Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In honor of Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 21, 2019

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Photographed in 2018 in a storefront window of a business in downtown Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. —from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

 

© Photo copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The positive steps toward embracing diversity in Faribault January 18, 2019

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I took this photo, reflecting Faribault’s diversity, during a downtown event several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FARIBAULT IS A COMMUNITY EVOLVING. Changing as our population diversifies and we are no longer a place of mostly European and Scandinavian peoples. Rather, my southeastern Minnesota city is now home to people of many colors. We are increasingly diverse.

 

1960s vintage art that represents, to me, the colorful and beautiful diversity of my community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

An article published last week in the Faribault Daily News stated that from 2010 to 2018, the population of students of color in the Faribault School District increased from 25 percent to 55 percent. That’s a remarkable change in just eight years.

 

Faribault Community School is hosting two more Harboring Voices Choir evenings on January 22 and 29. Led by St. Olaf College students, the gathering gives adults and kids an opportunity to sing together in a community setting.

 

Equally as remarkable is the shift I’ve noticed in attitudes, in efforts to welcome our newest families. I’m hearing fewer negative comments about Somalis, Hispanics and other immigrants. I’m not saying those attitudes don’t still exist. It’s just that I don’t hear that animosity as much or sense such strong resentment toward these newcomers.

Why the change?

 

One of the virtues highlighted as part of The Virtues Trail Project. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

After time, people become more accepting as they adjust and as newcomers assimilate into the fabric of Faribault. I think much of that can be attributed to the kids, who see their classmates as classmates and friends, not defined by their skin color.

 

This notice is posted, among the one above and the one below, on a community bulletin board at Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault.

 

But adults have also made concerted efforts to help locals and newcomers accept one another. The Virtues Project Faribault, the Faribault Diversity CoalitionFaribault Community School and the creators of 1855, a local history series on Faribault Community Television, are all making a difference. I am grateful for their efforts.

 

Faribault celebrates MLK Day on Monday as noted in this notice posted at the library.

 

My great grandparents emigrated from Germany to America. They faced challenges in language, culture and more. It’s important to remember our immigrant roots. But no matter our ethnicity, our language, our culture, our skin color, we are all just people…with hopes and dreams. And voices.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Detroit Lakes January 17, 2019

 

IN THE WANING DAYS of October into the early days of November, Randy and I headed four hours northwest to Detroit Lakes, a Minnesota hotbed vacation spot in the summer and early fall. Not in late autumn. But friends offered us the opportunity to stay at a lakeside condo timeshare—something we’ve never done—and we accepted. It was exactly what we needed, to get away to a quiet spot in the off-season, to explore a place we’d never been, to take a break from the routine of life.

 

Randy, outside our lakeside condo.

 

A pair of trumpeter swans takes flight at sunset.

 

 

Despite the cold, we walked along the beach. We delighted in the water fowl, including elegant trumpeting Trumpeter Swans cavorting in the lake outside our condo. We appreciated the peace of not hearing a single emergency vehicle siren during our three-day stay.

 

I love thrift stores, this one in downtown Detroit Lakes.

 

We popped into the Historic Holmes Theatre in a former school building.

 

Local shops drew us in as did the arts center. We picked up fudge and double chocolate malted milk balls at the candy store.

On three evenings we dined out, a treat for us justified by the low cost of our three-night stay.

 

Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

We even participated in 1 ½ rounds of Trivia Night at a local pizza place. Randy endured an accusing glare from a local after reading a text message from our daughter during the competition. He was not cheating, proven by our mostly all incorrect answers.

 

The waterfall at Dunton Locks County Park south of Detroit Lakes.

 

An example of the beautiful pottery created by Mary Laabs at Dunton Locks Pottery.

 

Unfortunately, many of the sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes had already been moved indoors and out-of-sight for the winter.

 

We hiked in a county park and stopped at a pottery place and searched for elusive sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes.

Now, months out from that mini-vacation and already in the depths of a Minnesota winter, I remember those days in Detroit Lakes with fondness. And gratitude to those friends who gave us the opportunity to stay in a place on the lake where, bonus, I could even binge-watch HGTV. (By way of explanation, we get only a few TV channels at home and one is not HGTV.)

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Check back for more from Detroit Lakes.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shut-down fall-out ripples through southern Minnesota families January 16, 2019

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The art of Roosevelt Elementary School student Anzal Abdi displayed during a 2018 Faribault area student art show at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2018, Used here for illustration only. I prefer peace over conflict, resolution over discord.

 

I’M NOT ONE TO CREATE discord and division. I really don’t like conflict. So it’s not often I write on current political topics. Hot topics seem to bring out the worst in people, especially in online comments. So be forewarned. I moderate comments. I’m OK with disagreement. But only if it’s civil.

Here goes, the current day topic that has me shaking my head in disbelief:

This whole border wall funding-federal government shut-down makes zero sense. Why? Because federal employees and ordinary citizens who have nothing at all to do with the border wall are being hurt. Financially. Emotionally. I am surprised this situation has continued for this long. But then I’m not surprised. And, no, I won’t expand on that. You can read between the lines.

Only in recent days have I heard the stories of southern Minnesotans feeling the effects. My nephew for one. He is an air traffic controller. Currently unpaid. He and his young family of five are OK for now. They have enough money saved to cover expenses for the next several months. But they are expecting a baby in April and that’s a concern.

Another young couple is also expecting a baby soon. And they are in the process of buying a home. But with the partial federal government shut-down, the home loan process is stalled. Talk about stress.

The third family is also expecting a baby. The expectant father works for the federal prison system. For now, the family is OK. They still have their health insurance coverage, a major worry with that baby coming.

I can only imagine how many more individuals and families are feeling the financial fall-out of no paycheck. How many folks are awaiting loans and more, all delayed now because of the impasse? How many people on vacation now find they can’t visit federal sites they planned to see or are caught in long lines at airports? One can only hope a resolution is reached soon as effects of the shut-down ripple through our economy, our country.

TELL ME: Are you personally affected by the shut-down or do you know of someone who is affected?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An aha moment while reading poetry January 15, 2019

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines during an event at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter in August 2016. I also read. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

MANY TIMES I’VE READ my poetry aloud at events. I’m not a fan of public speaking. But it’s getting easier to stand before an audience and share what I’ve written. Practice helps.

When I read six poems at Content Bookstore in Northfield several days ago, I experienced a real connection with the audience. I don’t know if it was the intimate setting in a cozy independent bookstore or the people in attendance or the poems I selected or my frame of mind. Probably all. But something clicked that made me realize my poetry meant something to those hearing it.

 

Five of my works (poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction) published in Volume 26 of The Talking Stick, Fine Lines.

 

This proved a profound moment—to recognize that words I crafted into poetry sparked emotional reactions. I had created art. Literary art.

People laughed when I read a poem about my 40th high school class reunion and selecting “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

 

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

 

But, when I read an especially powerful, personal poem titled “Hit-And-Run,” I observed facial expressions change to deep concern, even fear. I struggled to get through the poem about my son who was struck by a car in 2006. I glanced at his then middle school science teacher sitting in the audience and remembered the support she gave our family. When I finished the final lines of the poem with an angled police car blocking the road to my boy, I sensed a collective sadness. I felt compelled to tell the audience, “He was OK.”

After that, I composed myself to read four additional poems. I read with inflection, with all the emotion a writer feels when writing a poem. I unleashed those feelings into spoken words. Words that, when verbalized, hold power beyond print. Poetry, I understood, is meant to be read aloud to fully appreciate its artistic value.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Northfield: Reading & talking poetry January 12, 2019

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My husband, Randy, took this photo of me while I read the first of six poems at Content Bookstore.

AS MUCH AS I SAVORED sharing my poetry with a rapt audience at Content Bookstore in Northfield on Thursday evening, it was the conversation afterward that delighted me.

A young woman sitting several chairs away walked over and told me just how much she enjoyed my poems. I’d noticed her even before the readings by five Faribault-connected poets began. She sat with a small notebook on her lap, pen poised.

Turns out she’s a first-year college student in Northfield and an emerging poet. She had some questions for me. As we talked, I encouraged her first to write what she knows. And to make every word count. “Use strong verbs,” I said. “And no adverbs.”

A man standing next to us laughed. “I haven’t heard that in awhile,” he said. Then we all three laughed.

We agreed that writing poetry, because of the sparse words, is among the most challenging of writing disciplines. Yet the reward of getting a line, a word, just right, well, it’s an incredible feeling. I looked at the young woman who was, by then, nodding and smiling. She understood. And in that moment of locking eyes, she confirmed that she’s a poet passionate about the craft. Like me, she loves words and language. She possesses that spark which flames words into poetry.

I advised her to keep writing, to notice details, to engage all the senses—not only visual—when crafting her poems. Write and rewrite and submit and learn from rejection.

I regret that I didn’t catch her name or give her my contact information. But I hope that in some small way my knowledge, my experience, my advice, will encourage her to continue developing her poetic skills. Follow your passion, whatever you do in life, I impressed upon her. Write because you must, not necessarily with the expectation of becoming a famous poet. She’s considering a writing-related degree.

Then I turned my attention to the man who’d edged on the sideline of our conversation. He asked if I had an agent. “Should I?” I asked. His question surprised me, thus the popped-out-of-my-mouth response. Do poets have agents? He wondered how I’d gotten my work so broadly published. I reconsidered and shared that I’ve submitted to mostly state-wide and regional publications.

I regret that I didn’t ask his name either. I appreciated his interest in my writing and in my photography. There’s a certain joy that comes in talking shop with those who share a love of words, of writing and, especially, of poetry.

 

Special thanks to Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy for organizing the poetry reading and to Content Bookstore for hosting the event. Thank you also to poets Peter Allen, Larry Gavin, Kristin Twitchell and John Reinhard for sharing their poetry with us. Finally, to all who attended the reading, thank you for embracing poetry and supporting those of us who write it.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Jayme Closs found alive January 11, 2019

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A widely circulated photo of Jayme Closs, a face we all came to know in the past three months.

 

I ARRIVED HOME from last evening’s poetry reading in Northfield on a high—the euphoric feeling a writer experiences from sharing her passion with an appreciative audience among other gifted poets.

But then I turned on the TV to watch the 9 p.m. news. And my joy doubled, no quadrupled, with the news that missing teen Jayme Closs of Barron, Wisconsin, was found late Thursday afternoon. Alive. The 13-year-old has been missing since her parents, James and Denise Closs, were discovered shot to death in their home on October 15, 2018.

Those murders and missing child case have been major news here in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Even nationally early on. But three months out, the hope that Jayme would be found alive faded. Not into hopelessness—because her family and many others never gave up hope. But reality wedged into thoughts as many of us remembered the high profile abduction of Jacob Wetterling in central Minnesota in October 1989. It took 27 years to find Jacob, shot to death by his abductor. We all know that if a missing child is not found within days of his/her disappearance, the likelihood of finding that child alive decreases substantially.

But now we have Jayme who, according to media reports, escaped from a home near Gordon in rural northwestern Wisconsin when she was left alone and sought help from a woman walking her dog. A suspect is now in custody.

The Barron County Sheriff’s Department has scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. today. Yes, I’ll be watching. And reminding myself of the importance of never giving up hope. For hope, too, is poetry.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling