Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part III from Hackensack: A close call along Highway 371 October 27, 2017

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TOOLING ALONG MINNESOTA State Highway 371 just south of Hackensack on the second to last day of our Up North vacation, Randy and I chatted and watched the northwoods landscape pass by. We’d had a good past five days exploring this part of the state, attending a book release party and visiting with friends.

Except for the cool and rainy mid-September weather and me forgetting my swimsuit, our much-needed get-away to the Brainerd Lakes and Park Rapids areas and to Hackensack had gone well. But that almost changed. Almost.

Ahead of us on the shoulder of the opposite traffic lane, we spotted a large bird huddled and feasting on roadkill. We expected a crow.

But as the van drew nearer, we identified the bird as a bald eagle. With my Canon DSLR camera in my lap, I was excited about the prospect of photographing the eagle.

 

An eagle sculpture at Veterans Memorial Park in Morristown. Imagine if this was a live eagle flying over your vehicle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012 used here for illustration purposes only.

 

That did not happen because…moments before our vehicle drew even with the eagle, the bird lifted off from the roadside. That would have been OK except for one problem. The eagle flew directly toward our traffic lane and our van.

In that moment, thoughts flashed of the eagle slamming into, and through, our windshield. Instinctively I ducked. Massive talons and an impressive wing span filled my view as the eagle flew over our windshield. This bird of prey is much larger than you think when observed from an underside open wing span perspective.

Randy estimates the eagle missed our van by four feet. He later told me he swerved slightly toward the fog line hoping to soften the blow of impact. I had no sense of him doing that.

Looking back on this incident, I am thankful the eagle cleared our windshield. But I’m kicking myself for missing what would have been a heckuva photo.

 

FYI: This concludes my series from Hackensack. Click here to read my first post and then my second.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Part II from Hackensack: My observations of this northwoods Minnesota town October 10, 2017

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Lucette Diana Kensack, Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart.

 

IN THE HEART OF NORTHWOODS MINNESOTA, in the land of legends and lake cabins, sits a village of some 300 folks. Hackensack. Twice I’ve been here, twice photographing Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette, who resides along the shores of Birch Lake, and once picnicking along that same lake.

 

 

I’ve never explored this town much except with my camera. But simple observations through a viewfinder can reveal a lot about a place. In Hackensack, I see a hardy northwoods character, a laid-back attitude and a welcoming spirit.

 

The lovely log cabin library right next to Lucette is run by volunteers.

 

Nearby stands Paul Bunyan in chainsaw art.

 

I would love to sample food from the seasonal Butts & Buns BBQ.

 

That rugged character shows in log cabin style construction from lake homes to food truck and in the chainsaw carved wood sculptures around town.

 

 

This seems like my kind of kicked back place where I’d feel comfortably at home in buffalo plaid flannel and jeans. Kids biking along a narrow street with tackle box, fishing poles, bait and net in hand confirm my assessment of a town that appears Mayberry timeless.

 

 

 

Lucette is a tourist attraction.

 

 

Yet, there’s a definite awareness of tourism, of welcoming the temporary residents who arrive here in the spring to open their lake cabins for weekend get-aways, summer vacations and final autumn visits.

 

Hackensack hosts numerous arts-related events including the Northwoods Art & Books Festival and an annual Chainsaw Event.

 

My quick visual perusal of Hackensack certainly doesn’t tell the entire story. But it gives a glimpse of a place appreciated by those who live here. And appreciated, too, by the people who come here to experience the legends, the arts, the food, the sense of place that is so northwoods Minnesota.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TELL ME: If you’ve been to Hackensack, or live or vacation here, how would you describe this community? What should I know about Hackensack?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I from Hackensack: Into the Minnesota northwoods to visit a blogger friend October 9, 2017

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Among the attractions in Hackensack is this rendering of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. She stands on the shores of Birch Lake.

 

NEVER HAVE I FELT more grateful for specific directions than when invited recently to my blogger friend Sue’s lake home near Hackensack in north central Minnesota. In this unfamiliar region of lakes and woods and winding roads, Randy and I could easily have become lost. We couldn’t rely on cell phone coverage. And given my general overall difficulty reading maps and sensing direction, I would be of no help.

 

 

 

But with Sue’s detailed instructions to first turn at Swanson Bait Shop then drive east and more, we eventually found our way onto a road that twisted deep into the woods. Initially, the gravel road ran wide enough for two vehicles. But then Randy swung the van onto a narrower road that left me feeling a tad unnerved by downed and broken trees from a 2016 storm and closed in by woods. Yet, I trusted Sue’s directions as we passed the row of mailboxes she noted and then the handmade signs directing us toward her home. After one missed sign and resulting turn-around, we arrived 10 minutes early. Success.

 

 

Sue and her husband, Charley, whom I’d never met, welcomed us with warmth to their home overlooking a lake in a series named Woman, Man, Child and Baby lakes. Their lovely home sits atop a hill, snugged in by signature northwoods pine and by deciduous trees, some flaming color during our mid-September visit.

 

 

Lakeside, I delighted in the tranquil setting—the curve of the lake around an island, the masses of trees hugging the shoreline, the overall seclusion of this place. It is a land that seems foreign to a prairie-raised girl most at home in wide open spaces among corn and soybean fields.

I appreciate, though, this part of Minnesota and this opportunity to visit for a few hours with Sue and Charley. Cold and windy weather foiled plans to dine on the deck or spend much time outdoors. But it didn’t matter. Engaging conversation doesn’t require perfect weather.

 

Sue, right, and I pose for a photo taken by Randy.

 

I met Sue a few years back via blogging and in person in 2013 when she and her sister made a road trip from the metro to explore Faribault and have lunch at my house. Sue and I share a love of writing, of poetry and of books. This retired educator has, for the past few years, organized the book part of the Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack. With 37 Minnesota authors participating in this year’s fest, I can only imagine the time my friend invested in this event. She also chairs the Northwoods Art Council. Through her freelance writing, blogging, attendance at writers’ workshops and more, Sue has established an incredible network with Minnesota writers.

 

Sue’s started our Sunday brunch with a delicious salad featuring her homemade dressing. Photo from Sue’s Ever Ready blog.

 

But there’s more. Sue loves to cook. Food focuses her Ever Ready blog along with poetry and book reviews. Whenever I’m looking for a new recipe, I go to Sue’s blog or shoot her an email for ideas. I appreciate that her featured recipes include common ingredients, are often a twist on a familiar dish and are easy to prepare. On the day we lunched with her and Charley, Sue served Apple, Grape & Pecan Salad with Mustard Maple Vinaigrette; assorted breads; Wild Rice, Sausage and Potato Casserole; and Angel Food Cake with Warm Chocolate Kahlua Sauce. I expected nothing less than delicious and that’s exactly what Sue presented.

This couple also served up plenty of hospitality in conversation. Through the years, Sue and I have communicated often via email, offering each other support and encouragement, simply being there for each other as friends are. Randy and Charley, with a shared interest in cars, also had plenty to discuss.

 

 

And then there was Bella, the yellow lab. She welcomed us, too, and especially liked being petted, pawing for me to stroke her more after I stopped. What a dog.

 

 

Hours after our arrival, after I photographed the affectionate Bella and after Sue and I posed for photos, Randy and I set off into the woods with instructions to stay to the right. As we emerged onto the county road, I felt as if we’d just exited a retreat. I am grateful to Sue and Charley for sharing their place of northwoods solitude with us. For a few hours I felt blissfully sheltered from the world.

 

FYI: To check out Sue’s Ever Ready blog, click here. She also has a blog written from Bella’s perspective. To read The World According to Bella, click here.

To read the blog post Sue wrote about our visit, which includes links to recipes for the food she prepared, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on writing a winning poem August 19, 2013

EVERY TIME I PEN a poem, I wonder, will it inspire, touch, resonate with the reader? Is my poem worthy to be seen by others? Is the poem truly finished, ready to reveal? Or should I hold on to it longer, refine it, anguish over whether I’ve chosen the right word, the right phrase?

At some point I must tell myself, “You’re done.” I must make that leap of faith, overcome those self doubts and share what I’ve written.

For me that usually comes in entering a poetry competition. Even if I’m confident I’ve written a decent poem, it’s still scary to put yourself out there. But I have and I’ve discovered, in the process, that I can write poetry.

My award.

My most recent award. You can click on the “About” section of my blog to see the other honors I’ve garnered for my poetry. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

That was reaffirmed for me again this past Saturday when my poem, “Lilacs,” was selected as one of six Works of Merit in the sixth annual Poetry Recognition Event during the Northwoods Art and Book Festival in Hackensack.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards.

Attendees at the Northwoods Art & Book Festival view showcased poems and then vote for their favorite in the Popular Choice awards. Photo courtesy of Sue Ready.

I’m in the company of other Minnesota poets, Louise Bottrell, Marlys Guimaraes, Miriam Kagol, Joanne Moren and Candace Simar, chosen by a poetry committee for the merit honor.

Lilac, close-up

Sweet lilacs.

As I often do, I turned to my past, to my memories of growing up on a southwestern Minnesota farm, to write “Lilacs.” I remembered the annual gathering of lilacs from the bush on my Uncle Mike’s farm, the next field over. And I connected that memory to today:

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.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

Plenty of lilacs to gather in the spring.

To read poems by two of the other merit winners, click here to reach the website of Poetry Committee Chair Sue Ready, herself a poet. The winning poems will also be published in Hackensack area newspapers.

I am grateful to those like Sue and others and to the Northwoods Arts Council, which sponsors events like that in Hackensack. Without these opportunities, I might still be that poet wondering if my poetry rates as good enough for anyone to read other than me.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Paul Bunyan land: Hackensack hosts art and book fest August 16, 2013

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids' fishing contest.

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids’ fishing contest on Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT’S A SWEET SMALL TOWN snugged in Minnesota’s northwoods north of Brainerd, half way to Bemidji.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You’ll find statues of legendary Paul Bunyan here…

Paul Bunyan's sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake.

Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

and of his bride, Lucette. She stands near Birch Lake, next to an old log cabin that houses a library run by volunteers.

Several summers ago I photographed this log cabin library in Hackensack.

The Hackensack library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s no wonder Hackensack, home to not quite 300 permanent and who knows how many seasonal residents, will host its 18th annual Northwoods Art & Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Saturday, August 17.

I’ll be there. Sort of.

I’ve submitted two poems to the Sixth Annual Poetry Display/Recognition, as I’ve done for several years.

Fest-goers can peruse the poems inside the Union Congregational Church and vote for their favorites for the six Popular Choice awards. The poetry committee will also select six Works of Merit. Poets will read their poems beginning at 1:30 p.m. with award winners announced afterward. Local newspapers will publish the winning poems.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

But there’s more. Twenty-plus Minnesota authors and poets will sign and sell their books throughout the day. Sweet. Any event that promotes Minnesota writers and artists gets my support. Among the literary offerings is Bards of a Feather Write Together—A Collection. It features the poetry, fiction and memoirs, some previously published, of eight Minnesota writers, all members of the writing group Bards of a Feather. I am currently reading this debut anthology and thoroughly enjoying the variety of voices and content therein.

Visual artists will also be part of the Hackensack fest, selling their original artwork. Original and created by the artist. No resale items. Splendid.

No Minnesota festival is complete without food, which you’ll find in the food court.

I wish I could join this celebration of Minnesota writers and artists. But distance and previous commitments won’t allow me to be there. My poems will have to do. For this year.

FYI: For more information, click here to reach the Northwoods Arts Council website. The council is the festival sponsor.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of Bards of a Feather Write Together for review purposes.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry & more in Paul Bunyan land August 18, 2011

The lake side of the Hackensack Lending Library. To the left stands Lucette Diana Kensack..

Lucette Diana Kensack

SEVERAL SUMMERS AGO while vacationing in northern Minnesota, my family stopped in Hackensack, 50 miles north of Brainerd. The initial draw to this town of 285 was the 17-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. I appreciate kitschy roadside art. What can I say?

Two other discoveries, however, trumped seeing Lucette. A stone’s throw from Lucette, along the shores of Birch Lake, sits the cutest log cabin—a Works Progress Administration project and today home of the Hackensack Lending Library.

And just down the street from Lucette and the library, I found the sweetest pink fairy tale cottage.

Those small-town treasures marked my introduction to Hackensack.

Now, fast forward to last summer. I wasn’t back in Hack, not physically anyway. Rather my poetry was among poems displayed at the town’s annual Northwoods Art and Book Festival. During that event, the featured poets are invited to read their poetry. Fest-goers can also vote for their favorites with six poems selected for “Popular Choice” awards. Six poems are also recognized as “Poems of Merit.” All of the original and unpublished poems are posted without author names attached.

I didn’t attend last year, didn’t win and didn’t deserve to win. My poetry wasn’t worthy of an award.

This year my poetry is back at the Northwoods Festival set for this Saturday, August 20, and I’m more confident that I’ve actually written poems that could win an award. Oh, I’d love to tell you which poem is mine (or it could be both poems that I submitted; I haven’t been told). But I won’t unfairly sway the voting. Suffice to say my rural background shines in my writing.

If Hackensack wasn’t such a long drive from Faribault, I’d be there taking in the poetry, the art, the music, the book-signings, the food. However, if you’re in the Brainerd lakes area or parts north on Saturday, check out the Northwoods Art and Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and then tell me all about it by submitting a comment.

Voting for the “Popular Choice” awards begins at 9 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m.

If you’re already thinking, “Audrey, I don’t like poetry,” rethink your thinking. I promise you that my poetry rates as down-to-earth, understandable and not at all stuffy.

This whole concept of getting poetry out to the public via a display like the one in Hackensack pleases me. Just like the Roadside Poetry billboards in Fergus Falls. I was fortunate enough to win the spring competition and have my four-line poem plastered across four billboards there.

These new poetry venues, and the increasingly popular sidewalk poetry in cities like St. Paul, Mankato and now Northfield, are bringing poetry to the people. That’s a good thing because, in reality, how many of us actually pick up a book of poetry for leisure reading?

Minnesota poet Todd Boss and designer/animator Angella Kassube are also making poetry even more appealing by utilizing visuals in their acclaimed motion poems. Click here to read some of those.

Poetry has certainly evolved through the years, a necessity to keep writers interested in writing it and readers interested in reading it.

Professionally, I’ve only begun to unfold my wings as a poet. Even publicly calling myself a “poet” still sounds foreign to my ears. But with publication in two magazines and four anthologies, soon to be five (The Talking Stick, Volume 20, published by Park Rapids-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc); winning the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition; inclusion at the Hackensack festival; and recent notification that one of my poems will publish in the Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine, I finally feel worthy of the title “poet.”

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

The sweet fairy tale house in Hackensack, located near Lucette and the park and photographed in 2009.

"Curve around the corner/You are free/To change directions/Or your mind," reads this poem by Marlys Neufeld of Hanska and imprinted in a Mankato sidewalk.

HOW DO YOU FEEL about poetry? Do you read it? Why or why not?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond poetry anthologies May 21, 2011

Poetic words imprinted upon a paver at the Lake Harriet bandshell in south Minneapolis.

WHAT AN EXCITING time to read, and write, poetry.

Yes.

Read on.

If you’re among those who consider poetry boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand, then you’ve read only boring, unapproachable, complex and difficult to understand poems.

Yes, those types of poems exist.

But today, oh, today, poetry is pushing beyond simply words printed in anthologies to highly-public and engaging venues.

At least three Minnesota communities—St. Paul (Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk), Mankato (WordWalk) and now Northfield (Sidewalk Poetry Contest)—have embraced sidewalk poetry, poems imprinted upon sidewalks.

In Fergus Falls, the Fergus Area College Foundation sponsors a seasonal poetry contest and posts the winning poem on four Burma Shave style billboards. I won the spring Roadside Poetry Project competition. (Click here to read a story published today in The Marshall Independent about my writing and my Roadside Poetry poem.)

The first line in my spring poem posted on four billboards.

In Hackensack, as part of its annual summer Northwoods Art Festival and Book Fair, the Northwoods Art Council has invited Minnesota poets to submit poems for display. Attendees then read and vote for their favorite poems.

But the latest news in the poetry world comes from St. Paul poet Todd Boss and Minneapolis art director/animator/designer Angella Kassube, who have created “motionpoems.” The pair defines these poems as “a hybrid of poetry and film.”

The windmill is the subject of a motionpoem written by Toss Boss. I took this photo at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines grounds near Dundas last fall.

In short, they bring poems to life via animation. From what I’ve seen and heard online, this approach works, making poetry more accessible, understandable and, dare I say, exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Click here and view several motionpoems, including my favorite, Todd Boss’ THE GOD OF OUR FARM HAD BLADES.

The duo started this project two years ago, creating more than 20 poems. Now they are expanding, collaborating with New York publisher Scribner’s respected annual Best American Poetry anthology, 2011 volume, to produce 12 – 15 motionpoems. They’ll work with writers ranging from Pulitzer Prize winners to emerging writers. Eventually, the motionpoems will be accessible, for free, online.

I see great promise in these new approaches to poetry that reach beyond printed poems and poetry readings. I see the promise for reaching a wider, more receptive audience.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE on sidewalk or billboard poetry and/or motionpoems? Would you be more likely to read these types of poems than traditionally-published poetry?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Roadside Poetry Project photo courtesy of Paul Carney