Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back in Redwood County after July flash floods July 9, 2018

Just six weeks ago, spring planting was underway in this same area of rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

DURING MY LAST TRIP to southwestern Minnesota in mid May, farmers worked the land. Tilling. Planting crops. Rushing to get seeds into the soil after a late spring start.

Now, some six weeks later, acres and acres of that same cropland lie under water, corn and soybean fields flooded by torrential rains. Flash floods that turned farm land into lakes early last week.

On our route west of Redwood Falls then north to Belview then later east of Belview along county roads back to Redwood, Randy and I observed lots of standing water. Massive lakes where crops should now thrive. It was disheartening to see the efforts and hopes of so many farmers gone. Flash, just like that. Weather is always the gamble of farming. I would never have the mental fortitude to farm. I admire those who do.

As we drove, I noted the wash of debris along shoulders, evidence that floodwaters overtook the county road. We drove a narrow ribbon of asphalt, water edging both sides of the roadway. Orange cones and orange flags flagged danger. An orange snow fence blocked a gravel road.

I understood that, days after the flash flood, we had not seen the worst of this devastating storm. But it was enough for me to gauge the significant loss to the farmers of my native Redwood County.

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NOTE: My apologies for the lack of flood images. But I am under strict orders from my ortho surgeon not to use my left hand as I recover from surgery on my broken left wrist. “Use it,” he said, “and you will be back in the OR.” I’ll listen, thank you.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Autumn, Southern Minnesota’s season of harvest & hope October 4, 2016

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Somewhere between Morgan and New Ulm, in the middle of prime Minnesota farm land.

Somewhere between Morgan and New Ulm, in the middle of prime Minnesota farm land early Saturday evening.

HARVEST. That word holds the seasons of a farmer’s hope.

A partially-harvest cornfield between New Ulm and Morgan.

A partially-harvest cornfield between New Ulm and Morgan.

From spring planting to summer growth to autumn ripening, a farmer focuses on the outcome—a yield that brims with golden corn and soybeans.

Harvesting between St. Peter and Nicollet.

Harvest equipment sits in a cornfield west of St. Peter.

Through months of looking toward the skies, of weathering too much or too little rainfall, of watching heat shimmer waves across fields, of tending and waiting, a farmer anticipates this season of harvest.

Driving west on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

Driving west on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

On a day trip Saturday from the southeastern to the southwestern side of Minnesota—through Rice, Le Sueur, Blue Earth, Nicollet, Brown and Redwood counties and back—I observed the harvest. Minimal on the eastern side, which has been flooded with too much recent rainfall, but in full swing in the counties of Brown and Redwood.

Combing beans near New Ulm.

Combining beans near New Ulm.

Farmers worked the land, dust enveloping combines.

A red grain truck jolts color into a field near New Ulm.

A red grain truck jolts color into a field near New Ulm.

North of Belview, trucks await the harvest.

North of Belview, trucks await the harvest.

Parked outside the elevator in Morgan.

Parked outside the elevator in Morgan.

Farming communities like Morgan are busy with harvest.

Farming communities like Morgan are busy with harvest.

Grain trucks idled in fields and barreled down county roads toward local elevators

Near Courtland.

Near Courtland.

Grain bins near Waterville.

Grain bins near Waterville.

or homestead grain bins.

Driving into Courtland.

Driving into Courtland.

This time of year, motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving farm equipment.

This time of year, motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving farm equipment.

Harvest started west of St. Peter.

Harvest started west of St. Peter.

The landscape crawled with tractors and combines and trucks, farmers at the wheels, guiding the crops toward harvest.

White among fields of golden crops.

A harvested field against a farm site backdrop of white.

And I observed it all. No longer an intimate part of this process as I once was so many decades ago on my Redwood County childhood farm, I am still connected to this season by the memories that trace deep within me.

West of New Ulm, grain wagons sit in a field.

West of New Ulm.

Harvest still holds me in hope.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A country moment from southwestern Minnesota October 3, 2016

YOU KNOW YOU’RE in rural Minnesota when…

 

cattle-by-rock-dell-cemetery-123

 

…within feet of a country cemetery, a fenced-in cow saunters past a mounded grave graced with flowers.

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Photo taken on October 1, 2016, Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

American pride on Memorial Day weekend May 25, 2015

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Downtown Waseca, Minnesota, on Memorial Day weekend.

Downtown Waseca, Minnesota, on Memorial Day weekend.

MEMORIAL DAY BRINGS a focused gratefulness for freedom. And nothing is more visually representative of freedom in the U.S. than the American flag.

Another scene from downtown Waseca, on the other side of the street.

Another scene from downtown Waseca, on the other side of the street.

This weekend those flags are flying seemingly everywhere. On front porches, from flag poles and from lamp posts.

Driving eastbound on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

Driving eastbound on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and Mankato.

I feel my national pride swell at the sight of flags flying in communities like Elysian, Waseca and Morristown. On a Saturday trip from Faribault to Belview and back, I noticed the red-white-and-blue adorning homes, businesses, pick-up trucks and even silos. Just outside of Morristown, a couple grilled on their deck, an American flag waving in the wind just inches away.

A business in downtown Belview, Minnesota.

A business in downtown Belview, Minnesota.

I am thankful to live in this country. And grateful to those men and women who died for freedom. Because of them, I am free to express myself through writing and photography. Free.

The American flag on a bag of  Crystal Sugar.

The American flag on a bag of Crystal Sugar.

On Sunday, as I diced rhubarb in my kitchen, I pulled a bag of sugar from the cupboard. And there, at the top of the bag, was printed an American flag. I paused in that moment, remembering the words I’d sung hours earlier at Trinity Lutheran Church, where I am free to worship:

God bless America, Land that I love,
Stand beside her, and guide her
Through the night with a light from above…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
“God Bless America” by Irving Berlin

 

Celebrating an enduring love of 50 years July 30, 2014

THE PHOTO FROM FIFTY YEARS ago is priceless. Six cousins, all nieces of the groom, step ladder lined up on the steep steps of Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, Minnesota.

I'm third from the top.

I’m third from the top in this 50-year-old image tucked into a photo album.

I wish I remembered that moment when newlyweds, Merlin and Iylene Kletscher, descended the stairs. But I was only eight then, snugged between cousins, on that beautiful early November day in 1964. Or at least I assume the weather was unseasonably pleasant as we’re dressed like it’s summer.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Fast forward fifty years and I’m back in Belview, this time at Odeon Hall, an historic 1901 community center next to city hall and the fire department and within a block of my aunt and uncle’s home. They recently moved back to Iylene’s hometown.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close. The honored couple are to the left front.

I am there with my husband and hundreds of others celebrating the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary several months early.

Merlin and Iylene's wedding photo served as a table decoration.

Merlin and Iylene’s wedding photo served as a table decoration.

And I wonder, as I reconnect with cousins and other aunts and uncles, how fifty years have passed.

Dyed bridesmaid's shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

Dyed bridesmaid’s shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

It seems only yesterday I was an 8-year-old wearing cat eye glasses, hair pulled back with a barrette, dressed in my Sunday best button back green corduroy jumper and white blouse perched on those steps in my shiny black patent leather shoes.

Iylene's wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin's suit.

Iylene’s wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin’s suit.

Yesterday.

Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

But yesterday was fifty years ago, when high school sweethearts Merlin, 19, and Iylene, 20, pledged their love to one another before family and friends in a small country church. Within six years, they had four children.

Merlin and Iylene today.

Merlin and Iylene today.

What a blessing to have a half century together.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

Fifty years are worth celebrating.

Guests linger as the party ends.

Guests linger as the party ends.

And I was delighted to be there, as I was on November 7, 1964, to congratulate my aunt and uncle, this time fully appreciating the depth of their love for one another.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One grand winery & pizza place in the Minnesota River Valley June 6, 2014

A vineyard at Grandview Valley Winery, rural Belview, Minnesota.

A vineyard at Grandview Valley Winery, rural Belview, Minnesota.

TWO YEARS AGO TOMORROW, in the scenic Minnesota River Valley north of Belview, a winery opened.

Folks have raved to me repeatedly about Grandview Valley Winery, located on land that’s been in a family (Wayne and Kari Rigge and John and Laura Rigge) for four generations.

Now, after visiting this winery, I understand their enthusiasm.

The winery and its vineyard.

The winery and its vineyard.

But it’s not just the great homemade pizza and the wine that appeal to me. It is the geographic surroundings, the pronounced pastoral loveliness of this peaceful place positioned within the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

Entering Belview from the north.

Entering Belview from the north upon returning from the winery. Grandview is nearly six miles north of this small town.

Pause to read the Boiling Spring historic marker.

Pause to read the Boiling Spring historic marker.

Another marker notes the Knutson family farm.

Another marker notes the Knutson family farm.

To get there from nearby Belview, follow Redwood County Road 7 north, winding past farm places, past historical markers for Boiling Spring and the Knutson family farm, where my Aunt Iylene grew up.

Turn onto this gravel road just off Redwood County Road 7.

Turn onto this gravel road just off Redwood County Road 7.

This is good pasture land.

This is good pasture land.

Incredible aged bedrock.

Inpressive aged bedrock.

And then, shortly after the markers, turn east, your vehicle kicking up dust as you pass more farms, cattle grazing in pastures and mammoth bedrock heaped in hills along tree-hugged gravel roads leading to Grandview.

Almost there.

Almost there.

Arriving at Grandview Valley Winery.

Arriving at Grandview Valley Winery.

Nearly six miles from Belview, you reach vineyard and winery.

Dine inside or outside on the patio to the left.

Dine inside or outside on the patio to the left.

Solitude embraces with the type of comfort that comes from being in a locale where you feel cocooned from the world, sheltered from the worries and stresses and rush of everyday life. For me, it was the “I could live here” thought. Or at least escape here for a few hours. This marks the perfect place to sip a glass of valley made wine with delicious homemade pizza.

The nearly full parking lot.

The nearly full parking lot.

Not that Grandview offers quiet dining. Quite the opposite. The gravel parking lot on this late May evening, is already nearly full. Inside the winery, diners pack tables while several groups gather on the patio. It’s almost a surprise to see so many here in this rural location, although I’ve been warned about the busyness and sometimes long wait for pizza.

The bacon cheeseburger and BBQ pulled pork pizza.

The bacon cheeseburger and BBQ pulled pork pizza.

But on this Saturday evening, probably because of area high school graduation parties, my husband, a sister, my older brother and his wife, and I need not wait all that long for our two pizzas—halves of German, BBQ pulled pork, buffalo chicken and bacon cheeseburger. To my surprise, I find the sauerkraut-topped German pizza to be especially tasty and my favorite of the four.

The guys order beer, my brother choosing  Goosetown, a German craft beer from August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. Goosetown is an historic nod to an ethnic New Ulm neighborhood where primarily Catholic, German-Bohemian immigrants began settling in the late 1800s. They kept gaggles of geese. My husband opts for Grain Belt’s Nordeast, another Schell’s made beer, because Goosetown is not on the beer list he’s been handed and he doesn’t hear my brother’s order.

I failed to photograph the wine. But I did photograph the wine list.

I failed to photograph the wine. But I did photograph the wine list.

I choose a semi-sweet white wine made from Frontenac Gris grapes and finished with hints of peach, apricot and green apple. Rockin’ Coyote holds the promise of summer and the wild side of this land where I’m certain more than a few coyotes range.

Our conversation flows with the ease that comes from dining among those you love, those who know your history and your quirks and don’t care.

We laugh. And I am teased mercilessly for my gullibility as my sister-in-law reveals that crawdads will not be served at her daughter’s wedding as she previously told me.

Grandview feels like home to me, my connectedness as solid as the aged bedrock lodged in this land.

FYI: Click here for more information about Grandview Valley Winery.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Seeding the harvest in southern Minnesota May 30, 2014

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Between Morgan and New Ulm, Minnesota.

Between Morgan and New Ulm, Minnesota.

AS MOODY GREY SKIES—the kind that inspire a poet to pen poetry—loomed in southern Minnesota on Sunday afternoon, farmers hastened in the fields.

Near Mankato, Minnesota.

Near Mankato, Minnesota.

You could almost sense the urgency so late in the planting season.

Near Mankato.

Near Mankato.

It was as if time pressed above the earth, folded in the fabric of draping clouds.

Near Mankato.

Near Mankato.

Below, farmers stitched seeds into soil.

Near Delhi.

Near Delhi.

Hope of harvest in the prairie land.

Between Belview and Delhi.

Between Belview and Delhi.

The promise of spring fulfilled.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling