A bicycle ride through the countryside

Horses and barn_Staats PS2436We spent the morning on a bicycle ride through  the countryside of central Minnesota.  The Tour of Saints is billed as a “heavenly little ride” and today it lived up to its billing.  The thunderstorms that moved through prior to dawn cleared by the start of the ride, and the clouds and cooler temps made for comfortable conditions.  We opted for the 50-mile ride and enjoyed every uphill and downhill along the route.  Starting at the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, we wandered the back roads until the rest stop in Cold Spring where we were treated to delicious (and ride-hearty) cinnamon rolls and baked goods.  Another 13 miles and a stop near St. John’s University for bananas and cookies.  Then it was 15 miles for a stop of candy bars and Gatorade in Avon (when you ride 50 miles you need to eat and stay hydrated, and rest stops are much appreciated!).  The countryside was green and verdant, with wildflowers in bloom, fields of soybeans and corn, and wonderful old barns.  These horses seemed quite intrigued by our mode of transportation as we rode by.  We ended back in St. Joseph, tired but appreciative of a morning spent in a beautiful countryside.

Horse and rider in motion

Spirit and grace in motion 68727_StaatsA year ago I was asked by a friend to photograph she and her horse.  On a sun-soaked evening we spent a couple of hours in the presence of a wonderful Arabian horse named Diamonds.  When I showed the images to my friend she was unable to decide which one image she wanted to use as a framed print.  Within a few weeks she asked me if I would help her put together a book of the images.  Over the past months we crafted a book that tells the story of the relationship between this horse and rider; from over 15 years ago when she got Diamonds, through the four seasons with photographs she had collected, to the present time and the images I took that summer evening.  We included the horse’s registration papers and the reminiscences that she has of their adventures over the years.  The book was printed in a 12×12″ size.  We used full-page photographs as well as groupings of small details, allowing the story to come alive on the pages.  Today I delivered the book to her.  Slowly she went through each page, lingering over the images and the many memories they have shared.  The book has allowed her to collect in one place and put to page this wonderful story that she can now share with her friends and treasure for years.  As the sun was filtering through the trees, I made this image by panning as they rode by, capturing their fluidity and grace.  We included the photograph in the book with a quote by Sharon Ralls Lemon that sums up this horse and rider’s relationship — “The essential joy of being with horses is that is brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire.”

Bringing them home

Bringing them home 7D_0156 _StaatsThe Saint Paul Winter Carnival is in full swing this weekend.  This is the time when we celebrate (and embrace) the cold weather.  There are events ranging from parades to ice carving to snow sculpting to hockey games to outdoor beer gardens to Red Bull Crashed Ice and a sleigh and cutter rally too.  Although we’ve had some serious cold weather this past week our snowfall has been minimal.  But there was enough for the sleighs and horses to be out today.  With temperatures right around freezing and a light snow coming down it seemed like I had been transported to a different era.  Many of the drivers were dressed in period clothing to match their sleighs or wagons, and the horses seemed to enjoy the open space and the snow as they trotted along.  There were one and two-horse sleighs, and a few sleighs pulled by ponies whose feet had to work overtime to cover the same distance as the horses.  This driver and his matched team seemed to be reveling in the event and the weather.  The image made me think that they had been out for a drive and were now headed back to the comfort and warmth of their respective home and barn.

Winter Carnival time in St. Paul


We are now celebrating the St. Paul Winter Carnival.  For 122 years we have embraced our cold winter weather, finding excuses to join 350,000 other carnival visitors reveling in outdoor activities for “the coolest celebration on earth.”  We layer and bundle and venture out in temperatures that hover at zero degrees.    The carnival is based on a legend of Boreas, the King of the Winds, and his enemy Vulcanus Rex, the God of Fire, battling for spring and summer to overcome the cold of winter.   Lucky for us, Vulcanus Rex and his Vulcan Krewe prevail each year, giving us the promise of warmer weather to come.  There are parades, ice carving and snow sculpture contests, hockey tournaments, sledding, skiing, and a sleigh and cutter rally.  This year’s sleigh and cutter festival was held at the Phalen Park Golf Course and included members of the St. Croix Horse & Carriage Society.  Under crisp, blue skies there were beautiful sleighs, costumed drivers, and stunning horses.  It was easy to lose yourself and be transported back to the late 1800’s or early 1900’s when this was the mode of winter transportation.