Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Sunday glimpse of the Amish August 1, 2016

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ON A RECENT RETURN TRIP from eastern Wisconsin, I spotted more Amish than I’d ever seen in the past. It was a Sunday. They travel on Sundays from farm to farm for church services and visiting.

In the Wautoma/Coloma area along Wisconsin State Highway 21, buggy wheel tracks and horse droppings along the shoulder of this busy highway clued me in that the Amish had been out and about.

Amish, 190 horse & buggy close-up

It took some editing to salvage this single photo of a lone Amish man guiding his horse and buggy along Wisconsin Highway 21.

On this late Sunday afternoon, my husband and I saw a group of Amish young people packed into a wagon stopped at a side road. Their sudden appearance caught me by surprise, thus I missed photographing them. But a short distance farther, a lone buggy traveled along the opposite lane and I fired off a few frames through the dirty, sun-drenched windshield of our van. Certainly not optimal conditions for photography.

All motion, our van traveling at 70 mph and the Amish buggy much slower.

All motion, our van traveling at 70 mph and the Amish buggy moving slowly along the interstate frontage road.

My next Amish sighting came more than two hours later across the border in Minnesota. Along Interstate 90 in the St. Charles area, a sizable group of Amish gathered in a field. They were too distant for photos or even determining their activity. But I did manage to photograph a buggy moving along a gravel road parallel to the interstate.

What a contrast in this scene: modern and Amish.

What a contrast in this scene: modern and Amish.

And then I noticed shocks positioned in a field by Amish farmers.

Nearing the field full of shocks...

Nearing the field full of shocks…

Why am I so fascinated by the Amish? I think perhaps because they give me a glimpse in to the past, in to simple times when hard work, faith and family were valued by almost everyone. Although I know their worlds are not perfect, I admire how they can resist worldliness and hold true to their way of life.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Even the Amish need to scrape windshields December 4, 2014

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I always watch for Amish farms in the Coloma, Wisconsin, area.

I always watch for Amish farms in the Coloma, Wisconsin, area.

I’D NEVER CONSIDERED THIS, how the Amish travel comfortably in cold weather months. But then I don’t live in Amish country, only pass through it on the several times a year trips from southeastern Minnesota to eastern Wisconsin.

 

Amish buggy 1

 

On Thanksgiving morning I spotted an Amish buggy along Wisconsin State Highway 21 just outside of Coloma. I didn’t expect this on such an unseasonably cold and winter-like day. I wondered how this mode of transportation can possibly keep its occupants warm. Perhaps a heater, as suggested by a Google search, provides the necessary warmth.

 

Amish buggy 2

 

I couldn’t see the riders for the glass. A disappointment. But then again, who would ride in an open buggy in such cold temps? Not me. And not these Amish either.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Really, deep-fried what? May 21, 2014

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The Rice County Fair, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

The midway area of the Rice County Fair, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

I’M NOT MUCH OF A FAIR-GOER. I trace that back to too many years chasing down 4-Hers for photos with their uncooperative animals. A fair doesn’t hold the same appeal once you’ve covered the annual event for a newspaper more than a few times.

This was decades ago. Things change. I’m no longer a newspaper reporter and photographer assigned county fair barn duty.

So today I could meander as I please through the fairgrounds.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009 from the Rice County Fair, Faribault, Minnesota.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009 from the Rice County Fair.

For many of you, a fair is all about the food, right? Deep-fried anything, often served on a stick.

A vendor at the Rice County Fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

A vendor at the Rice County Fair. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

For example, at last year’s Minnesota State Fair, you could find these new deep-fried food offerings, among others: deep-fried olives, fried pickles ‘n’ chocolate, wine glazed deep-fried meatloaf, an assortment of deep-fried sandwiches and deep-fried bread pudding.

How they deep fry some of these foods, like bread pudding, I have not a clue. But I suppose where there’s a chef, there’s a way.

The brat barn, not to be confused with a dairy or pig barn. You can purchase StoneRidge meats here.

Minnesota Prairie Roots 2011 photo of Uncle Butch’s Brat Barn in Wautoma, Wisconsin.

All of this deep-fried food talk leads across the border into Wisconsin, known for its beer, brats and cheese. Brat fries are already popping up here at places like Uncle Butch’s Brat Barn outside StoneRidge Meat & Country Market, Inc. ( Piggly Wiggly) in Wautoma. Wisconsinites love their brats. Me? Not so much.

A quick roadside snapshot of the deep fried pizza sign along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Wautoma.

A quick drive-by snapshot of the deep-fried pizza sign spotted this past weekend along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Wautoma.

But it wasn’t the warm weather brat fries that drew my attention on a trip to eastern Wisconsin this past weekend. It was the sandwich chalkboard sign I spotted along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Coloma advertising deep fried pizza.

Deep-fried pizza? Now how does one deep fry pizza and why would you?

Although tasty, Flamin' Bleu was not quite what Randy expected. He expected chunks of bleu cheese topping the pizza. But then we are bleu cheese fanatics with award-winning bleu cheeses produced in our home community of Faribault.

Flamin’ Bleu pizza at Pizzeria 201 in Montgomery, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration purposes only.

I love pizza, I really do. I make homemade pizza every Friday evening. And while in Wisconsin, my husband, second daughter and I dined on our favorite pizza, the New Orleans style topped with Andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, red onions, red peppers and Cajun spices, at the Stone Cellar Brewpub in Appleton. It certainly was not deep fried.

Tell me, have you ever heard of or eaten deep-fried pizza?

My initial reaction was this: Well that can’t be too healthy.

But then again, nothing deep-fried really would be, would it?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road along Wisconsin Highway 21 April 21, 2014

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TRAVELING THE 100 MILES or so between Tomah and Oshkosh, Wisconsin, can get downright tedious.

My husband and I have driven that stretch of narrow Wisconsin State Highway 21 numerous times in the past three years en route to and from Appleton, where our second eldest daughter lives.

With lots of small towns to filter through—and you know how much I appreciate small towns, unless I’m on a schedule, which we typically are—and a roadway that rates as heavily traveled and usually impossible to pass slow moving vehicles, this section of the trip is often taxing.

So we divert ourselves by trying to appreciate the sites around us, although not always pleasant. The shoulders and ditches of Highway 21 are often littered with deer carcases. Better a dead deer than one walking/running into the path of our van.

Sometimes we play a game, seeing how many dead deer we can spot. Yes, I know. Whatever works to pass the time.

I typically rest my camera in my lap, too, ready to capture whatever I find intriguing, in other words potential blog material.

My single Wisconsin Amish photo during our most recent trip shows and Amish buggy in a farmyard and an Amish teen standing next to a small outbuilding.

My single Wisconsin Amish photo during our most recent trip shows an Amish buggy in a farmyard and an Amish teen standing next to a small outbuilding.

Typically I am on shutter button alert around the Coloma area, home to many Amish.

But anything out of the ordinary can cause me to raise my camera and shoot.

Photographed just east of Coloma.

Photographed just east of Coloma.

How often do you see a pink semi cab?

The weaving truck in Wautoma.

The weaving truck, right, in Wautoma.

Or a truck with boats aboard weaving through traffic in Wautoma like some some speed boat on an area lake?

I really should have photographed the crazy multi-lane roundabouts near Oshkosh. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation seems to fancy these traffic intersectors with more than 200 constructed in the state, many in the Fox Valley area where we travel. In contrast, Minnesota has about 120.

While I understand how roundabouts enhance safety, that does not make them any less scary, especially during rush hour. Suffice to say, you best know which lane you need to be in, something not in the knowledge bank of out-of-state drivers like us encountering a particular roundabout for the first time.

In summary, though Highway 21 proves a long drive through central Wisconsin, I manage to keep it semi interesting by scouting for blog material.

FYI: These photos were shot during a March trip, thus the snow you see in some of the images. Check back for additional posts this week from that visit to eastern Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Quintessential Wisconsin April 4, 2014

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Cabin Bar and Grill, Coloma

The Cabin Bar & Grill in Coloma, Wisconsin.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dining at the Red Hill Royal Cafe April 3, 2014

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The Red Hill Royal Cafe sits along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Coloma.

The Red Hill Royal Cafe sits along Wisconsin State Highway 21 in Coloma.

MY HUSBAND AND I EXCHANGE  glances as we enter the Red Hill Royal Cafe in Coloma, Wisconsin, around noon on a Friday.

The charming lunch counter. Three other customers arrive at the diner after us.

Dining at the charming lunch counter. Three other customers arrive at the diner after us.

Except for a couple seated in the main dining area and a man at the lunch counter, the place is empty. Usually not a good sign.

We may have turned around and walked out if not for my hunger and my desire to eat at a local restaurant rather than the chain across the street.

My Philly steak sandwich.

My Philly steak sandwich smothered in cheese.

So we stay. I order a Philly steak sandwich. Randy chooses a cheeseburger and fries.

The jukebox brings back memories.

The jukebox brings back memories.

As you would expect, lots of familiar oldies.

As you would expect, lots of familiar oldies.

If the jukebox had been working, I would have selected a song.

If the jukebox had been working, I would have selected a song.

While waiting, we reminisce over the non-functioning jukebox, 45 rpm records visible inside.

A photo of a photo showing The Royal as it once appeared.

A photo of a photo (shooting through glass, so excuse the quality) showing The Royal as it once appeared.

We also study historic photos and information on the wall. The Royal Cafe building was relocated to this hilltop spot from downtown in July 1987 after Wisconsin State Highway 21 was rebuilt on the edge of Coloma.

Quirky yard art outside the cafe.

Quirky yard art outside the cafe.

But on this Friday nearly three decades later, not even the location along this busy highway that cuts across central Wisconsin from Tomah to Oshkosh draws in diners.

Friday specials.

Friday specials.

Business has been slow all winter, the waitress tells us. And not just here, but everywhere. Been too cold, she explains. That I can understand after arriving here from cold, and much snowier, Minnesota.

A generous portion of fries served with a cheeseburger, which Randy termed good, but "a little greasy."

A generous portion of fries served with a cheeseburger, which Randy termed good, but “a little greasy.”

To our satisfaction, we find the Red Hill Royal Cafe’s food to our liking. I’m no food critic, but my tasty Philly steak arrives piping hot on a toasted bun. Ditto for Randy’s burger. He shares his generous portion of fries.

A tabletop scene.

A tabletop scene.

I limit my fry intake as I want  a slice of homemade pie. Rarely do I order dessert out, but I decide to treat myself.

That is not to be. Although pie is listed on the menu, it’s a seasonal item reserved for the busier warmer months when folks are drawn to the region’s lakes, the waitress shares.

I am disappointed.

But there’s always next time. And next time should be pie season.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Wisconsin: Sharing the highway with the Amish November 19, 2013

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IN THE PAST THREE YEARS, I’ve traveled through the heart of central Wisconsin often enough to know where I might see the Amish.

An Amish farm in central Wisconsin, photographed on Friday, October 11, 2013.

An Amish farm in central Wisconsin, photographed on Friday, October 11, 2013. Notice the buggy parked by the red shed.

Between Coloma and Wautoma is a prime location for spotting Amish farms and maybe even a buggy, especially on a Sunday, the day these folks gather to worship in homes.

An Amish man traveling Wisconsin State Highway 21 on Friday, October 11, 2013.

An Amish man traveling Wisconsin State Highway 21 on Friday, October 11, 2013.

On our most recent trip to Wisconsin, my husband and I, for the first time, encountered an Amish man guiding a horse-pulled wagon along the shoulder of Wisconsin State Highway 21 by the Mecan River Fishery Area.

A close-up taken while passing by the Amish man.

Passing by the Amish man.

Truthfully, I felt nervous watching him journey along this busy stretch of highway heavy with semi truck and other traffic.

I could only hope drivers would see him and that his horses wouldn’t spook.

How about you? Have you ever encountered Amish along a roadway and worried about their safety?

FYI: To learn more about the Amish in Wisconsin, click here to reach the Amish America website.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Minnesota prairie native discovers a ship docked in the Wisconsin woods January 26, 2012

I GREW UP on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, a mostly flat land vertically-interrupted only by small-town grain elevators and water towers, by silos and groves of trees hugging farm sites.

I never felt hemmed in. How could I feel confined under an endless sky in a land that stretches into forever, nearly unbroken before your eyes?

Perhaps that will help you understand why I sometimes struggle with trees. I’m not talking a tree here, a tree there, but trees packed so tight that they become a forest. Dense. Black. Blocking views. I need to, have to, see the land spreading wide before me if I’m exposed for too long to miles of thick woods.

Likewise, I prefer my land flat.

All of that said, time and age and exposure to geography beyond the prairie have resolved some of those space and landscape issues for me. I can, within limits, appreciate terrain that rolls and rises, trees that clump into more than a shelter belt around a farmhouse.

I can appreciate, too, geological anomalies like Ship Rock, a natural formation jutting out of seemingly nowhere from the trees that crowd State Highway 21 in Adams County near Coloma in central Wisconsin.

Ship Rock is located next to Wisconsin Highway 21 in the central part of the state.

Whenever I pass by Ship Rock, which has been numerous times since my second daughter moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, in December 2010, I am awestruck by this isolated pinnacle of Cambrian sandstone. Finally, this past summer, my husband, teenaged son and I stopped to climb around the base of the rock cropping and to photograph it (me mostly photographing rather than climbing).

Ship Rock rises from the flat landscape, a surprise in the Wisconsin woods.

My husband walks across the rocks below the looming Ship Rock.

If you can ignore the distracting graffiti, then you can appreciate the nuances of the mottled stone, the ferns that tuck into crevices, the surprise of this Ship Rock docked in the most unexpected of places. The rock formation truly does resemble a ship.

I am surprised by the ferns that grow in the tight spaces between rocks.

Grass sweeps between rocks in this August 2011 image taken at Ship Rock.

A month ago while traveling past Ship Rock, I snapped a photo. The ship seemed forlorn and exposed among the deciduous trees stripped of their summer greenery. Yet she also appeared threatening, a looming presence rising dark and foreboding above the land awash in snow.

I could appreciate her, even if she wasn’t a grain elevator or a water tower, a silo or a cluster of trees breaking a prairie vista.

Ship Rock, photographed from the passenger window of our van at highway speeds in December.

CLICK HERE for more information about Adams County, Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographing the Amish in Wisconsin January 8, 2011

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FOR YEARS, I’VE BEEN fascinated by the Amish. I’m not sure why. I’ve never met an Amish person, never visited an Amish farm. But I’ve read Amish fiction by Christian writer Beverly Lewis.

That fiction likely ignited my interest in learning more about a people who live such a simple life, so different from mine.

If I’m honest with you, I’ll tell you that I also really, really want to photograph the Amish and their way of life and tell their story.

My daughters repeatedly warn me that, “Mom, you’re not supposed to take pictures of them.”

I’ve never quite understood that. I’ve heard everything from an Amish belief that photographs steal souls to a belief that photos are considered graven images. When I googled the topic, I found an interesting article on Amish Country News that seems to support the graven images theory.

Recently I’ve been tempted again by my desire to photograph the Amish. This time the Amish were in central Wisconsin. Twice now my second eldest has seen them in their buggies along State Highway 21 near Coloma. Once at night, the other time near sunset. She knows that if I had been with her, I would have taken photos.

When my husband and I were on that section of highway in early December, I only saw the buggies parked, in a farmyard. I managed, however, by setting a fast shutter speed on my camera, and with rapid-fire clicks of the shutter, to get several images as we drove by. That will have to do for now, until I can return and explore at a horse-trot pace.

 

Next to the building on the left, I caught my first glimpse of an Amish buggy on this Wisconsin farm.

I continued clicking the shutter as a second buggy came into view behind the building in the middle.

A better view of two buggies parked on the farm place.

My last shot of the Amish farm and buggies, taken from the car as we drove by on Wisconsin Highway 21.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling