Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The weekend we’ve awaited in winter weary Minnesota April 23, 2018

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GOODBYE, WINTER, and welcome spring.

 

Buds are bursting in these trees along the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

This weekend brought spring to Minnesota, just a week after an historic blizzard. And the mood shifted dramatically to exuberance as Minnesotans soaked up the sunshine and warmth, me among them. I even sport a sunburned forehead.

 

“Thin ice” signs remained in place at Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna on Saturday. Edges of the lake were open, the middle still iced.

 

We haven’t had temps this warm—in the 60s—since October. That’s too many months.

 

In Nerstrand, a contrast of seasons in a melting snowman and yard art.

 

On Sunday afternoon Randy found enough snow for a snowball.

 

Randy and I took a drive in the Rice County countryside this weekend. Snow still remains in shadowed spots.

 

While winter still lingers in melting snowmen, patches of snow and ice on lakes, I see spring everywhere.

 

 

 

 

In budding trees and pussy willows and blooming crocuses. Even in mud baking dry in the afternoon sun.

 

Biking Sunday afternoon along a back gravel road in Rice County south of Northfield.

 

It was shirt sleeve warm weather in Minnesota on Sunday, this scene photographed in Faribault at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 21 and Seventh Street.

 

People were out and about everywhere—biking, riding motorcycles, pushing strollers, pulling wagons, walking, running, drinking craft beers on brewery decks and patios…

 

A fitting sign outside Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday.

 

There was this feeling of we’ve finally made it. If you’ve ever lived in a cold weather state, you understand that delight, that giddiness, that joy which marks the first really warm and sunny day of spring.

 

Randy pulled on his shades as we each enjoyed a glass of beer on the riverside deck of Chapel Brewing Sunday afternoon.

 

Smiles abound, jackets are shed, sunglasses pulled on, winter released. Even if snow still remains in shadowed patches, we understand that spring has arrived in Minnesota. Finally.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Where the faithful once gathered… February 26, 2018

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I’M GOING TO THE CHAPEL and I’m gonna…

 

 

have a beer

because Jesus isn’t there turning water into wine.

 

 

Rather Andrew Burns and crew are brewing and serving beer at Chapel Brewing in Dundas. Located along the banks of the scenic Cannon River in this small southeastern Minnesota town, the latest brewery in the area offers an intimate setting in a former chapel.

The name fits this historic building constructed in 1880 as a village hall and jail and two years later converted into a chapel. For 50 years, the faithful met here for Sunday School and related religious purposes. Eventually, the building use reverted back to that of a town hall and then to a photography studio for 30 years before transitioning into a taproom. Patrons sometimes reminisce about senior portraits taken here.

When I consider the history of beer making, I think how appropriate that craft beer lovers now drink beer in a former chapel. The church in general has a long history of beer making with monks brewing beer and even Martin Luther’s wife, Katie, opening a brewery.

 

 

I found Chapel Brewing to be an inviting place. It’s different from many other southeastern Minnesota breweries I’ve visited. For one, the space is small, really small. And loud with sound bouncing off the hard wood surfaces. That’s not an uncommon problem, though, in many breweries. I was thankful when some of the patrons left. But I like the warmth of wood and the overall homey, and less industrial, essence of the taproom. You really can feel the history in this sun-drenched building and imagine it as a chapel.

 

 

Chapel beer is also worthy of praise. I favor hoppier beers and chose the Chapel IPA. I liked it, and I don’t always say that about craft beers I try. Likewise, my husband, Randy, enjoyed his Kolsch, a German ale. I’d like to see Chapel Brewing have a little creative fun with its beer names, though.

 

 

Given my positive experience, I’ll return, but next time to drink a brew outside. Had the riverside deck been cleared of snow on the warm (by Minnesota standards), sunny Saturday afternoon I visited, I would have imbibed there. Just to say I drank beer outside the chapel in February.

 

FYI: Here are two tips should you visit Chapel Brewing: Parking is limited to just a few on-site spaces and to a several spots out front. You are encouraged to park in the municipal lot a short walk away across the river rather than along residential streets. If you park on the bridge, you could be ticketed. Also, bring your photo ID. You will be asked for that, no matter your age. And, yes, you will have to retrieve your ID from your vehicle if you don’t have it on you.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

February at the ballpark & I’m not talking spring training in Florida February 23, 2018

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ON A FEBRUARY AFTERNOON, sunshine heats the earth, slants shadows upon snow fallen fresh that morning. It is a rare day of respite from a too-cold winter in Minnesota and I am anxious to get outside.

 

 

So Randy and I hop in the Chevy and head toward Dundas, just south of Northfield. I want to walk in Memorial Park, home of the Dundas Dukes. Randy pulls the car into the riverside park, loops and stops on a snowy road next to a trail. We exit, tread with caution along a path, diverting off the icy route as needed to avoid slipping.

 

 

Passing the abandoned playground, I observe swings hung statue-still.

 

 

I note footprints through the snow leading to a Little Free Library. Used even in winter.

 

 

A short hike away, I step onto the foot bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

 

I pause midway, focus on ruins of the Archibald Mill,

 

 

bridge shadows,

 

 

an open spot of water,

 

 

the river ribboning white between shoreline trees.

 

 

In the simplicity of this place, these scenes, I feel content. I am here with Randy, who appreciates the natural silence as much as me.

 

 

 

Overhead I watch a Delta airliner angling down toward the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I wonder about those aboard. Would they rather be leaving than arriving?

 

 

Some 1,700 miles away in the warmth of Ft. Myers, the Minnesota Twins toss and catch balls, swing bats and practice in the sunshine of opening week of spring training. Here in Dundas, opening day is still months away. I imagine the bold orange seats and grandstands filled with spectators, the cracks of bats, the swish of baseballs when the Dukes meet the Hampton Cardinals here on April 29. I can almost hear the conversations and laughter that will soon fill this place.

 

 

I head back toward the car, tracking in the footsteps of those who, like me, dream. Of sunny summer days. Of baseball. Of walks in the park. And of rivers that run free of ice, free of snow, free of winter under a Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Let the little children come…to the playground February 21, 2018

 

TRAVELING DOWN A SNOW slicked county road toward Little Prairie United Methodist Church south of Dundas, I expected nothing out of the ordinary. Just a familiar country church with jolting red doors marking a rural intersection.

 

 

But then, to the left of the church, set back from the county road and next to the parking lot, I spotted a structure. Inaccessible unless I wanted to slog through snow. But visually accessible via the telephoto lens of my camera.

 

 

I noted a mini church facade marked as Little Prairie Playground, complete with those signature red double doors, stained glass and a bell tower. How clever. How fun. How cute.

Since I didn’t want to plow through snow for a close-up look, I checked out the church Facebook page, which reveals volunteers constructing this playground last spring with a June dedication.

 

 

Behind that mini church front and through those doors, kids will find a slide, mini climbing wall, swings and more, the more including an aged bell rung by the pull of a rope. The bell honors Anna Mae Little, whose farm family once lived nearest the church.

 

 

As I snapped a few photos, I considered that I need to return in the spring for another photo shoot and perhaps to bring my two-year-old granddaughter here to play in the quiet of the countryside in the holy presence of this place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: All images are edited using an artistic filter.

 

A last-look photo essay from a Minnesota steam & gas engines show, Part V September 13, 2017

IT’S ALL ABOUT the vintage tractors for many participants and attendees:

 

 

 

 

 

 

For others, the flea market is the main draw:

 

Larry and Nicholas Ahrens of The Brown Barn Works craft garden art from scrap metal and more.

 

New caps are sold by the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

 

 

Under a vendors’ table, I spotted these horses and other merchandise.

 

 

People have to eat. You’ll always find something tasty in the food court area:

 

Randy and I stopped for a mid-afternoon glass of freshly-squeezed lemonade. During the noon hour, this dining area is packed.

 

When feet tire, you can ride on this horse-drawn wagon or in a bring-your-own golf cart:

 

 

 

Old-time music draws attendees to the music barn:

 

The Czech Area Concertina Club performs.

 

For kids (and some adults) the vintage playground equipment entertains:

 

 

 

A view of the merry-go-round in the background from the front of a vintage tractor. There’s a handcrafted seesaw (which Randy and I rode) in between.

 

 

When you can’t keep up with the kids/grandkids at the playground, you just have to rest.

 

THE END:

 

Randy and I followed this tractor off the show grounds northbound on Minnesota State Highway 3 toward Dundas.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oddities at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show, Part III September 8, 2017

Rows and rows of vintage tractors are a main attraction at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

 

WHEN I’M OUT and about with my camera whether at an event or simply exploring a small town or other setting, I often seek out the off-the-wall, the unusual, the humorous. The Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas offers all three. I appreciate the creativity and humor displayed there. In these troubling and difficult times, we need diversions. We need laughter.

So I targeted seven scenes that grabbed my photographic attention in the categories of odd, funny, weird and, most certainly, creative. Take a look.

 

 

At the flea market, I noticed a fake bloody hand positioned next to vintage saws. Randy suggested we buy the appendage to gift to my sister at her annual Halloween-themed autumn soup party. The hand, the vendor said, was not for sale. His sister staged it next to the saws as a marketing gimmick. I’d like to meet his sister and introduce her to mine.

 

 

 

 

Then there’s Mike, who brought his 1930 Model A to the show. Typically one expects shiny restored cars showcased by proud owners. The Northfield man’s vintage Ford, though, is riddled with bullet holes. On purpose. After paying $800 for the car, Mike was advised that the decrepit Ford was not worth the $30K he would spend to properly refurbish it. Not to be discouraged, Mike and a friend shot up the Model A then created a story about Jesse James III killing two bank tellers while robbing a southern Missouri bank in 1932. The car was his get-away vehicle. Now the bullet-riddled Ford and the accompanying legend garner more interest than if Mike had spent all that money restoring his car.

 

 

Parked next to the Model A was yet another original—a customized Ford Courier pick-up transformed into a double-headed car by the crafty Andy’s Auto Body of Webster. That turned a few heads, including mine. And made me laugh.

 

 

Not everyone was laughing at the toy John Deere tractor George Pinc placed inside a jar atop his Farmall tractor. He got a less than courteous comment from a show attendee. George didn’t care. He’s not a loyal-to-one-brand type of guy. But he assuredly is a man with a sense of humor.

 

 

I don’t know the story behind the horns clamped to the top of another tractor. But the add-on caused me to smile.

 

 

And then, as I walked between rows of tractors, I noticed a boy (I think Mike’s son) on a banana seat bike towing a cooler. Again, I just had to smile at the ingenuity. Got a problem? Solve it.

 

 

Finally, there’s the water bottle. By itself, tucked in the crook of a tree, it means nothing. But there’s a story. I watched a guy stretch and place the bottle in the vee. Before he entered a porta potty. How smart is that? Got a problem? Solve it.

Sometimes in life you have to think and act beyond the expected and laugh. Just laugh.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A tractor so deere featured at historic ag show, Part II September 7, 2017

A snippet of the many vintage tractors displayed at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas, Minnesota.

 

DRIVING AWAY FROM THE RICE COUNTY Steam & Gas Engines Show, Randy and I reminisced about a long ago popular farming event in our respective rural Minnesota hometown areas. That would be John Deere Days, an annual implement dealership open house. At the ones I attended in Redwood Falls, families enjoyed a free meal of BBQs, baked beans and individual servings of ice cream eaten with mini wooden spoons from plastic cups. Funny how one recalls such details five decades later.

 

There were plenty of John Deere tractors on the grounds.

 

A vintage John Deere combine.

 

I found the vintage hay loader especially interesting.

 

I remember, too, going to the local theater afterward to watch movies about John Deere tractors and other farming equipment. To a farm girl who viewed less than a handful of big screen movies during her entire childhood, these yearly John Deere promo flicks rated as a big deal.

 

Not every tractor emblem at the show has been restored. I like the ones that bear the marks of hard use on the farm.

 

But before the film reel rolled, several lucky attendees won door prizes. Like silver dollars. Randy won a bag of seed corn. His dad, who planted the silage seed corn on his Morrison County farm, was likely more thrilled than his son about that prize.

 

John Deere tractors and related equipment got front row display space.

 

So what prompted our memories of John Deere Days after attending the recent historic ag show in rural Dundas? It was this year’s selection of the John Deere as the honored tractor line. I hold a fondness for The Long Green Line that traces back to my dad’s John Deere. There’s a certain comfort in the auditory memories of putt-putt-putt. Anything that specifically reminds me of my nearly 18 years on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm—and that would be John Deeres—yields sweet thoughts.

 

Identifying words on the side of a John Deere tractor at the Dundas show.

 

I really should tour the John Deere Tractor & Engine Museum in Waterloo, Iowa.

 

My dad owned a later model Ford, unlike these earlier Ford tractors.

 

Unlike my great nephew Landon who, at age four, is loyal solely to John Deere, I am not. My dad also owned Farmalls, Internationals and Fords. He, however, only ever allowed me to drive the B Farmall.

 

A leaping deer has long been John Deere’s iconic symbol.

 

Nothing runs like a Deere. That catchy coined phrase endures still as do the signature green and yellow and leaping deer symbols of this implement company. I appreciate those long-lasting recognizable tags that trace to my rural roots and remind me of my youth on a Minnesota farm.

 

Do you, like me, have sweet memories of a John Deere tractor?

 

TELL ME: Do you have memories of events like John Deere Days? Or do you hold a fondness for a particular tractor line? I’d love to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling