Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bluff ice art March 31, 2014

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PERHAPS I AM too easily impressed.

But I have not visited the ice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in northern Bayfield County, Wisconsin.

Ice formations by La Crosse 1

Thus the ice formations gracing the Mississippi River bluffs along Interstate 90 on the Minnesota side near La Crosse, Wisconsin, impress me.

Ice formations by La Crosse 2

There is no stopping along I-90 to view or photograph this natural ice art up close. Rather, I rely on the rapid fire of my camera to capture the scene for later study.

Ice formations by La Crosse 3

Every time I see this water frozen in the icebox of winter, I marvel at its beauty.

I remember, too, how once upon a time I snapped icicles from the milkhouse roofline to engage in sword fight battles with my siblings.

Ice formations by La Crosse 4

The flip side of my mind views the ice formations as powdered sugar icing dripping down the sides of a homemade chocolate birthday cake baked by my mother.

That’s the thing about art—man-made or natural. It’s always open to interpretation.

FYI: These photos were taken 10 days ago. Since then, the weather has warmed to around 60 degrees in southern Minnesota, meaning these formations are likely disappearing.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fish Fry Fridays March 28, 2014

GROWING UP LUTHERAN, I knew Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. They ate fish. I never understood that because I consider fish to be meat.

But, still Lutheran today, I respect the Catholic Friday Fish Fry tradition.

Photographed in Omro, Wisconsin, eight miles west of Oshkosh along the Fox River.

Photographed in Omro, Wisconsin, eight miles west of Oshkosh along the Fox River.

This time of year, you’ll see advertisements and signs galore calling the faithful to feast on fish on Fridays.

These weekly Lenten fish fries should also remind believers of their calling to be, like Jesus’ disciples, fishers of men (and women and children). If I remember my bible facts correctly, Andrew, Peter, James and John were fishermen by profession and fishermen by discipleship.

Throughout scripture, you will find numerous references to fish, beginning with the beginning. In Genesis 1:26, God says:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

What a great responsibility.

Then there’s the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. I remember as a child reading Sunday School bible lessons and how impressed I was by this. To think that the prophet Jonah would be swallowed by a whale, remain in the whale’s belly for three days and then be spit out alive seemed pretty miraculous to me.

And that’s exactly as it should have seemed. The apostle Matthew writes in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 12:40:

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jonah’s experience connects to Christ’s resurrection from the dead after the third day, as explained by Matthew.

At VFW Post 2778 in Appleton, Wisconsin, they apparently attempt to feed the masses as the Friday Fish Fry runs from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

At VFW Post 2778 in Appleton, WI., they apparently attempt to feed the masses as the Friday Fish Fry runs from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Finally, the other significant mention of fish imprinted upon my memory comes in the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000 plus. On both occasions, Jesus multiplied miniscule portions of bread and fish to feed the masses:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14: 19-21)

I think Jesus would have appreciated a Friday Fish Fry.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Did you lock the door? March 27, 2014

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Photographed along U.S. Highway 52 in Rochester, Minnesota.

Photographed along U.S. Highway 52 in Rochester, Minnesota.

I thought I did.

House 2

But apparently not.

House 3

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gorilla marketing March 26, 2014

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FORGET BILLBOARDS to push furniture and mattresses in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Pink gorilla in Appleton, side view

Instead, try guerrilla gorilla marketing.

Pink gorilla in Appleton, front view

Hire someone to dress in a hot pink gorilla costume. Station the ape at the corner of a crazy busy intersection (Northland Avenue and North 47) and you’re good to go.

Tell me, does this type of gimmick really work?

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

It’s in the details March 25, 2014

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Farm site 2

IN A FLASH, I’ve passed the farm site along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon.

But I’ve clicked the shutter button, preserving this rural scene, a moment frozen in time. Many times, for whatever reason, I have photographed this place.

Later, viewing this most recent image on a computer screen, I notice the details that escaped my eyes during that drive-by. And I wonder how, all too often, we miss the details.

Farm site 3

Details comprise the whole, define our lives in ways we never realize. A look. An intonation. A reflex. Puzzle them together and you have life.

A snapshot. An album. A collection of minutes, hours and days that collectively become weeks and months and years. And suddenly you are, like me, past middle age, a generation away from death.

You wonder about the details, whether you’ve noticed and embraced and lived them.

Farm site 1

Have you swung in a tire swing?

Or have you simply viewed tires as a necessity to carry you along the highway of life? Too busy to notice details.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering art in downtown Wabasha March 24, 2014

BRICK, A BENCH, A RIVER…

Each provides a canvas or backdrop for art in Wabasha, an historic Mississippi River town of 2,500 in southeastern Minnesota.

On a recent visit here to the National Eagle Center, where art abounds inside, I also noticed art integrated into the downtown.

Wabasha, Wapahasha II

A 10-foot tall bronze sculpture of Wapahasha II, a Native American after whom the city of Wabasha is named, stands atop a fountain next to the riverside eagle center.

If you shift your eyes a bit, you’ll notice a bridge in the distance. I view that 26-year-old link between Minnesota and Wisconsin as art given the overhead span of trusses.

Wabasha, eagle bench

Just up the street, set atop brick pavers, co-joined park benches have become artwork, too, with eagle paintings backing the benches. It’s a nice touch, emphasizing Wabasha’s eagles and the reason many visitors come here.

Wabasha, Riverside Dollar

Around the corner, Riverside Dollar also incorporates eagles into its signage on a cozy building tucked between taller historic buildings. Fifty properties in Wabasha are on the National Register of Historic Places, another reason I appreciate this community. The buildings, in and of themselves, are works of art with ornate details that showcase the craftsmanship of another era.

Wabasha, Squirt sign

A block away, a faded vintage Squirt sign painted onto the side of a brick building contrasts with a sleek and shiny Pepsi vending machine. That amuses me.

Wabasha, Rivertown Cafe front of

At the Rivertown Cafe, I appreciate the aging signage suspended from the second level. It adds a certain charm to the exterior and directs the eye toward the business.

Wabasha, street corner sculpture

A stone’s throw away, a modern sculpture graces a street corner.

Wabasha, cafe sign up close

Certainly, Wabasha features more art; I had time to photograph only this sampling this trip.

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CLICK HERE TO READ my previous post about art inside the National Eagle Center.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Eagle art in Wabasha March 21, 2014

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An eagle sculpture defines the exterior of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

Two eagle sculptures (one atop the dome) define the exterior of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota.

WITH ALL THAT THE NATIONAL Eagle Center in Wabasha offers, it is perhaps easy to overlook the art.

Art, eagle head 3

But the eagle sculptures and other artwork showcased in this Mississippi River side building deserve study and appreciation.

Art, eagle painting

The eagle possesses a certain strength and beauty worthy of symbolizing the United States of America. As such, many artists have recreated this symbol of freedom.

The Bicentennial Eagle by A. Giannelli.

The Bicentennial Eagle by A. Giannelli.

From a sterling silver and 24K gold sculpture by A. Giannelli to a child’s colored drawing of an eagle discovered on a shelf, art abounds in this Minnesota eagle center.

Art, colored eagle

Simply look and you will see.

Art, eagle head 2

Art.

Art, eagle mugs

In the gift shop.

Art, feathers

In a wing on display (although not from an eagle).

Art, eagle head

Everywhere.

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CHECK BACK for a post on more art, this time outside of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

Click here to read my first post on the eagle center.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about eagles in Wabasha March 20, 2014

A section of a map on the floor of the National Eagle Center shows the location of Wabasha along the Mississippi River.

A section of a map on the floor of the National Eagle Center shows the location of Wabasha along the Mississippi River.

DRIVING INTO WABASHA, Minnesota, late on a Sunday morning in mid-March, we spot a bald eagle soaring high above this historic river town.

The stunning National Eagle Center, along the river and a block off the main downtown business district.

The stunning National Eagle Center, along the river in the heart of downtown Wabasha.

The bird’s welcoming appearance seems fitting given my husband and I have come here to tour the National Eagle Center, a modern two-story educational facility with banks of two-story windows and a second floor outdoor observation deck overlooking the Mississippi River.

A second story observation deck outfitted with numerous binoculars, allows visitors to view the eagles along the Mississippi River.

The observation deck, outfitted with binoculars, gives visitors like my husband a view of eagles along the Mississippi River.

This ideal riverside setting allows visitors like us to observe eagles riding river bluff air currents, scooping fish from the water and perching in trees. Wabasha, with its year-round open water, proves an inviting locale for eagles.

The activity area includes a replica eagle's nest, upper left.

The activity area includes a replica eagle’s nest, upper left.

Inside the center, hands-on interactive activities—from stepping inside a mock eagle’s nest to testing the weight of an eagle to experiencing the majestic bird’s vision to creating eagle art to scoping eagles through binoculars and more—occupy all ages.

You can get up close to the resident eagles.

You can get up close to the resident eagles.

But, unequivocally, the major draws are the resident eagles, birds that were injured, treated and could not be released back into the wild. Bald eagles Angel, Columbia, Harriet and Was’aka call this place home while Donald is the sole golden eagle here. The 32-year-old Harriet is perhaps the best known, appearing numerous times on television and serving as the model for Minnesota’s Support Our Troops vehicle license plate.

Donald, the single resident golden eagle.

Donald, the single resident golden eagle.

Handlers tend the tethered eagles in a viewing room while answering questions among a curious crowd snapping photos with cell phones and cameras.

Eagles suspended from the ceiling and a view of the river from the second floor of the eagle center.

Eagles suspended from the ceiling and a view of the river from the second floor of the eagle center.

Thrice daily, the center presents an educational program on eagles. On this Sunday, staffer Bucky, with humor, skill, knowledge and audience engagement, entertains and educates young and old (that would be Randy and me).

A mural provides information about Wabasha and its open water draw for eagles.

A mural provides information about Wabasha’s history and eagles.

We learn, for example, that Wabasha provides the perfect environment for bald eagles with the river, protected habitat and bluffs. Eagles nest across the river and at nearby Read’s Landing.

Dressed as an eagle, a staffer wanders through the eagle center.

Dressed as an eagle, a staffer wanders through the eagle center.

When Bucky shares that eagles are territorial, he mimics the bird’s high-pitched call then asks us to practice our eagle calls. Kids giggle. Adults laugh at the attempts.

During the presentation, Bucky occasionally checks on an elementary-aged boy who is keeping a replica eagle egg warm in the pouch of his sweatshirt. Eagle nests can measure up to nine feet wide and 20 feet deep and weigh as much as three tons.

The current eagle count tallied.

The current eagle count tallied.

Today, Minnesota is home to 1,200 active eagle nests. When the eagle expert asks how many of us can see eagles in our home areas, nearly all 17 of us raise our hands.

But it wasn’t always that way. Randy and I are among the audience few who remember a time when these birds were endangered. Shortly after World War II, the pesticide DDT was introduced, washing into waterways where fish and aquatic life absorbed the toxin. When eagles ate the fish, they, too, were impacted. The DDT weakened their eggshells, resulting in eggs that broke during incubation or failed to hatch. The pesticide was banned in 1972.

My husband, second from right, plays a bald eagle.

My husband, second from right, plays a bald eagle.

To visually explain the chain reaction, Bucky chooses three kids to role play a mosquito, a small fish and a large fish. I know precisely whom he will pick to play the bald eagle. The bald guy in the third role, my husband, makes his acting debut.

Bucky proves his point as, one by one, the performers “ingest” DDT.

Bucky and Angel.

Bucky and Angel.

A few minutes later, after this educator pulls out a board the length of an eagle’s wing span (6 ½ to 7 feet), he exits the room and returns with resident bald eagle Angel. The 11-pound female came to the center in 2000 after suffering a broken wing.

Perched on Bucky’s gloved arm, Angel is the model of perfect human imprinted behavior. She is a guest at many Native American ceremonies and also makes educational appearances.

Shortly after Randy shot this photo of Angel eating a rat, I left the room.

Shortly after Randy shot this photo of Angel eating a rat, I left the room.

I enjoy Angel, until feeding time. Bucky pulls a white rat from a plastic container. For awhile, I watch as the eagle uses her beak and talons to rip apart the rodent. I stop photographing the scene and hand my camera to Randy. By then I’m looking down. He snaps a few photos, hands the camera back to me and shortly thereafter I exit the room to view the resident eagles who are not dining.

Rather they are simply perched, an activity which occupies 94 percent of their lives.

You'll find binoculars throughout the eagle center.

You’ll find binoculars throughout the center for viewing eagles.

Later, Randy will search me out, inform me that I left at just the right time—before rat pieces started flying toward the audience.

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BONUS PHOTOS:

A bald eagle was part of the show in the gym. No, it did not fly.

A bald eagle was part of “Wings to Soar” in the nearby St. Felix gym. No, the eagle did not fly.

WHILE IN WABASHA, we also took in the National Eagle Center sponsored program, “Wings to Soar.”

Dale wandered through the audience with the birds, like this owl.

Dale wanders through the audience with an owl.

In St. Felix auditorium several blocks from the eagle center, Southerners John Stokes and Dale Kernahan presented an educational flying raptor program that, yes, involved birds of prey flying over our heads.

Here an owl flaps its wings. The birds skimmed over our heads during the show.

Here an owl flaps its wings. Some of the birds skimmed over our heads during the show.

Stokes advised anyone who was afraid of birds to leave. That would be me. But I stayed and did just fine with the owls and hawks. But when Kernahan walked out with a vulture and then allowed it to fly at low altitude, I slunk into my folding chair.

On the right, you'll see the second story riverside observation deck.

On the right is the second story riverside observation deck.

FYI: March marks special “Soar with the Eagles” weekends in Wabasha. March 22 – 23 you can attend Sky Hunters, a flying bird show.

This girl is looking up at these...

Inside the National Eagle Center, this girl is looking up at these…

...birds suspended from the glass ceiling.

…birds suspended from the glass ceiling.

In the first floor gift shop, shown here...

In the first floor gift shop, shown here…

...Joseph found a plush toy eagle.

…Joseph finds a plush toy eagle.

The National Eagle Center truly appeals to all ages, to anyone who appreciates the beauty of this majestic bird.

Check back for another post from the National Eagle Center and for additional photos from Wabasha.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photo bar hopping in rural Minnesota, Part II March 19, 2014

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The rather non-descript R & L's Pit Stop photographed in Hope in 2011.

The rather non-descript R & L’s Pit Stop photographed in Hope in 2011.

THE SMALL TOWN liquor store or bar rates as more than simply a place to grab a cold one or wolf down bar food.

New Richland bars, 2011.

New Richland bars, 2011.

Oftentimes, these rural establishments serve as community gathering spots. Locals belly up to trade stories, talk crops, solve the world’s problems. There’s a certain comfort in that, in the familiarity of sharing gossip and opinions and woes within the confines of a dark space, sheltered from reality.

The seemingly popular Cabin Bar in Nicollet, photographed two years ago.

The seemingly popular Cabin Bar in Nicollet, photographed two years ago.

Sometimes these places remain as the sole business along an otherwise vacant Main Street. On a Friday or Saturday night, vehicles line the streets. Folks gather to shoot a little pool, drink a little beer, tell a few jokes.

One of my favorite buildings and attached vintage signage. I need to return and explore this place.

The Monty Bar anchors a corner in downtown Montgomery and features wonderful vintage signage.

For awhile, troubles vanish, the body rests, a sense of community togetherness prevails.

Creative graphics for a bar in Kilkenny.

Creative graphics for a bar in Kilkenny.

All of this I imagine as I photograph the exteriors of small town Minnesota bars and liquor stores. Unique signage, creative names, architecture and more draw me visually to these watering holes.

The Roadhouse Bar & Grill is a popular dining spot in Wabasso. During the summer, old car enthusiasts and motorcyclists gather here for a weekly "Ride In" that draws up to 1,000 people. There's plenty of outdoor seating on a sprawling patio where a hamburger bar is set up for the popular event. The grill offers an extensive burger and sandwich menu with everything reasonably priced.

The Roadhouse Bar & Grill is a hot spot in Wabasso. During the summer, old car enthusiasts and motorcyclists gather here on Tuesday evenings for a “Roll- In” that draws up to 1,000 people. There’s plenty of outdoor seating on a sprawling patio where a hamburger bar is set up for the popular event.

Each holds a story. And if you, a stranger, venture inside, heads will swivel, eyes will bore and the locals will wonder. What is your story?

BONUS BAR PHOTOS:

The Old Town Tavern advertises its Dam Days specials. Great place to eat.

The Old Town Tavern advertises specials and more during Morristown Dam Days 2013.

A misguided attempt, in my opinion, to update the American Legion in West Concord. Photographed in 2010.

A misguided attempt, in my opinion, to update the American Legion in West Concord. Photographed in 2010.

The Pub in Canton, near the Iowa border.

The Pub in Canton, near the Iowa border, photographed in 2012.

CLICK HERE TO READ “Bar hopping, Minnesota blogger style.”

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Go, Knights March 18, 2014

THERE’S NO DOUBT about it. Residents of small towns get excited about their sports.

Living in a large—by my standards anyway—community like Faribault with a population of around 23,000, I don’t see the same level of sports enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never played or been interested in sports. You will find your pockets of sports enthusiasts even in communities the size of mine. Just not me. And not with the same level of “we’re all behind you” support.

A scene in downtown Kenyon Sunday afternoon emphasizes this town's ag base.

A scene in downtown Kenyon Sunday afternoon emphasizes this town’s ag base as a truck pulls a trailer stacked with hay.

But in the Kenyon-Wanamingo area, I’d guess locals are pretty excited about the girls basketball team heading to Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota on Wednesday to play Redwood Valley in the Class AA state girls basketball competition.

A show of support for the Kenyon-Wanamingo Knights.

A show of support for the Kenyon-Wanamingo Knights.

Driving through this Goodhue County community of 1,817 Sunday afternoon, I noticed a sign, GO Knights, suspended between poles at the gas station/convenience store at the intersections of Minnesota State Highways 56 and 60. Nothing fancy. Simply a hometown show of support for the Kenyon-Wanamingo girls basketball team. I also spotted a we believe sign tacked in a business window.

Wednesday marks the first time since 2001 that the K-W girls team, seeded number 2 in the state with a 29-1 record, is going to state. That one loss this year came to defending state champions New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva. I expect fans in those four communities are equally as thrilled about their team’s third consecutive return to state competition.

At Redwood Valley, they’re also likely pretty hyped about the girls going to state for the first time since 1979. That’s something of which to be proud. Even though I attended junior high there more than 40 years ago, I possess no loyalty to this southwestern Minnesota school. You’ll find me rooting for the Knights, not the Cardinals, Wednesday evening.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling