IN MY MESS OF FLOWERBEDS, which are anything but orderly, random milkweeds grow. Some sprouted in the lawn. Others simply popped up among the phlox and ferns and iris and greenery, seeds blown by the wind, dropping to the ground, rising now toward the sun.
Back in the days of my youth, I would have yanked these milkweeds from the soil under the direction of my farmer father. Remove those weeds from the corn and soybean fields. I know better now. Milkweed plants are essential to the monarch butterfly.
The milkweed is the host plant for the monarch. They lay eggs on the leaves, the larvae then feeding on those leaves.
Without milkweeds, the monarch would become extinct.
I appreciate the value of this plant in the natural cycle, in sustaining the monarch butterfly population. This is but one example of how we are all intertwined. Every creature. One dependent on the other.
I marvel at this intricate world God created. I love to watch a monarch butterfly flit through the air, settle on a blossom, drink its fill of nectar, then rise and fly. Delicate, yet sturdy. Dependent on milkweed and other flowers, yet free.
What a lovely and beautiful sight in a world where beauty is too often missed in the busyness of life, among all the weeds.
I usually carry my camera while at River Bend. That causes me to really notice my surroundings. This most recent visit, I spotted an abundance of wildflowers. From woods to prairie, flowers thrive in the summer heat.
A plaque on a bench reminds hikers to take time to smell the flowers, although I didn’t dip my nose into any blossoms. Rather, I appreciated the simple beauty of color splashed in the otherwise green woods.
Even the greenery holds visual appeal in the rolling droop of grass, the lace of maple leaves, the woods that hug trails.
Messages on pavers at Honor Point, overlooking the Straight River, inspire. Be still. Pause. Appreciate.
There’s something to be said for being still. Simply being. Listening. Connecting to the earth. Perhaps remembering how you felt as a child, exploring.
In my youth, I “lived” outdoors, coming indoors only to eat and to sleep. With my siblings, we built forts in the grove, rode our bikes along dirt trails, hid in prairie grasses higher than us.
I took time. Time to play in nature. To become part of it. To imagine. When I hike at River Bend, I reclaim that childhood joy.
I savor the moments. The sights. The tastes. The scents. The sounds. All that which defines the natural world.
WARNING: Stay away from this plant, wild parsnip. It looks a lot like dill and is growing alongside trails. Wild parsnip will burn your skin. Do NOT touch it.
PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photo rich posts from my recent visit to River Bend. Next, I’ll take you into the prairie.
I appreciate the more than 1,500 views of that May 6 post. But I don’t appreciate some of the comments that followed. Let me explain.
Initially, comments on my story about graffiti along the Teepee Tonka Trail leading into River Bend Nature Center, specifically inside an historic tunnel and on a footbridge over the Straight River, came from regular Minnesota Prairie Roots readers. They have no connection to my community. But I have an already established relationship with those readers, who comment often. So I approved their comments. Yes, I moderate replies to my posts.
PUSHING PAUSE ON COMMENTS
When comments began rolling in from those who followed the Facebook link, I pushed pause. I didn’t like much of what I was reading. The first comment, in fact, was threatening. I won’t give voice to those words here. But suffice to say that I felt uncomfortable with the message written by this anonymous individual.
Other writers used derogatory words to describe Faribault and the individuals creating graffiti. I may not like what these taggers are doing, but I also don’t like name-calling.
And I don’t like the negativity that all too often prevails about Faribault. Yes, people are entitled to their opinions. But it does no good to continually criticize. Every single community faces issues. Amplifying the negative rather than working toward improvement and resolution only perpetuates problems, or perceived problems.
THE POSITIVES OF FARIBAULT
Faribault is a place of incredible natural beauty from our many parks to the two rivers that run through to, yes, even that trail tracing to the tagged tunnel.
Faribault is a place where history matters, as evidenced in our downtown historic district, historic homes scattered throughout the city, aged churches, Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, Buckham Memorial Library and many more buildings. Even our viaduct. And the Central Park Bandshell. And the historic Faribault Woolen Mill. And, yes, even the 1937 Teepee Tonka Tunnel, hand dug by Works Progress Administration workers as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony.
Faribault is a place of diversity. I welcome our immigrants, who often fled horrendous situations in their native countries. I value opportunities to learn more about their cultures and have always appreciated the work of The Faribault Diversity Coalition.
Faribault is a place of family and community connections. Although I am not rooted here by birth or upbringing, I see generations of families who have called Faribault home. And I wonder sometimes if that’s partially why negativity rises. Sometimes it takes leaving a place, and then returning, to appreciate its good qualities.
Faribault is a place of art. From the many downtown murals to the Tiffany stained glass windows in some historic buildings, to the Paradise Center for the Arts and more, we are a community filled with art and creatives. And, yes, that includes the graffiti artists. When I viewed their art, I couldn’t help but appreciate their talent. Not the content (especially the profanity) or the location of their art, but their skills as artists. If only their art could be channeled into something positive. Yes, perhaps that is a Pollyanna perspective.
Some who commented on my initial blog post called for painting over the tunnel graffiti and one (a professional painter) offered to take on that task. That seems a good start, or restart as it’s been done before. Of course, that requires time, money (perhaps via a Community Pride Grant from the Faribault Foundation), effort and tenacity. But, as one individual commented, “This town could use a lot of TLC everywhere.” I don’t disagree.
It’s up to each of us to make that happen. To care. To act. To love. To go beyond words typed on a keyboard.
Note: I moderate all comments on my blog. Because this is my personal blog, I decide whether or not to publish comments.
While River Bend lies a long ways from McCloskey’s Boston Public Gardens pond setting, the universal appeal of ducklings spans the miles between Massachusetts and Minnesota.
Whether in a city, rural area or nature center, downy babies in the care of their parents create, at least for me, a sense that all is well in the world. That no matter the worldwide challenges—especially during a pandemic—no matter the community and personal challenges, the cycle of life continues.
Every spring I make way for ducklings and goslings, celebrating their arrival by documenting their arrival. With my camera. But even more, by framing them in my memory during this season of spring.
Even trees were tagged with paint. That’s a first.
On the footbridge which spans the Straight River, I found the most disturbing of accusations—J**** killed my mother. That shifted my already on-alert mode to what the h*** is going on in these woods? I read derogatory comments about Faribault. And I thought, why do those who hate this community so much stay here?
I tried to overlook all that awful graffiti, but it was just too much to dismiss. I wouldn’t bring a child here, not one who can read anyway.
Yet, there’s much to see and appreciate here, if you look beyond the tagging, the offensive messages. Nature and history intertwine, leaving me with more questions than answers.
A lengthy stairway climbs a hillside. Slabs of limestone and chunks of concrete—perhaps foundations of long ago buildings—cling to steep banks.
And then there’s the tunnel. The 442-foot-long tunnel, which I refused to enter. One look at the graffiti at the entry, especially the rat art, and I knew, no way, would I walk through that former root cellar. So I photographed that space, editing out the obscenities (which proved nearly impossible).
And I photographed the sign above, which summarizes the history of this 1937 Works Progress Administration project. Workers hand dug the tunnel with picks, hauling the dirt and rocks away with wheelbarrows. Once complete, the tunnel served as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony (later known as The Faribault State School and Hospital). The Teepee Tonka Tunnel once held 25-30 carloads of vegetables to feed the 2,300 residents and 350 employees. Most of those potatoes, carrots, beets, onions and cabbage were grown on the school farm.
Now the history, the hard work, the humanity were dishonored by those who use this as a canvas for words and art that shouldn’t be here.
All of this saddened me as I retraced my steps, watched as a young man walked along the railroad tracks, backpack strapped on, county music blaring. This should be a place of peace. Not only noise-wise, but also mentally. I pictured picnic tables near a footbridge devoid of menacing messages. I pictured a beautiful natural setting where I could bring my grandchildren. But, in reality, I understood that those tables would only be defaced, maybe even burned.
This could be so much. A respite. Water and woods converging. River flowing with history. Images of men hard at work tunneling into a 60-foot high hill. I could envision all of that…the possibilities beyond that which I’d seen.
DAYLIGHT WANED AS RANDY and I entered the woods at River Bend Nature Center by the parking lot near the entrance. We haven’t walked this area in a while and were surprised to find the woods littered with fallen trees and limbs. Not just a few, but lots. I expect the powerful winds during a September 2018 tornado in Faribault caused the damage.
As we hiked, the shrill trill of frogs in the nearby wetlands reverberated. I’m always amazed by this spring time opera/mating ritual.
A ways into the woods, the dirt path bent right, with another forking to a prairie outlook. We continued on the chosen trail until I noticed a copse of lean trees I wanted to photograph. “I’m surprised we don’t see any deer,” I said, stepping across dried grass and branches to find an open space through which to aim my camera lens.
I snapped a few frames before Randy noticed a lone deer. The deer obviously saw us, too, as it emerged from behind the treeline and leaped through the tall prairie grasses.
We continued down the trail, now on the other side of the horseshoe shaped route that connects with the main path into this section of River Bend. Once on the arterial trail, we walked a short distance before turning right toward the swampland. The overwhelming chorus of thousands of frogs increased in volume to the point of almost hurting my ears.
Underneath, the ground felt spongy. Occasionally I paused to photograph something. A lone bird atop a bare tree. Tall grasses silhouetted against an evening sky shifting toward darkness. I wished we’d arrived a half hour earlier for optimal lighting during a photographer’s golden hour.
But sometimes it’s good for me to simply walk and take in my surroundings. To appreciate the natural world with my God-given eyes rather than through the eye of a camera. To be in the moment. To hear the soprano of frogs singing spring songs in southern Minnesota in early April.
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.
NOVEMBER 2020, while a dreadfully awful month for COVID-19 in Minnesota, brought the gift of some lovely days. Weather-wise. Any November day without snow and with temps in the 40s or higher delights me. Warm, sunny, blue-sky, snow-less days in the 11th month mean a shorter winter.
On one of those above-average afternoons in early November, Randy and I headed across the viaduct to the east side of Faribault and River Bend Nature Center. It’s one of our favorite local spots to hike and immerse ourselves in the peace, solitude and beauty of the outdoors.
This marked the busiest we’d ever seen River Bend outside of a scheduled event. Yet, despite the high number of parked vehicles, we didn’t encounter all that many people in the nearly 750-acre nature center. Exactly what we had hoped.
Any visit here always finds me with camera slung over my shoulder or around my neck. Even in the mostly grey and muted browns of November, I can still find something to photograph. Each season presents a unique perspective of nature when focused through a viewfinder. I love that about photography, how it invites me to notice the details in my surroundings.
And so we walked along paved paths into the woods. Occasionally I paused to document a discovery with my camera. Whatever caught my eye or interest. Or whatever Randy noticed and thought I may want to capture. I appreciate his awareness of our surroundings, too, and how he values my interest in photography.
At an overlook above the Straight River, near the Trout Lily Trail and near fossils imprinted in stone, I stopped to photograph pavers that speak to others’ love of this place.
Later I would find a bench marker noting the same.
There’s so much to love about River Bend from the woods to the prairie, from the river bottom to the waterfall.
Mostly, I simply enjoy being here, immersed in the quiet, in the details of earth and sky. Taking in the trees, now barren of leaves, except for the stubborn oak. Wrinkled berries still clinging to branches.
And, out of the woods, I observed a muskrat swimming in the pond not yet iced over.
This unseasonably warm November day proved uplifting, reminding me that even in a month when COVID-19 raged in Minnesota, places to find peace remain. Enduring. A bit of bright hope in an otherwise typically grey and dreary month.
NOTHING BRINGS ME more joy than time with my grandchildren, Isabelle, 4 ½ and Isaac, 21 months. This past weekend they spent all of Saturday with us, overnight into early Sunday evening so their parents could have some much-needed time alone. Randy and I love having the kids. They are easy-going, fun and just plain happy.
At their young ages, the siblings are content doing most anything from coloring to “helping” make apple crisp. This visit, Izzy headed straight for her Uncle Caleb’s Brio train set. And Isaac, besides pushing any toy with wheels, loved putting together puzzles. The same ones, over and over. (We think he’s pretty smart.) And this visit, Grandpa’s vinyls spinning on the record player also fascinated him.
But, for me, it was our time outdoors that proved most engaging and memorable. We took the kids to River Bend Nature Center on Saturday afternoon, arriving to a parking lot filled with vehicles, including several school buses. Unbeknownst to us, a cross country meet was taking place. We stayed as far away from that busyness as possible, although a cluster of several teens out for a practice run in the woods veered way too close for comfort. That aside, it was a mostly solo walk for the four of us.
We started out with Isaac in the stroller given the distance we planned to walk. Part way in, we let him walk, or shall I say, run. Even with legs much longer than his, Randy and I struggled to keep up with our grandson. Occasionally he would stop, though, to examine a leaf or pick up a stick.
That’s the part I appreciate about being with little kids. You see the world through their eyes, at their level, from their inquisitive perspective. And that’s refreshing. There are many stop and smell the roses moments.
We experienced those at River Bend and again on Sunday when we looped our way around the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus. Izzy zoomed ahead of us on her scooter. And Isaac likewise moved as fast as his legs could carry him. Fast enough for these grandparents.
Occasionally the kids paused to gather pine cones, colorful leaves and berries or to pick petunias (shhh) from a flowerbed. I bagged their nature finds for them to take home.
I hope we are instilling in them an appreciation for the outdoors and for nature. But, more than that, I hope they will remember these times with us—the minutes and hours and days together. Connecting, sharing, learning and loving each other as only grandparents and their grandchildren can. What a joy. What a blessing.
IN EVERY WALK with nature one receives far more than he seeks—John Muir.
Those words, imprinted upon a memorial plaque at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, hold a depth of meaning worth pondering. To think that every walk outdoors gives us more than we expect, or search out, seems valid. Especially now, during COVID-19, when many of us are rediscovering the beauty and healing power of the natural world.
Are you among the many embracing the outdoors with renewed enthusiasm and appreciation? I certainly am.
Whether walking at a local park or hiking through a nature center or following a city street or driving along a back country road or even traveling along a busy interstate, I feel a heightened sense of gratitude for the sky, the trees, the land, all that surrounds me.
And as autumn presses on toward winter, I also feel an urgency to get outside. On foot before ice and snow pack trails and I feel less secure in my footing. Maybe this will be the winter I buy metal grippers that clamp onto my boots. Maybe this will be the winter I reclaim my youthful enthusiasm for the season.
Many days I long to get away. Away from traffic and noise and busyness and people to the quiet of woods, the silence of the prairie, the peace that nature offers.
There’s so much turmoil now. Too much hatred. Too much dissent and too much untruth and too much of everything that’s mean and unkind and disrespectful of others. I yearn for a world where we all hold genuine compassion and care for one another.
I’ve never, in my sixty-plus decades on this earth, witnessed such chaos, discord, selfishness…
I have within me the power to act with decency, with empathy, with understanding. With kindness.
To settle my mind into a frame of peacefulness, I embrace prayer and nature. To do so is to receive more than I seek.
I don’t expect the contents of that chapter to surprise me. Whether walking in the woods or through a city park, we can benefit from simply being in nature. To feel the warmth of sunshine, to hear the rush of wind through trees, to watch water tumble over rocks, to smell the scent of autumn…all calm the spirit, restore peace, and lift moods. What a gift.
TELL ME: Are you rediscovering nature during COVID-19? If so, in what ways has this helped you deal with the pandemic? What’s your favorite nature spot?