Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The choice is ours November 10, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The historic Ames Mill sits along the banks of the Cannon River in downtown Northfield. Malt-O-Meal hot cereals are made in the mill. You can often smell the scent of cereal wafting through this southern Minnesota community.

THE CITY OF NORTHFIELD, about a 20-minute drive northeast of my Faribault home, has long-rated as one of my favorite Minnesota communities. For many reasons.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River in downtown Northfield.

It’s situated along the banks of the Cannon River, making for a picturesque setting.

Standing along a river walk, I photographed the pedestrian bridge in downtown Northfield.
I spotted this art on the hood of a car parked along Division Street near Bridge Square.
From the river walk, nearly under the pedestrian bridge, I photographed the Cannon River and distant buildings.

Homegrown businesses fill the historic downtown, which edges the river. Here you’ll still find an independent bookstore plus antique shops, boutiques, restaurants, an arts center, the public library and much more.

Bridge Square, Northfield’s downtown community gathering spot often chalked with messages.

And, in the heart of Northfield’s business district you’ll also find a community gathering spot. Bridge Square. Here you can buy popcorn from a vintage wagon in the summer, take the kids or grandkids to visit Santa during the holiday season. You can rest here on a bench and engage in conversation. Watch the river flow by or the water fall over the fountain sculpture or the nearby dam.

This motor vehicle bridge lies next to the Ames Mill, across the river from Bridge Square.

But Bridge Square is so much more than a Norman Rockwell-like place to meet, gather and relax. It’s also a spot where opinions are expressed. Students from St. Olaf and Carleton, two noted private liberal arts colleges based in Northfield, use this space to gather and voice their concerns. And, even though I may not always agree with their views, I appreciate that they share them. To see young people concerned enough about an issue to publicly express their thoughts gives me hope.

Among the many messages, peace vs division.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope. Out of all the chalked messages I read on Sunday while at Bridge Square, I found one that really spoke to me. Peace vs division. Oh, how we need that. Peace. Not division.

A message printed on a step leading to the river walk. You’ll also find poems imprinted into sidewalks in downtown Northfield.

That stop at Northfield’s town square, with so many issues printed in chalk on cement, could easily have overwhelmed me. I could have despaired at all the problems that need fixing. But rather, I choose to see this as an acknowledgment of concerns. Of the possibilities. Of the solutions. Of choices which can bring peace rather than division.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


10 Responses to “The choice is ours”

  1. Ruth Says:

    Poetry in sidewalks starts my day with hope for a new start!

  2. valeriebollinger Says:

    I choose peace. 😉

  3. Kathleen Cassen Mickelson Says:

    I love this story. It does indeed offer hope when we stumble across messages of peace right under our feet. Love the town of Northfield and look forward to shopping there post-pandemic. It’s a nice little field trip from the Twin Cities.

    • These are truly the moments that hold deep meaning, when they happen, unexpectedly, in every day life. We didn’t enter any shops downtown Northfield, simply walked along the river walk, through Bridge Square and then on the sidewalk along Division Street. The encouraging thing about Northfield is that people downtown are wearing masks. They are respectful. I feel relatively safe. But, unfortunately, that is not happening in way too many places. Today Rice County recorded 58 new COVID cases. I am thankful the governor is announcing new restrictions this afternoon. They can’t come soon enough. Really, we just need people to take COVID seriously, adhere to mask mandates and follow health and safety guidelines. Sorry, I got off topic. But I’m so incredibly frustrated by all the people I see in Faribault who are not masked.

  4. Susan Hvistendahl Says:

    Thanks for this. I moved back to Northfield in 2004 (graduated from St. Olaf in 1968) and have since written five books about this community (the Lyceum Building, Historic Happenings in Northfield, at St. Olaf and Carleton and the St. Olaf Band history with Jeff Sauve). The James-Younger gang robbed the bank in 1876 but there is so much more history than that!

    • You are welcome, Susan. I’ve read your writing, published in the entertainment guide. I’ve always enjoyed learning more about Northfield through your well-researched and well-written pieces. Congratulations on publishing five books on Northfield. That’s quite an accomplishment. And welcome to Minnesota Prairie Roots. I’m happy to have you here.

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