Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the cusp of harvest in southwestern Minnesota October 4, 2013

Grey skies and rain create a moody scene along U.S. Highway 14 between Sleepy Eye and Lamberton.

Grey skies and rain create a moody scene along U.S. Highway 14 between Sleepy Eye and Lamberton.

RAIN DRIZZLES, SOMETIMES SPLATTERS, across the windshield of our van as my husband and I aim toward the southwestern Minnesota prairie, driving toward Lamberton for a day of making horseradish with my extended family. It is a time-honored tradition, started by my father, dead 10 years now.

For me, this 120-mile trip from our Faribault home is not as much about the horseradish as it is about family and memories and spending a weekend in my beloved native prairie, the place that shaped me in to the person/writer/photographer I’ve become.

This section of U.S. Highway 14 between Sleepy Eye and Lamberton features many stately and well-kept barns like this brick one.

This section of U.S. Highway 14 between Sleepy Eye and Lamberton features many stately and well-kept barns like this brick one.

Even after 40 years away from this place of big skies and flat open spaces, of small towns and family farms, of corn and soybean fields stretching into forever, I still miss this land.

Especially at harvest time.

A cheery smile on a barn off U.S. Highway 14 serves as a backdrop to a ripened soybean field on a grey Saturday morning.

A cheery smile on a barn off U.S. Highway 14 serves as a backdrop to a ripened soybean field on a grey Saturday morning.

As we journey, my head pivots toward the corn and the beans, ripened mostly to muted gold.

I can almost hear the corn leaves rustling in the bendy wind under moody grey skies.

I can almost smell the intoxicating scent of earth that prevails only at harvest time.

I can almost hear the chomping combines and rumbling grain trucks, the roaring tractors and the lumbering grain wagons, parked and silent now as rain sweeps across the acres.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County.

Later that day, after we’ve reached our rural destination and dug, washed, peeled, chopped, blended and bottled the horseradish, the heaviest of the clouds lift and shift east.

The skies have cleared along Redwood County Road 6 north of Lamberton where corn fields await harvest.

The skies have cleared along Redwood County Road 6 north of Lamberton where corn fields await harvest.

By Sunday morning we awaken to the clear and crisp skies of autumn in rural Minnesota.

Driving U.S. Highway 14 back to Faribault Sunday morning.

Driving U.S. Highway 14 back to Faribault Sunday morning.

It’s a perfect morning.

Barns and ripening crops define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota this time of year.

Barns and ripening crops define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota this time of year.

Sunshine upon fields.

Grain bins await the harvest on a southwestern Minnesota farm.

Grain bins await the harvest on a southwestern Minnesota farm.

Sunshine pooling upon my lap as we aim east, past bins and barns and bountiful fields, back home.

Rounding the curve eastbound into Sleepy Eye.

Rounding the curve eastbound into Sleepy Eye.

Past the ripening crops. Through the small towns, like Lamberton and Springfield and Sleepy Eye.

And when we reach the western outskirts of New Ulm, I feel as if we’ve crossed a line. Menards and Walmart loom to the left. U.S. Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, is now a four-lane through this German community, busy with traffic and drivers racing to get ahead before the roadway once again narrows to two lanes en route to Mankato.

Barns, like this one, rise above the soon-to-be-harvested corn fields.

Barns, like this one, rise above the soon-to-be-harvested corn fields.

My mood shifts. I’ve left the peace of the prairie, the one place on this earth that holds my soul in solace.

FYI: This post was previously published on streets.mn. The above photos were taken on Saturday, September 28, and Sunday, September 29. Conditions change rapidly during harvest time, so I expect harvest is well underway, although delayed now due to the rain.

A post will be forthcoming on making horseradish.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling