Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The golden hour at the King Mill Dam, Faribault, Minnesota September 10, 2018

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Fishing in the gloaming of the day, June 12, Cannon River at King Mill Park, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

IN PHOTOGRAPHY, LIGHT isn’t everything. But it ranks among the top factors in creating a good photo as do framing, perspective, practice and creativity. A good camera is nice, too. Not essential. My Canon DSLR 20-D, for example, would be considered aged by most. Yet, I manage to produce marketable and memorable images.

 

Golden light slices across the sky.

 

A bird in a bush presents a striking silhouette in this edited image.

 

Glint of sunlight on water. Beautiful simplicity.

 

If you’re serious about photography, you’re aware of the golden hour—the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. The light is softer, warmer then, lending itself to photography.

 

The King Mill Dam, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

Soft colors tinge the sky as the sun sets with this bush in the foreground.

 

High above, sunshine glints on the trails of a jetliner.

 

Several months ago, just days before I fractured my left wrist thus halting all photography for the summer, I shot some evening golden hour scenes at King Mill Park along the Cannon River in Faribault. I love this time of day in southeastern Minnesota. There’s a certain peacefulness as day closes and the door opens to evening, then night.

 

Milkweed and other flowers rim the shoreline.

 

Rather than expound in words, I’m showing you, because, oftentimes, a picture really is worth 1,000 words.

 

FYI: Tomorrow I’ll show you the first images I shot after my orthopedic doctor cleared me to use my camera some 10 weeks after my bone break and subsequent surgery to implant a plate.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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February at the ballpark & I’m not talking spring training in Florida February 23, 2018

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ON A FEBRUARY AFTERNOON, sunshine heats the earth, slants shadows upon snow fallen fresh that morning. It is a rare day of respite from a too-cold winter in Minnesota and I am anxious to get outside.

 

 

So Randy and I hop in the Chevy and head toward Dundas, just south of Northfield. I want to walk in Memorial Park, home of the Dundas Dukes. Randy pulls the car into the riverside park, loops and stops on a snowy road next to a trail. We exit, tread with caution along a path, diverting off the icy route as needed to avoid slipping.

 

 

Passing the abandoned playground, I observe swings hung statue-still.

 

 

I note footprints through the snow leading to a Little Free Library. Used even in winter.

 

 

A short hike away, I step onto the foot bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

 

I pause midway, focus on ruins of the Archibald Mill,

 

 

bridge shadows,

 

 

an open spot of water,

 

 

the river ribboning white between shoreline trees.

 

 

In the simplicity of this place, these scenes, I feel content. I am here with Randy, who appreciates the natural silence as much as me.

 

 

 

Overhead I watch a Delta airliner angling down toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I wonder about those aboard. Would they rather be leaving than arriving?

 

 

Some 1,700 miles away in the warmth of Ft. Myers, the Minnesota Twins toss and catch balls, swing bats and practice in the sunshine of opening week of spring training. Here in Dundas, opening day is still months away. I imagine the bold orange seats and grandstands filled with spectators, the cracks of bats, the swish of baseballs when the Dukes meet the Hampton Cardinals here on April 29. I can almost hear the conversations and laughter that will soon fill this place.

 

 

I head back toward the car, tracking in the footsteps of those who, like me, dream. Of sunny summer days. Of baseball. Of walks in the park. And of rivers that run free of ice, free of snow, free of winter under a Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hardy Minnesota anglers November 27, 2017

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AHEAD OF US while entering Morristown, orange flashed as three boys dashed across a county road to the side of a bridge.

 

 

Their presence here impressed me on a late November Sunday afternoon of temps hovering around 35 degrees. I wouldn’t be out in these brutal elements angling for fish in the Cannon River. But I suppose when you’re dressed in insulated pants and snow pants and warm coats and boots and other cold weather gear, the temp is tolerable.

 

 

And I suppose there’s something to be said, too, for the endurance and exuberance of youth. While I thought the boys a bit too dedicated to fish on a frigid day like this in southern Minnesota, I respected their decision. Here they were, outdoors, and not sitting in front of a screen. In today’s tech-focused age, that’s something.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Snapshotting Northfield on a Sunday afternoon in April April 25, 2017

 

THE TEMPERATURE ON THE FIRST National Bank of Northfield sign flashed 68 degrees. Sixty-eight glorious degrees on a Sunday afternoon as sunny and beautiful as they come in southern Minnesota in April.

 

Unhooking a fish and fishing in the Cannon River by Bridge Square in the heart of Northfield’s downtown.

 

Daffodils, accented by curly willow, make a simple art statement in planters scattered throughout the downtown area.

 

Lots of downtown Northfield restaurants offer outdoor dining, including here at The Hideaway.

 

Everywhere people ranged in this river city. Bikers, outdoor diners, walkers, anglers, an auburn-haired child navigating across grass sprouted with dandelions, a woman smoking a cigarette in a doorway, an elementary-aged boy drawing an owl in a sketchbook, a line of families waiting outside a dance studio, college co-eds walking in pairs…

 

Poetry is imprinted in downtown sidewalks, this poem across a side street from Bridge Square.

 

Randy and I meandered the river walk, pausing to talk with a biker couple from Hartland asking about Froggy Bottoms, a riverside eatery. We chatted with the red-haired toddler’s mom who admired my camera and shared her passion for photography. She does the social media photos for her and her partner’s BlueNose Coffee in neighboring Farmington. We traded business cards and wished each other a good day and I thought how warm and friendly this young woman with the beautiful baby girl.

 

MakeShift Accessories is one of my favorite downtown Northfield shops given its creative uniqueness.

 

In all the times I’ve visited Bridge Square in downtown Northfield, I’ve never noticed the Civil War Monument topped by this eagle. This time the adjacent fountain was turned off, shifting my focus to the memorial and not to the water.

 

Handwritten notes on business doors always amuse me.

 

Reaching the end of the river walk, Randy and I circled to Division Street, slipping into the occasional business to peruse gifts, antiques and art. As we strolled, I paused to snap photos of whatever caught my eye. A haphazard collection of images.

 

Toys were corralled in a wagon outside a downtown Northfield antique shop.

 

The James-Younger Gang robbery of the First National Bank draws many visitors to Northfield. The original bank now houses the Northfield Historical Society and sits across the street from the current bank.

 

On the side of the historic bank building are holes ringed in black, supposedly marking bullet holes made during the bank raid.

 

Had a company party not drawn us indoors to a pizza and sports bar, I would have lingered longer outdoors, gathering with my camera those details, those Northfield scenes that perhaps remain unnoticed by too many.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

The window of a barbershop across from Bridge Square.

 

One of two murals on the Northfield Union of Youth building.

 

Another mural on The Key (youth center) building caught my eye.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The mystery box along the Cannon River April 12, 2017

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I MISSED THE BIG MOMENT by just minutes.

From the highway, I observed a group of people clustered along a recreational trail by the Cannon River in Cannon Falls. I had no clue what they were doing there on such a cold winter afternoon. But then, as our van drew closer, I saw the oversized box and a bouquet of pink balloons. My initial reaction to pink anything in public is related to breast cancer. Perhaps they were honoring a loved one.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Any guesses?

 

 

By the time my husband swung the van into a parking lot and I exited, the balloons were already tucked inside the major-appliance-sized cardboard box. I’d missed the prime photo opp.

Still, I needed to learn the story behind the riverside gathering.

 

 

Turns out…ready for this? The group was there for a gender reveal party as in “Is it a boy or a girl?”

The obvious answer given the pink balloons is girl. I congratulated the father-to-be as he climbed a stairway from the river to parking lot. Noticing grey tinging his hair, I asked, “Your first?” I’m nosy curious like that.

“My fourth, her first,” he answered.

What a joyous moment for the family and even strangers like me. A baby is always cause to celebrate.

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on gender reveal events/parties? Have you attended one? If yes, let’s hear details.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Noticing details at Faribault’s historic woolen mill February 23, 2017

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River.

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

SNUGGED ALONG THE BANKS of the Cannon River in Faribault, the 150-year-old Faribault Woolen Mill stands as a noted local landmark and a nationally-recognized producer and purveyor of high quality wool blankets and more.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In recent years, with the acquisition of the briefly-closed mill by successful and marketing savvy Minnesota businessmen, the mill has experienced growth and significant national exposure. Many times I’ve picked up a magazine to see the mill’s products featured.

In the upper left corner of the mill, the sign unnoticed by me until several days ago.

In the upper left corner of the mill, the sign unnoticed by me until several days ago.

What I’d not noticed until recently was a faded sign along the back side of the historic mill, the side visible from North Alexander Park. My view of the mill complex is typically the public side motorists see while driving by on Second Avenue.

The back of the mill as photographed from the North Link Trail. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Several years ago the city of Faribault received a $300,000 Minnesota Historical Cultural Heritage grant for rehab of the smokestack.

The back of the mill as photographed from the North Link Trail. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Several years ago the city of Faribault received a $300,000 Minnesota Historical Cultural Heritage grant for rehab of the smokestack.

But this time I was walking, following the North Link Trail that runs through the park and is part of a city-wide recreational trails system. I paused to appreciate the inky blue waters of the Cannon on a brilliantly sunny afternoon when my gaze drifted to the mill. There I focused on white sign advertising BLANKETS. Faded, indiscernible lettering hovered over that key word.

A replica of an original sign is now in the Woolen Mill's historic display area.

A replica of an original sign is now in the Woolen Mill’s historic display area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I wondered how, in my 35 years living in the area, I failed to notice the vintage signage. Sometimes familiarity of place creates a lack of visual awareness. We become so accustomed to our usual surroundings that we fail to truly see. And to appreciate.

TELL ME: Have you ever felt the same upon discovering something (what?) in your community that’s been there forever but you didn’t see?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

History, mystery & more along the Straight River November 30, 2016

trail-1-deer-hunt-sign

 

THERE WOULD BE NO HIKING in the River Bend Nature Center as the sun shifted toward dusk on a recent Sunday afternoon.

The sign, “CAUTION DEER HUNT IN PROGRESS,” caused Randy to step on the brakes, back up the car and exit the entry road. “I don’t think I want to be in the woods this time of day,” he said, explaining that hunters prefer to hunt at dusk and dawn. I wasn’t about to disagree with him.

 

trail-3-limestone-buildings-up-close

 

So off we drove to find another trail, parking on a dead end street near the Straight River Trail in the northern section of Faribault. Our entry point started near an aged limestone building. We wondered aloud about the history of the structure so in need of repair.

 

trail-4-side-of-limestone-building-with-barrels

 

I would later learn from Jeff Jarvis, local historian and community enrichment coordinator for the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, that the building was constructed from local limestone in 1903 as the Faribault Gas and Electric Company. Electricity was transmitted by wire from the Cannon Falls hydroelectric facility to the Faribault plant and offered to Faribault customers, he said.

 

trail-10-pallets-stacked-by-limestone-building

 

I knew none of this as I studied the historic structure, noting the blocked window openings, the crumbling limestone, the detailed workmanship, the piled pallets, the empty barrels. Melancholy seeped into my thoughts. I’m always dismayed when buildings like this, an important part of local history, succumb to weather and near abandonment.

After snapping photos, I continued along the paved trail, stepping aside as a biker whizzed by. In the distance a trio of walkers approached, one gripping a dog. I am often wary of meeting canines. But this service dog posed no threat.

 

trail-8-tire-by-river

 

Eventually, Randy and I veered from the paved path to a dirt trail leading to the Straight River. A massive fallen tree blocked us from reaching the river bank. We could only surmise that September flooding or past floods uprooted the many fallen trees in this flood plain.

 

trail-9-single-leaf-on-tree

 

I noticed a tire on a sandbar, a man in a blue jacket walking his dog on the other side of the river, a single leaf clinging to a twig.

 

trail-12-limestone-wall-and-limestone-building

 

trail-22-posts-in-woods

 

trail-13-padlock-on-pipe

 

Pink edged into the day, the light softening. Ideal for photography. We hiked back to the paved path, back toward the aged limestone building and then down once again toward the river along a rock hard trail. Clusters of pipes pocked the woods. We wondered about those and the padlocks fastened to some. A mystery.

 

trail-17-dirt-bike-in-woods

 

trail-19-dirt-bike-spinning-wheels

 

Soon the earth softened to river sand as the trail twisted. A buzz of noise cut through the silence, headlights flashing through the woods as an ATV approached, followed by a dirt bike. We stepped aside, allowing the vehicles to skirt us. And we wondered whether they should be there, near the river. Probably not.

 

trail-26-fishing

 

trail-30-faribault-woolen-mill

 

trail-32-sunset-over-the-cannon-river

 

We ended our outing at Two Rivers Park, the convergence of the Cannon and Straight Rivers. Men fished. On a nearby path, another man pedaled a three-wheeler, his wheelchair strapped to the back. A woman walked her dog. And I paused on a bridge to photograph the Faribault Woolen Mill and the golden sky.

 

trail-41-duck-swimming-in-cannon-river

 

And then, after crossing under Second Avenue via a recreational trail, I photographed a duck rippling water and light in the Cannon River. Lovely in the gloaming of this November day.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling