and I have not attended church services since early March. When our kids learned we had been to Sunday morning services, they advised (told) us not to continue attending in-person. Our eldest remarked that she and her friends were struggling to convince their Baby Boomer parents of COVID’s seriousness. It didn’t take us long to determine just how serious this virus; we’ve attended church online ever since. In my hometown church, the pastor took to preaching from a hay rack. St. John’s now worships in-house.
High school and college graduation ceremonies also pivoted, mostly to virtual celebrations. In Northfield, Minnesota, the community honored grads with banners posted downtown. Some families still hosted receptions. We opted out, not wanting to risk our health.
Our sole social activity this summer was attending outdoor concerts in Faribault’s Central Park nearly every Thursday evening. It’s a long-time community tradition. We felt safe there with concert-goers distancing throughout the sprawling park. Some wore masks, like the couple in this photo, with a rope defining social distancing lines.
The annual Faribault Pet Parade in August also went on, but as a drive-through only. No masses of kids and pets walking in the streets. Randy and I watched, all by ourselves in our lawnchairs positioned along Fourth Street, and I spotted one vehicle with a COVID message.
For many, the cancellation of county fairs, and then the Minnesota State Fair in August, dashed any hopes that summer could retain any normalcy. Food stands, like this one at Ace Hardware in Faribault, popped up in parking lots and elsewhere.
In Northfield, the Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration scaled back. Randy and I walked through Bridge Square, where I photographed a solo guitar player strumming. It was a lovely September day, minus the overcrowding typical of DJJD.
September took us to the central Minnesota lakes region for a short stay at a family member’s guest lake cabin. While en route, we stopped in Crosby, where I photographed this distinctly Minnesotan masking sign.
In November, when the COVID situation in Minnesota went to really bad, I photographed a hard-hitting electronic message above US Highway 14 in Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Concerns about hospital bed shortages not only concerned Minnesota, but the entire US. And this was about more than just COVID.
One of my final COVID photos of 2020 was taken at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, posted there by the Rev. Greg Ciesluk, also a friend. His message puts the virus in perspective. As we transition into 2021 with vaccines rolling out, I feel hopeful. Truly hopeful.
WHY IS HALLOWEEN such a wildly popular and much-loved annual celebration?
Answers may range from the fun component to the scare factor. From costumes to candy. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear that Halloween captivates us each year. This year, though, with COVID-19, October 31 will look decidedly different. Or it should with no costume parties, safety-focused trick-or-treating (if at all), and other limitations.
I have no intention of handing out candy this Halloween. Not that many kids ever stop at our house anyway given few live in our neighborhood. So if I’m not sharing treats, I’ll at least share 13 Halloween photos pulled from my archives.
So sit back and scroll through these images while you consider Halloweens past, when life seemed a lot less scary.
AS I WRITE, a grey-haired man leans into the fierce wind as he walks his black lab along the sidewalk across the street. In the distance, a block away, I note a fiery red maple blazing color into the cityscape. Soon, though, my neighborhood will be devoid of color, trees stripped of leaves, as autumn shifts ever closer to winter.
These days, more than ever, I am cognizant of autumn’s departure, of what I anticipate to be an especially long winter ahead with COVID-19.
But for now, I want to take you into my backyard, to scenes I photographed within the past 10 days. My yard presents a microcosm of autumn in southern Minnesota. Colorful. Ever-changing. Cobalt skies one day, grey skies the next.
Tuesday and Wednesday I worked in my yard, emptying pots of flowers, raking and bagging leaves, all those seasonal tasks I’ve put off. As I age, I find I don’t enjoy this work as much. I’d rather do fun activities like hike and spend time with my grandchildren.
We have only one tree, a maple, on our property. But woods abut our yard. And leaves from neighbors’ trees don’t understand boundaries.
The clock is ticking to complete autumn yard work before the first snowfall. To then stash away the rakes and pull out the snow shovels. And, for Randy, to drain gas from the lawnmower and check the snowblower.
But for now, I want to savor these final days of autumn. To appreciate the colors of autumn leaves clinging stubbornly to branches, to walk across the lawn, leaves crackling underfoot.
For soon enough, winter will overtake the Minnesota landscape, defining our days.
As we await the arrival of spring and the cycle of seasons continues.
Popular Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota.
SMALL TOWN MINNESOTA. What is it about our rural communities that holds my heart? Surely, my upbringing on a crop and dairy farm in the southwestern region of our state influences how I feel about rural places.
Art in downtown business windows showcases the town’s annual Kolacky Days celebration.
Fresh-baked kolacky are always available at Franke’s Bakery.
One of my favorite signs in Montgomery banners the 106-year-old bakery.
I’ve written about and photographed Montgomery many times. Each visit I notice the details that define this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World with its strong Czech heritage. Kolacky are a fruit-filled (sometimes poppyseed, too) Czech pastry, available at the century-plus-old Franke’s Bakery and elsewhere.
A quilt adorns an historic downtown building.
When I walk along First Street, the main street through the downtown business district, I always notice the historic buildings.
And the home-grown businesses, including multiple meat markets.
The Monty Bar is missing its corner signage, which I loved.
The inviting dining space in front of the Rustic Farmer along Montgomery’s main street.
It is this type of signage that reveals much about a town and its people. When I spot the event space, Rustic Farmer on Main, and later sit there at a patio table to enjoy a custard-filled sweet treat from Franke’s, I think on that name. Rustic Farmer. It fits this rural community.
Hilltop Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.
I photographed this puzzle at Herrmann Drug, where it’s available for purchase.
That center houses a small gift shop and heritage displays, including Kolacky Days celebration buttons. Photographer Sarah Dolejs designed a 513-piece jigsaw puzzle featuring a photo of a button collection. The puzzle is available in local businesses and online. Recently, organizers of this year’s virtual Kolacky Days held a “Jigsaw Puzzle Competition from Your Kitchen Table” to see who could assemble the puzzle the fastest. The winning time was 67 minutes by Team Sherman. They beat out Anything but Prune (a reference to prune kolacky) by a mere minute. The Poppyseed Posse (another reference to kolacky) and the Laughing Polka Ladies didn’t even come close to winning.
The town’s water tower is located near the Montgomery National Golf Club.
I love those creative names. They reveal a sense of humor, a sense of pride, a sense of appreciation for heritage and all that defines this town. This Montgomery, Minnesota.
Wingra Creek, photographed from the recreational trail with the same name.
MADISON. My first impression several years ago of Wisconsin’s capital city remains unchanged. This is a place defined by water, lots of green space, an extensive recreational trail system and residents who love their Badgers, bikes, beer and cheese.
I took this photo in downtown Madison in June 2018. Love the buildings and vibrancy and walk-ability of this area, including the nearby state capitol. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.
As I’ve explored Madison, pre-COVID, I’ve always felt comfortable. And that says a lot for someone who doesn’t really like big cities all that much. Madison maintains a minimum metro feel, yet offers all the amenities of a growing urban area. During past visits, I’ve spent time downtown—including inside the capitol, restaurants and art museums—and toured the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and more.
Another way to follow Wingra Creek, via paddleboarding.
Oh, the loveliness of sunset lighting when photographing a flowering milkweed.
A single wildflower stalk rises along the creek bank.
On a visit in early July, because of the global pandemic, I confined my activities to a stop at a frozen custard shop and to walking. One evening I grabbed my camera to follow a section of the Wingra Creek Path near my daughter and son-in-law’s home. The golden hour of sunset presented ideal soft-glow lighting for photos.
A flowering milkweed.
Flowers flourish along the grassy creek bank.
A patch of bee balm.
While the rest of the family walked ahead, I lagged, stopping to photograph the many wildflowers that grow along the banks of Wingra Creek.
I’ve learned to be vigilant while using Madison’s recreational trails due to the high volume of bikers. Because of a hearing loss, I often don’t hear them approaching from behind. And most speed by.
Occasionally a biker zipped by at a rate of speed which caused me concern. I recognized quickly that I needed to pay attention to activity around me and not get too lost in photographing this beautiful place.
Flowers, grass, trees, water, sky…
Berries on a bush along the trail.
Had I not known I was in the middle of a city, I would have thought myself in the countryside.
Looking down Wingra Creek from a foot bridge linking to a park. The trail is to the left.
The tiniest of flowers I photographed.
The first wildflower photo I took on this walk and among my favorite for the perspective.
The water. The flowers. The lack of city noises. All define this recreational trail as a place to embrace nature.
A trailside reminder that we’re still in a global pandemic.
Dog walkers. Bikers. Families out for an evening stroll. Joggers. Us. Everyone simply enjoying time outdoors with subtle reminders that we remain in a world-wide health crisis. A sign reminding trail users to social distance. A discarded face mask littering the side of the pathway.
The trail passes through this tunnel.
But for a short while we mostly forgot all about the tunnel of COVID-19.
Paddling in Wingra Creek.
When we retraced our path and crossed a footbridge back to my daughter’s street, I almost missed the paddleboarder gliding under the bridge, so quiet was she. As I watched, I admired her skills.
Light filters softness into my floral photos.
And I thought, how peaceful this moment in the golden hour of a July sunset.
Closing in on downtown, only blocks from Central Avenue, at the end of the car cruise route.
AS I WATCHED AND PHOTOGRAPHED the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night, I considered not only the stories I would tell with my photos, but the stories of those participating in this monthly summer event.
What’s the story behind the TOOTIE license plate on this Ford Fairlane?
And where was this young boy riding prior to the cruise?
What stories have been written, and shared, in this 1956 Chevy station wagon?
What prompted them to join the cruise? What would they see? How would they feel? What memories would they take away from this leisurely Friday evening drive around Faribault area lakes and back into town? Will they, years from now, talk about the summer of 2020 and how, even in the midst of a global pandemic, they went on a car cruise?
What’s the story behind this vintage Pontiac owned by Sharon and Tom?
The back of that beautiful Pontiac.
Life is one long story. With many chapters. And editing along the way. Sometimes by us, sometimes by those who think they can edit our lives or rewrite our stories. They can’t. They are not us. Our stories are ours.
What leads someone to own a vintage car like this Buick Electra?
What prompts someone to get all creative and build a rat rod?
What’s the full story behind this tattoo?
Where did the owners find this vintage Chrysler convertible and what’s its history?
And on summer evenings in to early autumn, one of those local once-a-month activities is Faribault Car Cruise Night. It brings together the past and the present. Links vintage vehicles and new. Seniors and kids. Car collectors and, new this year, Harley riders.
What’s the story behind the ATV?
Wonder what stories this Pontiac GTO convertible could tell?
So many American stories in the making during the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night.
Switched from a Central Avenue-based park-and-look event, this actual driving cruise has added a new dimension in the making of this American story. I wonder about the stories. Those already written. And those being written.
This concludes my three-part photo series on the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night.
WHEN I PHOTOGRAPH car shows, I find myself drawn to red vehicles.
A hot rod.
For one, the color red pops in photos.
But, I’m also wondering if red cars are more common? Is that why, when I scroll through frames from the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night, that I notice lots of red vehicles in my photos.
Mid-60s Chevy pick-up truck.
Even red Harley Davidson motorcycles. Bikes ended the parade.
When I think of a red vehicle, I think of speed. And being a bit show-offy.
Mid 1960s Ford Mustang.
I think of youth. Although that’s not necessarily accurate. How many guys have purchased red cars during the stereotypical mid-life crisis? Maybe you don’t want to answer that question. Red, I suppose, looks good on anyone, no matter their age.
Camaro Super Sport.
Red seems an attention-grabbing hue. A good color choice for on-the-road visibility.
Whether a vehicle is fire-engine red or a shade muting more to maroon, the undertones will always catch my eye. There’s just something about red…
TELL ME: Have you ever owned, or do you own, a red vehicle or shade thereof? What’s your color preference in a vehicle? And why?