Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thoughts & thanks as 2022 begins January 1, 2022

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As we begin 2022, please remember this, that you are loved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo; image taken along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin)

HERE WE ARE, on the first day of a new year. Days and weeks and months unfolding before us. Full of unknowns, possibilities, whatever life brings. Happiness. Sorrow. Sickness. Health. Joy. Sadness. To be human is to experience all. Sometimes alone. Sometimes together.

I expect that, without much thought, you can recall particularly challenging times/events in your life. In those difficult days, you likely felt overwhelmed, wondered whether you would make it to the other side. To the days when the pain and stress and anguish would lift. And light would shine again.

And I expect also that you did not go it alone. Perhaps faith carried you. Family and/or friends, too. Maybe professionals. And your inner strength. It often amazes me just how strong and resilient we humans can be. Even in the toughest of circumstances.

The support and friendships I’ve formed via blogging amaze me, too. I’ve connected with some really kind, caring and compassionate individuals. Some friendships remain virtual. But others developed in to in-person friendships. Regardless, these individuals are now part of my circle, part of my life. Their generosity of spirit has uplifted me countless times.

Me behind my first Canon EOS 20D. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Most recently, a blogger friend asked what I wanted for Christmas. I wanted/needed only one thing. A camera. Just like the one I’ve used for the past decade plus. A Canon EOS 20D. I’m on my second 20D and it was failing, just like the first. Locking up. I knew its days were numbered and I would need a different camera. The 20D is an older camera. But I’m comfortable and familiar with it. I checked two camera shops online in the Twin Cities metro to find only a few used cameras, none of them a 20D. No surprise there. A new camera was not an option. Have you looked at camera prices lately? Then came my blogger friend’s email asking what I would like for Christmas. She hoped to send me something after the holidays.

Days later, a package landed on my front steps. I hadn’t ordered anything. Wasn’t expecting anything. But when I slit the box, I found a camera body inside. A Canon EOS 20D. I actually shrieked, nearly cried with joy at this most thoughtful gift which allows me to continue to create. I’m delighted to have my third 20D in my hands. I’ve always believed that good photography is more about the skills of the person creating with a camera than about the equipment. I couldn’t believe my blogger friend found this coveted aged camera, and so quickly. I am beyond grateful.

Now, entering into another year of creativity, I fully intend to use my talents to share, in images and words, the world I discover. I will continue to take you into small towns. Along gravel roads. Into woods and along rivers and lakes. To community events. I will show you art and natural beauty, the places I go, the things I see and do. And I hope that in doing so, I bring you joy, expand your world, perhaps uplift you.

Thank you, dear readers, for following Minnesota Prairie Roots. Thank you for supporting my creativity. For recognizing that creativity connects all of us. And that creativity matters.

Happy New Year!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My first photo shoot after breaking my wrist September 11, 2018

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MY PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY runs deep. Like my love of words. Together they comprise this blog. Take away one and balance vanishes. My photos illustrate my words and my words my images.

But this summer, after slipping on rain-slicked steps and breaking my left wrist in early June, I could no longer use my camera. It takes two hands to operate my DSLR—one to hold the camera and click the shutter button and the other to support and manipulate the lens.



I knew my blogging would be intermittent without the ability to gather new content with my camera. But I had no choice except to post less often and to snap the occasional passable photo with my smartphone.



Given my orthopedic doctor’s initial timetable for my recovery, I expected the camera ban to last until the end of September. But as healing and therapy progressed, he gave me an early out, freeing me from my splint in late August and approving photography—with the admonition not to do “anything silly.” Whatever that means.



Upon my return home after that medical appointment, I grabbed my camera and stepped into the backyard to try my hand at photography. These are my first images post bone break and implant surgery. I quickly learned that I could not manipulate my telephoto lens. I simply did not have the strength. I have since exchanged that long and heavy lens for a regular lens. That I can twist.

I’m easing back into photography, realizing that if I push my passion too much, I risk slowing my recovery. It feels great to have my hands back on my camera.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Returning to photography, starting in my Minnesota backyard September 1, 2017

Brilliant red canna lilies splash color into my backyard patio.


IN THE THREE MONTHS I couldn’t use my Canon DSLR EOS 20-D this summer because of a broken right shoulder, I feared I would lose my photography skills. But I didn’t. This week, with my muscle strength returning and weight restrictions eased, I did my first photo shoot using my 2.5 pound (with a short lens) Canon.







I experienced joy, pure joy, picking up my DSLR and focusing on subjects in glorious light. I started in my backyard, easing myself into the comfortable familiarity of pursuing my passion. I felt giddy with excitement as I photographed a monarch caterpillar clinging to a leaf near milkweeds that free-range seeded.




A segment of a canna leaf.



I moved to potted plants and blooming flowers and garden perennials.



And then I noticed, as I roamed about seeking photo ops, a mini chrysalis dangling from the side of the garage and camouflaged against the green siding. I moved in close, delighting in my discovery.




Canna lily seed pods


Polka dot plant leaves up close.


As I shot more frames, trying different angles, new perspectives, I remembered just how much I love this art. I seek interesting ways to present what I photograph. I seek light that will enhance an image. I consider textures and color and backdrops and distance. I challenge myself to think and photograph outside and beyond the norm.


Coleus leaf close-up


All of my skills, retained in my rote memory, returned. And so did the passion, full-blown and beautiful and aching to be released.


Hibiscus acetosella soar in pots on my patio.


It’s good to be back, camera in hand.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Follow-up: When a camera dies June 25, 2015

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Three of the cameras from a vintage collection of cameras once used by my parents and me.

Three of the cameras from my collection of cameras once used by my parents and/or me.

IF PHOTOGRAPHERS never embraced change, they would still shoot with an old Brownie or a Polaroid or some other camera long ago obsolete.

That said, here’s how I handled the recent death of my Canon EOS 20D. I wrote about the unexpected demise of my DSLR in a late February post. That story generated great discussion and input, some of you encouraging me to challenge myself with a much-upgraded camera. Others suggested I stick with what I knew.

In the end, after trying a Canon 7D and much stress and agonizing over its operation, I purchased a Canon 20D from my friend Lee. It’s exactly like my old one except for the telephoto lens that came with this used camera. Lee was happy to get his unused 20D out of basement storage, thus solving my problem.

I can almost hear the uproar, the outcry, the “Oh, she could take much better photos with a better camera.” True? Perhaps from a technically perfect perspective.

Too much camera for me. For now.

Too much camera for me. For now.

But the bottom line is this: Focusing on the operations of the camera—worrying about f-stops and ISO and shutter speeds—stressed me and took the joy out of my photography. I lost my passion and artistry. Rather, I thought mostly about settings that would assure I had enough light or correct depth of field, or whatever I needed to even take a decent photo. I admire photographers who can handle all of that without flinching.

I suppose in time, I would have learned. You can argue that. I already had the basics down from my days of shooting with film. Just trying to operate the newer 7D, I learned more about the manual options on my 20D. That is the good that came out of this.

I used this camera as a teenage.

I used this camera as a teenage.

But the single thing that this Death of a Camera reinforced for me is that it’s not always about the camera. It’s about how you take photos (perspectives and angles and composition, etc.) and the subjects of your photography and lighting that create memorable images.

Like a writer, a photographer has a voice.

What is my voice? It is, like my writing, down-to-earth detailed and about a sense of place. Rural and small town Minnesota (mostly). Close-up. From a distance. The people who live in this place. I strive to photograph that which others pass but don’t truly see. I strive to connect you, via my photos, to this place I love. To the ordinary, which is often the extraordinary.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
My photos are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. If you are interested in purchasing rights to use my images, please check my “About” page for contact information. I am grateful to the individuals, ad agencies, authors, charities, magazines and others who have found value in my photos and purchased rights to use selected images that meet their needs. 

Most of all, I am grateful to you, my readers, for appreciating my photography.


The death of a camera February 24, 2015

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MY CANON EOS 20D died on Sunday.

My trusty fifth eye, my Canon EOS 20D.

My old Canon 20D camera, with a battery grip.

I should have seen this coming, should have been shopping for a different camera. But when you’re in denial, it’s easy to cross your fingers, utter a prayer, hope against hope that everything will be alright and the error message won’t flash again or the camera won’t lock. Again.

But all the hope in the world could not save my Canon DSLR from the graveyard.

My new camera.

My new camera, minus a battery grip, which would have cost me an additional $200. Batteries are $80. I did not get a new lens, although I really wanted one.

I’ve replaced it with a used Canon EOS 7D. I’m not convinced yet that I will keep the replacement as it requires more camera knowledge than I possess. It’s rather like returning to my film 35 mm SLR camera, relearning the basics of shutter speed and f-stops and ISOs. Then toss in white balance and a whole lot of other settings and I’m overwhelmed.

Yes, I got lazy with my 20D and relied on the cheat icons for landscapes, portraits, action and such. I never bothered to learn the manual operations.

But it worked. I was shooting award-winning photos, images that sold to various sources, photos that I liked. The camera was a dependable workhorse during my many years working for a magazine.

Now I’m back at square one. And I don’t like it. I feel unsettled. I don’t like change. Plus, as my husband will tell you, I find it difficult to spend this much money on a camera, even if I need it for work. I am not good at spending money on myself.

Adding to the challenge is the lack of an English language manual. Yes, I can go online and find a manual. But gosh, darn it, when I pay this much for a camera, even if it is used, it should come with a manual printed in a language I can read.

I can take free classes at the place where I purchased my camera. That is a plus. And the saleswoman who sold me the EOS 7D was extremely patient and helpful in instructing me in the basics. Extremely patient.

That’s why, when I returned an hour after I left, she probably wanted to hide in the back room. But, while shooting in the community of Elko on the way home, I noticed a diagonal line across every single frame. Back to the camera store my husband and I zoomed.

Turns out a strand of hair was caught inside the camera.

Is this a sign?

Should I keep my new used camera? Do I just need to give it time and practice? I have 29 days to change my mind.

I have another option. A friend has a Canon 20D, just like my old one. He’s offered to let me try it out. Plus he’s got a cool lens that may interest me. He promises to sell the camera at a better price than anywhere else. Hmmmm.

Your opinions are welcome.

© 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


No cameras allowed on these historic premises January 4, 2012

The main entry to the Hearthstone Historic House Museum in Appleton, Wisconsin, located at 625 W. Prospect.


Post a sign with that message or speak those words to me and you’ll find yourself with one unhappy woman. I can’t help it. My camera is a natural extension of me, so when I can’t photograph I’m unsettled and discontented.

I never expected to encounter a photo ban at an 1882 historic home I toured in Appleton, Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon. But I hadn’t even reached the wreath-adorned double front doors of the Hearthstone Historic House Museum when my daughter pointed to the sign banning photography.

I automatically hugged my Canon EOS 20-D DSLR closer to my right side as we waited for a tour guide to unlock the front door and allow us access into this Victorian home, the first residence—in the world—electrified from a centrally located hydroelectric plant.

If you think I would simply accept the “no photos” rule without question, then you don’t know me. I asked and was told photography would be disruptive to the tour. “Even without flash?” I pursued.


I contemplated for some time how I could sneak in a photo or two. But with tight quarters and visitors packed into the home’s rooms, taking covert photos wasn’t even a remote possibility. Besides, the click of the shutter button would surely give me away and I was not about to become the first tourist kicked out of this lovely mansion.

So you will need to settle for exterior images of this house built for Henry J. Rogers, today’s equivalent of the CEO of the Appleton Paper and Pulp Company. He lived here with his wife, Cremora, and their daughter, Kitty, for some 10 years until the nearby paper mill was destroyed by fire.

The original home of Henry J. Rogers and family sits along the Fox River.

From the exterior, this hilltop riverside home, built for $17,000, isn’t nearly as impressive as I’d expected. But inside, ah, inside, the décor is about as opulent and detailed as any historic residence I’ve ever toured.

Nine fireplaces grace rooms defined by wood—inlaid floors, detailed carvings, wood trim and ceilings and, well, wood everywhere. But I suppose when you live in Wisconsin and head up a paper company, finding wood to construct your mansion isn’t a problem.

An Edison phonograph, a stained glass window in the grand hall entry, floor-to-ceiling windows and a hand-painted ceiling in the parlor, the focal point fireplaces, and a dining room table set for Christmas dinner all impressed me.

A sign explains the house's historical significance. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In retrospect, I suppose I should have been most impressed by the rare 1882 light switches and electroliers still in operation. After all, the lighting ranks as the reason this home holds such historic value. But, honestly, I’m not all that scientific minded. The décor and personal stories shared by our tour guide interested me far more than the hydro-electric powered lighting system.

Our guide informed us that the Rogers family was charged $1 a month per light bulb for the 50 light bulbs in the house. In the 1880s, $50 was a sizeable chunk of money to pay for monthly electrical usage. That reveals the substantial wealth of this family.

Rogers, however, eventually died with only $12 to his name after moving to Chicago and losing money in a silver market that crashed, a second tour guide later told me.

The story, though, that truly snatched my interest involves Kitty. When she became engaged, the Rogers’ daughter verified the authenticity of her diamond by etching her and her fiancé’s initials into a library window (still there). Not to be judgmental here, but I was not at all surprised when the tour guide revealed that the marriage did not last.

Later, while touring the second floor, we were informed that Henry and Cremora slept in separate bedrooms because the couple thought they would catch tuberculosis from one another by breathing in the same night air. OK, then. But, I suppose I must consider the time period and the lack of knowledge regarding diseases.

Finally, the tidbit I found most personally appropriate involved visitors to the Rogers’ mansion. They would leave their calling cards, the equivalent of today’s business cards, on a table in the great hall. Visitors would bend the corners of their cards in a certain way, depending on the reason for their visits. The family would then decide whether they wanted to see the guest.

At that point in the tour, I considered scribbling “Here to take photos” on my business card and dropping it onto the foyer table.

The Rogers' home, which was home to nine other families and which once housed a restaurant called The Hearthstone in the 1930s, is not yet fully-restored to the 1880-1895 time period.

Inside and outside, Hearthstone is decorated with Christmas trees and other holiday decor for a "Victorian Christmas" special event which continues through January 14.

NOTE: Lest you consider me disrespectful of rules, I am not. I understand, somewhat, the “no photography” rule at the Hearthstone house. And I most certainly understand why flash photography would not be permitted in an historic place.

One other point I want to mention: During my tour of the Hearthstone mansion, a visitor’s cell phone rang and she proceeded to answer it, right in the middle of the tour. Now that I found disruptive.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tips for on-the-road photography April 2, 2011

HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU been traveling along a roadway, saw a subject worth photographing but were in too much of a hurry to stop?

That’s happened to me more often than I wish. However, I’ve found a solution that’s worked well with some incredible photo results.

I’m issuing a disclaimer here, though. I’m not advocating photographing and driving. This photographic option should be used only when you are a passenger because you’ll be operating your camera while your vehicle is moving.

First, set your camera at a sports action shutter speed, place it on your lap, grip the camera body and be prepared to snap away at a moment’s notice.

Click. Click. Click. With a fast shutter speed, you can quickly fire off three frames before you’ve bypassed the intended subject.

OK, it’s not quite that easy. You must anticipate just the right moment to take your photos. That means paying attention to what lies ahead of you along the roadway. Click too soon and you miss the shot. Click too late and you miss the shot.

It’s partially luck, partially skill that will nail a great photo.

I’m always watching too for telephone and electric poles and roadside signs that can obstruct an otherwise good image.

I’m also always trying to balance my photos so they are well-composed.

All of this moving of the camera and adjusting the lens and framing the image must happen in a split-second. I can’t even begin to tell you how many shots I’ve missed because I’ve moved too slowly or failed to notice a photo op until it passed me by.

That’s the other part of successful on-the-road photography. You need a watchful eye for subjects that will make interesting and great photos. Too many people look, but don’t really see, what’s around them. Perhaps because I’ve grown so accustomed to viewing my world through a camera lens and because I’m a writer, I notice more than the average person.

Yet all of this effort will be wasted if you’re shooting through dirty vehicle windows. Clean your windows. If you live in a state like Minnesota, where road spray from sand and salt and melting snow is a problem, you may just have to abandon this traveling photo option in the winter.

Unless you’re traveling through a town, at low speeds, I don’t recommend opening your window. You risk getting dust or dirt into your camera sensor.

That said, here’s a trio of photos I shot in early March along U.S. Highway 14 between Essig and Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota while traveling at 55 mph.

Other than downsizing these images, I’ve not edited them.

Here’s why these images are so good. The exposure is perfect. The photos are well-composed. The horizontal line of the railroad track in the first two frames sits at an eye-pleasing one-third position. The color contrasts of red against gray and blue make these photos pop. The subject is beautiful in its simplicity.

If you’re never tried traveling photography, give it a shot. You may be as pleasantly surprised as me with the results.

FYI: I shoot with a EOS 20D DSLR Canon camera. Yes, it’s a “fancy” digital camera, not a point-and-shoot. If you ever see a photo on Minnesota Prairie Roots that you are interested in purchasing, please contact me via a comment (won’t be published) or an e-mail.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Drive-by barn photo shoot February 28, 2011

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EVERY TIME I TRAVEL Interstate 35 north to the Twin Cities, I think, I need to photograph “that barn.”

That would be the red barn near the Elko/New Market exit with the “Sugardale” lettering painted on the end.

So Sunday afternoon, en route back to Faribault from Burnsville, where I had picked up my camera at National Camera Exchange, I was ready. My fingers were itching to snap more than a few photos since I’d been without my Canon for a week. I had the sensor cleaned.

Anyway, I set a fast shutter speed and hoped for the best as I shot two images through the passenger side window at an interstate speed of 70 mph. That’s all I got before the barn moved out of lens range. My husband asked if I wanted to detour and get a closer shot, but I declined. I was tired and not really dressed for a winter-time photo shoot, meaning I wasn’t wearing boots.

I was pleasantly surprised by the results given I was shooting through a grimy window, at a distance further than I preferred and on a gloomy afternoon.

Here are the results.

Photo one of the "Sugardale" barn.

Photo number two of the "Sugardale" barn. I like how both photos define the starkness of the land on an overcast winter afternoon in Minnesota.

I fully intend to return and shoot the barn close-up. Yeah, I’ve been saying that for years.

In the meantime, does anyone know anything about the history of this barn or Sugardale?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Already missing my fifth eye February 19, 2011

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My fifth eye, my Canon EOS 20D.

I’M NOT A CONTORTIONIST. But when I shoot photos, I manage to twist my fingers and body into abnormal bends. Sort of like Gumby.

But that’s not the point of this post.

My purpose is to tell you that I will be without my camera for a week. That makes me nervous, uneasy, tense, stressed and uncomfortable.

I’m really attached to my camera. I mean really. My Canon EOS 20D is like my fifth eye. I wear prescription lenses, so 2 natural eyes + 2 eyeglass lenses + 1 camera lens = 5 eyes.

I cannot imagine an entire week without shooting a single image. My camera is always there, sitting on the floor of my office, ready to grab for a quick interior shot or when I’m heading out the door.

But I’ve known for quite some time that I needed to get it checked. Spots have shown up in my photos, always in the same location. Sometimes they are noticeable, sometimes not, depending on the subject I am shooting.

After googling the topic and consulting with friends who are professional photographers, I verified that the likely problem is dust on the sensor. I hoped, but didn’t expect, that I could get my camera cleaned in Faribault. I can’t. And I’m too scared to buy a kit and try cleaning the sensor myself. Why risk damaging an expensive camera to save a few bucks?

So today I’ll drop my Canon off at National Camera Exchange in Burnsville and they’ll send it over to their Golden Valley store for cleaning. In a week, I can pick it up.

That’s 604,800 seconds without my fifth eye.

I hope I can see OK.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling