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

 

For the love of this earth January 13, 2022

A memorial plaque on a bench at River Bend Nature Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

AT RIVER BEND NATURE CENTER in Faribault, you’ll find an abundance of inspirational memorial messages. On benches. On pavers. Even under a tree near the interpretative center.

Recently, I paused to read this quote: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

The message seems especially fitting right now, as many of us seek beauty in nature while living in a pandemic world. My appreciation for the outdoors/for nature and the peace and escape it provides has deepened in the past two years. A walk in the woods, along a river, across the prairie, anywhere outdoors, renews my spirit. Strengthens me.

I wondered about the source of the quote I photographed. It comes from Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, published in 1962. The American writer, marine biologist and conservationist is credited with launching the environmental movement with her book. She was deeply concerned about the future of our planet. Her writing prompted changes in laws that protect our world, our environment.

I feel gratitude for writers and environmentalists like Carson. But I also feel grateful for Ruth and Harry, “Strong People Who Loved Nature.” Strength and love go a long way in this world.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What’s your line? January 31, 2012

WHAT LINES DEFINE your world? Horizontal or vertical?

Perhaps you’ve never considered that question. But ponder that for a minute.

Where do you live? Where do you work? What lines define your environment?

Do you live in the city, the country or a small town? Do you live on the prairie, in the mountains or somewhere in between?

My world has always been horizontal. I prefer it that way—flat and unbroken by vertical obstacles. Towering buildings overwhelm me; make me feel small, visually overpowered and uncomfortable.

Can you understand that? Perhaps if you grew up or live in a rural area, you do.

The sun sets on my native southwestern Minnesota prairie in this December 2010 image.

I traveled to Chicago once during college, and to New York. While touring the garment district in the Big Apple, I was nearly flattened by a vendor pushing a rack of clothing as I paused on the sidewalk to gawk at the skyscrapers. In Chicago, I struggled with sleeping in a hotel that stretched too far into the sky.

A view of the Minneapolis skyline from Interstate 35.

I can’t recall the last time I visited downtown Minneapolis, but I’m certain it’s been decades. I’ve never been to any other big cities and I have no desire to travel to them.

Some of you will say I am missing out on culture and shopping and so much more by staying out of the city. You would be right.

But to counter that, I will tell you many a big city resident fails to leave the confines of the city to explore the small towns and rural areas that offer grassroots culture and shopping and much, much more.

I am not trying to pit city against country, horizontal against vertical, here. Rather, I’d simply like you to think about your world from a visual perspective. Then, tell me, what lines define your landscape? Vertical or horizontal, or a mixture of both?

Even in rural Minnesota, vertical lines occasionally break the horizon, like this scene at Christensen Farms along U.S. Highway 14 east of Sleepy Eye in southwestern Minnesota.

The strong horizontal lines of railroad tracks and trains cross the flat prairie landscape of southwestern Minnesota. I shot this along U.S. Highway 14 between Springfield and Sleepy Eye as snow fell late on a March morning in 2011.

Railroad tracks and diggers slice precise horizontal lines across the landscape in this March 2011 image shot while traveling U.S. Highway 14 between Springfield and Sleepy Eye, in my native southwestern Minnesota.

I live in Faribault, an hour's drive south of Minneapolis along Interstate 35. While I certainly don't consider Faribault, with a population of around 22,000 to be a small town, it's definitely not urban. I shot this pastoral scene last spring several miles west of town near Roberds Lake.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling