Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Embracing & celebrating the Hispanic Heritage in Northfield September 14, 2019

 

AFTER A WEEK OF TORRENTIAL RAINS, the sun broke through to a perfect Saturday afternoon in Northfield.

 

 

 

 

In this picturesque, historic Minnesota river town, people gathered to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at the public library. And what a celebration.

 

Art on the back of the portable stage.

 

 

 

 

Dancing centered the event as colorfully-costumed dancers entertained the crowd in this community tagged as the place of cows, colleges & contentment.

 

 

On this Saturday, it was also a city celebrating the culture of its Hispanic residents.

 

 

Giving us all a snapshot of this beautiful culture woven into our Minnesota communities.

 

 

 

 

I appreciate any opportunity to learn more about another culture. If I’ve observed one thing about those of Hispanic heritage, it’s the importance of family and of being together.

 

 

I also love the bright colors of this culture as noted in flags and costumes.

 

 

Attending this event simply made me happy with the vivid costumes.

 

 

Upbeat, thrumming music.

 

 

Wide smiles. All bring joy.

 

 

 

 

From the dancing

 

Sunlight filters through the colored tents, casting an orange hue onto young artists.

 

 

The art tents.

 

to the hands-on art

 

 

 

The candy table

 

to the vendors

 

 

 

 

to the food trucks and more, I felt immersed in the Hispanic culture for an afternoon.

 

 

Right there in the heart of Northfield. The celebration continues into October.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advertisements
 

Reflecting on 9/11, then & now September 12, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

In remembrance of 9/11, photographed last September 11 in Hastings, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

YESTERDAY BROUGHT TIME for reflection. Reflection upon the events of September 11, 2001, a day which forever changed us as Americans.

 

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my then young son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same toy airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

The terrorist attacks on our country made us feel vulnerable, unsafe and realizing, perhaps for the first time that, just because we live in America, we don’t live in a bubble of protection from those who would harm us.

 

Photographed along Interstate 90 east of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2011.

 

Yet, in the midst of that tragedy, that sorrow, that new reality, there emerged a solidarity. We felt united as a country, a people.

 

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumnus who died in the World Trade Center attack. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2019.

 

Eighteen years later I no longer see that unity. I see rather a fractured country. That saddens me. The discord. The political upheaval. Even the overt hatred toward certain peoples.

 

Faribault, Minnesota, firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on this memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Yet, when I look closely, I see the care and compassion extended by many Americans toward those who need our care and compassion. We have always been a giving nation. I hear the voices of those who speak for those whose voices have been mostly silenced by rhetoric and oppression and policies. We are still individuals with voices that matter.

 

My then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11 for a school religion assignment. He was a third grader in a Christian school at the time and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

That ability to express ourselves—whether through the written or spoken word, in music, in art, in acts of kindness—remains. Strong. We have the power individually to make a difference in our communities, to start small, to rise above that which threatens to erode.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

September at River Bend September 11, 2019

 

FIELDS OF GOLDENROD brighten the landscape—edging roadways, filling fields, erupting seemingly everywhere as summer slips ever closer to autumn in Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

A walk through River Bend Nature Center reveals hues of brown, orange, red and yellow. In leaves changing color. In fading flowers.

 

 

In mature milkweeds and drying prairie grasses.

 

 

In butterflies galore.

 

 

Days carry a visual impression of autumn. But also a feel of autumn. There’s a sense of urgency, of the need to be outdoors as much as possible.

 

 

Autumn marks my favorite of Minnesota’s seasons. So I carry my camera through Faribault’s sprawling nature center to take it all in.

 

 

 

 

The places marked by man with words of adoration.

 

 

The trails that trail through the woods.

 

 

 

 

And always the path cut through the prairie, where I imagine settlers of long ago crossing Minnesota Territory in covered wagons or slicing plow blades through sod or simply journeying westward into dreams.

 

 

These are my thoughts within this land set aside to preserve today for the dreamers of tomorrow.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joys of being a grandma September 5, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

Grandkids, when they are preschoolers, are in constant motion. Here my granddaughter, Isabelle, runs toward her mama.

 

PREPARING APPLE CRISP would have been quicker, easier, had I completed the task solo. But I didn’t. I pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter so my 3 ½-year-old granddaughter could help. A sink away, Izzy’s mama, my eldest, peeled and sliced the apples.

 

Izzy playing on the North Alexander Park playground in Faribault.

 

As Izzy and I scooped, measured, dumped and stirred together ingredients, I considered the joy of being a grandma. There’s nothing like it—a love so overpowering and intense and strong that I still marvel at the delight of it all.

 

Isaac’s mama pushes him in a swing and big sister helps while attending a family reunion in Sauk Rapids.

 

In Isabelle I often see Amber at the same age. Perhaps in a certain look or expression. Memories resurface. Yet, these are new memories I am building through the time spent with Izzy and her 8-month-old brother, Isaac. I treasure every single moment with them. They live an hour away, close, yet not always close enough.

 

Izzy and Grandpa fly a kite together.

 

This past weekend they stayed overnight with us. Their mama, too, while our son-in-law was out of town. We played at the park, went to the library (where Izzy and I picked green beans from the community garden and both kids played in the kids’ indoor play area), read books, rocked, attended church services together, flew kites.

 

There’s something about a baby’s hand (Isaac’s here) that I love to hold and to photograph.

 

I wiped sticky hands and faces, made faces at Isaac until he giggled, poured milk, made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and did all those things grandmas do without thinking, slipping back into mom mode. Minus the 24/7 responsibility.

 

 

 

 

Grandpa untangles Izzy’s foot from the kite string.

 

I observed, too, my husband interacting with Izzy and Isaac. I love watching them. Grandpa chalking Charlie Brown onto the driveway along with an over-sized hopscotch game. Grandpa and Izzy holding onto the handle of a kite. Izzy leaning into her grandpa as she gazes skyward. Grandpa untangling Izzy’s foot from the kite string for the second, maybe third, time.

 

Isaac is always on the move.

 

And Isaac, not to be left out, lounging in his stroller, gripping the kite handle. Grandma hanging on, too. He’s a happy boy, always on the go, crawling already for a month. Keeping up with Isaac and Izzy requires lots of energy.

By day’s end, I felt my age. Weary. But in a good way. There’s a reason we raise children at a much younger age. Come bedtime, Isaac quickly fell asleep upstairs in his mama’s old bedroom. Izzy, though, required lots of cajoling to stay in my office, her temporary bedroom. Tiredness finally kept her there until a 3:20 a.m. bathroom break. I didn’t hear her call for her mama at 5-something. Grandpa did. It was his turn anyway to get up with her.

We would do anything for our grandchildren. They are precious beyond words. So sweet. So loved.

 

To all you grandparents out there, Happy National Grandparents Day on Sunday, September 8.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections at summer’s unofficial end September 4, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

 

THE SIGNS EXIST EVERYWHERE. In the sunny warm days that give way to nights so cold I’m now closing windows overnight. In the melodic chirp of crickets. Of leaves tinged red.

 

 

These days feel of summer’s end, of autumn slipping in, of days that are shorter, nights that are longer.

 

 

And, unofficially, Labor Day marks the end of summer.

 

 

I expected a different summer from my previous two of broken bones and subsequent therapy. I expected a fun summer of relaxation and exploration. Joy of carefree days. Sunday afternoon drives.

 

 

But sometimes life delivers the unexpected (worse than broken bones) and we learn that we are made of much more than we ever thought possible. Strength stretched. Faith strengthened. Patience tested. Endurance not a choice.

 

 

I learned that I can be assertive and strong and persistent and a fighter. I learned the definition of selflessness, not that I’m a selfish person. I learned the incredible depth of love. Beyond what I even thought possible.

 

 

I learned to prioritize, to drop the unnecessary, to focus on what was most important.

 

 

I learned the enduring value of friendship from those friends who cared from day one and continue to care. It is true what they say about finding out who your friends really are during difficult days.

 

 

When I look back on the past four months, I see a spring and summer that seem unrecognizable. It’s been a journey, one that continues. But as the season of autumn arrives, life is better, calmer. And for that I am thankful.

 

All of these photos were taken last week during an evening walk through Faribault Energy Park.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Elsie September 3, 2019

Elsie Keller, right, works in the kitchen at St. John’s Germanfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

THERE ARE PEOPLE you meet in life who make a profound impact. Not on a grand, public scale. But upon the people they meet, the communities in which they live and serve simply by the way they live and serve. Humbly. Exuding kindness and friendliness. Living a life of service, of giving to others. Elsie Keller fits that description.

I don’t recall exactly when I met Elsie. But I know where. At St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, just down the road from the rural Nerstrand home where she lived her entire life. Ninety-three years.

 

Elsie making German potato salad, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Inside the church kitchen, that’s Elsie standing next to her stool at a Lenten Soup Luncheon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Elsie next to The Last Supper painting given to St. John’s in honor of her husband, Arnold. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve attended many functions at St. John’s from the annual Germanfest to Lenten soup luncheons to ice cream and pie socials to the yearly The Last Supper Drama. And every time I set foot inside that aged limestone church, Elsie was there. Most often behind the scenes—plating pie, stirring German potato salad, operating spotlights and much more.

 

Elsie poses with family at the 2017 Germanfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

If I didn’t spot her, I sought her out to hug her diminutive frame, to see her sweet smile, to catch up a bit. She was that kind of woman. The grandmother you miss. The mother who lives too distant. The friend who cares. The churchgoer who lives her faith in service to her church and to God. Singing. Coordinating Vacation Bible School for 51 years. Teaching Sunday School for more than five decades.

 

Elsie, hard at work in the Pie Room. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

A member of St. John’s Youth Fellowship waits, plate in hand, for a slice of pumpkin pie scooped up by Elsie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

By the end of the day, Elsie had blisters on her hand from cutting pies. Here she scoops a slice of apple pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

To know Elsie was to love her. I loved her smile, her demeanor, her humility, her kindness, her devotion to church and family, her work ethic. I remember, especially, the time I found her working in the St. John’s pie room sliding pieces of homemade pie onto plates with her gnarled arthritic hands.

 

Elsie takes a break from kitchen work to enjoy a bowl of ham and bean soup. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Back at the farm, Elsie still gardened. She canned green beans on Thursday evening. The night before her death.

 

Elsie in The Pie Room, a space so small that this petite woman can barely fit her stool between a counter and refrigerator. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I still cannot believe my friend is gone, even though she was nearly 94 years old. There are people in life who seem ageless, whom you always expect will be there. For me, that was Elsie. If only you could have known her. For those of you who did, you understand why I will miss her. Her smile, her kindness, her positive and giving spirit…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stone windmill symbolizes strength of Minnesota immigrants August 29, 2019

Walking toward Seppman Mill, located just outside a fenced area holding bison at Mnneopa State Park, rural Mankato, Minnesota.

 

IN THE PRAIRIE PART of Minneopa State Park where the bison roam, an historic stone windmill stands tall on the prairie’s edge. Minus the blades.

 

Interpretive signs detail the mill’s history.

 

 

The granary was rebuilt in 1970 to its original size.

 

The Seppman Mill symbolizes the strength and grit of the early immigrants, among them Louis Seppman. Seeing a need for a local flour mill, this stone mason started crafting the mill in 1862 from local stone hand-carried or transported in wheelbarrows to the site, according to the book, Minnesota: A State Guide.

 

 

The task of constructing the windmill patterned after those in Seppman’s native Germany took two years. Eruption of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict in the region in 1862 delayed construction. Once operational, the mill could grind 150 bushels of wheat into flour on a day of favorable winds.

 

 

While the wind powered the arms of the 32-foot high windmill, it also proved the mill’s ultimate demise. In 1873, lightning struck and knocked off two of the arms and sails. Seven years later, tornadic winds ripped off the replacement arms. And, finally, in 1890, a third storm damaged the mill beyond repair.

 

A prairie restoration is underway here at Minneopa as noted in this sign posted near the windmill.

 

I can only imagine the frustration of Seppman and others who tried, tried and tried again to keep the mill operating. Three strikes and you’re out seems applicable.

 

Coneflowers, with their deep roots, thrive among the prairie grasses.

 

But then I consider all they did to even get the mill built. Those early settlers truly exemplify hard work and determination. How many of us would carry all those stones up an inclined roadway and then seemingly puzzle-piece the stones together? It’s remarkable really.

 

Black-eyed susans.

 

I’m thankful this windmill has been mostly restored and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It is a visual tribute to the early settlers of Minnesota, a reminder of the value these immigrants brought to this land, to this state, to this prairie place they called home. Then. And still today.

 

A sign along the prairie’s edge near the mill informs about bison in Minnesota.

 

Here, where the bison once roamed.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling