Winter at River Bend Nature Center
by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Between trees stripped of their leaves, I glimpse the Straight River winding through River Bend Nature Center on a winter’s afternoon. It’s a lovely day. Cobalt blue skies. Temps in the thirties. Sun shining radiant on my face. Sunlight shadows bare branches, sparkles upon the open river and upon the snow-packed trails I follow.
I am here walking with my husband, as much for the exercise as the solace and beauty of this place in the solitude of winter. Although many vehicles fill the parking lot, we meet only a handful of skiers and a single hiker. We are, mostly, alone. Just as I like.
We hike along the edges of groomed trails, skirting cross country ski tracks grooved into the snow. I ponder whether I should attempt skiing or snowshoeing again. Equipment for both can be rented here. Decades have passed since I’ve done either. There’s a certain lyrical rhythm in the movement of skis gliding across snow. And there’s a certain satisfaction in powering one’s self with snowshoes.
As we follow the trails, I pause occasionally to take in my surroundings. Winter presents an ideal setting to observe nature without the distractions of leafed trees and wildflowers or whatever may draw my attention. I often view my environment through my camera, today looped around my neck by its strap.
I slow my pace and stop to snap photos of fungi laddering a tree, a solo oak leaf curled in the snow, a nest tucked in a tree.
There’s such simplistic beauty in the outdoors, in this place. I see it in the gnarled branches of an oak. I hear it in the clatter of a woodpecker. I feel it in the occasional cold touch of winter’s wind against my cheeks as I round an open space in the woods. And if I was here during maple syruping time, I could smell and taste nature in the sap tapped from River Bend trees.
I so appreciate this nearly 750-acre nature center, where rustic hand-painted signs direct visitors along recreational trails with names like Owl Trail. While I’ve never seen an owl here, I’ve observed birds—on this walk the quick flit of wings through brush. Later I will focus on birds snapping up seeds at a bird watching station behind the interpretive center. Mostly, though, I’ve seen deer here. Not today, though.
I’ve experienced winter in the woods. And on the prairie. Every visit here, I trek along the trail that takes me across the restored prairie, filling a longing I will always hold for wide skies and open spaces. I often pause to appreciate the tall grasses that, even in winter, remind me of early settlers and of the Dakota people. A trailside teepee in the woods visually highlights those long ago inhabitants.
River Bend holds an interesting history of farming and limestone quarrying and the presence of those who walked this land nearly 200 years ago. Evidence of their existence still exists, adding another facet to this nature area.
For more than 30 years now, I’ve been drawn to River Bend. I’ve come here for solitude, to reclaim personal peace, to satisfy my creative side. I’ve come here with my kids, now grown, to expose them to nature—to the starkness of winter, the budding of spring, the lushness of summer, the aging of autumn. I’ve come here for WinterFest in January, maple syruping in spring, turtle watching, stargazing, concerts and much more.
This land draws me throughout the seasons, even in the deep cold of winter in southeastern Minnesota.
FYI: To learn more about all River Bend Nature Center, 1000 Rustad Road, on Faribault’s east side offers, visit the website at http://www.rbnc.org/.
Trails are open from 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily. The interpretative center is open week days from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., but closed on Sundays.
About the author: Audrey Kletscher Helbling writes from her home in an old Faribault neighborhood. She blogs at mnprairieroots.com and is a regionally-recognized poet and writer with a passion for photography.