Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My impressions of Marine on St. Croix October 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,
The volunteer fire department is housed in the heart of the downtown.

The volunteer fire department is housed in the heart of the one-block, give or take a little, downtown.

MARINE ON ST. CROIX. It sounds so poetic, those four linked words that name a village banking the St. Croix River.

And it is that in the sense of feeling like you could be perhaps in South Shaftsbury, Vermont—although I’ve never traveled there and have no idea if this Minnesota community is at all like Shaftsbury—where Robert Frost penned his most famous of poems, “Stopping By the Woods On A Snowy Evening.”

A quick snapshot shows the Village Hall to the right and the Marine General Store on the far left.

A quick snapshot shows the Village Hall to the right and the Marine General Store two doors down.

Marine on St. Croix presents history and nature mingled in a quaint New England type setting. Here the 1870 General Store and 1888 Village Hall still serve this community of 700, although I have no idea where all those residents live. Apparently not near the town’s business district. Perhaps across the roadway which, to the north, will take you to Taylors Falls and, to the south, to Stillwater.

Fabric flags remind me of simpler times.

Fabric flags outside Reclaiming Beautiful remind me of simpler times.

This place has a timeless, poetic feel. Woods and river. Aged wood frame buildings. A history that stretches back to 1839 when this settlement was termed Marine Mills and served as home to the first commercial sawmill along the St. Croix River. That makes Marine on St. Croix 175 years old this year, founded 19 years before Minnesota became a state.

I can almost smell the scent of white pine which once forested this region, see logs bobbing in the St. Croix, hear the screech of saw against wood, domesticating trunks into lumber.

That aged General Store, which I didn't check out, but wish I had. Next time.

That aged General Store, which I didn’t check out, but wish I had. Next time.

Pausing at the General Store, I imagine deep dark coffee beans and yards of cotton calico and sticks of penny candy.

A sign points to ice cream, but...

A sign points to ice cream, but…

...the shop is closed for the season.

…the shop is closed for the season.

Marine on St. Croix clings to its past in a good sort of way that makes you want to stay longer, to linger and think poetic thoughts.

BONUS PHOTOS:

There's a garage in town.

There’s a garage in town.

And a cafe with that curious bike marking it.

And a cafe with a bike, minus Toto, marking it.

Reclaiming Beautiful was closed on the day of my visit.

Reclaiming Beautiful was closed on the day of my visit.

But the bar was open, although I did not check it out.

But the bar was open, although I did not check it out.

And the volunteer firemen were on duty.

And the volunteer firemen were on duty.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring the Minnesota side of Interstate Park October 17, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,
Westbound from Wisconsin and about to cross the St. Croix River into Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Interstate Park is just over the bridge to the left.

Westbound from Wisconsin and about to cross the St. Croix River into Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Interstate Park is just over the bridge to the left.

PUBLISHED IN 1953 in the anthology Minnesota Skyline, the poem “Taylors Falls” by Pearl Nearpass opens with these lines:

Climb higher and higher in the Dalles of the St. Croix
Until you look over the jutting cliffs
Of echoing beauty, the great eternal mounting
For a village linked and timed with history.

From the Wisconsin side, you

From the Wisconsin side of Interstate Park, you can see Minnesota’s Interstate Park to the right of the St. Croix.

History seems chiseled in stone here, rock carved away by forces of nature to reveal the magnificent St. Croix River gorge that divides Minnesota and Wisconsin.

You can glimpse the St. Croix River through the trees.

You can glimpse the St. Croix River through the trees.

Everywhere walls of rock dominate.

Everywhere walls of rock dominate.

Stunning views of the gorge prevail.

Stunning views of the gorge prevail.

Interstate Park, a duo state park just outside Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, offers spectacular views of the Dalles of the St. Croix. Towering cliffs of solid rock. Jutting pine trees. River running wild.

Rocks pock the ground in both parks.

Rocks pock the ground in both parks.

Visit both, even though the Wisconsin park ranger suggested if my husband and I had to choose one, we choose hiking the Wisconsin side as it offers more trails. Maybe so. But the experience in each differs. We found the two trails we hiked in our neighboring state to be much more rugged than those in Minnesota.

The path through Devil's Parlor.

The path through Devil’s Parlor.

And an explanation of Devil's Parlor.

And an explanation of Devil’s Parlor.

Railings are welcome along rocky walls.

Railings are welcome along rocky walls.

In Minnesota’s park, railings and asphalt and planked walkways are more accommodating to those who prefer an easier perusal of the land. After following a short, rugged path to view the steep-sided river gorge, we followed a trail that led us down steps and into Devil’s Parlor and The Bake Oven, areas of rock carved away by water.

Nature's peephole with the Taylor Falls Princess awaiting passengers in the river below.

Nature’s peephole with the Taylor Falls Princess awaiting passengers in the river below.

Down the river just a bit, the Taylors Falls Queen was docked, too.

Down the river just a bit, the Taylors Falls Queen was docked, too.

The Minnesota side of the park also serves as the launch site for river cruises, a popular activity on the day we visited. One can only imagine the steamboats that once docked along this river.

Somehow trees grow seemingly right out of the rock.

Somehow trees grow seemingly right out of the rock.

Continues Pearl:

No longer the blasting charges
Drown the voices of loggers and waters.
But lonely and majestic moves the breeze
Above the pot-holes and the Devil’s Chair
Of a village albumed in history.

FYI: To read my post about the Wisconsin side of Interstate Park, click here.

(Poetry excerpts from Minnesota Skyline, Anthology of Poems About Minnesota, published in 1953 by The Lund Press, Inc. and a gift from my eldest daughter.)

 

Hiking rugged and rocky Interstate Park in Wisconsin October 16, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,
Rocky terrain defines Wisconsin's Interstate Park.

Rocky terrain defines Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.

HIKING INTERSTATE PARK along the St. Croix River in Wisconsin requires the sure-footedness of a mountain goat, the eagle eye of a bird of prey or, minimal, a walking stick or steady hand of a friend or family member.

I discovered that last week while exploring the park with my husband, Randy, who offered his hand numerous times to guide me safely along rocky paths.

I’ll admit that, with my camera in tow and an artificial right hip, I tend to be more cautious than most.

Rock steps along a trail.

Rock steps along a trail.

But we pretty much tossed caution aside when Randy decided we should hike, I mean climb, the .8-mile Eagle Peak Trail to the highest point overlooking the valley. Here’s a description of that path from a park publication: unsurfaced; stone stairs; uneven and steep terrain.

Pine needles and fallen leaves hide trail obstacles.

Pine needles and fallen leaves hide trail obstacles.

Add to that pine needles and leaves hiding underfoot rocks, plus sticks that roll quite easily under soles, and you have treacherous conditions. I’m not an experienced hiker, so take my comments from that perspective.

Ferns sprout from rock along Eagle Point Trail.

Ferns sprout from rock along Eagle Peak Trail.

In the end, this trail does not live up to the promised end given trees block the valley view. But, if you desire a hiking challenge, this is your trail.

The rocky St. Croix River gorge is stunning in its craggy beauty.

The rocky St. Croix River gorge is stunning in its craggy beauty.

Randy poses at the scenic overlook.

Randy poses at the scenic overlook. And, yes, I had no option but to shoot into the sun.

Rock everywhere along this river.

Rock everywhere along this river.

Much easier to traverse is the .4-mile Pothole Trail, the other path we had time to walk during our 90-minute visit to the park. Stone stairs and unevenness also define this trail. But there’s much less climbing and the view of the Dalles of the St. Croix River gorge is spectacular. I even pushed through my fear of heights to enjoy the view.

Watch for potholes. I felt like I was watching my step all the time.

Watch for potholes. I felt like I was watching my step all the time.

You’ll also discover potholes here pocking rock. Yes, you’ll want to watch your feet lest you step into one.

Driving through Interstate Park.

Driving through the Wisconsin side of Interstate Park.

Interstate Park deserves more time than the 1 ½ hours we gave it. But daylight was fading and we didn’t want to spend $10 for a single day pass. Once upon a time, a Minnesota State Park sticker would allow you free access to Wisconsin’s Interstate Park, but no more. Interstate Park continues on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix. I’ll take you there, too.

To notice details, you have to stop. Otherwise you miss them because you're too preoccupied watching your feet.

To notice details, you have to stop. Because I was constantly watching my step, I felt like I missed out on a lot.

Wear your hiking shoes.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

October reflections from the St. Croix River valley October 15, 2014

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east.

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east provides an especially scenic view of this river community.

TWENTY-ONE YEARS AGO in October, my husband and I planned an overnight stay at a bed-and-breakfast in Taylors Falls. We anticipated gorgeous fall colors and rare time alone without the responsibilities of parenting three children.

But then my mother-in-law died unexpectedly a week before the booked get-away and we never rescheduled the trip.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

This past week, we finally made it to the twin St. Croix River valley communities of Taylors Falls on the Minnesota side and St. Croix Falls in Wisconsin, staying at a chain hotel rather than a B & B. We found the glorious autumn colors we had hoped for and the freedom that comes with being empty nesters.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Hop in the van and go. Stop when and where we want. Drive along a winding river road. Hike without worry of kids trailing off the trail or plummeting over the edge of a rocky ledge. Eat late. Sleep in.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

There’s something to be said for this season of life, this nearing age sixty that causes me to pause, to delight in the view, to reflect and appreciate and yearn for the past while simultaneously appreciating the days I live and those which lie before me.

"River Spirit," a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

“River Spirit,” a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Perhaps I think too deeply, too poetically sometimes.

Reflections, like watercolor on water.

Reflections, like watercolor on water. A scene photographed at St. Croix Falls Lions Park.

But like the trees buffeting the banks of the St. Croix, I see my days reflected in the river of life.

Beauty along the St. Croix River.

Beauty along the St. Croix River as seen from Lions Park.

Blazing colors mingling with green.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Changed and unchanging.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging. A view of the St. Croix River shoreline from Lions Park.

Life.

FYI: Click here for more information about the Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls area.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling