Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Seeking solace on a drive through rural Rice County January 21, 2014

The rural scene unfolds before us.

The rural scene, dominated by a blue sky, unfolds before us.

BLUE SKY STRETCHES before my husband and me as we traverse back gravel roads northwest of Faribault Sunday afternoon.

A drive along country gravel roads always uplifts me, no matter the season.

A drive along country gravel roads always uplifts me, no matter the season.

I yearn for this escape, for this reconnection to the land, this attempt to rejuvenate my spirit.

This scene

This scene inspires the poet in me.

Just being in the country calms my soul, brightens my outlook, causes me to pause and appreciate this land, this place God has created and given into our care.

Memories in this scene...

Memories in this scene…

In this moment, at this time, I slip into the past, envision myself laboring in the barns we pass. Soothing thrum of the milking machine. Cocooning warmth among cows snugged in mounds of golden straw. The comfort of ‘CCO radio.

I envision these fields seeded in corn or soybeans.

I envision these fields seeded in corn or soybeans.

In farm fields, I see a much younger and skinnier version of myself plodding between rows of soybeans to yank cockleburs on a scorching summer day.

The comfort of memories in a farm yard.

The comfort of memories in a farm yard.

At the sight of a farmyard, I hear my buckle overshoes crunch upon hard-packed snow as I follow the path from house to barn.

I imagine this field seeded in corn or soybeans.

An ocean of snow-washed land.

Memories unleash in this landscape, in the view of farmyards anchored into hillsides within an ocean of snow-washed fields.

A remnant of yesteryear in an old corn crib.

A remnant of yesteryear in an old corn crib.

I am happy here. Content. At peace.

Splashes of red jolt the blue and white landscape.

Splashes of red jolt the blue and white landscape.

Yes, even in this winter of too much cold and too many snowy days, I find solace in blue skies and sunshine, barns and white-washed fields.

The punctuation of a red wagon and its shadow stretching across the snow draw my attention.

The punctuation of a red wagon and its shadow stretching across the snow draw my attention.

FYI: To read my previous post featuring photos from this Sunday afternoon drive, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dreading our next Arctic blast here in Minnesota January 3, 2014

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I’VE EVOLVED INTO A WINTER weather wimp. Truly.

I photographed these winter enthusiasts heading up the hill to the park to go sledding.

I photographed these winter enthusiasts across the street from my home a few days ago as they headed up the hill to the park to go sledding. And, yes, I shot this image through a window so I didn’t have to step outside.

There was a time, many decades ago, when I actually thrilled in snow and cold—tunneling into snowbanks, building snow forts, packing snowballs, sledding, running up and down the mounds of snow Dad pushed from the driveway and farmyard into make-believe mountains.

I role-played a Canadian Mountie driving a dogsled across those mountains and across rock-hard snowdrifts.

I battled against my brothers with stockpiled snowballs.

I gripped the baler twine handle of the old runner sled as I raced across the yard.

I loved to skate upon patches of ice in the field or at the ice pond in town.

Those were the days.

Later, when I had my own kids, I played outside in the snow with them, slid down the hill at the nearby park, even ice skated occasionally and once snowshoed with my family at the local nature center.

On New Year’s Day, I suggested to my husband that we take a walk at River Bend Nature Center. But then I stepped outside to shake out a rug.

“Uh, I’ve changed my mind about that walk,” I said. “It’s too cold.” Temps were in the sub-zero to slightly above zero Fahrenheit range. Too cold. Way too cold.

The low temp in Embarrass, 90 miles north of Duluth on Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range, plunged to 46 degrees below zero Fahrenheit on Thursday. That’s cold. Way too cold.

Winter no longer appeals to me. Rather, it rates as mostly an unpleasant season to endure with snow to shovel, icy/snowy surfaces to traverse and travel, and frigid cold to withstand, although beauty does exist in a snowy landscape.

The upcoming days will surely test my winter endurance. The National Weather Service office in Chanhassen, Minnesota, is forecasting the following:

SOME OF THE COLDEST WEATHER IN THE PAST 20 YEARS IS EXPECTED ON
SUNDAY NIGHT INTO TUESDAY MORNING WITH THE POTENTIAL FOR 40 TO 60
DEGREE BELOW ZERO WIND CHILLS. WIND CHILL WARNINGS APPEAR VERY
LIKELY TO BE NEEDED.

Now doesn’t that sound fabulous?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gold Bond Stamps memories December 27, 2013

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Photographed this past summer in Rossville, an unincorporated village in Allamakee County in northeastern Iowa.

Photographed this past summer in Rossville, an unincorporated village in Allamakee County in northeastern Iowa.

THROUGH THE FILTER OF MY MEMORY, I picture her seated at the kitchen table, booklets spread before her on the stiff floral oilcloth.

She’s licking strips of Gold Bond Stamps, carefully placing them within a paper grid.

Fill the booklet and she can redeem the coveted stamps for merchandise. Except I cannot remember anything my mom ever got with those stamps.

Rather, I recall the stockpiling of stamps, watching her and, occasionally, myself, running my tongue along the glue then meticulously positioning those precious golden rectangles upon paper.

Oh, the memories of Gold Bond Stamps.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas trees past December 23, 2013

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Christmas tree lot in Faribault

FOR MANY A HOLIDAY SEASON, this unpretentious Christmas tree lot has operated at the intersection of busy Second Avenue Northwest and Minnesota Highway 3 near the edge of Faribault.

I’ve never shopped for a tree here. But, one of these holiday seasons, instead of passing by, I need to stop and ask a few questions, take a few photos, learn the history of this place and perhaps pick out a tree.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo.  That's me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

The lot reminds me of childhood Christmases, when my family would choose a short-in-stature, short-needled Christmas tree at the local grocery store.

To this day, I prefer a Charlie Brown type tree to one that’s tall, full and perfectly-branched.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring art inside the Weitz Center for Creativity at Carleton College December 5, 2013

MY EXPOSURE TO PROFESSIONAL ART as a youth could be categorized as minimal. There were no visits to art galleries, no attending theatrical performances, no concerts outside of school walls.

Yet, I did not feel deprived, for art surrounded me in blazing prairie sunsets, an inky sky dotted with an infinity of stars, road ditches graced with wild roses, tall grass bending in the wind, the symphony of a howling blizzard, the crunch of boots on hard-packed snow, the orchestra of pulsating milking machines and munching cows and the radio voices of ‘CCO.

To this day, I credit my rural southwestern Minnesota upbringing for shaping me as a writer and photographer. There, on the stark prairie, within the confines of a close and loving family living off the land, I learned to appreciate the details in the landscape and life itself.

Today, I no longer live on my beloved prairie. And I have immediate access to the arts within my own community of Faribault and nearby. You won’t find me, except on rare occasions, aiming for the Twin Cities to view art. I am not a city girl.

The Weitz Center for Creativity at Third and College Streets in Northfield, Minnesota.

The Weitz Center for Creativity at Third and College Streets in Northfield, Minnesota.

In late October, I discovered Weitz Center for Creativity, “a center for creativity and collaboration in the liberal arts,” on the campus of Carleton College in neighboring Northfield. The center is housed in the historic former and repurposed Northfield high school and middle school and in 30,000 additional square feet of new construction.

Near the entrance to the Weitz Center Commons area.

Near the entrance to the Weitz Center Commons area. (Photographed in October.)

The complex offers such creative spaces as a theater, dance studios, a technology resource center (the Gage/Bauer IdeaLab), a teaching museum, galleries and more.

From Jessica Rath's "take me to the apple breeder" exhibit, a porcelain apple and an apple tree photograph.

From Jessica Rath’s “take me to the apple breeder” exhibit, a porcelain apple and an apple tree photograph.

The Perlman Teaching Museum and galleries there drew me to view “Single Species Translations,” which included Jessica Rath’s “take me to the apple breeder” and Laura Cooper’s “Opuntia,” and “The Intersection Between Book, Film, and Visual Narrative.” The exhibits have since closed. But “Lifeloggers: Chronicling the Everyday,” opens January 17 and runs through March 12, 2014. The exhibit will feature the works of a dozen artists.

And here’s the really sweet deal. Admission to the Perlman Teaching Museum (and galleries) is free. Hours are 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday – Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Note that the museum is open only during Carleton’s academic term, although closed during breaks and during the summer.

Connecting indoors and out in a section of the Commons.

Connecting indoors and out in a section of the Commons.

My first impression of the Weitz Center for Creativity was one of visual appreciation for the modern, clean lines and minimalistic setting. I love the walls of windows, the pots of pines and palms and other plants interspersed among clusters of tables and chairs in a space that visually connects to the outdoors.

Cozy spots for conversation in the Commons.

Cozy spots for conversation in the Commons.

I appreciate, too, the cozy settings of living room furniture that invite conversation and create a sense of intimacy in the spacious, open Commons area.

A snippet of Jessica Rath's exhibit shows porcelain apple sculptures and photos of apple trees in the Braucher Gallery.

A snippet of Jessica Rath’s exhibit shows porcelain apple sculptures and photos of apple trees in the Braucher Gallery.

Entering the gallery, I noted the gleaming starkness of the space, an excellent backdrop to showcase exhibits. I know this is the gallery norm. But, since I did not grow up visiting galleries, I am still struck each time by this visual impact of a clean slate. Light and shadows and mood play upon art here.

A student studies a portion of "The Intersection Between Book, Film, and Visual Narrative" in the Kaemmer Family Gallery.

A student studies a portion of “The Intersection Between Book, Film, and Visual Narrative” in the Kaemmer Family Gallery.

I won’t pretend to understand and enjoy every exhibit I view. We each bring our personalities and experiences and tastes to a gallery and those influence our reactions.

I love the simplicity of the apples positioned on the table in Rath's exhibit and how the shadows angle onto the tabletop.

I love the simplicity of the apples positioned on the table in Rath’s exhibit and how the shadows play upon the tabletop.

More tabletop art, to be picked up and paged through by gallery visitors.

More tabletop art, to be picked up and paged through by gallery visitors.

More print to appreciate.

Additional print and creativity to appreciate.

A wall-size artistic interpretation of Opuntia by Laura Cooper.

A wall-size artistic interpretation of Opuntia by Laura Cooper.

While I could relate to apples and books, I couldn’t connect to the exhibit on Opuntia, a type of cactus. Cacti, except for a few grown as houseplants, are mostly foreign to me.

This signage greets visitors upon entering the Weitz Center for Creativity.

Just inside the doors of the Weitz Center for Creativity.

Yet, I learned. And that, too, is part of the arts experience.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve been Freshly Pressed again November 30, 2013

“I HOPE YOUR BLOG is ready to welcome some new readers…”

That's my post, labeled "Barn Memories," featured today on Freshly Pressed.

That’s my post, labeled “Barn Memories,” featured today on Freshly Pressed.

With those words, I recently learned that my November 25 blog post, “An essay of barn photos & memories,” earned Freshly Pressed status on WordPress.com. (Click here to read that post.)

In the WordPress blogging world, that’s akin to winning an Emmy or an Oscar or something similar, although you could perhaps argue that I am exaggerating. I think not, though, given the half a million plus WordPress bloggers world-wide. (Click here to reach the Freshly Pressed page on WordPress.)

That said, I’d like to thank you, my readers, for your faithful following of Minnesota Prairie Roots. Just over 600 of you now follow my blog via subscription and I am grateful for each of you.

I’d also like to thank my husband, who is very much a part of this blogging journey via his support and company.

The Freshly Pressed tweet about my barn post.

The Freshly Pressed tweet about my barn post.

And, finally, I’d like to thank the editors at WordPress who daily hand-pick eight posts to feature on Freshly Pressed. My barn post is featured today on Freshly Pressed.

Here’s what WordPress editor Ben Huberman wrote in an email:

You struck such a delicate and moving balance in this piece between letting the photos you took speak for themselves, and sharing with your readers the memories and emotions they invoke in you. It’s a lovely, well-executed post that deserves a wider audience.

How sweet is that to get an editor’s comment on your work? It’s invaluable and uplifting and reaffirming.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21. This is one of the photos published in my winning post.

About the barn photos featured in my winning post… I shot all of them in mid-October while traveling through northeastern Wisconsin. And by traveling, I mean traveling. All six images were photographed from the passenger side of our family van while traveling down the highway at 55 mph. I had one, maybe two, opportunities to capture each photo I showcased. There was no stopping to compose a frame. Rather, I set my camera at a fast shutter speed, anticipated and clicked. That’s it. Either I got the photo or I didn’t. Clean windows help, too. Ask my husband about bottles of window cleaner and paper towels.

The words I paired with the six barn photos came from my heart, from my memories of laboring in my childhood dairy barn on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Images and smells and textures and sound flowed from my memory onto the keyboard in a piece rich in imagery, heartfelt in emotions.

That combination of from-the-heart writing paired with just the right photos made this post stand out among the hundreds of thousands of others published on WordPress, apparently. For more information on how Freshly Pressed posts are selected, click here.

The homepage of WordPress.com, as photographed Thursday morning. My "In praise of preserving country churches" blog post is on the lower right.

The homepage of WordPress.com, as photographed in July 2010. My “In praise of preserving country churches” blog post is on the lower right. The story focuses on Moland Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been featured on Freshly Pressed. My July 7, 2010, post, “In praise of preserving country churches,” (click here to read) was Freshly Pressed as was my June 11, 2012, post, “Testing the track during a Soap Box Derby trial run in Faribault” (click here to read).

A screen shot of the Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Freshly Pressed on the WordPress homepage. My post is featured in the bottom center. I've been Freshly Pressed twice since I began blogging, meaning my posts were chosen, for a single day, as among the top 10 WordPress posts in the world.

A screen shot of the Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Freshly Pressed on the WordPress homepage. My post is featured in the bottom center.

To earn Freshly Pressed status three times rates as rewarding for a blogger like me, who is undeniably passionate about writing and photography. Thank you for joining me on this blogging journey.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An essay of barn photos & memories November 25, 2013

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Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

MY FONDNESS FOR BARNS, for photographing them, never wanes.

Along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

When I fit my eye to the viewfinder, swing my camera lens toward a barn and click, it’s as if I’m clicking my heels together and flying into my past.

Also along Wisconsin Highway 21.

Also along Wisconsin Highway 21.

I am trudging down the barn aisle, leaning into the wheelbarrow heaped with ground corn. I am scooping that feed by the shovelful to top silage pitched from the silo and parceled before the Holsteins’ empty stanchions.

Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

Near Poy Sippi, Wisconsin.

Later, as milk pulsates into milking machines and Dad has poured the milk into a tall thin pail, I am lugging the precious liquid to the milkhouse, handle biting into my chore-gloved hand.

Another farm near Poy Sippi.

Another farm near Poy Sippi.

Memories come into focus—the golden booming radio voices from ‘CCO, the slap of a cow’s tail, hot urine splattering into gutters, cats swarming around a battered hubcap, the stench of manure, taut twine snapped with my yellow jackknife and prickly alfalfa itching my exposed wrists.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21.

An old-fashioned farm along Wisconsin Highway 21.

But, mostly, I see my farmer dad in those barns I photograph.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling