Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Straight River Art Festival features fine art, music & more May 19, 2022

Promotional graphic created by artist Jeff Jarvis. (Credit: Straight River Art Festival)

WE ARE A CREATIVE BUNCH, we Minnesotans. And this weekend, 20 creatives from Faribault, Northfield and the surrounding area will showcase their work at the Straight River Art Festival.

The new event runs from 9 am–6 pm Saturday, May 21, at Heritage Park, alongside the Straight River, just a block from Faribault’s historic downtown. There fine artists will set up booths to vend their art, engage in conversation and, for some, demonstrate their crafts.

An example of Tami Resler’s pottery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

Featured art includes stained glass, jewelry, pottery, apparel and accessories, photography, hand-blown glass, textile design, painting, drawing, fiber art, quilting and woodcarving. Some of the artists are familiar, others perhaps not as much. Yet each brings talent and enthusiasm to the creative process. To have them all together in an outdoor setting makes their art easily accessible and visible.

Mark Joseph. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Performing artists are also part of the Straight River Art Festival with music by Lil’ Fun Band (11 am-1 pm), Pop Prohibition (1:30-2:30 pm) and Mark Joseph (3-4 pm).

Hands-on art created at a past arts-oriented event in Faribault and unrelated to this Saturday’s festival. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

The Paradise Center for the Arts is involved, too, offering hands-on art activities for kids.

This mural on the back of The Upper East Side in downtown Faribault features the art of Jeff Jarvis, a multi-talented artist at West Cedar Studio, Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

Faribault-based food truck, El Jefe, will be on site vending authentic Mexican food. El Jefe has a restaurant just a block away along Central Avenue, next to Fleur de Lis Gallery. Jess Prill, jewelry artist and gallery owner, is one of the key organizers of the art festival, along with Faribault artists Tami Resler and Paula Person. They’ve also tapped into other artists, like Jeff Jarvis, for help with the fest.

Brigg Evans Textiles are fabric pieces printed from original scanned Seri Batiks created by Suz Klumb, aka Brigg Evans. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Prill loves art festivals. And, obviously, art and artists given her creative bend and home-grown Fleur de Lis Gallery. “Faribault is an amazing town with a ton of talent to highlight so I knew this event would be a great way to do that,” she says. She also notes the need for “more fun things for people in the community to do in town.” Her desire to create a new arts festival drew her to Resler and Person, both actively engaged in the arts and with strong connections to local creatives.

Down to Earth Stoneware, pottery by Diane Lockerby. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

“We are all very passionate about the town and the arts and are very excited to bring this event to the community,” Prill continues.

Bending Sunlight Glassworks, artist Sandra Seelhammer. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

I’m excited, too, as I share Prill’s love of the arts. I cannot imagine a life without writing and photography. Both feed my spirit, my soul, my need to create. And this Saturday 20 creatives who share that passion will fill Heritage Park with their art and creative energy.

FYI: For more information about the participating artists, visit straightriverartfestival.com by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Apartments popping up all over Faribault, plus a new park May 17, 2022

Traffic curves past Straight River Apartments, under construction along First Avenue Northeast in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR now, I’ve observed construction of a new apartment complex near downtown Faribault next to an in-progress city park.

Another view of Straight River Apartments, northeast side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Straight River Apartments stand on the site of a former massive city garage, just north of the American Legion and aside train tracks tracing the Straight River. Fleckenstein Bluffs Park is adjacent. Both are definitely improvements to the properties.

The sprawling nature-themed playground fits the setting along the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)
Animals, like this chipmunk, are incorporated into the playground equipment, following the nature theme. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)
The climbing apparatus at Fleckenstein Bluffs by Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

As I’ve watched developments on this land, I’ve considered how the apartment location will connect renters to nature and downtown. Renters will not only benefit from the next-door park, complete with nature-themed playground, picnic shelter and scenic overlook over the Straight River, but will also have direct access to the Straight River Trail.

A view of the Straight River and the train track crossing, photographed from the Straight River Trail. This scene is by Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
A river overlook at Fleckenstein Bluffs was fenced during my visits. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
A short distance from the park, just off the Straight River Trail, a pathway leads to this opening in the woods along the river. There’s a picnic table in this space. Rocks were hauled in and placed along the river bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Just a short walk, jog or bike ride away along the trail, those who live here can immerse themselves in woods and sidetrack off the paved route to river’s edge for a picnic, to meander or to fish. I thought a canoe and kayak launch were also part of the park plan, but see no indication that will happen.

Photographed in mid-March as workers work on Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Meanwhile, construction continues with an anticipated August opening of the 111-unit “boutique and high-tech apartment complex,” according to INH Properties. Apartment rental prices range from $925/month studio to two-bedroom two-bath plus den starting at $1,500/month. I’ve been out of the apartment market for decades, so rates seem high to me for Faribault. Yet, I realize that’s the going market rate in a community with a rental housing shortage.

A north end view of Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Faribault is seeing a bit of a boom in apartment building construction. Other new complexes include Hillside Apartments across from Buckham Center and The Lofts at Evergreen Knoll on the site of the former Evergreen Knoll restaurant near Walmart.

The restrooms and park shelter being built at Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Plans are also underway to build a 74-unit apartment near the viaduct, just blocks from my Willow Street home. And then even further along Willow, near the Faribault Soccer Complex and Middle School, developers are planning a 200-250 unit apartment complex. All of this new housing will bring even more traffic to my already heavily-traveled city street. And I’m not feeling at all good about that. More traffic equals more noise, more wear and tear on my street. More litter. More pollution.

No matter my concerns about more traffic past my house, the construction of new apartment buildings in Faribault is a good thing for those in need of rental housing. Our growing workforce demands local housing access. At least one Faribault business, C & S Vending, is planning workforce housing of three 12-plexes and one 8-plex. I’m sure there are other projects I’m missing in this summary.

At the Fleckenstein Bluffs Park, a xylophone, among several large scale musical instruments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

We are a growing community. We need rental housing and affordable single family homes and nearby parks. (A new, community-centered park is also planned near the viaduct.) Come August, a whole lot more people will be living near downtown Faribault as Straight River Apartments open. Now we need to focus also on making home ownership available and affordable, if that’s even possible given the tight market and cost of new construction today…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods on a lovely spring day in Faribault May 12, 2022

We sat on the bench near this shelter in Teepee Tonka Park to eat our picnic lunch and watch the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

Tree rings drew my interest. There are lots of dead and fallen trees and branches in these woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

Fungi grow on a trailside tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This walk found me pausing to photograph fungi laddering a towering tree.

A worm for lunch. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And a bit further, Randy and I stopped to watch a robin nip at, then fully consume, an earthworm.

The pedestrian bridge crosses the Straight River into the woods on both ends. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
The Straight River as seen from the bridge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Near the river bank, a lone mallard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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 railroad trestle crosses the Straight River,. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2020)

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.”

Unfurling leaves are greening the landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

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.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota weather talk about this non-spring of 2022 April 28, 2022

At the confluence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers in Faribault, the landscape appears more autumn than spring-like. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

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…

At the April 23 Earth Day Celebration in Northfield, moody grey skies clouded the day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

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.

Treetops riverside against a grey sky in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Autumns leaves remain, not yet replaced by spring growth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)
Devoid of color, the dock and river at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

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.

I spotted clam shells among dried leaves in the river bottom at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Instead, the overall landscape appears, well, pretty darned drab.

Canadian geese swim where the Straight and Cannon Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

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.

An angler makes his way toward the Cannon River in shirt-sleeve weather on April 23. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

But, oh, how glorious to walk in warmth.

I zoomed in on this fungi high in a tree along the recreational trail in North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

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.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like where you live?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hints of spring at Two Rivers March 10, 2022

A wide view of the frozen Cannon River and dam adjacent to the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE SHIFT IN SEASONS seems subtle. But it’s there. In the lengthening of days. In brilliant sunshine that cuts through snowbanks, streams of water flowing and puddling. Iced rivers, too, are beginning to thaw.

Signage marks this park just off Second Avenue on Faribault’s north side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On a recent stop at Two Rivers Park followed by a hike along the Straight River Trail in Faribault, I witnessed the evolving transition from winter toward spring.

Fishing where the Cannon and Straight Rivers meet in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

At the convergence of the Straight and Cannon Rivers, an angler fishes in the open water. His orange stocking cap covered by his hooded sweatshirt layered beneath black coveralls jolt color into an otherwise muted landscape. Randy and I watch as he reels in a large fish, then unhooks and plops it onto the snow. A northern, Randy guesses. We watch for awhile, content to see the river flow, sun glinting upon the surface.

The beautiful open Cannon River at Two Rivers Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We make our way back to the parking lot, after I pause to photograph the mostly open river sweeping between snowy woods. There’s sometime serene about such a scene. Peaceful, even as traffic drones by on nearby Second Avenue.

Pedestrian bridge over the river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On the trail, we cross bridges constructed of uneven angled boards that always trip me. I pause to peer into the river.

Ice rings a pedestrian bridge support post in the otherwise open river. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Birdsong, a sure auditory sign of spring’s approach, resounds as I lean over the bridge railing to see the open water below. Both hint of winter’s retreat.

Animal tracks remind me of tic-tac-toe. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Far below I observe animal tracks crossing the snow in a tic-tac-toe pattern leading to water’s icy edge.

Following the Straight River Trail alongside the former vegetable canning company. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Curving along the path near the former Faribault Foods canning company, stationary boxcars sidle against the building.

Boxcar graffiti. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Graffiti colors the boxcar canvases.

Biking the Straight River Trail in March. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

We walk for awhile, then retrace our steps. Randy warns of an approaching cyclist and we step to the right of the trail in single file. “Hi, Randy,” the guy on the fat tire bike shouts as he zooms past. We look at each other. His identity remains a mystery.

The scenic Cannon River snakes toward the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Back on the bridges, I pause again to view the Cannon River snaking across the landscape like a pencil path following a maze. More photographs.

Randy follows the tunnel under Second Avenue toward North Alexander Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Before heading home, we divert briefly toward North Alexander Park, taking the tunnel under the Second Avenue bridge where, on the other side, the scene opens wide to the frozen, snow-layered river. In warm weather, anglers fish here, below the dam in open water.

Picnic shelter at Father Slevin Park by the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Now the place is mostly vacant, just like the riverside picnic shelter.

Shadowing of the trailside fence outside the tunnel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

By now we are cold, ready to conclude our afternoon jaunt. As I stride downhill toward the tunnel, I notice shadows of fence slats spaced upon the concrete. Art to my eyes. I stop, photograph the fence and fence shadows as they arc. Even in this moment, I see signs of spring along the river, beneath the blue sky.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: When graffiti overtakes nature & history May 6, 2021

A view of the Straight River and the railroad bridge crossing it, photographed from the footbridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

IF NOT FOR THE OFFENSIVE GRAFFITI, the natural setting would be particularly inviting. But obscene words and disturbing messages kept me from fully enjoying the trail leading from Faribault’s Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center.

Along the trail from Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center, I saw trees tagged with graffiti. Here I’m approaching the footbridge crossing the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Even trees were tagged with paint. That’s a first.

Randy looks over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

On the footbridge which spans the Straight River, I found the most disturbing of accusations—J**** killed my mother. That shifted my already on-alert mode to what the h*** is going on in these woods? I read derogatory comments about Faribault. And I thought, why do those who hate this community so much stay here?

This marker on one end of the bridge remains unmarred. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I tried to overlook all that awful graffiti, but it was just too much to dismiss. I wouldn’t bring a child here, not one who can read anyway.

I expect there’s a story behind this beautiful railroad bridge over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Yet, there’s much to see and appreciate here, if you look beyond the tagging, the offensive messages. Nature and history intertwine, leaving me with more questions than answers.

I felt tempted to climb these stairs, but didn’t have the energy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

A lengthy stairway climbs a hillside. Slabs of limestone and chunks of concrete—perhaps foundations of long ago buildings—cling to steep banks.

Graffiti mars the tunnel entrance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then there’s the tunnel. The 442-foot-long tunnel, which I refused to enter. One look at the graffiti at the entry, especially the rat art, and I knew, no way, would I walk through that former root cellar. So I photographed that space, editing out the obscenities (which proved nearly impossible).

A sign above the tunnel details its history. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And I photographed the sign above, which summarizes the history of this 1937 Works Progress Administration project. Workers hand dug the tunnel with picks, hauling the dirt and rocks away with wheelbarrows. Once complete, the tunnel served as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony (later known as The Faribault State School and Hospital). The Teepee Tonka Tunnel once held 25-30 carloads of vegetables to feed the 2,300 residents and 350 employees. Most of those potatoes, carrots, beets, onions and cabbage were grown on the school farm.

Another snippet of the tunnel graffiti. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Now the history, the hard work, the humanity were dishonored by those who use this as a canvas for words and art that shouldn’t be here.

Trees tower over the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

All of this saddened me as I retraced my steps, watched as a young man walked along the railroad tracks, backpack strapped on, county music blaring. This should be a place of peace. Not only noise-wise, but also mentally. I pictured picnic tables near a footbridge devoid of menacing messages. I pictured a beautiful natural setting where I could bring my grandchildren. But, in reality, I understood that those tables would only be defaced, maybe even burned.

The beautiful Straight River, which winds past Teepee Tonka Park and River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This could be so much. A respite. Water and woods converging. River flowing with history. Images of men hard at work tunneling into a 60-foot high hill. I could envision all of that…the possibilities beyond that which I’d seen.

© Copyright 2021 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

 

“A beautiful day in Faribault,” at River Bend October 5, 2020

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A grassy trail runs along the prairie at River Bend, leading to the woods.

TYPICALLY, I STICK to paved and grassy trails when hiking at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. I feel more secure on a firm surface, mostly free of hidden obstacles.

Following the river bottom trail into the woods.
Beautiful maples color the woods.
A view of the Straight River along a trail through River Bend Nature Center.

But, on a recent visit to River Bend, Randy and I followed a dirt trail down a steep hill to the Straight River. I felt apprehensive as we navigated, like mountain goats, down the limestone-pocked hill. He’s always willing to grab my hand, a reassuring act that makes me feel more confident. With two broken bones resulting from falls in my medical history, I hold a heightened awareness of keeping myself safe.

Sumac pop color into the autumn landscape.
Getting creative in the woods with a tipi style structure.
I found myself pausing often to look toward the treetops.

So, as we followed the dirt path covered with leaves and tripping tree roots, I watched my step more than my surroundings. And when you’re a photographer always alert to her environment, this is not ideal. I found myself stopping often to take in the woods and details therein. Randy is also great about alerting me to possible photo subjects. I deeply appreciate that about him, that he values my interest in photography.

Trails are sometimes well-marked, sometimes not.
I may get directionally lost, but I’ve never lost a shoe. I spotted this along a trail.
You don’t see many birch trees in the southern part of Minnesota, so I always delight in spotting one.

He also recognizes that my map-reading skills rate at about zero as does my sense of direction, unless I’m in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie of straight, gridded lines. I rely on him to know where we are going. And sometimes, I’ve found, he fakes that knowledge. That makes me uncomfortable. But we always emerge out of the woods, safe and sound.

Beautiful prairie wildflowers.
Prairie grasses and woods at River Bend.
Goldenrod add an autumnal hue to the landscape.

No visit to River Bend is complete without a walk through the prairie to take in the tall grasses and wildflowers defining that landscape. I need to see wide sky and open land, so much a part of me. Of my history as a daughter of the prairie.

Looking up to the treetops, I see such beauty.
Bold berries burst color on a tree outside the visitor center.
Any day at River Bend is a truly beautiful day as noted on this paver at a look-out patio above the Straight River. Thank you, A, B, C and D for this gift honoring your parents.

Yet, having lived in southeastern Minnesota for nearly 40 years, I’ve grown to appreciate the woods and hills and lakes, mostly absent from the landscape of my youth. Every place, every landscape, possesses a certain beauty, if only we stop in the busyness of life to recognize that. These days, especially, call for each of us to pause and reassess. To consider what we most value. And on my list of faith, family, friends and health, I also add nature.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: The golden hour of evening photography in spring May 30, 2019

A view of South Alexander Park from the shores of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

THE GOLDEN HOUR. Those three words hold great meaning to anyone into photography. It is the 60 minutes after sunrise and the 60 minutes before sunset—the time when natural light lends a softness to images.

 

A lone mallard swims in the quiet waters of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

Recently, I grabbed my camera to photograph early evening spring scenes at two Faribault city parks—North Alexander and Two Rivers. The results show the beauty of incredible natural light in making a photo.

Enjoy.

The converging of the Cannon and Straight Rivers at Two Rivers Park.

 

A nearly camouflaged bird along the banks of the Cannon River, North Alexander Park.

 

In the still of a beautiful May evening. trees reflect in the Cannon River as seen from North Alexander Park.

 

Lots of geese populate the Cannon, including this young family photographed in North Alexander Park.

 

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill sits along the Cannon River, photographed here from North Alexander Park.

 

Reflections at Two Rivers Park.

 

Picnic tables placed along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park (next to the recreational trail) provide riverside dining.

 

© Copyright 2019 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