Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From flowers to cayenne peppers, a birthday celebration October 1, 2021

A beautiful birthday bouquet from my eldest daughter and her family. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I RECENTLY CELEBRATED a milestone birthday and I’ve never been happier to turn another year older. Gone is my absurdly high monthly health insurance premium of $1,245 (with a $4,250 deductible), replaced by affordable (and usable) Medicare coverage. And now I’m also eligible for the Pfizer booster vaccine. Yeah. Here’s to turning sixty-five.

Walking through the prairie at River Bend toward the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I didn’t celebrate my birthday with great fanfare or the usual birthday treat of dining out. (Even though vaccinated, I continue to be cautious and careful in these days of COVID-19.) Rather, Randy and I hiked across the prairie and woods at River Bend Nature Center, a treasured place to connect with nature in Faribault.

Omelet and hashbrowns, along with watermelon from the Faribault Farmers’ Market, comprised my birthday brunch. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Afterwards, I enjoyed a delicious brunch prepared by Randy. We dined al fresco on our patio at a card table draped in one of my many vintage tablecloths.

Then, in the afternoon, we spent time with our eldest daughter, her husband and our precious grandchildren at their home. I appreciated the grilled burger and vegetables with my favorite, cheesecake, for dessert. A wonderful way to celebrate.

The only thing that would have made my birthday even better would have been the presence of our second daughter, her husband and our son. But they called from southeastern Wisconsin and northwestern Indiana and that brought me joy.

Thank you to those who sent cards, this one from my second daughter and her husband. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Some friends and extended family also texted wishes. I got greeting cards, too.

Gladioli from The 3 Glad Girls. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

And flowers. Randy purchased a clutch of gladioli at the Faribault Farmers’ Market. And when he presented them to me with a “Happy birthday!” while I was chatting with Andy Webster of MEG’S Edible Landscapes, Andy took note. “It’s your birthday?” he asked.

“Well, not today, but tomorrow,” I told him.

Smoked cayenne peppers gifted to me by Andy of MEG’S Edible Landscapes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Then he scooped a baggie of smoked cayenne peppers from the table. “Happy birthday!” Andy said with a smile. Now if that wasn’t the sweetest gesture from a young man who lives on his dream rural acreage in the Sogn Valley, runs his business and is working on a horticulture degree from Oregon University.

Andy’s genuine passion for MEG’S Edible Landscapes showed in his pitch and his personality. He is a genuinely warm and engaging person. To summarize, Andy sells a mobile system for growing vegetables like peppers, basil, beans, lettuce, carrots and more in bags that you can easily pick up and move. It’s ideal, he said, for someone like me without garden space. If enthusiasm and knowledge make for business success, then Andy is certain to succeed.

His unexpected birthday gift of those smoked cayenne peppers touched me in a way that resonated deeply. In these challenging times, I needed that affirmation of an unexpected act of kindness. What a great way to begin my next year of life.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of blossoms & butterflies August 6, 2021

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Phlox. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

PHLOX IN VIBRANT SHADES of purple and pink, interspersed with occasional white blossoms, fill my flowerbeds. They thrive, their fragrance scenting the air that drifts through my office window.

A yellow swallowtail butterfly. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Occasionally I spot butterflies flitting among the phlox, random milkweeds, wild orange tiger lilies, ferns and other unidentified plants growing in a tangled mess of wildness. I love watching them—the monarchs and the swallowtails—their wings flapping with such incredible grace. They swoop and dip and pause. As if dancing. As if performing. As if penning poetry.

A mess of flowers grow on a hillside next to woods in our backyard. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Moments like this imprint upon me the importance of pausing to appreciate the beauty of nature. The details of a flower petal. The curve of a butterfly wing. The bend of a milkweed pod.

Phlox up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Now, more than ever, I need this connection to nature, these moments to reset. To see that, even as a pandemic rages, flowers still bloom and butterflies still fly.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods & among the flowers at Grams Regional Park June 30, 2021

Into the woods via a boardwalk at Grams Regional Park, Zimmerman, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

AFTER MULTIPLE VISITS to Grams Regional Park, Randy and I feel comfortably familiar with this 100-plus acre natural area. The Sherburne County park in Zimmerman has become a lunch-time stopping point on our way to a family lake cabin south of Crosslake.

Flowers bloom in a Native Pocket Prairie Garden at Grams. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

We exit US Highway 169 onto county road 4, drive a short way, then turn left and snake back to the park across the road from Lake Fremont. Here, among the oaks, we eat our picnic lunch before stretching our legs.

Into the woods at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

The park features two miles of trails and boardwalks in a diverse landscape of open natural space, oak forest, tamarack bog and wetlands.

Wildflowers bloom in the woods in mid-May. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
An overview of those same purple flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Flowering in the Native Pocket Prairie Garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

We’ve enjoyed the wildflowers of spring, the wild raspberries of summer and the flaming hues of autumn here in this quiet natural setting.

I appreciate this aspect of the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Beautiful prairie flowers in the garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
A flowering prairie grass in the prairie garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

On our most recent stop in late May, we met a couple, Connie and Dale, lunching at the same picnic table we’d used prior to a hike through the park. It was a chance meeting which turned out to be a history lesson. Connie’s grandparents moved onto this land in 1919. She grew up here and eventually convinced her mother to sell the property to Sherburne County. The county, according to information on its website, acquired the park land from Howard and Marvel Grams in 2002.

A work in progress at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Spotted while walking in the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Photographed in an educational/play space for kids. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Had the property not been sold to the county, it would have become a housing development, Connie said. I could hear her gratitude that the Grams family legacy is one of a park and not of houses. I shared how much we enjoy this natural space.

Another found, painted stone in the park. Love this. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Connie also pointed to a nearby 200-years-plus-old oak tree, now under study. I couldn’t help but think how an oak often symbolizes a family tree. The Grams family may have owned this land at one time and grew their family here. But now the branches have spread to include the broader family of those of us who appreciate this place among the oaks.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Latest mural blooms in downtown Faribault June 4, 2021

“LOVE FOR ALL” mural photographed on May 29, 2021. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

ART BLOOMS ON A MASSIVE white canvas, brightening a street corner in the heart of downtown Faribault with flowers in vibrant hues.

It’s an in-progress floral delight created by Jordyn Brennan. The Faribault City Council selected the Minneapolis-based visual artist to paint the 85 x 35-foot instagrammable mural on a blank wall next to a parking lot on the corner of First Avenue NW and Third Street NW.

A big space to fill. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

A week ago I photographed the project, which differs from the many historically-themed murals scattered throughout the downtown. This one, while also incorporating history, is more universal.

Yet, Brennan thought local when designing this “LOVE FOR ALL” mural. She’s incorporating the word LOVE—spelled in American sign language, braille and text. Faribault is home to the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and Blind. Skin tones on the signing hands will also vary, celebrating our community’s diversity.

The flowers, too, hold significance, according to Brennan’s Facebook page. Yellow mums trace back to Lehman Gardens, founded here in 1931 and nationally-recognized for its mums. The mum gardens drew thousands of visitors. The mum business continues today as Mums of Minnesota owned by Faribault Growers, Inc.

The peonies painted into the mural honor the long ago Brand Peony Farm, no longer in existence. The nationally-renowned peony grower/developer earned Faribault the title of “Peony Capital of the World.” The community celebrated with an annual peony festival and parade, and brides stored peonies in caves along the river. In many Faribault residential neighborhoods you’ll see peonies bushes, currently in bloom.

Brennan also painted another Faribault famous flower, the clematis, in to her mural. Donahue’s Greenhouse, just blocks from my home, grows one of the largest selections of clematis in the country.

Finally, the rare, endangered Dwarf Trout Lily also earned a spot in this floral garden. The mini lily grows in only three places in the world—in Rice, Steele and Goodhue counties—and can be found locally at River Bend Nature Center.

To the left in this image, you can see one of the architecturally beautiful historic buildings that define downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

I love how this young Minneapolis artist put so much thought into designing a vibrant mural that is universally appealing yet reflective of Faribault. I expect this oversized public art piece will provide the backdrop for many a fun photo opp. For visitors and locals alike. Maybe even for brides clutching peony bouquets.

FYI: Jordyn Brennan, who holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Studio Arts, has been working hard on the mural with a goal of completing it by mid-June, just in time for Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration. She’s painted more since I took these photos. I will do a follow-up post when the mural is done. This talented young artist is also pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. She’s completed other flower and nature-themed murals. Be sure to visit her website.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lilacs & the love they hold May 21, 2021

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Lilacs grow in various shades in a row of bushes at North Alexander Park in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

LILACS PERFUME THE AIR, filling the lower level of my home with the scent of spring in Minnesota.

“Lilacs on the Table” inspired by my poem and painted by Jeanne Licari for Poet-Artist Collaboration XIII at Crossings in Carnegie in Zumbrota in 2014. File photo courtesy of Crossings.

These bouquets—three in my living room, another in the dining room and the fifth on the bathroom counter—are more than simply beautiful flowers. They are reminders. Of my bachelor uncle. Of my husband’s love. Of a poem I wrote in 2014 as part of a poet-artist collaboration.

Lilac bushes at North Alexander Park, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

While my beloved Uncle Mike is long gone, the memories of the lilac bush which grew on his farm remain. I think of him each May when Randy brings me clutches of lilacs. It’s a sweet tradition. Loving. Appreciated more than a dozen roses, although those are lovely, too.

Lilacs, up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013.

When Randy walked through the back door a few days ago with lilacs, I was surprised. Not that I should have been. He does this every May. I appreciate his thoughtfulness. I appreciate that he takes the time to gather these flowers for me at the end of a long work day.

There’s something simply sweet and precious about his remembering, his recognition of how much I value this heartfelt gift of love.

Lilacs

Breathing in the heady scent of lilacs each May,
I remember my bachelor uncle and the gnarled bushes,
heavy with purple blooms, that embraced his front porch
and held the promises of sweet love never experienced.

He invited his sister-in-law, my mother, to clip lilacs,
to enfold great sweeps of flowers into her arms,
to set a still life painting upon the Formica kitchen table,
romance perfuming our cow-scented farmhouse.

Such memories linger as my own love, decades later,
pulls a jackknife from the pocket of his stained jeans,
balances on the tips of his soiled Red Wing work shoes,
clips and gathers great sweeps of lilacs into his arms.

 

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts of spring in February February 19, 2021

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Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

THIS FEBRUARY MORNING, with spring still months away in Minnesota, I crave a landscape flush with color. Snow gone. Spring flowers popping. Grass greening. Trees budding.

Daffodils bloom in my front yard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I think we all need a glimpse of warmer, sunnier days after a wicked weather week across much of our country. I feel, especially, for the people of Texas. The unseasonably cold weather of ice and snow wrought incredible challenges with no power, broken water lines, even death. I feel for anyone living in Texas.

Crocuses blooming in my yard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Even though we’ve endured a lengthy stretch of subzero temps here in Minnesota, it’s just cold. Not destruction. Not heartache. We can manage and function and mentally remind ourselves that this won’t last forever. Temps are already rising.

Beautiful bleeding hearts bloom on two bushes in my backyard each spring. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

With those thoughts, I searched my files for photos of spring flowers. To brighten your day. To bring you joy. To remind you that in every season of life, we face challenges which stretch and test and grow us. But we can, and often do, come out on the other side as better people. More empathetic. More understanding. More grateful than ever for life, even if it’s sometimes hard.

These tulips were sent to me, as bulbs, from Paula in the Netherlands last spring. I later planted the bulbs in my yard and hope they erupt this spring. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

We push through the difficulties, often with the support of loving family and friends, to bloom color into the world. Or at least that is my hope.

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BE ASSURED THAT MINNESOTA looks nothing like the photos above right now. Snow layers the land in a landscape devoid of color. Under the snow and decaying leaves, spring flowers await warmer days when the frozen earth opens to the sun and sky.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Joy on a Friday in February February 5, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

HOW ARE YOU, dear friends? I don’t ask that question without expecting an honest answer.

Perhaps you’ve had a really difficult week. Like me. One filled with concern for those you love. One of endless texts and emails among family. Worry. Awake too early. Feeling stressed.

Or maybe everything is going great. And that’s good. Life is a mix of rainy days and sunny days. Or if I put that in the context of winter in Minnesota, days with snow and days without snow. Days when temps are well above zero and days when they are unbelievably cold. Like the weather predicted for the next week.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

But let’s put all that aside right now and focus on flowers. Yes, flowers. When I awakened too early the other morning and couldn’t fall asleep again with pain pressing upon my head, neck and shoulders, I prayed. And then I pictured flowers. These flowers. Aren’t they lovely?

While scrolling through blog posts earlier this week, I found these images of a floral bouquet Randy gave me in February 2014, six days before Valentine’s Day. The photos brought back sweet memories and made me happy.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2014.

And happy is good. Even in difficult days that challenge us, there are ways to find joy. And today my joy comes in remembering the gift of these flowers, how they popped color into a February day and lifted my spirits seven years ago. And now again, today.

TELL ME: What brings you joy today?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

LOVE blooms in Northfield mural September 18, 2020

The Northfield Arts and Culture Commission awarded $3,000 toward this mural project.

 

SUNFLOWERS. LILIES. DAISIES.

 

I love the bold hues of this mural mixed with grey and black.

 

Flowers bloom in bold colors painted onto an exterior block wall in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

Mural on the Domino’s building.

 

Just a half block off Division Street, up the hill from Bridge Square, on the building housing Domino’s Pizza, a colorful mural stretches, drawing appreciative onlookers. Including me. During Northfield’s The Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration last Saturday, many a passerby posed for photos against the colorful and inspiring backdrop.

 

Outlined in blue, the word LOVE.

 

This mural commissioned by the owner of the building and created by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre features more than vibrant flowers. It highlights a single word: LOVE.

 

The signature of mural artist Brett Whitacre on a corner of the mural.

 

And perhaps that is the unconscious draw. We all need LOVE. More than ever right now. These are difficult days of dealing with a relentless and deadly virus, social unrest and injustices, and a country in turmoil.

 

I expect the LOVE mural will continue to be a popular photo backdrop, especially for couples holding their wedding receptions at The Grand Event Center just across the street.

 

To pause for a moment in the chaos and appreciate this beautiful example of uplifting public art is to take a respite. To choose for a moment to embrace LOVE. That one emotion we all need. That connects us. If we allow it to do so.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At Aspelund: Peonies & wine June 9, 2020

Fields of peonies are currently in bloom at Aspelund Peony Gardens, rural Wanamingo.

 

JUNE IN MINNESOTA BLOOMS peonies in shades of pink, burgundy and crimson, others white, bending, swaying in the wind, perfuming the air.

 

Such beauty in the many hues and fragrances.

 

Layered blossoms open to the warm sun, their beauty unsurpassed in the book of old-fashioned flowers, the bouquets of long ago brides—our grandmothers, our great grandmothers.

 

This sign along the gravel road marks Aspelund Peony Gardens & Winery.

 

A lovely pink peony up close.

 

At the bottom of the hill, rows and rows of peonies grow against a country backdrop.

 

In southeastern Minnesota, I’ve found a place where fields of peonies grow. Lovely in their beauty against a rural landscape. Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery northwest of Wanamingo.

 

I love how this grey shed provides a blank canvas for the vivid peonies to pop.

 

Each June, Randy and I drive there to take in the loveliness. To enjoy and smell these flowers that once defined our community of Faribault as The Peony Capital of the World. No more. That title long ago gone, we now find fields of peonies a half hour away.

 

So many peonies…

 

I like to study the peonies from sweeps of flowers to single blooms.

 

Love these vivid shades…

 

Aspelund Peony Gardens sells peonies to the public, in the form of peony plants ordered now and tubers picked up in the fall for planting then. While meandering between the peony rows, I overheard many serious conversations about peonies. I come for the beauty and tranquility found in these acres of flowers.

 

The hilltop vineyard offers a grand view of the surrounding countryside.

 

In this rural setting I find a certain peacefulness in sweeping vistas of the countryside, especially from the hilltop vineyard.

 

Rascal, left, roams among those visiting the gardens and winery.

 

Look at that face. Rascal just makes me smile.

 

Rascal helps Bruce and Dawn Rohl at the check-out/peony ordering station.

 

Rascal the dog greets visitors by barking upon their arrival and then wandering among guests. He adds another layer of back-on-the-farm friendliness.

 

From the bottom of the hill, looking across the peony gardens toward the parking area and winery.

 

On this acreage, at this business, gardeners Bruce and Dawn Rohl—a couple as friendly and welcoming as you’ll ever meet—also craft wine. Randy and I wove our way from the peony gardens onto the tiered deck to order flights of wine, mine tasting of elderberries, raspberries, caramel, apples and cinnamon.

 

The tasting room, far right, opens soon, per allowances under COVID-19 rules.

 

One of my wine samples in a flight of four.

 

In the background you can see part of the tiered deck where guests can enjoy Aspelund wine at tables allowing for social distancing.

 

During our June 6 visit, only outdoor service was available due to COVID-19 restrictions. The small indoor tasting room reopens soon. I’d still recommend sitting outside to experience the rural beauty of this place. I’d also recommend wearing masks when passing near others and when ordering and getting your wine. The Rohls encourage masks. It’s the right thing to do for a couple who so graciously open their rural acreage (yes, they live here, too, in the attached house) and business to others.

 

An aged shed near the vineyard.

 

The next week, probably two, depending on weather, promises to offer excellent viewing of peonies in bloom. The garden is open from 4-7 pm weekdays and from 10 am – 4 pm weekends. The winery is open from noon to 5 pm weekends only. Check the Facebook page for any changes to those times. Above, all, delight in the flowers and savor the wine at Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery, one of my favorite spots to visit each June in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sisterhood in bloom on May Day May 1, 2020

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The tulip bulbs arrived in a pot and covered by moss.

 

THE RATE AT WHICH THE TULIP bulbs erupted, then bloomed, surprised even me.

 

The bulbs, once exposed to light, grew at a rapid pace.

 

A week after receiving a surprise cluster of bulbs from my blogger friend Paula in the Netherlands, I now have a flower pot of wine-hued tulips in bloom and yellow ones about to open. I’d wondered at the color and that proved part of the fun, waiting to see.

 

Just beginning to bloom…

 

What a delight this gift of flowers from someone I’ve never met but to whom I’m connected via writing and being home-grown Minnesotans. But even more, there’s the connection of spirit, of understanding how supporting one another, especially now, is so important.

I can tell you that Paula, who blogs at The Cedar Journal, loves the outdoors, especially canoeing in her cedar strip canoe. She returns to Minnesota often to paddle and explore. She’s a military veteran. Strong. Opinionated. Resilient. Respectful of the natural world and appreciative of its beauty. She’s compassionate and kind.

I’ve never talked to Paula. But I feel like I know her via her blog and the comments she posts on my blog. There’s a sisterhood that comes from a shared love of Minnesota and of blogging and of the simple beauties in life. So when I see those lovely tulips in bloom, I think of Paula so distant, yet so close.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling