Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Perspective & hope June 26, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

PERSPECTIVE DOESN’T DIMINISH challenges in life. Rather, perspective helps one to assess, to consider, to reshape thoughts.

On Thursday, the word “perspective” edged to the top of my mind upon learning about the collapse of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida. Suddenly what Randy and I experienced this week doesn’t seem all that bad. Minor, really, in comparison to the loss of life and home in Florida.

As I write this, four people are confirmed dead with 159 missing. And then there are the injured and those who are now without a home. It’s a lot of loss. A lot of grief and pain and heartache and stress beyond comprehension.

When I view the rubble of the high-rise, I think of the fallen World Trade Center towers and of the I-35 bridge collapse. The visuals from Florida imprint the immensity of the catastrophe. Media reports, especially interviews with loved ones of the missing, cause an emotional reaction which leaves me in tears, feeling deeply saddened. My heart breaks at the humanity of it all—the deaths of loved ones in such a sudden and awful way.

As six industrial-sized fans and a dehumidifier roar in our basement, I focus on perspective. I see those media reports featuring search and rescue teams, eye witnesses, family members, government officials and others at the site of the Florida tragedy. I also hear the repeated word, “hope.” Hope rises, even when it seems futile.

But, like perspective and resilience, we need hope. Especially now in Florida.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope, joy & kindness at the clinic April 16, 2021

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Photographed along the bike trail in the Atwood neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

AS I WAITED POST VACCINATION in the clinic waiting room for the mandatory 15-minute observation, I observed. I am a people-watcher. A listener. A person who notices her environment.

After texting family, I set my cellphone aside to watch. Nearly every other person was on their phone, one guy even answering two calls. But, with magazines absent from tables and time to pass, few options remained. I’d left my library book, Funeral for a Friend by Brian Freeman, at home.

I wondered about all these people, if they felt as happy and thankful as me to receive the Pfizer vaccine protecting us against COVID-19. I expect they did.

Occasionally the nurse overseeing the small cluster of vaccinated individuals circulated among us. Checking times. And us. We each had labels stuck to our clothing, noting our dismissal time. I moved mine from just above the denim on my right knee to the right of my Army green jacket, making the label more visible.

Patients filtered in and out of the clinic as I sat there. Watching. A young mother entered, baby balanced on her hip. I was surprised to see her little one, perhaps six months old, wearing a face mask. I felt gratitude toward that mother who understands the value of face masks in protecting others and in keeping her child safe. The baby wore the mask with ease.

Photographed at LARK Toys in Kellogg, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Soon my eyes shifted to another mother and child waiting nearby, outside the vision clinic. I watched as the observation nurse walked over and asked if she needed help. Her kindness touched me. I expect this mother, a Muslim woman dressed in a black niqab with only her eyes showing through a rectangular slit, may struggle with English. But she understood enough to reply, although I didn’t hear her response. And then the nurse bent toward the child, perhaps nine months old, waving and talking and engaging her. The baby waved back, a broad smile spreading across her sweet face. In that moment I felt joy. Joy in seeing this very basic human interaction. Culture and dress and skin tone and religion mattering not. Just one human being interacting with another in the most loving way.

Photographed several years ago in the window of a downtown Faribault business. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Moments like this give me hope. Hope that we can accept one another. Connect. Express kindness to one another. Care about each other. And realize that, at the core, we are all simply human beings living on this earth. Individuals with wants and needs, no matter our skin tone, our beliefs, our culture, our language, our job status, our anything.

Love in three languages (Spanish, Somali and English), printed on a mirror along Faribault’s Virtue Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2018.

Understanding and acceptance start with each of us. Like the interaction I witnessed between nurse and mother and child at the clinic. When the observation nurse cleared me to leave at 3:38 pm, I thanked her. Beneath my face mask, I smiled. And although she couldn’t see that smile, I hope she heard the joy and gratitude in my words.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Easter hope April 2, 2021

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A sculpture inside St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

AS HOLY WEEK MOVES ever closer to Easter Sunday, I find myself focusing on hope. It’s such a positive word. One that I’ve held close to my heart through some really difficult challenges in life.

This past pandemic year has challenged all of us. Stretched our endurance, our patience, our ability to cope. To live life in a way that would keep us, and those we love, safe. I’ve felt frustrated about lax attitudes and behaviors regarding COVID-19. But through all of this, I’ve tried to balance that with hope.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

Hope seems synonymous with spring in Minnesota. Nature reveals hope in spring bulbs popping, in trees budding, in dormant grass greening and much more.

After a season of cold and darkness, hope breaks forth in longer days. More warmth. More sunshine. More light.

And now, in this too long season of COVID, hope for an end to this pandemic.

A photo of Christ’s face from a stained glass window in my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

As a woman of faith, I also view this time of year through the lens of eternal hope. I see the face of Jesus. Determined. Caring. Suffering. Dying. And then living, breathing. Alive. Darkness replaced by light on Easter morning. The light of eternal life.

This Easter Sunday, just like last, I’ll miss celebrating Easter in person with my faith family. I’ll miss the feeling that comes with worshiping inside a church with other Christians. I’ll miss the scent of lilies and the reverberation of the organ. I’ll miss the blessings of being among friends, of joyful Easter greetings.

Yet, I can still view the Easter service online or listen on the radio. I can experience worship indirectly. I can praise God and pray and let the joyful music of Easter fill my ears. And my mind. Hope remains. I know that my Redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives!

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile on a memorial for Barb Larson (murdered in an act of domestic violence) in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS, I wish you a most blessed, joyful and hope-filled Easter!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Quoted lyrics are from the hymn, I Know that My Redeemer Lives.

 

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

 

From Inauguration day: Inspiring poetry January 21, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FOR THOSE OF US who write poetry, its power to move, to inspire, to uplift, to matter, were evident during Wednesday’s Presidential inauguration as National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman delivered her powerful poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

To watch that 22-year-old Los Angeles poet stand before the nation’s capitol, before the new President and Vice President and so many others, and hear her deliver her poem with such passion filled me with hope.

Hope themed her poem. If you missed hearing Gorman’s poem, I’d encourage you to seek it out online and listen. Poetry, when read aloud by its author, takes on a depth missing if simply read silently to one’s self.

Gorman’s poem complemented, reinforced, the hopeful messages I took away from the day through speeches, songs, prayers and actions.

Words—like unity, resilience, strength, faith, respect, possibilities, together—resonated with me. Words that will write, as President Joe Biden said, “the unfolding story of our great nation.”

And part of that story will be the words of a young poet, who inspired hope on January 20, 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ask like you care & other thoughts January 20, 2021

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Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

POSSIBILITIES. Hope. Healing. Peace.

Those words frame my thoughts this Wednesday morning. Words that need, and I fully expect, to be followed by positive actions.

Photographed at LARK Toys, Kellogg, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We hold within our nation, and within ourselves, the ability to reclaim that which we’ve seemingly lost—decency, kindness, empathy…

A year ago, I stuck four word magnets onto my refrigerator door to create this phrase: ask like you care. The directive reminds me to listen, really listen. The directive reminds to to react with empathy when I ask others, “How are you?” The directive reminds me that, if I don’t really care about the answer, then I shouldn’t ask the question.

I’m big on listening, which differs vastly from hearing. The act of hearing is simply sound reaching our ears. Listening focuses on the message, the person. It’s an art, a skill, and not all that difficult to practice. Listening inspires conversation. Listening builds and strengthens relationships. It places the focus on others, not ourselves.

Encouraging words posted near a pocket garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, on this Wednesday morning, I hold hope for the possibilities of healing, peace and so much more.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope rises January 5, 2021

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This quarter-sized token, gifted to me by my friend Beth Ann, lies on my computer desk. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Hope. Several years ago, while experiencing a difficult time in my life, I latched onto that as my focus word. And I’ve never let go. I need only lift my eyes from the computer screen to see “hope” defining multiple messages posted on my office desk.

This begins a blog post I wrote for Warner Christian Resources and which published last week. I invite you to read the entire post by clicking here.

As we move into 2021, hope rises. In a vaccine. And much more.

I hope you, too, feel and experience that hope.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The choice is ours November 10, 2020

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The historic Ames Mill sits along the banks of the Cannon River in downtown Northfield. Malt-O-Meal hot cereals are made in the mill. You can often smell the scent of cereal wafting through this southern Minnesota community.

THE CITY OF NORTHFIELD, about a 20-minute drive northeast of my Faribault home, has long-rated as one of my favorite Minnesota communities. For many reasons.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River in downtown Northfield.

It’s situated along the banks of the Cannon River, making for a picturesque setting.

Standing along a river walk, I photographed the pedestrian bridge in downtown Northfield.
I spotted this art on the hood of a car parked along Division Street near Bridge Square.
From the river walk, nearly under the pedestrian bridge, I photographed the Cannon River and distant buildings.

Homegrown businesses fill the historic downtown, which edges the river. Here you’ll still find an independent bookstore plus antique shops, boutiques, restaurants, an arts center, the public library and much more.

Bridge Square, Northfield’s downtown community gathering spot often chalked with messages.

And, in the heart of Northfield’s business district you’ll also find a community gathering spot. Bridge Square. Here you can buy popcorn from a vintage wagon in the summer, take the kids or grandkids to visit Santa during the holiday season. You can rest here on a bench and engage in conversation. Watch the river flow by or the water fall over the fountain sculpture or the nearby dam.

This motor vehicle bridge lies next to the Ames Mill, across the river from Bridge Square.

But Bridge Square is so much more than a Norman Rockwell-like place to meet, gather and relax. It’s also a spot where opinions are expressed. Students from St. Olaf and Carleton, two noted private liberal arts colleges based in Northfield, use this space to gather and voice their concerns. And, even though I may not always agree with their views, I appreciate that they share them. To see young people concerned enough about an issue to publicly express their thoughts gives me hope.

Among the many messages, peace vs division.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope. Out of all the chalked messages I read on Sunday while at Bridge Square, I found one that really spoke to me. Peace vs division. Oh, how we need that. Peace. Not division.

A message printed on a step leading to the river walk. You’ll also find poems imprinted into sidewalks in downtown Northfield.

That stop at Northfield’s town square, with so many issues printed in chalk on cement, could easily have overwhelmed me. I could have despaired at all the problems that need fixing. But rather, I choose to see this as an acknowledgment of concerns. Of the possibilities. Of the solutions. Of choices which can bring peace rather than division.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Christmas wishes December 23, 2019

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An historic Nativity in Faribault (edited photo).

 

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS, a most blessed Christmas! However you celebrate, I wish for you a sense of peace, moments of joy.

I recognize that we all face challenges, that life can overwhelm, that holidays can be difficult. There’s no skirting the realities of life stressors.

But this week, as I celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, I hold hope high. May you, too.

Audrey

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Jayme Closs found alive January 11, 2019

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A widely circulated photo of Jayme Closs, a face we all came to know in the past three months.

 

I ARRIVED HOME from last evening’s poetry reading in Northfield on a high—the euphoric feeling a writer experiences from sharing her passion with an appreciative audience among other gifted poets.

But then I turned on the TV to watch the 9 p.m. news. And my joy doubled, no quadrupled, with the news that missing teen Jayme Closs of Barron, Wisconsin, was found late Thursday afternoon. Alive. The 13-year-old has been missing since her parents, James and Denise Closs, were discovered shot to death in their home on October 15, 2018.

Those murders and missing child case have been major news here in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Even nationally early on. But three months out, the hope that Jayme would be found alive faded. Not into hopelessness—because her family and many others never gave up hope. But reality wedged into thoughts as many of us remembered the high profile abduction of Jacob Wetterling in central Minnesota in October 1989. It took 27 years to find Jacob, shot to death by his abductor. We all know that if a missing child is not found within days of his/her disappearance, the likelihood of finding that child alive decreases substantially.

But now we have Jayme who, according to media reports, escaped from a home near Gordon in rural northwestern Wisconsin when she was left alone and sought help from a woman walking her dog. A suspect is now in custody.

The Barron County Sheriff’s Department has scheduled a news conference for 10 a.m. today. Yes, I’ll be watching. And reminding myself of the importance of never giving up hope. For hope, too, is poetry.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling