Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The poetry of Minnesota rivers January 15, 2021

An overview of the Cannon River and the dam photographed from the river walk by the Rice County Fairgrounds/North Alexander Park.

RIVERS, STRONG AND MIGHTY, flow through our state. The Mississippi. The Minnesota. And here in my county of Rice, the Cannon and Straight Rivers.

Up close to the Cannon River on a January afternoon. Initially, I thought this pair was fishing. They were, instead, playing beside the river.

Here, on these waters, early inhabitants traveled via canoe, traded along river banks, built flour and woolen mills. And formed communities like Faribault, Northfield, Dundas and Morristown, all with waterways that run through.

Randy walks on the river walk under the bridge spanning the Cannon River along Second Avenue in Faribault. The river is to his right.

Rivers are as much about nature as they are about our history. Like railroads, they helped to shape our towns and cities. And today, while no longer of the same utilitarian use, they remain valuable assets.

Many picnic shelters grace Faribault’s riverside parks.

In my community of Faribault, the Cannon and Straight Rivers, which converge at Two Rivers Park, enhance our local outdoor spaces. The Straight winds through River Bend Nature Center and near city recreational trails. The Cannon spills over three separate dams and flows alongside North and South Alexander Parks and Father Slevin Park. The historic, and still operating, Faribault Woolen Mill sits next to the river, too, by the appropriately named Woolen Mill Dam.

Water rushes over rocks and through ice at the dam by Father Slevin Park.

I am naturally drawn to water, as I expect many of you are. There’s something about water—its power, its motion, its almost hypnotic quality, its soothing sound when rushing over rocks. It’s like poetry flowing into the land.

I stood on the narrow dam walkway to photograph water rushing over the dam on the Cannon River.

Even in the depth of winter, a river—whether iced over or still running—draws me near. To listen, like poetry read aloud. To view, like words of verse written upon paper. To photograph, like an artist and poet and writer who cares. And I do.

Water rushes over the dam along the Cannon River in Faribault.

To walk or pause beside a river is to appreciate art and history and nature. I feel connected to the rivers that trace like poetry through the landscape of southern Minnesota. My home. My place of peace and contentment when I walk beside the waters therein.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite river? If so, please share why you appreciate this waterway.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Homelessness up close January 14, 2021

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The homeless, photographed in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, in June 2018 near the state capitol. The wings on the side of the Wisconsin Historical Museum were part of a temporary art installment, “Pink Flamingo Wings.” But I viewed them differently, as symbolic, as angel wings of hope for these two men. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only and as documentation of homelessness.

DAYS LATER, THE SCENE still haunts me. The scene unfolding in my neighbor’s yard at 8 Sunday morning, just across our driveway and up a small incline.

Only minutes earlier, I turned on the radio, tuned to KDHL for the worship service at Trinity Lutheran Church. As I listened, I spooned coffee grounds into a filter, filled the reservoir with water, then switched on the coffee maker to start my day.

Typically, I would be in church, worshiping in person. But, since the start of the pandemic, Randy and I have opted to stay home and listen to services either online or on the radio. It’s not my preference. But it’s my comfort level.

As I listened, I lifted the dining room shade. It was then I noticed him. The man outside a massive dumpster set in my neighbor’s driveway. At first I thought it was my neighbor, but soon realized this was a stranger, who had now climbed inside the dumpster. He rummaged methodically through the contents. Picking up, then dropping stuff. Tossing. Sorting. Moving items.

I watched mesmerized. I don’t mean that to sound dismissive or uncaring. But I felt momentarily stunned. This was a first—a presumably homeless man in my neighborhood. I felt helpless, wondering what, if anything, I could or should do. I worried that he may not be warm enough in his maroon hoodie layered under a heavy plaid flannel shirt jacket. I noticed he at least wore gloves. I worried that he may not have food. I worried, too, that he may not have shelter, a warm place to sleep in the cold of a Minnesota winter.

A Good Shepherd stained glass window inside Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

So many thoughts filtered through my brain as I watched while simultaneously listening to hymns and Bible readings and a sermon about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Words that invited me to hear the voice of Jesus, to support, encourage and uplift others, including those in my community.

By my lack of action, I wasn’t exactly following that directive to live out my faith. I failed miserably. Because I did nothing.

I thought of phoning the non-emergency police number. But what would I say? That I felt concern for a man rummaging through a dumpster? That seemed a faulty plan since the individual had committed no crime. And what if the police came and the scenario quickly changed to something ugly. I’ve read/heard of that happening all too often. Not here. But as nearby as the Twin Cities metro an hour distant. I wouldn’t risk that.

And so I found myself at a loss. Approaching the man seemed unwise given COVID, concerns about my safety and so much uncertainty. I drank my coffee, ate my cereal in the warmth of my home. Sheltered from the cold.

After nearly 45 minutes, the man climbed out of the dumpster and onto his fat tire bicycle. He coasted down the street, turned the corner, then pedaled away. Empty-handed.

TELL ME: What would you have done? If this ever happens again, I want to feel prepared, perhaps have a plan of action to help. I’m open to suggestions, even to specific resources available to assist individuals like this. Thank you.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beauty in the greying of Minnesota January 13, 2021

Rime ice coats an evergreen tree at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.

FOG TRANSFORMS THE LANDSCAPE, sometimes in to an unfamiliar place that leaves us feeling disoriented, lost. But other times, like last week here in Minnesota, fog layered trees with rime ice, creating an enchanting, almost magical world. Despite the grey that pressed heavy upon the land day after day.

Set along Minnesota State Highway 3 between Faribault and Northfield, this barn looks lovely any time of year, even in winter. Love love love this weathered building.

Photographing a world covered in frozen fog droplets proved difficult for me. My camera cannot convey the beauty the human eye sees. Yet, I managed a few images that attempt to show the other worldly qualities of a rime ice shrouded landscape.

Even the ice edging water falling over the Cannon River dam by Father Slevin Park in Faribault possesses a distinct artistry.

I find that in winter here in southern Minnesota, I must look harder to notice nature’s beauty. It’s there, but toned down, converted to black-and-white. Grey. Colorless. Yet present.

A broader view of those iced evergreen trees.

Still, I take fewer photos. Not only because I see less to document, but because the very act of exposing my fingers to the cold is uncomfortable. (I’m thankful for mittens that open to fingerless gloves, a thoughtful gift from Randy many years ago.)

I’m also cautious about icy surfaces, lest I fall and break another bone. A broken shoulder and wrist in recent years, one of which resulted in surgery, fuel that cautiousness.

The snow and ice-shrouded Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf campus is a beautiful and quiet place to walk. I love the many aged buildings including Noyes Hall, pictured here. Some day, post COVID, I need an indoor tour.

And then there’s COVID, which has certainly affected my photographic opportunities. Still, if I determine to look closely at the world around me, decide that my fingers can handle brief cold exposure, I can continue to document, to create, to pursue my passion for photography.

This week brought sunshine to Minnesota, a welcome break from all that dreary grey. We, or at least I, needed it, if anything, as a symbol of hope during these truly difficult times in our country.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A reason to be happy in Le Sueur January 12, 2021

Posted on the marquee of the Le Sueur Theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

DON’T WORRY. BE HAPPY.

Ah, what a message, one that, in these turbulent times, seems difficult to follow. Or even consider. Yet, focusing on the positives and joys in life feels more important than ever right now. Not that we should ignore the challenges—and there are many today—but rather balance them with also viewing the bright side of life.

Soon this marquee will be restored. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Don’t worry, be happy. Those words from the 1988 hit song by Bobby McFerrin make me smile all these years later. At the cheesy simplicity. At the thought that we can focus on the light of happiness even in the worries of darkness.

Photographed in August 2020 along Main Street South in Le Sueur. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

With that, I shift to a series of photos I took in downtown Le Sueur in late August 2020. I typically fall behind in posting my images given all I shoot during the warm weather months here in Minnesota. Regardless, this seems the right time to pull these photos from the archives and share a bit of “happy.”

In the process of being restored in downtown Le Sueur. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Visually documenting small towns like Le Sueur, a community of some 4,000 in southern Minnesota, is often a focus of my photography. I delight in the details, the architecture, the only-in-a-small-town scenes, the history, people and more that define these communities.

PHOTOS FROM OCTOBER 2016:

Before work began on the Le Sueur Theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.
When I first photographed the theater in 2016, this eviction notice was posted on the door as the property went into foreclosure. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.
Signs of a once active movie theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.
A movie poster still posted when I first photographed the theater in October 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And so, while walking through the heart of downtown Le Sueur, I came across the vacant Le Sueur Theater and its once beautiful marquee. I remember photographing this theater previously and lamenting its abandonment. But then, while researching for this post, I discovered a reason to feel happy. Thankful, really.

I can only imagine how beautiful this marquee once its restored (or whatever it takes). Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

In March 2019, cleaning, repair (roof, walls, etc) and restoration began on this building vacated in 2008. Work to preserve, restore, replicate, replace and reinforce the marquee is expected to begin in the spring. You can find details about the ongoing project on the Le Sueur Theater Facebook page by clicking here.

A side view of the Le Sueur Theater marquee. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Leading the project is Katie Elke of Le Sueur, who bought the building in 2016 and plans to reopen the theater for cinema, music, theatrical performances, comedy shows and other entertainment, making it a community gathering spot.

Some day this space will be filled with a new listing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

I love this plan. This idea. I’ve watched as my own community of Faribault restored an historic theater into the Paradise Center for the Arts, a center for arts, entertainment and more. That the good folks of Le Sueur and the surrounding area will now have a similar hub makes me happy. I recognize that this happens only with plenty of funding (Katie started a go fund me site), hard work and enthusiastic support. Some day I hope to step inside the restored Le Sueur Theater and show you how a plan, along with grit, determination, effort, money and a whole lot of happy can take an idea to reality. Even, and especially, during a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Words worth considering January 8, 2021

Posted at the Congregational Church, UCC, located at 227 Third Street Northwest, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

AS I PONDERED TODAY’S POST, even considered not writing one because I feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained from the events of January 6 inside our nation’s Capitol, I remembered messages I photographed back in June.

These messages, in the light of recent events in America (this week and in the past year, especially), seem more important than ever. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

The messages, posted on the side of the historic Congregational Church of Faribault United Church of Christ, are worth our focus. They are a reminder that we, as human beings, can strive to protect, care for, forgive, share, embrace and love.

We all need to look within ourselves but also look through the windows of others. Here I aim my camera up at the historic UCC in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

We can choose those actions over destruction, neglect, animosity, selfishness, separation and hate.

We can open the doors to better days by the choices we make. Some day I want to tour this church, to see the beauty therein in stained glass and more. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The many facets of this window create a beautiful piece of art, a metaphor as it applies to people. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The historic steeple of Faribault’s UCC. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I feel such sadness, mixed with hope, over all that has transpired in recent days. I sense that most Americans, including me, will now hold a deeper appreciation for democracy. For freedom. Perhaps we (or at least I) have become too complacent.

A historic marker tells the history of this aged church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

It would do us all good to review the suggestions posted at Faribault’s Congregational Church. To reflect. And then to put into practice those very basic principles of common decency and kindness. And to remember that what we think, say and write, and how we act, matters. Just like it did in 1776.

The impressive Congregational Church, Faribault United Church of Christ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please note that I monitor all comments on this, my personal blog, and will not publish anything I deem false, inflammatory, etc.

 

Shining light in to lives January 7, 2021

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In this photo, you can see the roofline of our garage. Randy strung three strands of light over the patio, which is between our garage and house. A wooded hillside borders our yard.

I CRAVE LIGHT, especially now, in the deep of winter, in the darkness of these difficult days.

When I awaken in the dark of a January morning here in southeastern Minnesota, I switch on lamps, flick on light switches, filling the house with artificial light. And then, as the sun emerges, I throw open window coverings to reveal grey skies or sometimes brilliant sunshine.

In the evening, when black once again descends, I reverse the routine—close the blinds and curtains, switch lamps and lights back on. I need light flooding the house. To cook. To read. As I’ve aged, my vision has worsened. Some evenings my tired eyes cross to double vision, making reading difficult or impossible. I underwent surgery at age four to correct that problem. But now it’s resurfacing along with cataracts.

Thanks, though, to the kindness of Ruth, a blogger friend from Pittsburgh, I’m finding evening reading easier. She gifted me with a flexible OttLite floor lamp that now floods my reading space with bright light. It’s helped. A lot. What a dear and thoughtful Christmas gift from a friend I’ve never even met.

Light, whether shone through kindness or shone from an actual physical source, is a gift.

Beauty in light against background winter trees.

A few days ago, Randy gave me the gift of light by stringing white Christmas lights across our patio. He pulled the lights from storage as we packed away holiday decorations. Now, when darkness overtakes daylight as I prepare supper, I can look out the kitchen window to those festive lights. They bring me joy—in their brightness and in the love that motivated Randy to string them there.

Kindness shines in loving acts like those of Randy and Ruth. And that of our eldest daughter, who each Christmas gifts us with a personalized calendar featuring photos of our dear, darling grandchildren. Seeing their sweet faces in those images brightens my days. It’s the perfect gift. Full of love and joy and light.

As darkness descends, the lights flood our patio with a festive glow.

Likewise, words also shine light. Kind words. Encouraging words. Uplifting words. Whether written in a comment on this blog, emailed or spoken, thoughtful and appreciative messages always bring me joy. I am grateful. Thank you for shining light into my life.

TELL ME: How has someone shone light into your life? I’d like to hear your stories. And I challenge you, today, to shine light into someone’s life and to continue that kindness in a world in dire need of light.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Embracing winter in Minnesota January 6, 2021

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My two-year-old grandson with his new snow shovel.

WHEN YOU LIVE IN A NORTHERN state like Minnesota, where winter defines at least half the year, preparation for cold and snowy weather is a necessity, not an option.

It’s a lesson taught from early on. Snowsuit, waterproof mittens and snow boots for the kids. Check. Check. Check. Sled. Check. Snow shovel. Check.

No matter your age, dressing properly to protect from the elements and then having the right tools to deal with the snow are essentials. So we’ve equipped our grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac, with snow shovels and sleds. Izzy got her mama’s childhood snow shovel and Lion King sled. Isaac got a new shovel purchased at the local hardware store. And we bought bright new sleds for both at a regional retailer.

Then it’s up to the parents, or the grandparents, to bundle the kids and get them outdoors. It’s a process. But important in teaching the little people that winter can be fun.

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

I loved winter as a child growing up on the wind-swept southwestern Minnesota prairie. There snow drifted into rock-hard mountains around the house and farm outbuildings. There Dad shoved snow with the John Deere tractor and loader into more mountains, where my siblings and I played for endless hours. We carved out snow caves and raced on a vintage runner sled. Such is the stuff of memories. And of winter in Minnesota.

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo, rural Vesta, Minnesota. My uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck could reach the milkhouse.

While my grandchildren’s memories will be different—they live in a new housing development in the south metro—I hope they continue to embrace winter with joy and enthusiasm. Just as their mom (Dad grew up in warm and sunny California) and maternal grandparents did before them.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope rises January 5, 2021

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This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Hope. Several years ago, while experiencing a difficult time in my life, I latched onto that as my focus word. And I’ve never let go. I need only lift my eyes from the computer screen to see “hope” defining multiple messages posted on my office desk.

This begins a blog post I wrote for Warner Christian Resources and which published last week. I invite you to read the entire post by clicking here.

As we move into 2021, hope rises. In a vaccine. And much more.

I hope you, too, feel and experience that hope.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo review, July-December 2020 January 1, 2021

TODAY I CONTINUE my photo review of 2020, selecting one image from each month, July – December, to highlight here.

Randy walks down the pine-edged driveway during our cabin stay with the grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac.

In JULY, our family escaped into the peace and natural beauty of the central Minnesota lakes region, staying in a guest lake cabin on property owned by a sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Our eldest and her family and our son joined Randy and me. There, among the towering pines and next to a lake, we delighted in watching loons and the resident eagles. We played in and on the water, dined lakeside, sat around the campfire, made smores and so much more. The first evening, when the 4-year-old granddaughter declared she was “too excited to sleep,” Randy and I took her outside in her pajamas to view the star-studded night sky. Love-filled moments like these imprint upon my memory, reminding me how important my family is to me.

Messages cover several important and timely topics.

Spring and summer brought voices rising in protest, in strong strong words that resonated with so many, including me. In the small town of Dundas in AUGUST, I photographed banners posted on the windows of an aged stone house. Thoughtful. Powerful. Necessary.

Photographed at Grams Regional Park.

SEPTEMBER took Randy and me back to the family lake cabin for a second short stay, this time just the two of us. While en route, we stopped at Grams Regional Park in Zimmerman for a picnic lunch and hike through the woods. There I photographed a cluster of leaves. Autumn is my favorite season with its warm days, crisp evenings, earthy scents and hues of red, brown, orange and yellow. I never tire of looking at and photographing leaves.

The grandchildren follow Randy on a path at River Bend Nature Center while I trail behind with my camera.

In OCTOBER, the grandchildren stayed overnight with us and we took them to River Bend Nature Center. To walk, and sometimes run (with the grandparents trying to keep up). Again, it is the memories of time spent with those I love most that caused me to choose this image as a favorite.

The light, the colors, the water…love this photo.

A lovely afternoon in NOVEMBER drew Randy and me to the Cannon River Wilderness Area between Faribault and Northfield. With camera in hand, as always, I photographed leaves in the Cannon River, an image that holds the beauty of the season, of the outdoors.

As the sun set in fiery hues, I photographed this shining star, a symbol of hope, of brighter days ahead.

Closing out the year, I photographed a line of decorated Christmas trees showcased in Faribault’s Central Park as part of the Drive-by Tree Display in DECEMBER. The trees later went to families in need. As the sun set, I aimed my camera lens toward tree toppers. I chose this photo because to me this shining star represents hope. Hope that comes in the new year as we leave behind a truly challenging 2020.

Photographed in September in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin.

I want to leave you with one final message: You are loved. I discovered this message posted along a bike trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin, near our son’s apartment. When life gets difficult, overwhelms and threatens to take away your joy, remember that you are valued, that others care, that you are not alone.

You ARE loved.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling