Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota evening in May: A photo essay May 16, 2019

 

A QUEST FOR ESCAPE, for peace, for a closeness with nature took me to Shager Park and the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail along Cannon Lake near Faribault Tuesday evening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the golden hour just before sunset, I walked the trail, stopping often to photograph my surroundings before landing on a dock overlooking the lake.

 

 

These are my photos—images which capture the essence of May in southern Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

Experience the motion of peace.

 

 

See the beauty.

 

 

Embrace nature.

 

 

And find herein the reason spring in the Bold North so delights those of us who live here.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A trailside mystery in Dundas May 7, 2019

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The foreground tree to the right of the path marks the location of the mysterious discovery.

 

A WALK ALONG A RECREATIONAL trail in Dundas on Sunday afternoon yielded a magical discovery at the base of a tree.

 

 

I don’t generally glance downward when searching for photo ops. But this day I did and noticed a small toy white horse.

 

 

I don’t know the story of who placed the horse here or why. Sometimes mysteries are better left unsolved.

I reacted by embracing this enchanting discovery, of letting my imagination imagine, of accepting the joy this brought to me on a day when I needed joy.

 

TELL ME: If you have any ideas on this mystery, please share.

© 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

 

The mystery box along the Cannon River April 12, 2017

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I MISSED THE BIG MOMENT by just minutes.

From the highway, I observed a group of people clustered along a recreational trail by the Cannon River in Cannon Falls. I had no clue what they were doing there on such a cold winter afternoon. But then, as our van drew closer, I saw the oversized box and a bouquet of pink balloons. My initial reaction to pink anything in public is related to breast cancer. Perhaps they were honoring a loved one.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Any guesses?

 

 

By the time my husband swung the van into a parking lot and I exited, the balloons were already tucked inside the major-appliance-sized cardboard box. I’d missed the prime photo opp.

Still, I needed to learn the story behind the riverside gathering.

 

 

Turns out…ready for this? The group was there for a gender reveal party as in “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The obvious answer given the pink balloons is girl. I congratulated the father-to-be as he climbed a stairway from the river to parking lot. Noticing grey tinging his hair, I asked, “Your first?” I’m nosy curious like that.

“My fourth, her first,” he answered.

What a joyous moment for the family and even strangers like me. A baby is always cause to celebrate.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on gender reveal events/parties? Have you attended one? If yes, let’s hear details.

© Copyright 2017 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.

 

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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

 

History, mystery & more along the Straight River November 30, 2016

trail-1-deer-hunt-sign

 

THERE WOULD BE NO HIKING in the River Bend Nature Center as the sun shifted toward dusk on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The sign, “CAUTION DEER HUNT IN PROGRESS,” caused Randy to step on the brakes, back up the car and exit the entry road. “I don’t think I want to be in the woods this time of day,” he said, explaining that hunters prefer to hunt at dusk and dawn. I wasn’t about to disagree with him.

 

trail-3-limestone-buildings-up-close

 

So off we drove to find another trail, parking on a dead end street near the Straight River Trail in the northern section of Faribault. Our entry point started near an aged limestone building. We wondered aloud about the history of the structure so in need of repair.

 

trail-4-side-of-limestone-building-with-barrels

 

I would later learn from Jeff Jarvis, local historian and community enrichment coordinator for the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, that the building was constructed from local limestone in 1903 as the Faribault Gas and Electric Company. Electricity was transmitted by wire from the Cannon Falls hydroelectric facility to the Faribault plant and offered to Faribault customers, he said.

 

trail-10-pallets-stacked-by-limestone-building

 

I knew none of this as I studied the historic structure, noting the blocked window openings, the crumbling limestone, the detailed workmanship, the piled pallets, the empty barrels. Melancholy seeped into my thoughts. I’m always dismayed when buildings like this, an important part of local history, succumb to weather and near abandonment.

After snapping photos, I continued along the paved trail, stepping aside as a biker whizzed by. In the distance a trio of walkers approached, one gripping a dog. I am often wary of meeting canines. But this service dog posed no threat.

 

trail-8-tire-by-river

 

Eventually, Randy and I veered from the paved path to a dirt trail leading to the Straight River. A massive fallen tree blocked us from reaching the river bank. We could only surmise that September flooding or past floods uprooted the many fallen trees in this flood plain.

 

trail-9-single-leaf-on-tree

 

I noticed a tire on a sandbar, a man in a blue jacket walking his dog on the other side of the river, a single leaf clinging to a twig.

 

trail-12-limestone-wall-and-limestone-building

 

trail-22-posts-in-woods

 

trail-13-padlock-on-pipe

 

Pink edged into the day, the light softening. Ideal for photography. We hiked back to the paved path, back toward the aged limestone building and then down once again toward the river along a rock hard trail. Clusters of pipes pocked the woods. We wondered about those and the padlocks fastened to some. A mystery.

 

trail-17-dirt-bike-in-woods

 

trail-19-dirt-bike-spinning-wheels

 

Soon the earth softened to river sand as the trail twisted. A buzz of noise cut through the silence, headlights flashing through the woods as an ATV approached, followed by a dirt bike. We stepped aside, allowing the vehicles to skirt us. And we wondered whether they should be there, near the river. Probably not.

 

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We ended our outing at Two Rivers Park, the convergence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers. Men fished. On a nearby path, another man pedaled a three-wheeler, his wheelchair strapped to the back. A woman walked her dog. And I paused on a bridge to photograph the Faribault Woolen Mill and the golden sky.

 

trail-41-duck-swimming-in-cannon-river

 

And then, after crossing under Second Avenue via a recreational trail, I photographed a duck rippling water and light in the Cannon River. Lovely in the gloaming of this November day.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling