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

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22 Responses to “The prairie part of Minnesota”

  1. Littlesundog Says:

    This is very much the same landscape as I grew up in in Nebraska. It’s still home for this farm girl! 🙂 Nice photographs and prose, Audrey!

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    Trends come and go; shift from one extreme to the next. I don’t know when exactly, but there was a shift from country to city. For a few years now, I think the trend has been in reverse . An Exodus out of the concrete jungles…to the extreme of living off the grid even; not stopping at settling in a small town. This is increasingly more appealing with solar and wind power options that are more affordable these days. I am not certain I could sever the tether to the InterWeb though 🙂

    • You are right. Those shifts always exist. I wonder, when people make such major geographical and lifestyle moves, if those are only temporary. There may be the discovery that what was envisioned did not work as reality.

      I, for one, couldn’t sever the internet cord.

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    I have yet to read such an eloquent description on living on the prairie.

  4. I love the old car and cows. I’d take small town MN over the traffic in Sioux Falls any day.

  5. Beautiful Captures – makes me miss the farm life – grew up in Southern MN. I have not heard of Buckman, but have been on the 10 to 371 – loved the Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair and have family up in the Brainerd area and then 169 to Milaca and Mille Lac Lakes area. I have told you that have family in Redwood Falls, Vesta, New Ulm area too. There are few family members who have moved out of MN, but we still have deep roots to MN. Happy Day – Enjoy!

  6. Don Says:

    I live in a beautiful state and many people spend a lifetime saving up money to visit it. Yet for all it has to offer I truly love the prairie, farms and small towns.

  7. Don Says:

    You hit the nail on the head!

  8. Jackie Says:

    Love to hear the description of your beloved prairie. Do you ever wish you were still there today?

  9. Yep. Hard to appreciate…but I’m learning!

  10. Ann Vohs Says:

    Audrey-
    Your pictures reminded me of our recent trip to Tyler, Mn. I would recommend the Danebod Folk School Christmas Event.
    Really wonderful food, music and dancing around the Christmas tree attended by people of all ages.
    Ann Vohs
    .

  11. John Toren Says:

    I did not grow up on the prairie, and used to find our family trips to Lincoln, Nebraska, deadly dull. But I’ve developed a keep appreciation for the varied beauty of the rural landscape, the fields and woodlots, the gullies and marshes–though I still have difficulty differentiating crops from one another. My wife and I occasionally head off cross-country through Sherburne NWR and your husband’s home town of Buckman on our way to the meat market in Pierz. In early spring we sometimes head west to Lac Qui Parle, Milan, Oddessa, etc. Yes, Minnesota is more than pines and lakes!


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