Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring the earth, past & present on Earth Day April 22, 2022

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Monarch attracting milkweed grows next to a soybean field in southwestern Minnesota. Planting milkweed is one way to help the earth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

TODAY, APRIL 22, marks Earth Day, a day to focus on our planet, the environment and ways we, individually and globally, can protect both.

This day gives me pause to reflect on an event which began in 1970, when I was nearing young adulthood. I remember the anti-litter campaigns, the energy shortage and even Earth Shoes. Fifty-two years later, the focus has shifted to clean energy, Zero Waste and climate change.

But, taking it down to a personal level, what am I doing to honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day on a daily basis? Some examples follow. What are you doing?

WHEN I WORE FEED SACKS

One of my all-time favorite images of laundry drying outside was taken on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

I recognize that some of what I do is rooted in my past, where reuse was popular long before it became hip. For example, as a child I wore clothing stitched from feed sacks. Not all clothes, of course, but enough that I remember. Clothing was handed down the line from oldest to youngest siblings and sometimes among cousins. Whenever I got new clothes in my youth, they were either from the sales rack or sewn by my godmother or, later as a teen, by me. When I had children, most of their clothing came from garage sales. To this day, I dislike clothes shopping and gravitate to the discount rack. And, yes, I still occasionally buy second-hand. My approach to apparel is, I figure, earth-friendly.

Likewise when it comes to laundry, I either line dry outdoors or on a rack inside. To me hanging laundry isn’t a chore. I love the methodical rhythm of clipping laundry to the line early in the morning, then pulling it off when the sun has dried the clothes, towels, sheets… In the process, I’ve saved energy by not using my electric dryer.

SAVE THE BOWS, PLEASE, & THE CARDS

Examples of Christmas cards that were recycled into gift tags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I also save and reuse gift bags, tissue paper and ribbons/bows. Through the years, I’ve taken a lot of ribbing for that practice. But, frankly, I don’t care. Tossing those items seems wasteful to me. And I am simply following the example set by my mother who, Christmas to Christmas, saved and reused tissue, ribbons, bows and carefully-folded wrapping paper. (We didn’t get birthday gifts.) I don’t reuse paper. Mom’s reasons for reuse were not necessarily rooted in the environment, but rather in finances. Wrapping paper and all the embellishments cost money. She also saved Christmas cards, repurposing them as gift tags, something I also do.

BREAD BAGS & PEACH PAPER

An outhouse repurposed as a storage shed on my middle brother and sister-in-law’s rural acreage near Lamberton. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

I also follow Mom’s example of washing and reusing plastic food storage bags. I don’t save bread bags, though. While growing up, I slid bread bags over my feet before slipping into boots. The bags kept my feet dry and warm, especially if my rubber boots leaked.

Thankfully I don’t need to repurpose the tissue from individually-wrapped crated peaches as toilet paper in the outhouse. Yes, I grew up using an outhouse in the warm weather months and a pot on the porch in the winter because our old farmhouse didn’t have a bathroom. I am quite appreciative of the small solo bathroom in my current house.

OLD IS JUST FINE WITH ME

A display at Reborn Home Furnishings, which recycles/upcycles/repurposes furniture. I discovered this shop during a visit to Luverne in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

The one other area in which I’ve really focused on reuse is furniture. I just counted all the furniture pieces in the six rooms on our main level. Of the 20 pieces, we’ve purchased only five new—the sofa, recliner, entertainment center and my office desk and chair. The dining room table and chairs came from two auctions 40 years ago. Other furniture either came from garage sales or from family. Even our bedroom ensemble—hideous 1950s blonde—is used. Not the mattress or boxspring. In the two second floor bedrooms, all of the furniture is second-hand.

RECYCLED ART, OH, HOW I LOVE THEE

Donated art fills a gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The center hosts an annual Recycled Art Sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

And then there’s art. I love art and own a stash of it thanks to thrift stores, garage sales, the local recycled art sale and my mom. My “newest” pieces are “Jesus, the Good Shepherd” and “Jesus Knocks,” wedding gifts to my parents in 1954. Budget-friendly sources of art have allowed me to curate pieces I love in an earth-friendly way.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. How do you honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day in your daily life? Let’s learn from one another about ways we can reuse, repurpose, recyle, upcycle, reduce waste…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling