GIVE MINNESOTANS A STRING of warm March days like we experienced briefly around the official first day of spring, and we’ll pop out of hibernation in full force.
Note that as I write this, though, snow globe snowflakes descend, layering the landscape and reminding us that, even if the calendar shows spring, in reality it is not. Temps are back into the 30s and 40s after those few days of 50s and 60s, topping 70 degrees.
During that brief hiatus from winter, I observed lots of people out and about while I was out and about. Walkers. Bikers. Babies in strollers. Kids playing in yards. A teen on a hoverboard. And a teen on a skateboard.
Warm weather multiplies the number of motorcycles on the road, too, as they roar out of storage. Note that some bikers ride even in winter, although not during snowfalls.
On that Monday of 70 degrees, I hung laundry on the line and then threw open windows to air out the house. Within minutes of opening windows, the street sweeper crept by, spinning dust clouds. I raced to close street-side windows.
Spring will come. As a life-long Minnesotan, I realize that. It’s just that as I age, winter seems longer. And colder.
TELL ME: Has spring arrived where you live? How do you define spring’s arrival?
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.
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.
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.
On the trail, we cross bridges constructed of uneven angled boards that always trip me. I pause to peer into the river.
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.
Far below I observe animal tracks crossing the snow in a tic-tac-toe pattern leading to water’s icy edge.
Curving along the path near the former Faribault Foods canning company, stationary boxcars sidle against the building.
Graffiti colors the boxcar canvases.
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.
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.
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.
Now the place is mostly vacant, just like the riverside picnic shelter.
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.
But on this cold Saturday in late February when I stopped by, only a few people used the park. A couple walked their dogs. And two women crossed to the center fountain, purses angled across downy winter coats, stocking caps clamped on and shopping bags looped over three gloved hands, take-out coffee clutched in the fourth.
As the women paused near the centerpiece fountain placed here in 1909, I studied the scene before me, camera ready. Only moments earlier, I finished my packed lunch inside the cozy warmth of the van. Randy and I had planned to eat at nearby Rice Lake State Park. But that all changed when hiking trails proved too icy for safe walking. So here we were in Owatonna, shifting our plans.
I was determined that the cold weather would not keep me from photographing the park. Dressed in a warm hand-me-down parka from my son layered over tee and flannel shirts, long johns under jeans, practical winter boots, hand-knit cap and mitten/gloves, I felt prepared. The combo mitten/gloves were a gift from Randy years ago. They work great for winter photography. I flip back the fleece ends to reveal open fingertips. That allows me to manipulate my camera without exposing my entire hand.
Even with all of that, I soon found myself hurrying my creative pace. My fingertips were freezing.
But I was determined to document the setting on an afternoon that looked deceptively warm. Bold blue skies. Sunshine. Artsy fountain. Stout community stage. Historic buildings bordering the park. Remnants of snow sculptures.
I regretted that we missed Owatonna’s Bold & Cold Winter Festival at the end of January. Then those sculptures would have been newly-built, pristine. But now I could only imagine kids slipping down the slide at the deteriorating snow castle.
I also imagined how, in a few months, this scene will change. How leaves will unfurl on the birch trees. How the fountain will spill water. How Farmers Market vendors will set up shop. How music will create a joyful rhythm that welcomes spring, then summer. And warmth.
This I contemplate as I snap frames, fingertips freezing, hurting now in the cold of winter. Back in the van, I hold my fingers close to the blower, seeking heat while the sun shines bright, bold over Central Park.
IN THEORY, THE PLAN seemed a good one. Randy and I would hike in a nearby state park on February 19, the first of four “free entry” days to Minnesota’s 75 state parks and recreation areas.
Mid Saturday morning, we packed sandwiches, fruit, granola bars and almonds for a picnic lunch, although we would eat in the comfort and warmth of our van. Temps in the 20s do not allow for outdoor dining.
Originally we intended to drive to Carley State Park south of Plainview. It’s a park we have not visited. But part way there, I suggested we wait. A description of Carley’s Whitewater River-hugging Wildflower Trail and Virginia bluebells carpeting the forest floor in May prompted the change in plans.
Instead, we aimed for Rice Lake State Park some eight miles east of Owatonna. We’ve previously been there, although not in winter. Following back paved county and gravel roads, I already envisioned hiking the park’s trails along frozen Rice Lake. I imagined the quiet of the woods, the beauty of the snow-covered landscape. Such were my expectations. I also felt excited to participate in the Rice Lake State Park Challenge, a special free entry day event that involved finding passwords to claim a possible prize.
When we pulled into the park, I checked in at the park office for a map and the challenge entry form. As I was about to leave, the park staffer warned, “Be careful, the trails are icy.” I would soon discover for myself just how right she was in that assessment.
The snow-packed, icy parking lot offered the first clue to conditions. I carefully stepped from the van, draped my camera strap around my neck and aimed toward the lakeside trail. Not even part way there, I was already grasping Randy’s arm. As someone who’s broken her right shoulder and left wrist in falls (the last requiring surgery), I have no desire to fall and break a third bone. Note that neither occurred in winter but rather in May and June and involved a missed step inside a hospital and a rain-slicked wooden step in a friend’s backyard.
At the beginning of the trail at Rice Lake State Park, I paused, observed and assessed that, yes, the trail was, indeed, icy. But I was willing to try, hoping conditions would improve. They didn’t. Soon Randy and I found ourselves crunching through the snow aside the trail rather than traversing the ice-packed path. Not even 20 feet in, Randy advised that perhaps we best turn around. I agreed.
Disappointment filled my thoughts. I didn’t realize how much I had anticipated this time in nature, in the woods, by the lake. And now…plans would pivot. We realized conditions would likely be the same at other state parks. So we headed west to Owatonna for that picnic lunch and more.
TELL ME: If you live in southern Minnesota, where can I find clear trails for winter hiking? If you live elsewhere, where do you like to hike this time of year?
FYI: Minnesota has three more upcoming “free entry” to state parks and recreation areas in 2022. Those dates are April 23, June 11 and November 25. I highly-recommend a warm weather hike in Rice Lake State Park. It’s especially peaceful.
Proper Mailbox Installation will Help Keep it Upright this Winter
Shoveling Driveway Openings
Children Stay Clear of the Street
Keep Trash & Recycling Bins Out of the Street
So basically keep your vehicles (during snow emergencies), garbage cans, snow and kids off streets.
Clear fire hydrants near your home because, you know, if firefighters need to dig out a hydrant, your house could burn down.
Remove snow and ice from sidewalks so pedestrians (especially letter carriers) don’t slip and fall and break a bone. And as long as we’re talking mailboxes, shovel the snow away from them. If a snowplow hits your curbside mailbox (note, you must have it properly installed), call the city.
Don’t blame the city if your water pipes freeze. They’ve advised you to insulate them and take other precautions to prevent freezing.
Also, do not blame city snowplow drivers for plowing snow across the end of your driveway within minutes of your having opened your driveway. That one’s really tough to take. Too many times the plow arrives shortly after all snow has been removed from driveway’s end. Then it’s back to shoveling or blowing, mean-spirited words unheard over the scrape of plow blade upon asphalt.
The city is, after all, grateful for your cooperation as noted in this sentence of gratitude:
Thank you very much for your assistance and patience in getting through another Minnesota winter and plowing season.
You’re welcome, City of Faribault. My words, not theirs.
TELL ME: What’s on your fridge? Anything snow/winter-related?
BEFORE TUESDAY TEMPS ROSE to around 40 here in southern Minnesota, there was the cold. Brutal cold. Mornings of minus below zero. Strong winds making the outdoors feel even colder.
Late Sunday morning, when the temperature hovered in the 20s with a brisk wind, Randy and I followed the paved trail bordering the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite Faribault walking path.
The river draws me here. I find waterways soothing, calming, quieting to the spirit, even when frozen.
I also appreciate how this particular path wends around trees and along the river. The curving trail invites a leisurely, poetic pace, a time for reflection, a time to slow down and delight in the natural world without distractions.
Little distracted us, except the trumpeting of two Trumpeter Swans gracefully flying high overhead as we exited the van to begin our walk. Absent were the usual crowds of waterfowl frequenting the river in Minnesota’s other seasons.
We encountered only one other person—a biker zooming on a fat tire bike.
It was the winter landscape which focused my attention. The whiteness of it all. The absence of color in a mostly grey and black-and-white world. Only the bold orange outlines on basketball rims and backboards jolted color into the scene. In the summer, young people cram these courts, dribbling and jumping and dunking and scoring points. Raucous play among youth, wonderful to witness.
On this February morning, summer lingers in memories of those pick-up basketball games, riverside picnics and following this trail in flip flops under leafy canopies of green.
Today the branches bare themselves to winter. Naked, exposed, vulnerable.
I notice in the snow, next to the imprint of a boot and a bike tire track, a lone oak leaf. In any other season, I might miss this. But not now. Not in the depth of winter.
I notice, too, finger drifts along trail’s edge. Creeping. Stretching. Wind-blown fingers of snow that may be perceived as threatening. Or artsy. I choose artsy.
Across the river, I see the Faribault Woolen Mill, weaver of wool (and wool blend) blankets, throws, scarves and much more since 1865. The mill is widely-admired, respected for its quality products. Craftsmanship at its finest. As Randy and I retrace our steps, this time leaning into a strong wind, I would welcome a locally-woven wool scarf wrapped around my neck for warmth.
Soon we reach the van, climb inside the wind-sheltered space and head toward the park exit. It is then Randy spots a large bird overhead, following the river. An eagle, we determine, based on wing span, flight and river route. It’s too high for our aging eyes to fully verify identity. But we’ve seen eagles here before and that is enough. Enough to end our Sunday morning winter walk with the wonderment we always feel in watching this majestic bird tracing the Cannon River.
TELL ME: If you live in a cold climate state, do you bundle up and head outdoors for recreational activities? Where do you go? What do you do?
WINTER HOLDS STARK BEAUTY not seen in any other season. Sometimes seeing that takes extra effort, though, when thoughts center on Minnesota’s brutal cold and snow and ice.
Yet, many days—often in the morning and as the day closes—winter paints loveliness into the landscape. Upon the sky.
I live in the valley with a view to the east. When the sun rises, hues of golden yellow and rosy pink sometimes brush upon the heavens. Beautiful to behold. Occasionally Randy will text after arriving at work and alert me to the morning’s artistic arrival. I appreciate his thoughtfulness.
In late afternoon, pressing toward evening when I am preparing supper, I find myself drawn to the south kitchen window. There I shift my eyes slightly right to the tree-covered hillside behind our home. There I behold bare black branches against a backdrop pink sky. The loveliness of it all, the contrast of dark and light, delights me. Oh, how lovely the dusk of day.
Yes, even in the deep of winter, nature shows her creative side. Coloring the sky. Reminding me that in every single day beauty exists, even when it sometimes seems elusive.
TELL ME: What brings beauty into your natural world in February?
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, on a brutally cold Minnesota winter morning when tires on roadways sound like boots crunching glass, when breathing in outdoor air almost hurts, when brilliant sunshine deceives, I noticed a strange sight in the sky. An endless skinny squiggle.
Alarmed, I wondered at the contrail resembling the attempts of a preschooler free-styling the letter “S.” Was this thin white line revealing an out-of-control aircraft about to crash? It’s interesting where the mind wanders when knowledge lacks. I will be the first to admit I don’t understand much about airplanes. I still don’t understand the physics of flight, not that I’ve even tried to educate myself. It simply does not interest me.
With questions racing through my mind, I grabbed my camera to document the scene through my front picture window. Yes, utility wires and dirty glass distracted, but I held no desire to step into the frigid cold to take photos.
Upon discussing the skinny squiggles with Randy many hours later, he suggested the cold, stillness and other “just right” atmospheric weather conditions caused those skinny contrail squiggles. Right? Wrong? What do you think (or know)? I’m listening.
IN THE DEPTHS of a Minnesota winter, when snow layers the landscape and cold settles into my bones, I long for spring. I yearn for color, for warmth, for stepping outdoors without first donning, boots, winter coat, scarf, hat and mittens.
In that mind frame, I recently purchased a hyacinth bulb at Aldi. It was in the non-food aisle of oddities—those items you don’t necessarily need but may buy on impulse. But I did need this. I needed a visual pop of spring, of color, in my home.
A year ago I bought a hyacinth bulb in a mini vase at Aldi, too, but for my son who at the time lived in Madison, Wisconsin. He struggles with the cold, with winter in general. So, for a few bucks, I jolted color into his apartment. He’s now living in Indiana, some eight-plus hours away, thus no hyacinth this winter.
Instead, I would delight in this spring flower associated with the Greek god Apollo. I chose a pink hyacinth this year rather than the blue gifted to Caleb. My granddaughter loves pink and I was hoping to give the spring flower to her. But then my mom died and Izzy was sick (not COVID) and time got away and I haven’t seen the grandkids since early January.
It was meant to be—for me to tend this bulb with buds clamped, then lengthening and unfurling into two beautiful blossom branches.
Each morning I moved the vase to the east-facing front picture window, into the morning light. I delighted in white roots expanding in the water-filled vase. I topped the water as instructed. I watched the greenery grow remarkably fast…until the first flowers bloomed. Lovely pink. And a fragrance equally lovely in intensity.
Then the bulb tipped in the vase at the weight of the blooming stem. I leaned the heavy bloom against the window, propping it into balance.
Soon a second shoot shot to the side. More flowers. Flowers set against a backdrop of snow. A symbol of spring in the depths of a cold Minnesota winter.
TELL ME: Have you grown a spring bulb inside your home in winter? I’d like to hear what and why.
HERE WE GO AGAIN. Due to extreme cold temps, the first-ever Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast at an historic Minnesota country church grounds has been rescheduled for the second time.
The event at Valley Grove churches is, as of today (Thursday), slated for 2 – 4 pm Saturday, January 8. Weather forecasters predict a temp of around 30 degrees, much warmer than our recent weather. Saturday will also be warmer than the predicted three degrees on Sunday, the first rescheduled date.
If you attend the Saturday gathering in the parking lot of this rural Nerstrand hilltop setting, dress warm. Even 30 degrees can feel cold if the slightest wind blows and you’re not dressed properly. That includes wearing warm winter boots. Organizers also encourage guests to bring blankets, chairs and hot beverages. If you have snowshoes and want to walk the prairie, bring that footwear.
On bitterly cold January days like today I respect the hardiness of those early Norwegian settlers who endured much to make a new home in America, in rural Rice County. This morning when I shoveled snow from my driveway and sidewalk, I three times returned to the house to warm myself. Even wearing long johns under jeans, a heavy parka over my clothes, boots, a hat, mittens and a scarf wrapped around my neck and face, my fingers and toes began to numb. That’s a warning sign that, if ignored, could lead to frostbite.
So here I am, inside my cozy office, fleece throw tossed across my lap, thankful for the warmth of the overworked furnace. Thankful to have finished that shoveling in, according to the local radio station, a wind chill temp of -31 degrees. No wonder I felt cold.
When the Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast happens on Saturday, the temp will feel some 60 degrees warmer.