Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Returning to my Minnesota prairie roots September 12, 2010

THIS AFTERNOON, my husband, son and I returned from a weekend trip to my beloved prairie, southwestern Minnesota. The journey brought stops along the way and back—one which stretched into a 2-hour lunch at The Dam Store, a food/live bait/tackle place just outside Rapidan near Mankato.

This homey joint, which sits next to the Rapidan Dam on the scenic Blue Earth River, advertises the “BEST DAM HAMBURGERS AND PIE BY A DAM SITE.” That’s no lie. But you won’t read about it here. I’m planning a magazine feature story on this kitschy 100-year-old café/store. That explains the lengthy lunch hour (or rather two), of a cheeseburger and fries and dam good homemade chocolate caramel pecan pie, that evolved into interviews and photo-taking.

You'll find great hamburgers and homemade pies at The Dam Store, an unassuming century old eatery.

As we traveled west toward our destination in rural Lamberton in Redwood County, I filled my camera with images from the road, setting a fast shutter speed and zooming down the passenger-side car window or aiming through the windshield whenever a photo op arose.

All along that drive, I gawked at the sky, the wide, wide prairie sky that I can never get enough of no matter how many times I view it.

Likewise, I cannot get enough of this land where I grew up. Here the soil and sky and wind taught me how to see and smell and feel and listen, and because of that, how to write with a detailed, grassroots style.

Returning to southwestern Minnesota renews my gratefulness for roots that reach deep into the earth. Even though I left this land 36 years ago, I remain forever connected to the prairie, “home” in my heart.

Driving U.S. Highway 71 in southwestern Minnesota, you can see a sky and land that stretches beyond forever.

Empty corn cribs on the prairie await another harvest. Or perhaps they are no longer used.

Even a collapsed barn possesses a certain beauty on the prairie. While I saw many barns in disrepair or falling apart, I also saw many that still stand, strong and proud in this wind-swept land.

Sheep and a horse graze in a roadside pasture.

A lone silo leaves me wondering, "What happened to the barn?"

(I shot the landscape photos while we were traveling along U.S. Highway 71 between Minnesota Highway 30 and U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota on Saturday.)

UPON OUR RETURN to southeastern Minnesota, I grabbed today’s Faribault Daily News from the mailbox to find my photo, and a feature story about me, splashed across the front page. Several days ago reporter James Warden interviewed me about my blogging.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’d been dodging the interview with James because I’m a bit uncomfortable in the spotlight. I much prefer the other side of the notebook and camera.

Even though I would have preferred my story tucked discreetly inside the pages of the newspaper, I cannot contain my enthusiasm for James’ reporting and writing. He captured the essence of me and my blogging style by using words and descriptions and details that would be fitting of a Minnesota Prairie Roots blog post.

If you’d like to check out journalist James’ take on me and my blogging, click here.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


7 Responses to “Returning to my Minnesota prairie roots”

  1. Michael Says:

    I very much doubt that the corn cribs are used any more.
    An interesting note on the collapsed barn. A few years ago a new steel roof was added to the barn. Since no other buildings are on the site many of the neighbors thought the roof was a waste of money. Now that the barn has collapsed, the steel that was applied to that barn roof has been taken off. I hope someone else is using it to cover another old building.
    Since I often travel those parts of 71 and 30, and once in a while 14, I recognize many of the places.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Michael, thanks for the note about the collapsed barn. Feel free, any time you see images posted here that are familiar to you, to send info my way. I always appreciate learning the stories behind photos taken on the road.

      I agree that the corn cribs likely aren’t used any more, which is why I added that comment in the cutline. They made such a beautiful image set against the sky.

  2. Dorothy Bowman Says:

    Oh yes, southwestern MN is beautiful. Growing up there was certainly different from raising my family in NJ not far from New York City. The vastness of the landscape is beyond words. Of course I really do wish the old farm site was still in the family.

  3. Jean Palmer Martineau Says:

    I was so happy to see the article giving you well deserved praise for your blog. I have been reading it for a long time. I often surprise my mother, Marilyn, with something that is going on in Faribault that I learned from you. Faribault will always be my hometown and you bring so much life to the area with your writing and remind me of my memories of home.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you so much, Jean. It means a lot to me that you and other readers appreciate the stories and photos I share on Minnesota Prairie Roots. Your mom told me sometime ago that you are a reader of my blog.

      To all of you who have sent me e-mails regarding The Daily News feature story, thank you for your kind words. I am so humbled.

  4. Bernie (Rohlik) Bowman Says:

    Beautiful pictures Audrey…we all need those moments!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thank you, Bernie. I know, that as a southwestern Minnesota native, you can appreciate the vast skies, the endless fields…, the beauty that defines the prairie. Every time I visit my home area, I come back with a renewed appreciation for having grown up there.

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