Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Cruisin’ around Faribault area lakes, this evening June 19, 2020

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From a past car cruise on Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BACK IN THE 50s AND 60s, teens idled away time cruisin’ Main Streets. It was a thing then, when life was simpler, much less complicated. No COVID-19 to consider.

Fast forward decades later and cruisin’ is still a thing. Except it’s organized. And the drivers are mostly older and hold a deep appreciation for vehicles of the past, perhaps reliving the days of their youth.

 

Lovely old buildings in the 300 block of Central Avenue provided the backdrop for a past Faribault Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Tonight my southeastern Minnesota community hosts its monthly summertime Faribault Car Cruise Night. Participants will meet at the Faribault Middle School at 6 pm for a cruise which will take them around area lakes and then back to Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60 and south down Central Avenue.

 

Cruise participants await the start of the cruise in the Buckham Memorial Library parking lot in May. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

 

This car cruise, typically a stationery event on Central Avenue where vehicles park and folks mingle, transitioned to an actual on-the-road event in May. That was due to COVID-19. The change proved a hit and drew a high number of participants, including motorcyclists. Even more, maybe double, are expected at this evening’s cruise. I hope organizers have social-distancing plans in place. I didn’t observe those at the May cruise.

Randy and I plan to watch the cruise, although we haven’t yet selected a place that will be aesthetically pleasing and uncrowded. Yes, even outdoors we are cautious about reducing our COVID-19 exposure risk.

To view the June 18 Faribault Car Cruise Night route, click here.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Giving blood during COVID-19 June 18, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE NEVER GIVEN MUCH THOUGHT to donating blood through the American Red Cross. It’s just something I’ve done, off and on, for years, after finally following Randy’s lead. I discovered that donating was easy. Drink plenty of fluids on donation day. Show up, healthy, at the appointed time with my RapidPass health screening paperwork in hand, go through a brief pre-donation physical screening and then move on to the table to start the donation process.

But the familiar routine of giving blood all changed with COVID-19. Suddenly, I thought twice about donating. Did I really want to do this in the middle of a global pandemic? Donating blood requires being up close with those screening and drawing your blood. But then I decided I needed to trust that all necessary precautions would be taken to keep me safe. They were.

I arrived masked, as required. Just like everyone at the community center donation site. My temperature was checked twice, once before I even entered. Tables were widely spaced in the former gymnasium. The foam form I squeezed during donation was covered. And only one worker tended to me, unlike in the past. Or, I should qualify, a sole Red Cross employee took me to the point of inserting the needle into my vein. It was then that everything changed. And it had nothing to do with COVID-19. Pain shot through my arm. Pain so intense that I had to muffle my outburst. I don’t recall my exact words. But they were something like, “Either you need to fix this or take this needle out.”

Let me assure you that I have a high threshold for pain having broken two bones, suffered from severe osteoarthritis in my hip and undergone eight surgeries in my lifetime. Blood and needles don’t scare me. But sharp pain like this, that bothered me. The supervisor took charge, professionally assessing that the needle likely needed to be pushed deeper into my vein. She made the adjustment and the pain eased to soreness. The likely cause of the problem, she explained, was scar tissue build-up on the vein.

My blood flowed freely into the bag. Soon I was done and sent to the refreshment table for juice and/or water and individually-packaged snacks. Then I was on my way, my first blood donation during a global pandemic successfully completed. Nothing to it. I considered that the new precautions put in place likely should always have been part of Red Cross protocol.

 

From The Gaylord Hub article.

 

For blood donors in one Minnesota small town, though, the changes due to COVID-19 reached beyond masking, social-distancing, more screening, etc. According to an article in the June 11 issue of the weekly, The Gaylord Hub, a recent blood drive in Gaylord “proved challenging.” And that wasn’t only because of deferrals and no-shows. The newspaper story states that “Gaylord coordinators were unable to serve the usual sandwiches, chips, pickles and beer.” Yes, you read that right. Beer. I’ll allow you to decide whether drinking beer right after giving blood is a good idea.

 

My blood donation card, now filled. I recently received a new one in the mail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

One new idea announced this week seems like a really good one. Starting June 15 and at least through the summer, all blood donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies. Positive results indicate the donor may have had previous exposure to the virus and could thereby be eligible for the Convalescent Plasma Donation Program designed to help those battling COVID-19. That screening makes sense and is just one more way donors can help others. So, next time I give blood, I’ll learn whether the crud I experienced at Christmas with a temp, fatigue, feeling down and out, and a severe cough that lingered for weeks was just a routine seasonal virus. Or more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Outdoor summer Concerts in the Park a “go” in Faribault June 17, 2020

A July 2015 concert in Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DURING A TYPICAL SUMMER, the City of Faribault features free Concerts in the Park on Thursday evenings. I’ve attended for decades, taking our kids when they were growing up. It was a family night out. Years later, Randy and I still pack our lawn chairs and head to Central Park for music and visiting.

I expected this summer, there would be no concerts due to COVID-19. But as state restrictions loosen, the Faribault Parks & Rec Department has opted to start those concerts this Thursday, June 18, at 7 pm with the six-member Gold Star Band performing. The band, with members from around the area, plays classic country, 50s/60s and classic rock.

 

Another past concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Nine additional musical groups—from Little Chicago to the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus to Bend in the River Big Band—are on the Thursday schedule from now until August 20. It will be interesting to see how these musicians social-distance in the confined space of a bandshell. For the smaller groups, it shouldn’t be an issue.

 

I photographed this scene in Central Park on Sunday morning, just days before this week’s concert. Park benches had been pulled out of storage, but are obviously not spaced to allow for social distancing. Hopefully they will be moved apart prior to tomorrow evening’s concert.

 

Because these concerts are outdoors in a park that covers a city block, Randy and I feel safe attending. We can easily social-distance. That, and adherence to all Minnesota Department of Health guidelines related to COVID-19, are expected.

But after the concert, we won’t linger to visit with friends, as we usually do. We’ll fold our lawn chairs, carry them to the van and head home, thankful for the evening of music in a safe environment. Yet missing the sense of community that comes from interaction and conversation.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on the pandemic, from sleep to reality June 16, 2020

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Dreams roil storms into my sleep. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2011.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this post several weeks ago and kept it in-draft. So, when you read this, remember that as I have not updated this from the original writing. My feelings about the need to take this pandemic seriously and to think beyond ourselves remain unchanged.

 

FOR THE FIRST TIME since the COVID-19 crisis broke, I dreamed about the pandemic.

I expect my turbulent emotions of that day and the day prior prompted the dream. Anger and disappointment framed my thoughts as did a converged weariness over a pervasive attitude of self-centeredness in this pandemic.

 

Our face masks. Please, people, wear masks. And if you already do, thank you.

 

And so I dreamed of a long-dead neighbor and of extended family converging on our property, no one wearing face masks, none social-distancing. They got too close, in my face. And when I told them they would need to leave, some turned on me. And then I awoke from my nightmare. Or did I really?

 

On one occasion, I left the house without my hand sanitizer. The planned trip inside a local convenience store did not happen as a result.

 

Life, some days, can play like an ongoing bad dream. If I let it thread that direction. It depends on the day. Trips to the grocery store frustrate me. Employees are now wearing masks—finally—in the local places I shop for food. But too many customers still are not and I don’t get it. I skirt those people (if possible) in the too-narrow aisles.

While shopping at a big box store, I thanked the masked cashier for the store’s requirement that all customers and employees wear masks. I could see her eyes smiling. “All we hear are complaints,” she said. I’m not surprised.

Recently I stopped for ice cream at a favorite independent shop in a neighboring town. The teen behind the walk-up window was not masked. The same for curbside food pick-up at a favorite local restaurant. The woman who handed me my bagged and boxed food was unmasked. I was masked. Both situations surprised me and made me feel uncomfortable. Health and government officials recommend we wear masks. And in some cities, like Minneapolis, masks in public places are now mandatory. And when restaurants re-open, servers will need to don masks. Why not now, during walk-up or curbside pick-up?

 

A message posted on the marquee of the Paradise Center for the Arts at the start of the pandemic. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo edited.

 

I’m not sharing these stories to call people or businesses out. Rather, I’m frustrated by the “me” mentality. This pandemic is not about us individually. This is about us collectively. Decisions we make affect others. We can unknowingly carry this virus, perhaps give it to someone who is in the vulnerable demographic. There’s no guarantee either that, if we become infected, we won’t get really sick. We just do not know.

Our thoughts need to stretch beyond ourselves, to thinking of others. And then acting and choosing behaviors that show we truly and deeply care about our families, our friends, our neighbors, even the people we encounter at the grocery store.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Turtle time June 15, 2020

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A turtle spotted recently on a street in northwest Faribault.

 

YOU KNOW HOW, SOMETIMES, something sparks a memory. Or memories. Turtles do that for me.

 

I spotted another turtle in the grass at North Alexander Park in Faribault. The Cannon River flows through this park.

 

Recent sightings of turtles at three locations in Faribault took me back in time. To my youth and the “dime store.” Remember those? The long ago chain variety stores like Ben Franklin and Woolworth’s, precursors of today’s dollar stores.

Anyway, Woolworth’s in Redwood Falls, 20 miles from my childhood home in southwestern Minnesota, featured a small pet section tucked in a far back corner of the store. And the sole “pet” I remember, because I really really really wanted one, were the mini turtles. Probably imported. My sensible manager of a brood of six farm-raised kids mother never caved to my pleas. She was smart.

My other childhood memory is of tortoises. Not quite turtles, tortoises are big, with rounded shells, and spend most of their time on land. Turtles are much smaller, flatter and prefer water to land. I never saw a single turtle (outside of Woolworth’s) or tortoise in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, I encountered my first tortoise at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul. I went on an elementary school class trip there once—a rather big deal to go to “the Cities” when you’re a farm kid. I remember the free-range, lumbering tortoises there and the Sparky the Seal Show.

 

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, photographed in the “Toys & Play, 1970 to Today” Exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2019.

 

Fast forward decades later to motherhood and the birth of my two daughters in the late 1980s. They soon became fans of “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Saturday morning cartoons and action figurines of the masked turtles and phrases like “Cowabunga!” and “Heroes in a half shell, turtle power!” were parts of their routine and vocabulary. One of the daughters even had a turtle birthday cake one year although I don’t recall which turtle—Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo or Raphael.

 

Turtles basked in the sun in the Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center on a recent Friday afternoon.

 

I expect if Woolworth’s sold tiny turtles at the time, my daughters would have begged for one. Instead, I bought them each a goldfish from the “dime store,” still open in downtown Faribault when the girls were young.

 

This turtle at North Alexander Park was digging in the grass, apparently trying to create a nest.

 

That takes me to my final story. On a summer afternoon when my second daughter was still in high school, or maybe college (details of time elude me), I glanced out the window to see a tortoise on our driveway. Now we don’t live anywhere near Como Zoo. But we had a neighbor who owned a tortoise and lived across our very busy street. To this day, I have no idea how that tortoise survived crossing through all that traffic. But I wanted the beast off my property. Before I could determine how we would manage that, Miranda picked up the tortoise and carried it back home. With me protesting. I had no idea whether the tortoise would turn on her, or how sharp its teeth or…

 

This turtle looks so small on a Faribault roadway as it moves toward a nearby pond.

 

This time of year, turtles are crossing roads in Minnesota, mostly to access familiar nesting locations apparently. While some people will stop to pick up and move a turtle out of traffic, I won’t. I’ll only stop to photograph, if it’s safe to do so and traffic is minimal. I’m smart like my mom and not nearly as brave as my second daughter.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A 1979 interview with Mike Max & reflections on community journalism June 12, 2020

A CARDBOARD BOX, stacked in an under-the-roof storage space on the second floor of my house, holds layers of yellowed newspaper clippings. Not stories of personal value because they are about me or my family. But rather stories I wrote, as a community journalist.

In March 1978, newly-graduated with a mass communications degree from Mankato State (now Minnesota State University, Mankato), I started my multi-faceted job at The Gaylord Hub. I was the first-ever journalist hired at the small rural weekly in Gaylord, the county seat of Sibley County. Prior to that, family at the then second-generation family-owned paper covered all the editorial work.

I did everything from writing news stories and features to taking and printing photos to writing headlines to going to the printing plant and then swinging canvas bags full of newspapers into the back of a van for delivery to the post office. I learned nearly every aspect of community newspapers except selling and designing ads and covering sports. Under the guidance of a supportive, encouraging and kind editor and publisher, Jim Deis, I grew my skills and my passion for small town community journalism.

 

A feature I wrote in 1979 republished in the June 4, 2020, issue of The Gaylord Hub.

 

Forty years after I left The Hub, the newspaper still arrives weekly in my mailbox. Jim passed many years ago. His son, Joe, just a kid when I worked at the paper, now serves as the third-generation editor and publisher. And last week he republished a feature, No need for the bubble gum, I wrote in July 1979. Perhaps my one and only sports story. I interviewed the Max brothers—Mike and Marc—for a feature about their sports card collection.

I recall going to the brothers’ home in Lakeside Acres and the piles and piles of bagged, boxed and loose cards numbering some 7,000. But I didn’t remember details of that interview with the 9 and 14-year-olds. So rereading that story I wrote 41 years ago proved entertaining, especially considering where one of those boys landed. Mike Max went on to become the sports director for WCCO-TV in the Twin Cities. And more recently, he expanded to hard news by covering the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

 

WCCO personality Mike Max, up close in a photo I took in 1979. Photo by Audrey Kletscher from The Gaylord Hub.

 

But back to that 1979 feature I wrote. Here’s my favorite quote from Mike:

“I was always interested in sports. I saw packs (of collector cards and bubble gum), so I would sneak some money and buy a whole bunch,” he said.

That was despite his mother’s orders to buy “only one pack.” He would buy about eight packs, hide seven in his pocket and show his mom the “one pack” he had bought.

Barb Max said she found out about her son’s tricks, but years later.

I love that part of the story.

But I find equally humorous this paragraph from my feature:

The two plan on keeping their cards, but speculate on selling some of them if the price is right. “I’ll save them until I get real old,” Marc said. “I’ll save them until they’re worth more and more, but maybe someday sell them if I need money real bad.”

 

A section of the republished story from 1979.

 

Reflecting on that feature of four decades ago, I am reminded of the importance of community newspapers. These are the stories we are losing as more and more small town weekly newspapers, and even some dailies, are folding. Declines in advertising revenue and subscribers, rising expenses and the growth of online media alternatives have all factored into the demise of print journalism. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that saddens me. We are losing such a valuable part of our communities. The watchdogs. The storytellers. The historians. The source of information about public meetings, community events, deaths—news in general. The media is too often under attack, blamed for reporting too much bad news. Don’t kill the messenger, I say.

I will always remain grateful for the two years I worked as The Cub from the Hub, a name tagged to me while in Gaylord. There I learned and grew as a writer, always striving for integrity, honesty and balanced reporting. By far, feature writing proved the most enjoyable aspect of my work. From Gaylord, I would go on to report for The Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch, The Mankato Free Press (St. James bureau), The Owatonna People’s Press and The Northfield News. Some were temporary fill-in jobs, others full-time. But no matter where I worked, I worked long, hard hours at low pay to cover the community. I reported the hard news and attended endless city council/school board/county board meetings into the late hours of the night. And sometimes I wrote, too, about kids who collect sports cards. Kids like Mike Max and his younger brother, Marc.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Kenyon: An historic train depot up close June 11, 2020

These tracks run past The Depot Bar & Grill (in the background) in my community of Faribault, Minnesota. I can hear these trains from my home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES IN THE EVENING, when the traffic lessens on my busy street, I hear the train, horn blasting, wheels rumbling from the tracks just blocks away.

 

Railroad art created by John Cartwright. The Shoreview artist was selling copies of his ink drawings during the 2012 Railroad Swap Meet in Randolph, Minnesota. Visit his website at ArtRail.com for more information. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

There was a time, decades ago, when railroads connected communities, carrying passengers and freight, grain, coal… Bringing mail and goods like lumber and much more. But those days are long gone, those versatile trains all but a memory for many rural Minnesota communities.

Sure, trains still run, but along main routes and without the diverse economic importance of decades past.

 

The Depot Bar & Grill, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

With the railroad’s demise in the late 1960s and early 1970s, also came the abandonment of train depots. Many of those hubs of commerce were torn down or left to decay. But some remain. In Faribault, a former depot houses The Depot Bar & Grill, among my favorite local dining spots. Another historic depot serves as a business center.

 

The old train depot, repurposed as a shelter/gathering spot, sits in Depot Park, Kenyon.

 

And in the nearby small town of Kenyon, the once busy Chicago Great Western Railroad depot serves as a gathering spot at Depot Park. You can rent the building—with amenities of refrigerator, stove, sink, restroom, 29 chairs and eight tables—for $30 weekdays or for $40 on a Saturday or Sunday.

 

A back and side view of the Kenyon Depot.

 

On a recent day trip to Aspelund Peony Gardens & Winery, Randy and I stopped first at Kenyon’s Depot Park for a picnic lunch. It’s a lovely spot, centered by that depot, a playground and a swimming pool.

 

The history of the Kenyon Depot is summarized in an on-site sign.

 

The sign is posted prominently on the depot.

 

The bottom portion of that informational sign.

 

After finishing my turkey sandwich, grapes and strawberries, I grabbed my camera and walked over for a closer look at the old depot, built around 1885. I peered inside the windows, studied the roof-line, read the signage. The railroad once held an important place in Kenyon and the surrounding area by providing freight and passenger service. Immigrants arrived here by train. Farmers shipped milk, awaited the arrival of seed and tools and farm implements. And mail.

 

Identifying signage on the front of the Kenyon Depot.

 

Posted next to the old depot.

 

This side of the depot faces the park space.

 

When rail service shut down here in the late 1960s or early 70s (I read conflicting information online), a local house mover bought the depot. And in 1974, he, upon approval of the city, moved the depot to the park.

 

A vintage light.

 

I noticed these letters/numbers on a corner of the depot. Anyone know what they signify?

 

Tape on window trim.

 

But there’s one more interesting piece of history about this building, a story shared in a 2012 letter to The Kenyon Leader written by former Mayor John L. Cole. According to Cole, the Kenyon High School Class of 1975 was tasked with painting the depot after “getting into trouble” during a class trip to Grandview Lodge in Brainerd. Now he doesn’t explain what that “trouble” may have been. But Cole thanks the class, emphasizing that something good came out of the bad.

 

This drinking fountain next to the depot has been around for awhile.

 

As a 1974 high school graduate (from a school nowhere near Kenyon), I can only guess. We were on the tail end of the Vietnam War, a bit vocal and determined and rebellious. My class got into trouble for choosing “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song. Not exactly fitting for a high school graduation ceremony. I expect had we gone on a trip like the teens from Kenyon, we, too, would have gotten into trouble.

 

This street lamp, I’m guessing vintage, stands near the depot.

 

I digress. But history has a way of connecting us. Through stories. Through places. Like depots that hold the history of a community and its people.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pool ready to open in Kenyon as COVID-19 restrictions ease June 10, 2020

The Kenyon, Minnesota, swimming pool opens on June 12.

 

SUMMER IN MINNESOTA. It’s synonymous with water and the outdoors and community events. County fairs and small town celebrations. Parades. Summer camps and trips to the lake cabin. Hiking and camping and anything that takes us into the woods, to lakes and pools. Family reunions. Togetherness. Because our winters are so harsh and long, we Minnesotans delight in summer.

 

Picnicking at Depot Park in Kenyon on Saturday.

 

But this summer looks much different due to COVID-19 and the restrictions in place. Most celebrations are canceled, camps closed, etc. I’m of the cautionary camp, recognizing the very real risks of the virus and the need to protect not only myself but others. I’m careful, avoiding situations that raise the risk of exposure or that aren’t, by health standards, particularly safe. There will be no attending family reunions or similar at-home gatherings for me. (Such gatherings are currently limited to 25 anyway.) I’m closing in on the high risk age, just barely under it. And I have friends who’ve had family members with COVID-19, including one death.

All of that said, I can only imagine the difficulty right now of parenting children from preschool age to teen. Most kids by nature are social creatures. Preschoolers play together, grab toys from one another. Grade schoolers and teens just want to hang together. Play sports. I’ve seen plenty of teens congregating at parks in my community and nearby towns, including crammed onto basketball courts. I understand their innate need to connect. And that includes hanging out at the lake, pool or aquatic center. COVID-19 doesn’t top their list of concerns.

 

Behind the fence, the Kenyon Pool fills with water on Saturday for opening on June 12.

 

Today, June 10, indoor and outdoor pools in Minnesota are allowed to reopen to the general public at 50 percent capacity with a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan in place. That includes social distancing, encouraged use of cloth face masks when not in the pool, employee health screening and much more. The State of Minnesota details requirements and recommendations at Stay Safe Minnesota.

 

The Kenyon man who tipped us off to the pool opening, pictured near a playground and the pool in Depot Park.

 

Quite by happenstance, I learned last Saturday that the city swimming pool in Kenyon is reopening. We were picnicking at Depot Park, a park complex that includes the pool and Randy chatted it up with an elderly gentleman who lives nearby. He mentioned the city was filling the pool and, sure enough, water funneled into the larger of the two pools. The filling process, he noted, would take several days. A check of the city Facebook page shows the pool opens on Friday. That includes for open swim, swimming lessons, lap swimming and water aerobics.

 

A building at the Kenyon Municipal Swimming Pool.

 

It will be interesting to see how this works in practice. Will pool users social-distance and will (mostly) teen employees “enforce” rules? Will parents watch and monitor their kids? Or will kids be kids and mingle and play together as usual, pandemic or not? I think it will be tough, really tough, to assure safe practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in such a setting. But if individuals, families, and cities, are willing to take the risk, then that’s their choice.

 

Filling an above ground pool in Elysian on Sunday afternoon.

 

The following day, I saw a family in the community of Elysian exercising another option. Randy and I, out for a Sunday picnic and drive, had just pulled up to the recreational trailside center when we noticed a water tanker truck from the Elysian Fire Department in a yard across the street. The “firefighters” were filling a backyard above-ground pool with water. It was so small town iconic. And a reason to pause and smile in the middle of a global pandemic. Ah, summer fun in Minnesota…

 

The water tanker drives toward downtown Elysian.

 

TELL ME: How do you feel about the reopening of swimming pools and aquatic centers to the general public? Please be respectful in your comments. Do not make this political. I monitor all comments and reserve the right, as author of this personal blog, to not publish comments. Thank you.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At Aspelund: Peonies & wine June 9, 2020

Fields of peonies are currently in bloom at Aspelund Peony Gardens, rural Wanamingo.

 

JUNE IN MINNESOTA BLOOMS peonies in shades of pink, burgundy and crimson, others white, bending, swaying in the wind, perfuming the air.

 

Such beauty in the many hues and fragrances.

 

Layered blossoms open to the warm sun, their beauty unsurpassed in the book of old-fashioned flowers, the bouquets of long ago brides—our grandmothers, our great grandmothers.

 

This sign along the gravel road marks Aspelund Peony Gardens & Winery.

 

A lovely pink peony up close.

 

At the bottom of the hill, rows and rows of peonies grow against a country backdrop.

 

In southeastern Minnesota, I’ve found a place where fields of peonies grow. Lovely in their beauty against a rural landscape. Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery northwest of Wanamingo.

 

I love how this grey shed provides a blank canvas for the vivid peonies to pop.

 

Each June, Randy and I drive there to take in the loveliness. To enjoy and smell these flowers that once defined our community of Faribault as The Peony Capital of the World. No more. That title long ago gone, we now find fields of peonies a half hour away.

 

So many peonies…

 

I like to study the peonies from sweeps of flowers to single blooms.

 

Love these vivid shades…

 

Aspelund Peony Gardens sells peonies to the public, in the form of peony plants ordered now and tubers picked up in the fall for planting then. While meandering between the peony rows, I overheard many serious conversations about peonies. I come for the beauty and tranquility found in these acres of flowers.

 

The hilltop vineyard offers a grand view of the surrounding countryside.

 

In this rural setting I find a certain peacefulness in sweeping vistas of the countryside, especially from the hilltop vineyard.

 

Rascal, left, roams among those visiting the gardens and winery.

 

Look at that face. Rascal just makes me smile.

 

Rascal helps Bruce and Dawn Rohl at the check-out/peony ordering station.

 

Rascal the dog greets visitors by barking upon their arrival and then wandering among guests. He adds another layer of back-on-the-farm friendliness.

 

From the bottom of the hill, looking across the peony gardens toward the parking area and winery.

 

On this acreage, at this business, gardeners Bruce and Dawn Rohl—a couple as friendly and welcoming as you’ll ever meet—also craft wine. Randy and I wove our way from the peony gardens onto the tiered deck to order flights of wine, mine tasting of elderberries, raspberries, caramel, apples and cinnamon.

 

The tasting room, far right, opens soon, per allowances under COVID-19 rules.

 

One of my wine samples in a flight of four.

 

In the background you can see part of the tiered deck where guests can enjoy Aspelund wine at tables allowing for social distancing.

 

During our June 6 visit, only outdoor service was available due to COVID-19 restrictions. The small indoor tasting room reopens soon. I’d still recommend sitting outside to experience the rural beauty of this place. I’d also recommend wearing masks when passing near others and when ordering and getting your wine. The Rohls encourage masks. It’s the right thing to do for a couple who so graciously open their rural acreage (yes, they live here, too, in the attached house) and business to others.

 

An aged shed near the vineyard.

 

The next week, probably two, depending on weather, promises to offer excellent viewing of peonies in bloom. The garden is open from 4-7 pm weekdays and from 10 am – 4 pm weekends. The winery is open from noon to 5 pm weekends only. Check the Facebook page for any changes to those times. Above, all, delight in the flowers and savor the wine at Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery, one of my favorite spots to visit each June in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographic perspective June 8, 2020

I delight in dried grasses dancing in the wind at sunset at River Bend Nature Center.

 

A MONTH AGO, as spring broke in Minnesota, Randy and I headed to one of our favorite local outdoor places—River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

 

Beauty in a single grass stem.

 

As usual, I carried my camera. My camera invites me to see the world in a different and more detailed way. I look through the viewfinder with an artist’s eye and with an intent, creative focus.

 

Randy surveys the prairie below.

 

Directions to the prairie route.

 

An overview of the land.

 

I use photography to create and to document. And in the process, I find joy. If you’re a photographer, you understand that moment when everything—the light, the subject, the composition—comes together. It’s, to be somewhat trite, magical.

 

Greenery dangles from a tree, looking lovely in the evening light.

 

People often comment that I must have a “really good camera.” I don’t. It’s second-hand, an EOS 20D Canon, old by today’s standards. It doesn’t perform especially well in low light. But I love this camera; it’s my second 20D.

 

I love the muted, dreamy tone of this image, the softness in the light of a setting sun as I shot through the field of dried grasses.

 

Today’s smartphone cameras can technically surpass the quality of my aging DSLR. But there’s one thing technology can’t replace. And that’s the photographer’s skill-set, talent, experience and creativity.

 

The moon rises while the sun sets.

 

I understand the basics of photography—of lighting, composition, focus… But even more, I recognize the importance of perspective and storytelling. Of thinking outside the box. Of creating art with my photography.

 

A red-winged blackbird catches my eye.

 

When you see my photos, I want you to feel immersed in a sense of place. In that moment when I stand or squat or kneel to frame an image, I want you there. Or when I set my camera on the ground and aim the lens upward without looking through the viewfinder.

 

A prairie path…

 

I strive to tell stories, to introduce you to people and take you to places and events you may not otherwise see. To show you my little corner of the world and beyond, through my life lens.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling