Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Spring planting in Minnesota & why I care May 25, 2022

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Seed source, rural Elgin, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THE 2022 PLANTING SEASON has proven exceedingly challenging for Minnesota farmers. A late spring with unseasonably cold temps, coupled with too much rain, has delayed seeding of corn and soybeans.

A picturesque farm site in southern Minnesota, field in the foreground. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Some areas of our state have experienced widespread flooding, creating muddy conditions and lakes. Not exactly what farmers need in May. To add to that, destructive storms damaged or destroyed farm buildings and equipment, especially in the western region of Minnesota.

Soil type and topography (here on a hillside) affect tilling and planting, along with the biggest factor, weather. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Corn planting data from the United States Department of Agriculture (updated every Monday) shows below average planting progress throughout the Midwest, West and in some states east of Illinois. In Minnesota, only 60 percent of the corn was planted as of May 23. That compares to 98 percent last year and a 5-year average of 86 percent. That puts into perspective the 2022 planting delays.

Equipment, outside a farm outbuilding, ready for spring field work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yet, if you farm, you realize a stretch of good weather can quickly change everything for the good. Time will tell how this all plays out.

Following farm equipment on Minnesota State Highway 60. This is a common sight in spring which requires patience and caution by motorists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I find it interesting that, nearly 50 years removed from the farm, I still pay attention to spring planting, and, later, harvest. I have friends who farm. But, more than that, farming is part of my history, part of who I am, even as an adult decades distanced from living on the land. I am proud of my rural heritage. It shaped me. It grew me. I see that rural influence in my writing, my photography, in the places I value and, I suppose, even in the way I live my life.

A well-kept barn in southern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I am, and always shall be, honored to call myself a farm girl.

Another common sight on Minnesota roadways in the spring–a farmer hauling liquid manure to spread on fields. Not really anything you want to follow and I was thankful when the tractor turned. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did place shape you? I’d like to hear.

NOTE: I took these photos on May 14 in Goodhue, Olmsted, Rice and Wabasha counties in southeastern Minnesota. All images were taken through the passenger side windshield or side window while traveling on the roadway.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Featuring fun finds, farm-fresh, fiddling & more May 10, 2022

At last spring’s RCHS Spring Flea Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

AFTER AN INCREDIBLY long winter followed by an exceptionally cold, cloudy and wet spring, we Minnesotans are ready to get outdoors. We are ready to celebrate. We are ready to let the sun shine into our lives. And this weekend, opportunities abound locally to get out and enjoy spring in southern Minnesota.

Spotted at the spring 2021 flea market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

Rise and shine early on Saturday, May 14, to hit the Rice County Historical Society Spring Flea Market from 8 am – 2 pm in the parking lot and behind the RCHS museum in Faribault. I’ve attended many times and enjoy meandering among the vendors of antiques, collectibles, crafts and junk. I mean “junk” in a positive light.

Plants available for purchase a year ago, looking toward the vendor site under the fairgrounds car port. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2021)

While there, also check out the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market under the carport at the Rice County Fairgrounds from 10 am – 2 pm. Some 20 area/regional vendors will market spring produce, locally-grown starter plants, cheese, honey, pastries, woolen products, homemade soaps and much more.

Customers place orders at the Local Plate food truck at the May 2021 Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.)

Adding to the farmers’ market draw are local food trucks on site.

A group of mostly Northfield area musicians performed as Hutenanny at a past Valley Grove Country Social. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2010)

On Sunday, May 15, two area historic Norwegian churches celebrate Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day. Both events begin at 2 pm.

Duo churches grace the hilltop at Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2018)

At Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, the gathering focuses on the dedication of tapestries woven by Robbie LeFlueur. The Minneapolis weaver was commissioned to create four tapestries—three will be complete by May 15—that illustrate church history, the congregation and the surrounding flora and fauna. She will also give a weaving demo. Hardanger fiddlers from St. Olaf College will provide entertainment. Valley Grove, atop a hillside near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, is a favorite destination of mine given its beautiful and peaceful country setting. I’ve attended numerous celebrations, or simply walked, there and always enjoyed myself. The Syttende Mai event goes until 4 pm.

Completed in the fall of 1899, the second Trondhjem Church sits atop a 100-foot high hill. Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in Minnesota, this Norwegian church has walls constructed with 24 corners to brace it against the wind. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

In northern Rice County, the Norwegians of Old Trondhjem Church, rural Lonsdale, are hosting Tjarnblom, a Scandinavian folk group as their Syettende Mai celebration begins at 2 pm. There’s a brief meeting of the preservation society followed by coffee (of course), treats (of course) and fellowship (of course). I’ve also attended events at Trondhjem and recommend you join in this Norwegian celebration.

There you go. Four places to go in Rice County that will bring sunshine into your May weekend.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those Northfield cows April 25, 2022

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Holstein cow art adorns the milkhouse on the barn of friends in rural Dundas (near Northfield). These farmers once milked Holsteins. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2011)

NOW BILLED AS “A Classic American River Town” by the local tourism office, Northfield fits that description. This southern Minnesota community, where the James-Younger gang was defeated in 1876, hugs the Cannon River. The historic downtown is filled with mostly home-grown shops and eateries. And, as cliché as it sounds, Northfield is quaint and charming.

I love Northfield. If the cost of houses in 1984 had not been significantly higher than in neighboring Faribault, Randy and I would be living there. Instead, Randy has commuted from Faribault to Northfield to work as an automotive machinist for too many decades. But such is life and we’re happy to call Faribault home.

“Protect the herd” plays off the city’s “Cows, Colleges & Contentment” slogan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

But back to Northfield. There was a time when this city actively tagged its community with the phrase “Cows, Colleges & Contentment.” That slogan still graces some signage. I observed a cow-themed sign encouraging masking early in the pandemic. “Protect the herd” focused the message from the City of Northfield. I thought that incredibly powerful and catchy. You know, we’re all in this together type attitude. Care about one another.

I understand how “contentment” fits this community. And colleges, too, as Northfield is home to St. Olaf and Carleton colleges.

The blue cow I spotted recently in downtown Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

But I didn’t quite get the “cows” part until I found an explanation on the Visit Northfield website. In summary, in the late 1890s, a local farmer/newspaper editor suggested Northfield could attract businesses by focusing on breeding of Holstein cows. That eventually happened with 5,532 Holstein dairy cattle and 261 breeders in the area by 1916, a Northfield Holstein Club and the moniker, “Holstein Capital of America,” attached to Northfield. The aforementioned colleges also established Holstein herds. I encourage you to read the full story about the Northfield cows by clicking here.

Downtown Bicycles’ blue cow image. Now, what’s with the hot dog? (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

On a recent walk through downtown Northfield, I didn’t see any Holsteins. But I happened upon a blue cow painted on an orange door. The cow graphic marks Downtown Bicycles, 321 Division Street. Seeing that cow brought to mind the “Cows, Colleges & Contentment” theme, which led me to uncover the story behind the bovines of Northfield.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another world award for Caves of Faribault cheese March 21, 2022

Felix, Caves of Faribault’s latest award-winning blue cheese. (Photo source: Caves of Faribault Facebook page)

THERE SEEMS TO BE no middle of the road here, no riding the fence. Either you like it or you don’t. And I, for one, love blue cheese. I cannot think of a cheese I don’t love, although processed cheeses rate lower than others on my taste buds.

I live in a community where world class cheese is produced. This year the Caves of Faribault team brought home the bronze in the Blue Veined Cheeses with Exterior Molding category of the World Championship Cheese Contest held recently in Madison, Wisconsin. That award was given to Felix blue cheese, named after Caves founder, Felix Frederiksen.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The number of awards won by Caves of Faribault cheesemakers in the past dozen years in numerous competitions is lengthy and impressive. (See the awards list here; you’ll scroll and scroll.)

Surprisingly, I have not yet tasted Felix blue cheese. Described as having a “dense, fudgy texture,” it’s aged for 60 days minimum in caves carved in the 1850s into sandstone bluffs along the Straight River. Originally, those caves were used by local beer-makers. The process for crafting Felix allows the sandstone caves to “create a natural rind that picks up on the different microflora that inhabit the caves,” according to the Caves website. That’s the basic scientific explanation. I mostly just care that the blue cheese tastes good.

Once my primary source of local cheese, The Cheese Cave closed several years ago. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

My go-to Caves cheeses have been their long-standing Amablu®, Amagorg® (Gorgonzola) and St. Pete’s Select® (blue cheese). With the closing of the Caves downtown Faribault retail store and restaurant a number of years ago, finding our Caves cheese locally has dropped to one source, HyVee grocery store. Note that it’s available in many other places throughout Minnesota and in all other 49 states and internationally. Illinois-based Prairie Farms Dairy Inc now owns Caves of Faribault. Ownership changes often result in changes away from local focus.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a perfect salad, topped with lemon poppyseed dressing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

Cheesemaking has a history in Faribault tracing back to 1936 and that first cheesemaker, Felix Frederiksen. Faribault, according to the Caves website, is the home of America’s first blue cheese. And now, 86 years later, local cheesemakers continue to craft award-winning blue cheese in sandstone caves along the river. Cheese that I, for one, love.

Big Woods Blue from Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand, by the Big Woods (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

FYI: There are other award-winning cheesemakers in this region of southern Minnesota, including Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand, and CannonBelles Cheese, Cannon Falls. Both are part of the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market producers group. That locally-sourced/grown/raised/crafted market held its last inside winter market recently, but restarts in the warm season at its outdoor location under the carport at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. The first outdoor market is from noon – 3 pm Saturday, April 16. The next follows from 10 am – 2 pm on Saturday, May 14.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo credit: Caves of Faribault Facebook page

 

Mary Welke’s art reconnects me to my rural roots March 8, 2022

Corn husks define Mary Welke’s mixed media on canvas, “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I FELT CONNECTED, oh, so connected to Minneapolis artist Mary Welke’s art as I viewed her exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

The lower portion of “Roots” shadows on the gallery wall. These are dry corn roots. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s mixed media art is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It resonates with me, reconnecting me to my southwestern Minnesota prairie roots. To the farm. To the land. The place that shaped me as a person, writer and photographer.

Nature inspires Mary Welke as seen in these oversized mixed media art pieces. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

That I experienced such a strong emotional reaction is a credit to this artist, who grew up near the Mississippi River in northeast Minneapolis. Her childhood exploration of river and fields and time with her grandmother in a sprawling vegetable garden instilled an early appreciation of nature, which inspires her art.

“Autumn Yield” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Understanding that background explains how this urban resident came to create “Field and Farmland,” a project funded by a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant. She also did her homework—visiting, researching and documenting the prairie and meeting with farmers. The result is art reflecting the prairie, prescribed burns and farmland restoration.

“Spring/Summer Renewal” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

The incorporation of organic materials like soil, corn roots and leaves, other crop residue and more drew me into Welke’s art. I felt as if I was back on the farm, watching my dad turn the rich black soil toward the sun for spring planting. I felt, too, like I was walking the rows of a harvested corn field, the scent of autumn lingering in the prairie wind.

I didn’t note the title of this art featuring burlap and twine. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
So much texture in “After Harvest” by Mary Welke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Corn husks up close in Mary Welke’s “Shucks.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Welke’s art is layered. Textured. It holds not only a visual depth, but a depth of connection to the land, to farming.

Mary Welke’s “Topographical Prairie Lands” scattered across a black surface. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

This is what I love about art. The ability to relate. To stand in a gallery and contemplate. Remember. Appreciate. And, with Welke’s work, especially, to feel rooted in the land.

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NOTE: Please check back for more posts on other exhibits currently at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Artists Mary Welke, Kate Langlais, Michael Stoecklein and Summer Heselton will participate in a Visual Artists Talk at 6:30 pm on Thursday, March 10. See the Paradise Center for the Arts Facebook page for more info. The art of all four will be on display at the Paradise through March 19.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Along Goodhue County Road 8, past fields, farms & ghost towns November 16, 2021

Just outside of Cannon Falls along Goodhue County Road 8, we stopped to admire the treeline and the gravel road winding toward it. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

WHITE ROCK. Belle Creek. Hader. They are among the 60-plus ghost towns of Goodhue County. Places that once thrived, marked now only by signs along a road, a cluster of homes, perhaps a church or abandoned buildings.

Oh, lovely hues of autumn near Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Yet, acknowledging their existence, as the Goodhue County Historical Society does with roadside signs, matters. Because these towns mattered to previous generations and still matter to those with connections to the likes of Aspelund, Burr Oak Springs, Crystal Springs, Eidsvold, Skyberg and so many more with names that hint at heritage and sound poetically beautiful.

Snugging CR 8, a well-kept barn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

On a road trip to Goodhue County a month ago, Randy and I followed County Road 8 east and then south of Cannon Falls back toward Faribault.

Clouds and trees and field along CR 8. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Our route took us past clusters of woods, some tinged in autumn hues.

Goodhue County Road 8 near Cannon Falls sweeps into the valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Soon the road curved and swept into the valley, rows of corn rolling across the landscape. Only groves of trees surrounding farm sites broke the vista of endless unharvested fields.

Somewhere between White Rock and Belle Creek, this farmyard drew my eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Sometimes those farmyards hugged the paved road and I caught a close-up glimpse of farms, some with aged weathered barns and outbuildings, others updated with modern equipment and structures.

Likely a former creamery in Belle Creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

In Belle Creek, Randy and I noticed a white building, likely a former creamery. Creameries often graced these small settlements, a necessity for farmers who sold cream for butter-making.

In Belle Creek, a building with an unknown-to-us story. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Another building in Belle Creek left us guessing at its past life. Perhaps a general store. Then a dance hall. We could be way off…

Seeing cows in the countryside takes me back in time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)
Near Hader, I spotted calves outside their huts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Occasionally, we spotted cattle, cows, calves. Growing up on a dairy farm, I delight in seeing bovines, especially Holsteins. But rare are the small family farms today that still raise animals. Corporate and mega farms have mostly replaced that self-sufficient lifestyle. That’s reality.

Lots of sky and cornfields along CR 8 in Goodhue County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

Just like ghost towns, many farms have become, in some ways, ghost farms. They are but ghosts of the past. Ghosts of their former selves and purposes. I see that in decaying, empty buildings, especially barns. I see that in the absence of livestock. I see that in families who can no longer support themselves solely via the farm.

Farm after farm after farm defines this area of Goodhue County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo mid-October 2021)

All of this is unsettling. But with time comes change. And with change must come acceptance and perhaps also an added historical appreciation for the past.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the backroads of Sogn Valley November 9, 2021

Along a backroad in the Sogn Valley, an aged barn and silo hug a curve on a gravel road. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

MINNESOTA’S DIVERSE LANDSCAPE inspires. From the vast prairie to the northwoods. From lakes to rivers. From hills to valleys. My home state, minus mountain ranges and ocean, is truly a beautiful place. We are so much more than cold and snow, as many non-residents equate with Minnesota.

The countryside near Nerstrand, on our way to Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Autumn, especially, showcases Minnesota’s natural beauty. This fall, Randy and I took many rural drives to immerse ourselves in the countryside and the season. We chose road trips over staying home and doing chores on the weekends. Our priorities change as we age. The work can wait. We recognize, too, the approach of winter. We felt an urgency, a need, to hit the road before the snow flies.

We drove through Nerstrand, past the grain elevator, on our way to the Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Often we choose a destination, this time Cannon Falls. But sometimes we simply head in a general direction, oversized Minnesota Atlas & Gazetteer available to guide us. We prefer paper maps to GPS. This trip, we aimed east toward Goodhue County, driving through the picturesque Sogn Valley.

The rolling countryside of the Sogn Valley provides a beautiful backdrop for farms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I love this rural region defined by farms and fields and winding gravel roads. Hills and river valleys and prairie intermingle and it’s all like poetry writing upon the land.

I delight in finding cows grazing deep in Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As a farmer’s daughter, I hold a fondness for aged barns, at one time the anchor of an agrarian life. I labored for years on my southwestern Minnesota childhood family dairy and crop farm, most of that time inside the barn. Or the silo.

Abandoned building, abandoned tractor in the Sogn Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Now, when I pass by barns weathering in abandonment, I feel overcome by sadness. I recognize that a way of life is vanishing. I understand and appreciate advances in agriculture while simultaneously grieving the loss of farm life as I knew it.

I worry about all the barns we are losing. They hold history. Stories. Memories. And they are falling in heaps of rotted wood.

Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church, rural Goodhue County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

But, on this drive through the Sogn Valley, we happened upon a small country church that uplifted my spirits. Country churches and adjoining cemeteries rate as another draw for me deep into rural Minnesota. They are historically, poetically, spiritually and artistically relevant.

Along 70th Street in Goodhue County, on a small plot of land ringed by a row of trees and set among cornfields, Eidsvold Norwegian Methodist Church rises. The last service was held here in 1949. Yet, the aged clapboard structure remains. Important to someone. And on this Friday morning in mid-October, appreciated by me.

PLEASE CHECK BACK tomorrow as I take you on a tour around, but not inside (it was locked), Eidsvold church.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the heart of historic Cannon Falls November 1, 2021

Signage on the building housing Antiques on 4th, a bright, uncluttered shop with artfully-displayed merchandise and friendly shopkeepers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

YOU CAN LEARN much about a small town by simply walking. And looking, really looking.

Two historic buildings in downtown Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

On a recent day trip to Cannon Falls, I explored part of the downtown business district. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the Cannon Falls Historic District includes 22 historically-significant structures.

Bold art on the side of the building identifies the local hardware store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Given my love of historic architecture, and art, this Goodhue County community of 4,220 within a 40-minute drive of Minneapolis and St. Paul rates as a favorite regional destination.

Signage marks the popular winery in Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Cannon Falls thrives with a well-known winery and bakery and an assortment of shops from antique to gift to hardware store. Toss in a mix of eateries, bars and a brewery and, well, there’s lots to see and do here. Plus, the town attracts outdoor enthusiasts who canoe the Cannon River and/or bike/hike the Cannon Valley Trail and Mill Towns Trail.

A mural at Cannon River Winery provides a backdrop for an outdoor space. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

During my mid-October visit, I popped into a few shops (including the bakery), discovered the lovely library and admired a new downtown mural. Because of COVID concerns, I skipped dining and imbibing. It was too early in the day and too cool to enjoy either outdoors.

Cannon Falls’ newest mural, a 2021 Youth Mural Arts Community Project, highlights geography, history and local interests. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Still, I found plenty to take in from the colorful new mural to the art inside the library to ghost signage.

Showing some love for Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I noticed, too, hometown pride in the I LOVE CANNON FALLS! tees in a storefront window.

I learn so much about communities by reading signs in windows. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I noticed also notices taped in a display window, one of which alerted me to Mailbox Mysteries, which led me to the library around the corner which led me to sign up for this challenging endeavor. Now I’m trying to solve the “Gangster’s Gold” mystery with weekly clues snail mailed to me by the library.

Inside the library, I found this vivid “Once Upon a Time” mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Had I not done this walk-about through downtown Cannon Falls, I likely would have missed these nuances. The details which help define this community.

A scene in the center of downtown Cannon Falls reminds me of the town’s rural roots. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As I meandered, I paused to watch a John Deere tractor roll through downtown pulling a wagon heaped with golden kernels of corn. This is, after all, an agricultural region.

A grain complex in Cannon Falls. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Later, Randy and I picnicked at Hannah’s Bend Park, the local grain elevator complex defining the nearby skyline. As we finished our lunch, a bald eagle soared overhead, wings spread wide. I expect the Cannon River drew the majestic bird here, to this small southeastern Minnesota town, this Cannon Falls.

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FYI: Please check back for more posts from Cannon Falls and the surrounding area, including the Sogn Valley. Also enjoy my earlier post on Hi Quality Bakery by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of rural roads & polka music in Minnesota Czech country October 21, 2021

A farm site near Richter Woods County Park, rural Montgomery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

AS WE ROLLED THROUGH THE COUNTRYSIDE on an October afternoon in rural Minnesota, Randy switched on the radio. To KCHK, a New Prague-based radio station.

Gravel roads, sky and fields stretch before us in the southern Minnesota countryside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Polka music pulsed through the van in a rhythmic beat. It was an unusual station choice given I listen primarily to contemporary Christian music on KTIS and Randy enjoys talk radio. But, occasionally on his 22-minute drive home from work, Randy tunes in to KCHK to listen to late afternoon featured 50s-70s music.

A farm site tucks behind a hill in LeSueur County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

In the heart of Czech country, though, the radio station is known for its day-time polka programming.

Occasionally we passed between colorful treelines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
A common Minnesota harvest scene: a farm truck parked in a field. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
Love the copper hue of this barn roof on a farm just off State Highway 13 between New Prague and Montgomery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

As we drove along back country gravel roads—past farm sites and harvested fields and farmers working in the fields—the rhythm of polkas, of accordions pushed in and pulled out to create music, set a joyful tone. The music fit the scenes unfolding before us.

The music reminded me, too, of wedding dances back home decades ago in southwestern Minnesota. Of couples twirling across a well-worn wooden dance floor. Of booze bottles wrapped in brown paper bags. Of extended families gathered in a simple town hall to celebrate a marriage. Of The Bunny Hop and The Butterfly and all those dances that brought people together for an evening of fun.

Just harvested corn flows into a grain truck along Lake Avenue west of Lonsdale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Those memories lingered as polkas played on KCHK. As just-harvested corn flowed into a grain truck. As we passed a mailbox with the name Skluzacek posted thereon. We were deep in the heart of Czech country near New Prague/Lonsdale/Montgomery.

Near Richter Woods County Park west of Montgomery, a farm site overlooks the countryside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

There is something incredibly comforting about the mix of memory and music and meandering in rural Minnesota. Moments like this impress upon me the need to simply be. To recognize the value in an afternoon drive in the country. No destination. No haste. No agenda.

A farm site hugs a cornfield along Lake Avenue west of Lonsdale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Time to just appreciate. The hard work of the farmer during harvest. The farm sites. Gravel roads.

As we passed this rural property along 60th Street West southeast of New Prague, I photographed this horse sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

And the unexpected sighting of horseshoe art where horses graze.

Oh, the glorious hues of autumn in rural southern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I treasure the memories shared and made with my husband of nearly 40 years as we followed rural routes, polka music thrumming in the background.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections during the season of harvest in Minnesota October 14, 2021

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Harvesting corn in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

DUST RISES FROM FIELDS, clouding the air as combines rake through rows of dry soybeans.

Barely visible, the top of the same combine featured in the photo above. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Combines comb corn rows, too, in this season of harvest in southern Minnesota.

Follow country roads, like this one in eastern Rice County, to view fields at a slower pace. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Take a drive in the countryside these days and you will observe farmers hard at work, bringing in the crops.

A common site, semi trucks parked in fields, awaiting the yield, this one in western Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As October moves to mid-month, a sense of urgency presses into long days in the field. By 7 pm, darkness envelopes the land and farm machinery still moves, like a mammoth beast lumbering across acres of corn and soybeans, eyes aglow.

A silo peeks above a cornfield in eastern Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

It is in this season of harvest that I feel a bit melancholy, missing my once close connection to the land. The scent of earth. The view of acres and acres and acres of crops drying to muted hues, visual evidence of a farmer’s work. The sound of combines roaring. The taste of dust and dirt. Golden orbs of soybeans sifting between fingers spread wide.

A farm site spreads across the land in western Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

While I once experienced all those first-hand on my childhood farm in southwestern Minnesota, today I feel an outsider looking in. Watching. Remembering. Feeling grateful for the years I lived on a farm, never realizing then just how much those days would mean to me later in life.

Grain bins, like these in eastern Rice County, symbolize harvest as storehouses for grain. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Each autumn I yield to the call of harvest. I reconnect to the land. Observing. Recalling. Missing my farmer dad and my Uncle Mike, a bachelor farmer who lived the next farm place over to the east. They are decades gone now, their final harvests long-finished.

Acres of wildflowers bloom in a field off Rice County Road 20 between Northfield and Cannon City. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

These emotions rush like a blustery October wind into my thoughts as winter approaches. As harvest continues, as seasons pass and life goes on.

Cornfield to the right, farm site to the left, all part of a Sunday afternoon country drive in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

TELL ME: Do you go for country drives to view the harvest? Or, if you live in a city, how do you celebrate autumn? I’d like to hear, wherever you live. I welcome harvest memories also.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling