PHOTOGRAPHING MINNESOTA COMMUNITIES remains a focal point of my photography. I love to document people, places and events with my camera.
My photos present visual stories. I suppose you could say I am both the writer and the editor. I choose what to photograph and how. I decide, in the moment, whether to show you a detailed up-close subject or whether to cover a broader area. Both are important in storytelling. I also decide the perspective from which I will photograph. Down low. Eye level. Or some other angle.
During a recent visit to Northfield, one of my favorite Minnesota communities about a 20-minute drive away, I had exactly 10 minutes to photograph before our food order was ready for pick up on the other side of town. I asked Randy to act as time-keeper. When I’m photographing, I lose all track of time, so engaged am I in the creative process.
We parked near Bridge Square, the heart of downtown Northfield and a community gathering spot. On this late January afternoon with the temp not quite 20 degrees and with COVID-19 reducing the number of visitors to this typically busy downtown, I observed only a few people out and about. Often finding a place to park proves challenging. Not so on this Saturday.
We walked toward Bridge Square, adjacent to the Cannon River. Turning the corner off Division Street, the wind sliced cold across my face. I knew that exposing my fingers to snap the shutter button of my camera would be numbing. My mittens, which open to finger-less gloves, help. I’d highly recommend these if you work a camera in a cold weather environment like Minnesota.
For the next 10 minutes, while Randy walked ahead of me—I always lag when I’m photographing—I concentrated on the half-block square area around me. The signs. The buildings. A woman and her dog. The river.
In this short segment of time, I composed a short story, or at least the beginning of one. With these minimal images, I show you history, nature, voices. A glimpse in to the heart and soul of Northfield. This brings me joy, this ability to follow my passion, to share with you these visual stories through my photography.
FOG TRANSFORMS THE LANDSCAPE, sometimes in to an unfamiliar place that leaves us feeling disoriented, lost. But other times, like last week here in Minnesota, fog layered trees with rime ice, creating an enchanting, almost magical world. Despite the grey that pressed heavy upon the land day after day.
Photographing a world covered in frozen fog droplets proved difficult for me. My camera cannot convey the beauty the human eye sees. Yet, I managed a few images that attempt to show the other worldly qualities of a rime ice shrouded landscape.
I find that in winter here in southern Minnesota, I must look harder to notice nature’s beauty. It’s there, but toned down, converted to black-and-white. Grey. Colorless. Yet present.
Still, I take fewer photos. Not only because I see less to document, but because the very act of exposing my fingers to the cold is uncomfortable. (I’m thankful for mittens that open to fingerless gloves, a thoughtful gift from Randy many years ago.)
I’m also cautious about icy surfaces, lest I fall and break another bone. A broken shoulder and wrist in recent years, one of which resulted in surgery, fuel that cautiousness.
And then there’s COVID, which has certainly affected my photographic opportunities. Still, if I determine to look closely at the world around me, decide that my fingers can handle brief cold exposure, I can continue to document, to create, to pursue my passion for photography.
This week brought sunshine to Minnesota, a welcome break from all that dreary grey. We, or at least I, needed it, if anything, as a symbol of hope during these truly difficult times in our country.
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 DEFINED 2020. No question about that. Yet, even as many aspects of life changed, we continued onward, facing the challenges. The isolation. The separation. The very real effect the virus had on humanity—in the hospitalizations and deaths of family, friends, neighbors…individuals who loved and were loved. In the loss of jobs, and that includes job loss for me. In the loss of life as we once experienced it.
Through it all, though, I’ve continued to write about and photograph the world around me for this blog. In a more limited way, for sure. In a way that stretched me and grew me and focused my eyes and my heart on the simpler things in life. My appreciation for nature, something as ordinary as a walk in the woods, took on new meaning. Outdoors marked one place I could feel safe, distanced from COVID-19. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally.
So, it comes as no surprise really that my year-in-review photo picks for 2020 theme mostly to nature images. I scrolled month-by-month through my posts, choosing one favorite photo per month. Each image represents more than a scene or moment captured through my camera lens. Each represents a story, a part of my life. An experience. A gift.
Early FEBRUARY brought eight inches of snow in a single storm. And since weather shapes our lives here in Minnesota, I picked a photo of my husband blowing snow from our driveway for my February photo. It’s the perspective of this frame, taken while holding my camera low and angling it up, that makes this image.
As the months passed, I soon realized this thing—this pandemic—would continue. In APRIL, my granddaughter celebrated her fourth birthday, not with friends at an indoor play space, but rather on the driveway watching as her little friends passed by in their parents’ vehicles. Horns honking. Little hands waving. Randy and I continued to frequent outdoor spaces like Faribault Energy Park. Although located next to noisy and busy Interstate 35, it is one of my favorite local parks for the gravel paths, the ponds, the waterfowl, the flowers, the prairie grasses and other plant life.
MAY. In Minnesota, this month represents the shifting of seasons, the greening of the land, the eruption of buds, the dawning of warmer days. By May, I crave color. Paula, a native Minnesotan living in Holland, surprised me with a shipment of tulip bulbs in a pot. What joy. The bulbs sprouted and stretched at a rapid rate until soon buds formed and then popped in vivid hues. What a gift from a fellow blogger whom I’ve never met but have grown to appreciate through her writing and photography. She is a kind soul, down-to-earth and genuine.
My focus on nature continued into JUNE as Randy and I explored area parks and our ever dear River Bend Nature Center. At Falls Creek County Park just outside Faribault, I was surprised to find the creek running clear, not all that common in this part of Minnesota. So I aimed my camera downward to the creek bottom, capturing my June photo pick. There’s something about water…
In this year 2020, so much has shifted. My photos represent that change. Yet one thing remains constant—my love for writing and for photography. Thank you for reading Minnesota Prairie Roots, for appreciating the work I do here as I follow my passions.
Please check back for my year-in-review photo picks from July-December 2020.And, if you’re so inclined, please tell me what you most enjoy reading and seeing here on Minnesota Prairie Roots.
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.
Put me in a location, like the Atwood Neighborhood on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin, and I will focus on the nuances. The seemingly little things that, when connected, define this as a neighborhood rooted in art, in the outdoors, in a genuine care for one another.
This is one busy bike path, frequented by all ages.
All of this I surmised simply by walking along Atwood area residential streets and past businesses and by following the Capital City State Trail for several blocks.
Flowers, oh, so many flowers…
My post today takes you back to the bike path, to those details that caused me to pause with my camera as bikers zipped past me. To photograph the flowers.
An artsy sign in the community garden.
Madison’s capitol is depicted in this manhole cover art.
And the signs—always the signs, the aged brick buildings and, yes, even the manhole covers.
A little seasonal fun added to the Atwood Community Gardens.
And resident garden skeleton.
Cow art by the Goodman Community Center and right next to the bike trail.
What I observed pleases me as a creative, as an appreciator of aged architecture, as a nature lover and as a human being who values respect for others.
Colorful flowers thrive, including this zinnia.
The natural beauty of the Atwood Neighborhood appeals to me.
Spotted in a window of a residence along the bike trail.
The spirit of the Atwood Neighborhood appeals to me, too. With its earthiness. Its embracing of differences. Its sense of neighborhood pride. Its art. I feel comfortable here. Welcome. And that, my friends, is more important than ever in these times of upheaval, discontent, frustration and disconnect.
Note: Like anywhere, no place is utopia, and that includes the East Side of Madison. While visiting my son, who lives in the Atwood Neighborhood, I learned of a recent daytime “shots fired” along his street. He didn’t tell me about this, of course, not wanting to worry his mom. There have been other similar incidents. Does this concern me? Yes. But then I think of my neighborhood in Faribault, considered small town to many, but not to me. In the 36 years I’ve lived here, my section of town has seen violence also. In 1999, a young man was stabbed to death within blocks of my home. We’ve also experienced drive-by shootings only blocks away. Not recently. No matter where you live, no place is fully safe. But, of one thing I am certain. We each have within us the capacity to shine lights of hope in our neighborhoods, to be decent and kind and caring.
Please check back soon for more posts from this section of Madison, Wisconsin.
My son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11. He was a third grader in a Christian school and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. The date is forever seared into our memories as the day terrorists targeted the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a jetliner flying over Pennsylvania. When those planes crashed. When those towers fell. When fires raged. When thousands died, we grieved. Individually. And collectively as a nation.
On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumni, Ann Nelson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.
Yet, as a Minnesotan nearly 1,200 miles removed from New York City and D.C. and Pennsylvania, I did not experience the same depth of fear and grief as others much nearer to the target sites or with loved ones lost.
I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Sure, I remember where I was—at home with my kindergarten age son and another boy in my care. I remember how the boys stacked wooden toy blocks and then crashed toy airplanes into the two towers, copying the scenes played and replayed on television because I could not bring myself to shut off the TV.
I recall, too, the eeriness, the feelings of uncertainty and worry and disbelief.
The Faribault firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on their memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
But none of this, none of this second-hand experience, compares to those who lived it and saw it. Like NYC photographer Keith Goldstein, a gifted creative whose work I follow on his blog, Far Earth Below. Keith excels in portrait photography. On the street, not the studio. Real. Everyday life. Raw and emotional and difficult sometimes to view. But honest in every way.
Keith was there on 9/11. He saw the devastation, destruction, death as he headed from his East Village home toward the towers. He found himself unable to photograph the horror unfolding before him. But several years later, as construction began on the Freedom Tower, he lifted his camera to undertake a project, “Looking On, Watching the Building of the Freedom Tower.”
The photos of people watching construction of the tower are signature Keith Goldstein. Honest. Emotional. Real. Every time I view Keith’s work, I wonder how he does it. How does he manage these focused, powerful images without his subjects noticing his presence? It’s a gift, a talent honed from years of experience.
I invite you also to continue following Keith’s photo blog. I appreciate how his images show me a world far removed from my Minnesota home. A world much different. Yet, a world I need to see because, even though my life and world are much different than his, we still live in this place called America.
Keith is as kind and decent and caring as they come. We’ve communicated occasionally via email, so I know this to be true. Several years ago he gifted me with a colorful print on aluminum of an immigrant vending t-shirts. My choice of photos. Choosing an image proved challenging. But I wanted a portrait. Signature Keith.
As different as we are, we are connected by our love of photography. And by our desire to share the world we view through our cameras.
ON A SULTRY SUNDAY SUMMER AFTERNOON of oppressive heat and humidity, I needed to get out of the house. Away. Into the country. On a drive. It was too hot to walk, to do anything outside of air conditioning.
Steady rain the night before kept the dust down on gravel roads we drove.
Following back county and township roads in and around Faribault, Randy and I got the rural fix we needed. For me, the crunch of gravel upon tires and the washboard vibration of a road in need of grading.
The corn crop around here looks good.
I needed, too, to see cornfields stretching across the land, tassels flagging fields. My heart aches at the sight, for the missing of living in the country. Memories still root me there.
And then I spotted a barn flashing bold red into the landscape on the edge of Warsaw. I’ve long admired that well-kept barn.
Weaving through Warsaw, Randy reminisced about living there decades ago as we passed his former rental place. At the Channel Inn in Warsaw, we paused only long enough for a photo of the vintage signage.
Without my telephoto lens on my camera, I couldn’t get a good shot of these turkeys. But you can make out two along the treeline and one by the field. The rest went the other direction.
And then we followed more gravel roads, routes not previously taken, but which revealed a PIG HOTEL sign on a house. I missed that photo op, but I promise to return. I almost missed the wild turkeys edging the woods.
A bit further, I saw the cutest little brick barn. Solid. As good as new. Beautifully poetic in its construction.
Past a gravel pit and an unknown lake and farm sites set among fields on rolling land, we aimed back toward town. Past Ableman’s Apple Creek Orchard, a favorite, and a roadside sign reminding us that we are not alone. Ever.