Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Franconia, up close: A visit to a rural Minnesota sculpture park October 22, 2014

Welcome to Fraconia Sculpture Park.

Welcome to Franconia Sculpture Park.

EXPLAINING THE 25-ACRE Franconia Sculpture Park in rural Shafer, Minnesota, eludes a succinct definition.

Some of the pieces invite interaction and play.

Some of the pieces invite interaction and play.

This place, just west of Taylors Falls off U.S. Highway 8 where State Highway 95 turns south in Franconia Township, seems a playground for the imagination. For here you will find 105 oversized sculptures and others in progress that are mostly abstract and open to interpretation.

An overview of a section of the park shows its size and scale.

An overview of a section of the park shows its size and scale.

And isn’t that part of what defines art, the perspective the viewer brings to the piece?

How we view art is rooted deep in our experiences.

How we view art is rooted deep in our experiences.

I won’t pretend to bring any studied art knowledge to this mini photo tour of Franconia. I bring only my background, my life experiences, my interpretation and a deep appreciation for the creative process. For whether we create with words or paint, metal or wood, or any other material, the reason for creating remains rooted in passion and the need to express one’s self.

This suspended sculpture by Minnesota artist Melanie VanHouten is titled "Reclamation." All I could think were Dorothy and "you're not in Kansas anymore" and tornadoes and "The Wizard of Oz."

This suspended sculpture by Minnesota artist Melanie VanHouten is titled “Reclamation.” All I could think were Dorothy and “you’re not in Kansas anymore” and tornadoes and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Franconia is worth a visit, whether to immerse yourself or for a quick study of art worked from mostly found/repurposed objects. I especially appreciate that aspect of this sculpture park.

I noticed how the trailside flowers mimicked a sculpture behind them.

I noticed how the trailside flowers mimic a sculpture behind them.

It’s a vast, wide open rural space that anchors these sculptures and hosts resident artists. Allow plenty of time to meander the many trails that wind among the sculptures. And, if it’s a cold and windy day, clamp a cap upon your head. You’ll need it.

SELECTED PHOTOS from my tour of Franconia, with more to come in a second post:

Bayete Ross Smith of New York City created "God the Power: Minnesota," a towering stack of boomboxes. Remember these?

Bayete Ross Smith of New York City created “Got the Power: Minnesota,” a towering stack of boomboxes.

These remind me of broken surfboards. They certainly inject a jolt of color into the park.

These remind me of broken surfboards. They certainly inject a jolt of color into the park. The circle is part of another sculpture in the background.

A somewhat more traditional sculpture.

A somewhat more traditional sculpture.

It is the setting of this geometric art that especially pleases me. Right next to a cornfield.

It is the setting of this geometric art, right next to a cornfield, that especially pleases me.

I happened upon this sign, a reminder that artists are actively at work here.

I happened upon this sign, a reminder that artists work here.

game

Minnesota artist Kari Anne Reardon’s “The Big Game”drew my attention for the subject matter and scale. Yes that is a “gun” aiming at a deer.

This sculpture was among my favorites and reminds me of milkweeds.

This sculpture was among my favorites and reminds me of milkweed pods.

Milkweed pods, along the Minnesota River Valley National Scenic Byway near Morton, autumn 2006

See the resemblance to milkweed? You’ll find real milkweed growing at Franconia. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

"Black Book," the work of Minnesota artist Peyton features multiple paintings on "pages."

“Black Book,” the work of Minnesota artist Peyton, features multiple paintings on “pages.”

Donations to this nonprofit arts organization are welcome.

Donations to this nonprofit arts organization are welcome.

Note: Please visit the Franconia website (click here) for titles of artwork and the artists and for more info about the art shown here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Ending domestic violence: It takes a community October 21, 2014

This logo comes from a 5K walk/run honoring Faribault native Margie (Brown) Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia. Margie's husband, Roger Holland, is serving two terms of life in prison for their 2013 murders.

This logo comes from a recent fundraiser honoring Faribault native Margie (Brown) Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, murdered in 2013. Roger Holland, Margie’s husband, is serving two terms of life in prison for their murders. Margie’s dad was once my neighbor.

THE MEMORY STILL STIRS ANGST.

His voice rising in anger. Yelling in her face. Rage exploding. The peace of a glorious autumn morning shattered.

The disturbance drew me from my task of emptying flower pots to observe the young couple passing by across the street.

He was shirtless on this October morning when the temp had not yet reached 60 degrees. That in itself seemed odd.

But it was his anger toward the woman walking beside him that led me into my front yard, thoughts of calling the police already formulating.

I pulled muddy gloves from my hands, patted the cell phone locked in my back jeans pocket. Then I watched. I watched as he shoved her, grabbed her. Then a parked vehicle blocked my view before they emerged on the other side and she attempted to cross the street. He pulled her back. Then they disappeared around the corner, out of my view.

I’d witnessed enough.

This is not fiction. This is an actual case of domestic abuse. This happened last week in my neighborhood in my community of Faribault, Minnesota, where last year the Hope Center served 473 women and 54 children through its domestic violence program. The center’s sexual assault program served 62 primary and 38 secondary (family and friends) victims.

Hope Center advocates provide additional assistance and education. Click here to learn more.

I don’t know what happened to the couple after I phoned law enforcement. Could I have done more? Should I have intervened?

If this man was verbally and physically abusing this woman in public along a busy street, I fear how he treats her behind closed doors.

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THE HOPE CENTER and my county of Rice have submitted a grant request to fund a new program, “The Blueprint for Safety,” in an effort to stop domestic violence, according to information on the county attorney’s Facebook page. I wish it wasn’t needed. But it is.

The program initiates a collaborative effort among agencies to tackle issues, “to move forward with things such as better data collection, information sharing, training, and understanding of each player’s role to help improve the response to domestic violence in our community.” (Click here to learn more.)

I applaud this effort.

But it still takes each of us, individually, to speak up with a strong and unwavering voice against domestic violence. It takes a community.

FYI: If you live in Rice County, Minnesota, and are a victim of domestic abuse, you can call the Hope Center 24-hour SafeLine at 1-800-607-2330.  The center also offers support to family and friends. Call 507-332-0882 during business hours to speak with an advocate.

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FORTY YEARS AGO in St. Paul, the first shelter in the U.S. for battered women and their children was established. Women’s Advocates will mark that occasion with an anniversary celebration and benefit on Thursday evening, October 23, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Click here for more info. Today the center serves an average of 45 women and children daily.

FYI: For Women’s Advocates information or help, call the 24-hour crisis line at 651-227-8284 or state-wide toll free at 1-866-223-111.

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TO THE NORTH IN DULUTH,  a coordinated community response to domestic violence has just received an international award. The World Future Council last week bestowed the 2014 Future Policy Award for Ending Violence against Women and Girls upon The Duluth Model at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. The equivalent of a gold award recognizes best policies to combat violence against women and girls. In summary, the plan focuses on the community working together to end domestic violence and on holding offenders accountable and keeping victims safe. To learn more about The Duluth Model, click here. To learn more about the World Future Council, click here.

FYI: For more information about the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs in Duluth, call 218-722-2781.

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Another resource to call is the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Click here to read an earlier post I published about domestic violence.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo essay: Autumn at River Bend October 20, 2014

A trail through the woods at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault.

A trail through the woods at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault.

IT IS IMPOSSIBLE, I’ve determined, to fast walk my way through a park or nature center, camera slung around neck or over shoulder. Impossible.

A slower pace allows one to notice the individual trees in the woods.

A slower pace allows one to notice the individual trees in the woods.

I cannot hurry, even with the goal to raise heart rate and burn calories. My desire and need to notice details, to take in and often photograph my surroundings, overrides.

Rudi, one friendly collie who cooperated for one photo.

Rudi, one friendly collie who cooperated for one photo.

On a recent Sunday afternoon walk at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, I tried, oh, I tried, to step it up. But then Rudi appeared and I just had to pet and photograph this friendly collie. The thing is, I’m not a big dog lover. Typically, I’ll skirt a canine. But not this one who reminded me of Lassie.

A group of goats are grazing on Buckthorn at River Bend.

A group of goats graze on Buckthorn at River Bend.

Rudi proved to be distraction number two after I observed penned goats attacking invasive Buckthorn (more on that in a future post).

Oak leaves

Oak leaves

More oak leaves

More oak leaves

And still more

And still more oak leaves

My husband and I fast-paced for awhile before my eyes focused on patches of oak leaves in burnished shades of orange and red. I veered slightly off the tarred path for close-up images.

So many folks were walking the trails on a gorgeous autumn afternoon in southeastern Minnesota.

So many folks were walking the trails on a gorgeous autumn afternoon in southeastern Minnesota.

My husband claims this is a fossil in rock.

My husband claims this is a fossil in rock.

Rustic signs mark River Bend trails.

Rustic signs mark River Bend trails.

A burst of brilliant red berries caught my eyes.

A burst of brilliant red berries caught my eyes.

Even dried swamp grass possesses a certain beauty.

Even dried swamp grass possesses a certain beauty.

Even a dried milkweed pod does not go unnoticed.

A dried milkweed pod does not go unnoticed.

A single leaf is worthy of notice for its mottled beauty.

A single leaf is worthy of notice for its mottled beauty.

And so the distractions continued—fossil embedded in rock, leaves, tree trunks, contrast of colors and light, a quick chat with another couple, milkweed and signs and berries and dried swamp grasses.

A treeline showcases the changing colors of autumn.

A treeline showcases the changing colors of autumn at River Bend.

Everywhere, nature drew me to a halt.

Fallen trees and branches litter the woods.

Fallen trees and branches appear as nature’s art in my photographic mind.

And that’s alright. Sometimes life calls for a slow pace. An eye that sees a single leaf in the woods. An ear that hears the crunch of leaves underfoot. A nose that smells the earthy scent of autumn. A hand that feels the rugged bark of a fallen tree.

(These images were shot on October 12. One week later, River Bend’s woods had changed considerably with most trees bare of leaves. My husband reminded me that autumn can transition quickly in Minnesota.)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots named “best local blog” in southern Minnesota October 17, 2014

Minnesota Prairie Roots has been voted the best in southern Minnesota.

Minnesota Prairie Roots has been voted the best in southern Minnesota.

WE DID IT.

Yes, readers, I use the plural “we” because, without you, I never would have garnered the award of Best Local Blog/Blogger in southern Minnesota for 2014.

I was notified several weeks ago of the honor bestowed upon me by the regional arts/entertainment/lifestyle magazine, Southern Minnesota Scene. Editor Rich Larson phoned with the news and then interviewed me. You can read his story by clicking here. Reverse roles for me since I’m typically the one asking questions or gathering information. I prefer holding the pen and notebook.

The cover of Southern Minnesota Scene's November issue featuring the 150-plus "best of" winners.

The cover of Southern Minnesota Scene’s November issue featuring the 150-plus “best of” winners.

Larson requested that I not share the news online until the magazine published. Fair enough. Look for a hard copy of Southern Minnesota Scene so you can read about all 150-plus winners in the “Best of SoMINN 2014.” Or go to the publication’s website by clicking here.

The process of being named best local blogger started late this summer with online nominations. Thank you to all who nominated me. Once ballots were tallied, the top three then entered the online voting process to choose the winner.

I was competing against Kevin Krein, who blogs at Anhedonic Headphones and also writes for Southern Minnesota Scene. Fiction writer Dennis Vogen, a Faribault native who has published three books and is working on his fourth and fifth, was the other nominee. He blogs, too, but has published only eight posts. Too busy, I suspect, working on those books. As Vogen suggested, maybe a category for “best writer” should be added.

I questioned editor Larson about the number of ballots cast in the blogging category. But he declined to release stats, indicating only that the voting was close. He reveals in print, however, that more than 25,000 individual votes were cast in the entire competition and that Owatonna produced the most winners. Last year it was Northfield.

While recognition of my hard work at Minnesota Prairie Roots is welcome, I can’t take sole credit for my success as a blogger. Without you, my devoted readers, this blog would not exist. Thank you for your ongoing support of my writing and photography, for continuing to read and appreciate the stories and photos I share.

You own this award, too.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring the Minnesota side of Interstate Park

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Westbound from Wisconsin and about to cross the St. Croix River into Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Interstate Park is just over the bridge to the left.

Westbound from Wisconsin and about to cross the St. Croix River into Taylors Falls, Minnesota. Interstate Park is just over the bridge to the left.

PUBLISHED IN 1953 in the anthology Minnesota Skyline, the poem “Taylors Falls” by Pearl Nearpass opens with these lines:

Climb higher and higher in the Dalles of the St. Croix
Until you look over the jutting cliffs
Of echoing beauty, the great eternal mounting
For a village linked and timed with history.

From the Wisconsin side, you

From the Wisconsin side of Interstate Park, you can see Minnesota’s Interstate Park to the right of the St. Croix.

History seems chiseled in stone here, rock carved away by forces of nature to reveal the magnificent St. Croix River gorge that divides Minnesota and Wisconsin.

You can glimpse the St. Croix River through the trees.

You can glimpse the St. Croix River through the trees.

Everywhere walls of rock dominate.

Everywhere walls of rock dominate.

Stunning views of the gorge prevail.

Stunning views of the gorge prevail.

Interstate Park, a duo state park just outside Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, offers spectacular views of the Dalles of the St. Croix. Towering cliffs of solid rock. Jutting pine trees. River running wild.

Rocks pock the ground in both parks.

Rocks pock the ground in both parks.

Visit both, even though the Wisconsin park ranger suggested if my husband and I had to choose one, we choose hiking the Wisconsin side as it offers more trails. Maybe so. But the experience in each differs. We found the two trails we hiked in our neighboring state to be much more rugged than those in Minnesota.

The path through Devil's Parlor.

The path through Devil’s Parlor.

And an explanation of Devil's Parlor.

And an explanation of Devil’s Parlor.

Railings are welcome along rocky walls.

Railings are welcome along rocky walls.

In Minnesota’s park, railings and asphalt and planked walkways are more accommodating to those who prefer an easier perusal of the land. After following a short, rugged path to view the steep-sided river gorge, we followed a trail that led us down steps and into Devil’s Parlor and The Bake Oven, areas of rock carved away by water.

Nature's peephole with the Taylor Falls Princess awaiting passengers in the river below.

Nature’s peephole with the Taylor Falls Princess awaiting passengers in the river below.

Down the river just a bit, the Taylors Falls Queen was docked, too.

Down the river just a bit, the Taylors Falls Queen was docked, too.

The Minnesota side of the park also serves as the launch site for river cruises, a popular activity on the day we visited. One can only imagine the steamboats that once docked along this river.

Somehow trees grow seemingly right out of the rock.

Somehow trees grow seemingly right out of the rock.

Continues Pearl:

No longer the blasting charges
Drown the voices of loggers and waters.
But lonely and majestic moves the breeze
Above the pot-holes and the Devil’s Chair
Of a village albumed in history.

FYI: To read my post about the Wisconsin side of Interstate Park, click here.

(Poetry excerpts from Minnesota Skyline, Anthology of Poems About Minnesota, published in 1953 by The Lund Press, Inc. and a gift from my eldest daughter.)

 

Hiking rugged and rocky Interstate Park in Wisconsin October 16, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Rocky terrain defines Wisconsin's Interstate Park.

Rocky terrain defines Wisconsin’s Interstate Park.

HIKING INTERSTATE PARK along the St. Croix River in Wisconsin requires the sure-footedness of a mountain goat, the eagle eye of a bird of prey or, minimal, a walking stick or steady hand of a friend or family member.

I discovered that last week while exploring the park with my husband, Randy, who offered his hand numerous times to guide me safely along rocky paths.

I’ll admit that, with my camera in tow and an artificial right hip, I tend to be more cautious than most.

Rock steps along a trail.

Rock steps along a trail.

But we pretty much tossed caution aside when Randy decided we should hike, I mean climb, the .8-mile Eagle Peak Trail to the highest point overlooking the valley. Here’s a description of that path from a park publication: unsurfaced; stone stairs; uneven and steep terrain.

Pine needles and fallen leaves hide trail obstacles.

Pine needles and fallen leaves hide trail obstacles.

Add to that pine needles and leaves hiding underfoot rocks, plus sticks that roll quite easily under soles, and you have treacherous conditions. I’m not an experienced hiker, so take my comments from that perspective.

Ferns sprout from rock along Eagle Point Trail.

Ferns sprout from rock along Eagle Peak Trail.

In the end, this trail does not live up to the promised end given trees block the valley view. But, if you desire a hiking challenge, this is your trail.

The rocky St. Croix River gorge is stunning in its craggy beauty.

The rocky St. Croix River gorge is stunning in its craggy beauty.

Randy poses at the scenic overlook.

Randy poses at the scenic overlook. And, yes, I had no option but to shoot into the sun.

Rock everywhere along this river.

Rock everywhere along this river.

Much easier to traverse is the .4-mile Pothole Trail, the other path we had time to walk during our 90-minute visit to the park. Stone stairs and unevenness also define this trail. But there’s much less climbing and the view of the Dalles of the St. Croix River gorge is spectacular. I even pushed through my fear of heights to enjoy the view.

Watch for potholes. I felt like I was watching my step all the time.

Watch for potholes. I felt like I was watching my step all the time.

You’ll also discover potholes here pocking rock. Yes, you’ll want to watch your feet lest you step into one.

Driving through Interstate Park.

Driving through the Wisconsin side of Interstate Park.

Interstate Park deserves more time than the 1 ½ hours we gave it. But daylight was fading and we didn’t want to spend $10 for a single day pass. Once upon a time, a Minnesota State Park sticker would allow you free access to Wisconsin’s Interstate Park, but no more. Interstate Park continues on the Minnesota side of the St. Croix. I’ll take you there, too.

To notice details, you have to stop. Otherwise you miss them because you're too preoccupied watching your feet.

To notice details, you have to stop. Because I was constantly watching my step, I felt like I missed out on a lot.

Wear your hiking shoes.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

October reflections from the St. Croix River valley October 15, 2014

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east.

Driving toward Taylors Falls, Minnesota, from the east provides an especially scenic view of this river community.

TWENTY-ONE YEARS AGO in October, my husband and I planned an overnight stay at a bed-and-breakfast in Taylors Falls. We anticipated gorgeous fall colors and rare time alone without the responsibilities of parenting three children.

But then my mother-in-law died unexpectedly a week before the booked get-away and we never rescheduled the trip.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

Heading toward St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, and Taylors Falls, Minnesota, along U.S. Highway 8.

This past week, we finally made it to the twin St. Croix River valley communities of Taylors Falls on the Minnesota side and St. Croix Falls in Wisconsin, staying at a chain hotel rather than a B & B. We found the glorious autumn colors we had hoped for and the freedom that comes with being empty nesters.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Shops in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Hop in the van and go. Stop when and where we want. Drive along a winding river road. Hike without worry of kids trailing off the trail or plummeting over the edge of a rocky ledge. Eat late. Sleep in.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

My husband on a dock at St. Croix Falls Lions Park along the St. Croix River.

There’s something to be said for this season of life, this nearing age sixty that causes me to pause, to delight in the view, to reflect and appreciate and yearn for the past while simultaneously appreciating the days I live and those which lie before me.

"River Spirit," a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

“River Spirit,” a bronze sculpture by local Julie Ann Stage, embodies the poetry and natural beauty of the St. Croix River Valley. The artwork was installed in 2007 and stands at a scenic overlook in downtown St. Croix Falls.

Perhaps I think too deeply, too poetically sometimes.

Reflections, like watercolor on water.

Reflections, like watercolor on water. A scene photographed at St. Croix Falls Lions Park.

But like the trees buffeting the banks of the St. Croix, I see my days reflected in the river of life.

Beauty along the St. Croix River.

Beauty along the St. Croix River as seen from Lions Park.

Blazing colors mingling with green.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Leaves upon rock, reflect the unchangeable and the changeable.

Changed and unchanging.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Days of simply enjoying life.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging.

Life is like a river, sometimes calm, sometimes raging. A view of the St. Croix River shoreline from Lions Park.

Life.

FYI: Click here for more information about the Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls area.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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