Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What’s your line? January 31, 2012

WHAT LINES DEFINE your world? Horizontal or vertical?

Perhaps you’ve never considered that question. But ponder that for a minute.

Where do you live? Where do you work? What lines define your environment?

Do you live in the city, the country or a small town? Do you live on the prairie, in the mountains or somewhere in between?

My world has always been horizontal. I prefer it that way—flat and unbroken by vertical obstacles. Towering buildings overwhelm me; make me feel small, visually overpowered and uncomfortable.

Can you understand that? Perhaps if you grew up or live in a rural area, you do.

The sun sets on my native southwestern Minnesota prairie in this December 2010 image.

I traveled to Chicago once during college, and to New York. While touring the garment district in the Big Apple, I was nearly flattened by a vendor pushing a rack of clothing as I paused on the sidewalk to gawk at the skyscrapers. In Chicago, I struggled with sleeping in a hotel that stretched too far into the sky.

A view of the Minneapolis skyline from Interstate 35.

I can’t recall the last time I visited downtown Minneapolis, but I’m certain it’s been decades. I’ve never been to any other big cities and I have no desire to travel to them.

Some of you will say I am missing out on culture and shopping and so much more by staying out of the city. You would be right.

But to counter that, I will tell you many a big city resident fails to leave the confines of the city to explore the small towns and rural areas that offer grassroots culture and shopping and much, much more.

I am not trying to pit city against country, horizontal against vertical, here. Rather, I’d simply like you to think about your world from a visual perspective. Then, tell me, what lines define your landscape? Vertical or horizontal, or a mixture of both?

Even in rural Minnesota, vertical lines occasionally break the horizon, like this scene at Christensen Farms along U.S. Highway 14 east of Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota.

The strong horizontal lines of railroad tracks and trains cross the flat prairie landscape of southwestern Minnesota. I shot this along U.S. Highway 14 between Springfield and Sleepy Eye as snow fell late on a March morning in 2011.

Railroad tracks and diggers slice precise horizontal lines across the landscape in this March 2011 image shot while traveling U.S. Highway 14 between Springfield and Sleepy Eye, in my native southwestern Minnesota.

I live in Faribault, an hour's drive south of Minneapolis along Interstate 35. While I certainly don't consider Faribault, with a population of around 22,000 to be a small town, it's definitely not urban. I shot this pastoral scene last spring several miles west of town near Roberds Lake.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling