Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The prairie part of Minnesota December 9, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The grain elevator in Seaforth, in Redwood County, Minnesota, closed long ago.

The grain elevator in Seaforth, in Redwood County, Minnesota, closed long ago.

MINNESOTA IS MORE than the Twin Cities, St. Cloud, Rochester and Duluth. It’s also farms and small towns like Vesta, Sleepy Eye, Gaylord and St. James. I’ve lived in all of those rural areas and, for the past 33 years, in Faribault.

Cornstalk bales litter fields between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

Cornstalk bales litter fields between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

My husband was raised on a farm near Buckman in central Minnesota. Heard of it? Few people have. Likewise, not all that many Minnesotans know of Vesta, my hometown. Both communities are small—several hundred residents.

A vintage car travels eastbound along U.S. Highway 14 toward Nicollet.

A vintage car travels eastbound along U.S. Highway 14 toward Nicollet.

When folks ask where I grew up, I typically respond Vesta, bookmarked by “between Redwood Falls and Marshall.” If I get a blank look, I add “west of New Ulm.” If the geographic location still remains a mystery, I continue with “west of Mankato.” Then I usually see a flicker of recognition.

Occasionally you'll see cattle in a pasture. But mostly, farm land in southwestern Minnesota is used for crops like corn and soybeans.

Occasionally you’ll see cattle in a pasture. But mostly, farm land in southwestern Minnesota is used for crops like corn and soybeans.

My native southwestern Minnesota seems unappreciated by many who dismiss it as that boring prairie landscape en route to some place like Sioux Falls or the more distant destination of the Black Hills.

Fields and sky envelope a farm building just west of Wabasso.

Fields and sky envelope a farm building just west of Wabasso.

Appreciating the prairie, if you aren’t a native, takes a bit of effort. Wide skies and unhindered vistas can, I suppose, leave a landlocked city or hemmed-in by trees dweller feeling unsettled, untethered. There’s a sense of vulnerability and isolation on the prairie.

This farm site sits north of Lamberton in Redwood County.

This farm site sits north of Lamberton in Redwood County.

Land and sky overwhelm. Wind dominates. And for non-natives, that feeling of powerlessness within a landscape pushes away any thought of liking the prairie. Hurry. Power through the place. It’s just a bunch of farms and small towns and endless fields. But it isn’t. It is farm homes and red barns, grain elevators and water towers, corn and soybeans. Someone’s home. Someone’s land. Someone’s life. Someone’s livelihood. The prairie part of Minnesota. The place that shaped me as a person, a poet, a writer, a photographer. For that, I am grateful.

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Note: All images were taken during my last visit “back home” in October and were edited to add a soft quality to the scenes.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling