Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Heading back home to the southwestern Minnesota prairie for Christmas December 26, 2010

We drove along U.S. Highway 14 as we traveled to southwestern Minnesota for Christmas. This stretch is between the Sanborn corners and Lamberton.

FOR THE FIRST TIME in decades, my family and I celebrated Christmas Eve with my mom and four of my five siblings, and their families, “back home” on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

It was my mom’s wish that all of us be there, attending Christmas Eve church services with her at our home church, St. John’s Lutheran in Vesta.

Our Christmas together was as wonderful and memorable and as full of laughter and love as I expected it would be.

Initially, I doubted that we would make the 2 ½-hour trip west given the steady snow that began falling early Christmas Eve, slicking the highways and creating difficult driving conditions. But by the time we left Faribault around 2:30 p.m. Friday, the snow had stopped and major highways were clear.

So, with the trunk packed full of luggage, air mattresses and sleeping bags, presents and coolers, the five of us crammed ourselves into the car (along with pillows and board games on our laps) for the journey to Redwood County. We were headed first to my brother’s house just north of Lamberton.

When we got to New Ulm, nearly 1 ½ hours into the trip, I dug my camera out of the camera bag wedged near my feet and snapped occasional photos of the prairie. It is the land I most love—the place my kids call “the middle of nowhere.”

A train travels east along U.S. Highway 14 between Essig and Sleepy Eye while we travel west.

I love this land of plowed fields and wide open spaces, of small-town grain elevators occasionally punctuating the vast skies, of cozy farm sites sheltered by barren trees.

I love, especially, the red barns accented by the fresh-fallen snow, portraying an agrarian beauty that perhaps only someone who grew up on a farm can appreciate.

As much as I have disliked all of the snow we’ve had this winter, I saw only a beautiful winter wonderland when I was back home for Christmas on the prairie.

The sun begins setting over the prairie as we head west, passing through Sleepy Eye and Springfield before reaching Lamberton. We saw only occasional glimpses of sun on a mostly gray day.

The elevators in Sleepy Eye. Small-town prairie elevators like this can be seen for miles away.

One of many picturesque barns along U.S. Highway 14.

Elevators and trains are a common site along U.S. Highway 14 in the rich farmland of southwestern Minnesota. We've nearly reached our destination when I photograph this elevator complex near sunset.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


6 Responses to “Heading back home to the southwestern Minnesota prairie for Christmas”

  1. lanae Says:

    The last picture made me laugh. I couldn’t believe that you had taken a picture of the cone shaped corn bins. My Iowa hill country husband said “Look, honey, Dolly Parton’s bra” and also when we went over a slight hill he’d say, “I have a nose bleed from being so high up.” I, like you, love the flat prairie land except when I want to go somewhere and the ice/snow make driving impossible. I hope everyone had a blessed Christmas as our family did.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ll never think of those cone-shaped corn piles in quite the same way again. And your husband is right about those prairie “hills.”

      I agree about winter on the prairie too. Driving out there can be especially treacherous when wind and snow combine.

  2. Gordon Says:

    Enjoyed the photos and the story. It seems you have been driving the same roads we have been on lately. Beautiful winter scenery as long as the car keeps chugging along.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Agreed. As long as the car keeps chugging along.

      I had hoped to take more photos on the drive home, but the passenger side window was too frosted over and the windshield was too streaked with road salt.

      Readers, check out Gordon Fredrickson’s blog for similar prairie images taken by his wife, Nancy, when they traveled to Tracey, which is even further west than Lamberton along U.S. Highway 14.

  3. Emily Says:

    I just hopped on over to your blog from MinnPost, and I’m sure I’ll be back. Great stories and insights. My parents grew up in Pipestone, so your pictures of open roads and snow-covered trains are part and parcel of my “driving to Grandma’s for Christmas” memories. I loved the iciclc post, too!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks, Emily, for stopping by Minnesota Prairie Roots via MinnPost. I appreciate your comments and your visit.

      Every time I travel “back home” to southwestern Minnesota, I return with a camera full of images and a head full of stories. There’s something about that land, the wide open spaces, the big skies, that simply inspires me.

      As for the icicles, as I write this, my husband has been chiseling at the ice damns. This time, though, I didn’t ask him to save any of the ice.

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