Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota weather talk about this non-spring of 2022 April 28, 2022

At the confluence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers in Faribault, the landscape appears more autumn than spring-like. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

MINNESOTANS LOVE to talk weather. And for good reason. Weather shapes our lives—what we do on any given day, how we feel, where we go…

At the April 23 Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, moody grey skies clouded the day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

And right now, when we should be in the throes of spring, we Minnesotans feel like we’re stuck in winter. It’s been an unseasonably cold and rainy April that has truly dampened spirits. We want, OK, need, sunshine and warmth after too many months of winter. That said, I really shouldn’t complain. Up North, snow still layers the ground and ice 20 inches thick freezes some lakes.

Treetops riverside against a grey sky in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Autumns leaves remain, not yet replaced by spring growth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Devoid of color, the dock and river at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Yet, no matter where you live in Minnesota, day after day after day of grey skies coupled with low temps in the 20s and 30s takes a psychological toll. I should be wearing a spring jacket rather than a winter coat. My tulips should be blooming. Heck, the dandelions should be pushing through neighbors’ lawns. Trees should be budding green.

I spotted clam shells among dried leaves in the river bottom at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Instead, the overall landscape appears, well, pretty darned drab.

Canadian geese swim where the Straight and Cannon Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

But, last Saturday we experienced a one-day reprieve of unseasonable warmth with the temp soaring to nearly 80 degrees. Typical high this time of year is around 60 degrees. It was a get-outside day. Don’t-waste-a-moment-indoors day. So Randy and I didn’t. We attended the Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, enjoyed craft beer at Chapel Brewing along the banks of the Cannon River in Dundas, walked a section of the Straight River Trail in Faribault and later followed part of the trail along the Cannon in North Alexander Park. Strong winds factored into every facet of our time outdoors, though.

An angler makes his way toward the Cannon River in shirt-sleeve weather on April 23. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

But, oh, how glorious to walk in warmth.

I zoomed in on this fungi high in a tree along the recreational trail in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

This feeling of remaining stuck in perpetual winter will end. I need to remind myself of that…even as the forecast for more rain and unseasonably cold temps (highs in the 40s) prevails.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like where you live?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter walk along the Cannon in Faribault February 10, 2022

Randy follows the trail along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

BEFORE TUESDAY TEMPS ROSE to around 40 here in southern Minnesota, there was the cold. Brutal cold. Mornings of minus below zero. Strong winds making the outdoors feel even colder.

Late Sunday morning, when the temperature hovered in the 20s with a brisk wind, Randy and I followed the paved trail bordering the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite Faribault walking path.

River (left), tree and trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The river draws me here. I find waterways soothing, calming, quieting to the spirit, even when frozen.

I also appreciate how this particular path wends around trees and along the river. The curving trail invites a leisurely, poetic pace, a time for reflection, a time to slow down and delight in the natural world without distractions.

Little distracted us, except the trumpeting of two Trumpeter Swans gracefully flying high overhead as we exited the van to begin our walk. Absent were the usual crowds of waterfowl frequenting the river in Minnesota’s other seasons.

Biking the riverside trail on a fat tire bike. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

We encountered only one other person—a biker zooming on a fat tire bike.

A spot of color at the basketball court. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

It was the winter landscape which focused my attention. The whiteness of it all. The absence of color in a mostly grey and black-and-white world. Only the bold orange outlines on basketball rims and backboards jolted color into the scene. In the summer, young people cram these courts, dribbling and jumping and dunking and scoring points. Raucous play among youth, wonderful to witness.

A riverside picnic table remains, even in winter. In the background is the Faribault Woolen Mill, across the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

On this February morning, summer lingers in memories of those pick-up basketball games, riverside picnics and following this trail in flip flops under leafy canopies of green.

I find bared branches particularly beautiful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Today the branches bare themselves to winter. Naked, exposed, vulnerable.

Details in boot print, tire track and oak leaf. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I notice in the snow, next to the imprint of a boot and a bike tire track, a lone oak leaf. In any other season, I might miss this. But not now. Not in the depth of winter.

Finger drifts creep onto trail’s edge. In the distance to the right sits the Faribault Woolen Mill. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I notice, too, finger drifts along trail’s edge. Creeping. Stretching. Wind-blown fingers of snow that may be perceived as threatening. Or artsy. I choose artsy.

Randy heads back toward the van, along the riverside trail, the woolen mill in distant view across the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Across the river, I see the Faribault Woolen Mill, weaver of wool (and wool blend) blankets, throws, scarves and much more since 1865. The mill is widely-admired, respected for its quality products. Craftsmanship at its finest. As Randy and I retrace our steps, this time leaning into a strong wind, I would welcome a locally-woven wool scarf wrapped around my neck for warmth.

Soon we reach the van, climb inside the wind-sheltered space and head toward the park exit. It is then Randy spots a large bird overhead, following the river. An eagle, we determine, based on wing span, flight and river route. It’s too high for our aging eyes to fully verify identity. But we’ve seen eagles here before and that is enough. Enough to end our Sunday morning winter walk with the wonderment we always feel in watching this majestic bird tracing the Cannon River.

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TELL ME: If you live in a cold climate state, do you bundle up and head outdoors for recreational activities? Where do you go? What do you do?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of spring along the Cannon River in Faribault April 6, 2021

A budding tree against the backdrop of sunset.

OH, HOW GLORIOUS spring in Minnesota.

These past few days, especially, of sunshine and 70-degree temps have sprung spring. To see buds forming, to hear birdsong, to feel sun upon skin…oh, the joy.

On Saturday evening, as the sun set, Randy and I followed the asphalt trail that winds along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite place to walk. Uncrowded. Beautiful.

The trail follows the river, curving around trees.

I love the way the trail curves around trees.

The river draws waterfowl.

I love how the river draws my eyes to view reflections and to appreciate the ducks and geese which populate this waterway. The quacking of a lone mallard pulled me to river’s edge. I observed how the water trailed in a lengthy V as the duck paddled across the still surface. Poetry seen, not written.

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill, a subject I enjoy photographing any time of year.

Across the Cannon, the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill focused my eyes as it reflected in the river. And I thought of all the blankets woven here, the history of this place.

Water rushes over the Cannon River Dam by Father Slevin Park.

At the Cannon River Dam, aside the trail, I noticed how the dam walkway seemingly follows a straight line to the historic mill. Sometimes it’s about perspective, pausing to consider a place in a different way. I challenge myself, in my photography, to view my surroundings creatively. While I created, people fished, a popular activity along this stretch of the Cannon.

Looking down the Cannon, before it spills over the dam.

The river absorbed the pink tint of twilight. Soft. Muted. Another poem to photograph.

And if I’d had my zoom lens on my Canon EOS 20-D, I would also have photographed the two bald eagles following the river like a road map. I never tire of watching these majestic birds.

The top of this evergreen is lopped off, removed following a tornado several years ago.

As day edged closer to night, Randy and I retraced our route back to the van. A bit farther down the trail, teens packed basketball courts, their raucous voices rising.

Ballpark lights and a treeline contrast with the orange hue of sunset.

To the west, the sun glowed fiery orange like an exclamation mark ending a glorious spring day in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: A Sunday morning walk in the park July 27, 2020

Randy and I walked Sunday morning along a recreational trail in Faribault’s North Alexander Park. The path follows the Cannon River. That’s the Faribault Woolen Mill in the distance.

 

MID SUNDAY MORNING and I desire to get out of the house. For one reason. A mouse. After I went to bed Saturday evening, Randy spotted a mouse running across the living room. Have I told you yet that I am terrified of mice? I understand that my fear is irrational. But that does not change my feelings about rodents. I’ve had too many mouse encounters—in a bathroom in the dead of night while pregnant. Another with a mouse found floating dead in a crockpot. And a live mouse in a silverware drawer. Yes, I detest mice. I figured if we left the house, we would come home to find the elusive mouse caught in a trap. Snap. Dead. It didn’t happen.

 

The trail winds through a wooded part of the park. At the distant shelter, a group was setting up for a grad party.

 

But, hey, we had a nice time at North Alexander Park in Faribault, where we walked a recreational trail and I paused numerous times to take photos. It proved a welcome break from mouse brain. And also provided photos for this blog. Win-win.

 

Three growing ducklings in a row.

 

The watchful mama duck trails behind.

 

Overnight rainfall raised the water level of the Cannon River considerably, but not to flood stage.

 

As usual, ducks and geese populated this park and I found myself dodging droppings. For the first time ever, I also observed a couple throwing bread to the fowl. I thought to myself, please do not encourage them to wander away from the river and onto the pathways further into the park.

 

Typically, this playground is swarming with kids.

 

Randy and I saw a few other humans. Walking dogs. Setting up for a graduation party. A dad and his two kids on the playground.

 

 

 

 

And on a nearby tree, a beautiful woodpecker searching for bugs. (If only he could scout out mice.)

 

The empty softball diamond. Check back for some interesting signage photos.

 

Across the road, the softball diamonds were vacant. On a typical summer weekend, they would likely be busy with tournaments.

 

Looking through the fence at the Faribault Aquatic Center. No kids. No pool open this summer.

 

This sign made me laugh. Check the weather forecast before you head to the pool.

 

On this incredibly hot and humid July day, the pool remained closed due to COVID-19.

 

Likewise, just down the street, the Faribault Aquatic Center was also vacant, locked down due to COVID-19. I took a few photos and laughed at a sign inside the front entry that advised of no refunds in the event of lightning. It rained all night Saturday into early Sunday morning here in Faribault. Plenty of thunder and lightning.

 

 

 

 

Across the road at the Rice County Fairgrounds we found one final surprise—a horse show. Not yet underway, but in the process. I’ve always liked horses.

But mice? No. Not one bit…

 

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

 

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