Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Back home” in rural southwestern Minnesota November 22, 2019

Along U.S. Highway 14 west of Mankato. I grew up some 80 miles west of here.

 

ALTHOUGH I’VE LIVED IN TOWN longer than in the country, I still feel most at home in the familiar surroundings of endless land and vast sky. Southwestern Minnesota. It is the place of my roots, the place of my heart, the place where I feel overwhelmingly comfortable.

 

Farms edge U.S. Highway 14 in this region of Minnesota.

 

I expect most people connect to a geographic location. Do you?

 

Another farm along Highway 14 west of Mankato.

 

Every time I’m back home, because, yes, I still call this rural region back home, I sweep my eyes across the landscape, noticing always how small I feel in this setting. The sky and land overtake every aspect of this place, dwarfing farm sites and farm machinery and people. Only grain elevators seem to hold any sort of visual power.

 

An old-style machine shed in southwestern Minnesota.

 

As I travel through this farming region, I study building sites, pleased by sturdy, maintained barns, dismayed by those with roofs caving. Too many barns are vacant of animals, an almost certain start of their demise.

 

Grain bins define a farm site near Delhi, Minnesota, in my native Redwood County.

 

Like the farmer’s daughter I am, I notice the status of crops from spring planting to harvest. It’s in my DNA, this natural instinct to focus on corn and soybean fields, to assess the growing season, to care about the weather.

 

A farm site west of New Ulm, Minnesota.

 

Although I’ve left this land of my youth, I remain grateful for the earth, the sky, the wind, the communities, the schools, the churches and peoples of southwestern Minnesota. All influenced and shaped me. And still do.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road: A look at Redwood County flooding & snow pack March 24, 2019

Westbound just outside of Redwood Falls along Minnesota State Highway 19 late Saturday morning.

 

SNOW LAYERS farm fields.

 

Along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Belview corner.

 

Massive snow piles still mark farm sites, this one along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

A scene along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner appears more winter-like than spring.

 

In the shade of yards and groves and northern hillsides, snow banks remain, reminders of a long Minnesota winter not yet over.

 

In many spots along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Belview corner, snow pushed off the highway (some up to 100 feet from the roadway) remains.

 

Snow shoved from a once-drifted Minnesota State Highway 19 appears like wind-sculpted waves frozen in place just west of Redwood Falls.

 

A sign on the west edge of Redwood Falls along Minnesota State Highway 19 advises motorists to check the Minnesota Department of Transportation website for road closures.

 

In Redwood, the Redwood River appears mostly iced-over.

 

Flooding along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and the Delhi corner.

 

But outside of town, snow melt floods fields, settles in low-lying areas. Frozen tile and frozen ground allow no outlet for all that water. Farm sites seem temporary lakeside properties.

 

A drainage ditch near the intersection of Brown County Road 29 and Minnesota State Highway 67 southeast of Morgan.

 

Ditches brim with water.

 

East of Courtland along U.S. Highway 14, fields are mostly bare of snow.

 

Between Morgan and Gilfillan, snow cover and flooding increase.

 

Southeast of Redwood Falls.

 

A survey of the countryside while driving from Faribault to Belview and back Saturday presents a perspective on the flooding and potential flooding in southern Minnesota. Not until Randy and I drove northwest out of Morgan did we begin to really notice the difference. Our observations of significant remaining snow pack and already ponding water visually confirms the reason for a flood warning in my native Redwood County.

 

Flooded farm field near Delhi.

 

Just east of Belview.

 

East of Delhi, a closure on the Scenic Byway road.

 

There’s a lot of snow yet to melt, especially west of Redwood Falls. That water must go somewhere since it can’t soak into the frozen soil. And that somewhere is likely into the Redwood River, which feeds into the Minnesota River, which feeds into the Mississippi River. What happens in rural southwestern Minnesota will eventually affect the Twin Cities metro.

 

Near Delhi.

 

Temps and precipitation will factor into the flooding equation, too, as winter transitions into spring. I will tell you that Redwood County, on Saturday, seemed still stuck in the final days of winter.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back in Redwood County after July flash floods July 9, 2018

Just six weeks ago, spring planting was underway in this same area of rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

DURING MY LAST TRIP to southwestern Minnesota in mid May, farmers worked the land. Tilling. Planting crops. Rushing to get seeds into the soil after a late spring start.

Now, some six weeks later, acres and acres of that same cropland lie under water, corn and soybean fields flooded by torrential rains. Flash floods that turned farm land into lakes early last week.

On our route west of Redwood Falls then north to Belview then later east of Belview along county roads back to Redwood, Randy and I observed lots of standing water. Massive lakes where crops should now thrive. It was disheartening to see the efforts and hopes of so many farmers gone. Flash, just like that. Weather is always the gamble of farming. I would never have the mental fortitude to farm. I admire those who do.

As we drove, I noted the wash of debris along shoulders, evidence that floodwaters overtook the county road. We drove a narrow ribbon of asphalt, water edging both sides of the roadway. Orange cones and orange flags flagged danger. An orange snow fence blocked a gravel road.

I understood that, days after the flash flood, we had not seen the worst of this devastating storm. But it was enough for me to gauge the significant loss to the farmers of my native Redwood County.

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NOTE: My apologies for the lack of flood images. But I am under strict orders from my ortho surgeon not to use my left hand as I recover from surgery on my broken left wrist. “Use it,” he said, “and you will be back in the OR.” I’ll listen, thank you.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delhi: Little town on the Minnesota prairie June 4, 2014

UNLESS YOU’RE A LOCAL or a native, you likely bypass the small towns which sit off county roads, tucked away from trafficked highways that take time-pressed travelers from destination to destination.

Nearing Delhi at the intersections of Redwood County Road 9 and 6.

Nearing Delhi at the intersections of Redwood County Road 9 and 6.

On a recent trip back to my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, my husband and I sidetracked off our usual route along State Highway 19 between Belview and Redwood Falls to follow Redwood County Road 9 to Delhi.

Decades have passed since I visited Delhi, at the intersection of county roads 9 and 6.

A sweet, well-cared for home in Delhi.

A sweet, well-cared for home in Delhi.

Most would surmise there’s not much in Delhi. That is until you look and consider that some 70 folks call this rural farming community home.

Another beautiful home with a lovely landscaping that includes field rocks.

Another cute home with lovely landscaping that includes field rocks.

Home.

In need of a little TLC, both home and car.

In need of a little TLC, both home and car.

While some residents care about their properties with well-tended houses, others show less interest in maintenance. That is not uncommon in small towns. Or perhaps such neglect is more noticeable with fewer houses.

Parked along the tracks just off Redwood County Road 6 west of Delhi.

Parked along the tracks just off Redwood County Road 6 west of Delhi.

Like so many small towns along the railroad line, this settlement once boomed. Information published in The History of Redwood County, Volume 1, states that Delhi was platted in 1884, shortly after the railroad came through the area. Alfred M. Cook, a builder and owner of a flour mill in neighboring Redwood Falls, named Delhi, according to Minnesota place name info on the Minnesota Historical Society website.  He came to the area from Delhi, Ohio.

The front window of the 1910 Delhi State Bank is now mostly boarded with a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The front window of the 1910 Delhi State Bank is now mostly boarded with a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The Delhi State Bank, built of brick in 1910, and now abandoned and apparently last used as a church, shows me that folks once believed in this place.

Driving toward downtown.

Driving toward downtown.

Not that they don’t anymore. But like all too many prairie communities, Delhi has mostly withered away.

Grain trucks parked near the grain bins.

Grain trucks parked near the grain bins.

Many other businesses once operated here, but they are no more, with the noticeable exception of a grain business. Delhi, in the late 1800s, housed general, drug, hardware and lumber stores, a hotel, a railroad and telegraph agent, a feed mill, a blacksmith shop, a farm implement business and more.

What a lovely church this must be inside as evidenced from the exterior.

What a lovely church this must be (or once was) inside as evidenced from the exterior.

The Presbyterian church today appears shuttered.

Evidence of faith in bank and bin.

Evidence of faith in former bank and bin.

Despite all of this and the inclination to despair, I cannot help but admire the determination of Delhi to cling to the land. Prairie roots run deep.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The death of a barn June 3, 2014

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I’VE VIEWED PLENTY of time-worn, dilapidated barns in my travels through rural regions.

Barn near Delhi along CR 6

But never have I spotted one quite like this mammoth barn along Redwood County Road 6 south of Delhi. For those of you unfamiliar with Delhi, a community of some 70 residents in southwestern Minnesota, the name is pronounced Dell-hi. Not (New) Delly, as in the capital city of India.

The state of this barn struck me for its final fortitude, its seeming determination to hang on even with bones exposed, its very soul ripped away.

One can only imagine the previous condition of this barn, the proud farmer who walked through her doors, the cows, and perhaps swine, once housed inside.

Now, instead, a black hole marks a side doorway, a front doorway is barricaded by wood, the hay mow door hangs like a loose tooth.

Heaps of hay still remain, heaved there years ago by some hardworking farmer.

I am always saddened by this decay of an agrarian structure.

What stories does this building hold? Who labored here? What brought about this barn’s demise, marked now by a grain truck gravestone?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Seeding the harvest in southern Minnesota May 30, 2014

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Between Morgan and New Ulm, Minnesota.

Between Morgan and New Ulm, Minnesota.

AS MOODY GREY SKIES—the kind that inspire a poet to pen poetry—loomed in southern Minnesota on Sunday afternoon, farmers hastened in the fields.

Near Mankato, Minnesota.

Near Mankato, Minnesota.

You could almost sense the urgency so late in the planting season.

Near Mankato.

Near Mankato.

It was as if time pressed above the earth, folded in the fabric of draping clouds.

Near Mankato.

Near Mankato.

Below, farmers stitched seeds into soil.

Near Delhi.

Near Delhi.

Hope of harvest in the prairie land.

Between Belview and Delhi.

Between Belview and Delhi.

The promise of spring fulfilled.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling