Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

River, woods, train…a reflective winter walk February 8, 2023

A railroad trestle crosses the Straight River by Fleckenstein Bluffs Park near downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

LINES AND LIGHT INTERSECT, layering the snowy landscape on a late afternoon in February.

I find even dried vegetation to be visually interesting. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I am following the Straight River Trail in Faribault from Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. Daylight presses towards early evening with sunlight slanting, shadowing, scripting as I take in the woods, the river, the dried vegetation, then the hard lines of metal and stone.

When I look up, I see a bold blue sky backdropping treetops. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Birds chatter among the trees that border the trail, along the rambling river. I pause. Listen. Appreciate that these feathered creatures manage to survive winter in Minnesota. Even with temps reaching to 30 degrees on this day, I feel the cold.

Randy usually outpaces me as I stop often to take photos. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I move initially at an unhurried pace. Walk too fast and I miss too much. Randy is well ahead of me, yet he also hears the birdsong, notices the robins, chickadees, a lone woodpecker.

In a dip near the park, tracks in the snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Tracks mar the snow. Animal and human. I wonder about the wildlife that venture onto the river where snow meets ice, meets open water.

The poetic Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

A pocked layer of thin ice nudges water which flows, rippling, curving with the topography. The creative in me reads poetry in the way the water wends. I am lost in the moment, in the scene, in the setting, in the wildness.

Lines cross this 120-year-old limestone building along the Straight River Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I press on, toward the aged limestone building hugging the trail. Diagonal lines—power and shadows—cross the stone on the boarded building with a misplaced modern garage door. This 1903 building originally housed Faribault Gas & Electric Company, supplier of power to Faribault via the Cannon Falls hydroelectric plant. Every time I view this building, I wish it could be restored, used in a way that celebrates its history.

The icy river is melting, opening to flowing water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

My thoughts meander here along the Straight River Trail. Focusing on history and nature and introspective observation.

I often meet dogs and their owners while walking the trails. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

But then a dog draws me back to reality. A massive canine, fluffy and white, leashed. His owner stops, allows me to pet his Great Pyrenees with the friendly face, and gorgeous long fur. Ducky. I assess that keeping him clean must be challenging. Ducky’s owner confirms, then continues on.

A sculpture, at least in my eyes, set against a snow-covered hillside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Cold bites at my exposed fingers as I retrace my path, heading back toward the park. I notice a sagging wire fence like graph paper gridding a snowy hillside. Single family homes and an apartment complex rise high above the trail, backyards revealing much in the nakedness of winter.

Boxcar art on exhibit as a train passes over the Straight River by Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Soon a shrill whistle cuts through the bluffs. I race to reach an opening in the woods where I can photograph a train as it crosses a trestle over the river. I miss the locomotive, focusing instead on the moving canvases of art created by transient artists.

Strong fence lines border the river overlook at Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

I see art, too, in the fenced lines of a river overlook in the park, a space packed with snow and inaccessible in the winter.

When I’m walking, I appreciate curves in sidewalks and trails. I find them more appealing not only for following, but visually. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2023)

Then I curve along the sidewalk that rounds the playground before aiming back to the parking lot. I notice reflections of trees in puddles of melting snow. The bold blue sky. The way light bounces off the segmented walkway. I feel invigorated by all I’ve seen, by the sharp cold air, by the essence of time outdoors on a February afternoon in southern Minnesota.

TELL ME: Where do you walk outdoors in February?

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter in Minnesota: Oddities, insights, warnings February 1, 2023

Treacherous winter driving conditions along Minnesota State Highway 19 just north of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota in January 2013. These weather conditions are not uncommon on the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted and edited file photo 2013)

WINTER IN MINNESOTA can be decidedly difficult in the sort of way that challenges us to either adjust, adapt or embrace, or flee to Arizona, Texas or Florida.

That got me thinking. If you’re not from the Bold (Cold) North, you may be unfamiliar with our winter weather obsession and terminology. Wind chill is an oft-referenced word in Minnesota winter weather forecasts. Defined, that’s the feels like temp on skin when wind meets air temperature. The result is not pleasant with repeated warnings of exposed flesh can freeze in just minutes. That’s the time to layer up, don long johns, pull out the heavy parka or down coat, shove hands into mittens (not gloves), wrap your face and neck in a scarf, clamp on a warm hat and lace lined boots over thick wool socks. Or stay indoors. Just for the record, recent Minnesota wind chills have been between 20-35 degrees below zero.

Experts, like the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, advise us to carry winter survival kits in our vehicles and to stay inside should we become stranded or go off the road. Call for help and wait. Exiting your vehicle is risky as in risk becoming disoriented and lost in a snowstorm if in a rural area or risk being hit by a vehicle if your vehicle slides into the ditch along a busy interstate. Just recently a driver was struck while doing exactly that; he’ll be OK.

Ice fishing on Union Lake in Rice County. Some anglers don’t fish in houses, but rather in the open air, sitting on overturned 5-gallon buckets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

YES, MINNESOTANS REALLY DO DRIVE ONTO FROZEN LAKES

Regarding risk, Minnesotans continue to participate in a sem- risky winter sport. Ice fishing. As absurd as this sounds to those who have never lived in a cold weather state, this is the sport of angling for fish on a frozen lake. It can be (mostly) safe if anglers follow basic rules for ice safety, the first being that no ice is ever 100 percent safe and know your lake. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers basic ice thickness guidelines such as stay off ice less than four inches thick. If it’s four inches thick, you can walk on lake ice. Nine to 10 inches of ice will support a small car or SUV. You’ll need 16-17 inches to drive a heavy truck onto a frozen lake and so on. Every winter vehicles plunge through the ice and people lose their lives on Minnesota lakes.

Yet, we Minnesotans continue to embrace the sport, exercising caution. Clusters of simple pop-up temporary day houses to homemade wooden shacks to fancy sleep-overnight factory models create mini villages on our frozen lakes. Anglers hang out therein, drilling holes in the ice, drinking beer, playing cards and doing whatever while waiting for the fish to bite. Decades have passed since I participated in this winter sport. But I did. It was the cracking noise of the ice that got to me.

Randy shovels snow from our house rooftop during a previous winter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

PENGUINS, FIRE & UP ON THE ROOFTOP

Ice. I quite dislike that aspect of winter. And we’ve had a lot of ice this winter on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, every hard surface. As I age, my fear of falling and breaking a bone is real. I deal with ice by either staying off it or walking like a penguin.

Recently I observed my neighbor trying to remove ice from his driveway with fire fueled by a small portable propane tank. It was the weirdest thing—to see this flame in the black of evening aimed downward onto his cement driveway. It didn’t work well. The next evening, two of them were out chipping at ice the old-fashioned way with a long-handled bladed tool designed for that purpose.

Yes, we chip ice from our sidewalks and driveways. We shovel snow from our roofs in an effort to prevent ice dams (of which there are many this winter). Getting through a Minnesota winter, especially one as snowy as this season, requires fortitude and effort.

This oversized Minnesota driver’s license hangs above a rack of buffalo plaid flannel and other shirts at the A-Pine Restaurant near Pequot Lakes in the central Minnesota lakes region, aka Paul Bunyan land. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

CELEBRATING PAUL BUNYAN STYLE

Winter here also requires plenty of flannel, our unofficial winter attire. I recently purchased two flannel shirts to replace two that I’d worn thread-bare. I love my flannel. It’s comfy and cozy and warm and makes me feel Paul Bunyan authentic. If you’re unfamiliar with Paul, let me explain. He’s a legendary lumberjack, a symbol of strength and endurance. And he wears red buffalo plaid flannel. My community even celebrates flannel with the Faribault Flannel Formal, set for 5:30-9 pm Saturday, March 11, at Craft Beverage Curve (10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and Corks & Pints)). And, yes, that means attendees wear flannel, sample hotdishes (the Minnesota term for casseroles) and participate in lumberjack games. Yeah, sure, ya betcha. This is how we survive winter in the Bold (Cold) North.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter in Minnesota: Of snow, flannel, chili, soup & more November 18, 2022

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We use an assortment of shovels for snow removal, to scrape, scoop and push snow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2021)

ALTHOUGH THE CALENDAR is about a month out from the official start of winter, we in Minnesota are already in the throes of the season. Cold and snow define winter here and we have both already. Too early, I say.

The snow boots I wear are warm, practical and fashionable. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2020)

Three consecutive days this week found me shoveling snow from the sidewalk and driveway. I allowed Randy the honor of shoveling the first snowfall of the winter. But I figured I best do my part, so I laced on my warm winter boots and headed outdoors on the second day of shovellable snow.

Isaac, waiting to head outdoors to shovel snow at my house in January 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2021)

Thirty-five minutes to the north, my nearly 4-year-old grandson bundled into his snowpants, winter coat, mittens, hat and boots to clear snow from the driveway with his small plastic shovel. As only a child can feel, Isaac was, his mom said, “Loving the snow!” With an exclamation point. I encouraged him to head south and shovel Grandma and Grandpa’s driveway. He never showed.

And so I am accepting that winter is upon us. That means replacing the cotton bed sheets with warm flannel sheets, layering up (inside and out), wearing lots of flannel, cozying under a fleece throw with a good book in the evening, delaying rolling out of bed in the morning because the house is still too cold. The thermostat is programmed to drop to 62 degrees at night, up to 67 during the day, and then bump a notch to 68 in the evening.

Photographed on the door of a Northfield business in April 2022. Shoppers are encouraged to stomp the snow from their boots and shoes. And, yes, we get snow well into April here in Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

Staying updated on the weather has become even more important, mostly to determine how bad the roads will be (and when to shovel). Have plows been out sanding and salting? How’s the visibility? Watch those bridge decks and ramps for slippery spots. Slow down. Take it easy. Spin-outs and crashes were a regular part of this week’s vocabulary.

Inside my house, a few changes are happening, too, as I adapt to winter. Laundry, which I typically clip to outdoor clotheslines, now drapes a drying rack. Sheets and towels go in the dryer. Already I miss the fresh scent of linens dried by the sun.

Chicken Wild Rice Soup, one of my favorites, served at a fundraiser in St. Peter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Wednesday I cooked up a big pot of chili. I crave chili and soup in the winter. I start my morning with a bowl of old-fashioned, fruit-filled oatmeal, the same as always, no matter the season. That is a constant, just like my need to write. Winter doesn’t alter my writing. But it does limit my outdoor photography. Even though I own combo mittens/gloves with the mitten end flipping open to expose half of my fingers (thanks, Randy, for one of the best gifts ever), I take fewer photos in winter. I don’t like freezing my fingertips, just like I don’t enjoy shoveling snow.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fleeting fall thoughts from Faribault November 4, 2022

Colorful trees photographed from my backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2022)

WE KNOW IT’S COMING. Winter. Yet, we Minnesotans hope for one more glorious autumn day. One more day of warm temps. One more day of no snow. The reality, though, is that this is November and the weather can shift just like that to cold, grey and, well, seasonal.

A maple on my lawn in all its fall glory. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2022)

With the exception of minimal rain in an already drought-stricken state, this fall in southern Minnesota has been exceptional with many sunny, warm days and lovely fall colors.

Autumn brings lots of yard work (like raking leaves) in preparation for winter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2022)

Minnesota fully embraces autumn with unbridled enthusiasm. It’s as if we need to pack in as much as we can, outdoors especially, before we settle mostly inside for the winter.

The restored clock on the historic Security Bank Building in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2015)

The end of daylight savings time this weekend signals that seasonal shift. It will get darker earlier and that, psychologically, triggers an awareness of winter’s impending arrival. I find myself just wanting to stay home in the evening, snuggled under a fleece throw reading a good book.

A page from “Count Down to Fall” in the current StoryWalk. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Sometimes that may be a children’s book. Picture books aren’t just for kids. I find the stories and illustrations therein inspiring, entertaining, informative, poetic. In Faribault, Buckham Memorial Library even brings picture books right into the community via a StoryWalk. Pages from a selected picture book are posted in protective casings along several blocks of Central Avenue to the library. The currently featured book is Count Down to Fall written by Fran Hawk and illustrated by Sherry Neidigh.

Book cover source: Goodreads

Recently I listened to Children’s Librarian Deni Buendorf read the book online. I love her enthusiasm as she reads page after page of this rhyming story focused on different leaves—painted maple, oval birch, craggy oak… It’s a perfect autumn read.

Book cover source: Goodreads

Soon this season ends and we enter the long, hard winter months. Interestingly enough, I am currently reading Cindy Wilson’s award-winning The Beautiful Snow—The Ingalls Family, the Railroads, and the Hard Winter of 1880-81. Lest I think winters now are sometimes difficult, I need only reference this book of nonfiction to understand that I have nothing, absolutely nothing, to complain about in the year 2022. Remind me of that come March.

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NOTE: In a project similar to Faribault’s StoryWalk, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport features a Minnesota-authored children’s picture book on panels placed between gates C18 and C19 in Terminal 1. Each book is in place for two months in this Picture Book Parade.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Before winter settles in…savor these autumn days October 21, 2022

My next door neighbor’s maple tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Almost like seeing summer, autumn and winter in the trees viewed from my backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Sunshine filters through a branch on my backyard maple tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

The countryside near Nerstrand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Farmer Trail twists through woods of primarily maple. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Sunshine dappled through trees.

To the north across cornfields and treelines, a cloud deck revealed the weather ahead. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Still some color along Crystal Lake at Cannon City. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Colors were well past their peak in Rice County. Still the occasional oak or maple dropped red or russet into muted tree clusters.

A grain truck holds the corn harvest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

A stately, well-kept barn along Coe Trail northwest of Cannon City. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

We passed farm sites, one with a well-kept signature red barn. There’s something about a barn…

A farm site in the colors of November. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Another farm place was all grey. Grey bin. Grey machine shed. Grey silo. Grey outbuilding. Grey garage. Weathered grey barn.

Driving through autumn on a rural Rice County road last Saturday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shifting seasons October 18, 2022

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Trees were ablaze at the end of September in Northfield’s Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

FRIDAY MORNING BROUGHT the first snow flurries of the season to southern Minnesota. Not enough snow to stick to the ground here in Faribault, but in other parts of the state flakes accumulated.

Seasonal displays drew my eye to this floral shop on a corner in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

We are in the time of transition, shifting from autumn toward winter. One day the sun shines bright on trees still ablaze in color and temps feel comfortable. Other days, grey clouds blanket the sky, blocking the sun, with winter attire needed outdoors.

Inside Used-A-Bit Shoppe, glassware in a seasonal hue. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In these waning days of autumn, I am reminded of how much I love this season—for the colors, the mostly moderate temps, the scent, the feel, the gathering in. It’s as if we Minnesotans recognize that every single gloriously sunny day needs to be celebrated, to be photographed in our memories, to be pulled out when winter days draw us in.

Biking across a bridge over the Cannon by Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A few weeks ago I was in neighboring Northfield, about a 20-minute drive away. This art-strong historic college town along the Cannon River presented scenes that hold the essence of the season. From colorful trees to blooming flowers to seasonal displays, the visuals of autumn unfolded before me.

Outside Just Food Co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

People were out and about. Dipping into Just Food Co-op. Shopping at the thrift store. Sitting on a park bench waiting to share a faith message. Walking a dog. Biking across a bridge spanning the river.

Fallen leaves add interest to the Arb creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I felt no hurry, only an appreciation for the day, time to meander while waiting for Randy to complete an appointment. Afterwards we headed to Cowling Arboretum for a short walk and an engaging conversation with another hiker. It was one of those chance encounters that left me feeling uplifted, encouraged, blessed.

Coneflowers flourish at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wild grapes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Wildflowers thrive in the sunshine along the Cannon River at Cowling Arboretum. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I immersed myself in nature on that final day of September, I noticed wildflowers in bloom, leaves floating in the creek, the curve of grapevines, the hint of color in a few trees. If I was to revisit the Arb today, I would surely view a different scene. Each day moves us nearer, oh, so much closer, to winter.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A country drive to see fall colors northwest of Faribault October 6, 2022

A view of the colorful foliage along Seventh Street in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

A sweeping view of Kelly Lake and the colorful treeline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Belview Trail just outside Faribault winds past farm sites. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Hay bales line a hillside along CR 64. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)
A well-kept barn near Roberds Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Sun and clouds mix over colorful woods near Roberds Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Shoreline and lake merge to create a “painting” of Kelly Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

A view of Lake Mazaska through the shoreline grasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

Brilliant sumac by Kelly Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Individual leaves and stems of grass don’t go unnoticed. The singleness merges into the whole. This whole of autumn in Rice County.

A picturesque creek along County Road 64/Irwin Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

One of many winding gravel roads we followed through the countryside, around lakes… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And then onward we drove, up and down and all around on gravel roads, the van kicking dust.

Among the many wooded hillside ablaze in color. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

The historic Czech church and surrounding cemetery in Shieldsville Township. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

This smiley face is a local landmark along Roberds Lake Boulevard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

I appreciate homemade signage, including this well-worn sign by Lake Mazaska. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

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.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Parts of Rice, Le Sueur & Nicollet counties in all their autumn splendor October 3, 2022

The beginning of our day trip took us west out of Faribault along back county roads. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

AUTUMN POPPED COLOR—brilliant oranges, reds, yellows—into the landscape on an October day as beautiful as they come here in southern Minnesota.

Harvesting beans along Le Sueur County Road 12. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Throughout Rice, Le Sueur and Nicollet counties, leaves are rapidly changing, splashing hillsides, groves, shorelines and other stands of trees in spectacular seasonal hues.

Photographed at the public boat landing on Horseshoe Lake just off Rice County Road 14 by Camp Omega. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Randy and I headed on a fall color drive Monday morning, referencing the DNR Fall Color Finder guide promising plenty of colorful leaves to the west. Hours of traveling mostly county roads (including gravel) through the southern Minnesota countryside on our day-long drive provided incredible leaf viewing.

The distant shoreline of Horseshoe Lake blazes fiery colors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Retracing our exact route through Rice and Le Sueur counties and a small section of Nicollet County would be nearly impossible. But we started out by heading west on Rice County Road 12, eventually following CR 14 to Horseshoe Lake by Camp Omega. The public boat landing there was our first stop to view a lakeside treeline ablaze in fiery hues.

Crops ripen against a farm site backdrop in Le Sueur County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

It wasn’t just the trees that drew my eye. I love, too, the acres of corn and soybeans drying under the autumn sun. The muted gold of corn leaves adds to the sense of seasons shifting.

A grain truck holds the harvest along Le Sueur County Road 12. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvest is well underway with combines and grain trucks in fields. I appreciate the rural landscape any time of year, but especially now as farmers bring in the crops.

Cattle in a pasture along CR 101 on the way to the Kasota Prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

From fields to farm sites (especially barns) to roadside vegetable stands to cattle in pastures, I found myself reconnecting with my agrarian roots, my prairie roots, while on this day trip.

A memorable message marks the entrance to the Kasota Prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Fiery hillsides of trees edge the Kasota Prairie in the distance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)
A lone cedar stands atop a hill on the Kasota Prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Near Kasota, we turned onto Le Sueur County Road 101 off CR 21 and took a winding gravel road about five miles to the Kasota Prairie. It was worth the dusty road, the meandering drive, to reach this grassland. As we pulled into the parking lot and hiked an uneven dirt trail into the prairie, I stopped multiple times to photograph the distant treeline painted in shades of mostly orange, red, brown… This prairie is a must-see, oh, so lovely, showcasing backdrop trees that hug the Minnesota River.

Colorful treelines can be seen along both sides of US Highway 169. Stunning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Color in the Minnesota River Valley is near-prime. Originally, we’d intended to tour Mankato, but shifted gears when I learned that my poem, “The Mighty Tatanka,” is not yet posted as part of The Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Instead, we drove to St. Peter and took US Highway 169 north out of town. And wow, oh, wow. The colors along the stretch of highway from St. Peter to Le Sueur, especially, are spectacular. This is a must-drive right now. Don’t wait. Not one day. Not two days. Go now.

A memorable barn because of its copper-hued roof. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Heading east on Minnesota State Highway 19 toward New Prague, we turned south at Union Hill and shortly thereafter took a gravel road to State Highway 13, then turned onto Le Sueur County Road 145, landmarked by a barn roof the color of copper set against an autumn backdrop of trees.

A road sign that fit the day’s purpose, to view leaves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

If I remember correctly, this farm site is along Leaf Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Heading back toward Faribault, another stunning treeline next to a cornfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

More gravel roads, including one appropriately named Leaf Trail, and blacktop eventually led us to Millersburg and aiming home to Faribault mostly along CR 46. Interstate 35 may have been a better choice for fall colors based on the colorful trees spotted there on Sunday between Faribault and the first Lakeville exit.

A view of Lake Washington from the public boat landing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

But by then it was late afternoon, many road miles later with stops at lakes and the prairie and a park for a picnic lunch. We’d had a full day. A day full of autumn in Minnesota at its best. Warm. Mostly sunny. And ablaze in colors, the reason I so love this season.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of seasons as we welcome Autumn to Minnesota September 29, 2022

A wave of cattails signal Autumn’s entrance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IN THIS SEASON OF EARLY AUTUMN, the landscape of Minnesota transitions to subdued, muted, softer tones flashed with vivid orange, yellow and red in tree lines or a solitary tree. This time of year truly marks a change as we ease toward Winter, a season devoid of color.

Goldenrods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A hillside of drying grass contrasts with the looming grey sky. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Grasses tower high above me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A month ago, before Summer exited, I already observed Autumn’s entrance at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Stands of cattails. Groups of goldenrod. Seas of drying prairie grass. All signaled the shift to September days.

I’m sure this scene has changed in the month since I photographed it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I love this time of year. Sunny days give way to cool evenings to brisk mornings. I’ve pulled the flannel from the closet. I embrace the feeling, the glory, of each day, recognizing such days are fleeting.

Rustic signs, which I love, mark the trails at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But weeks before this end of September, I delighted in the final days of August with that short walk through the woods at River Bend, then along a grass-lined trail to the hilltop Prairie Loop before I retraced my steps.

A stem of grass bends in the wind. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Prairie grasses, looming well above my head, bent in the wind. I noted the gracefulness of the stems’ movement, the details on a single stalk. If you’ve ever paused to study a stalk, it’s almost like reading a poem. Grain after grain after grain ladders a slim line. In poetry, each word ladders into a line, into a verse, into a poem.

In the light of an August afternoon, a Monarch butterfly feeds upon the flower of a thistle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the flashlight of the afternoon at River Bend, I spotted a lone Monarch flitting among thistles, black-outlined orange wings contrasting with the soft purple of the bloom. A metaphor. Or perhaps a simile when penned poetically. Poem upon poem upon poem.

Lush leaves veined by the August sun. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Autumn edits out Summer, eliminating the excess wordage of a season that is lush and full and busy. Now the lines of the season shorten, every word carefully chosen, a harbinger of what lies ahead. Winter. Sparse. Barren. Cold.

I followed this path from the woods, across the low lands to a hilltop overlooking the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But until then, Autumn settles in with the familiarity of a worn buffalo plaid flannel shirt. With the familiarity of cattails and milkweed bursting. Goldenrods. Tall prairie grasses drying, moving toward dormancy. I’ve seen this shift every September for past sixty years now. Yet I never tire of the shift, the change in seasons here in southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with nature as spring greens the Minnesota landscape May 18, 2022

Aiming my camera lens skyward on a beautiful mid-May afternoon at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 15, 2022)

I FIND MYSELF, daily, tipping my head back to view the trees, leaves unfurling, greening the landscape.

An especially vivid green tree in the woods at Falls Creek Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In these early days of a much-too-late spring in Minnesota, the greens appear especially intense, vivid, lush. The infusion of color is almost like visual overload after months of living in a colorless, drab world. I welcome the change with my eyes wide open.

At sunset, hillside trees and the maple in my backyard create an artsy scene. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

From the woods that bump against my backyard to area parks and nature centers, I feel such gratitude for places where I can immerse myself in nature. Even if that’s simply looking skyward.

Even though buckthorn is an invasive tree, the scent of its flowers is lovely. Photographed at Falls Creek County Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In this tech-centered world, we need to pause, to take a break, to connect, really connect, with nature. Falls Creek County Park, just east of Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60, offers such a place to embrace the natural world.

A footbridge leads into the woods at Falls Creek County Park. (Minnesota Prairie roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
So soothing…water rushing over rocks in Falls Creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Falls Creek flows under the footbridge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As soon as I step onto the footbridge over Falls Creek, I feel a sense of peace. In the sound and sight of water rushing over rocks. There’s nothing more soothing than that symphony, except perhaps the rush of wind through trees.

A fallen tree blocks the trail at Falls Creek Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This park is more wild than tamed. Narrow dirt trails, packed hard by hikers’ shoes, call for caution. Roots can trip. Sections of eroded creek bank along the main path require focused walking, especially over a makeshift bridge of branches. In one area, a large, fallen tree blocks the route.

Wildflowers galore in the park woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Still, despite the obstacles, this park is navigable. And worth visiting, especially now, when wildflowers blanket the woods. White, yellow, purple.

Winding Falls Creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent hike through Falls Creek County Park, Randy and I encountered another hiker and his two unleashed dogs who rushed us. I didn’t appreciate that, never do. But we also met a pre-teen girl and her dad on the bridge, she with book—some series about drama divas—in hand. The title fits his daughter, the dad said. They come to the park to read and to listen to music along the creek. How wonderful, I thought, to see this young girl into reading. And reading in the woods besides.

On the bridge, the first stone I spotted. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I tipped the pair off to painted stones I’d discovered, pointing to the bright pink stone at the end of the footbridge. I found two more in the woods. “Look to your right,” I said. I delight in such unexpected messages that always cause me to smile and uplift me.

An encouraging message on a stone tucked into a tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On this day, I took to heart the words—Everything will be okay!—printed on a stone painted a metallic, glittery turquoise. On this day, I needed to read that encouraging message left in the woods, left for me to see as I immersed myself in nature, in this Minnesota spring.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling