Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The sounds of silence at Rice Lake State Park May 21, 2020

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A lengthy dock takes visitors to expansive views of Rice Lake.

 

IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME since I’ve experienced such silence, broken only by the occasional music of songbirds, the honking of geese, the rustling of wind. Nature’s sounds. I heard, too, other sounds. Of voices, of a child crying, of steel ringing against steel to set a fence post.

 

Rice Lake State Park is known for its birds and waterfowl.

 

But mostly, between the trill of red-winged blackbirds, I heard nothing at Rice Lake State Park east of Owatonna. Randy and I arrived there around noonish last Friday with plans to hike and picnic in celebration of our 38th wedding anniversary.

 

I aimed my camera upward to the canopy of greening trees.

 

Lake and sky meet at Rice Lake State Park.

 

Randy reads signs about waterfowl posted by the lake.

 

Morning broke in sunshine, warming the air as the day advanced. Blue skies stretched wide above greening trees and over Rice Lake. At water’s edge, dried rushes and grasses showed new spring growth.

 

We waited for this group to clear the dock before walking onto it.

 

It was, in every way, the loveliest of May days. I mentally prepared myself for crowds at the park as the DNR website warned possible. But Rice Lake proved an uncrowded destination. We waited only once for several people to leave a dock before walking there to view the lake.

 

This sign is posted by the path to the dock.

 

Another social distancing reminder at the picnic shelter.

 

No camping is allowed yet, so sites like this one sit empty. Phased reopening of campgrounds begins June 1.

 

Social distancing signs reminded us of the realities of COVID-19. And empty camping sites did likewise.

 

Spring wildflowers abound in the park.

 

We followed this narrow lakeside trail, which Randy termed a “cow path.”

 

Another lake perspective, photographed from the dock.

 

But we were not there to camp, only to walk the trails, eat our picnic lunch lakeside and simply enjoy being outdoors. The bonus came in the quiet of this park, a quiet I needed. I live along a busy city street where the sound of traffic rarely stops. In the noise of today’s world—the noise of COVID news and COVID concerns and COVID always running in the mind’s background, this nature respite soothed, calmed, gave me peace.

 

This chipmunk paused just long enough for me to snap a photo.

 

Walking into the woods.

 

The water kept drawing me back.

 

I didn’t realize how much I needed this quiet until I heard it.

 

© Copyright 2020 Minnesota Prairie Roots

 

Autumn ablaze at Maplewood State Park October 14, 2019

 

 

BEFORE THE WINTER STORM arrived with predictions of feet of snow in nearby North Dakota, we embraced autumn at, for us, a previously unvisited state park. Maplewood State Park east of Pelican Rapids in northwestern Minnesota fits its name. This place blazes with hillsides of trees set among prairie and lakes.

 

A rutted and narrow gravel road takes motorists on a scenic drive through the park.

 

These horseback riders led their horses to the lake for a quick drink.

 

Restored prairies are found throughout Maplewood State Park, this one along a trail to a scenic overlook.

 

Last Wednesday, only days before that predicted winter storm (which also edged into western Minnesota), we toured this park that features scenic overlooks, miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, and a five-mile driving loop.

 

Driving into Maplewood State Park.

 

A glorious fall scene repeated throughout the park.

 

Trees ablaze at the picnic grounds.

 

We hit the park at the peak of fall color. So did many others—busloads of school children, generations of families, couples, horseback riders…

 

Wildflowers on the prairie.

 

Acres and acres of prairie grass wave in the wind.

 

Even dried seed heads hold beauty.

 

When you live in Minnesota or the Dakotas, you need to take in every single last glorious day of autumn before the snow flies, the leaves fall and winter settles in for months.

 

 

 

We enjoyed a sunshine-filled, albeit windy, afternoon exploring Maplewood. There’s something incredibly soothing about immersing one’s self in the outdoors, far from work and worries. Spirits soar in sunshine in a place that is spectacularly beautiful in this season of autumn.

 

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite location to view fall colors?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Autumn beauty in Nerstrand Big Woods State Park October 3, 2013

A baby's sock lost along a path at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in rural rice County Minnesota.

A baby’s sock lost along a path at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

A single sock.

When I paused to photograph this oak leaf, my husband dubbed the trail Acorn Trail.

When I paused to photograph this oak leaf, my husband dubbed the trail Acorn Trail.

A single oak leaf.

Countless bees and butterflies flitted among the wildflowers.

One of the many bees and butterflies swarming the wildflowers.

A single bee.

The solo head of an unidentified plant in the afternoon sunlight.

The solo head of an unidentified plant in the afternoon sunlight.

Solitude.

In the quiet of the woods, beautiful berries discovered.

In the quiet of the woods, beautiful berries discovered.

Beauty.

Clusters of wildflowers edge the woods.

Clusters of wildflowers edge the woods.

Wind bending wildflowers and weeds, the sun beating upon our backs as we curve into the shaded woods.

My husband, Randy, pauses to look over the ravine.

My husband, Randy, pauses to look over the ravine.

Pause at the rust-hued railing, glimpse to the ravine below where water once flowed when rain was plentiful.

Couples and families hiked the trails through the park.

Couples and families hike the trails through the park.

Lost in thoughts. Savoring the solace which embraces us even as groups of hikers pass us by.

A tree line in the park shows leaves beginning to change color.

A tree line in the park shows leaves beginning to change color.

We have come here to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on a Sunday afternoon to see the fall colors, only beginning to show.

The sign welcoming visitors to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its beautiful fall colors.

The sign welcoming visitors to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, known for its beautiful fall colors.

But we have come here, too, my husband and I, to walk together, to hold hands, to embrace this afternoon in a place not far from home, yet so far away.

BONUS PHOTOS:

The road running east and west past the park.

The road running east and west past the park.

Berries pop with color near the entry into the park.

Berries pop with color near the park entry.

Leaves of purple and green along a path in the woods.

Along a path in the woods.

The park features an abundance of wildflowers.

The park features an abundance of wildflowers.

The sumac has already turned color.

The sumac has already turned color.

FYI: Nerstrand Big Woods State Park offers numerous organized activities to engage visitors in the season.

For example, from now until October 19, the park is hosting a Fall Photo Quest scavenger hunt. Bring your digital camera or borrow one at the Visitor Center where you will get instructions. Collect fall photos while learning why and how leaves change color.

On Saturday, October 5, from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m., gather native seeds for planting in park restorations. Sign up at the Visitor Center.

The following Saturday, October 12, from noon – 4 p.m., join the Autumn Trees Scavenger Hunt, collecting clues along trails as you discover which leaf belongs to which tree. Stop at the Visitor Center to start your adventure.

Click here for details on the above listed programming at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

Also on Saturday, October 12, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, sponsors its 17th annual Big Woods Run beginning at the country church near the park. Registration deadlines are October 7 and 8. After the race, enjoy a luncheon featuring homemade soups and more, an awards ceremony and a bake sale. For more info, click here.

This Saturday, October 5, from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m., Nerstrand United Methodist Church, 12 Maple Street in Nerstrand hosts its annual Fall Festival. The event features gift baskets, a silent auction, a bake and produce sale, and lunch. Hot beef sandwiches, chili, chicken wild rice soup and homemade pies with ice cream will be served.

Nerstrand Big Woods State Park is located just west of Nerstrand or northeast of Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling