Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

October beauty along I-90 in southeastern Minnesota October 31, 2011

Hillsides of colorful trees along I-90 in southeastern Minnesota Sunday morning.

I DID NOT EXPECT IT—leaves rusting under a gloomy, grey sky which gripped the second to last day of October like an iron fist.

Autumn seemed determined to hang on, to stand strong and sturdy against winter for one final weekend.

And it was a glorious one. Not glorious in the sense of sunny skies and warm weather.

But beautiful and wondrous and spectacular in the surreal scene of clouds and wisps of fog that pressed against the wooded Mississippi River bluffs along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota Sunday.

As my husband and I traveled through the area between Nodine, Minnesota, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, and onto Tomah, I couldn’t take my eyes off the hillsides of trees shaded in muted hues of rust and moss green and the occasional spark of golden yellow.

I did not expect this so-late-in-October autumn beauty.

Despite the drive day of off-again, on-again rain and mist and pressing-down-upon-you iron grey skies, I felt myself appreciating the irrepressible beauty of the natural world around me.

Even on the dreariest of days, around each curve in the highway, a new scene unfolded and I couldn’t stop taking pictures between swipes of the windshield wiper blades.

Driving I-90 near Dresbach, heading toward La Crosse, fog shrouded the wooded bluffs.

Woods fade into sky into stone in this surreal setting Sunday morning near La Crosse.

And then, several hours later, we saw the same trees from a different perspective as we drove back from Tomah. Here we are driving into Minnesota from La Crosse.

I-90 hugs the bluffs on one side, the Mississippi River on the other along this picturesque stretch of winding roadway between the border and Dresbach.

Approaching Dresbach...

What most surprised me were all the leaves still clinging to branches. I expected most would have been blown off by fierce autumn winds. And the colors, oh, the rust of oaks, so beautiful.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Alpacas in Sogn Valley October 9, 2011

An alpaca outside the craft barn at Sogn Valley Alpacas & Crafts.

I DREW MY HAND across the scarves, stroking the silky, kitten-soft spun fiber of the alpacas.

Hats. Scarves. Prayer shawls. Afghans. Rugs. Clothing. Some tucked inside the small-scale barn shed that mimics the real barn a stone’s throw away. Other merchandise is draped across tables and clothes-drying racks outside, near the penned camel-hued alpaca that chose to ignore me for the most part.

Welcome to Sogn Valley Alpacas & Crafts along Goodhue County 14 Boulevard, rural Cannon Falls, a spur-of-the-moment stop on a recent drive to view the fall colors.

Jayne and R.J. Boersma's Sogn Valley Alpacas & Crafts near Cannon Falls.

Scarves and hats, close-up, and prayer shawls in the background displayed outside.

Silky soft clothing hanging inside the craft barn.

My husband and I missed the fleece demo at 1 p.m., the spinning wheel demo inside and the alpaca farm tour, unless, of course, it was self-guided.

We, in fact, missed any human contact. Not a soul was to be seen except for alpacas and chickens scratching and flapping too close for my fear-of-chickens comfort.

I checked out the merchandise, unsuccessfully tried to coax the elusive alpaca into posing prettily for a photo, side-stepped chicken poop, considered photographing pumpkins and squash splayed out on a picnic table, and then snapped one final photo of an “AGRICULTURE KEEPS AMERICA GROWING” sign before hopping into the car.

The sign supporting agriculture on the side of a shed at the alpaca farm.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling