Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hints of autumn in Minnesota September 11, 2017

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ALREADY THE EARTHY HUES of autumn brush the Minnesota landscape. Touches of red and orange and yellow tip trees now spiraling leaves onto grass and asphalt and sidewalks.

I delight in autumn, a season I welcome for the crisp nights that birth mornings of warm sunshine. Each day seems a gift to hold heart close.

 

 

Summer memories fly on the wings of butterflies dipping among fading plants—milkweed and goldenrod and petunias drying in pots.

The air carries the scent of corn ripening, the anticipation of harvest approaching, the promise of the yield.

 

 

And in the evening, when the sun slips too soon into darkness, when I close the windows against the overnight cold, I smell still the spicy aroma of chili ladled into handcrafted bowls shaped of the earth. And I am grateful for this season of autumn in Minnesota.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Into the woods on an autumn afternoon in southern Minnesota November 10, 2016

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I DOUBT I’VE EVER SEEN so many oak leaves layering the ground. Thick. Brown. Rustling underfoot.

As my husband and I hiked into Kaplan’s Woods in Owatonna on Sunday afternoon, I noticed the abundance of oaks that distinguishes this city park from other parks/nature centers I’ve visited.

There’s something about an oak that denotes history and strength.

Yet, the distraction of all those oak leaves crackling underfoot doesn’t detract from my ability to notice nature’s details.

 

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Flash of yellow among mostly brown and grey.

 

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Bare (or mostly bare) branches set against a signature cobalt blue November sky.

 

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Fungi laddering up a tree trunk. Beautiful in an artistic, natural way. Like Nature’s sculpture.

 

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And then an unnatural road block at the end of a muddied path. “A gated community,” Randy jokes. And we laugh. Together. In the woods, under the oaks.

 

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In the dirt, initials carved with a stick, an “A” and maybe a “U.” Another Audrey? Probably not.

We turn around, our path blocked. I suggest we return to the main trail into the woods. We’re unfamiliar with this place and I have no intention of getting lost. Neither does Randy.

 

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Leaves crunch beneath our shoes. But then I stop abruptly, swing my camera left toward a moss covered log, the golden light falling just right.

I fail to hear or notice the runner closing in behind us. I’m in the zone, focused on photographing a selected scene. Randy, however, is watchful. He warns me. We step aside and continue on, a biker now barreling toward us on his mountain bike.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remember this weekend when the snow flies, my dear Minnesotans November 6, 2016

Feeding the ducks in Morehouse Park, Owatonna, Minnesota, Sunday afternoon.

Feeding the ducks in Owatonna’s Morehouse Park on Sunday afternoon.

IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA and did not spend most of this past weekend outdoors, then please do not complain come January. For we have had a gloriously long autumn that has extended in to these early days of November.

Walking on a carpet of oak leaves in Kaplan Woods, Owatonna.

Walking on a carpet of oak leaves in Kaplan’s Woods, Owatonna.

What a gift. What an absolute gift. Each day that the weather remains warm, sunny and without snow means one less day of winter.

Every detail, even leaves in a creek in Kaplan Woods, delighted me.

Every detail, even leaves in a creek in Kaplan’s Woods, delighted me.

For that I am thankful.

Some leaves are still clinging to trees like these by Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

Some leaves are still clinging to trees like these by Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

Sunshine and warmth defined the weekend, one I documented with my camera. When the snow flies and the temps dip to well below zero, I will pull up these photos and remember the delightful Autumn of 2016. And perhaps that will carry me to spring.

Cruisin' with the top down along Intersate 35E north of St. Paul Saturday afternoon.

Cruisin’ with the top down along Intersate 35E north of St. Paul Saturday afternoon.

Following a gravel road near Clinton Falls in Steele County.

Following a gravel road near Clinton Falls in Steele County on Sunday afternoon.

Finishing the corn harvest south of Faribault Sunday afternoon.

Finishing the corn harvest south of Faribault Sunday afternoon.

Mud hens bob across the choppy waters of Lake Kohlmier.

Mud hens bob across the choppy waters of Lake Kohlmier.

Checking out Lake Kohmier at the boat landing.

Checking out Lake Kohmier at the boat landing.

Taking the 1970s Ford Maverick out for a cruise Sunday afternoon by Lake Kohmier.

Taking the 1970s Ford Maverick out for a cruise Sunday afternoon by Lake Kohmier.

Sunday afternoon fishing along the Straight River in Morehouse Park.

Sunday afternoon fishing along the Straight River in Morehouse Park.

Water churns in the Straight River at the Morehouse Park dam.

Water churns in the Straight River at the Morehouse Park dam.

A recreational trail bridges the Straight River/Morehouse Park dam.

A recreational trail bridges the Straight River/Morehouse Park dam, a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts this weekend.

Lots of dogs were out with their owners.

Lots of dogs were out with their owners.

Almost unbelievable: mowing lawn on Sunday, November 6, in Owatonna.

Almost unbelievable: mowing lawn on Sunday, November 6, in Owatonna.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Glorious autumn in Faribault October 21, 2016

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THE TIME OF LOVELY, stunning days in Minnesota is fleeting, moving from autumn toward winter. Those of us who live here understand that. And we appreciate each day that brings sunshine, warmth and no precipitation, especially snow.

 

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With that mindset, it’s as if we can’t get enough of the outdoors. Raking leaves, clearing flowerbeds and other pre-winter activities fill our days. As do walks in the woods or drives to see the fall colors, which are nearly gone now except in portions of southern Minnesota.

 

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Last Sunday afternoon, I slung my camera across my shoulder and joined my husband on a walk through Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center. We had about a half hour to hike before an afternoon obligation would draw us indoors.

 

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I am not, by craft, a nature photographer. But I am an observer and a detail-oriented person. Put a camera in my hands and I begin to view my surroundings with even more detail. That’s one of the things I love about photography.

 

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Through the lens of my camera, I notice the play of light, degrees of color or lack thereof, curves and lines and shapes.

 

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Autumn is, if anything, a season when color fades, when muted earth tones prevail.

 

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Except for the occasional flare of fiery red-orange maples and oaks. And the blazing yellow.

 

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I love the cobalt blue skies of this season. While that hue was absent on the afternoon of my walk, I still tilted my head up to a canopy of clinging leaves.

 

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I also aimed my eyes and camera lens horizontally to appreciate plants drying. Cattails dry to a cottony fluff. Milkweed pods burst with the promise of next year’s growth.

 

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The seasons cycle. And as they do, I observe. I notice. I photograph.

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

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TELL ME: What’s your favorite fall activity? What do you appreciate about autumn?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vending rural & rustic in Zumbro Falls October 7, 2016

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TIS THE SEASON OF FALL occasional sales.

 

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Although I haven’t shopped one yet, I showed up a day early for The Rustic Hinge Fall Gathering in Zumbro Falls. Not on purpose. My husband and I were on a day trip, no specific destination in mind, when we happened upon a yard full of stuff in the heart of this small southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

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Stuff would be defined as collectibles, antiques, primitives and such all with a definitive rural and rustic theme.

 

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My disappointment rated high when I inquired and learned the sale opened the next day. And nope, no early shopping. Except window shopping, minus the windows. Too bad for me.

 

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I glimpsed new, aged, repurposed and other merchandise in the Hinge’s outdoor lot across the street from a building presumably packed with lots more.

 

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You have three more days to shop this occasional sale. That would be today (Friday) from 1 – 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

You can’t miss the sale. Downtown Zumbro Falls is only a few blocks long.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite occasional sale that you shop?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My observations as autumn teases Minnesota September 14, 2016

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As I passed Kamp Dels near Waterville recently, I noticed how the campground is emptying.

As I passed Kamp Dels near Waterville recently, I noticed how the campground is emptying.

AS MUCH AS I DON’T WANT to admit it, summer is fading into autumn here in Minnesota. I like fall. I really do. But I don’t appreciate what follows. Winter.

Just down the tree-lined road from Kamp Dels, leaves are changing color on lakeside trees.

Just down the tree-lined road from Kamp Dels, leaves are changing color on lakeside trees.

The shift in seasons began already in August with a subtle hint of color tinging select trees. Now more leaves are changing color and dropping. A leaf here, a leaf there. And before we know it, the trees are bare.

Between Waterville and Elysian sits the Cannonville Community Church.

Between Waterville and Elysian sits the Cannonville Community Church.

But I am getting ahead of the days.

Fields line a back county road between Waterville and Elysian.

Crops are changing color along a back county road between Waterville and Elysian.

For now, corn fields are morphing from green to golden. Flowers that once bloomed in vivid hues are browning, dying. Gardens are ripe with produce.

Ripening crops unfold before me near the Cannonville church.

In the rolling landscape near the Cannonville church, corn fields ripen.

The sun fades earlier. A definitive sharpness in the evening air hints of colder months ahead.

Fields and roadway stretch between Morristown and Faribault.

Fields and roadway stretch between Morristown and Faribault in rural Rice County.

I feel a certain sense of melancholy mixed with anticipation as autumn evolves, as harvest approaches. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes of September delight me. I welcome cobalt skies, splashes of red in tree lines, piles of pumpkins, candles flickering warmth and light, the comfort of a well-worn sweatshirt.

Hints of autumn are visible everywhere along this rural roadway between Morristown and Faribault.

Hints of autumn are visible everywhere along this rural roadway between Morristown and Faribault.

But I see winter knocking at the door, suitcase bulging with snowflakes.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sweeping valley view from Grandad Bluff in La Crosse October 20, 2015

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Grandad's Bluff, 89 valley view 1

 

LATE FRIDAY AFTERNOON and the sun lights and shadows La Crosse. High above this Wisconsin city just across the Mississippi River from Minnesota, I am aiming my camera toward the valley below. With a bit of trepidation. Even though I am securely fenced atop the nearly 600-foot high Grandad Bluff, I am still unnerved by the height.

 

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Yet, after awhile, I grow comfortable enough to edge to the railing and fire off shots of the scene below. Houses and colleges. Gridded streets. Water and sky and backdrop of bluffs. Trees, oh, the trees. With a view like this, it is not surprising that some 100,000 visitors come to Grandad Bluff annually.

 

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Despite the cold and fierce wind, admirers of autumn, like me, have driven to this bluff  park to appreciate the valley view. It is not an ideal time of day to shoot photos here, looking to the west in the late afternoon. But I manage.

 

Grandad's Bluff, 90 lookout point

 

Year after year after year, autumn still grabs my heart unlike any other season in the Midwest. Memories of riding in the family car along the gravel roads of the Minnesota River Valley from near Granite Falls east to Morton each fall remain a vivid visual from decades ago. But not until my daughters aimed east for college, one to the Mississippi River town of Winona and the other to La Crosse, did I discover the rugged river valley beauty of this region. This pocket corner of southeastern Minnesota and into Wisconsin is now a favorite to tour as the leaves change color. Anywhere along and near U.S. Highway 61 really.

 

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Oftentimes I reflect on how fortunate I am to live in a state like Minnesota with such a diverse terrain of prairie and rolling hills, river bluffs, woods and lakes and rivers. So much packed into our state and neighboring Wisconsin.

 

Grandad's Bluff, 87 red-haired girl

 

In this final month before winter grips the land, I savor scenes like that which unfolded before me Friday afternoon high atop Grandad Bluff. Soon enough trees will stand naked in the valley. Waterways will ice over. And images of this October day will remain in a computer photo file labeled La Crosse, and in the memory bank of my mind.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Grandad's Bluff, valley view 4

 

Grandad's Bluff, 86 standing atop post to take photo

 

This sculpture, installed in September, honors La Crosse resident Ellen Hixon. Sh saved this bluff from developers.

This sculpture, installed in September, honors La Crosse resident Ellen Hixon. She saved this bluff from developers. The bluff area became a park in 1912.

FYI: Check back for more stories from La Crosse.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling