Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

West of Mankato August 23, 2017

Cattle graze in a pasture along U.S. Highway 14.

Cattle graze in a pasture along U.S. Highway 14.

 

WHEN I TELL FELLOW MINNESOTANS I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, specifically near the small town of Vesta, I typically get a blank stare. So, when “Vesta” doesn’t register with them, I mention Marshall to the west and Redwood Falls to the east of my hometown. Both are county seats and fair-sized communities, in my opinion.

 

Driving on U.S. Highway 14 around Mankato traveling to southwestern Minnesota.

Driving on U.S. Highway 14 around Mankato traveling through southern Minnesota toward the prairie.

 

Even after dropping those two names, I still often get that quizzical look. It’s as if they have no idea there’s anything west of Mankato.

 

This barn along U.S. Highway 14 west of Sleepy Eye always catches my eye.

Gotta love this barn between Sleepy Eye and Springfield.

 

Grain storage along U.S. Highway 14.

Grain storage along U.S. Highway 14.

 

 

But there is. Lots. Land and sky and small towns and oddities and grain elevators, and corn and soybean fields stretching into forever. There are pitch-black skies perfect for star-gazing and sunsets so bold I sometimes wonder why I ever left this land.

 

There are so many well-kept barns along U.S. Highway 14, this one between Mankato and Nicollet.

There are so many beautiful old barns along U.S. Highway 14, this one between Mankato and Nicollet.

 

I understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I simply want others to see that this corner of Minnesota, just like the lakes and woods to the north and the rolling hills and rivers to the south and the Twin Cities metro, is lovely and quirky and interesting in a peaceful prairie way.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

U.S. Highway 14 passes through many small towns, like Sleepy Eye where these guys were shopping for a car.

Shopping for cars in Sleepy Eye, one of many small towns along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

 

A farm site between Mankato and Nicollet.

A farm site between Mankato and Nicollet.

 

Baling the road ditch between Mankato and New Ulm.

Baling the road ditch between Mankato and New Ulm.

 

If you appreciate barns, this area of Minnesota offers plenty of barn gazing.

If you appreciate barns, this area of Minnesota offers plenty of barn gazing.

 

FYI: All of these photos are from my files and were taken along U.S. Highway 14 between Mankato and Lamberton. That would be west of Mankato.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No solar eclipse for me…just grey skies August 22, 2017

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A line of grey stretches across the sky as we drive back into Faribault along Rice County Road 19 Monday evening.

 

ON A DAY WHEN THE SOLAR eclipse focused eyes to the sky, I failed to share in the excitement. For me the day marked my son’s return to Boston after a few days in Minnesota. His visit had been too brief and I’d been too busy with a family reunion to consider the weather event of the year.

 

 

About the time the eclipse peaked in Minnesota, clouds shifted across the sky, diminishing the view. It didn’t matter much to me. We were aiming for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. My thoughts were not of the solar eclipse, but of the miles closing in before I would, once again, hug Caleb goodbye. I long ago stopped crying at the airport.

On the drive home, grey clouds opened, pouring down rain in weather that fit my emotions.

 

 

Hours later my phone binged with a message that Caleb’s plane had just landed in Boston. We were back on the road again, this time heading to the reunion site to load up tables and chairs to return to friends. A band of grey stretched across the darkening evening sky in a seemingly infinite trail that, in my mind’s eye, reached 1,400 miles away to a residential neighborhood in greater Boston.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Time for a positive focus August 18, 2017

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MY THOUGHTS WEIGHED heavy earlier this week. So today I focus on the positive.

It is important in the midst of chaos, unrest and discontent to reconnect with whatever brings you joy, peace and purpose.

 

Four generations: Great Grandma Arlene, Grandma Audrey, Mother Amber and baby Isabelle, all together for the first time in July 2016. This photo represents the love of family to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

I find my joy in my family,

 

A snippet of Jesus’ face in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

peace in my faith,

 

Photography and writing are my passions. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

and purpose in my passions.

 

This image of a boy feeding ducks in Morehouse Park, Owatonna, Minnesota, exudes pure and simple joy to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo November 2016.

 

May you find your place of contentment, your sense of peace, your happiness in life. You are worth it.

TELL ME: Where do you find yours?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Troubling words in Faribault August 17, 2017

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I photographed these words by aiming my cellphone down toward the water and the bottom of a public fountain in Faribault.

 

WHEN I SAW THE WORDS White gang in a public fountain in Faribault recently, I was troubled. I still am and especially in the light of all that’s happened in this country in the past week.

My intention is not to give a voice to those who hate.

Rather, I feel the need to express my sadness, disappointment and dismay that a message like this was scrawled inside a fountain below a sculpture of town founder Alexander Faribault and a Dakota trading partner. Alexander modeled compassion, kindness and acceptance in his life and work as a fur trader. He did not advocate hatred.

There’s been a shift in our nation that is empowering and emboldening individuals—perhaps like the person who wrote these two words—to spew violence and hatred and bigotry. No place seems immune.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is America in 2017.

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© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Whiteout, and not the kind you think August 16, 2017

 

 

 

MY MIND WAS ALREADY reaching for the phone, punching the number for the circulation department of the Faribault Daily News when I paused.

With a sports headline printed above the nameplate and an ad stretched across the bottom of an otherwise blank front page, I realized—kaboom—that the white space couldn’t be accidental. There was a reason the paper I grabbed from my front steps on Tuesday morning was devoid of front page news.

 

 

I flipped to page two. There I found my answer. The absence of news was intentional. According to an article published there, more than 200 Minnesota newspapers are participating in a “Whiteout” to remind readers of the importance of newspapers in their local communities during Minnesota Newspaper Week.

Brilliant, simply brilliant. What an incredible visual way to make a point.

Quotes supporting freedom of the press ran in a sidebar:

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press and that cannot be limited without being lost.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”—Walter Cronkite

“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”  First Amendment to the Constitution

As a former newspaper reporter, I especially value freedom of the press. I hope the average person realizes just how important a free press is to our democracy. When a government controls the media, we lose our freedom.

I can’t recall a time in the U.S. when the media have been more ruthlessly attacked by people in power than now.

 

 

 

When I think back to my years as a community journalist, though, I recall efforts by some locals to curtail my reporting in several small Minnesota towns. A high school music teacher once attempted to intimidate me after I wrote about controversial discussions at a public school board meeting. Likewise, a realtor verbally attacked me when I wrote about city council proceedings that involved him. A school superintendent in one community treated me with disdain after I covered a student walk-out. Thankfully my editors backed me up and I continued to do my job.

Being a journalist isn’t easy, especially in today’s world. I expect the pay, the long and odd hours and stress are just as awful as when I worked in the profession decades ago. And the criticism is fierce. People complain all the time about the media. Sometimes those complaints are justified. But mostly not.

I say, “Stop blaming the messenger.” Journalists do not make the news. They are only reporting it. And we should all value that they have the freedom to do so.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Preparing for a family reunion August 15, 2017

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At last year’s reunion, the young adults and kids played a human version of Hungry Hungry Hippos. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

FOOD, FUN AND FAMILY. Those three words focus my attention and energy this week with the annual Helbling Family Reunion just days away. Randy and I are co-hosting with a nephew and his wife.

Gatherings like this of nearly 50 people take substantial planning and implementation. But I love doing this sort of thing.

 

Randy found this Oktoberfest bier mug from Bismarck, North Dakota, at a New Ulm thrift store. He’ll use it at the reunion. His family roots are in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

A year ago, we chose a German theme to honor the family’s heritage. We’ll have a German meal complete with brats, German potato salad, sauerbraten, sauerkraut, kuchen, homemade pretzels and American foods, too. Food assignments were made months ago.

Following the German theme, I created a scavenger hunt for the kids to find gnomes and animals.

I culled the family history book for stories, some of which will be part of a trivia contest.

 

Using discarded props from Vacation Bible School past, Randy and I crafted this mountain backdrop.

 

And then, because I am a photographer who considers it vital to document events like this, Randy and I crafted a photo backdrop and the eldest daughter ordered German themed props for fun photo ops.

I’m always all about making a celebration special with decorating details. So off to Dollar Tree I went to scoop up plastic tablecloths, napkins and cups in black, red and yellow, the colors of the German flag.

Wildflowers and garden flowers will fill bier steins as table centerpieces.

 

Randy and I are on the right, pictured here with other siblings and in-laws. Several are missing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

I want to make this day special and memorable for a family I love and have been part of for 35 years. I expect plenty of laughter and BS as we talk and mingle and have fun together.

As much as I am excited about seeing many of my in-laws, I am especially happy that my son is flying in from Boston for a long weekend. My second daughter and her husband are driving from northeastern Wisconsin. And my eldest, her husband and baby girl are arriving from an hour away. I cannot wait to have all of my kids together for a day. We last saw each other at Christmas.

Now, as the days wind down, I consider all I have yet to do. Although the reunion is not at my house, I still have to clean and cook for overnight guests. I started that job last week but then stopped after the city sealcoated my street and dust filtered into my house day after day after day. There were times when I couldn’t see a block away for the dust stirred up by the traffic. Sigh.

And then I had a bit of a setback in my physical therapy and some limitations placed on me yesterday. Apparently I pushed myself too hard with weight lifting and general overall lifting resulting in near constant pain in my recovering shoulder. Now I’m on a weight restriction which should allow my muscles to rest and recover. I so did not need that this week.

But then that’s life. I’ll do what I can and leave the rest to others.

And if I have time to write more here this week, I will. If not, then I won’t, because right now I’m focused on food, fun and, most important, family.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Izzy at the Capitol August 12, 2017

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HER MAMA ONCE WORKED in the state office building next to the Minnesota State Capitol. Izzy, at 16 months, is too young to understand. But, on Friday, she was among Minnesotans celebrating the grand opening of the Capitol following a multi-year $310 million restoration.

 

Oh, where’s Izzy? Pun intended. Photos by Amber Schmidt.

 

 

 

 

When her mama, my eldest, sent photos of Izzy playing among the #ONLY IN MN letters on the front lawn, I just had to share the cuteness.

 

 

The rest of the weekend is jam-packed with activities ranging from concerts to tours to ongoing activities for families. Will I be there? No. I’m not a fan of mega crowds in the metro, plus lots is happening locally and I’m preparing for a family reunion.

 

The stunning Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from my last visit in 2009.

 

So “The People’s House,” as the Capitol is being promoted to all of us, will have to wait. I last toured the Capitol in 2009, when Amber worked next door. Prior to that, I’d only been there once, on a sixth grade class trip.

It’s a beautiful building. With the renovations, the first since the Capitol was built in 1905, I expect it to be even more stunning.

Some day my granddaughter can look back at these photos and hear the stories her mama tells about their trip to the Capitol on August 11, 2017…and how she cared more about a live owl than the Capitol restoration.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
photos by and copyright of Amber Schmidt