DISCLAIMER: If you don’t want to read the words snow or winter, then stop reading. This is a post about both. But also about spring. And a book.
Three prompts led me to write on this seasonal topic. First, when I was scanning my mom’s journals recently, I came across a May 11, 1966, entry in which she wrote, “Snow on the ground.” This didn’t surprise me. Occasionally snow falls in southern Minnesota in May. While I don’t recall the 1966 snow Mom references, I do remember driving back from my native prairie once on Memorial Day weekend to see snow atop a car in New Ulm. That would be at the end of May.
Secondly, a few weeks ago, Randy asked whether he should put the snow shovels away. I encouraged him to wait. And he did, until he felt confident the possibility of snow had passed. It has. I hope.
With minimal words per page, Schroeder writes the story of a week-long snowfall. Day after day after day the snow piles high around a menagerie of animals. Rabbit, fox, bear, moose… Illustrator Sarah Jacoby’s art has a dreamy, soft quality, just like the falling snow. That both artist (from Pittsburgh) and author understand winter is clear in their work.
Eventually, the sun shines, the snow melts, the grass greens. And spring, so it seems, has arrived. But then, a last page surprise. You can probably guess what that may be. It happens here in Minnesota seemingly every year. Just when we think winter has ended…
AS A WRITER AND PHOTOGRAPHER, I view the natural world through a creative lens. I appreciate the nuances that comprise the whole. And right now those details are sharp, vivid and nearly visually overwhelming (in a good way) after living for too many months in a monochromatic environment.
I need only step into my yard to take in the greening of spring. Buds forming and then unfurling on the maple.
Clumped, clamped buds about to open into fuchsia bleeding hearts.
Curled fiddleheads stretching, soon to unfold into fronds of ferns that wave in the wind.
Within the perimeters of my property, spring bursts in new growth. Tiny green buds line the thick wood stalks of old-fashioned hydrangea that will soon fill the spaces flanking my front steps. Red and yellow tulips jolt color into flowerbeds, among a jumbo of irises that will eventually blossom in yellow and purple, their sweet scent a reminder of my mother. Iris was her favorite flower.
Oh, how I love these early days of May. These days when everything appears lush and intensely green. Spring green. Vibrant. It’s as if every bright green in a box of Crayola crayons colors the landscape. And when the sky is intensely blue, the greens seem even more intense.
These are the days when dandelions pop and grass seemingly grows as you watch. These are the days, too, of raking away the leaf remnants of last fall and cutting back dead flower stems and mentally transitioning into this season we’ve been awaiting since the first snow fell.
It was an undeniably long winter in Minnesota with near-record snowfall, with teases of spring (even summer) before snow fell again. We are now only finally beginning to believe that we can put away the snow shovels, shove the snowblowers into the corners of our garages, banish winter coats to the back of the closet.
Every day of warm temps and blue skies and new greens convinces me that this is for real. Spring has finally arrived in southern Minnesota in her poetically beautiful way. I hear it in birdsong, in the piercing whistle of a cardinal flashing red in the wooded hillside behind my house. I hear it in the rhythmic raking of dried leaves. I hear it in the roar of motorcycles flying down my street.
But mostly I see the shift of seasons in the greening of spring, of trees no longer bare, but spreading in a canopy of green. Of wild raspberries stretching across limestone wall to latch into the earth. Of hostas erupting.
This marks a time of renewal, of hope, of emerging from the cocooning quiet and oppressiveness of winter into a world that feels, looks, sounds utterly and joyfully alive.
PERHAPS HE SHOULDN’T MESS with their bird brains. That’s not Randy’s intention when he whistles back at whistling cardinals. But my husband seems to enjoy the challenge, the sport, the act of communicating with the cardinals that frequent our neighborhood.
This time of year especially—which in Minnesota means weather that is spring on the calendar but yet sometimes still very much winter in reality—erupts in birdsong. Trees show just the slightest hint of green. Birds sense the shifting season, soon time to craft a nest, settle in and raise a family.
Randy recognizes that this boisterous season of bird calls brings endless opportunities to practice his cardinal calls. He doesn’t really need practice, in my opinion. He’s nailed the cardinal’s whistle so well that, if I close my eyes and listen, I can’t distinguish the human from the bird, the bird from the human.
Whether the birds can tell the difference, I’m uncertain. But the cardinals always answer him, which tells me Randy’s mimic of their whistle is convincing.
I’ve never been much of a bird person, having grown up with rather common, plain birds like blackbirds, sparrows, robins and the detestable barn swallows. The bomb-diving swallows “attacking” me (so it seemed) as I pushed a wheelbarrow of ground feed down the barn aisle is the stuff of nightmares. Those unpleasant memories will never make me a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”
Only one bird on my native prairie home place could be considered anything but ordinary. It was not the cardinal; there were none. Rather we had a pair of Baltimore Orioles, which my mom adored. They were “her” birds, a bit of exotic avian beauty in her ordinary farm life world.
In my current-day ordinary town life world, the cardinal is my exotic bird. A flash of red. A sharp whistle that cuts through the street noise. And a time for me to bear witness to a conversation between man and bird.
TELL ME: Do you have a favorite bird? Any bird stories to share. I’d like to hear.
FARIBO FROSTY ISN’T RUNNING away with promises to return next winter. Instead, he’s melting in place, his once broad smile replaced by a frown.
But Faribault’s ginormous snowman, crafted by the Andy Hoisington family, may be the only one saddened by the 50 and 60-degree temps forecast for southern Minnesota beginning on Friday. I’m smiling and I expect many others are, too. It’s been an incredibly snowy winter with our seasonal snowfall total in the top three for Minnesota. This has been a forever winter.
And even though it saddens me to see rotund, 17-foot tall Faribo Frosty slimming down and eventually melting into a puddle, I expect he really will be back. The Hoisingtons have built and maintained an over-sized snowman for 18 years, their gift to the community and a reason to smile.
I am smiling wide these days as the snow pack dwindles, revealing dormant grass. Everywhere I look, lawns are visible. Yes, snow still covers shaded areas and snow piles remain. But mostly, it’s beginning to look like spring here, which if you go by the calendar, it is. Tell that to the good Minnesotans who found themselves in yet another blizzard earlier this week.
Here in southern Minnesota, rain, rather than snow, fell. Temps, though, stubbornly continue in the 30s with a raw wind. So winter coats are still the dress code of the day.
But winter is loosening its hold under pressure from the sun. Tulips and other spring perennials are popping through the soil in my yard. A few more weeks and they will blaze bold hues. And if I rooted around, I expect I would find crocuses emerging under a layer of leaf mulch.
Another sure sign of spring are spring openers for the Minnesota Twins and the St. Paul Saints. The major and minor league baseball teams rescheduled their openers this week because of weather. No one really wants to sit in a stadium and watch baseball in 30-degree temps coupled with strong winds. But by the time the ball hits the glove late this afternoon (Saints) and on Friday (Twins), conditions should be comfortable, if not balmy by early April in Minnesota standards.
So, yes, I think we’ve turned the corner. Faribo Frosty will need to accept that and graciously exit while promising to return again some day…long after the crocuses are done blooming.
TODAY, THE FIRST DAY of spring, hope springs that this long winter of too much snow will soon exit Minnesota. Most Minnesotans, including me, are weary of days marked by new snowfall that has accumulated, pushing this 2022-2023 winter season into top 10 records in our state.
But now, with the official start of a new season on March 20—the season of new life, the season of planting and budding and greening—I feel a mental shift. Psychologically, my mind can envision a landscape shifting from colorless monochrome to vivid greens. I can feel the warmth of warmer days yet to come. I can smell the scent of dirt released, breaking from winter’s grip. I can hear the singsong chatter of returning birds. I can taste asparagus spears snapped from the soil.
All of this is yet to come. I understand that. A date on a calendar doesn’t mean spring in Minnesota. That season is realistically weeks away. April can still bring inches of snow.
But we are edging toward spring. I feel that in temps sometimes reaching just past 40 degrees. I feel it in the warmth of the sun, shining brighter, bolder, longer. I see dwindling snow packs and exposed patches of grass. I hear spring in vehicles splashing through puddles rather than crunching across snow. I see spring, too, in the endless potholes pocking roadways.
On this first day of spring, I am reminded of a poem I penned in 2011, a poem which splashed across four billboards along a road just off Interstate 94 in Fergus Falls in west central Minnesota. To this day, publication of that poem remains an especially rewarding experience for me as a poet.
I submitted the poem to the now-defunct Roadside Poetry Project’s spring competition. Poems changed out seasonally in this Fergus Falls Area College Foundation funded contest. It was a bit of a challenge writing a spring-themed poem, as I recall. Not because of the theme, but rather the rules—four lines only with a 20-character-per-line limit. But, as a writer, it’s good to be challenged.
I suppose you could say the same about Minnesota weather. It’s good to be challenged by an especially snowy winter so we appreciate spring’s arrival even more. Yes, that’s a positive perspective—a way to mentally and psychologically talk myself into enduring perhaps six more weeks of winter in this official season of spring.
NOTE: I intentionally omitted any pictures showing snow/winter.
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.