Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Believe April 20, 2014

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"The Risen Lord," painted in by my artist friend, Rhody Yule of Faribault, who dies in June 2011 at the age of 92.

“The Risen Lord,” painted in 1951 by my artist friend, Rhody Yule of Faribault, who died in June 2011 at the age of 92.

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene… She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.–  Mark 16: 9-11

 

In mourning on Good Friday April 18, 2014

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St. Michael's Cemetery, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, August 2012.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church Cemetery, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, August 2012.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.–Isaiah 53:5

Photo copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural revelations in country cemeteries April 17, 2014

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The road past the Vesta Cemetery, which sits just outside of this southwestern Minnesota town of some 330.

To the left lies the Vesta City Cemetery, where my father, grandparents and other family members are buried. In the distance you can see the grain elevator complex in my hometown.

AS A YOUNG GIRL, I remember fearing cemeteries, that place where my paternal grandpa was laid to rest atop a rare prairie hill when I was just nine.

A historical marker in the Holden Lutheran Church Cemetery, rural Kenyon.

A historical marker in the Holden Lutheran Church Cemetery, rural Kenyon.

But my view of cemeteries has evolved over the years so that today I see these earthly resting spots as places of faith, art, history and personal stories.

A fence surrounds the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in the Sogn Valley area.

A fence surrounds the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in the Sogn Valley area.

I no longer focus on the bones buried beneath my feet or the newly-departed lying under a heaped mound of dirt. Rather, I find myself reading tombstones, marveling at carved stone, wondering about the lives of those who lie within the often fenced boundaries of graveyards.

The particularly picturesque Valley Grove Church Cemetery near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

The picturesque Valley Grove Church Cemetery near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

In particular, I am drawn to country cemeteries that my husband and I happen upon during leisurely Sunday afternoon drives in rural Minnesota.

Northwest of Faribault in Shieldsville Township sits the historic Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the adjoined Trebon Cemetery.

Northwest of Faribault in Shieldsville Township sits the historic Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church and the adjoining Trebon Cemetery.

Spot a spire spearing the sky and we typically find a cemetery tucked behind or aside the church. Convenient and comforting.

Folk art in the Trebon Cemetery honors Christ and the deceased.

Folk art in the Trebon Cemetery honors Christ and the deceased.

During this Holy Week, when Christians worldwide focus on reflection and repentance and the suffering and crucifixion of Christ, it seems fitting to revisit some of the Minnesota cemeteries I’ve explored.

Just west of New Ulm, at a memorial honoring Milford settlers who died in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, roses were placed on the marker on Memorial Day weekend 2007.

Just west of New Ulm, at a memorial honoring Milford settlers who died in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, roses were placed on the marker on Memorial Day weekend 2006.

There is much to learn here about those who went before us—those we loved and those we never knew.

Fields and a cemetery embrace many country churches like Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota.

Fields and a cemetery embrace many country churches like Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church in southern Minnesota.

Words to ponder at a cemetery in Theilman in southeastern Minnesota.

Words to ponder at a cemetery in Theilman in southeastern Minnesota.

A sign at the cemetery entrance.

Handcrafted signs like this one in Cannon City (near Faribault) grace some rural cemeteries.

An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran's tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery.

An art appropriate cannon marks a Civil War Veteran’s tombstone in the Cannon City Cemetery.

A simple grave marker in the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery.

A simple grave marker in the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery.

A well-tended family plot in the Trebon Cemetery.

A well-tended family plot in the Trebon Cemetery.

A compelling statue of the Virgin Mary in Trebon Cemetery.

A compelling statue of the Virgin Mary in Trebon Cemetery.

A beautiful nature-themed tombstone rests in a cemetery on the west side of New Ulm.

A beautiful nature-themed tombstone rests in a cemetery on the west side of New Ulm.

Stone against stone at Hauge Lutheran Church (the Old Stone Church) in Monkey Valley, rural Kenyon.

Stone against stone at Hauge Lutheran Church (the Old Stone Church) in Monkey Valley, rural Kenyon.

My dad's military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery.

My dad’s military marker in the Vesta City Cemetery.

This post was previously published at streets.mn.
© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In praise of Northern Prairie Culture: How Fargo of You April 16, 2014

This water tower is located in West Fargo, an area of shopping malls, restaurants, Big Box stores, hotels, etc.

This water tower is located in West Fargo, an area of shopping malls, restaurants, Big Box stores, hotels, etc. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TWO DAYS AFTER I FINISHED reading Marc de Celle’s book, How Fargo of You, a 10-episode mini series, Fargo, debuted (yesterday) on FX television. Excellent. Timing is everything.

I receive my TV reception from a rooftop antenna, so there will be no watching Fargo for me. Rather I have to rely on synopses and reviews posted online. The series plays off the Coen brothers’ (native Minnesotans Joel and Ethan) 1996 award-winning film by the same name. (Click here to read my review of that movie.) The Coens are two of the executive producers for this new show penned by Noah Hawley and featuring Oscar winning actor Billy Bob Thornton.

The VHS cover of the movie Fargo.

The VHS cover of the movie Fargo.

You can expect dark comedy, crime, stereotypes and that noted, albeit not fully accurate, Fargo accent. About half of the Fargo series is set in fictionalized Bemidji, Minnesota. Since I haven’t seen the new series, I can’t accurately review it.

Marc de Celle's book cover

But I can talk about de Celle’s book. He’s also written a follow-up, Close Encounters of the Fargo Kind, which I’ve yet to read. This is a compilation of others’ stories rather than simply his own.

In summary, de Celle, who moved with his family in 2005 from Phoenix to Fargo, writes about his personal “How Fargo of You” experiences in his first book. That’s the tag line he’s attached to unfamiliar and unexpected positive experiences in his new home.

He’s not a Fargo native, his closest ties to the region in his Wisconsin native wife and her best friend, Melody, who lives in Fargo. That friend initially drew the family to Fargo for a visit. So de Celle views this area of the country with a perspective of someone unaccustomed to, as he defines it, Northern Prairie Culture. And, yes, that includes Minnesota.

The famous woodchipper from the movie, Fargo, is a focal point in the Visitors Center. Other film memorabilia is also on display.

The famous woodchipper from the movie Fargo is a focal point in the Fargo Visitors Center. Other film memorabilia is also on display. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Unlike the film and TV series, this writer promises: “No goofy accents. No murderers on the loose. No weird plot twists. Just real Fargo.”

And that’s exactly what you’ll read in de Celle’s first book—a compilation of all that is good about Fargo folks, and those living within several hundred miles of this North Dakota/Minnesota border town.

Shortly after the de Celle family arrives in their new community just outside of Fargo, they encounter their first Fargo moment in teenagers helping unload their belongings. And the neighbor-helping-neighbor stories and overall niceties of the region’s people just continue from there.

From the pump and then pay at the gas station, to the shared story of a Minnesota farmer assisting college students with a flat tire and the farmer’s wife then preparing a little lunch to motorist merging courtesy to homemade rhubarb pie served at a rural restaurant where a stranger picks up the tab for a cashless de Celle to Fargo residents’ efforts to save their community from the flooding Red River and more, you will read stories that warm your heart.

A scene from November in downtown Fargo.

A scene from downtown Fargo. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This is truly a feel-good book, one which makes you thankful, for the most part, to live in this region of the U.S.

De Celle does note, though, the environmental realities in Fargo’s harsh winters, the flat landscape and the strong and endless wind. I especially laughed at his fly-clinging-to-the-windshield wind story given my son spent his first year of college at  North Dakota State University on Fargo’s particularly windy north side.

In February 2013, I received this text from my then 19-year-old: “This cheap Walmart hat stands zero chance against the Fargo wind.” He then proceeded to order a Russian military surplus fur cap online to replace the mass-manufactured stocking cap.

While at NDSU, my son worked and volunteered in the Technology Incubator as part of an Entrepreneurial Scholarship. He is walking away from two major scholarships at NDSU to attend Tufts University.

The NDSU Technology Incubator referenced in de Celle’s book. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

After that first year, the son left NDSU and now attends college in Boston, where the climate is less challenging and his current university a better fit. While in Fargo, he worked at the NDSU Technology Incubator, which de Celle describes in his book as “the hippest looking building this side of Minneapolis.”

I’ll agree that the modern architecture looks pretty sleek situated next to open fields where the wind does, indeed, blow with determined fierceness.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more.

A view of the 300 block on North Broadway in downtown Fargo, including signage for the Fargo Theatre, built in 1926 as a cinema and vaudeville theatre. The theatre is on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a venue for independent and foreign films, concerts, plays and more. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the time shortly before my son moved to North Dakota and in the nine months thereafter, I got to know Fargo somewhat. It is the charming downtown, with its mostly old buildings, which most endears me to this community. And the people. They were, as de Celle has found, always kind and friendly.

He does expose, though, one issue—that of a workforce he terms as “the most overqualified, underpaid, competent and ethical” in the U.S. “Underpaid” jumps out at me, when really “overqualified, competent and ethical” should.

Then de Celle balances this with his summation that the majority of folks in Fargo value relationships over stuff. That apparently partially explains why people choose to live in Fargo when they could earn more money elsewhere doing the same job.

Now that’s my kind of place, my kind of people.

The landscape: flat and into forever.

The landscape: flat and into forever in the Fargo area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But I’m going to be honest here. Even though I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, which I thought to be about as flat and open sky country as exists, I found the landscape of Fargo even flatter, the wind more fierce, the environment harsher.

Every visit to Fargo, I felt unsettled. Like my son before me, I doubt I could last more than a winter in North Dakota. Rather, I live across the border nearly 300 miles to the south and east, still within Northern Prairie Culture in a state known for “Minnesota Nice.” Probably a lot, I’ve concluded, like “How Fargo of You” nice.

Disclaimer: Author Marc de Celle purchased one of my photos for usage on his website and gave me complimentary copies of his two books. That, however, did not influence my decision to write this review or the content therein.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Go fly a kite April 15, 2014

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Sign in the window of Horsfall's Lansing (Iowa) Vareity. Photographed in July 2013.

Sign in the window of Horsfall’s Lansing (Iowa) Variety. Photographed in July 2013.

THERE ARE DAYS when I’d like to share exactly what’s on my mind. I’d spew: “Go fly a kite!”

And some days I’d like to fly a kite—to stand on the edge of a stubbled alfalfa field, ball of string gripped in one hand, kite in the other. I’d run like the wind (although I’ve always wondered how the wind runs) with kite held high until the breeze catches and carries her upward.

I’d stop then, plant my feet upon the earth, feel the tug of wind on cotton cord as the kite dips and soars high above me in frenzied flight.

Ah, to be so free and fearless, unencumbered by the weight of misspoken and unspoken words.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mistaken identity April 14, 2014

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dog

One of the dogs spotted in a truck at the alpaca expo. Photo edited to make the dog more visible through the side passenger window.

EXITING OUR VAN at the Four Seasons Centre in Owatonna recently to attend the Minnesota Alpaca Expo, my husband and I did a double take.

An alpaca appeared to be seated in a Ford Excursion hitched to a livestock trailer.

But, no, that couldn’t possibly be.

And it wasn’t. Upon closer inspection, we discovered two shaggy dogs (sorry, I don’t know breeds) inside the SUV.

 

Eyes buried in fleece.

An alpaca.

From a distance, though, they look remarkably similar to alpacas.

Now lest you are concerned that these canines were in danger and we should have phoned animal control, not to worry. Windows were open and temps were in the low sixties.

They did not appear to be in any distress. Just confusing folks like us with their shaggy locks…

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

 

 

 

A photographic connection to my rural roots April 12, 2014

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Rural Minnesota, farm site

 

I INFORMED MY HUSBAND that I would focus on photographing houses, rather than barns, on a recent 600-mile round trip from Faribault, Minnesota, to Appleton, Wisconsin.

He didn’t believe me. And he was right not to believe.

 

Rural Minnesota, red barn and red building

 

Yes, I snapped images of houses. But I could not, no matter how I tried, keep from lifting my Canon DSLR to capture photos of farm sites as we traveled.

 

Rural Minnesota, turquoise barn

 

They are like a magnet for someone such as myself with rural roots. Having left the farm 40 years ago upon my graduation from high school, I rely today on memories and visual connectedness to fulfill my longing for the land. That and my writing, especially my poetry.

 

Rural Minnesota, machine shed and bin

 

Few people I know farm anymore. No one in my immediate extended family farms, although two brothers remain rooted to agriculture, one via co-ownership in a farm implement dealership and the other as CEO of an ethanol plant, both in my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

Rural Minnesota, farm behind hill

 

The farm where I grew up near Vesta is rented out. Thus I have lost that touch of feet on the farm, familiar creak of the barn door—that direct connection to the place of my youth.

My natural instinct now is to seek out, with my eyes and camera, that which is no longer mine.

(All photos were taken while traveling three weeks ago along Interstate 90 between Rochester and the Wisconsin border. Yes, the snow has since melted. Yeah!)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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