Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fifties flashback in a Wisconsin cornfield November 14, 2013

Back in the day, picking corn

IF NOT FOR THE TRAFFIC that surrounds me on this four-lane on a Saturday afternoon, I might be traveling directly into a rural scene from the fifties or sixties.

For there, over to the right along this Appleton, Wisconsin, area roadway, a farmer works the field with his Case tractor towing a pull-behind corn picker that drops ears of corn into a wagon.

I get one chance to photograph the scene, but plenty of time to ponder why this farmer chose to harvest his crop with vintage farm machinery.

Is he simply trying to reclaim an era when farmers worked with the wind at their backs, the sun upon their faces, the scent of plant and earth in the air, embracing harvest from the seat of an open air tractor?

(NOTE: This photo was taken in mid-October.)

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Place it near a cornfield and they will come, or something like that July 13, 2012

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“IF WE DON’T FIND a bathroom soon, I’m just going to go in a cornfield.”

Such prophetic words I pronounced as my husband and I recently entered the burg of Bellechester, population 172, mostly in Goodhue County, partly in Wabasha County, in southeastern Minnesota.

Honestly, it isn’t like I haven’t peed in a cornfield. I detasseled corn in the 1970s; I’ve squatted between corn rows.

But I’m not exactly a teen any more and the idea of walking into a cornfield on a scorching summer morning to pee didn’t appeal to me.

So, after asking a local where I could find a public restroom in Bellechester and being told there were none and we’d need to drive 12 miles to Lake City, the cornfield option seemed a very real possibility.

Not quite believing the man, though, my husband directed our van toward Bellechester’s one-block business district. Spotting the Bellechester Tavern and the Bellechester American Legion, I figured I’d dash inside one or the other and we’d be on our way.

This former bank is home to the Bellechester American Legion. Yes, I took time to photograph the Legion and the tavern even though I really, really had to go. I love old buildings, what can I say?

Look at the gorgeous architectural detail on the former bank. Yes, I know, I really should be moving along.

But wait, one more photo. Look at this faded signage on the side of the Legion.

Well, as long as I’m taking pictures, I may as well show you the bar I wished was open.

As luck would have it, the tavern and the Legion were closed. I considered the busy repair shop on the corner, for like two seconds. There’s something about walking into a garage full of men that left me crossing my legs (figuratively speaking) and nearly sprinting the other direction.

And that direction would be toward the porta potty which my kind, kind husband spotted way over yonder on the far end of a park, by the ball diamond and next to…the cornfield.

As close to a cornfield as it could be without being “in” the cornfield.

I started heading that way until my thoughtful spouse suggested we drive over there since it was too far to walk in the heat of the morning. That worked for me.

Around the corner and down a gravel road he drove to the edge of the cornfield. I handed my camera to him (I always have my camera out) and nearly rocketed out the door and into the porta potty next to the cornfield.

When I flung open the outhouse door while simultaneously buckling my belt (Hey, would you stay inside a porta potty any longer than you had to?), I realized I had made a major mistake.

After stepping out of the porta potty and before realizing the paparazzi was snapping pictures. I was reaching up to buckle my belt, just in case you are wondering whether I’m examining my hand.

That error would have been handing my camera over to my husband after carrying on about peeing in a cornfield. He most definitely recognized a photo op when he saw one.

And that, dear readers, is my peeing (almost) in a cornfield story and I’m sticking to it.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hit one out of the cornfield for the Minnesota Twins October 8, 2010


Montgomery Orchard celebrates the Minnesota Twins' 50th anniversary with a Twins logo corn maze.


HEY, ALL YOU APPLE-LOVING Minnesota Twins fans, if you want to test your Twins knowledge and your navigation skills, head to Minnesota’s version of The Field of Dreams at Montgomery Orchard, like I did last weekend.

Just a note here, before I tell you more about this opportunity. Please do not mistake the previous apple reference for any endorsement of The Big Apple-based New York Yankees.

Montgomery, Minnesota, orchard owners Scott and Barb Wardell clearly love the home team as they’ve created a six-acre corn maze in the shape of the Twins emblem. But that’s not all. They’ve developed a trivia game that challenges maze visitors to answer questions about the Twins at home plate; first, second and third bases; the pitcher’s mound; short stop; and right, center and left fields, depending on the selected maze route.

Since I don’t exactly like mazes, having once survived a terrifying mirror maze at Arnolds Park in Lake Okoboji, Iowa, during my teen years, I opted for the short Be-A-Mazed half-hour route. Fortunately, my husband agreed to lead me through the cornfield because I possess minimal map reading skills or sense of direction or knowledge of The Twins.


My husband leads the way through the short corn maze route. If you get lost and think you can just follow the corn rows to get out, forget it. The corn is not planted in straight-shot rows.


But my 24-year-old daughter and three of her friends, who had driven down from Minneapolis for the afternoon and who are the ultimate Twins fans, along with my teenaged son, opted for the longer maze with far more winding trails and far more trivia questions. At least one of the four women had brushed up on Twins trivia. I wondered, though, why none of these Twins fanatics were wearing Twins attire.


My oldest daughter, left, and three of her friends drove down from Minneapolis to navigate the maze, pick apples and rave about the homemade hot dogs from Edel's Meat Market, an on-site vendor.


Who am I to talk, though? I probably should not admit this. But since I am an honest person, I will reveal that, except for the World Series games in 1987, I have never watched an entire professional baseball game on television or ever attended one. I am the rare individual who really does not care about sports. I had come to the orchard corn maze simply because I wanted to see my daughter.

While I was there, I decided to exert some effort toward answering the Twins trivia questions. The problem, however, is that nearly everything I know about baseball history is limited to names—Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia and Rod Carew. I learned about those players decades ago from my eldest brother who listened to the Twins games on his transistor radio and who insisted on being Harmon Killebrew whenever we played farmyard softball.

I figured that long-ago role-playing and sportscasting would be helpful in the maze trivia contest. Plus I do know a bit of current trivia: Joe Mauer plays for the Twins. Yup, I figured “Mauer” might be the answer to at least one question.

But, after reading the first set of questions at home plate, I realized I’d never win this game.

Here’s the first rookie question I faced at home plate: Which of the following Twins legends are not in the Baseball Hall of Fame?  a. Harmon Killebrew  b. Tony Olivia  c. Rod Carew  d. Kirby Puckett

I had no clue. None. Nada. Strike one.

So, I moved on to the All-Star question: What American League catcher holds the record for the most All-Star selections?

I suspect if I knew the definition of “All-Star” that would help considerably. Strike two.

Heck, I may as well go for the Hall of Fame question: Name three Minnesotans that grew up to catch for the Twins.

Uh, yeah, so like I have no idea what positions Harmon or Tony or Rod played. Not even Joe, although I think he’s a catcher but I would need to verify that.  Sorry, Joe. Strike three. I’m out!

After that I decided to forgo the trivia and concentrate on getting through, and more importantly out of, the corn maze. As my husband and I wound our way along the rock-hard dirt path that twisted through the towering dried corn, I repeatedly asked if he knew where we were going. He said he did and I trusted that he did, although a few times I wished aloud for bread crumbs to drop along the path.

Or perhaps leaving a trail of peanuts and Cracker Jacks would have been more appropriate.


The Twins trivia questions are posted at baseball positions in the corn maze.



My husband climbs to a platform in the midst of the cornfield.



From the elevated platform, you get a bird's eye view of the corn maze and the countryside. Montgomery Orchard is donating $1 of each maze admission to the Twins Community Fund.



After completing the maze, head to the orchard to pick apples.



Or you can head to the store for pre-picked apples, local honey, jams, jellies, Cortland caramel apples and more. Peruse the wagon full of pumpkins from a neighboring farm on your way there.



You can choose from bags of apples lined up on the store porch. The orchard grows 13 apple varieties.



Musicians entertain inside and outside the store, depending on the weather.



Down in the pole shed, visitors can help make apple cider during a 2:30 p.m. daily demonstration.


FYI: Be-A-Amazed corn maze is located at Montgomery Orchard about an hour south of the Twin Cities and just south of Montgomery one mile east of the intersection of state highways 99 and 13 along highway 99. Regular orchard hours are from 1 – 6 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sundays. (Check the Web site for Be-A-Mazed-At-Night dates.)  Last corn maze admission is taken at 4:30 p.m. and reservations are recommended for large groups. Cost is $6.75 for ages 11 through adult; $5.50 for ages 4 – 10; and free for those under four.

In addition to the maze, apple picking, cider making and entertainment, Montgomery Orchard offers a 1 1/4-mile nature hike through the prairie. A free adopt-a-tree program is also available for youth.

Click here for info about Edel’s Meat Market, which serves those delicious (according to the Minneapolis residents) hot dogs and homemade brats.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling