Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Rural reflections in the season of autumn November 22, 2021

Harvest in Monkey Valley near Kenyon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2021)

NOVEMBER MARKS A MONTH of transition from autumn to winter here in Minnesota.

A tree frames an abandoned silo and the remains of a barn in Monkey Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Trees stand against an often grey sky, brisk winds stripping the last of their leaves to bare branches. Nests crafted by squirrels high in treetops appear vulnerable, unsheltered, exposed to the elements while far below these busy oversized rodents munch on maple seeds, hide walnuts, prepare for winter. Their smaller cousins find their way into our aged house and garage, necessitating a daily check of the trap-line.

Harvesting corn in Monkey Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Harvest is done. Corn and soybeans reaped. A once lush rural landscape now looks drab, awash in muted earth-tones.

Endless acres of corn defined the landscape near Kenyon pre-harvest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

For farmers, long days and nights in the field are but a memory. Stress and rush easing into a slower rhythm of life.

Spotted along a gravel road near Kenyon, grazing cattle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The early days of autumn hold such beauty in landscape, such promise in anticipation of harvest. I’ve always loved September and October. This autumn, particularly, in the unchanging season of COVID-19, I’ve needed to reconnect with the earth. To witness the harvest. To view farm sites. To follow back country gravel roads, dust trailing the van. To find peace.

A farm site in the ghost town of Aspelund. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

My appreciation for rural traces to my rural roots. I shall always feel gratitude for my 18 years on the farm. The southwestern Minnesota prairie shaped me as a writer and a photographer in that I noticed, still notice, details. The brutal slice of the winter prairie wind. The remarkable beauty of a flaming sun edging down. The taste of earth in potatoes dug from the garden. The sound of silence in hearing nothing. The unmistakable smell of harvest carried from combine to farmyard.

Just another view of the farm site in Monkey Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

These farm memories I carry with me as autumn wanes, as November days move Minnesota toward winter. Harvest done.

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NOTE: All of these photos were taken a month ago. The landscape looks much different now. Grey. Stark.

© Copyright 2021 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

 

Crafty scarecrows at a craft show in Kenyon October 27, 2021

Fall harvest underway near Kenyon in the Monkey Valley area. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

AUTUMN IN MINNESOTA. Ah, what a season.

A welcome sign at a Kenyon craft show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2021)

It is the season of harvest, of church dinners, of stunning fall colors. Of football games and simmering soups and visits to the apple orchard and pumpkin patch. September and October are, too, the season of craft shows here in southern Minnesota.

Celebrating the season with a yard full of scarecrows. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Recently, while returning from a fall color drive into the Sogn Valley and then on to Cannon Falls and back, Randy and I stopped at the 100 Ladies and Gentlemen Craft Sale along Minnesota State Highway 56 on the north edge of Kenyon. This marks the event’s 48th year.

Creative signage outside the craft sale building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

I’ve shopped here previously, perusing the handcrafted works of regional artists and crafters. From holiday decorations to art to baskets to candles to furniture to coveted homemade caramels and much more, the variety of items showcased inside a poleshed style building are endless. Although I walked in with my camera slung across my shoulder, I didn’t take any photos inside. As I recall, photography isn’t allowed to protect the works of creatives. I get that.

Recognized in a well-known publication. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
A fancy lady scarecrow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
Love the bright hues of this creative scarecrow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Instead, I aimed my lens at the scarecrows entered in the outdoor Scarecrow Contest. On a grassy area, scarecrows stake their spots and vie for visitors’ votes.

My favorite, which calls for close attention to details. Look at the eyes and mouth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The gathering of scarecrows adds a festive, seasonal feel to the autumn event.

Traditional scarecrow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
The scariest, in my opinion. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
Perhaps the most unusual scarecrow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

It’s fun to meander among them, to view the traditional, the scary, the unusual.

Humor among the scarecrows. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

These scarecrows, too, define the season. They remind me that Halloween is fast-approaching—an anniversary year here in Minnesota. This October 31 marks 30 years since the Halloween Blizzard of 1991. That four-day weather event dumped 28.4 inches of snow in the Twin Cities, with even more, 36.9 inches, in the Lake Superior port city of Duluth. Strong winds accompanied the overwhelming snowfall. And, yes, I remember.

More than just a tad creepy, another favorite scarecrow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

But in this moment, at this place defined by the works of creatives, I appreciated the autumn day. Sunshine and blue sky. Scarecrows’ hair and clothing flapping in the October wind. Winter not yet welcome in this season of craft shows.

FYI: The 100 Ladies and Gentlemen Craft Show continues from 10 am – 8 pm October 28-31 and November 4-7 (closes earlier on the final day).

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dilly Beans, pumpkins & more at Meriden roadside market October 25, 2021

Teb’s Food Stand in Meriden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

FROM 7 am – 6 pm DAILY, Louise tends a tiny produce stand along a paved road in the unincorporated northwestern Steele County settlement of Meriden.

A peek inside Teb’s roadside stand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

That’s where I met her on a recent mid-October Sunday afternoon—outside a shed the size of an outhouse. Louise lives right next door to Teb’s Food Stand, a seasonal business owned by her friend, Teborah Kath. Teb, she noted, was likely, in that moment, busy canning vegetables at her nearby country home.

Teb’s canned Cherry Tomato Mix is almost like a work of art. Beautiful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Garden-fresh and canned vegetables define the bulk of inventory tucked inside this hand-built shed constructed of salvaged wood, galvanized metal and a modern front door.

Teb’s Dilly Beans. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
Another jolt of color in canned peppers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
An assortment of Teb’s homemade pickles. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Here quart and pint jars edge shelves. Green beans pack tightly inside jars labeled Dilly Beans. Rich red tomato sauce colors Teb’s salsa. Oranges and reds and yellows mix inside jars of Cherry Tomato Mix and Peppers, splashing vibrant autumn hues. For pickle lovers, Teb crafts dill and bread & butter pickles.

Teb sells more than canned and fresh produce. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

She also sells baked goods—I spotted a singular package of bread. Next to the face masks, accessories and scrubbies.

Lots of squash options. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
Smallish pumpkins splash color into a corner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)
Bundled corn on a shelf. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Seasonal fresh produce is sold here, too, and artfully staged. Piles of assorted squash fill metal tubs. Pumpkins hug a corner near the door. Decorative corn and gourds rest on shelves. And outside more pumpkins and a collection of mum plants define this as a seasonal mini marketplace.

Prices & mark-downs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Chatting with Louise, who stepped aside when I started taking photos, proved a delight. Considering her 11-hour days at this less-than-busy location, I asked how she passes the time. Reading? She’s not much of a reader, she said, referencing her farm upbringing and the need to stay physically active. Sometimes she leaves temporarily to do chores at home—like mowing her lawn. Or sometimes she simply has other things going on that take her away from the roadside stand.

If Louise isn’t there, just leave your payment in the locked box. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

A handwritten sign next to a locked honor system box directs customers to go next door or call Louise with questions. But don’t count on her having change. She doesn’t. I purchased two squash for $4, almost $5.

Gourds for fall decor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

In addition to this small town produce stand, Teb also sells her garden and craft and baked goods at the Owatonna Farmers’ Market. Sales are good, even at the remote Meriden location, Louise noted.

The former creamery in Meriden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Meriden is one of those rural places perhaps unknown to many. Driving into town, I noticed a former creamery, the brick building in remarkable condition.

Meriden’s grain complex. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

But it is the cluster of mammoth grain bins which landmark Meriden. Homes line the road past the elevator to a dead end, an unwelcome warning sign marking the end of the street.

A slow-moving train moves through Meriden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Back at Teb’s Food Stand, conversation halted when a train car and locomotive rolled into town, horn blaring. Soon it reversed course, crossing the tracks again, horn blaring.

Teb’s Food Stand in Meriden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

By then I’d gathered enough photos and information to craft a story. To write about Lousie and Teb and this tiny produce stand edging a paved road next to a harvested bean field in Meriden, Minnesota.

NOTE: Teb’s Food Stand will close soon for the season, if it’s not already closed.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Richter Woods, rural Montgomery October 19, 2021

Richter Woods County Park and the on-site barn in LeSueur County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

EACH DAY OF SUNSHINE and warmth this late in October in Minnesota presents as a gift. We long-time Minnesotans understand that and celebrate. One less day of winter. One less day of cold and snow when the season of autumn extends. The recent weather has proven simply glorious.

Richter Woods Barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Late last week Randy took two days off work to savor these final days of autumn. And while we didn’t travel far, we delighted in nearby discoveries. We got a late start on Thursday, catching up on some much-needed rest. So we stayed close to home, aiming for western Rice County into LeSueur County.

Trees line both sides of the gravel road leading to Richter Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Eventually, we landed at Richter Woods County Park 1.5 miles west of Montgomery. I’d heard of the park, but had yet to visit.

The hilly countryside near Trondjhem Church, rural Lonsdale. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We followed the slow-paced route there along mostly back country gravel roads.

An unexpected sighting of two swans. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We paused once so I could photograph a pair of swans gliding across a small lake.

An aged barn along a gravel road. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I photographed, too, a weathered barn with fieldstone foundation. I often wonder how long barns will remain a landmark of our rural landscape. I feel an urgency to document their existence before roofs cave, boards rot, and only foundations remain.

A playground sits next to Richter Barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

At 80-acre Richter Woods, a mammoth barn looms, centering the park gathering space. The barn is available to rent for $75/day from April-October. With a spacious loft and main level, the barn offers plenty of room for events like weddings, reunions and much more.

Looking up to the haymow. Trees shadow the barn door. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I couldn’t access the locked barn. But I could envision the interior, especially the haymow with its curved wood frame. Many bridal couples covet rustic settings like this. I wonder whether many have discovered this barn circled by woods in the quiet countryside near Montgomery.

A splash of red/pink flowers bloom on a bush next to the green barn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As much as I appreciated the barn, I couldn’t get over the forest green color. I longed to see that barn in red, a historically-accurate hue. I expect others, too, have wondered at the unusual color choice. As a photographer, I find a red barn much more visually-pleasing.

One of two trails we took into Richter Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
No maps in this mailbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
There are lots of picnic tables on-site, some nice, others not so much. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Before pulling out our picnic lunch to dine near the barn, Randy and I stretched our legs. We followed a leaf-strewn dirt trail into the woods with no map to guide us. The on-site mailbox was without the promised maps.

Maple leaves galore. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Maple leaves, especially, blanket the earth.

Looking up toward the colorful tree canopy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

In a few spots, I looked overhead to a canopy of red and yellow trees set against the deep blue sky of October.

A recently-sawed tree. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We noticed, too, the many rotting and recently-sawed trees, I felt inwardly thankful for an afternoon without strong winds to possibly topple dead trees, loose branches.

Mushrooms on a fallen tree. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Mushrooms thrive in decay.

Loving the graceful curve of the barn roof. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Mostly, though, I noticed the peace. The quiet. I feel incredibly grateful to have access to natural settings like Richter Woods County Park. And I feel grateful, too, to live in this decidedly rural region of Minnesota within an hour of downtown Minneapolis. I feel grateful for gravel roads to follow. For barns that still stand. For warm and sunny October days that draw me into the countryside, into the woods.

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PLEASE CHECK BACK as I take you on to more backroads in Rice and LeSueur counties.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods at Falls Creek Park October 16, 2021

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On the expanse of grass outside the woods, silver maples shimmer against the blue sky of autumn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

A MILE EAST OF FARIBAULT just off Minnesota State Highway 60, the 61-acre Falls Creek County Park offers an escape into the woods. Mostly undiscovered, it’s rare to encounter others while hiking here.

Last Sunday afternoon, Randy and I headed to the park, pulling into the vastly over-sized gravel parking lot pocked with potholes. From there, we headed downhill across a grassy expanse, past the picnic shelter and toward an opening in the woods.

A wooden footbridge over Falls Creek allows entrance to narrow dirt trails. There are no maps to guide hikers, so you must rely on visual cues, obscured in October by fallen leaves. But we’ve been here before, always taking the main trail following the creek.

An unusual find in the creek: shoes/boots. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

The creek is always my first stop. I pause on the bridge, typically to watch water rush over and around rocks. But this visit, the shallow water pooled, littered with leaves and a pair of hiking boots—perfectly good hiking boots from the looks of the shoes. I wondered how they landed there, in the water.

In the places where water remains in the creek, leaves float. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Mostly, the creek bed was dry, a result of this year’s drought. In areas where water remains, minnows darted. The water is at least clear, a rarity in this agricultural region.

Randy scales a steep hill into the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

A short distance into the woods, Randy spotted a worn path up a steep hillside. I’d never noticed this during prior visits. Before I could dissuade him, he hoofed his way up, slipping and sliding and grabbing onto trees. When Randy lost his footing, I feared he would tumble and injury himself. As much as I yearned to follow, I recognized my limitations and my desire to keep my bones in-tact.

Berries jolt color into the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As he disappeared along the hilltop treeline, I continued along the creek route. But soon my mind went to that niggling place of worry, about the time I reached the point where the path sidles next to the eroded creek bank. One misstep and I could plunge over the edge. Not that it’s that high. But far enough to cause injury.

I backtracked, dug in my backpack for my cellphone (hoping for service), and then called Randy. He answered. “I didn’t come here to walk alone,” I told him, also inquiring about his location. He couldn’t pinpoint that except to say that he would head back. I feel thankful that Randy, unlike me, possesses a good sense of direction.

Remembering the hiking boots/shoes in the creek. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

“I don’t like being out here alone,” I added, noting that I’d observed two people on the path, too far away for me to clearly see them. Obviously those hiking shoes dumped in the creek prompted the beginning of a mystery plot in my writer’s brain.

Despite that concern, I aimed for the strangers…finding a cordial couple about my age examining mushrooms on a decayed tree. We talked mushrooms and my missing husband and they offered to help find him should need be. Their story of getting lost in these very same woods did nothing to assure me that Randy would find his way back. But he did. At a different point, where an unseen spring ran down the hillside and he did more slipping and sliding, this time in mud.

Randy follows the leaf-laden trail as it edges close to the eroded creek bank. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We reversed course and, together, followed the creek-side path deeper and deeper into the woods…until turning around and retracing our steps. I wished again for a trail map guide.

Near the footbridge, pools of water remain, collecting the fallen leaves of autumn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We veered briefly off the path to another trail leading to the creek. Again, no water. Only rocks on a dry creek bed.

Seemingly abandoned in the shelter. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Then it was back to the main route, a pause on the bridge to again wonder about those hiking boots and then a pause at the shelter to speculate about an abandoned bike, jacket and beverage bottle.

Not a soul remained at Falls Creek Park. At least no one visible to us. Only mysteries—of abandoned and tossed belongings and of unmarked trails leading deep into the woods.

© 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

 

So many reasons to visit Valley Grove, especially in autumn October 13, 2021

The artful gated entrance to Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I EXPERIENCE SOMETHING SACRED in this place. This preserved parcel of land where two aged churches rise atop a hill in rural Nerstrand.

Looking down the driveway from the hilltop church grounds, a beautiful view of the valley below. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

This is Valley Grove, among my most treasured local natural spaces to seek solitude. Beauty. Peace. And a feeling of sacredness that stretches beyond spiritual.

The newer of the two Valley Grove churches. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Randy and I sat on the front steps of the 1894 white clapboard church eating a picnic lunch. Bothersome bees hovered, drawn by the sweetness of Randy’s soda and fruit-laced yogurt and homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Photographed from a side of the clapboard church, the limestone church a short distance away. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

A stone’s throw away across the lawn sits the 1862 limestone church, constructed in the year of the U.S.-Dakota Conflict raging many miles away to the west.

The cemetery offers history, art and a place for quiet contemplation against a beautiful natural backdrop. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
An in-process gravestone rubbing. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
I find gravestone engravings especially interesting and often touching. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Valley Grove holds its own history as a community and spiritual gathering place for the area’s Norwegian immigrants. Walk the grounds of the cemetery next to the churches and you’ll read names of those of Norwegian ancestry. The cemetery remains well-used with new tombstones marking the passage of yet another loved one.

Information about Valley Grove is tucked inside a case on the side of the clapboard church. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I have no personal connection to Valley Grove. But I hold a deep appreciation for the history, honored via the Valley Grove Preservation Society. That organization maintains and manages the church and grounds. And its a lovely, especially in autumn, acreage.

Farm sites and farmland surround Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Once I’d finished my turkey sandwich and other picnic foods, I set out with my camera to document. The views from this hilltop site are spectacular. Farm land and farm sites, the low moo of a cow auditorily reminding me of this region’s agrarian base.

Conservation and legacy are valued at Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
Remnants of the Big Woods remain and can be seen from Valley Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
Following the prairie path back to the church grounds, just over the hill. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Tall dried prairie grasses frame nearly every view. Those who tend this land value its natural features of prairie and oak savanna. Paths lead visitors along prairie’s edge and onto the prairie to view distant colorful treelines, part of the Big Woods. The hilltop location offers incredible vistas.

On a mixed October afternoon of sun and clouds, a wildflower jolts color into the landscape. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

But up close is worth noting, too, especially the wildflowers.

An unexpected delight in the cemetery was an old-fashioned rosebush in full bloom. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

And in the cemetery I found an old-fashioned rosebush abloom in pink roses. Just like a rosebush that graced my childhood farm far away in southwest Minnesota where settlers and Native Peoples once clashed. I dipped my nose into blossom after blossom, breathing in the deep, perfumed, intoxicating scent.

Lots of wildflowers to enjoy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Spending time at Valley Grove, even when church doors are not open, seems sacred. I feel the peace of this rural location. The quiet. My smallness, too, within the vastness of sky and land and spires rising.

High on the hill…Valley Grove churches. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

To walk here, to sit on the front steps of a church on the National Register of Historic Places is to feel a sense of gratitude for those who came before us. For those who today recognize the value of sacredness and continue to preserve Valley Grove. Who understand that the spiritual stretches beyond church doors. To the land. To the memories of loved ones. And to future generations.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Apple Creek Orchard, beyond apples October 8, 2021

Inviting decor and outdoor seating create a welcome seasonal setting outside the boutique/store at Apple Creek Orchard, rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

MORE AND MORE, MINNESOTA apple orchards are growing more than just apples. They are growing memories, meeting public demand for experiences.

Bagged apples fill a crate just outside the boutique entry. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Apple Creek Orchard, located in the countryside just northwest of Faribault at 5524 185th Street, is among those producers embracing that trend. Here, in this rural setting, visitors can find not only 21 pre-picked apple varieties—including popular choices like Honeycrisp, Haralson, Zestar, SweeTango, Cortland and the new First Kiss—but also Halloween Town.

Riders spilled off this wagon shortly after our arrival. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

That October attraction includes a Haunted Trail Wagon Ride (Friday-Sunday), Haunted Corn Maze and apple slinging.

I saw many families posing here for photos. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Last Sunday afternoon, Randy and I popped in for a bag of apples while on a country drive to view the fall colors. We had no idea the orchard had evolved into more than a place to buy local apples…until we pulled into the farmyard. There, next to the aged mammoth barn with fieldstone foundation, I spotted a seasonal display of pumpkins and other décor staged on/aside straw bales. Plus a photo prop.

Plenty of pumpkins are available for purchase. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Rounding the end of the barn, I saw more. Vehicles lined along lawn’s edge near the barn and the multi-purpose poleshed housing Apple Creek Boutique. And up the hill, additional photo staging.

A fun touch on the front of the tractor adds to the Halloween spirit. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

On this glorious autumn afternoon in rural Minnesota, folks clearly arrived here not only for the apples, but also for the experiences. Young families. Grandparents. Couples. Many boarded the Fun Country wagon for a ride through the property. Former orchard owner Dan Abelman steered the Kubota M5-111 tractor pulling the wagon. We chatted with him briefly afterwards. He sold the orchard to Tami and Kevin Theis late this summer and continues to help with the transition. He’s supportive and enthusiastic about the changes the couple has made. And ready, too, to be moving into retirement.

Hank the Unicorn, a popular photo prop for visitors. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We didn’t go on the Haunted Trail Ride on a wagon named Josephine (my maternal grandmother’s name), but we roamed the grounds. There I found more photo props. Randy prompted me to sit on Hank the Unicorn so he could take, and text, a photo to our 5-year-old granddaughter. Already I was thinking, we need to bring Isabelle and Isaac here next fall.

The frightening entry to the hillside corn maze. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

While they may be a bit young for the 3-acre Haunted Corn Maze, I know they would enjoy the pumpkins, the autumn displays, the photo props…the experience…the time together as a family.

In the sunflower patch. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
A path runs between the sunflower and corn fields with a vintage tractor parked field side. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.
Some sunflowers were still blooming. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I got sidetracked also by a field of sunflowers, past their prime, but still a visual delight.

Details in decorating. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Inside the on-site store, tagged Apple Creek Boutique because you’ll find more than fresh apples here, I poked around. There you’ll find local honey, apple juice-infused meat snack sticks and sausage from Odenthal Meats of New Prague, caramel apples, cider, Grandma Eileen’s homemade apple pies, mugs, seasonal décor and much more. But we came for the apples, stashed in a cooler. I opted for a bag of my favorite, Honeycrisp.

Love the thought put in to seasonal decorating. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

In the future, Apple Creek Orchard hopes to offer pick-your-own apples. There are more plans in the works, too. Co-owner Tami Theis, a certified wedding planner, shared that a section of the poleshed will be converted in to an event venue, The Blossom. Also coming in 2022 are homemade pizzas, donuts and cider, plus a wiffle ball field.

Parked before the next boarding for a wagon ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I left feeling excited about this new local option for families, and others, to enjoy in rural Rice County. To learn more about apples. And to create memories via the agri entertainment now offered at Apple Creek Orchard.

FYI: Be sure to visit the Apple Creek Orchard website for more information and the orchard’s Facebook page for current updates on activities and offerings.

Other area orchards include Trumps Orchard on Faribault’s east side; Montgomery Orchard, rural Montgomery; and Fireside Orchard & Gardens, rural Northfield. I’ve patronized each of these. What’s offered at each varies, so please visit their websites for details.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A must-see: The beauty of autumn in rural Rice County October 7, 2021

Just days ago color tinted trees edging a cornfield in rural Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

THE MUTED AND VIBRANT HUES of autumn mix in the rural Rice County landscape, creating stunning seasonal scenes. If you crave color and harvest, this is your moment to get out for an afternoon country drive.

Choose a gravel road, any gravel road, and see where it leads you, here past fields and trees turning color. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Randy and I consider our county a best-kept-secret-place to view fall colors. Last weekend we traveled mostly gravel and county roads from Faribault to the Nerstrand area and back and then west to Kelly Lake. In between, we stopped for a hike at Caron Park, a picnic lunch at the hilltop Valley Grove churches and then for apples at Apple Creek Orchard.

Harvest is well underway in Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As farm-raised kids—me in southwestern Minnesota and Randy in central Minnesota—we find ourselves drawn to the countryside, especially during spring planting and then again during fall harvest. Our weekend drives updated us on harvest progress as we passed fields of corn and soybeans. Some picked. Some still drying under the intermittent autumn sun.

Even under partly sunny skies, the colored hillside of trees were beautiful. This is on a gravel road (Falk Avenue) off Rice County Road 20 northeast of Cannon City. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Across an expanse of cornfield on County Road 84/Falk Avenue (just off County Road 20 between Cannon City and Northfield), we paused to admire a treeline in the distance. We return here each year to simply stop and appreciate the hillside aflame with the hues of autumn.

Entering the woods on Farmers Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Likewise, we also follow nearby Farmers Trail, a remote gravel road (off Falk Avenue) which winds through woods. Primarily maples as evidenced by the colors and by the blue maple syrup tube collection system that weaves through the trees.

The beautiful treeline at Caron Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Caron Park, too, draws us to stop and hike into the woods. It’s a less-crowded option than the nearby popular Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The treeline at Caron Park, behind an open field of muted, dried grasses, is particularly stunning.

A family walks through the woods at Caron Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We walked into the woods, following a leaf-covered, eroded dirt trail that made me uncomfortable and unsure of my footing. Tree roots presented potential tripping obstacles. I focused more on staying upright than anything. Yet, despite that, I enjoyed the quiet and beauty of the woods. As did others, mostly young families.

We came across this farmer raking hay, like a scene from the past. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As we continued to follow country gravel roads, we sometimes drove in clouds of dust trailing pick-up trucks. That, too, reminds me of my agrarian upbringing. Yes, nostalgia often seeps into our view and our conversations. Once a farm girl/boy, always a farm girl/boy. Even if we’re decades removed from the farm.

Beauty in autumn ruralness. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I love how the rural countryside of Rice County often sweeps in valleys and hills, providing incredible vistas. Of farmland. Of wooded and open hillsides. Of land and sky connecting. All connected by gravel roads. This rural setting rates as particularly stunning in autumn.

The treeline across Kelly Lake is particularly beautiful in autumn. It should be even prettier than this soon. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We ended our drive at another favorite fall destination, the public boat landing at Kelly Lake northwest of Faribault. The view of the treeline across the water—which was unusually clear—always looks particularly lovely, although the colors were not at their peak yet during out stop. Soon.

Appreciating the trees overhead while hiking in Caron Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Heading back into Faribault toward home, I admired, too, how beautiful the trees in my community. Seventh Street. Second Avenue. There’s much to be said for looking in your own backyard for autumn’s glory. And I’ve found it. Right here, in Rice County.

FYI: Please check back for more photos from our country drive and for separate posts on Valley Grove churches and Apple Creek Orchard.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling