springs-thaw-on-the-mississippi-river_cp1965c_staatsWith our spring thaw in full force, I wandered along the banks of the Mississippi River yesterday.  Where normally the river is ice-covered, there was only a thin layer of ice that lined the shoreline.  The wind was brisk causing the clouds to hurry quickly across the sky.  Fishermen were active on the river, launching boats and heading out to their favorite areas with nary a thought of ice.  The scene was more like one from early April, but we’ll embrace and welcome spring at any time it makes its appearance.

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fog-and-fall-color-ms-river-bluffs_14225-staatsWe have some wonderful friends near Wabasha, Minnesota that have a vineyard on the bluff above the Mississippi River.  Each year we journey south to help with the harvest, and today the grapes were calling us.  We left the Twin Cities with a clear sunrise, but as we headed towards the river the fog became thicker and thicker.  Even when we got to Lake Pepin, where the Mississippi is so wide it’s called a lake, there was no lake to see.  I love to photograph in the fog because it can create a clean palette to work with designs and lines, and we stopped along our trip so I could do just that.  But as we headed up the bluff, away from the river to the vineyard, we broke out into the sunshine once again.  Some of the trees in the area are just starting to show some yellows and golds for fall colors.  From the top of the bluff I was amazed to see the layers in this photograph:  the grape vines are loaded with grapes, the trees are showing some color, the Mississippi River is socked in with fog, and the Wisconsin bluffs are visible on the other side with blue sky above.  It was a beautiful day to be outside picking grapes, visiting our friends and the others that were gathered to help with the harvest.

Cannon Falls_13763 StaatsWe wandered south of the Twin Cities yesterday on a dreary, rainy Saturday.  August has been unusually wet with heavy downpours occurring frequently, resulting in high rivers and standing water in many fields.  All this was noticeable as we drove through the countryside, but it became more apparent on a stop in the town of Cannon Falls.  Here, the Little Cannon River flows alongside and through the town.  In a “normal” August, average rainfall for Cannon Falls is four inches.  To date this month they have had close to double that – almost eight inches.  And with yesterday’s rain continuing to fall, it was obvious as the river stretched out of its banks.  The falls were roaring and tossing the brown, sediment-filled water into the air as it tumbled toward the Cannon River which then flows on to the Mississippi River.

Ski fence_Staats 8601We just returned from a day trip to the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minnesota.  Located right on the banks of the Mississippi River, the museum is a hidden treasure.  The main reason for our trip was to see a special exhibit of 70 Ansel Adams prints.  I was thrilled and amazed to see and study the creativity that Adams brought to his final prints.  His use of black and white filters and his burning and dodging brought his images to the final representation of what he was seeing and experiencing when he captured the image.  On our way back to the Twin Cities, we crossed over the River and followed the highway north along the Wisconsin side.  Just outside of Pepin, Wisconsin we passed this amazing fence.  Amidst the snowy landscape and the overcast sky that mimicked the ground cover, we stopped to marvel at this bright fence made entirely of winter skis.  The color was eye-catching and the whole idea reminded me that just like we had observed at the Ansel Adams exhibit, there is creativity all around us.

Mississippi River winter dawn2_StaatsLike many people, we’re dealing with colder than normal temperatures.  Sometimes the cold allows for some unusual photography, and such was the case this morning.  Dressed with multiple layers we headed out before dawn, with a temp of -11.  The air was crisp, and the snow was loud and crunchy underfoot.  The main sections of the Mississippi River are frozen, but there are some areas that remain open.  We wandered down to Hidden Falls Regional Park where a portion of the river was open allowing steam to rise into the cold air.  At the edges of the open water were large sections of frost and we could see the new layers of ice forming.  It seemed unusual to hear the flowing water when the air and outside temperatures were so very cold.  Although it was a beautiful sight to enjoy, it was only for a short while as we headed back for some needed warmth and comfort.

MS River ice and flow_StaatsThe cold of winter has swept south from the Canadian prairie into Minnesota.  The lakes are icing over, but the rivers take a bit longer because of the current.  We were north of the Twin Cities along the banks of the Mississippi River yesterday.  The early morning light cast a beautiful glow on the barren trees along the banks, and the water was flowing but it contained numerous chunks of ice headed southward.  Eventually the river will freeze in some sections, but the sections that remain open will attract birds and wildlife, and will teem with activity throughout the cold winter months.

Frontenac grape cluster 3310_StaatsAs fall starts its arrival in Minnesota the days grow shorter, the nights are cooler, and the harvests begin.  For the past few years we’ve helped some friends in the Wabasha area with their grape harvest.  On a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, they have a beautiful vineyard that’s expanded every year.  Last weekend we spent a day with friends and family picking grapes for this year’s harvest.  Our work began under an overcast sky.   After a couple of hours we stopped for a lunch break, only to look outside and see it raining.  We continued harvesting in the rain for a few hours (not a problem except for the rain drops that ran down our arms when we’d reach up to cut the grape clusters), and then the clouds cleared and the sun came out leaving the grapes glistening with the rain.  These are Frontenac grapes, a variety bred by the University of Minnesota and known for its cold-hardiness.  As the sun started its descent to the horizon we left the vineyard feeling good about a full-day’s work outside.  We shared a wonderful meal with our fellow grape-harvesters and then headed home with gallons of fresh-squeezed grape juice to enjoy in the upcoming months.