Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Unexpected discoveries at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault June 30, 2020

Falls Creek County Park is located one mile east of Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60, just off the highway an eighth of a mile along a gravel road to the north. This sign is visible from Highway 60.

 

YEARS HAVE PASSED since I visited Falls Creek County Park just east of Faribault off Minnesota State Highway 60. I remembered the hill and the expanse of lawn leading to a shelter house. And the creek at the edge of the surrounding woods.

 

Beautiful wild roses.

 

I didn’t recall wild roses. Those I would remember because I love wild roses. They remind me of my native prairie home, where, decades ago, pink roses grew random in road ditches. Oh, the sweet scent and the sweet memories.

 

These wild rose bushes edge a section of the massive gravel parking lot.

 

Randy noticed the roses first at Falls Creek. We both paused to breathe in the old-fashioned fragrance and to share our rose stories of yesteryear. What an unexpected delight.

 

Randy termed this a “weed.” I called it a “flower.”

 

If you’re dipping your nose into roses, check for bees first. They love this flower.

 

This elusive dragonfly proved incredibly challenging to photograph.

 

Another wildflower, or weed, depending on your perspective.

 

After a picnic lunch, I grabbed my camera to photograph roses and wildflowers and an elusive dragonfly before we aimed for the bridge over the creek.

 

A foot bridge over Falls Creek leads to a path into the woods that follows the creek.

 

Looking into the creek from the bridge, I watched water tumble over rocks.

 

I love the sound and sight of water rushing over rocks. It’s mesmerizing, calming, soothing.

 

What a wonderful surprise to find this clean and clear creek water.

 

And, as we walked to water’s edge at a crook in the creek, we found water running clear. That is mostly unseen in these parts where rivers and other waterways and lakes are muddy and murky and often nothing you would want to wade into. I dipped my hand into the clean, cool water. Happy at this unexpected discovery, at this untainted water flowing past me.

 

Greenery galore.

 

I navigated this path in the woods.

 

This fallen tree was jammed into the hillside, half the tree on one side of the path, the other half on the opposite side.

 

From there, we followed the narrow dirt path hugging the creek. In parts, the trail had eroded. Tree roots underfoot and a makeshift crossing of rocks and branches caused me to slow my pace, to watch my feet, to walk with care. The last thing I needed was to stumble and tumble and break a bone or land in the creek with my camera.

 

Looking up toward the wooded hillside from the creek path.

 

The woods proved a lovely place of greenery and dappled sunshine filtering through the trees…until the mosquitoes discovered our presence. My body reacts intensely to bug bites. So I needed to turn back and exit the woods.

 

The shelterhouse sits in a large open grassy area.

 

Back in the open, across the lawn and up the hill and on the far side of the massive gravel parking lot circled with tire track donuts, Randy spotted more wild roses. These were larger, better positioned to get sunshine. Once again, we paused to admire these dainty-looking, yet strong, prairie flowers. Once again, I breathed in the sweet scent.

 

Before leaving, we smelled the wild roses one final time.

 

I will remember Falls Creek County Park now for more than the falls I have yet to see—because of those mosquitoes. I will remember this place for the wild roses that edge the woods. And remind me of my native Minnesota prairie home, where there are no woods.

NOTE: This visit occurred several weeks ago, when the roses were nearly done blooming. We’ve also had substantial rainfall in the past two days, meaning the creek may now be muddy, the trail more eroded.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finding peace immersed in nature at River Bend April 29, 2020

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Sunset at the prairie pond, River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

THIS EARLY INTO SPRING here in southern Minnesota, everything seems amplified. Colors. Sound. Even the air temperature.

 

Into the woods at River Bend Nature Center.

 

You can almost see the grass growing, its green especially vivid in the still mostly monotone landscape. The greyness of woods reminds us that winter only just exited, and could return. Yes, we’ve experienced measurable snowfalls in May.

 

Beauty in birch tree bark under blue skies.

 

But for now, the weather has proven mostly glorious with shirt-sleeve temps and lots of sunshine, although on Tuesday much-needed rain watered the earth.

 

Rock signage marks Honor Point inside River Bend Nature Center.

 

One evening last week, Randy and I headed to River Bend Nature Center for a walk in the woods and along the prairie to the pond. The incessant peeping of frogs created a symphony as we drove into the center, van windows rolled down to hear the music. I always wonder why we can never see these musicians, only hear them.

 

Looking over the river valley from Honor Point.

 

Once parked, we entered the woods, crossed the Turtle Pond, wound through the trees, paused to scan the river valley, then looped back through the woods, eventually reaching woods’ edge.

 

The grazing geese I opted to avoid.

 

I especially enjoy the section of our hike which leads us onto the prairie, a place of dried grasses in April. My eyes welcome the openness. But on this evening, we detoured from our usual route. A cluster of geese grazed the land and I wasn’t about to get too close. Their protesting honks as we drew near proved deterrent enough.

 

The bird that’s not real atop the martin house.

 

I paused momentarily to photograph a martin house, thrilled to see a bird perched on the edge of the apartment complex…until I realized the bird wasn’t real.

 

Cattails…love them any season.

 

Onward to the pond, a favorite spot to photograph cattails, which have always intrigued me. They are especially lovely in the filtered light of sunset.

 

This birdhouse hangs on a branch over the Turtle Pond.

 

By then my ears ached from the cold of the evening air. The din of frogs continued as we headed back to the parking lot and our van.

 

On the way out, one last stop along the road to photograph this nesting goose.

 

We had, for an hour, immersed ourselves in nature. Listened. Observed. Retreated from reality, if only for awhile. And sometimes an hour is all you need to find peace.

 

RELATED, SORT OF: I invite you to check out my nature-themed blog post, “Praise God for His Glorious Creation,” published on the Warner Press website, by clicking here.

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work as the Warner Press blog coordinator and blogger.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of winter in the woods February 27, 2018

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HERE IN THE NORTHLAND, Winter pens poetry upon trees. If only we pause to notice.

 

 

I noticed last week as I photographed the visual poetry that glimmered, layered, clung to tree branches within view of my backyard.

 

 

Freezing rain sluiced ice along branches like strings of diamonds draped upon the woods.

 

 

Then snow fell, icing the same branches in white.

 

 

Darkness emerged later with moody Winter unleashing roiling emotions.

 

 

Tangled. Twisted. Tumultuous.

 

 

But hope shone in the shelter of snowy evergreens, lovely in the gloaming of the day. I observed therein the loveliness a poet sees when words flow from the brain into layers of verses. There’s a feeling of satisfaction, of comfort, of accomplishment. And the light, oh, the light.

 

 

 

The sky, too, the setting for these poems of February, delights. Not when grey. But when blue, oh, so blue.

 

 

This is Winter’s poetry, written here upon the Minnesota landscape, if we but choose to see and read it.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Check back tomorrow for a post that contrasts this one with a wish for Winter to exit.

 

Into the woods on an autumn afternoon in southern Minnesota November 10, 2016

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autumn-day-35-walking-in-leaves

 

I DOUBT I’VE EVER SEEN so many oak leaves layering the ground. Thick. Brown. Rustling underfoot.

As my husband and I hiked into Kaplan’s Woods in Owatonna on Sunday afternoon, I noticed the abundance of oaks that distinguishes this city park from other parks/nature centers I’ve visited.

There’s something about an oak that denotes history and strength.

Yet, the distraction of all those oak leaves crackling underfoot doesn’t detract from my ability to notice nature’s details.

 

kaplans-woods-25-close-up-of-leaves

 

Flash of yellow among mostly brown and grey.

 

kaplans-woods-26-bare-trees

 

Bare (or mostly bare) branches set against a signature cobalt blue November sky.

 

kaplans-woods-29-fungi-on-tree

 

Fungi laddering up a tree trunk. Beautiful in an artistic, natural way. Like Nature’s sculpture.

 

kaplans-woods-32-barrier-in-woods

 

And then an unnatural road block at the end of a muddied path. “A gated community,” Randy jokes. And we laugh. Together. In the woods, under the oaks.

 

kaplans-woods-33-initials-in-dirt

 

In the dirt, initials carved with a stick, an “A” and maybe a “U.” Another Audrey? Probably not.

We turn around, our path blocked. I suggest we return to the main trail into the woods. We’re unfamiliar with this place and I have no intention of getting lost. Neither does Randy.

 

kaplans-woods-34-moss-on-trees

 

Leaves crunch beneath our shoes. But then I stop abruptly, swing my camera left toward a moss covered log, the golden light falling just right.

I fail to hear or notice the runner closing in behind us. I’m in the zone, focused on photographing a selected scene. Randy, however, is watchful. He warns me. We step aside and continue on, a biker now barreling toward us on his mountain bike.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A May evening at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault May 6, 2016

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River Bend Nature Center, 27 trail through woods

 

SUNLIGHT FILTERED THROUGH THE WOODS, cutting sharp angles across trails, spotlighting wildflower blossoms, gloaming with an ethereal quality.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 42 violet

 

The end of the day was nearing as my husband and I walked the trails of River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, first at a fast pace to raise our heart rates. That didn’t last long.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 29 white wildflowers close-up

 

Soon I unslung my camera from my shoulder, stopped to photograph wildflowers carpeting the woods lush with green growth. Green always seems incredibly vivid in the spring. I often wonder if that’s because it is or because we Minnesotans haven’t seen a green landscape in way too long.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 34 white wildflowers in woods

 

It doesn’t matter. I am thankful for spring’s early arrival, with winter but a memory now, although Randy mentioned the white wildflowers looked a lot like snow blanketing the ground.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 36 family on trail

 

Walkers and bikers, solo and with family or pets, traversed the nature center. We paused occasionally, wondering about the history of this place, about the pockets of limestone clearly quarried, about the Faribault Regional Center residents who once worked this land and tended livestock here, about the land before then.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 35 names carved in tree

 

I wondered, too, about Aron and Kristi who carved their names into the soft wood of a trail-side tree.

As we emerged from the woods, I scanned the vista of sky and prairie. I am most comfortable in a place where my eyes can wander, where I am not visually hemmed in by trees. The imprint of my rural southwestern Minnesota upbringing remains strong even forty years removed from the prairie.

Crossing the prairie, I watched my steps on the uneven grass trail and thought about ticks. I felt a bump on the left side of my head, my fingers drawing blood as I scratched. There was no tick, Randy assured me.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 50 Randy sitting by pond

 

We soon settled onto a bench next to the prairie pond and listened to the trill of red-winged blackbirds.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 55 cattails at twilight

 

Dried cattails plumed in the lovely light. I felt comfortably at peace.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 62 crab apple blossoms

 

After awhile we aimed back toward the parking lot, where I paused to photograph pink blossoms against deep blue sky.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 67 red-headed woodpecker

 

River Bend Nature Center, 77 bird at feeder

 

River Bend Nature Center, 80 red-winged blackbird

 

I diverted to bird feeders behind the nature center interpretative center. The birds scattered, wary of my presence. But soon they returned and I photographed them, admiring splashes of red on heads, wings and breasts. I’m not particularly fond of winged creatures up close. But from afar, I can appreciate them.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 18 geese

 

According to Randy, I should have kept my distance upon photographing a pair of geese and seven goslings earlier. It’s interesting how a camera can create confidence that perhaps we shouldn’t always have when encountering nature.

On this stunning May evening in Minnesota, all felt right in my world. And all it took was a walk in the woods and across the prairie of River Bend Nature Center.

 

River Bend Nature Center, 59 interpretative center

 

TELL ME, WHAT’S YOUR go-to place to escape into nature?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling