Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The shifting of seasons in Minnesota August 14, 2020

Sumac are already turning red.

 

THE CHANGING OF SEASONS edges into Minnesota, ever so subtly.

 

You can see the changing of the landscape around this pond, the subtle changes in hues.

 

August marks the month of transition, of shifting from summer to autumn.

 

Beautiful black-eyed susans.

 

Of wildflowers in full bloom.

 

Milkweed, necessary for Monarh butterflies.

 

Milkweed pods will soon burst with seeds and fluff.

 

Milkweeds edge the trails and ponds at Faribault Energy Park.

 

Of blooming milkweeds and those heavy with pods.

 

Unidentified berries.

 

Of berries ripening.

 

A trail winds through Faribault Energy Park. This isn’t a quiet place because of the interstate. But it’s a place of natural beauty and mostly undiscovered (meaning never busy).

 

Evenings fall earlier and cool temps sharpen the air. Folks pull on sweatshirts and jeans to keep off the chill. The urge to get outdoors prevails. Backyard campfires blaze warmth.

 

Plums ripen despite a Japanese beetle infestation.

 

Crickets chirp. Squirrels scamper. And gardeners bustle to bring in the bounty. Preparing for winter.

 

Sumac

 

And, in the landscape, hues morph from the greens of summer to the softer, earthy hues and fiery reds and oranges of autumn.

 

In the light of the setting sun, cattails and grasses.

 

Cattails rise in swampland and tall grasses sway.

 

Randy and I laugh at our long-legged shadow selves.

 

At sunset, shadows lengthen, foreboding and dark. As if hinting at days ahead. The dark days of winter that draw us indoors to snuggle under fleece throws, to crave comfort foods, to shelter in place.

 

An unknown wildflower.

 

And this winter to wonder what lies ahead in the uncertainties of COVID-19.

 

This sign marks the entrance to Faribault Energy Park on Faribault’s north side and visible from Interstate 35.  The wind turbine in the park landmarks this spot near the northbound lane of I-35.

 

Note: These photos were taken during a recent evening walk at the Faribault Energy Park.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery celebrates agriculture with art August 13, 2020

“Stop to Remember,” a pen and watercolor by Cami Vargo, was awarded third place in the show by judges Dale and Gale Looft. The art depicts her Great Grandpa Orville Richter’s 1965 Ford tractor.

 

THEIR ARTIST STATEMENTS are as compelling as their art.

 

Cami Vargo’s artist statement about her tractor art.

 

In a new exhibit, “Celebrating Farmers and Agriculture,” coordinated by the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, 15 artists share their deep love and appreciation for all things rural. Recently I viewed the 22 pieces of art displayed in the front windows of the arts center and businesses in the heart of this small Minnesota town.

 

One of two photos by Liz Krocak, this one titled “Apple Harvest Visitors.”

 

Through the screen window, you can read this artist statement by Liz Krocak.

 

Bold and beautiful stained glass art by Annette Stavos hangs in a window of Hermann Thrifty White Pharmacy. If the drugstore is open, go inside and view the art to see the sun shining through it. Another stained glass creation by Mona Grimm hangs in a window of Montgomery Chiropractic and was awarded second place in the show.

 

From cows to a rooster to a farm dog, from tractors to windmills, from barns to country scenes, the art showcases important aspects of rural life.

 

Constructed from cardboard by Brian Prchal, this is a replica of a modified 4020 John Deere.

 

Brian Prchal shares the stories behind his two art pieces.

 

And the stories that accompany that art are often deeply personal. Rooted in the land.

 

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center (right side of building), 206 First Street North on the north end of downtown.

 

In the ag display, 4-H buttons.

 

County fairs are an important part of rural life.

 

Before beginning my tour, I stopped first at the arts and heritage center to pick up a map and to view an exhibit of local ag-related memorabilia showing the importance of agriculture in this community.

 

The grain elevator complex in Montgomery.

 

Just down the hill from the arts center, grain elevators loom, a strong visual of ag’s local economic value. On the opposite end of town, the canning company processes sweetcorn. And on every border of town, homes or businesses adjoin farm fields.

 

Future Farmers of America, based at the local high school.

 

Recognizing 4-H in Le Sueur County.

 

Lots of signs downtown celebrate kolacky, a Czech pastry sold at Franke’s Bakery and Mackenthune’s Fine Foods.

 

Montgomery centers on agriculture and its Czech heritage as the self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. So it seems particularly fitting that the arts center would focus its new exhibit on farmers and agriculture. The project was funded with a Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council grant and donations from the Bob and Mary Jo Loftus Foundation and Compeer Financial.

 

“The Nuts & Bolts of Farming” fits this tractor art crafted by Tyler Fromm.

 

Area artists clearly enjoyed the challenge of creating ag-themed art. I saw that in tractor art drawn, formed from string and nails, cut and crafted from cardboard, welded from nuts and bolts.

 

Pat Preble won first place for “Old Barn” and “Cows in the Field.” She incorporated a “Star of Heaven” quilt block into her barn art in honor of her mom, a quilter.

 

Stained glass. Batik. Wood. Photos. Quilts. So many different tools and styles and ways of creating art add to the interest.

 

This artist statement made me laugh out loud. Because of glare, I was unable to photograph Anna’s cow art.

 

The art honors pioneer women who pieced quilts, an uncle, farm wives… Liz Krocak writes in her artist’s statement, “Behind every good farmer is his wife, rolling her eyes.” Yes, humor even infuses some of the artist statements.

 

Glare made it really challenging to photograph Carol Ehrhardt’s entire cattle and windmill art. But I decided I like this image showing only the top of the windmill and the reflection of an aged building. Ehrhardt was awarded third place in the show.

 

Annette Stavos, who grew up on a hobby farm, honors her uncle. “My uncle was the real farmer and we helped him pick rocks and bale hay.”

 

A close-up of Susan Hayes batik art titled “Summer Fields.”

 

Susan Hayes, a city girl who married a farmer, writes. “…I’ve had first hand experience with agriculture and life on a small farm. It’s not easy getting up before 5 am to milk the cows or baling hay in 100 degree weather. She created a beautiful batik piece, “Summer Fields.”

 

A farm in the Montgomery area.

 

Anna Prchal expresses her love of rural life in these words: “The fresh air, hard work ethic and never having a dull moment there are the things I love most about the farm.”

 

The countryside near Montgomery.

 

For Kimmie Loranger, who once traveled with the carnival, worked as a nanny and waitress, and who was at one time homeless, living in rural Montgomery and now creating art “is the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life.”

 

Tyler Fromm drew this picture of his “beloved farm dog, Buddy.” Oak siding from the corn crib on his family’s century old farm frames the art.

 

These are the stories that make this exhibit especially meaningful, especially touching, especially impressionable. This isn’t just another art show, but rather an expression of emotions with a rural perspective. Written. And showcased in art.

 

FYI: You can view this exhibit any time during the day as the art is visible from outdoors in front windows. Note that glare and reflections sometimes make seeing the art a challenge. The Arts & Heritage Center, however, is open limited hours from 2-5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 9 am to noon Saturdays. The exhibit runs until the end of November. Maps to the art locations are available from several downtown Montgomery businesses in addition to the arts center. Be sure to vote for your favorite for the People’s Choice Award. This blog post represents only a sampling of art in the exhibit.

Please check back next week for additional posts from my visit to Montgomery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Building on history in Montgomery August 12, 2020

Fire destroyed an historic building at 104 South First Street in downtown Montgomery during the early morning hours of July 29.

 

ANY TIME AN HISTORIC BUILDING falls, I feel a certain sadness. You can’t replace a structure built half a century, maybe even 100 years, ago. Stories and memories remain. But there’s something lost when a building crumbles, collapses, comes down, for whatever reason.

 

The long-time barbershop, a local gem, did not catch fire.

 

Recently, the small town of Montgomery—self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World—lost one (possibly two) historic buildings in an early morning July 29 fire. The fire started on the second floor of a vacant building previously declared hazardous and slated for demolition in mid-August. The blaze then spread to an adjoining building which houses a plumbing and air conditioning business and an apartment. Main Street Barber, located in a diminutive building next door, was spared.

 

The fire site.

 

Just days after the fire, the smell of smoke still lingered. Barricades and a fence blocked access to the pile of rubble. As I photographed the scene, I considered the depth of loss to this Le Sueur County community. Locals with the Montgomery Historical Society have been inventorying and documenting the downtown in an effort to get historic district designation, helpful in attracting visitors. This was a snag in that process.

 

One of many historic buildings in Montgomery. Several are already on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

I recognize the importance of that historic district designation. According to the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, a historic district is “a geographically defined area with a concentration of historic buildings, structures, site, spaces and objects unified by past events, physical development or design.”

 

A snapshot section of Montgomery’s downtown.

 

No one needs to sell me on the historic beauty and connections in downtown Montgomery. The aged buildings are one of the reasons I love this small town. Every time I visit, I walk through the main business area downtown, photographing buildings and signs and whatever else draws my eye.

 

In the window of a downtown business, art promoting Montgomery’s Kolacky Days, held virtually this year. Kolacky is a Czech pastry.

 

But buildings do not define a place. People do. And I have always found the people of Montgomery to be incredibly welcoming. I appreciate their friendliness, their community spirit, their cohesive respect for their Czech heritage, their efforts to build Montgomery, even when buildings fall.

Please check back for more posts from Montgomery.
© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finally, well into COVID-19, I go to the library August 11, 2020

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE PREVIOUSLY POSTED about my deep love of libraries tracing back to my childhood. As a child, I had limited access to books. My small rural Minnesota community had no library. Nor did my elementary school, which sourced books from the county library 20 miles away in Redwood Falls. On occasion, I would be among students selected to board a school bus to travel to that library and return with books temporarily borrowed for our school. I loved those opportunities to browse and choose.

 

The LFL installed outside the community owned Vesta Cafe in July 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Today my hometown of Vesta still does not have a public library. County bookmobile service ended long ago with budget cuts. But, thanks to my efforts and those of locals and the generosity of Little Free Library co-founder Todd Bol, a LFL sits outside the Vesta Cafe with additional materials inside. Bol gifted the mini library to my hometown in July 2012.

 

A LFL in downtown Decorah, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Fast forward eight years and these mini libraries are seemingly everywhere. And during a global pandemic, especially when public libraries closed for a period (some still with restricted hours), the LFLs proved invaluable to book lovers like me. I found a few good books to read, but still longed to step inside a public library with an abundance of reading materials. That happened three weeks ago.

 

This photograph was taken last September (pre pandemic) outside the Northfield Public Library during a cultural event there.

 

Randy and I headed up to neighboring Northfield on a recent Saturday afternoon to look for and check out items at the library. Unlike Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, the Northfield Public Library reopened months ago (May 26) for regular hours that include evenings and weekends. That makes it accessible to everyone. Masking, social distancing and other protocols are in place and required to protect patrons and staff.

 

The books and magazines I checked out from the Northfield library.

 

I arrived at the NPL with a list of books I wanted. I wasn’t sure computers would be available to access the card catalog. Because I am unfamiliar with the lay-out of the library, I needed help to find some titles and staff generously assisted. I left with a bag full of seven books and two magazines.

 

 

Since then, I’ve been happily reading my stash of Minnesota-authored books. Only one—Love Thy Neighbor, A Muslim Doctor’s Struggle for Home in Rural America by Ayaz Virji with Alan Eisenstock—was not on my list. I spotted the book on a shelf of library staff picks, this one recommended by Sue. I read the book in a single day. One day. That’s how good this book is and how necessary to read. Especially today when headlines daily reveal instances of hatred, racism and so much more dividing our country. Insensitive, inflammatory, just plain horrible words and actions, including in southern Minnesota.

In summary, Love Thy Neighbor is the story of a medical doctor who relocates his family from a busy eastern urban setting to rural southwestern Minnesota to practice medicine as he desires, with a deeper personal connection to patients. Initially, all goes well and Dr. Virji and his family find themselves settling in, accepted, enjoying their new life in rural Minnesota. But then the November 2016 election happens and things begin to change. And that is the focus of this book—the shift in attitudes toward Muslims, how that negativity affected this small town family doctor and his family, and what he did about it.

I’d encourage you to read this enlightening book that recaps Virji’s struggles and the community talks he gave to help those in his small Minnesota community (and elsewhere) to understand his faith and the challenges he faces in a more toxic national environment.

 

 

Once I finished that book, I moved onto another environment—into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota in A Year in the Wilderness, Bearing Witness in the Boundary Waters by Amy and Dave Freeman. It’s been an enjoyable escape into the remote wild, to a place I’ve only ever visited through others. The Freemans, like Dr. Virji, wrote their book with a purpose. To educate, to enlighten and to protect the BWCAW from sulfide-ore copper mining. Incredible photos enhance this detailed documentation of living for a year in the wild. I’d highly recommend this title also.

 

I especially enjoy reading books by Minnesotans and appreciate the Northfield library tagging these books with Minnesota-shaped art.

 

The remaining books in my library book stash are mysteries/mystery thrillers, my preferred genre. I quickly read Desolation Mountain by one of my favorite Minnesota authors, William Kent Krueger. Interestingly enough, that fictional story in the Cork O’Connor series also references potential mining near the BWCAW.

New-to-me author Chris Norbury’s books, Castle Danger and Straight River, also connect to the northeastern Minnesota wilderness. And southern Minnesota, where the main character returns to the family farm in Straight River. I always enjoy reading books that include familiar places. Norbury lives in Owatonna and references area communities. And those of you who grew up in this region recognize that the book titles are actually an unincorporated community in northeastern Minnesota and a river here in southern Minnesota.

I’m determined to stretch my reading beyond the seed mystery love planted decades ago through Nancy Drew books. To that end, I appreciate when library staff pull and showcase books they recommend. Like Dr. Virji’s book.

And I appreciate libraries. I look forward to the day when Faribault’s library opens again for regular hours. Currently, it’s open by appointment only, for 30-minute Browse-and-Go Visits between 10 am – 5 pm weekdays or for No-Contact Curbside Pickup. Because Randy is gone to work between those hours, he has no opportunity to get books locally. And so we will continue our trips to Northfield.

Now, you may wonder why these two communities within 20 minutes of each other and in the same county differ in library reopening. I expect it has much to do with numbers, usage and demographics as it relates to COVID-19. My county of Rice, according to information posted by Rice County Public Health on August 7, has had 1,020 lab confirmed cases* of COVID since March. That breaks down to 830 cases in Faribault. Northfield has had far fewer at 141. The balance of 49 cases are spread throughout other communities in Rice County.

I can only speculate that numbers factor into local library decisions about operations. But who knows? I am a word person, not a numbers person.

#

FYI: My friend Sue Ready, a book lover and writer who lives in the Minnesota northwoods, is a good source of info about Minnesota-authored books. She reviews books on her Ever Ready blog, Click here. Sue also heads up the Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack, MN., which brings together Minnesota artists and authors. This year’s event was canceled due to COVID-19.

* The number of COVID-19 cases in Rice County as of Monday, August 10, were 1,038.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The story of a library garden August 10, 2020

The vegetable garden on the side of Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

LEMON CUCUMBERS. Purple beans. Dill. Snap peas. Kohlrabi.

 

A developing ground cherry? Or something else?

 

Dill.

 

Ground cherries.

 

The list of vegetables grown in a community garden at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault also includes ground cherries, tomatoes, Swiss chard, eggplant, cilantro, rosemary. Plus clover and sunflowers. And maybe some plants I’ve missed.

 

A vegetable blossom.

 

Several types of tomatoes grow in the garden.

 

Purple beans.

 

While I had hoped to harvest beans during a recent stop, I found them still too small and other vegetables (the ones I would eat) not yet ready for picking.

 

 

Sunflowers burst color into the garden.

 

Another view of the garden.

 

But I still took time to photograph this wedge garden, a project of Friends of the Library. The Friends Organic Learning Garden was designed several years ago as a place for folks to gather and learn how to:

  • grow delicious organic food
  • care for the earth and our water supply
  • support pollinators
  • connect with others in the community

 

There’s a bee lawn right next to the vegetable garden.

 

Another unidentified vegetable developing.

 

A warning sign next to the library and by the bee lawn.

 

It’s a great idea. Anything that brings people together, educates and meets a need—providing food—certainly holds value. I have, in past years, enjoyed vegetables from the library garden. That includes lemon cucumbers, which Lisa Reuvers, library employee and lead master gardener, says “were a hit a couple of years ago.”

 

The garden features a hummingbird sculpture, “The Color of Flight, by Jorge Ponticas. This was funded by the “Artists on Main Street” program several years ago.

 

I’ll keep an eye on those coveted orb-shaped cucumbers as they ripen and grab a few for salads…

 

TELL ME: Does your community have a similar garden? Or are you a gardener? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome, anglers & vegetable lovers August 8, 2020

The sign marking Lake Country Convenience & Bait in tiny Shieldville, Minnesota.

 

AT LAKE COUNTRY CONVENIENCE & Bait in Shieldsville, you can pick up a Heggie’s pizza, meat from Dean’s Smoke Shack, firewood, a fishing or hunting license, coffee, even a face mask, and much more.

Need bait? Pull out your Minnow Punch Card. Buy six scoops of minnows and the seventh is free.

Fuel up. And, if you need to use the restroom, Lake Country claims to have “the cleanest bathrooms in the area.” Rather important in these days of COVID-19.

This convenience store/gas station/bait shop also claims to have “the best soft serve ice cream in Rice County,” although Dairy Queen may dispute that.

 

The sign on the back of the vegetable stand and visible from Minnesota State Highway 21 with the convenience store seen in the background.

 

But there’s one more aspect of Lake Country Convenience that may just draw you to this business serving the community of Shieldsville and the surrounding lakes area. That’s Mark’s Fresh Veggies, a seasonal pop-up vegetable stand.

 

 

Recently, while driving through Shieldsville, which is about 10 miles northwest of Faribault, Randy and I stopped to check out Mark’s produce, displayed inside a small metal shed next to the Lake Country parking lot. The portable shed appears to also serve as an ice fishing shelter in the winter.

 

The non-descript entrance to Mark’s Fresh Veggies Stand.

 

The produce is divided into bins in the handcrafted display area.

 

 

 

We pulled up, waited for another customer to exit the tiny vegetable shed and then went inside, masked, and looking for fresh sweetcorn. We found the corn, along with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and cabbage, all separated in custom-built compartments. The kohlrabi were gone; no problem for me as I don’t particularly like them.

 

Put your money here.

 

I expected payment would be inside the convenience store. But, nope, Mark has set up an honor system payment plan. I love this, when roadside vegetable vendors trust customers. Mark provides bags, a scale, and even a notebook to jot down purchases before dropping payment into a secure metal box. And then, he’s even thoughtfully set out hand sanitizer.

 

Choose your corn.

 

Weigh your tomatoes, or just pay 75 cents for two.

 

Note your purchases.

 

Randy bagged our six ears of sweetcorn while I chose two tomatoes. He paid. And then we exited Mark’s Fresh Veggies Stand, grateful for gardeners like Mark who provide us with fresh seasonal vegetables here in southern Minnesota.

 

Mark’s Fresh Veggies, one of many sources for fresh produce in Rice County.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite spot to get local fresh produce? We buy from a variety of local vendors, including those at the Faribault Farmers’ Market.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Pet parade, COVID-19 style August 7, 2020

Parade pooch.

 

NOT EVEN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC could stop the 84th annual Faribault Pet Parade from rolling through commercial and residential areas of my community Thursday evening.

 

The Faribault Parks and Recreation Department planned, and participated in, the parade.

 

A Hawaiian-themed parks and rec unit pulls an electronic sign.

 

Heading west on Fourth Street, the signage alerts motorists to the parade.

 

Rather than kids and adults leading and carrying leashed pets, participants were required to stay inside/on vehicles. Car cruise style.

 

Parade vehicles aim west along MN State Highway 60/Fourth Street.

 

It’s all about man’s best friend in this parade entry.

 

Stuffed into the back of a pick-up, kids, a dog (s) and stuffed animals.

 

Numbers were down considerably from previous parades when kids cram streets and parade watchers fill sidewalks. Randy and I were the lone observers sitting in our lawn chairs along a busy stretch of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street, the main route into the heart of downtown.

 

I wasn’t quick enough to get a good photo of the farm animals on this trailer. But, oh, that girl’s wave and smile…

 

Pink balloons mark a convertible carrying cancer survivors and their pet dogs. The 2020 Relay for Life of Rice County is happening this evening, August 7, with a drive-through event at the fairgrounds.

 

We get a hearty wave from the driver of the Heartland Animal Hospital car.

 

Despite the low numbers, the spirit of the parade prevailed with waves and smiles and simply an overall happy feeling. Much needed.

 

One family’s humorous take on COVID-19.

 

Masking up inside a vintage ambulance decorated with assorted oddities and a barely noticeable dog peeking out the passenger side window.

 

I have yet to figure out why Woody from Toy Story was placed on the front of this vintage car.

 

There were reminders, though, of COVID-19 in face masks worn and in a humorous message shared by one family.

 

Mixing political aspirations into the parade…a city council candidate advertised her candidacy on multiple vehicles.

 

Not your typical royalty…Princess Mocha.

 

We moved and viewed the parade again near its ending just blocks from Central Park.

 

All too quickly, the police-led parade, the pets, the aspiring politician, Princess Mocha, passed. But the memories will remain. Of a pet parade that proceeded even during these difficult days of a global pandemic.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When COVID-19 alters summer plans August 6, 2020

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Nearing Madison, Wisconsin, in early July.

 

THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE our summer. The summer to explore. The summer of no broken bones and physical therapy and health crises. Three years in a row of challenges left us yearning for a good summer. Randy and I already had tentative plans to spend time in Madison—where two of our adult children live—and explore that region of Wisconsin.

 

Plans to spend more time outside of Minnesota this summer changed. This sign is located at the entry point to our state near La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

But then COVID-19 happened and all summer plans vanished. Poof. Just like that.

 

Along the interstate in Wisconsin in July, returning home to Minnesota.

 

Now, rather than discovering Wisconsin, we are simply traveling from Point A in Faribault some four hours to Point B in Madison. And once there, our activity is restricted to visiting with family. No touring museums. No dining out. No anything that will put us in contact with the general public.

 

I never tire of appreciating and photographing the beautiful farm sites in the valley east of La Crosse.

 

Except we still have that matter of needing to stop at interstate rest stops en route and back. The newly-constructed one in La Crosse gets a gold star rating for easy access and overall cleanliness. The eastbound one near Mauston…won’t ever stop there again.

 

One of my favorite barns looms on a hillside along the interstate near Madison.

 

A longer trip like this also requires one gas up. While Randy filled the van in Madison, I went inside to grab a bottle of lemonade, and then waited in a long line marked with social distancing circles. Most customers were complying and wearing masks. (This was prior to Madison, and now Wisconsin’s, mask mandate.) But then two unmasked young men walked in and stood right next to me. I gave them a look, looked intentionally down at the social distancing circle and then back at them. They got the message and stepped away. No words necessary.

 

A farm in Amish country in southeastern Minnesota.

 

It’s interesting how, in a global pandemic, even stopping to get gas or pee or to picnic raises concerns and takes thought. And care. Masking up, grabbing hand sanitizer, dodging people… I’ve never felt so anti-social.

 

Wisconsin offers plenty of places to pick up cheese as seen on this interstate sign.

 

East of La Crosse and in the Wisconsin Dells area are particularly stunning rock formations jutting from the landscape.

 

Anyone remember supper clubs? Every time I see this sign along the interstate, I think, “I want to dine there.”

 

All of that aside, wouldn’t you just love to hop in your vehicle now and drive away from it all? Drive to see loved ones. Drive to explore some interesting natural place you’ve never seen before. Dine out. Stop at cheesy attractions. And I mean that literally when it comes to Wisconsin. Or drive away into the future, when no COVID-19 exists.

 

Look at all the places these campers have traveled.

 

Westbound on the interstate, nearing La Crosse.

 

More campers…saw lots of those in July on the interstate in Wisconsin en route to and from Madison.

 

I expect some of you have gotten away. Still vacationing. Still traveling. If that fits your comfort level and you’re being careful, then good for you. Just be mindful of mandates and quarantines and everything you can do to protect yourself and others.

 

A lock and dam on the Mississippi River by La Crosse, on the river that separates Wisconsin from Minnesota.

 

Life goes on. Even in a lockdown. And as cranky as too many people seem over restrictions and shutdowns, I’m grateful for those requirements. Health and safety are more important than temporary inconveniences or sacrifices or whatever argument spewed. I don’t need to send more sympathy cards to friends who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. I’ve already mailed two.

 

Nearing Claremont, Minnesota, as the sun sets upon our return from Madison.

 

Maybe next summer will be my summer to explore Wisconsin…

 

TELL ME: What did you intend to do this summer before COVID-19 changed your plans? Or did you continue as planned? If you could go one place right now, where would that be? How are you coping with everything?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The nuances of Northfield keep me returning August 5, 2020

Beautiful historic buildings grace downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

NORTHFIELD. There’s so much to appreciate about this southern Minnesota community with the slogan of Cows, Colleges and Contentment. Cows honor the area’s rich agricultural heritage. Colleges reference the two resident colleges, Carleton and St. Olaf. And contentment frames the feeling in this riverside town rich in natural beauty, history, and a thriving business community and arts scene.

 

A view of the Cannon River in downtown Northfield from the flower-edged pedestrian bridge connecting riverside walkways.

 

Every time I walk along the River Walk aside the Cannon River or meander through the downtown on Division Street, I am struck by the sense of artistic vibrancy. The sense of care in this community. Pride. Hometown loyalty.

 

The display windows of Content Bookstore grab attention in vivid hues. I once participated in a poetry reading here.

 

I see this in shop windows with displays that are creative and eye-catching.

 

Poetry is stamped into sidewalks throughout the downtown district.

 

I read this in words imprinted in cement as part of Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry Project.

 

One of several musicians performing last Friday evening at The Contented Cow Pub & Wine Bar.

 

I hear this in music performed outdoors at eateries.

 

Art showcased in the exterior lower streetside window of the Northfield Arts Guild.

 

I view this in colorful art.

 

At the Northfield Public Library, this sculpture is changed up to promote the U.S. Census.

 

Bold art.

 

You’ll find plenty of coffee shops in Northfield.

 

And a hometown bakery, Quality Bakery and Coffee Shop.

 

In neon lights marking businesses.

 

A personal note posted in a business that has closed.

 

In publicly posted gratitude.

 

Banners honor the Northfield High School graduates of 2020.

 

And banners that show each individual matters.

 

Novelty tees displayed in the front window of the Northfield Historical Society reference the 1876 bank robbery by the James-Younger Gang.

 

Photographed through the front window of MakeShift Accessories, a handcrafted bracelet.

 

Temporarily closed because of COVID-19, Antiques of Northfield is one of my favorite stops.

 

Northfield draws me back, as a writer and a photographer, to notice nuances of place. The rushing water. The home-grown art. The aged buildings in this community where locals, in 1876, defeated the James-Younger Gang during a raid at the First National Bank.

 

No longer the First National Bank, this historic building houses Merchants Bank. The original First National (site of the bank raid) sits across the street and houses the Northfield Historical Society and Museum.

 

Northfield is simply one of those towns when, each time I visit, I leave feeling better for having spent time there.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Bridge Square in Northfield: Black Lives Matter August 4, 2020

Messages related to the Black Lives Matter movement are chalked in Northfield’s Bridge Square.

 

BRIDGE SQUARE in Northfield. It’s a gathering spot for the community. A place to relax and enjoy music and conversation and even popcorn from the popcorn wagon. Water flows from a fountain. Benches beckon visitors to linger. Colorful flowers spill from large, lush planters. Nearby, the Cannon River roars over a dam. People fish and picnic and walk along and over the river. It’s a beautiful setting of trees and sky and water.

 

This is a common phrased used in the current Black Lives Matter movement. Chalked names fill the sidewalks at Bridge Square.

 

The downtown park also provides a place to express public opinion, most recently related to the Black Lives Matter movement. On a recent walk through Bridge Square and several blocks along the River Walk and Division Street, I read the concerns expressed about lives lost, about racial injustice…

 

A broader view of the names and messages leading to and surrounding the fountain.

 

Written in chalk were names of the dead. And messages. Powerful. Heartfelt. Even as rain and sun have faded the chalk writings, the meaning remains that Black Lives Matter.

 

Next to the fountain, this fading portrait of James Baldwin.

 

Next to Baldwin’s portrait, one of Paul O’Neal.

 

Chalk portraits of James Baldwin and Paul O’Neal give faces to names that we should all remember. Like Baldwin, an author and Civil Rights activist. Like O’Neal, shot in the back by Chicago police in 2016. And, more recently, the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests, unrest, destruction, and calls for police reform and justice.

 

Barricades have been set up along this street next to Bridge Square to separate traffic and pedestrians/protesters on a bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

The poem I found particularly meaningful in relation to Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd.

 

After crossing a partially barricaded street to follow the River Walk, I paused to read a poem imprinted in the sidewalk as part of Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry Project. Reading the seven-line poem, the final line—Just breathe—struck me. George Floyd, when he lay dying on a Minneapolis street, said, “I can’t breathe.”

 

I followed the River Walk, eventually turning onto this footbridge across the Cannon River.

 

And so I walked, down steps, along the pedestrian river path hugging the banks of the Cannon River. I thought of that poetry and of those names and messages in Bridge Square.

 

One of many Black Lives Matter signs I spotted in downtown Northfield, this one in the upper story window of an historic Division Street building.

 

I considered how, no matter our skin color, our background, our education, our whatever in life, that we are all just people. We see beauty. We feel sunshine. And sometimes we share the silence that forms in our minds.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling