Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A tree January 19, 2017

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a-tree-in-a-corn-field

 

WHENEVER I SEE a lone tree in a field, I am grateful.

Grateful to the farmer who chose to leave it there rather than cut it down for a few more crop rows.

I am grateful for the farmer who sees beyond his pocketbook and respects the value of a tree.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Tree photographed on October 7, 2016, western Waseca County, Minnesota

 

Blessings, beer & baseball in St. Patrick January 18, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a story from summer-time, season inappropriate. But, in the throes of a Minnesota winter, we need reminders that summer will return. In something like four months.

Across the road from the St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church cemetery sits St. Patrick's Tavern.

Across the road from the St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church and cemetery sits St. Patrick’s Tavern.

A BAR AND A CHURCH. It’s not an uncommon pairing in parts of rural Minnesota, in Catholic faith communities especially.

The bar recently changed ownership and became St. Patrick's Tavern.

The bar recently changed ownership and became St. Patrick’s Tavern.

Blessings and beer.

St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township.

St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township.

On a Sunday afternoon drive in the summer of 2015, my husband and I happened upon St. Patrick, an unincorporated burg in Scott County. There, upon a hill, sits St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township. Out the front door and down the hill rests the bar, appropriately named St. Patrick’s Tavern. And on the back side of the hill lies the baseball field, St. Patrick’s Bonin Field. It’s named after Father Leon Bonin, a strong supporter of baseball in St. Patrick.

St. Patrick's Bonin Field

St. Patrick’s Bonin Field

Blessings, beer and baseball. How decidedly rural Minnesotan.

BONUS PHOTOS:

St. Patrick's Tavern in St. Patrick, Minnesota

St. Patrick’s Tavern is located at 24436 Old Highway 13 Blvd. in St. Patrick, Minnesota.

Cruising past St. Patrick's Tavern on a Sunday afternoon.

Cruising past St. Patrick’s Tavern on a Sunday afternoon.

More signage on St. Patrick's Tavern.

More signage on St. Patrick’s Tavern.

TELL ME: Do you know of any similar hamlets that offer blessings, beer and baseball. I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mobile in a Minnesota winter, from metro to rural January 17, 2017

The outline of the Minneapolis skyline appears in the hazy distance while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 252.

The outline of the Minneapolis skyline appears in the hazy distance while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 252.

EVEN IN THE DEPTHS of winter, we Minnesotans are a mobile bunch. Snow, ice and cold may slow our pace. But, unless we hibernate, and we don’t, we remain fairly active.

Passing through the Lowry Tunnels always seems visually surreal to me, like driving through a video game.

Passing through the Lowry Tunnel in downtown Minneapolis always seems visually surreal to me, like driving through a video game.

This past weekend, snow-free and warm weather conditions proved ideal to be out and about. I was in “the Cities,” as those of us living outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro call that area. Family draws me there—this trip to spend time with the granddaughter and the in-laws.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis on Interstate 94.

Driving toward downtown Minneapolis on Interstate 94.

The metro always teems with movement. Vehicles zoom along interstates and other roadways.

 

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Airliners crisscross the sky. Buses carry passengers along city streets. People walk and bike and run. I am always thankful when the busyness of the Cities fades in the rearview mirror. Thankful except for the leaving behind of family.

A man walks his bike along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

A man walks his bike along Minnesota State Highway 21 in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

I prefer the quiet of less urban areas. Peaceful places certainly exist within the metro. But it’s not the same. I am more content in the quiet spaces of my community or small towns or the countryside. Within the familiar. Where fewer people live.

 

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And so, after returning from the metro, I slipped on my Northwest Territory boots for a walk at River Bend Nature Center. While I hiked along snow-packed trails, others skied. Powered by our own feet, movement shifted from fast to slow. And that suited me after a weekend in the busy metro.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Picnic perfect January 16, 2017

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WINTERS TEND TO GROW long here in Minnesota. Double-digit below zero temps, windchills, snow, ice and too much darkness wear on even the heartiest of native Minnesotans. Like me.

So I force myself sometimes to embrace this season. This weekend, which yielded balmy temps in the 30s and sunny skies, brought a smile and lifted my spirits. As did this photo, shot Sunday afternoon while hiking snow-packed paths at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault:

 

picnic-table-on-snow-at-river-bend-nature-center-135

 

I am struck by this scene—by the contrast of seasons (thoughts of summer in the reality of winter), by the lone picnic table set upon snow on the prairie’s edge. I expect the table placement was intentional, for a purpose. But the creative side of me likes to imagine otherwise—that perhaps an artist or a comedian staged the table here to make a point/prompt conversation/elicit laughter.

I am applauding. Because I am laughing. And in a Minnesota winter, laughter is good.

TELL ME: What’s your response to this “picnic perfect” scene?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My appreciation for small town hardware stores January 13, 2017

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

IF YOU GREW UP in rural Minnesota like I did, you likely hold fond memories of the local hardware store.

Two hardware stores once served my hometown of Vesta, a farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. While I remember Joe Engel’s Hardware store as the place to buy rolls of perforated caps for my cap gun, my father shopped there, or a few doors down at Marquardt’s Hardware, for all his hardware needs. Like bulk nails and screws stashed in cubbies, the merchandise weighed and parceled into brown paper bags.

I remember, too, the worn wood floors, the narrow aisles, the old fashioned screen doors that banged shut.

To this day, I find myself drawn to the hardware stores that still exist in many small towns. They represent a connection to my past, to simpler days, to outstanding customer service, to a Main Street necessity. So I photograph them, usually the exteriors.

Nothing says "small town" like a hardware store, including this Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha.

Nothing says “small town” like a hardware store, including Hill’s Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

One of my hardware store images—that of Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha—will soon become part of a renovated “Our World” gallery at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. The photo will grace signage for a mini town that includes a hardware store. Hill’s inspired the facade of the replica hardware store in which children can play. The updated exhibit opens this spring.

I am honored to have my photo displayed at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. I hope it inspires others to appreciate the value of hardware stores in rural Minnesota. They are as important today as they were when I was growing up in the 1960s. In Owatonna, Arrow Ace Hardware plans to relocate into a new and much larger space by next Christmas, more than doubling its size to some 11,000 square feet. That’s encouraging. There’s still great value in local hardware stores.

TELL ME: Do you shop in hardware stores? If yes, why? Are they still of value in today’s marketplace?  Or what are your hardware store memories? Let’s talk hardware stores.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Abandoned in rural Minnesota January 12, 2017

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abandoned-house-truck-in-alma-city

 

SCENES LIKE THIS sadden me.

Why was this house abandoned? Did the owner fall ill or die? Or simply move to a better and more spacious home? Or did lack of finances factor into this abandonment? Or a personal crisis?

I wonder.

This scene in unincorporated Alma City in western Waseca County, rural Minnesota, is all too familiar. Houses that once sheltered families stand deserted, paint peeling, wood softening to a weathered grey.

What stories does this house hold? What memories were made here? Does anyone care that this house is no longer a home?

And what about that rusting truck? What routes did it travel? Back county roads, gravel roads, field drives? Perhaps to the hardware store, the grain elevator, a local cafe.

Who steered the wheel of this GMC? Perhaps a farmer or a retired farmer.

All these things I ask because my mind works that way. Inquisitive, ranging around thoughts, always wondering.

TELL ME: What short story would you write about this scene?

Note: This image was taken in October, well before winter arrived in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dear Smartphone, This is not a party line… January 11, 2017

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android-smartphoneAPPARENTLY I HAVE much to learn about technology.

The other day while at Walmart, I pulled out my Android to view a photo in my album. No big deal.

But soon a message popped onto my screen suggesting I take a photo at this Big Box retailer. What? I stood there, mouth agape, trying to wrap my head around my smartphone’s knowledge of my location and activity.

A tad unsettled, I grew even more unnerved when a second message popped onto my screen while I shopped at Aldi. The unwelcome messenger suggested I take a photo at the grocery store.

By then, I wanted this intrusion to stop. I asked my husband if he’d ever had this happen. He had.

This personal tracking feels way too Big Brother-ish. Too snoopy. Too creeping into my personal space.

Can location history reveal that I perused the toy aisles and the bargain aisles and the…? Does Big Brother know I bought a bag of Hershey kisses, Brussels sprouts (yes, they really are good when roasted) and a whole cartfull of groceries?

Yeah, I probably don’t want those questions answered.

I remember the days when telephone eavesdropping by a party line neighbor proved worrisome. But that seems like nothing compared to today’s technological tracking.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling