Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hints of spring at Two Rivers March 10, 2022

A wide view of the frozen Cannon River and dam adjacent to the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE SHIFT IN SEASONS seems subtle. But it’s there. In the lengthening of days. In brilliant sunshine that cuts through snowbanks, streams of water flowing and puddling. Iced rivers, too, are beginning to thaw.

Signage marks this park just off Second Avenue on Faribault’s north side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On a recent stop at Two Rivers Park followed by a hike along the Straight River Trail in Faribault, I witnessed the evolving transition from winter toward spring.

Fishing where the Cannon and Straight Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

At the convergence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers, an angler fishes in the open water. His orange stocking cap covered by his hooded sweatshirt layered beneath black coveralls jolt color into an otherwise muted landscape. Randy and I watch as he reels in a large fish, then unhooks and plops it onto the snow. A northern, Randy guesses. We watch for awhile, content to see the river flow, sun glinting upon the surface.

The beautiful open Cannon River at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We make our way back to the parking lot, after I pause to photograph the mostly open river sweeping between snowy woods. There’s sometime serene about such a scene. Peaceful, even as traffic drones by on nearby Second Avenue.

Pedestrian bridge over the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On the trail, we cross bridges constructed of uneven angled boards that always trip me. I pause to peer into the river.

Ice rings a pedestrian bridge support post in the otherwise open river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Birdsong, a sure auditory sign of spring’s approach, resounds as I lean over the bridge railing to see the open water below. Both hint of winter’s retreat.

Animal tracks remind me of tic-tac-toe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Far below I observe animal tracks crossing the snow in a tic-tac-toe pattern leading to water’s icy edge.

Following the Straight River Trail alongside the former vegetable canning company. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Curving along the path near the former Faribault Foods canning company, stationary boxcars sidle against the building.

Boxcar graffiti. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Graffiti colors the boxcar canvases.

Biking the Straight River Trail in March. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We walk for awhile, then retrace our steps. Randy warns of an approaching cyclist and we step to the right of the trail in single file. “Hi, Randy,” the guy on the fat tire bike shouts as he zooms past. We look at each other. His identity remains a mystery.

The scenic Cannon River snakes toward the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Back on the bridges, I pause again to view the Cannon River snaking across the landscape like a pencil path following a maze. More photographs.

Randy follows the tunnel under Second Avenue toward North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Before heading home, we divert briefly toward North Alexander Park, taking the tunnel under the Second Avenue bridge where, on the other side, the scene opens wide to the frozen, snow-layered river. In warm weather, anglers fish here, below the dam in open water.

Picnic shelter at Father Slevin Park by the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Now the place is mostly vacant, just like the riverside picnic shelter.

Shadowing of the trailside fence outside the tunnel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

By now we are cold, ready to conclude our afternoon jaunt. As I stride downhill toward the tunnel, I notice shadows of fence slats spaced upon the concrete. Art to my eyes. I stop, photograph the fence and fence shadows as they arc. Even in this moment, I see signs of spring along the river, beneath the blue sky.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating Faribault’s riverside beauty May 17, 2021

A view of the still Cannon River, looking toward North Alexander Park, and near the dam. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

THE RIVER RUNS through, spilling over duo dams by the historic Faribault Woolen Mill and also by North Alexander Park and the Rice County Fairgrounds.

A section of the Northern Link Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I love walking here in the evening, when the sun begins its golden descent. A paved path curves along the bank of the Cannon River.

A lopped evergreen along the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I appreciate the gracefulness of the Northern Link Trail, how it winds around trees rather than tracing a straight line.

The Cannon River roars over the dam. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And I appreciate the power of the river roaring over the dam, over rocks. There’s something about churning water that mesmerizes me. The sound. The sight. The reminder that water, harnessed or unharnessed, is a powerful thing. It’s a bit terrifying.

A section of the dam walls the river. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Standing on the narrow dam walkway widens my perspective to include fishermen/women/children angling from the shoreline. This is a popular fishing spot, any time of year.

On the other side of the bridge and about a block away, the Cannon and Straight Rivers merge. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then, if I look directly before me, I see the river flowing under the Second Avenue bridge. A short distance later the Cannon joins the Straight River at Twin Rivers Park.

I never tire of watching, and listening to, the river churn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I feel grateful to live in Faribault, a community with incredible, easily accessible natural beauty. Two rivers. Woods. A beautiful nature center (River Bend). Parks galore. Trails aplenty.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of Minnesota rivers January 15, 2021

An overview of the Cannon River and the dam photographed from the river walk by the Rice County Fairgrounds/North Alexander Park.

RIVERS, STRONG AND MIGHTY, flow through our state. The Mississippi. The Minnesota. And here in my county of Rice, the Cannon and Straight Rivers.

Up close to the Cannon River on a January afternoon. Initially, I thought this pair was fishing. They were, instead, playing beside the river.

Here, on these waters, early inhabitants traveled via canoe, traded along river banks, built flour and woolen mills. And formed communities like Faribault, Northfield, Dundas and Morristown, all with waterways that run through.

Randy walks on the river walk under the bridge spanning the Cannon River along Second Avenue in Faribault. The river is to his right.

Rivers are as much about nature as they are about our history. Like railroads, they helped to shape our towns and cities. And today, while no longer of the same utilitarian use, they remain valuable assets.

Many picnic shelters grace Faribault’s riverside parks.

In my community of Faribault, the Cannon and Straight Rivers, which converge at Two Rivers Park, enhance our local outdoor spaces. The Straight winds through River Bend Nature Center and near city recreational trails. The Cannon spills over three separate dams and flows alongside North and South Alexander Parks and Father Slevin Park. The historic, and still operating, Faribault Woolen Mill sits next to the river, too, by the appropriately named Woolen Mill Dam.

Water rushes over rocks and through ice at the dam by Father Slevin Park.

I am naturally drawn to water, as I expect many of you are. There’s something about water—its power, its motion, its almost hypnotic quality, its soothing sound when rushing over rocks. It’s like poetry flowing into the land.

I stood on the narrow dam walkway to photograph water rushing over the dam on the Cannon River.

Even in the depth of winter, a river—whether iced over or still running—draws me near. To listen, like poetry read aloud. To view, like words of verse written upon paper. To photograph, like an artist and poet and writer who cares. And I do.

Water rushes over the dam along the Cannon River in Faribault.

To walk or pause beside a river is to appreciate art and history and nature. I feel connected to the rivers that trace like poetry through the landscape of southern Minnesota. My home. My place of peace and contentment when I walk beside the waters therein.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite river? If so, please share why you appreciate this waterway.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: The golden hour of evening photography in spring May 30, 2019

A view of South Alexander Park from the shores of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

THE GOLDEN HOUR. Those three words hold great meaning to anyone into photography. It is the 60 minutes after sunrise and the 60 minutes before sunset—the time when natural light lends a softness to images.

 

A lone mallard swims in the quiet waters of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

Recently, I grabbed my camera to photograph early evening spring scenes at two Faribault city parks—North Alexander and Two Rivers. The results show the beauty of incredible natural light in making a photo.

Enjoy.

The converging of the Cannon and Straight Rivers at Two Rivers Park.

 

A nearly camouflaged bird along the banks of the Cannon River, North Alexander Park.

 

In the still of a beautiful May evening. trees reflect in the Cannon River as seen from North Alexander Park.

 

Lots of geese populate the Cannon, including this young family photographed in North Alexander Park.

 

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill sits along the Cannon River, photographed here from North Alexander Park.

 

Reflections at Two Rivers Park.

 

Picnic tables placed along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park (next to the recreational trail) provide riverside dining.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part V: Along the Mississippi January 12, 2016

A barge floats near the Mississippi River bridge that connects Minnesota and Wisconsin in Winona.

A barge floats near the Mississippi River bridge that connects Minnesota and Wisconsin in Winona. A new bridge is under construction next to the old one shown here and is expected to be completed this year. The old bridge will then undergo renovation. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

IN MINNESOTA’S SOUTHEASTERN most tip, the Mississippi River flows alongside bluffs, edging small towns and cities. Like Winona. The Mighty Mississippi shaped this island sandbar, today a destination for those who appreciate history, art, architecture, stained glass and more. Sometimes folks come just for the river.

Someone chalked the Levee Park sign much to my delight.

Someone chalked the Levee Park sign much to my delight. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

On a brief visit to Winona in September, my husband and I watched river traffic from Winona’s downtown Levee Park as twilight tinged the sky pink.

The Winona Tour Boat offers river cruises. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo September 2015.

The Winona Tour Boat offers river cruises. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

There’s something incredibly soothing about water. Mesmerizing really. Like a lullaby or poetry or the refrain of a favorite song.

The White Angel tugs a barge.

The White Angel tugs a barge. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Water transports thoughts to a quiet place.

Winona State University's Cal Fremling boat also offers river cruises with a focus on education. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo September 2015.

Winona State University’s Cal Fremling boat also offers river cruises with a focus on education. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Or a place of adventure, sans Huckleberry Finn. Who hasn’t dreamed of clamoring aboard a raft and leaving everything behind?

As the sun sets, Winona State University's Cal Fremling boat passes under the Mississippi Rover bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

As the sun sets, Winona State University’s Cal Fremling boat passes under the Mississippi Rover bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Days flow like a river, sometimes straight and true, other times twisting and turning through a torrent of troubles.

Boathouses as photographed from Levee Park in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

Boathouses as photographed from Levee Park in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, September 2015.

On this September evening, peace ran like a river past Winona, through my soul…

The old Mississippi River bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2015.

The old Mississippi River bridge in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo 2015.

diminishing all thoughts of a bridge over troubled waters.

FYI: Tomorrow I conclude my series from Winona.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Watching the Straight River in Faribault March 24, 2011

The river watcher points to the Straight River that has flooded Teepee Tonka Park and tells me how much the water has already gone down. The park often floods in the spring.

DAILY HE’S TREKKED across town from his north-side home to the downtown area and then crossed the bridge to check on the river.

I met him early Wednesday evening near the banks of the Straight River at Faribault’s east-side Teepee Tonka Park.

We didn’t waste time on chit chat, didn’t even introduce ourselves. We simply talked about the river and flooding and how he’s driven here daily recently to watch the river rise.

We look from the bridge toward flooded Teepee Tonka Park, where waters have already begun to recede.

He has reason for concern. During last September’s flash flood in Faribault, sewage backed up into his home from the sanitary sewer causing $15,000 in damages. He doesn’t live on a river. The Rice County Fairgrounds on one side, buildings and land on the other across a roadway, sit between his home and the Cannon River. His 20th Street Northwest home is buffered from the rivers, the Cannon nearest his home and the Straight that joins it nearby, flowing north past Teepee Tonka where he’s kept a watchful vigil.

He was optimistic, though, on Wednesday evening, telling me the Straight River had crested that afternoon and gone down. He wasn’t worried. The water was no where near the level during last fall’s flash flood. I could see that and so could he.

We turned away from the park bridge, toward the viaduct, to check the river level.

The Straight River has stayed mostly inside its banks near the historic viaduct.

And so I left this river watcher, braving the slippery, iced sidewalk to step onto the park bridge and peer into the raging waters of the Straight River.

The river watcher turns and walks back to his post on the bridge.

I leave the river watcher peering over the bridge at the churning Straight River.

CHECK BACK for more river images from Faribault.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling