Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

September at River Bend September 11, 2019

 

FIELDS OF GOLDENROD brighten the landscape—edging roadways, filling fields, erupting seemingly everywhere as summer slips ever closer to autumn in Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

A walk through River Bend Nature Center reveals hues of brown, orange, red and yellow. In leaves changing color. In fading flowers.

 

 

In mature milkweeds and drying prairie grasses.

 

 

In butterflies galore.

 

 

Days carry a visual impression of autumn. But also a feel of autumn. There’s a sense of urgency, of the need to be outdoors as much as possible.

 

 

Autumn marks my favorite of Minnesota’s seasons. So I carry my camera through Faribault’s sprawling nature center to take it all in.

 

 

 

 

The places marked by man with words of adoration.

 

 

The trails that trail through the woods.

 

 

 

 

And always the path cut through the prairie, where I imagine settlers of long ago crossing Minnesota Territory in covered wagons or slicing plow blades through sod or simply journeying westward into dreams.

 

 

These are my thoughts within this land set aside to preserve today for the dreamers of tomorrow.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Connecting with nature at Carleton College August 19, 2019

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TO WALK HERE, among wildflowers lining water’s edge, is to find peace. And these days I crave peace, a short escape from the challenges of life. Nature offers that quiet, that solitude, that ability to forget reality for awhile.

 

 

On a recent Saturday, Randy and I followed a trail into a nature area at Carleton College in Northfield. I thought how lovely to attend college here, to have this natural space available on the edge of campus. A place for students to retreat, to recharge, to reboot.

 

 

 

 

On this day, I retreated, focusing my attention (and camera) on vivid and pastel petals,

 

 

reflections on water,

 

 

 

the arc of bridges

 

 

and then, the unexpected—a memorial to Carleton alum Ann N. Nelson who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A second Carleton alum, Joe McDonald, also died there.

 

 

The memorial stone placed between benches next to a labyrinth drew my thoughts away momentarily to that awful day in our nation’s history. And I considered the pain and the horror of it all and how, even in this peaceful place, one cannot fully-escape the difficult realities of life.

 

 

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My prairie place of peace in Faribault July 8, 2019

 

I’VE FOUND MY PARK in Faribault. The place of wildflowers and waving grasses, of songbirds and waterfowl, of gravel trails that curve around bodies of water.

 

 

Faribault Energy Park reminds me of southwestern Minnesota, the prairie place of my roots. Located on the city’s northwest side and visible from Interstate 35, this Minnesota Municipal Power Agency park invites visitors to walk paths in an ever-changing natural landscape.

 

 

Even with the steady drone of I-35 traffic in the background, birdsong breaks through the noise. The memorable voice of the red-winged blackbird, especially, sounds a sensory delight.

 

 

I’ve visited the park mostly in the evening, when the golden light of sunset falls upon ponds, angles through grasses and flowers, and slices between tree branches.

 

 

Daisies, milkweed, clover, Iris and other flowers familiar but not identifiable to me by name populate the landscape in clusters of white, clumps of purple, flashes of yellow. Focusing my camera causes me to slow down, to notice blossoms I might otherwise miss while following the winding dirt paths.

 

 

But visitors can’t miss the wind turbine towering above the park next to a hillside block of solar panels. Informational signage explains how wind energy converts into electricity. Faribault Energy Park, though, is a dual fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility, not primairly wind-powered, and runs during periods of high demand for electricity.

 

 

This park serves also to educate, welcoming students to tour the plant each May, to view the control room, the steam turbine and then to walk those wetland area trails. Tours are also available by appointment.

 

 

For folks like me simply seeking a place to escape into and photograph nature, Faribault Energy Park wetlands park offers a respite of natural beauty. Some also come here to fish, although I’ve yet to see an angler pull in a catch.

 

 

But I’ve observed geese and ducks claim this property and swim these ponds. I’ve glimpsed, too, an otter gliding through the water.

 

 

And I’ve rested in the gazebo.

 

 

 

In the chaos and busyness of life, reinforced here by the sights and sounds of adjacent I-35 traffic, I still find peace in this place reminiscent of my native southwestern Minnesota prairie.

 

 

FYI: Faribault Energy Park is located at 4100 Park Avenue. The wetlands park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those blue spring wildflowers April 11, 2017

 

THE DAINTY BLUE FLOWERS layer the front lawn of a central Faribault home like a lovely carpet. There’s no denying that. After months of viewing a primarily beige, grey and white landscape, it’s a visual delight to see this vibrant spread of Siberian Squill set against the backdrop of an aged brick house painted white.

Thanks to Valerie at Valerie’s Voice, I now know the identity of this spring wildflower. Valerie photographed a similar scene in neighboring Northfield.

 

 

Wanting to know more about these brilliant blues, I searched online. And what I found on the website Minnesota Wildflowers, a field guide to the flora of Minnesota, gave me reason to reconsider my appreciation of Siberian Squill. According to Minnesota Wildflowers, this plant is invasive to our state. The comments section proved especially interesting.

As I consider other particularly invasive plants, several obvious ones pop to mind—dandelions, Creeping Charlie and buckthorn. We’ve battled all three on our property. So, as much as I really really really like those Siberian Squill, the lovely blue wildflowers won’t ever be purposely introduced into my yard.

 

 

I’ll just enjoy the ones growing in that front yard along Fifth Street Northwest in Faribault.

TELL ME: Would you plant these flowers in your yard? Perhaps you don’t consider them invasive.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rugged Blue Mounds State Park on the southwestern Minnesota prairie September 17, 2013

Welcoming visitors to Blue Mounds State Park in rural Rock County, Minnesota.

Welcoming visitors to Blue Mounds State Park in rural Rock County, Minnesota.

YOU WOULD THINK, considering I am a native of southwestern Minnesota, that I would have visited Blue Mounds State Park many times.

But I hadn’t, ever, and it has been on my list of must-see places for the past several years. That and the Brandenburg Gallery in Luverne, four miles to the south. That would be Jim Brandenburg, perhaps Minnesota’s best-known nature photographer. He grew up in rural Luverne, near the South Dakota border.

Hundreds of windmills now define this region of southwestern Minnesota.

Hundreds of windmills now define this region of southwestern Minnesota.

Recently my husband and I traveled to this corner of Minnesota specifically to see these two sites. It was well worth the long drive that took us through many small agricultural communities, past acres and acres of cropland, and past hundreds of wind turbines which define so much of the landscape in this region now. While I understand their energy value, these unnatural giants, in my opinion, have ruined the aesthetics of the prairie. I like my prairie big, open and wide, without monstrosities to detract from its natural beauty.

Beautiful natural scenery.

Beautiful natural scenery.

Thankfully, preserved and protected prairie remains in places like Blue Mounds State Park and nearby Touch the Sky Prairie and in Brandenburg’s images.

Hiking the path up and through the prairie grass.

Hiking the path up and through the prairie grass.

On the Saturday we hiked Blue Mounds, strong winds buffeted the land, bending prairie grasses as we climbed a hillside,

Mounds of flat rock naturally planted upon the prairie.

Mounds of flat rock naturally planted upon the prairie.

A close-up shot of that in-ground flat rock.

A close-up shot of that in-ground flat rock.

examined and walked upon clumps of huge rock,

My husband inside the portion of the park where rock was once quarried.

My husband inside the portion of the park where rock was once quarried.

An impressive quarry wall of Sioux quartzite.

An impressive quarry wall of Sioux quartzite.

admired towering cliffs of Sioux quartzite,

The prickly pear cactus seemingly grows right out of the rock.

The prickly pear cactus seemingly grows right out of the rock.

bent low to study the prickly pear cactus, an unexpected plant in this northern climate. In the distance, we glimpsed the park’s herd of bison.

One example of the many prairie wildflowers.

One example of the many prairie wildflowers.

Look at the size of that Sioux quartzite rock compared to my husband.

Look at the size of that Sioux quartzite rock compared to my husband.

Just inside the park entry, I spotted this couple getting wedding photos taken among the prairie grasses and wildflowers.

Just inside the park entry, I spotted this couple getting wedding photos taken among the prairie grasses and wildflowers.

I stopped more often than not to photograph wildflowers and the prairie grass and rocks and the overall scenery in this stunning spot on the prairie, unlike any I’ve ever viewed in Minnesota.

From a gravel road that loops past the park, I photographed this rugged rock line.

From a gravel road that loops past the park, I photographed this rugged rock line.

This prairie differs from the flat, cropped agricultural prairie of my youth. This prairie rolls and rises and meets the sky and feels wild and rugged and untamed. I almost expected to see horses galloping across the land, like a scene out of a western. It has that feel.

Pasture land near the park for these grazing sheep. Note their wool clinging to the fence.

Pasture land near the park for these grazing sheep. Note the tufts of wool clinging to the fence.

I observed sheep and cattle grazing in an abundance of rocky pastures nestled between corn and soybean fields. And from the hilltops, the land seemed to stretch in to forever in all directions.

BONUS PHOTOS:

No rock climbing for us, but if you're a rock climber, Blue Mounds allows this sport.

No rock climbing for us, but if you’re a rock climber, Blue Mounds allows this sport.

Photographing wildflowers is more my type of "sport."

Photographing wildflowers is more my type of “sport.” That proved a challenge in the wind.

Farms like this border Blue Mounds State Park.

Farms like this border Blue Mounds State Park.

We followed this gravel road around the park and past a country church in the distance.

We followed this gravel road around the park and past a country church in the distance.

Sheep graze in a pasture near the country church.

Sheep graze in a pasture near the country church.

And because I value detail, I set my camera on the prairie and took this shot.

And because I value detail, I set my camera on a rock on the prairie and took this shot.

CHECK BACK for more posts from this region of Minnesota. I’ll take you into Luverne to view the Brandenburg Gallery and other points of interest.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling