Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Looking for farm work June 29, 2018

A southwestern Minnesota cornfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BEAN WALKERS and detasslers. I haven’t thought about those two farm jobs in a long time. Because I’d rather forget those summer jobs that found me laboring as a pre-teen and teen in the fields of southern Minnesota. Intense heat and humidity made those hours in corn and soybean fields nearly intolerable. But it was a way to earn money in rural Minnesota back in the 1960s and 1970s.

 

 

And still today apparently. I was surprised to read a recent ad placed in a south central Minnesota shopper by crews looking for work pulling weeds in soybean fields, detasseling corn and picking rocks. Yes, I picked rocks from farm fields, too.

 

Bins peek above a cornfield between Faribault and Dundas. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Hire on to any of those jobs and you will understand hard physical labor. I realize conditions have improved since I yanked tassels, hoed cockle-burrs and heaved rocks from fields. But still, that farm work isn’t easy.

Tell me, have you ever worked any of those three farm jobs? Or tell me about a summer job you worked as a teen. What did it teach you?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Bringing poetry to the people in Mankato & I’m in January 19, 2018

 

NEARLY SIX MONTHS have passed since I stopped at Spring Lake Park in North Mankato to view my poem posted there as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride.

 

The post just to the front left of the car holds a sign with my poem printed thereon.

 

 

Looking back across the lake toward the willows and my nearby poetry sign.

 

Located at the edge of a parking lot next to a trail and within a stone’s throw of drooping weeping willows, my award-winning poem about detasseling corn contrasts with the tranquil setting of lake and lawn separated by bullrushes flagged by cattails.

 

The Sibley Farm playground inside Sibley Park features these cornstalk climbing apparatus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The poem may have been more appropriately placed next to cornstalk climbing apparatus at the Sibley Farm playground in Mankato’s Sibley Park.

 

A beautiful setting for poetry.

 

 

 

Still, I am grateful for this opportunity to get my poetry out there in a public place. This placement of selected poems along recreational trails and in parks in Mankato and North Mankato brings poetry to people in an approachable and everyday way. That is the beauty of this project—the accessibility, the exposure in outdoor spaces, the flawless weaving of words into the landscape.

 

Inside a southern Minnesota cornfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My poem, as with much of my writing, reflects a strong sense of place. In Cornfield Memories, I take the reader into a southwestern Minnesota cornfield to experience detasseling corn, a job I worked several summers as a teenager. It’s hard work yanking tassels from corn stalks in the dew of the morning and then in the scorching sun of a July afternoon. All for $1.25/ hour back in the day.

 

My poem, Bandwagon, previously posted at Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of a previous Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

My poem shares rural history, a story, an experience. Just as my past poems—The Thrill of Vertical, Off to Mankato to “get an education” and Bandwagon—selected as part of previous Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride contests did.

 

 

I value public art projects like the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Not only as a poet, but as an appreciator of the literary arts. Poetry doesn’t need to be stuffy and mysterious. And this project proves that.

I’D LIKE TO HEAR your thoughts on bringing poetry to the public in creative ways like this. Have you seen a similar project? Would you stop to read poems posted in public spots?

NOTE: All photos were taken in early September, within weeks of the 2017 Poetry Walk & Ride poems being posted.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hot as “you know what” in Minnesota July 18, 2011

Air conditioners will be working overtime in Minnesota this week.

SO, MINNESOTANS, here’s the weather question of the day: “How hot is it outside?”

Although I’m of German heritage, I’d unequivocally state, “hotter than a Finish sauna.”

With a predicted dewpoint in the 70s (Sunday it reached an almost unheard of 81) and temperatures in the 90s today, the National Weather Service in Chanhassen has continued an extensive heat warning for central and southern Minnesota and west central Wisconsin through 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Heat indexes of more than 105 degrees (some media outlets are saying 110 – 117 degrees) are expected for several-hour stretches during the afternoon, creating “a dangerous situation in which heat illnesses are likely.” Ya think?

That means, folks, that we need to keep ourselves cool (preferably in an air conditioned building), drink plenty of fluids (and we’re not talking alcohol here) and stay out of the sun.

Don't increase your fluid intake via alcohol.

Honestly, when I stepped outside Sunday evening, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. You can guess how long I stayed outdoors. Long enough to turn around and walk back inside the house. I had been out earlier photographing the air conditioner you see above. I had a little trouble with the camera lens fogging over as soon as I stepped outdoors. The windows on our house also fogged, a phenomenon I have not previously seen except when I cook pasta. Weird stuff this weather.

All joking aside, this heat and humidity can be downright dangerous, especially for anyone working outdoors.

I know of some teens supposedly heading to the corn fields early this morning to detassel corn in the Stanton/Northfield area. Here’s my advice: Gulp water, by golly, then gulp some more. Slather on the sun screen, wear a cap and, if you’re at all feeling out of sorts, immediately tell your supervisor. Today would not be the day to tough it out. And, yes, I do know of what I write. As a teen I detasseled corn on days so hot it seemed as if the heavy air would suffocate me in the corn rows.

If you, or your teen, is starting a job this week as a corn detasseler, take extra precautions to avoid heat-related health issues. Also, don't quit. Every week in the cornfield won't be like this one and you' likely work only til noon.

Now, with those dire warnings out of the way, let’s talk about the words and phrases we Minnesotans use to describe this stretch of humid, hot weather. Let me pull out my Minnesota Thesaurus and thumb through the pages.

Here are some select synonyms for our current weather: steamy, muggy, scorching hot, sweltering, a real barn burner, so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement, like a sauna, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”…

Whichever words you choose from that non-inclusive list, you might want to add, “It could be worse.” We Minnesotans like to tack that little phrase onto our statements lest, by not adding that qualifier, we leave ourselves open to worse circumstances/situations/weather. We do not want to tempt fate.

After all, come December, we could get socked with a raging blizzard that dumps two feet of snow on us followed by a week of temperatures plummeting to 20-below, and that’s without the windchill. We wouldn’t want to invite a Siberian winter by forgetting, this week, to say, “It could be worse.”

A snow pile divides traffic lanes along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 a block from Central Avenue in Faribault following a December 2010 snowstorm.

In summary, it’s best, really, not to overly-complain about the hellish, hot, scorching, stifling, steamy, sticky, sweltering, miserable, muggy, unbearable, oppressive heat and humidity. OK, then?

And, please, don’t be thinking, “Whatever, Audrey.”

IT’S YOUR TURN to speak up. How would you describe this weather we’re experiencing in Minnesota? How are you coping? Add your ending to this prhase: “It’s so hot in Minnesota that…”  Submit a comment and tell me whatever.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling