Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

September at River Bend September 11, 2019

 

FIELDS OF GOLDENROD brighten the landscape—edging roadways, filling fields, erupting seemingly everywhere as summer slips ever closer to autumn in Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

A walk through River Bend Nature Center reveals hues of brown, orange, red and yellow. In leaves changing color. In fading flowers.

 

 

In mature milkweeds and drying prairie grasses.

 

 

In butterflies galore.

 

 

Days carry a visual impression of autumn. But also a feel of autumn. There’s a sense of urgency, of the need to be outdoors as much as possible.

 

 

Autumn marks my favorite of Minnesota’s seasons. So I carry my camera through Faribault’s sprawling nature center to take it all in.

 

 

 

 

The places marked by man with words of adoration.

 

 

The trails that trail through the woods.

 

 

 

 

And always the path cut through the prairie, where I imagine settlers of long ago crossing Minnesota Territory in covered wagons or slicing plow blades through sod or simply journeying westward into dreams.

 

 

These are my thoughts within this land set aside to preserve today for the dreamers of tomorrow.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Reflections at summer’s unofficial end September 4, 2019

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THE SIGNS EXIST EVERYWHERE. In the sunny warm days that give way to nights so cold I’m now closing windows overnight. In the melodic chirp of crickets. Of leaves tinged red.

 

 

These days feel of summer’s end, of autumn slipping in, of days that are shorter, nights that are longer.

 

 

And, unofficially, Labor Day marks the end of summer.

 

 

I expected a different summer from my previous two of broken bones and subsequent therapy. I expected a fun summer of relaxation and exploration. Joy of carefree days. Sunday afternoon drives.

 

 

But sometimes life delivers the unexpected (worse than broken bones) and we learn that we are made of much more than we ever thought possible. Strength stretched. Faith strengthened. Patience tested. Endurance not a choice.

 

 

I learned that I can be assertive and strong and persistent and a fighter. I learned the definition of selflessness, not that I’m a selfish person. I learned the incredible depth of love. Beyond what I even thought possible.

 

 

I learned to prioritize, to drop the unnecessary, to focus on what was most important.

 

 

I learned the enduring value of friendship from those friends who cared from day one and continue to care. It is true what they say about finding out who your friends really are during difficult days.

 

 

When I look back on the past four months, I see a spring and summer that seem unrecognizable. It’s been a journey, one that continues. But as the season of autumn arrives, life is better, calmer. And for that I am thankful.

 

All of these photos were taken last week during an evening walk through Faribault Energy Park.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating family along Faribault’s Virtues Trail August 26, 2019

Waiting in line for face painting at the last Family Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2019.

 

ANY TIME A COMMUNITY comes together to celebrate families through the arts rates as positive.

The Virtues Project Faribault does exactly that at monthly summer gatherings along the Virtues Trail in Heritage Bluff Park in the core of downtown. The final such seasonal event happens from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday, August 28.

 

Face paintings by Laura O’Connor is wildly popular. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2019.

 

After attending the previous Family Night at Virtues Trail in July, I’m sold on this activity-filled evening of storytelling, theater, crafts, games, music, face painting and more. To observe families enjoying each other, to see preschoolers engaged and happy, to watch elementary-aged kids creating art and much more simply delights me. We need more moments like this in our communities.

 

Hands-on art created at the July Family Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2019.

 

Back to School themes this final Family Night just as kids are heading, or have already headed, back to school.

 

Love in three languages on a mirrored sign along the Virtues Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

If my granddaughter lived locally, I’d take her to this event. Izzy would love every aspect of Family Night. If you live in or near Faribault, embrace this opportunity to celebrate families.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: The art of virtues at family night August 1, 2019

Face painting by Laura O’Connor proved especially popular.

 

CREATIVITY FOCUSED FAMILY Night at the Virtues Trail in Faribault on Wednesday evening

 

 

 

with face painting,

 

Jewelry artist Jessica Prill, right, of Fleur de Lis Gallery, set up a beading station.

 

jewelry making,

 

 

 

theatre,

 

 

Sarah Beth Stadler and Suzanne Schwichtenberg of The Upper East Side offered hands-on art projects. Stadler leads “Crafty Mondays” for kids at the Central Avenue creative haven.

 

 

hands-on art with markers,

 

 

 

 

hands-on art with chalk, storytelling and much more to engage kids.

 

I’m reflected in a mirrored sign next to the tent headquarters for The Virtues Project Faribault.

 

As I meandered along the trail lined with mirrored signs promoting virtues like kindness, tolerance and creativity, I thought how valuable this event. It not only reinforces positive traits, but it shows the kids of this community that they are valued. People care. They volunteered for this Family Night.

 

 

 

 

Clearly, kids loved it. Their faces, their hands, their involvement showed their enthusiasm.

 

Enjoying ice cream, compliments of The Depot Bar & Grill.

 

Jeff LaBeau of The Depot scooped ice cream for attendees.

 

I, too, enjoyed myself, stopping occasionally to chat with friends, to eat a scoop of ice cream, to delight in a summer evening as beautiful as they come in Minnesota.

 

Displayed on a table with a pipecleaner art project.

 

I love how the people of Faribault are really stepping up to shine positivity in creative ways.

 

 

A final summer Family Night at the Virtues Trail is set for 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, August 28, along the trail in Heritage Bluff Park, next to the train tracks and across from The Depot Bar & Grill.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Connecting community through music July 18, 2019

The 8th Street Band performs in the Central Park bandshell during Faribault Heritage Days. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

MY INABILITY TO READ a single musical note doesn’t diminish my appreciation for music. Rather I value all those vocalists and instrumentalists who enhance my life with the music they create.

 

A crowd gathers to hear The 8th Street Band. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

Here in Faribault, gifted musicians bring music to Central Park on Thursday summer evenings beginning at 7 p.m. as part of the free Concerts in the Park series. This has been ongoing now for 132 years. That’s a lot of music in a long string of concerts.

Tonight’s performance features the horn band Little Chicago with hits from the 60s and 70s. Songs from bands like Chicago, The Grass Roots and Blood, Sweat & Tears. My kind of music from my era.

 

Visiting, connecting during a performance by The 8th Street Band. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

I love the informality of these concerts where folks tote lawn chairs to the park and then settle in to listen to the music and to chat with other concert-goers. There’s a strong sense of community, a connectedness that comes from the universal language of music bringing people together.

 

A stuffed animal rests on a park bench (next to grandpa) during the Faribault Heritage Days celebration band concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2019.

 

Together. We need more of that in today’s chaotic world where too many individuals fail to think before they speak or post on social media. A world where differences split peoples and anger spews and too many harsh words erupt.

 

The sun sets behind the bandshell as barbershoppers sing tunes ranging from “Sweet Caroline” to “God Bless America.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

We need the language of music to envelope us, to take us away for an evening, to unite us in the commonality of something beautiful and lovely and freeing. We need the distraction of voices and of instruments as the sun shifts around the bandshell and slants across the grass, closing the day with song.

FYI: The July 18 concert also includes Free Art in the Park from 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Local artist Kate Langlais will teach the basics of painting. Pre-register with the Faribault Parks & Recreation Department.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My prairie place of peace in Faribault July 8, 2019

 

I’VE FOUND MY PARK in Faribault. The place of wildflowers and waving grasses, of songbirds and waterfowl, of gravel trails that curve around bodies of water.

 

 

Faribault Energy Park reminds me of southwestern Minnesota, the prairie place of my roots. Located on the city’s northwest side and visible from Interstate 35, this Minnesota Municipal Power Agency park invites visitors to walk paths in an ever-changing natural landscape.

 

 

Even with the steady drone of I-35 traffic in the background, birdsong breaks through the noise. The memorable voice of the red-winged blackbird, especially, sounds a sensory delight.

 

 

I’ve visited the park mostly in the evening, when the golden light of sunset falls upon ponds, angles through grasses and flowers, and slices between tree branches.

 

 

Daisies, milkweed, clover, Iris and other flowers familiar but not identifiable to me by name populate the landscape in clusters of white, clumps of purple, flashes of yellow. Focusing my camera causes me to slow down, to notice blossoms I might otherwise miss while following the winding dirt paths.

 

 

But visitors can’t miss the wind turbine towering above the park next to a hillside block of solar panels. Informational signage explains how wind energy converts into electricity. Faribault Energy Park, though, is a dual fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility, not primairly wind-powered, and runs during periods of high demand for electricity.

 

 

This park serves also to educate, welcoming students to tour the plant each May, to view the control room, the steam turbine and then to walk those wetland area trails. Tours are also available by appointment.

 

 

For folks like me simply seeking a place to escape into and photograph nature, Faribault Energy Park wetlands park offers a respite of natural beauty. Some also come here to fish, although I’ve yet to see an angler pull in a catch.

 

 

But I’ve observed geese and ducks claim this property and swim these ponds. I’ve glimpsed, too, an otter gliding through the water.

 

 

And I’ve rested in the gazebo.

 

 

 

In the chaos and busyness of life, reinforced here by the sights and sounds of adjacent I-35 traffic, I still find peace in this place reminiscent of my native southwestern Minnesota prairie.

 

 

FYI: Faribault Energy Park is located at 4100 Park Avenue. The wetlands park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the value of virtues at family event in Faribault June 26, 2019

One of the virtues posted along the Virtues Project Trail, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

WORDS HOLD POWER. Positive or negative. The words we choose to speak—because we really do choose—can heal or hurt. Uplift or defeat. Encourage or discourage. Unite or separate. Words unspoken, meaning silence, hold the same power.

We all understand that, even if we choose to ignore the importance of words and simply say or write whatever we please, no matter the effect on others.

 

Loved in three languages. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

Here in my community, a year-old public art installation showcases the value of words in 10 mirrored signs showcasing 20 virtues. Because Faribault is a diverse community, those virtues are written in three languages—English, Spanish and Somali. Honesty, kindness, patience, tolerance and more banner the mirrors.

 

One of 10 mirrored signs along a trail that runs next to train tracks and the Straight River in Faribault’s Heritage Bluff Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

The Virtues Project Faribault, part of a worldwide Virtues initiative, aims to unite people. And what a creative way to do that through those strong and positive words posted along a trail in Heritage Bluff Park.

Those most active in promoting virtues here in my southern Minnesota community have done, and are doing more, than simply posting artsy signs along a riverside trail in the central downtown area. On three Wednesday evenings this summer, organizers are hosting Family Fun Night on the Virtues Trail. The first happens this evening, Wednesday, June 26, beginning at 5:30 p.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m.

The event features something for all ages: music, games, Virtues Theater performances, face painting, crafts, storytelling, other creative activities and more, according to promotional information. The second two fun nights will be on July 31 and August 28.

 

Here’s how it works… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

 

I realize many of you live nowhere near Faribault. But I hope you will take time to reflect on virtues and the power words hold. Use/choose your words wisely, recognizing that your words hold power to heal or hurt, uplift or defeat, encourage or discourage, unite or separate.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling