Opportunities abound to observe newly-hatched spring waterfowl in my Minnesota community of Faribault, where two rivers run through—the Straight and the Cannon—and assorted ponds dot the landscape.
On a recent stop at River Bend Nature Center, I expected to see goslings and ducklings. But I didn’t. Instead, I saw two adult ducks in the grass aside the road upon entering the center. And then I spotted two grown geese atop a nest and a lone goose cruising the nearby pond. I need to check other locales, like the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. Ducks and geese are prolific there to the point of being a nuisance. I always watch where I step.
Despite the absence of sighting newborn waterfowl at River Bend, I found other scenes to focus my interest. I especially appreciated the sky, a patchwork of blue and white with clouds seemingly suspended overhead.
And below, in the pond, those skies reflected on the water, among dried and greening grasses.
This time in May, especially with a late spring, seasons mix. Textures and remnants of autumn remain, contrasting with the greening of spring.
A short walk to the nearby waterfall yielded disappointment. With the recent rains, I expected water to be rushing over the rock ledges. Rather, there was barely a trickle. The same went for the spring, just off the parking lot near the nature center entrance. No water flowed.
But back in the pond, the three geese I watched seemed comfortably settled. Soon, I expect, they will make way for goslings (not ducklings).
I FIND MYSELF, daily, tipping my head back to view the trees, leaves unfurling, greening the landscape.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Still, despite the obstacles, this park is navigable. And worth visiting, especially now, when wildflowers blanket the woods. White, yellow, purple.
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.
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.
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.
ON THE AFTERNOON of River Bend’s Maple Syrup Fun Run, Randy and I followed a dirt trail into the nature center from Teepee Tonka Park. We’d just finished a picnic lunch alongside the Straight River, where we watched the fast-flowing water, a swooping blue jay and a father hiking with his two young daughters through the riverside woods. We also discussed how Faribault needs a canoe and kayak launch site.
And then, once we finished eating and planning, we dropped the cooler in the van and walked a ways into the woods. Our pace is typically leisurely. I prefer a take your time, notice, listen and see hike compared to a raising your heart rate pace. My photography factors into that.
This walk found me pausing to photograph fungi laddering a towering tree.
And a bit further, Randy and I stopped to watch a robin nip at, then fully consume, an earthworm.
Onward we went, lingering on the pedestrian bridge to watch the river flow. I never tire of the poetically powerful pull of flowing water. It’s soothing and comforting and peaceful. Something I needed to feel on this Saturday, at the end of an incredibly stressful week.
A ways down the path, Randy noticed a critter among debris tossed over the hillside by the former state hospital onto land adjoining the trail. Who knows what junk lies here? Or what animals. As hard as I looked, I couldn’t see the creature he noticed.
Then along came a young couple with their dog and we engaged in a brief conversation. They’ve poked around in the junk, they said, and found old bottles. And an old Fresca can from the 1980s. Randy and I caught each others’ eyes. “Old Fresca can from the 1980s.” Inwardly we laughed. The 1980s do not fit our definition of “old.”
On they went. On we went. Soon we reversed, retracing our steps. I noticed the greening trees and landscape. I could see spring. Feel it. Finally. I welcomed the nuances of May, of sunshine and warmth, in a spring that has been too cold and rainy. I found spring in the woods. In a robin. In a river. In recognizing the beauty of this unfolding season.
The art is unexpected. It’s vibrant. And it honors the ecologies of the Northfield area with four focused themes: Nerstrand Big Woods, the Cannon River, Oak Savannas and Prairie.
With the exception of winter, the paintings also cover three of Minnesota’s four distinct seasons.
Because it’s spring, I’ll start by showing you the spring-themed art depicting nearby Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The park proves a popular hiking spot with attractions like Hidden Falls, the rare Minnesota Dwarf Trout Lily and, in the autumn, spectacular colors.
Seeing these murals for the first time calls for a thoughtful pace of studying the art, appreciating it and reflecting on how beautiful the natural world in and around Northfield.
Vehicles may be passing overhead, but inside those underpasses the quiet beauty of nature prevails.
This roundabout came about because of a need for improved pedestrian safety and traffic flow along stretches of roadway used by commuters and kids/families going to and from school. I expect the roundabout, once people adjusted to it, has achieved its goal.
And then to have that bonus art beneath, well, what a welcome addition to an otherwise utilitarian project. The public art in Northfield brings to mind another such space that would work well for a nature-themed mural. That’s the tunnel under Highway 371 in Nisswa, a small, but busy, tourist town in the central Minnesota lakes region. Last time I walked through the 371 underpass from downtown Nisswa to Nisswa Lake Park, chalk art marked walls. I can envision Adam Turman’s bold graphic murals brightening this pedestrian and biking route with scenes depicting nature or perhaps Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox of Minnesota northwoods lore.
MINNESOTANS LOVE to talk weather. And for good reason. Weather shapes our lives—what we do on any given day, how we feel, where we go…
And right now, when we should be in the throes of spring, we Minnesotans feel like we’re stuck in winter. It’s been an unseasonably cold and rainy April that has truly dampened spirits. We want, OK, need, sunshine and warmth after too many months of winter. That said, I really shouldn’t complain. Up North, snow still layers the ground and ice 20 inches thick freezes some lakes.
Yet, no matter where you live in Minnesota, day after day after day of grey skies coupled with low temps in the 20s and 30s takes a psychological toll. I should be wearing a spring jacket rather than a winter coat. My tulips should be blooming. Heck, the dandelions should be pushing through neighbors’ lawns. Trees should be budding green.
Instead, the overall landscape appears, well, pretty darned drab.
But, last Saturday we experienced a one-day reprieve of unseasonable warmth with the temp soaring to nearly 80 degrees. Typical high this time of year is around 60 degrees. It was a get-outside day. Don’t-waste-a-moment-indoors day. So Randy and I didn’t. We attended the Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, enjoyed craft beer at Chapel Brewing along the banks of the Cannon River in Dundas, walked a section of the Straight River Trail in Faribault and later followed part of the trail along the Cannon in North Alexander Park. Strong winds factored into every facet of our time outdoors, though.
But, oh, how glorious to walk in warmth.
This feeling of remaining stuck in perpetual winter will end. I need to remind myself of that…even as the forecast for more rain and unseasonably cold temps (highs in the 40s) prevails.
GIVE MINNESOTANS A STRING of warm March days like we experienced briefly around the official first day of spring, and we’ll pop out of hibernation in full force.
Note that as I write this, though, snow globe snowflakes descend, layering the landscape and reminding us that, even if the calendar shows spring, in reality it is not. Temps are back into the 30s and 40s after those few days of 50s and 60s, topping 70 degrees.
During that brief hiatus from winter, I observed lots of people out and about while I was out and about. Walkers. Bikers. Babies in strollers. Kids playing in yards. A teen on a hoverboard. And a teen on a skateboard.
Warm weather multiplies the number of motorcycles on the road, too, as they roar out of storage. Note that some bikers ride even in winter, although not during snowfalls.
On that Monday of 70 degrees, I hung laundry on the line and then threw open windows to air out the house. Within minutes of opening windows, the street sweeper crept by, spinning dust clouds. I raced to close street-side windows.
Spring will come. As a life-long Minnesotan, I realize that. It’s just that as I age, winter seems longer. And colder.
TELL ME: Has spring arrived where you live? How do you define spring’s arrival?
AFTER WHAT SEEMED an especially long, cold winter in Minnesota, spring is emerging. And although the calendar confirms that with the vernal equinox on March 20, I need only look around me to verify this change in seasons.
Several days of gloriously warm weather, capping with 70 degrees on Monday, meant lots of time outdoors in the warmth and sunshine. And nature, mostly nature.
I especially delight in following the packed dirt roads at Faribault Energy Park. Even with its location next to busy Interstate 35, the park provides, for me, a preferred place to immerse myself in the outdoors. I love the wide sky, the prairie feel of this landscape.
As I began my walk around the on-site ponds that attract waterfowl aplenty, I hear first the overwhelming chorus of birdsong. Red-winged blackbirds, perched high atop a cluster of trees, trill a song of spring. I welcome the music.
On two of the three ponds, I observe ducks and geese—mostly geese—rippling gracefully across the open water.
The water on the pond nearest the energy plant remains frozen except along the fringes where an angler catches and releases bass and bluegills. It’s a good place to fish with kids, he says, or for someone like him, a kid. I laugh.
As I follow the paths and walk along main pond’s edge with camera slung around my neck, I notice the remnants of seasons past interwoven with signs of spring.
Dried leaves, sumac, grasses, cattails, berries, milkweed pods, pine cones, even a bird nest tucked low in the crook of a tree, remain from months earlier.
But now, amid all those visuals of autumn and winter, spring pops. Red dogwood colors the brush.
Pussy willow buds open, tracing a line of mini cotton balls along slender branches.
I take in this seasonal change. With my eyes, then my camera. And I listen to those blackbirds in concert, interrupted by the occasional applause of geese against the background music of I-35 traffic.
It’s good to be here, to experience the beginning of spring. To connect to the earth along muddy dirt roads. To feel, hear and observe the transition of seasons as we step into spring in southern Minnesota.
FOR RANDY AND ME, and likely others in the Faribault area, the opening of “the Little DQ” signals the shift to spring in Minnesota.
Late Sunday afternoon we joined the line of vehicles snaking around the small Dairy Queen along Lyndale Avenue. Our mission: To order the five-day opening special, a Peanut Buster Parfait for $1.99. Make that two, please. That totaled $4.28, with tax.
The drive-up (walk-up was closed) DQ opened on February 18 after a seasonal closure on October 29, 2021. The closing special was the same as the opening special—those bargain parfaits loaded with peanuts and oozing layers of rich chocolate fudge over soft serve ice cream. Yum.
But the treat is also loaded with calories. As we waited, I noted the calorie count of 710 on a sign. Yikes. It’s a good thing we treat ourselves to DQ only twice a year. In October and then again in March.
I also struggle with the regular price of $4.99 (I wouldn’t pay that price) for a single parfait. I realize DQ is in the business of making money, but that price point exceeds my cost comfort level. I can purchase a 1.5 quart container of ice cream from my local grocery store for around $3. That yields nine servings with a lot fewer calories. Around 200 for two-thirds of a cup versus 710 for that Peanut Buster Parfait.
I know, it’s not the same. Different type of ice cream. Different experience. DQ, for us, is a treat. It also signals the shift in seasons. In October, the move from fall to winter. And in March, the move from winter toward spring. Even as remnants of snow still bank the ground.
TELL ME: What’s your favorite Dairy Queen treat? How often do you go to DQ? Or do you have another favorite ice cream source?
IN THE DEPTHS of a Minnesota winter, when snow layers the landscape and cold settles into my bones, I long for spring. I yearn for color, for warmth, for stepping outdoors without first donning, boots, winter coat, scarf, hat and mittens.
In that mind frame, I recently purchased a hyacinth bulb at Aldi. It was in the non-food aisle of oddities—those items you don’t necessarily need but may buy on impulse. But I did need this. I needed a visual pop of spring, of color, in my home.
A year ago I bought a hyacinth bulb in a mini vase at Aldi, too, but for my son who at the time lived in Madison, Wisconsin. He struggles with the cold, with winter in general. So, for a few bucks, I jolted color into his apartment. He’s now living in Indiana, some eight-plus hours away, thus no hyacinth this winter.
Instead, I would delight in this spring flower associated with the Greek god Apollo. I chose a pink hyacinth this year rather than the blue gifted to Caleb. My granddaughter loves pink and I was hoping to give the spring flower to her. But then my mom died and Izzy was sick (not COVID) and time got away and I haven’t seen the grandkids since early January.
It was meant to be—for me to tend this bulb with buds clamped, then lengthening and unfurling into two beautiful blossom branches.
Each morning I moved the vase to the east-facing front picture window, into the morning light. I delighted in white roots expanding in the water-filled vase. I topped the water as instructed. I watched the greenery grow remarkably fast…until the first flowers bloomed. Lovely pink. And a fragrance equally lovely in intensity.
Then the bulb tipped in the vase at the weight of the blooming stem. I leaned the heavy bloom against the window, propping it into balance.
Soon a second shoot shot to the side. More flowers. Flowers set against a backdrop of snow. A symbol of spring in the depths of a cold Minnesota winter.
TELL ME: Have you grown a spring bulb inside your home in winter? I’d like to hear what and why.
While my beloved Uncle Mike is long gone, the memories of the lilac bush which grew on his farm remain. I think of him each May when Randy brings me clutches of lilacs. It’s a sweet tradition. Loving. Appreciated more than a dozen roses, although those are lovely, too.
When Randy walked through the back door a few days ago with lilacs, I was surprised. Not that I should have been. He does this every May. I appreciate his thoughtfulness. I appreciate that he takes the time to gather these flowers for me at the end of a long work day.
There’s something simply sweet and precious about his remembering, his recognition of how much I value this heartfelt gift of love.
Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May, I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes, heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.
He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs, to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms, to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table, romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.
Such memories linger as my own love, decades later, pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans, balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes, clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.