Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Winter walk: Of woods & river & hungry ducks February 3, 2021

I WAS DETERMINED this past Sunday to get out of Dodge. I needed a change of place, something new to photograph. So I decided we’d head about 20 minutes south on Interstate 35 to check out the snow sculptures at Owatonna’s Bold & Cold Winter Festival.

Well, we never got there. Suffice to say the best-laid plans were thwarted by developing health situations with our parents. Our phones were blowing up on Sunday. And I’d lost my desire to leave Faribault. I’d been awake since 4:55 a.m. and, come afternoon, my energy level plummeted. Randy suggested I nap for a bit. I tried.

The trail we walked edges the Straight River.

Then, about mid-afternoon, I declared myself weary of everything and ready for a walk. I pulled on a warm parka, laced my snow boots, grabbed a stocking cap and mittens, switched out the lens on my camera and headed out the door. Destination: A Faribault city trail that runs parallel to Central Avenue and along the Straight River.

Branches overhang the Straight River.

As Randy and I walked, I felt my mood shifting away from worry about loved ones to the natural world around me. Bare trees rising above the snow. Others leaning or broken. Black against white.

The river curves through the woods.

The river, edged with ice, curving through the woods. Poetic. Artsy. Mostly monochromatic.

The wind chimes that created such beautiful music.

I paused at the sound of music, church bells, I thought. Randy pointed to chimes dangling above a balcony at a trail-side apartment building.

Photographed on the Cannon River at North Alexander Park. Randy claimed the bird followed us from the other trail we walked. Photo was edited.

We listened, too, to the manic caw of crows circling nearby. I felt like I was in a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” I thought I saw an eagle through the distant treetops, but then never spotted it again.

This limestone building along the Straight River Trail caused me to pause. I need to research its history. Watch for a future post with more images.

A bit farther down the path, we paused to consider an aged limestone building. Abandoned. I wondered aloud at its purpose. And the part of me that appreciates such historic structures lamented its neglect.

Art on ice.

I noted the abundance of animal tracks in the snow. And human tracks and sled imprints on the hillside.

When the cellphone in my parka pocket jingled, I ignored it.

The first two ducks to land near us along the shore of the Cannon River. Edited photo.

When we’d walked a distance, we retraced our steps, took a short cut up the sledding hill and then aimed to another city trail, this one along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. There, masses of ducks flew close to shore near our parking spot. They just kept coming and I couldn’t figure out why.

The ducks just kept coming, landing on the frozen river. Edited photo.

Randy looked at the paved pathway to traces of smashed bread. Ah, the ducks thought we brought food. We laughed about that and considered that maybe, while we continued our walk, they would swarm our van and leave droppings.

The ducks hung around until we distanced ourselves from them and they determined we weren’t feeding them. Edited photo.

I quickened my pace, anxious to flee the flock of hungry ducks. A few minutes later, we watched them take flight away from the frozen shoreline and land in open water.

One of the many picnic shelters in North Alexander Park, where picnic tables are stacked in the winter to protect them from the weather.

We continued through the park, passing picnic shelters packed with stacked picnic tables. Past lone grills enveloped in snow. Past the colorful playground absent of children. And past the vacant ball fields.

Posted on a softball diamond fence at the park.

The wind cut cold through our bones as we turned onto the park road that would take us back to our van. I felt refreshed, my mind cleared, my spirits buoyed by the simple act of getting outdoors. Away from challenges and concerns. For at least an hour.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

History, mystery & more along the Straight River November 30, 2016

trail-1-deer-hunt-sign

 

THERE WOULD BE NO HIKING in the River Bend Nature Center as the sun shifted toward dusk on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The sign, “CAUTION DEER HUNT IN PROGRESS,” caused Randy to step on the brakes, back up the car and exit the entry road. “I don’t think I want to be in the woods this time of day,” he said, explaining that hunters prefer to hunt at dusk and dawn. I wasn’t about to disagree with him.

 

trail-3-limestone-buildings-up-close

 

So off we drove to find another trail, parking on a dead end street near the Straight River Trail in the northern section of Faribault. Our entry point started near an aged limestone building. We wondered aloud about the history of the structure so in need of repair.

 

trail-4-side-of-limestone-building-with-barrels

 

I would later learn from Jeff Jarvis, local historian and community enrichment coordinator for the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, that the building was constructed from local limestone in 1903 as the Faribault Gas and Electric Company. Electricity was transmitted by wire from the Cannon Falls hydroelectric facility to the Faribault plant and offered to Faribault customers, he said.

 

trail-10-pallets-stacked-by-limestone-building

 

I knew none of this as I studied the historic structure, noting the blocked window openings, the crumbling limestone, the detailed workmanship, the piled pallets, the empty barrels. Melancholy seeped into my thoughts. I’m always dismayed when buildings like this, an important part of local history, succumb to weather and near abandonment.

After snapping photos, I continued along the paved trail, stepping aside as a biker whizzed by. In the distance a trio of walkers approached, one gripping a dog. I am often wary of meeting canines. But this service dog posed no threat.

 

trail-8-tire-by-river

 

Eventually, Randy and I veered from the paved path to a dirt trail leading to the Straight River. A massive fallen tree blocked us from reaching the river bank. We could only surmise that September flooding or past floods uprooted the many fallen trees in this flood plain.

 

trail-9-single-leaf-on-tree

 

I noticed a tire on a sandbar, a man in a blue jacket walking his dog on the other side of the river, a single leaf clinging to a twig.

 

trail-12-limestone-wall-and-limestone-building

 

trail-22-posts-in-woods

 

trail-13-padlock-on-pipe

 

Pink edged into the day, the light softening. Ideal for photography. We hiked back to the paved path, back toward the aged limestone building and then down once again toward the river along a rock hard trail. Clusters of pipes pocked the woods. We wondered about those and the padlocks fastened to some. A mystery.

 

trail-17-dirt-bike-in-woods

 

trail-19-dirt-bike-spinning-wheels

 

Soon the earth softened to river sand as the trail twisted. A buzz of noise cut through the silence, headlights flashing through the woods as an ATV approached, followed by a dirt bike. We stepped aside, allowing the vehicles to skirt us. And we wondered whether they should be there, near the river. Probably not.

 

trail-26-fishing

 

trail-30-faribault-woolen-mill

 

trail-32-sunset-over-the-cannon-river

 

We ended our outing at Two Rivers Park, the convergence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers. Men fished. On a nearby path, another man pedaled a three-wheeler, his wheelchair strapped to the back. A woman walked her dog. And I paused on a bridge to photograph the Faribault Woolen Mill and the golden sky.

 

trail-41-duck-swimming-in-cannon-river

 

And then, after crossing under Second Avenue via a recreational trail, I photographed a duck rippling water and light in the Cannon River. Lovely in the gloaming of this November day.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling