WHEN I RETURNED to my beloved southwestern Minnesota prairie in September, I did so with one primary purpose—to see my poetry showcased in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Any additional attractions—like viewing a public art sculpture outside the local ice arena and a stop at Brau Brothers Brewing—would only enhance the day trip.
My one regret is that Randy and I didn’t stay overnight, allowing more time to explore local sites without feeling rushed. Forty years have passed since I visited Marshall en route to the Black Hills on our honeymoon. The college and county seat town lies 20 miles to the west of my hometown, Vesta in Redwood County, and 140 miles from my current home in Faribault.
This area of Minnesota is the place of my roots. My prairie roots. It is the place of wide open space, expansive skies, small towns and endless acres of cropland.
The land where I grew up inspired my blog name, Minnesota Prairie Roots. The name fits me as a person and a creative. The sparseness of the prairie taught me to notice details, to fully engage my senses. To appreciate the landscape and people. The vastness of the flat land and the star-flushed night sky and achingly beautiful sunsets. Here I connected to the land—bare feet upon dirt, bike tires crunching gravel, dirt etched into my hands from working the soil. Here I connected to the people—down-to-earth, hardworking, linked to the land.
For those who are not of prairie stock, the sparse landscape can seem uninteresting, empty, desolate. Even I admit the challenge of “if you’re not from the prairie…” A children’s picture book by that title, written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Henry Ripplinger and published in 1995, speaks to the prairie sun, wind, sky, flatness…grasses.
Tall grasses are often associated with the prairie. Yet, those grasses were mostly missing from the landscape of my youth as cultivated crops covered the earth. But on our farm site, a sliver of unmown grass grew between granary and grove and gravel driveway, stretching high, stems bending in the wind. That Little House on the Prairie (Walnut Grove is 20 miles from Vesta) space opened summer afternoons to imaginative play. I hold many memories rooted in those tall grasses, in the prairie.
Prairie Roots. That name graces a public art sculpture outside the Red Baron Arena in Marshall. Minneapolis artist Randy Walker was commissioned by the City of Marshall in 2018 to create the sculpture reflecting the prairie landscape. I knew in advance of my September visit that I needed to see this artwork if time allowed. We made time. Walker used 210 painted steel poles to represent tall stems of grass, prairie grass. They are colored in hues of yellow, orange, red and green, reflecting seasonal changes and light.
And in between all those steel stems, prairie grass grows, thrives.
I even spotted a grasshopper on a steel stalk, taking me back decades to the hoards of grasshoppers that amassed and hopped through that patch of uncut grass on the farm.
Walker’s sculpture holds visual appeal against an expansive backdrop sky and open field (when viewing the art from the arena entrance outward). Via that perspective, I see the enduring strength of the prairie, and the immensity of land and sky, this place of my Minnesota prairie roots.
Please check back for more posts about my day trip back to southwestern Minnesota in September 2022.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
thanks for filling us in with more of your background/roots, this all makes perfect sense and for educating us about the beauty of the prairie. your blog name is perfect and I love the art installation. one bright light to come from randy’s being made to leave the job he was so good at and before he is ready, is that it has given the two of you more time to closely explore and appreciate the world around you, and to take life at the pace you choose. a gift, even with hardship.
I’ve blogged for so long that sometimes I forget newer readers like you may not know the backstory of my blog name. So I’m happy to have shared that with you.
Randy is actually back working full-time now, at the garage which purchased the machine shop equipment. He is currently training an apprentice, which means he can retire soon, on his time. Although his job loss was difficult, everything is working out and I look forward to the day when he retires and we have time to explore…
interesting how things work out in ways we never expected and glad he’ll have the chance to retire on his own terms.
Exactly. When we were in the midst of all this job loss, it was really difficult.
“The vastness of the flat land and the star-flushed night sky and achingly beautiful sunsets. Here I connected to the land—bare feet upon dirt, bike tires crunching gravel, dirt etched into my hands from working the soil. Here I connected to the people—down-to-earth, hardworking, linked to the land.” This is breathtakingly beautiful, Audrey. ❤ ❤
Thank you for appreciating those descriptive sentences. I felt such overwhelming joy when those words came to me. I know you, as a poet, understand.
Much appreciated. This would be a beautiful introduction for a book! Written by you, of course. ❤
Hint, hint, right, Penny?
Very cool art exhibit for sure. Glad you were able to see it and spend some time on your prairie. 😊
I enjoyed the sculpture and returning to my home area, for sure. Next time we need to stay longer because we missed too much.
Beautiful post today 🙂 I knew when I first found you and your blog that we were kindred spirits with our MN roots. I spent some time and mostly Summers in Redwood County as well as Brown County. My paternal grandma is from Vesta and I believe their farm was originally in Seaforth before moving to Kandiyohi County. Then I had cousins in Redwood Falls as well as Sleepy Eye in Brown County. We would get together in the Summers for family reunions. Happy Day – Enjoy!
You know my home region well. And, yes, I believe we are kindred spirits. Remind me, who was your paternal grandma? I think you’ve told me, but I’ve forgotten. Glad you enjoyed my piece about our beloved prairie.
My grandma’s maiden name was Whealy.
That name isn’t at all familiar to me.
No worries. I would love to have the time to investigate the family tree more.
That Prairie Roots sculpture looks beautiful and interesting. I would like to visit Marshall sometime to see it. In the summer of course…
I’m glad you added “in the summer, of course.” Yes, I would steer clear of the prairie in the winter, especially during any type of snow event.
Not being a flat lander I have trouble adjusting to areas where there seems to be only flat land and endless sky. But, it does have a charm to it after awhile, like the sound of wind in a wheat field.
On the flip side, adjusting to forests/areas with lots of trees is sometimes difficult for me. I need to see open space. I love the sound of the wind. I can still hear it howling around the corners of the house in the dead of a Minnesota winter.