Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

History, mystery & more along the Straight River November 30, 2016

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THERE WOULD BE NO HIKING in the River Bend Nature Center as the sun shifted toward dusk on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The sign, “CAUTION DEER HUNT IN PROGRESS,” caused Randy to step on the brakes, back up the car and exit the entry road. “I don’t think I want to be in the woods this time of day,” he said, explaining that hunters prefer to hunt at dusk and dawn. I wasn’t about to disagree with him.

 

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So off we drove to find another trail, parking on a dead end street near the Straight River Trail in the northern section of Faribault. Our entry point started near an aged limestone building. We wondered aloud about the history of the structure so in need of repair.

 

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I would later learn from Jeff Jarvis, local historian and community enrichment coordinator for the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, that the building was constructed from local limestone in 1903 as the Faribault Gas and Electric Company. Electricity was transmitted by wire from the Cannon Falls hydroelectric facility to the Faribault plant and offered to Faribault customers, he said.

 

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I knew none of this as I studied the historic structure, noting the blocked window openings, the crumbling limestone, the detailed workmanship, the piled pallets, the empty barrels. Melancholy seeped into my thoughts. I’m always dismayed when buildings like this, an important part of local history, succumb to weather and near abandonment.

After snapping photos, I continued along the paved trail, stepping aside as a biker whizzed by. In the distance a trio of walkers approached, one gripping a dog. I am often wary of meeting canines. But this service dog posed no threat.

 

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Eventually, Randy and I veered from the paved path to a dirt trail leading to the Straight River. A massive fallen tree blocked us from reaching the river bank. We could only surmise that September flooding or past floods uprooted the many fallen trees in this flood plain.

 

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I noticed a tire on a sandbar, a man in a blue jacket walking his dog on the other side of the river, a single leaf clinging to a twig.

 

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Pink edged into the day, the light softening. Ideal for photography. We hiked back to the paved path, back toward the aged limestone building and then down once again toward the river along a rock hard trail. Clusters of pipes pocked the woods. We wondered about those and the padlocks fastened to some. A mystery.

 

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Soon the earth softened to river sand as the trail twisted. A buzz of noise cut through the silence, headlights flashing through the woods as an ATV approached, followed by a dirt bike. We stepped aside, allowing the vehicles to skirt us. And we wondered whether they should be there, near the river. Probably not.

 

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We ended our outing at Two Rivers Park, the convergence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers. Men fished. On a nearby path, another man pedaled a three-wheeler, his wheelchair strapped to the back. A woman walked her dog. And I paused on a bridge to photograph the Faribault Woolen Mill and the golden sky.

 

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And then, after crossing under Second Avenue via a recreational trail, I photographed a duck rippling water and light in the Cannon River. Lovely in the gloaming of this November day.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A photo moment: Two ladies buying squash November 29, 2016

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AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, I strive to document, to tell a story, to record moments and emotions, to photograph people and places and events. Succinctly stated, I desire to present life. As it is.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction in photography than capturing candid memorable moments. Yes, I take posed photos. But I prefer not to. So if I’m cruising with my camera and someone alerts others to my presence, I typically stop photographing. I want to be unseen. Just there. Blending in. Not always easy to do with a bulky Canon DSLR camera slung around my neck. But I try.

Recently I was rewarded with one of those prize shots while photographing at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, in Jordan. A moment of everyday life right there, outside the signature yellow building along US Highway 169.

Two elderly women were shopping for squash as if it was the most important thing in the world on a weekday afternoon in October. And to them, it was important.

I had one chance to photograph them. I love the results—the joy and concentration on their faces as they peruse the squash. I notice the clothing. I can’t recall the last time I saw a woman wearing a kerchief. There are details, too, of oversized purse (not bag) and cane in hand.

I note also the care the merchandiser takes in marketing the squash with historical information, flavor notations and graphics.

The subject of this image is not extraordinary, newsworthy or remarkable. It’s simply ordinary. Everyday. Two ladies buying squash. And therein lies its value to me as a Minnesota photographer.

#

Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is now closed for the season and reopens in time for Memorial Day weekend.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The death of a most generous soul, the candy store’s nonagenarian November 28, 2016

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I NEVER KNEW HIM. Only photographed him in early October. But I saw in him—in the curve of his spine, in his hands, in the flour on his pant leg—a man passionate about his work.

Herbert R. (Hippy) Wagner, 91, entrepreneur, businessman, and owner of Jim’s Apple Farm and Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store in Jordan, died on November 21 following a sudden illness. So says his obituary published in the Duluth News Tribune.

 

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I regret not introducing myself to this man while visiting the signature yellow candy store along US Highway 169. There I spotted Hippy behind the pie counter, rag in hand wiping the countertop where I presume pie crusts are rolled and/or pies assembled. I purchased a caramel apple pie, still warm from the oven and tastefully delicious.

 

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While waiting in line for that pie, I snapped these images. They are favorites from my candy store visit. I learned of Hippy’s death while researching to publish these photos.

Timing.

As I read his obituary, it wasn’t Herb’s successes in business—he also operated the family-owned Wagner’s Supper Club back in the day— or his many years of community involvement/service that most impressed me, but his generosity.

While a Merchant Marine walking through Antwerp, Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, he gave away all of his rations to starving children.

That giving spirit, according to his obit, continued throughout Herb’s life:

He was extraordinarily generous in large and small ways, from baking home-made bread and personally delivering it to the home-bound, to lending money to people who were “down on their luck” and could not get a bank loan for a business or home.

But there’s more. Faith and family were of utmost importance. He was the father of ten and a devout Catholic. He loved classical music and sometimes awakened his children to the rousing marches of John Philip Sousa piped throughout the family’s house. And I know that he also loved polkas, the only music played at the candy store.

To be remembered in an obituary with such loving words and memories speaks volumes to Hippy’s character.

I would have liked him.

FYI: Click here to read my recent series on Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. And please check back for one final post featuring my favorite photo from that visit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I experience the joy of serving on Thanksgiving November 25, 2016

I KNEW IF I STAYED HOME Thanksgiving morning in to early afternoon, melancholy would seep in. No matter how hard I tried. This would be my first Thanksgiving without any of my grown children home to celebrate. So I needed to divert my thoughts from missing them.

The setting for Faribault's Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

The setting for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner, which began 30 years ago in a restaurant.

I didn’t even think. I knew exactly where I would go, what I would do. And that was to head to the Faribault American Legion and volunteer, with my husband, at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. That volunteerism, that mingling with other volunteers and guests, was, I will selfishly admit, about helping me as much as helping others. It worked.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

When you take the focus off your sadness, happiness shines. I felt myself smiling as we delivered 12 meals to five homes, each recipient grateful for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and bagged left-overs of a turkey sandwich and apple.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

From a mobile home to a condo to an apartment to single family homes, we brought not only food, but also holiday happiness: To the woman recovering from pneumonia with her husband in the hospital. To the woman whose meal I left on the kitchen counter per her instructions to also take the $5 (given to the Faribault Foundation) lying near the cracked open exterior side door. To the woman who answered the door in her bathrobe. To the woman who waited outside her apartment building for us to arrive. All welcomed us with gracious gratitude.

A child's artwork on a placemat reminds diners of life's many blessings.

A child’s artwork on a placemat reminds diners to be thankful.

Those blessings of giving and receiving exude the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled...

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled… (This image for illustration purposes only and not taken at the community dinner.)

Back at the Legion, Randy and I paused to eat. Volunteers expected to plate and package 1,200 meals in three hours. From conversations I overheard and my observation that the kitchen ran out of whole turkey (and resorted to pressed/processed turkey), guests exceeded the anticipated number.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables. Children contribute their art.

I’ve often wondered who attends the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, meant for anyone no matter their financial means, their age, their anything. Seated at our dinner table were a retired long-time Faribault Woolen Mill employee dining with his 20-something grandson, who had to work later in the day at Target; a retired hospital employee and Vietnam War vet with nowhere to go for dinner; and a couple, like us, without children at home. I also spotted a neighbor, church friends (both dining and volunteering) and others I know from the community.

Kids decorate placemats.

Kids decorate placemats.

I was particularly impressed by the number of kids helping. I applaud parents who are teaching their children at such a young age the joy of serving others. Watching a girl, perhaps six, carry a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, a dinner roll and cranberries to a diner, is one of those moments that impresses hope for the future.

Volunteers dish up meals.

Volunteers dish up meals for take-out and to serve to diners.

Likewise, observing others my age and older scurrying to serve the sit-down meals reaffirms that goodness exists.

Randy and I filled in where needed. I primarily poured milk while he greeted, served and more.

Some three hours after we arrived at the Legion, Randy and I left. As we exited the parking lot, I was already calling our 22-year-old son in Boston, home alone, but planning a Thanksgiving dinner for Saturday with friends. I called the daughter in northeastern Wisconsin, catching her as she returned from the grocery store with her husband before going to the home of friends for dinner. I texted our eldest, in California with her in-laws. She also texted photos of her family, including our granddaughter. It helped to hear their voices, to be able to tell them, “I love you.”

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

The reality of life is that we cannot always be with those we love most. On those holidays, we need to stretch beyond ourselves and our feelings. On this Thanksgiving, that made all the difference for me.

FYI: Later in the afternoon, Randy and I joined our nephew and his family, along with our niece-in-law’s family, for a Thanksgiving dinner. We were grateful for their inclusion of us. I laughed and smiled and ate more turkey, so thankful for the blessings of the day and of life.

I took all of these photos with my smartphone rather than my DSLR, limiting my photography so I could focus on volunteering.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving Day thoughts November 24, 2016

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WHEN I PHOTOGRAPHED this bulletin board at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault, I failed to notice the missing “s” on THANK. Not until I viewed the image on my computer did I see the letter near the pilgrim man’s shoe.

Was this intentional?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because the message posted here is to share our blessings and to be forgiving. The creator of this display also expresses gratitude for that giving.

So how do you share your blessings?

To answer that, you first must recognize those blessings. Are they family, friends, health, wealth, food—what?

Add to that list your talents. We all have them, whether it be the ability to sing, the ability to sew, the ability to care for others, the ability to repair or build, the ability to create, the ability to teach, the ability to..

We can use our gifts for good purposes or not so good. We can choose to focus outward rather than inward. We can choose to be kind rather than combative. We can choose to listen rather than to talk about ourselves. We can choose compassion and empathy over mean-spiritedness and I told you so.

Today, on this national day of Thanksgiving, I hope you will choose not only to reflect on all the goodness in your life. But I hope you will also reflect on what it means to use those blessings in ways that will benefit others.

Strive to listen and to care, genuinely care. At the dinner table, ask about those who are absent, who live far away, who would love to be with you. If a friend or family member is dealing with a challenge, be attentive and supportive rather than pretending everything is alright or totally ignoring the issue. Something as simple as “How are you doing?” can bring comfort.

We each have the opportunity to stretch this day beyond simply being thankful for everything we have. Rather, we hold the opportunity to extend grace, love and compassion to others. May you be the recipient of those blessings today and may you also share them.

Happy Thanksgiving, my dear gracious readers!

FYI: To inspire and uplift you, consider subscribing to weekly messages of encouragement from Twin Cities based Christian radio station KTIS. Click here for more information.

And click here to read Hands & Feet, suggestions for serving and encouraging others.

Finally, please click here to listen to an uplifting message in the song “Beautiful” by MercyMe.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Interesting finds inside a candy store, Part III from Jordan, Minnesota November 23, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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BLACKBERRY PATCH SYRUPS in the most tempting flavors.

 

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A TARDIS tucked into a corner.

 

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Cotton candy in buckets.

 

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Dictator soda. Say what?

 

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Minnesota’s largest porta potties.

 

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Pop art.

 

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Seemingly unconnected, they are. All were photographed inside Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, also known as Jim’s Apple Farm outside Jordan along US Highway 169.

I love discovering and photographing places like this to share with you. Jim’s has been around for more than 30 years. But I’d never been there until about a month ago. It’s not quite an hour’s drive from my Faribault home.

There’s so much to see in our own backyards…if we only take the time to discover, then appreciate.

TELL ME: What should visitors see in your backyard?

FYI: Check back for one final post, featuring my two favorite photos from my visit to Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store. Click here to read my first post in this series and my second post.

Jim’s Apple Farm closes for the season on the last day of November.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I see that, yes, winter really has arrived in Minnesota November 22, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:08 AM
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A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon.

A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon, after the sun emerged from grey skies.

THE FIRST SNOWFALL of the season always arrives with considerable hoopla here in Minnesota. As if we hadn’t seen snow that layers the ground in white.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Last week, sections of my state got plenty of snow. We’re talking two feet in Leader in north central Minnesota. Mixed with high winds, blizzard conditions prevailed in many regions. Down here in the southeastern section? Only flurries. And I’m just fine with that.

Just outside of Monticello.

Just outside of Monticello.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

However, a Sunday day trip 2.5 hours north and west of the metro took my husband and me into a snowy central Minnesota landscape.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman, snow covers the rural landscape.

And, yes, I confess, I delighted in seeing snow-covered ground for the first time this winter season. There’s something about that initial snow that is magical and pure and, well, beautiful.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley on Sunday afternoon.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

Some parking lots were treacherously icy, like this one where we turned our van around in Gilman.

Some parking lots are treacherously icy, like this one in Gilman.

As long as you don’t have to deal with the snow and ice. As long as roads are clear, which they were except for icy patches on Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

Everything always seems sharper, brighter on a white canvas.

I photographed this train by the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It's heading for Clear Lake.

I photographed this train near the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It’s heading for Clear Lake.

Today brings a predicted wintry mix of precipitation to Minnesota. Rain mixed with snow, which likely will create slick roads. That type of winter weather is always unwelcome. But this is Minnesota. I should expect this.

I'm already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

I’m already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t. Is it May yet? The novelty and excitement of seeing the first snowfall has apparently already faded for me.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling