Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

First impressions of downtown Madison, Wisconsin June 11, 2018

 

 

AS SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T particularly like big cities, and I realize that term is relative, I like Madison. That surprised me.

 

The modernistic entrance to the U.S. Federal Courthouse.

 

The Wisconsin Historical Society.

 

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.

 

But on my recent first visit to Wisconsin’s capital city of 252,000-plus, I discovered a downtown that mixes historic and contemporary to create an energetic, yet small town inviting, vibe. Granted, I only spent an hour downtown and popped into only one shop on a Sunday morning. But that was enough for me to grasp a sense of place, a place I want to explore further.

 

 

Looking toward the capitol.

 

 

This is a foot-friendly city with State Street, a pedestrian mall, stretching for blocks from the University of Wisconsin—Madison to the state capitol building. This is also a bike-friendly city. I noted, too, many restaurants with outdoor dining along tree-hugged streets. Madison visually impresses with its greenery seemingly everywhere.

 

 

With the exception of homeless people I observed alongside a building near the capitol, I never felt like I was in an overpowering-to-my-senses urban area.

 

 

 

 

I felt, instead, like I was in greater Boston, which has the same smallish within a large metro area feel. Pie-slice street corners and angled buildings remind me of Porter and Davis Squares on the East Coast. Just less busy with pedestrians actually respectful of motor vehicle traffic.

 

 

Likewise, the packed, porch-fronted old houses of the downtown Madison area neighborhoods remind me of the old neighborhoods around Tufts University (where my son attended college) in Somerville and Cambridge, Massachusetts. I expect had UW-Madison been in session, I would have seen lots of college students in the heart of this city given the university’s downtown location.

 

 

 

 

I found plenty to focus my attention. Architecture and signage always draw my interest and Madison offers visual variety in both.

 

 

After an hour-long tour through downtown with family, I determined that I need to return, to step inside the buildings, the places, that define the center of this capital city.

 

TELL ME: If you’ve been to Madison, what would you suggest I see on my next visit? Please check back for two more posts from Madison, including one on Bucky Badger craziness.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Minnesota skylines January 28, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The Minneapolis skyline as photographed from Interstate 35 in Burnsville.

The Minneapolis skyline as photographed from Interstate 35 in Burnsville. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, June 2015.

MINNESOTA HAS LONG been divided. Rural vs. urban. The area outside the Twin Cities metro is often referred to as Greater Minnesota or Outstate Minnesota. I don’t mind the “greater.” But outstate? Isn’t every inch of land, every single one of our 87 counties, part of the state of Minnesota?

The division of urban and rural is always most noticeable during the legislative session. Or during road construction season.

Silos mark the rural skyline on a farm in the Prior Lake area.

Silos mark the rural skyline on a farm in the Prior Lake area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Despite our division and differences, we are still Minnesotans. And whether you like the busyness of the city or the quiet of the country, or something in between, you can find your right place in the diverse geography of our state.

The gravel road that runs past my middle brother's rural acreage just north of Lamberton, Minnesota.

Just north of Lamberton, Minnesota, in Redwood County, the county in which I was born. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Follow prairie to the Dakotas and hills to Wisconsin. Angle lakes and canoe winding rivers. Secret yourself away in woods or free your spirit under wide skies. Choose an office cubicle or a tractor cab to box you in. Meander along gravel roads or rush along the interstate.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline, up close.

The downtown Minneapolis skyline, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Whatever your preferred skyline, embrace it. Urban isn’t better than rural and rural isn’t better than urban. Not in the sense of a grand, broad statement. But from a personal perspective, we have our preferences. And that is good. Our state needs balance. And we should respect that.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographing the Minneapolis skyline October 8, 2015

Frame 1: Northbound on Intestate 35W toward downtown Minneapolis.

Frame 1: Northbound on Intestate 35W toward downtown Minneapolis.

EVERY TIME MY HUSBAND and I journey toward and around downtown Minneapolis, I am taken by the skyline. Generally, I am not a fan of skyscrapers embedded in concrete, of vertical lines that block ground level views and cast long shadows. I am of the prairie, of horizontal lines and broad vistas.

Frame 2:

Frame 2: You best know which lane you should be driving in.

Yet, I have grown to appreciate the Minneapolis skyline. From a distance. And through the viewfinder of my Canon DSLR. My camera distracts me from the often congested traffic, although my definition of congested certainly differs from that of a city dweller.

Frame 3: Traffic builds as you approach the downtown.

Frame 3: Traffic builds as we approach the downtown. Great sign placement choice by Yahoo.

Afterward, when I am back in my Faribault home office, photos uploaded into my computer, I study the frames. And I see in the downtown skyline images an almost other-worldly quality, as if the collection of buildings is background in an animated film. Unreal. Stacked Lego blocks. The work of an artist rather than that of engineers and builders.

Frame 4: Enough traffic for me.

Frame 4: Enough traffic for me. About this time I’m asking my husband, “Do you know which lane you’re supposed to be in?”

Frame 5

Frame 5: Traffic slows in a tight spot.

Frame 6: We're going right.

Frame 6: We’re going right. Better than taking the congested 16A exit.

Frame 7: I love this painterly view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Frame 7: I love this painterly view of the Minneapolis skyline.

Frame 8: One last look at the skyline.

Frame 8: One last look at the skyline.

Do you see what I’m seeing, that surreal artistic quality in the buildings?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Minnesota: City snow, country snow December 9, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:18 PM
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Marc Schmidt shot this stunning photo of 7th St. Marketplace in downtown St. Paul early this afternoon.

Marc Schmidt shot this picturesque scene of 7th St. Marketplace in downtown St. Paul early this afternoon.

Ah, winter in Minnesota.

I issued a call earlier today via email for snow reports and I got two, one from the city, one from the country. One came from a life-long dweller of the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the other from a native southern Californian who relocated to St. Paul in October.

Snow layers on patio chairs, rural Lamberton. Photo by Brian Kletscher.

Snow layers on patio chairs, rural Lamberton. Photo by Brian Kletscher.

About mid-afternoon today, my middle brother, Brian Kletscher, reported 8 – 10 inches of snow (since Friday evening) at his home just north of Lamberton in Redwood County.

Low visibility due to falling and blowing snow defined the prairie in this photo taken north of Lamberton around 3:30 this afternoon. Photo by Brian Kletscher.

Low visibility due to falling and blowing snow define the prairie in this photo taken north of Lamberton around 3:30 this afternoon. Photo by Brian Kletscher.

But it isn’t the snow total as much as the wind that’s now causing problems in southwestern Minnesota, where a blizzard warning is in effect.

In the blowing snow, the fenceline is barely visible beyond the garden shed in my brother's yard.

In the blowing snow, the fenceline is barely visible beyond the garden shed in my brother’s yard.

Reports Brian:

It was nice temperature as it was 34 degrees at 1:30 this afternoon. I was moving snow at 1:30 and the wind switched to the northwest at 2:15 bringing more snow and blowing snow into the area. Low visibility at this time.

The Mears Park Stage in downtown St. Paul early this afternoon. Photo by Marc Schmidt.

A snow globe view of Mears Park Stage in downtown St. Paul early this afternoon. Photo by Marc Schmidt.

Several hours to the northeast in downtown St. Paul, my oldest daughter’s boyfriend, Marc Schmidt, is enjoying his first ever Minnesota snowstorm. An apartment dweller with a 12-minute commute to work via the skyway system, he can concentrate on the beauty of the snow rather than dealing with clean-up and travel issues.

Says Marc in a 2:15 p.m. snow report:

I slapped on my Sorels and slushed my way through St. Paul. (To let you know what conditions are like, I got this email the same minute I got an automated email from the city of St. Paul letting me know there is a snow emergency tonight, and it hasn’t stopped snowing since . . .)

Welcome to winter in Minnesota, Marc. Forecasters are predicting several more hours of light to moderate snow for the metro area with snowfall totals of 10 – 15 inches. A winter storm warning continues for the metro and surrounding area.

Snow layers benches in Mears Park early this afternoon. Photo by Marc Schmidt.

Snow layers benches in Mears Park early this afternoon. Photo by Marc Schmidt.

Now, let’s hear your snow stories.

The winter wonderland view in my Faribault backyard around 4:30 p.m. today.

The winter wonderland view in my Faribault backyard around 4:30 p.m. today.

We have only about four inches of snow on the ground here in Faribault.

BONUS: My brother sent this photo, proof that Santa is officially preparing for Christmas:

My brother apparently has VIP access to Santa's wardrobe. Photo by Brian Kletscher.

My brother apparently has VIP access to Santa’s wardrobe.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos courtesy of Brian Kletscher and Marc Schmidt