DUST RISES FROM FIELDS, clouding the air as combines rake through rows of dry soybeans.
Combines comb corn rows, too, in this season of harvest in southern Minnesota.
Take a drive in the countryside these days and you will observe farmers hard at work, bringing in the crops.
As October moves to mid-month, a sense of urgency presses into long days in the field. By 7 pm, darkness envelopes the land and farm machinery still moves, like a mammoth beast lumbering across acres of corn and soybeans, eyes aglow.
It is in this season of harvest that I feel a bit melancholy, missing my once close connection to the land. The scent of earth. The view of acres and acres and acres of crops drying to muted hues, visual evidence of a farmer’s work. The sound of combines roaring. The taste of dust and dirt. Golden orbs of soybeans sifting between fingers spread wide.
While I once experienced all those first-hand on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota, today I feel an outsider looking in. Watching. Remembering. Feeling grateful for the years I lived on a farm, never realizing then just how much those days would mean to me later in life.
Each autumn I yield to the call of harvest. I reconnect to the land. Observing. Recalling. Missing my farmer dad and my Uncle Mike, a bachelor farmer who lived the next farm place over to the east. They are decades gone now, their final harvests long-finished.
These emotions rush like a blustery October wind into my thoughts as winter approaches. As harvest continues, as seasons pass and life goes on.
TELL ME: Do you go for country drives to view the harvest? Or, if you live in a city, how do you celebrate autumn? I’d like to hear, wherever you live. I welcome harvest memories also.
THE MUTED AND VIBRANT HUES of autumn mix in the rural Rice County landscape, creating stunning seasonal scenes. If you crave color and harvest, this is your moment to get out for an afternoon country drive.
Randy and I consider our county a best-kept-secret-place to view fall colors. Last weekend we traveled mostly gravel and county roads from Faribault to the Nerstrand area and back and then west to Kelly Lake. In between, we stopped for a hike at Caron Park, a picnic lunch at the hilltop Valley Grove churches and then for apples at Apple Creek Orchard.
As farm-raised kids—me in southwestern Minnesota and Randy in central Minnesota—we find ourselves drawn to the countryside, especially during spring planting and then again during fall harvest. Our weekend drives updated us on harvest progress as we passed fields of corn and soybeans. Some picked. Some still drying under the intermittent autumn sun.
Across an expanse of cornfield on County Road 84/Falk Avenue (just off County Road 20 between Cannon City and Northfield), we paused to admire a treeline in the distance. We return here each year to simply stop and appreciate the hillside aflame with the hues of autumn.
Likewise, we also follow nearby Farmers Trail, a remote gravel road (off Falk Avenue) which winds through woods. Primarily maples as evidenced by the colors and by the blue maple syrup tube collection system that weaves through the trees.
Caron Park, too, draws us to stop and hike into the woods. It’s a less-crowded option than the nearby popular Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The treeline at Caron Park, behind an open field of muted, dried grasses, is particularly stunning.
We walked into the woods, following a leaf-covered, eroded dirt trail that made me uncomfortable and unsure of my footing. Tree roots presented potential tripping obstacles. I focused more on staying upright than anything. Yet, despite that, I enjoyed the quiet and beauty of the woods. As did others, mostly young families.
As we continued to follow country gravel roads, we sometimes drove in clouds of dust trailing pick-up trucks. That, too, reminds me of my agrarian upbringing. Yes, nostalgia often seeps into our view and our conversations. Once a farm girl/boy, always a farm girl/boy. Even if we’re decades removed from the farm.
I love how the rural countryside of Rice County often sweeps in valleys and hills, providing incredible vistas. Of farmland. Of wooded and open hillsides. Of land and sky connecting. All connected by gravel roads. This rural setting rates as particularly stunning in autumn.
We ended our drive at another favorite fall destination, the public boat landing at Kelly Lake northwest of Faribault. The view of the treeline across the water—which was unusually clear—always looks particularly lovely, although the colors were not at their peak yet during out stop. Soon.
Heading back into Faribault toward home, I admired, too, how beautiful the trees in my community. Seventh Street. Second Avenue. There’s much to be said for looking in your own backyard for autumn’s glory. And I’ve found it. Right here, in Rice County.
FYI: Please check back for more photos from our country drive and for separate posts on Valley Grove churches and Apple Creek Orchard.
DAYS AGO I SWITCHED out the art in my home to autumn scenes. To reflect the changing season.
I leaned two paint-by-number autumn landscapes, acquired several years ago in Detroit Lakes, atop a vintage chest of drawers. I exchanged an old mill scene for a rendition of a river winding through flaming orange woods in an interchangeable print my parents received as a 1967 housewarming gift. I hung a crewel embroidery piece I stitched of a multi-hued treeline set against a mountain backdrop. It was a 1974 high school graduation gift from my Uncle John and Aunt Sue. And I placed, too, a mammoth print of Robert Woods “White Mountains and Aspens” purchased for a few dollars at a garage sale in Medford.
Every piece of art I own—and I have a lot, acquired mostly at garage sales, thrift stores and recycled art sales at bargain prices—means something to me. Some is personal. But others simply inspire me or give me peace or take me into nature, as does most of the art now decorating my home.
It’s as if I’m bringing the outdoors in.
Outside, autumn eases into the landscape with oranges, yellows, reds and browns painting over green leaves. I noticed that especially last week on a short get-away to the central Minnesota lakes region where Randy and I stayed for several days at a family lake cabin south of Crosslake. We hiked into the woods at Mission Park and I found myself stopping often to photograph the leaves and the abundance of wild mushrooms. I’ll showcase images from that park soon. But for today, you get this solo image.
Take time to step outdoors. To walk in the woods. To appreciate the beauty of autumn as she paints color into the landscape. I welcome these September days. The cool mornings and evenings. The sunshine that warms the day. The earthy scent of the outdoors. The changing colors that delight me visually, that make this season so beloved to me.
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.
FLOWERS OF SPRING EMERGE in the woods. Among layers of dried leaves. Among fallen limbs. Sometimes blanketing hillsides.
Saturday morning, as Randy and I hiked through Kaplan’s Woods Park in Owatonna, I found myself searching the edges of the wood chip covered trails for wildflowers.
This time of year, especially, I crave flowers. They represent the shifting of seasons, of plant life erupting as the landscape transforms.
Green begins to fill the woods, accented by bursts of violet and yellow and white hugging the earth. Low to the ground, easily missed if you focus only on the trail ahead.
We have walked Kaplan’s only a few times and this visit I noticed the low water level of the creek that winds through the woods.
I noticed also the noise of traffic from nearby Interstate 35. Motorists en route somewhere on an incredibly warm and sunny morning in southern Minnesota. I hope that at some point they paused to appreciate the day. The sun. The trees. Maybe even the wildflowers. And the brush strokes of green tinting the landscape.
With trees, a variety of other plant life, waterfowl, songbirds and the rare occasional sighting of wildlife, this makes for an interesting place to walk. Especially for a photographer. Even though I’ve been here many times, I enjoy the challenge of finding new ways to photograph a familiar setting.
As I followed the roadways, a theme emerged. Remnants. And reawakening.
Everywhere I looked, I saw remnants of seasons past.
Bare branches. Dried berries. Grey milkweed pods. Fluffs of cattails.
April marks the transition from dormancy to reawakening. Spring bursts into the landscape in tree buds, in green grass, in the reddening of dogwood.
I noticed, too, when photographing the on-site wind turbine, the scuttle of white clouds against blue sky.
After months of grey everything, the sky looks bluer, the new green greener.
I don’t know if this is a Minnesota thing, this seeing spring colors through an especially vivid lens, or whether this is universal as seasons shift. Or perhaps it’s the photographer in me.
Yet, as much as I credit myself for environment awareness, I missed the chipmunk camouflaged among rocks along the creek.
I missed, too, the muskrat rippling away from the shoreline into the pond. And the dead fish lying on its side near water’s edge. Randy saw all three and drew my attention to them. Then he wondered why I would photograph a dead fish. “Because I want to show what I saw,” I say. Yes, even the unappealing. Life isn’t always pretty.
Yet, we can choose to focus on the beauty in life—in the remnants and reawakening. And we can choose to shut out the noise that threatens to silence the sounds of joy.
SPRING IN MINNESOTA brings depth to the landscape. A richness of color. Months of grey and brown fade, replaced by pops of vibrant hues in spring flowers, by vivid blue skies, by bursts of green in leafing trees.
My backyard shows all those signs of spring. As I hang laundry on the line on an April morning with a lingering nip of cold, the sun shines bright. The shrill voice of cardinals pierces through the steady noise of traffic.
Around the corner, next to the house foundation, 18 red and yellow tulips await the shifting of the sun. Soon they will “open their mouths,” as my now 30-something daughter assessed as a toddler.
In the same flowerbeds, ferns rise from the earth. Soon to fill the space, to wave in the wind with a rhythm that seems poetically beautiful.
Hostas erupt in clusters of green leaves that will eventually spread wide.
And in three spots along the fence, bleeding hearts emerge, buds already forming on one plant.
This week has proven hard on plants with morning temps in the 20s. Tulip heads and bleeding heart buds drooped, bowing to the cold. They’ve since rebounded.
The reality of spring in Minnesota is fickle. One day sunshine and warmth, the next snow flurries and cold. I never quite trust, even in April and into early May, that winter has exited. We’ve experienced May snowstorms and certainly plenty in April. Snow shovels remain at the ready.
But for today, I believe in spring. I see it. Overhead in the greening of trees against the blue sky. Below in the push of plants through the cold soil. And in my spirit, I feel a renewed sense of optimism, a joyfulness that comes in this season of hanging laundry on the line with the sun beaming bright.
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.
These past few days, especially, of sunshine and 70-degree temps have sprung spring. To see buds forming, to hear birdsong, to feel sun upon skin…oh, the joy.
On Saturday evening, as the sun set, Randy and I followed the asphalt trail that winds along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite place to walk. Uncrowded. Beautiful.
I love the way the trail curves around trees.
I love how the river draws my eyes to view reflections and to appreciate the ducks and geese which populate this waterway. The quacking of a lone mallard pulled me to river’s edge. I observed how the water trailed in a lengthy V as the duck paddled across the still surface. Poetry seen, not written.
Across the Cannon, the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill focused my eyes as it reflected in the river. And I thought of all the blankets woven here, the history of this place.
At the Cannon River Dam, aside the trail, I noticed how the dam walkway seemingly follows a straight line to the historic mill. Sometimes it’s about perspective, pausing to consider a place in a different way. I challenge myself, in my photography, to view my surroundings creatively. While I created, people fished, a popular activity along this stretch of the Cannon.
The river absorbed the pink tint of twilight. Soft. Muted. Another poem to photograph.
And if I’d had my zoom lens on my Canon EOS 20-D, I would also have photographed the two bald eagles following the river like a road map. I never tire of watching these majestic birds.
As day edged closer to night, Randy and I retraced our route back to the van. A bit farther down the trail, teens packed basketball courts, their raucous voices rising.
To the west, the sun glowed fiery orange like an exclamation mark ending a glorious spring day in southeastern Minnesota.
AS SPRING EASES INTO MINNESOTA, I embrace the transition of seasons in indecisive weather and in the subtle greening of the landscape.
I don’t trust that winter has really, truly, exited. Yet, these early glimpses of spring assure me that the bulk of winter lies behind us.
I saw that in the woods of Falls Creek County Park on Sunday afternoon. Randy and I hiked in this 61-acre park a mile east of Faribault off Minnesota State Highway 60. It’s a relatively unused park, one of the reasons we are drawn here.
Here a dirt hiking path curves along the waterway winding through woods. Access to that path comes via an arched pedestrian bridge. There water rushes over rocks and we always pause to appreciate the soothing sound of rushing water.
And we also always walk to the side of the creek, to examine the water at the bend, before it flows under the bridge. Recent rain left that water muddied. Later we would find the creek flowing clear.
Entering the woods, I determined to photograph signs of spring in the muted landscape. That requires focus. Examples of spring are elusive and seen mostly in vivid green moss carpeting fallen tree trunks.
But I can photograph only so much moss. Thus I expanded my perspective. Nature writes details upon the landscape. Even in a scene of mostly muted browns.
Hillsides of trees rising
and fungi laddering
and dried leaves curling.
And the branches of a tree twisting like antlers.
And felled trees that appear like natural sculptures.
All of these nuances I noticed as we walked, as I stopped to take in my surroundings, as Randy steadied me while I crossed a makeshift branch bridge across a spillway.
There is much to see in this seasonal transition, if only we pause to appreciate. To look. And really see. To hear. And really listen. It’s there. The poetry of wind and water and woods and words.