IN THIS SEASON OF EARLY AUTUMN, the landscape of Minnesota transitions to subdued, muted, softer tones flashed with vivid orange, yellow and red in tree lines or a solitary tree. This time of year truly marks a change as we ease toward Winter, a season devoid of color.
A month ago, before Summer exited, I already observed Autumn’s entrance at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Stands of cattails. Groups of goldenrod. Seas of drying prairie grass. All signaled the shift to September days.
I love this time of year. Sunny days give way to cool evenings to brisk mornings. I’ve pulled the flannel from the closet. I embrace the feeling, the glory, of each day, recognizing such days are fleeting.
But weeks before this end of September, I delighted in the final days of August with that short walk through the woods at River Bend, then along a grass-lined trail to the hilltop Prairie Loop before I retraced my steps.
Prairie grasses, looming well above my head, bent in the wind. I noted the gracefulness of the stems’ movement, the details on a single stalk. If you’ve ever paused to study a stalk, it’s almost like reading a poem. Grain after grain after grain ladders a slim line. In poetry, each word ladders into a line, into a verse, into a poem.
In the flashlight of the afternoon at River Bend, I spotted a lone Monarch flitting among thistles, black-outlined orange wings contrasting with the soft purple of the bloom. A metaphor. Or perhaps a simile when penned poetically. Poem upon poem upon poem.
Autumn edits out Summer, eliminating the excess wordage of a season that is lush and full and busy. Now the lines of the season shorten, every word carefully chosen, a harbinger of what lies ahead. Winter. Sparse. Barren. Cold.
But until then, Autumn settles in with the familiarity of a worn buffalo plaid flannel shirt. With the familiarity of cattails and milkweed bursting. Goldenrods. Tall prairie grasses drying, moving toward dormancy. I’ve seen this shift every September for past sixty years now. Yet I never tire of the shift, the change in seasons here in southern Minnesota.
FOR MANY MINNESOTANS, summer means going Up North. That escape to lake and cabin country has been, for me, elusive, not part of my personal history, until recently. Now, thanks to the generosity of a sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who own lake shore property in the central Minnesota lakes region, going Up North is part of my summertime, and sometimes autumn, experience.
Now I understand what I’ve missed—the peacefulness of simply getting away from it all, the beauty of immersing one’s self in nature, the quieting of the spirit beside the water, in the woods, on the beach.
In this land of 10,000-plus lakes, I’ve discovered the draw of lake life. I grew up on a crop and dairy farm in southwestern Minnesota, where lakes are few. I can count on three fingers the number of vacations during my youth—one to Duluth at age four, one to the Black Hills of South Dakota as a pre-teen and then camping once with an aunt and uncle at Potato River Falls in Wisconsin. That’s it. Cows have a way of keeping farm families home. My kids will tell you that our family vacations were mostly to visit grandparents with a few camping trips and other close by trips tossed in. No going Up North to a cabin.
But now, oh, now, several summers into going Up North to the lake cabin, I fully embrace what so many Minnesotans hold in their family histories.
The appeal of a lake comes for me not in boats or jet skis or sailboats or kayaks or paddleboards, but rather in the natural aspect. The sun rising over the lake, painting pink across the sky. The sun lowering, bathing the far shore treeline in dusk’s light. The moon rising.
And then in the water, the watching of loons as they glide, duck, emerge, their haunting voices breaking the silence of early morning. I never tire of seeing them, of hearing their call, of observing babies swim near their protective parents.
For a few summers, eagles lived in a nest on the family lake property. To see those massive birds on-site, flying into the treetop nest, perched there, proved fascinating. They’ve moved on to another location and eagle sightings are infrequent.
The clarity of Horseshoe Lake continues to impress me. I can see fish swimming in schools and some singularly. That’s vastly different from southern Minnesota lakes, most murky and green. Unappealing. But here fish bite by the dock, exciting the grandchildren and Grandma, too.
Our eldest daughter and her family are part of this Up North experience and it is perhaps that which most pleases me. To have this time together—eating meals lakeside, swimming, fishing, taking nature walks, sitting around a campfire and making s’mores, going into Crosslake for ice cream or craft beer—all of these moments I treasure. We are connecting, making memories, delighting in one another in a beautiful and peaceful setting. If only our other daughter and her husband and our son could join us, then my joy would be complete. But given the distance they live from Minnesota and their job and school obligations, I don’t expect a full house at the cabin.
So I celebrate the Up North time we have, whether just Randy and me at the cabin or six of us. I love walking the long drive buffeted by towering pines. I love the stillness of the lake in the early morning. I love the crackle of burning wood and the taste of gooey s’mores. I love the lack of obligations and schedule and plenty of time to read a book or lounge on the beach, the sun warming the sand and my skin. I love every minute with those I love. I love that going Up North is now part of my life story, even if it took well into my sixties to write that chapter.
TELL ME: If you’re from Minnesota, do you go Up North? If you’re from elsewhere, do you have a similar escape? Please share. I’d love to hear your stories.
Please check back for more posts about going Up North.
Just a small portion of the people attending a concert in Faribault’s Central Park on Thursday evening.
IN THIS SUMMER OF COVID-19 limitations, I feel fortunate to live in a community where at least one bit of normalcy remained—weekly Thursday evening concerts in Faribault’s Central Park.
People walk, bike and drive to the park in downtown Faribault.
With concert-goers spreading out throughout the block square park and wearing masks when needed, I am comfortable in the outdoor space listening to music. Randy and I missed only a few concerts, one due to rain, the other because we didn’t want to be in the park following the annual pet parade. I love kids. But they tend to forget about COVID and the need to keep their distance. Who can blame them? They’re just kids.
Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing perform in the Central Park Bandshell.
This past Thursday evening we went to the final scheduled concert in this summer series organized by the Faribault Parks and Rec Department. It was a lovely evening relaxing in our lawn chairs listening to Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing. Minus Ivan Whillock. The aging musician and noted woodcarver is being extra cautious during COVID and stayed home. Instead, we were treated to an audio of him singing. It was a nice personal touch, Ivan’s way of connecting with fans of his rich, golden voice. The Kings perform Golden Era swing music. Soothing. A journey back in time.
I’ve seen more families at this summer’s concerts than in recent years.
As I listen, I watch. And I observed children running, playing, painting, tossing hula hoops and multi-colored scarves, doing back flips. It all looked so normal. Just like any summer evening. Except for the face masks occasionally seen on kids and adults. And except for the lack of people mingling and visiting as typically happens at these summer concerts.
Art in the Park, an opportunity to paint, has been added to this year’s concerts. Here Paula creates.
I also noted the size of the crowd, much larger than in past summers. That comes as no surprise given many of us in the aging demographic are limiting who we see and what we do. And this is the one event we can attend because it’s outdoors and people (mostly) follow safety protocol.
As the evening closed in on 8:30 and the bandshell lights switched on, the air chilled and some concert-goers began leaving. But my friend Valerie didn’t leave before we met up. She’d texted earlier wondering if I was at the concert. I haven’t seen her in forever, long before COVID started. And so we stepped to the side of the crowd, both in our face masks and caught up. It was so hard not to hug one another. But we didn’t. And even though I couldn’t see Valerie’s smile, I could see the smile in her eyes. In our brief conversation I felt reconnected, overjoyed, as if COVID exited and we were just two friends chatting with each other on a summer evening.
I can only hope that by this time next summer, COVID-19 will be history and we will all be vaccinated and life back to normal, whatever that may be.
Art in painting. Art in music.
But for now, for this summer, this is life. Masks and social distancing. Few or no social activities. Except for these concerts in the park—with an encore concert set for 6 pm Thursday, September 3, featuring instrumentalist Doug Madow and vocalist Barb Piper. To that announcement, the crowd reacted with raucous applause. One more evening of music to help us sort of forget about this global pandemic.
THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE our summer. The summer to explore. The summer of no broken bones and physical therapy and health crises. Three years in a row of challenges left us yearning for a good summer. Randy and I already had tentative plans to spend time in Madison—where two of our adult children live—and explore that region of Wisconsin.
Plans to spend more time outside of Minnesota this summer changed. This sign is located at the entry point to our state near La Crosse, Wisconsin.
But then COVID-19 happened and all summer plans vanished. Poof. Just like that.
Along the interstate in Wisconsin in July, returning home to Minnesota.
Now, rather than discovering Wisconsin, we are simply traveling from Point A in Faribault some four hours to Point B in Madison. And once there, our activity is restricted to visiting with family. No touring museums. No dining out. No anything that will put us in contact with the general public.
I never tire of appreciating and photographing the beautiful farm sites in the valley east of La Crosse.
Except we still have that matter of needing to stop at interstate rest stops en route and back. The newly-constructed one in La Crosse gets a gold star rating for easy access and overall cleanliness. The eastbound one near Mauston…won’t ever stop there again.
One of my favorite barns looms on a hillside along the interstate near Madison.
A longer trip like this also requires one gas up. While Randy filled the van in Madison, I went inside to grab a bottle of lemonade, and then waited in a long line marked with social distancing circles. Most customers were complying and wearing masks. (This was prior to Madison, and now Wisconsin’s, mask mandate.) But then two unmasked young men walked in and stood right next to me. I gave them a look, looked intentionally down at the social distancing circle and then back at them. They got the message and stepped away. No words necessary.
A farm in Amish country in southeastern Minnesota.
It’s interesting how, in a global pandemic, even stopping to get gas or pee or to picnic raises concerns and takes thought. And care. Masking up, grabbing hand sanitizer, dodging people… I’ve never felt so anti-social.
Wisconsin offers plenty of places to pick up cheese as seen on this interstate sign.
East of La Crosse and in the Wisconsin Dells area are particularly stunning rock formations jutting from the landscape.
Anyone remember supper clubs? Every time I see this sign along the interstate, I think, “I want to dine there.”
All of that aside, wouldn’t you just love to hop in your vehicle now and drive away from it all? Drive to see loved ones. Drive to explore some interesting natural place you’ve never seen before. Dine out. Stop at cheesy attractions. And I mean that literally when it comes to Wisconsin. Or drive away into the future, when no COVID-19 exists.
Look at all the places these campers have traveled.
Westbound on the interstate, nearing La Crosse.
More campers…saw lots of those in July on the interstate in Wisconsin en route to and from Madison.
I expect some of you have gotten away. Still vacationing. Still traveling. If that fits your comfort level and you’re being careful, then good for you. Just be mindful of mandates and quarantines and everything you can do to protect yourself and others.
A lock and dam on the Mississippi River by La Crosse, on the river that separates Wisconsin from Minnesota.
Life goes on. Even in a lockdown. And as cranky as too many people seem over restrictions and shutdowns, I’m grateful for those requirements. Health and safety are more important than temporary inconveniences or sacrifices or whatever argument spewed. I don’t need to send more sympathy cards to friends who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. I’ve already mailed two.
Nearing Claremont, Minnesota, as the sun sets upon our return from Madison.
Maybe next summer will be my summer to explore Wisconsin…
TELL ME: What did you intend to do this summer before COVID-19 changed your plans? Or did you continue as planned? If you could go one place right now, where would that be? How are you coping with everything?
Three members of the Long Time Gone band perform during the July 16 Faribault Concerts in the Park Series.
MUSIC SPEAKS a universal language. Especially during this global pandemic. It brings people together, yet not together. It brings moments of joy in rhythm and words. It channels thoughts to memories or into the moment, into foot-tapping, circling in dance or simply listening.
A snippet of the crowd attending the concert.
Each Thursday summer evening, music draws folks to Central Park for the free Faribault Concerts in the Park series based in the historic bandshell. Hundreds spread out across the block-square park on benches, lawnchairs and blankets. Social-distancing. Some wearing face masks, others with masks in hand to wear upon arrival and departure.
Nearly every summer event—from crowded county to state fairs, from community to family celebrations, from all those connective activities we take for granted—have been canceled. And they should be. So to have this outdoor concert series continue, with safeguard practices in place, is such a gift. I am grateful to the Faribault Parks and Rec Department for organizing and to the sponsors and musicians who make these concerts possible. And to the concert-goers for respecting guidelines and distancing and doing everything necessary to keep this event safe and low risk.
A view of concert goers sitting near the bandshell. I used a telephoto lens to shoot this and all other images as I sit way back from the bandshell.
Randy and I have attended these weekly Thursday summer concerts for decades, from the time our children were little to now as empty nesters. Last week we joined others to hear the classic bluegrass of Long Time Gone, a talented group of musicians, some of whom are in the Minnesota Rock/Country Music Hall of Fame.
I looked up to this beautiful view while at the concert.
While we listened, a breeze, cool enough at times for some in the audience to wrap themselves in blankets or jackets, stirred through the trees. I tilted my head back to observe the canopy of trees and the golden hue of sunset tinting the sky.
I smiled at Rocco the dog, lying nearby, clearly loved by his engaging owner.
Dancing with baby.
Near the bandshell, youngsters tossed yellow hula hoops high into the air, the circles spiraling motion. And, on the opposite side, a young mom twirled with her baby in joyous dance.
Art created during the concert.
I saw, too, several children with paintings created at the limited Kids Art in the Park event during the concert.
A couple circles themselves with rope to keep others at a distance.
If not for the masks, the definite social distancing, the circle of distancing rope around one couple’s lawnchairs, this scene may have looked like any other Thursday summer evening at Central Park in Faribault. Except it wasn’t and isn’t. I long for the day when I don’t do a mental checklist that includes mask and handsanitizer before leaving the house for something as simple as a concert in the park. I long for those ordinary summer evenings, pre-COVID…
A portion of the crowd enjoying Little Chicago’s June 25 concert at Central Park in Faribault.
ANY OTHER SUMMER, and I wouldn’t consider a concert in the park anything but typical for a Thursday evening in Faribault. The weekly warm weather concerts have been part of my community’s history now for 134 years. But these are the days of a global pandemic. Yet, not even COVID-19 can stop this music tradition.
Many couples brought their lawn chairs and found a social-distancing spot in the park.
Central Park sits in Faribault’s downtown area, along Second Avenue across from the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.
Some folks opted to sit on park benches near the stage.
Thursday evening I attended my first 2020 summer concert organized by the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department and sponsored by area businesses. Things looked a bit different. The vast crowd was spread throughout the block-square Central Park, mostly adhering to CDC social-distancing guidelines. Some wore masks, especially when coming to and leaving the park.
Loved the 60s and 70s hits performed by Little Chicago.
Randy and I settled at the back of the gathering to enjoy the music of Little Chicago, a New Prague-based cover band for hits from the 60s and 70s. Our music. Songs by The Grassroots, Chicago, the Turtles, Neil Diamond… Familiar hits that took me back to my teen years, especially songs like “Color My World” and “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago, one of my all-time favorite bands.
Thumbing through a book while enjoying the concert…
As I listened, swung my foot and occasionally sang along to songs like “Happy Together” and “Sweet Caroline,” (who can resist?), I watched. I am an observer. Taking in the setting and the people and the experience.
All ages attended the concert, with more young families than I’ve seen in past years.
What a beautiful evening for a concert with pleasant temps and a stir of a breeze as the day edged toward sunset.
Most people arrived via vehicle. But some also walked and biked.
I noticed a difference in this year’s crowd with more young families in attendance. Typically, these concerts draw older folks like me. But I watched kids arrive—in red wagons, on trikes, in strollers—with parents and grandparents. And then dance, play, toss balls. Simply enjoying the exceptionally beautiful summer evening outdoors. It reminded me of all the years we brought our own three children here to do the same.
I saw quite a few dogs, all under control and well-behaved.
Little Chicago’s homemade sign banners the base of the bandshell where folks enjoy the music.
I watched as people swayed their hands, as a couple danced, as dog owners circled their dogs around the park. It all looked so normal. If not for the lawn chairs spaced far apart, the face masks, the reminder in the back of my brain, I would have considered this just any other Thursday summer evening in Central Park. For a few hours, it felt that way, as if COVID-19 had exited and only the music of summer played.
One final look at the crowd-pleasing band, Little Chicago.
FYI: The Lakerlanders Barbershop Chorus performs at the next free concert set for 7 pm Thursday, July 2, in Faribault’s Central Park.
Heading east on Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street past the courthouse and Fareway Foods, Car Cruise Night participants arrive in the downtown Faribault business district Friday evening, June 19.
IN A SUMMER THAT FEELS anything but normal due to COVID-19, I welcome distractions. And a sense of semi-normalcy.
A 1957 Chevrolet.
For awhile Friday evening, during Faribault Car Cruise Night, I could pretend that we are not in the midst of a global pandemic. The event has been revamped this summer from vehicles parked along Central Avenue to an actual cruise. The June 19 evening cruise started at the Faribault Middle School, leading drivers out of town and around area lakes before heading back to Faribault and finishing on the south end of Central Avenue.
I swung my camera lens east and west to take in the cruise coming and going, including this 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.
Watching the parade from the back of a pick-up truck parked in a business parking lot.
My friends Curt and Leann in their 1959 Ford Galaxie.
In deciding where to sit, Randy and I intentionally looked for a spot that would keep us clear of crowds. And we found that in front of the Rice County Government Center. The uncrowded setting also allowed me to roam onto the courthouse lawn to take photos.
Pre-cruise, I photographed this traffic westbound along busy Fourth Street.
We waited for nearly an hour from the 6 pm start time to see the first car rolling toward us on Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street. But it was a lovely summer evening to sit outdoors, so we didn’t mind the wait. I did worry, though, about shooting into the sun while photographing the parade of vehicles. And that did prove to be somewhat problematic.
Waving from a Chervrolet Corvette.
A group of bikers closed out the cruise line.
No matter, I got plenty of photos—images which show a sense of community, of fun, of joy. This cruise felt different. Lots of smiles. Hand waving. Showing off by a few drivers.
A 1955 Chevrolet.
A Ford Falcon.
Many seemed grateful simply to be out on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.
So enjoyed this bagpipe player and his addition to Faribault Car Cruise Night.
He started playing next to the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.
Then moved nearer the courthouse.
Adding to the festivities was the music of a lone bagpiper stationed on the courthouse lawn. He stood for awhile next to the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial in a show of respect. I noticed many an appreciative driver and passenger looking his way. The live music definitely added a new dimension to the cruise and I hope will continue.
Mostly, I felt an overwhelming sense of being part of something that was more than a parade of collector, vintage and other vehicles. I felt a sense of togetherness while not together. I felt a spirit of community.
In a summer when nearly every event that brings people together has been canceled, we had this, this escape. For a short time on a Friday evening in June in Faribault.
Please check back for two more posts from the June 18 Faribault Car Cruise Night.
The Kenyon, Minnesota, swimming pool opens on June 12.
SUMMER IN MINNESOTA. It’s synonymous with water and the outdoors and community events. County fairs and small town celebrations. Parades. Summer camps and trips to the lake cabin. Hiking and camping and anything that takes us into the woods, to lakes and pools. Family reunions. Togetherness. Because our winters are so harsh and long, we Minnesotans delight in summer.
Picnicking at Depot Park in Kenyon on Saturday.
But this summer looks much different due to COVID-19 and the restrictions in place. Most celebrations are canceled, camps closed, etc. I’m of the cautionary camp, recognizing the very real risks of the virus and the need to protect not only myself but others. I’m careful, avoiding situations that raise the risk of exposure or that aren’t, by health standards, particularly safe. There will be no attending family reunions or similar at-home gatherings for me. (Such gatherings are currently limited to 25 anyway.) I’m closing in on the high risk age, just barely under it. And I have friends who’ve had family members with COVID-19, including one death.
All of that said, I can only imagine the difficulty right now of parenting children from preschool age to teen. Most kids by nature are social creatures. Preschoolers play together, grab toys from one another. Grade schoolers and teens just want to hang together. Play sports. I’ve seen plenty of teens congregating at parks in my community and nearby towns, including crammed onto basketball courts. I understand their innate need to connect. And that includes hanging out at the lake, pool or aquatic center. COVID-19 doesn’t top their list of concerns.
Behind the fence, the Kenyon Pool fills with water on Saturday for opening on June 12.
The Kenyon man who tipped us off to the pool opening, pictured near a playground and the pool in Depot Park.
Quite by happenstance, I learned last Saturday that the city swimming pool in Kenyon is reopening. We were picnicking at Depot Park, a park complex that includes the pool and Randy chatted it up with an elderly gentleman who lives nearby. He mentioned the city was filling the pool and, sure enough, water funneled into the larger of the two pools. The filling process, he noted, would take several days. A check of the city Facebook page shows the pool opens on Friday. That includes for open swim, swimming lessons, lap swimming and water aerobics.
A building at the Kenyon Municipal Swimming Pool.
It will be interesting to see how this works in practice. Will pool users social-distance and will (mostly) teen employees “enforce” rules? Will parents watch and monitor their kids? Or will kids be kids and mingle and play together as usual, pandemic or not? I think it will be tough, really tough, to assure safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in such a setting. But if individuals, families, and cities, are willing to take the risk, then that’s their choice.
Filling an above ground pool in Elysian on Sunday afternoon.
The following day, I saw a family in the community of Elysian exercising another option. Randy and I, out for a Sunday picnic and drive, had just pulled up to the recreational trailside center when we noticed a water tanker truck from the Elysian Fire Department in a yard across the street. The “firefighters” were filling a backyard above-ground pool with water. It was so small town iconic. And a reason to pause and smile in the middle of a global pandemic. Ah, summer fun in Minnesota…
The water tanker drives toward downtown Elysian.
TELL ME: How do you feel about the reopening of swimming pools and aquatic centers to the general public? Please be respectful in your comments. Do not make this political. I monitor all comments and reserve the right, as author of this personal blog, to not publish comments. Thank you.
Far below in the grassy side yard of Christ Lutheran Church, Sweet Potato Jackson and the Todd Thompson Band entertained with foot-tapping bluegrass, pop, country, gospel and other tunes. Adults settled into lawn chairs and listened. Kids ran—to the playground and back. A wee girl swayed to the rhythm of the banjo, the guitar, the mandolin and other string instruments.
The Todd Thompson Band gets up close to the audience.
I sang the lion sleeps tonight, only 10 feet from the quartet performing the catchy tune I remember from decades ago. My husband and I were front row with the Todd Thompson Band, four guys standing on the lawn and performing music with an unbridled passion. I could see their love for song in the rapid movement of their fingers across strings, hear it in their enthusiastic voices.
They exuded joy during this event billed as Holy Smokes! by the host Lutheran congregation. One Wednesday evening a month during the summer, this church on Faribault’s east side offers a free concert as a community outreach. The music is served up along with savory homemade pizza and smoked pork and brisket sandwiches and sides available for purchase. Proceeds from the meal benefit people in need in the community.
The hilltop location offers a wide view of Faribault and beyond.
The descriptive words holy smoke fit both the food and the featured musicians. And the setting. This is a tranquil location overlooking this southeastern Minnesota city and beyond. Wind blowing a cool breeze through trees after a hot and humid day. Shifting white clouds in a blue sky. Lovely. Kids and music and the occasional adult conversation blending in a soothing harmony.
I delighted in the carefree feel of this event, of watching children run and play like kids should on a summer evening as perfect as they get in Minnesota. I was reminded of bygone years when my extended family gathered to visit and we cousins played without adult direction, without any planned activity.
For a few hours I forgot about the problems of the world, about the challenges in life. I simply was—enveloped in Holy Smokes!
FYI: The next Holy Smokes! concert is set for 6 – 9 p.m. Wednesday, August 9, at Christ Lutheran, 1200 NE First Street (along Minnesota State Highway 60), Faribault. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and an appetite for great food and equally great music by Sweet Potato Jackson and Sarah Crissinger.
Note: I’ll rephotograph Holy Smokes! (including the food) once I’m healed from my shoulder fracture and able to shoot with my Canon DSLR camera.