IN THE FLEETING DAYS of autumn here in Minnesota, there’s an urgency to get things done before winter. Hurry and rake the leaves. Tune up the snowblower. Wash the windows. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
But in the haste of all that preparation, there’s also a need to slow down and delight in autumn. Simply stepping outside my home to view the backyard maple and neighbors’ trees fills my soul. I love the contrast of orange, red, yellow against the bold October sky. Sometimes when I look skyward, I see a mix of seasons from green leaves, to autumnal leaves to bare branches.
Every single day calls for pausing to appreciate the beautiful natural world of October in southern Minnesota. I know this won’t last and I need to savor these scenes.
Last Saturday morning, instead of pursuing yard work, Randy and I headed on one more drive through the countryside to view the diminishing fall colors. Leaf raking, although started, could wait. As we followed back county paved roads and township gravel roads through open farmland and through woods, I felt embraced and connected to the local landscape and scenes unfolding before me.
Sunshine dappled through trees.
To the north, a cloud deck drew a nearly straight horizontal line across the sky, a hint of the cold weather to come. And it blew in later that day with a raw wind and a drop in temps.
Colors were well past their peak in Rice County. Still the occasional oak or maple dropped red or russet into muted tree clusters.
Harvested and unharvested fields of corn and soybeans spread before us. Grain trucks, some brimming with the yield, anchored fields. Former farm kids that we are, we discussed the crops. Always have, always will. It’s something we learned early on, me from Sunday afternoon drives with my parents and siblings to view the crops and during dinner table discussions.
We passed farm sites, one with a well-kept signature red barn. There’s something about a barn…
Another farm place was all grey. Grey bin. Grey machine shed. Grey silo. Grey outbuilding. Grey garage. Weathered grey barn.
Soon the weather will shift to the grey of November, the month when winter creeps in. Already we’ve felt the bite of unseasonably cold October days that are giving way, this weekend, to unseasonable warmth. These mark bonus days. Days to drive the countryside, visit an orchard, take a hike…days for anything but raking leaves, washing windows or tuning the snowblower.
ON THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE DAY of viewing fall colors in southern Minnesota, Randy and I headed northwest of Faribault to area lakes. But even before we got out of town, we drove along two city streets—Second Avenue by Bethlehem Academy north to Seventh Street and then Seventh Street—which are particularly beautiful in autumn. There’s no need to leave Faribault to see stunning trees of orange, red and yellow mixed with brown and green.
Yet, there’s something about a colorful lakeshore treeline against the October sky that is particularly lovely. Thus I suggest a country drive. Perhaps my favorite area autumn color viewing spot is at the public boat landing on Kelly Lake. We return there each fall and Randy joked that I could just use the same photos taken last year. I didn’t.
We edged Roberds Lake after trailing a winding gravel road past farm sites. Country drives are, by definition, about immersing ourselves in the country. Appreciating ripening corn and soybean fields, stately barns, ginormous round hay bales staged in a field… And then hugging the side of the road upon meeting a massive combine.
Mostly, I take in the landscape, this October day set against moody clouds on blue sky. Clouds create interest, depth, interesting patterns to backdrop fields and trees.
I see curves and lines and the way everything flows, first with my eyes, then through the viewfinder of my aged Canon EOS 20-D camera. Water flows into trees, trees into sky. It all comes together to create this scene, this autumn.
At the west-side boat landing in Shieldsville, Randy noted the low water level of Lake Mazaska. It would be impossible to launch a boat here. I photographed the lake through a stand of grass, perhaps bulrushes. A peeling, aged sign a block away landmarked Bulrush Bay.
Individual leaves and stems of grass don’t go unnoticed. The singleness merges into the whole. This whole of autumn in Rice County.
We lunched at McCullough County Park on Shields Lake, swatting bees and beetles, before continuing our drive along County Road 64/Irwin Trail. An especially picturesque creek cutting through the land called for a stop, a photo.
And then onward we drove, up and down and all around on gravel roads, the van kicking dust.
Traveling at a slower pace allows for taking in the unfolding landscape. Cornfield nudging a clump of colored trees. So much to see if only we look.
And then a stop, an opportunity to stretch our legs and explore Trebon Cemetery surrounding an historic Czech church, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, established in 1886. We discovered this sacred place at the intersection of County Road 63/Kanabec Avenue and County Road 37/160th Street West several years ago. Like last visit, I wished I could get inside the church, but had to settle for peering through windows. The view of the countryside from the cemetery grounds is stunning.
Aiming back toward Faribault, we passed the smiley face painted on the side of a building at the intersection of Roberds Lake Boulevard and County Road 37/West 185th Street. It’s been there forever, a rural landmark that makes me smile every time I see that happiness icon.
Several hours in the rural Rice County countryside filled my spirit with happiness. Autumn has a way of weaving joy into my life with her color, her last hurrah before winter arrives. So I say, get out there. Take a country drive. Slow down. Pause. Delight in these October days.
ANOTHER DAY OF SUNSHINE and unseasonably warm temps here in southern Minnesota prompted Randy and me to once again hit the road in search of fall colors. This time we headed into eastern Rice County, following backroads in the Cannon City and Nerstrand areas with a lengthy stop at Valley Grove Churches.
At those historic hilltop churches, we followed prairie trails until we reached the highest point. There we stood, impressed by the distant Big Woods treeline colored in the hues of autumn. Valley Grove is one of our favorite spots in any season, but especially when the leaves are morphing color.
Our drive also took us on the road slicing through Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. We didn’t stop, simply enjoyed driving under a canopy of trees evolving in color. They have not yet reached their prime.
As always, Farmer Trail (off Falk Avenue) drew us in. This secluded road twists and turns among the maples and seems a well-kept secret. Thick woods edge the gravel road on both sides. I feel sheltered here, as if I’ve briefly entered some magical place.
This time of year in southern Minnesota truly feels magical given the remarkable beauty found in trees shifting from green to yellows, reds, oranges and browns.
My community of Faribault is ablaze and still erupting with color. City View Park on the east side overlooks the city, offering a vista view. The Shattuck-St. Mary’s clock tower always focuses my eye when taking in the city below and beyond.
Even traveling down the viaduct into downtown impresses in the autumn. There’s so much to see locally in autumn colors whether along a city street, an area lake, a back country road.
If there’s anything I want to impress, it’s that all of this—this autumn color spreading across the landscape—is right here in Faribault, in Rice County, in our backyard. I don’t know if everyone realizes that. I also want to impress that the days of autumn are fleeting. A cold front is moving in along with wind. Now is the time to get out there and view the fall colors, at least locally.
IN TELLING A STORY, whether in images or words, details matter. Combined, details comprise the whole. And that’s the approach I take in creating.
Recently I attended the Valley Grove Country Social in rural Rice County. This event, hosted by the Valley Grove Preservation Society, celebrates the history, heritage, land and people rooted to two hilltop Norwegian churches with adjoining cemetery and restored prairie. One of the first pastors here founded St. Olaf College in nearby Northfield.
Many people from my area hold this place dear and that shows in the upkeep of the 1862 stone church and the 1894 wood church rising high above a landscape of prairie, farm fields and wooded areas near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.
I, too, despite no personal connection to Valley Grove, have come to hold this site dear. I appreciate the historic churches and cemetery and the surrounding landscape. And I also appreciate gatherings like the Country Social.
This Social showcases Valley Grove in a way that stretches beyond history, although that decidedly focuses the celebration. Music and art and hands-on activities weave into the all of it.
I love to see adults and youngsters engaging, conversing, teaching, learning. The younger generation will one day carry on with events like this and with the preservation of history and heritage at Valley Grove. So offering hands-on activities like rope-making, corn grinding, doing laundry, playing with yesteryear toys…is vital.
While I was persuaded to wind twine into a rope with Randy, I simply observed the other participatory activities. I prefer to meander unobtrusively (not always easy) with my camera, observing, documenting. I strive to tell a story that will encourage others to embrace events and places like Valley Grove. There’s so much right here in Rice County to explore and experience. We need to treasure that which is in our backyard. Just like the “eat local” movement, I say, “Explore local.”
Much of what I feature here on my blog is local. And, if it isn’t, it’s rooted in my region. I value southern Minnesota, especially the small towns, the rural landscape, the people, the arts, the events…the all of it defining this place I call home.
TELL ME: What specific places and/or events do you appreciate where you live and which you feel go unnoticed by many locals?
A COUNTRY SOCIAL EVOKES an essence of history, of community celebration, of activities that hearken to a bygone era. The Valley Grove Country Social held on Sunday afternoon high atop a hill near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park fits that and beyond. This site, the location of two historic churches and an adjoining cemetery, marks one of my favorite places in rural Rice County for its history, natural beauty and peace.
On this September afternoon, I delighted in an event that brings people together to celebrate Norwegian heritage and history, people and place, stories past and present, the arts, and, oh, so much more.
From garden and prairie flowers tucked into Mason jars set atop window sills in the 1862 stone church to a recital inside the 1894 church to horse-drawn wagon rides to kids grinding corn to an artist painting, the scope of activities proved broad. There was something for everyone from the youngest to the eldest. Generations mingled, connected. One taught, the other learned.
To observe, to converse, to listen, to feel, to experience all of this imprints upon my soul gratitude for those who know this place, this Valley Grove, is worth preserving and sharing. Although I hold no personal connection here, I feel connected. It is my faith, my love of the land, especially the surrounding prairie and farmland, and the quiet of this remote rural location which cause me to feel comfortably at home, at peace.
If you’ve never visited Valley Grove and live near enough to tour, then do. I’ve been here many times to walk the cemetery and grounds, to hike through the prairie, even once sitting on the front steps of the wooden church for a picnic lunch. The churches are locked when not open for events or special services like a wedding or Christmas Eve worship.
Still, whether inside or outside the two churches, a sense of the past prevails. Gravestone after gravestone bears the names of Norwegian immigrants and their descendants. Study the markers and stories begin to emerge, whether real or imagined. I can only imagine the joys and sorrows shared here.
Valley Grove is about more than a place where historic churches stand next to a cemetery. It is a gathering spot for those who are celebrating, those who are grieving, those who are remembering and, on this afternoon of a Country Social, a place of connecting with community.
Now I’m doubly honored that my rural-themed poetry inspired by my farmer father and farm wife mother were chosen to be part of this outstanding exhibit focusing on the people, places, businesses, communities, activities, events, history and arts of Lyon County.
finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.
As I read the “Imagining the Prairie” informational panel, my gratitude to the LCHS staff, volunteers and Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis (lead contractor for the exhibit) grew. I appreciate that an entire panel focuses on the arts: The Lyon County landscape…has inspired painters and poets and artists of all kinds. I’ve long thought that as I see the prairie influence in my writing and photography. Farms, vast prairies, wide skies and tumbling rivers define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota.
A quote from poet, essayist and musician Bill Holm of nearby Minneota, summarizes well the lens through which we prairie natives view the world and the creative process. The prairie eye looks for distance, clarity, and light…
Holm, who died in 2009, was among southwestern Minnesota’s best-known writers, having penned poetry and multiple books such as his popular The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth and Boxelder Bug Variations. His boxelder bug book inspired his hometown to host an annual Boxelder Bug Days, still going strong.
To see my poems featured alongside the work of gifted writers like Holm and equally-talented poet Leo Dangel in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit was humbling. Dangel, who died in 2016, wrote six collections of poetry. The prairie and rural influence on his work show in the featured poems, “A Farmer Prays,” “A Clear Day,” and “Tornado.”
Both men taught English at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, reaffirming their devotion to this rural region and to the craft of writing. The exhibit includes a section on the university, which opened in 1967 within 10 years of my leaving the area to attend college in Mankato. I sometimes wonder how my writing would have evolved had I stayed and studied on the prairie.
When I returned to Marshall for the first time in 40 years, nothing about the town seemed familiar. Time has a way of changing a place. But when I reached the top floor of the county museum, saw my poems and began to peruse the “home” exhibit, I felt like I was back home. Back home on the prairie, among cornfields and farm sites and grain elevators and all those small towns that dot the landscape. Back home under a wide prairie sky with land stretching beyond my vision. Back home where I understand the people. Back home in the place that influenced my writing as only the prairie can for someone rooted here.
Please check back for more posts featuring the Lyon County Museum and the area.
THIS TIME OF YEAR, I see, hear, feel autumn on Minnesota’s doorstep.
Already the next-door-neighbor’s maple is turning color, red leaves spiraling into my yard. Goldenrod flag the landscape. Crickets chirp, their incessant chorus singing a refrain of autumn’s approach. Mornings feel pull-on-the-jeans-and-sweatshirt crisp until sunshine warms the day.
And apple season time is underway with area orchards opening, complete with apple picking, hay rides, corn mazes and other activities to draw in customers.
This weekend Montgomery Orchard, located a mile east of the intersections of Minnesota state highways 13 and 99 in Montgomery Township, opens for the 2022 season. Now I could write about many other orchards opening, too, but chose this one to highlight because of a unique program there on Saturday, September 3. The Minnesota Dragonfly Society will present information on dragonflies at 11 am and again at 1 pm with dragonfly catching after each presentation.
Now, I’ve never heard of the Dragonfly Society whose mission is “ensuring the conservation of Minnesota’s dragonflies and damselflies through research and education.” I appreciate that as I find dragonflies fascinating.
The Dragonfly Band has also been booked for the Saturday event at the orchard.
Montgomery Orchard is going all out with the dragonfly theme this year. The six-acre Be-A-Mazed corn maze is shaped like a dragonfly with interactive trivia about the insect posted throughout the cornfield. Two maze options are offered with a shorter half-hour route geared toward families with young children and a second longer route.
I last visited this orchard 12 years ago, not long after it opened. The business has grown substantially since then, now spreading over 105 rural acres. The Cider Haus is open Saturdays and Sundays, serving five in-house made hard ciders, like Northern Trek and Prairie Harvest, and wine, like the award-winning Plum Crazy and The Full Monty.
Apples, in nearly a dozen varieties, are grown and sold here throughout the apple season. Currently ready for picking and/or purchase are Zestar and SweeTango.
In Minnesota, visiting an orchard has developed into an experience, exactly as Montgomery Orchard promotes with its tag, “where friends, family and nature come together.” Hikes and hayrides are also part of the offerings here.
And on Saturday, popular Montgomery-based Pizzeria 201 will be at the orchard vending pizza from its mobile wood-fired pizza oven. Visitors can also purchase caramel apples, jellies, jams and more from the orchard store.
BACK COUNTRY ROADS often lead to interesting discoveries. Places that reveal America at its grassroots basic. Such is the road leading to Mac’s Park Place. And such is Mac’s.
It was the homemade sign posted along Wabasha County Road 21, which winds through the Zumbro River Valley, that caught the attention of Randy during a day trip in southeastern Minnesota. I missed the sign sporting an angler and a fish along with a list of all Mac’s offers:
That roadside signage was enough to make Randy reverse course and aim down a gravel road to Mac’s Park Place along 406th Avenue, rural Mazeppa. The restaurant/bar/campground is located between Mazeppa and Oronoco along the Zumbro River.
This is an area lovely in natural beauty. Winding river. A bit of backwoods wild. The ideal setting for a place like Mac’s, perhaps not widely-known to those without connections to the area.
Check back to see what I saw along the route to Mac’s, and then at Mac’s. I wondered at some point if we should continue on, not quite knowing what we were driving into…
It’s vintage food stands, homemade pie, old tractors packing the parade, music by Minnesota musicians (like Monroe Crossing), handcrafted kiddie rides and games, BINGO, a patriot program, fireworks and so much more.
Perhaps my column will convince those of you who live in Minnesota to attend the Fourth of July celebration in North Morristown, which is not an actual town. This is simply a place in the middle of farm fields, west of Faribault and north of Morristown. The festival grounds sits across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School and next to farm sites and acreage.
I’ve attended many times and love the down-home feel of this celebration, which is also a reunion of sorts for those who grew up in this area (which is not me). I recognize many of you, my readers, come to my blog from afar. So please enjoy North Morristown on the Fourth via my images and words.
TELL ME: How are you celebrating the Fourth of July?
Note: If you have seen my story on newsprint, please view it again online. The paper copy of the magazine has issues with clarity of images, and not just mine. All photos I submitted for publication are sharp, clear and focused, unlike the end printing results.
GRAB BAGS AND VINYL SINGLES. Goldfish and tiny turtles. And, oh, an endless assortment of whatever you needed, and didn’t need. Such are my dime store memories upon entering J.T. Variety & Toys in Plainview.
This crammed-with-merchandise store along West Broadway in the heart of downtown Plainview hearkens to yesteryear when Ben Franklin and F.W. Woolworth stores dotted Main Street USA. J.T. Variety & Toys fits the dime store model.
And while I spotted no turtles, fish, grab bags or vinyl, the business offers a wide range of merchandise for all ages and interests.
Need a gift for Aunt Gertie or your next-door neighbor or whomever? There are knick knacks and home décor items galore.
Crafters—whether knitter or seamstress or some other creative—can shop an array of colorful yarn skeins cramming cubbies, folds of sorted-by-color fabric layering shelves, and much more. Choices are bountiful.
The same goes for the selection of fake flowers splashing color into a display and spilling over into baskets lining the floor. Above the flowers I found a collection of summer shoes—flip flops, slip-ons shaped like insects…
If I sound a tad giddy about J.T. Variety & Toys, it’s because I am. A lot of those feelings trace to childhood memories of shopping dime store aisles. Back in the day, I mostly looked because, coming from a poor farm family, buying usually wasn’t an option, except for necessities. I would stand for a long long time in the pet section at the back of Woolworths looking at those mini imported pet turtles, wishing for one.
I expect the kids of Plainview gravitate to the toy section of their local variety store with its puzzles and games, marbles and Play Doh, trucks and dolls, Little Golden Book and other books, and much more. I’d feel giddy if I was a kid with money to spend here.
Plainview is fortunate to have this homegrown business akin to the dime stores of old. It was here in this southeastern Minnesota small town, the day before our 40th wedding anniversary in mid-May, that my husband purchased a lovely anniversary greeting card while I paged through a storybook about Paul Bunyan. It wasn’t like he could buy a tiny imported pet turtle for me…
TELL ME: Do you have dime store memories? Have you discovered a store similar to J.T. Variety & Toys (Dollar stores don’t count)? I’d like to hear.