Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back to southwestern Minnesota, the place of my roots July 13, 2021

A well-kept farm site west of New Ulm. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

THE JULY FOURTH WEEKEND took me back home, home being my native southwestern Minnesota. There my extended family gathered at my middle brother’s rural acreage near Lamberton for the first time since December 2019. To see so many family members—not all attended—felt wonderful.

Heading west toward Redwood County, we passed this chopper and wagons in Brown County. Minnesota Prairie Root photo.

Being back in that rural area of our state, in a familiar landscape, felt comforting. No matter where I’ve lived as an adult, Redwood County remains home. The place of my roots. The land and sky and wind imprinted upon me like ink on the pages of a book. Words that thread through my writing even today.

One of several deer spotted as we drove west. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Perhaps my perspective seems too nostalgic. And if it does, I offer no apologies. I value the place which shaped me as a person and as a writer and photographer.

A farm site along US Highway 14 west of Owatonna as we begin our 2.5-hour drive west. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Near Mankato, a truck pulls a farm wagon. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Skirting Mankato on US Highway 14, the land dips into the Minnesota River Valley, then rises, opening to flat farm land. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

The familiar scenes which appear before me en route from Faribault to southwestern Minnesota welcome me back. The red barns. The vast fields of corn and soybeans. The expansive sky. Even the tractors and farm wagons and pick-up trucks.

Entering Morgan, where grain elevators edge the main route through town. This is in eastern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

All are part of the rural-ness. My rural-ness. The grain elevators and gravel roads and power lines stretching seemingly to infinity.

So many beautiful red barns along the route west. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I could write chapters about the gravel roads I biked as a teen—how the gravel crunched beneath tires, how wild roses flourished in ditches, how vehicles kicked up dust. I could write chapters about barns—how I labored inside ours, feeding cows and calves, and pitching manure. I could write chapters about the ice and snow storms that left our farm without electricity, once for an entire week in the depth of winter.

Love the old ACO silo on this farm site west of New Ulm. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

A trip back to southwestern Minnesota prompts such memories. I remember. I relive. But, most of all, I recognize just how thankful I am to have been raised in this rural region. On the land. In the shadows of silos and grain elevators. Just a softball pitch away from the barn. Within scent of cows, steers and calves. As close to the earth as bare feet or the end of a hoe hacking cockle burrs in a soybean field.

Co-ops like this one in Morgan are part of my rural history. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As rural scenes unfold, my memories, too, unfurl. Memories of hard work and challenges balanced by carefree afternoons and prairie sunsets and all the beauty this place holds for me. Still today, some 40-plus decades after I left this land.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


8 Responses to “Back to southwestern Minnesota, the place of my roots”

  1. I am reading a book based in the rural countryside and it had me reflecting on my days growing up on the farm. It just reminded me of a good day’s hard work along with the simple, less hustle and bustle, even a little freeing at times, etc. I remember getting breakfast and being told not to come back until dinner time. I would sneak green beans, strawberries, even an ear of corn if I got hungry in the afternoon. Sometimes the country is just calling me – roots and wings, right 🙂 Thanks for sharing – made my day! Happy Day – Enjoy

    • I love reading about your growing up years, similar in many ways to mine. We just returned from a week at the lake. Back to our noisy street and reality. I had no clue what was happening outside the lake property. Spent nearly all the time outdoors and exploring the area. Watch for posts.

  2. Charles P Ziegler Says:

    Thanks for this. As I have written to you before, my father and his family are also from Redwood County, Sheridan Township to be specific. They had a 240-acre family farm established in 1890 but now sold. My family and I often visited the farm during the summer when I was a youngster. Your photos took me back to the point where I could, it seemed, actually “smell the smells” of the farm. Thank you.

  3. Bernadette Arlene Thomasy Says:

    Lovely post; i hope to travel some of these same roads in August and experience some wonderful nostalgia, too.

  4. How wonderful to have such vivid memories of your rural home, growing up knowing all of the secrets of the countryside, and feeling the safety of the smallness of the community. Growing up with several homes I do not have the same attachment to one place but I appreciate how important it is for many folks. Great pictures as always.

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