Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Who you gonna call when the bugs invade? August 25, 2011

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Because I did not get a photo of the female cardinal, I am showing you a photo of a male cardinal taken by my friend Harriet Traxler, an excellent photographer. Scroll to the end of this story for more info about Harriet's work.

CRAZIEST THING HAPPENED Wednesday morning as I hung laundry outside on the clothesline. I heard a scritch-scratch and looked up to see a female cardinal fluttering atop the metal chimney on our house. She would fly away, come back, land on the stack, fly away and then repeat the entire process.

I was baffled until I noticed a spider web the size of a car tire suspended between the chimney and the angled roof.

As I watched, wishing mightily that I had my camera in my hands, the cardinal flew toward the center of the cobweb where, even from the ground, I could see an oversized insect. Maybe the spider?

She flapped and hovered and poked at the web, trying to grab her breakfast.

About then I decided I had enough time to race inside to my office, grab my Canon and snap a picture. I was wrong. In the short time I went missing, the determined bird nabbed the trapped bug. Darn.

Have you ever seen anything like this?

AS LONG AS WE’RE TALKING BUGS, has your home been invaded by gnats—or whatever they are—which are attracted in the evening to flicked-on lights. Tuesday night, when I walked into the kitchen around 9, I found the floor pocked with these pesky winged creatures. I immediately summoned my husband.

“What am I supposed to do?” he asked.

I pulled a sexist comment from my brain: “You’re the man of the house. Protect me.”

He laughed, then laughed some more when I suggested sweeping them into a dustpan.

“They’ll fly away,” he said, wheeling out the vacuum cleaner, a bug’s version of an EF-5 tornado.

EARLIER IN THE EVENING my spouse saved me from two wasps wandering a window screen in the dining room, directly behind the chair where I dine.

“I don’t want to get stung,” I emphasized, reminding him of how my skin swells and itches every time a mosquito bites me. “What do you think would happen if I was stung by a wasp?”

He probably didn’t need the reminder as less than two weeks ago my right hand swelled to about twice its size (I might be exaggerating just a tiny bit, but not much) from two mosquito bites. That resulted in a trip to the doctor followed by a stop at the pharmacy. Those two bites set me back a couple hundred bucks. But at least the infection didn’t spread to my artificial hip, which would have cost me thousands.

Anyway, bottom line, my husband’s done a superb job as my personal Bug Buster. And whenever he’s not available, I have that cardinal as back-up.

FYI: Except for centipedes, I am not afraid of bugs and will deal with them whenever I must. However, I will avoid killing stinging insects if my bug-busting husband is available. Why risk getting stung?

VISIT THE BARNS OF SIBLEY COUNTY website by clicking here to learn more about Harriet Traxler, her photography and the barn books she’s published. She is also currently working on a book of historical fiction.

© Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo by Harriet Traxler


A glorious sunset at St. John the Baptist Church March 27, 2011

THAT I APPRECIATE country churches should come as no surprise to those of you who’ve followed Minnesota Prairie Roots. I value their beauty, architecture, history, reverence and connection to the land and its people.

Therefore, I photograph these rural sanctuaries whenever possible. If a church door is unlocked, I’ll take you inside for a photographic tour. If not, you’ll at least see the exterior.

Others, like rural Carver resident Harriet Traxler, share my interest in photography and all things country. So when Harriet emailed images of a local rural church, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Faxon Township some four miles northwest of Belle Plaine, I asked if I could share her photos with you.

Because I struggled to pick my favorite of the four, shot around sunset on Friday, I’m publishing three of Harriet’s photos.

I hope you’ll agree with me that even on a cold Minnesota March day, these gorgeous photos warm the heart, and the soul.


Built around 1870, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church still holds Sunday Masses and has many young parishioners.

In the summer, the church is surrounded by cornfields.

The sun sets the sky on fire behind St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, rural Belle Plaine, Minnesota.

FYI: Harriet has published a series of barn books featuring barn and other rural images from her native Sibley County, Minnesota. To view her work, click here. Some of Harriet’s work will be featured in the spring issue of Minnesota Moments magazine.

© Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

© Photos copyright 2011 Harriet Traxler


A Minnesota winter day in photos December 7, 2010

This refurbished barn overlooks the Minnesota River near Belle Plaine. The owners installed new windows, resided the barn and added a small deck off the hayloft, which has been remodeled into a party room. It was the site of a family member's July wedding.

YOU ARE IN FOR A TREAT today as I’m going to feature some guest photos by Harriet Traxler of Carver. I’ve never met Harriet and only recently began corresponding with her via e-mail.

But she has a wonderful little hobby that is near and dear to my heart. Harriet is a self-taught photographer who enjoys photographing everything from children to nature, animals and barns. Like me, she pretty much “wears” her Nikon D40 camera.

Next to photographing barns, Harriet most enjoys taking pictures of birds. Several years ago she took a photo that included 24 cardinals. Cardinals seem to especially like feeding on black oil sunflower seeds, she says.

It is her barn photos that first caught my attention. She has photographed more than 1,000 barns in Sibley County and compiled those images in 19 books which she prints and binds. If you’ve followed Minnesota Prairie Roots for awhile, you know that I also enjoy photographing old barns. In fact, right now, my camera is filled with barn (and other) images from a weekend trip to eastern Wisconsin.

But back to Harriet, if you’re interested in old barns and/or enjoy the photos posted here, stop by her website at barnsofsibleycounty.com. You may even want to consider purchasing one (or two or more) of Harriet’s barn books as a Christmas gift/gifts.

Even if you’re not from Sibley County where these barns were photographed, I promise you will enjoy these barn and other rural photos. One of my favorite images in Harriet’s books shows a herd of Holsteins gazing at her from behind a barbed wire fence with a farm site, including a red barn, in the background.

I’ll bring you some of Harriet’s stunning barn photos in the future.

But for today, this photographer is graciously allowing me to showcase several images taken on Saturday, after a major winter storm dumped up to a foot of snow on some parts of Minnesota. Harriet truly captures the beauty of this snowfall. And that is what we Minnesotans sometimes need—to see the beauty rather than all the hard work and inconveniences a major snowfall creates in our lives.

Enjoy and thank you, Harriet, for allowing me to share your photos on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

Farm equipment engulfed in snow makes for a scenic image.

St. John's Catholic Church in Faxon Township, Sibley County, dates back to the 1870s. It is often called "St. John's in the cornfield," Harriet says, because cornfields typically surround the church during the growing season.

Harriet didn't tell me where she shot this outdoor Christmas tree. But isn't it beautiful?

Text © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos © Copyright 2010 Harriet Traxler


Photographing barns November 19, 2010


A barn between Morristown and Waseca in a photo I shot last Sunday.


HARRIET TRAXLER OF CARVER has done exactly what I would someday like to accomplish. She has photographed a county full of barns and self-published 19 books, including two versions of Barns of Sibley County and books for each of the county’s 17 townships. She’s also created a 2011 barn calendar.

Traxler photographed 1,100-plus barns.

I’ll write more about Traxler’s barn project in a future post because I’ve only skimmed two of her books. The pair just arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

But I’m so giddy about what I’ve seen that I couldn’t wait to tell you. Anyone who loves old barns will absolutely appreciate Traxler’s books and her efforts to preserve barns through photography.

Now that I’ve shared my excitement over those barn books, I’ll show you a few more barn photos that I shot last Sunday along Rice County Highway 16 and Waseca County Highway 7 between Morristown and Waseca. These were taken through car windows—no waiting for the right lighting, no stopping to compose them. They are what they are and I think worthy of sharing with you. Enjoy.



Barn along Waseca County Highway 7



The driver's side rear car window frames this barn scene in a quick shot.



A machine shed with a barn-like appearance. Love the roof line.



Near the intersection of Waseca County Highway 7 and Minnesota Highway 13.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling