Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A glimpse of Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration April 26, 2022

A banner marks Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

WARM WEATHER, albeit wildly windy, drove Minnesotans outdoors on Saturday to embrace a partial-day reprieve from the cold and rain defining this April.

An overview of a section of the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

For Randy and me, that included a short drive to neighboring Northfield in the afternoon to check out the Earth Day Celebration at Bridge Square. I expected the event to draw a lot of locals and students from Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges. It did.

While the Earth Day Celebration happens behind them, these guys fish. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

In and surrounding Bridge Square, exhibitors shared information on topics ranging from climate change to water quality to composting to healthcare access and much more. Vendors from the Cannon Valley Farmers’ Market also set up shop. And kids created at several stations just a stone’s throw from fishermen angling in the Cannon River.

Near the river in Bridge Square, this temporary art installation focuses two messages: “NATIVE LIVES MATTER” and “CLIMATE JUSTICE.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

We mostly meandered, our stay cut short by raindrops. I zipped my camera inside my sweatshirt as we headed back to the van.

Bannering for a cause at the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Yet, even during my brief time at Northfield’s April 23 Earth Day gathering, I felt the passion for taking care of this planet. Of being responsible stewards. Of engaging in conversation. Of doing our part.

A sign on the UPcycleMN tent grabbed my attention. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

It’s refreshing to see, especially when I observe all the exposed winter-tossed garbage along roadways and read about endangered Minnesota rivers, our shorter winters and so many other climate and environmental concerns.

An example of an upcycled blue jean jacket crafted by Kathryn Ness of UPcycleMN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2022)

I delighted in meeting former Northfield librarian Kathryn Ness who identifies herself as “CEO & Head Scrounger” at UpcycleMN. Signage and jean jackets drew me to her vendor tent and a short conversation. She upcycles used jeans into “new” jean jackets, crafts cloth bags and more. Kathy reminds me of my Uncle Bob, who weaves old jeans, bedspreads and more into beautiful, durable rag rugs. They are artists who are doing their part for our earth while creating.

Bridge Square is often a canvas for chalk art, including during the Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

Attending Earth Day in Northfield gives me hope. Hope because people care about this earth, this place we call home.

TELL ME: Did you attend an Earth Day celebration?

Please check back for additional posts that focus on UPcycleMN and on the temporary art installation.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring the earth, past & present on Earth Day April 22, 2022

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Monarch attracting milkweed grows next to a soybean field in southwestern Minnesota. Planting milkweed is one way to help the earth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

TODAY, APRIL 22, marks Earth Day, a day to focus on our planet, the environment and ways we, individually and globally, can protect both.

This day gives me pause to reflect on an event which began in 1970, when I was nearing young adulthood. I remember the anti-litter campaigns, the energy shortage and even Earth Shoes. Fifty-two years later, the focus has shifted to clean energy, Zero Waste and climate change.

But, taking it down to a personal level, what am I doing to honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day on a daily basis? Some examples follow. What are you doing?

WHEN I WORE FEED SACKS

One of my all-time favorite images of laundry drying outside was taken on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

I recognize that some of what I do is rooted in my past, where reuse was popular long before it became hip. For example, as a child I wore clothing stitched from feed sacks. Not all clothes, of course, but enough that I remember. Clothing was handed down the line from oldest to youngest siblings and sometimes among cousins. Whenever I got new clothes in my youth, they were either from the sales rack or sewn by my godmother or, later as a teen, by me. When I had children, most of their clothing came from garage sales. To this day, I dislike clothes shopping and gravitate to the discount rack. And, yes, I still occasionally buy second-hand. My approach to apparel is, I figure, earth-friendly.

Likewise when it comes to laundry, I either line dry outdoors or on a rack inside. To me hanging laundry isn’t a chore. I love the methodical rhythm of clipping laundry to the line early in the morning, then pulling it off when the sun has dried the clothes, towels, sheets… In the process, I’ve saved energy by not using my electric dryer.

SAVE THE BOWS, PLEASE, & THE CARDS

Examples of Christmas cards that were recycled into gift tags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I also save and reuse gift bags, tissue paper and ribbons/bows. Through the years, I’ve taken a lot of ribbing for that practice. But, frankly, I don’t care. Tossing those items seems wasteful to me. And I am simply following the example set by my mother who, Christmas to Christmas, saved and reused tissue, ribbons, bows and carefully-folded wrapping paper. (We didn’t get birthday gifts.) I don’t reuse paper. Mom’s reasons for reuse were not necessarily rooted in the environment, but rather in finances. Wrapping paper and all the embellishments cost money. She also saved Christmas cards, repurposing them as gift tags, something I also do.

BREAD BAGS & PEACH PAPER

An outhouse repurposed as a storage shed on my middle brother and sister-in-law’s rural acreage near Lamberton. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

I also follow Mom’s example of washing and reusing plastic food storage bags. I don’t save bread bags, though. While growing up, I slid bread bags over my feet before slipping into boots. The bags kept my feet dry and warm, especially if my rubber boots leaked.

Thankfully I don’t need to repurpose the tissue from individually-wrapped crated peaches as toilet paper in the outhouse. Yes, I grew up using an outhouse in the warm weather months and a pot on the porch in the winter because our old farmhouse didn’t have a bathroom. I am quite appreciative of the small solo bathroom in my current house.

OLD IS JUST FINE WITH ME

A display at Reborn Home Furnishings, which recycles/upcycles/repurposes furniture. I discovered this shop during a visit to Luverne in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

The one other area in which I’ve really focused on reuse is furniture. I just counted all the furniture pieces in the six rooms on our main level. Of the 20 pieces, we’ve purchased only five new—the sofa, recliner, entertainment center and my office desk and chair. The dining room table and chairs came from two auctions 40 years ago. Other furniture either came from garage sales or from family. Even our bedroom ensemble—hideous 1950s blonde—is used. Not the mattress or boxspring. In the two second floor bedrooms, all of the furniture is second-hand.

RECYCLED ART, OH, HOW I LOVE THEE

Donated art fills a gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The center hosts an annual Recycled Art Sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

And then there’s art. I love art and own a stash of it thanks to thrift stores, garage sales, the local recycled art sale and my mom. My “newest” pieces are “Jesus, the Good Shepherd” and “Jesus Knocks,” wedding gifts to my parents in 1954. Budget-friendly sources of art have allowed me to curate pieces I love in an earth-friendly way.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. How do you honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day in your daily life? Let’s learn from one another about ways we can reuse, repurpose, recyle, upcycle, reduce waste…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of bugs, fiddleheads & anthills April 22, 2021

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Grandpa and grandchildren follow the pine-edged driveway last summer at a Minnesota lake cabin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2020.

HE BENT LOW, SQUATTING, trying to peer into the pinprick of a hole centering the mound of black dirt.

“Bug. Bug,” my 28-month-old grandson repeated. Three of us circled him—me, Grandpa (whom he calls Buddy) and Sister. In that moment, the anthill focused our attention. In that moment I realized, once again, how much I love being a grandma. How much I love seeing the world through the eyes of Isaac and his five-year-old sister, Isabelle.

This past weekend the pair stayed overnight with us, minus the parents. Randy and I love this special time with our grandchildren. Time to hug and cuddle and read and play. And explore nature.

With warm and sunny weather, we spent much of our weekend outdoors. Blowing bubbles. Playing Posy Pitch. Chalking cement. Climbing playground equipment and pushing swings and running after a little guy who moves incredibly fast.

We enjoyed nature in our yard and those anthills along the sidewalk. Isaac delighted in the ants and then did what seems innate—demolished the hills with his shoes. We never showed him.

The bugs that intrigued Isaac.

Bugs and worms enthralled him when Grandpa/Buddy flipped flat slabs of limestone to expose both. I can’t recall how many times Isaac asked to see those bugs.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

He loved the tulips, too, two red and two yellow blooming on the south side of the house. “Match,” he said. He’s big in to matching, just like he’s big in to letters of the alphabet. And he loves the sun and moon, imagining both in our overhead dining room light. At least this visit Isaac didn’t awaken early enough to see the sun and the moon simultaneously as he did during his last overnight stay.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I showed Isaac and Izzy the bird nest I found lying in the grass a few weeks ago, small blue egg still cozied inside the circle of dried grass. They listened, too, to the shrill whistle of a cardinal and heard Grandpa whistle in reply.

Our granddaughter zooms along on her scooter last year at North Alexander Park in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

When you pause to think like a child, listen like a child, see like a child, the natural world opens wide to awe and new-ness and delight. And that’s worth remembering, especially today, Earth Day.

Fiddleheads in my backyard.

I showed the pair fiddleheads—tightly coiled fern fronds destined to unfurl in the warmth and sunshine of an April day.

Even a pine cone holds wonder in the hands of a two-year-old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2020.

While walking and playing at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, we pocketed pine cones. And a smooth flat stone. Treasures.

Time with our grandchildren is treasured. Isaac loves watches and clocks. “Tick tock,” he says, when pointing to clocks in our house or carrying around the vintage alarm clocks I have in a small collection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But the true treasure is time. Time with Isabelle and Isaac. Time to love on them and teach them and learn from them. Time to grow our love for one another and strengthen that special bond between grandparent and grandchild. A bond unlike any other.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Earth Day wisdom from a Cherokee elder April 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:34 AM
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My niece, Beth, one half of an Earth Day Cleaning Crew in a West Virginia neighborhood.

WHEN THE CLERK at Target handed me a free cloth Earth Day shopping bag last Sunday, I felt like a hypocrite. I had just purchased two rolls of paper towels and a package of paper plates, which she promptly tucked inside the reusable bag.

So, today, I am going to tell you about my 6-year-old niece Beth, who, in my mind, redeemed me from the error of my ways. I’m hoping her actions will assuage my guilt about purchasing those throw-away products, and inspire you.

Sweet little Beth and her mom, Rena, take Earth Day seriously. On April 22, the 40th anniversary of this event that raises environmental awareness, the pair crafted a recyclable art project, took their recyclables to the recycling bin, walked through their West Virginia neighborhood picking up trash and saw the Earth Day movie Oceans, with husband/father Tom.

Beth's recycled Earth Day 2010 art project, including her pledge to care for Mother Earth.

Whew! Rena, who home-schools first-grader Beth, inspires me with her energy and creativity. My niece inspires me with her endless enthusiasm. The mother-daughter team planned follow-ups to their Earth Day activities by putting up a birdhouse, which Beth painted, and mounting a bat house in their pasture.

“Beth is especially excited about the bat house because she loves to sit on the deck on the summer evenings to watch the bats come out to feed,” Rena says. “We are hoping to attract up to 30 little brown bats in this house for their winter hibernation.”

Honestly, I cannot share the duo’s enthusiasm for attracting bats. I wonder if they’ve ever had bats inside their home. I have.

When I emailed my sister-in-law to ask if I could post this story and the photos of Beth, she told me a bit more about her interest in Earth Day: “I think our respect for the earth comes with our family genes, because my granddad was a Cherokee…and grew up near the reservation in Oklahoma. He respected Mother Earth as most Native Americans do.”

She goes on to tell me that her grandfather moved to California during the Dust Bowl and started farming there. Desiring a way to fertilize without harming the earth, he founded Gypsum Fertilizing Company, grinding gypsum rock and other natural elements into a powder to be dusted over crops.

Hearing this story from Rena touched me in a way I can’t explain. I’ve always known of the deep respect Native Americans have for Mother Earth. I’ve always known, too, of their deep cultural respect for elders and the wisdom they possess.

But to personally witness this come full circle—the wisdom of a Cherokee elder passed to the fourth generation—gives me reason to celebrate.

© Text copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of my sister-in-law, Rena