Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reconnecting to southwestern Minnesota, root place of my creativity May 22, 2018

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

THERE IS NO PLACE, none, that I’d rather be this time of year than in rural southwestern Minnesota. It is the place of my heart, of my memories, of everything that shaped me into the person, the writer and photographer that I am today.

 

 

This place of wide skies and dark rich soil in some of Minnesota’s best farm land claims me still, decades after I left. I left not because I disliked this place, but for education and opportunity. Like so many of my generation.

 

In a reminder of decades past, a vintage tractor works the land on the edge of Delhi.

 

When I return to visit family here, I feel an ache of absence, that longing for a return to the familiar.

 

 

I realize those who’ve never lived on the prairie often fail to recognize its value, its beauty, its power in inspiring creativity. To many, even my own children, southwestern Minnesota seems the middle of nowhere. But to me, this land has always inspired. And it’s somewhere. Home.

 

 

Between Echo and Delhi.

 

A long familiar landmark tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

When you’ve lived in a place so stark, in a place that exposes you to the elements, where life evolves around the land, you learn to appreciate the details. Like the endless wind. The spaciousness of land and sky. The scent of tilled soil. Rows of corn erupting green from the earth. A lone tree along a highway.

 

 

 

 

Acre after acre after acre across this land, I take in the rural scenes of farmers working fields, rushing to get crops in during a particularly late planting season.

 

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

I notice vehicles kicking dust along gravel roads,

 

Parked near the grain elevator in Morgan.

 

small town grain elevators,

 

 

a school bus splashing color into the landscape. I see it all in this place, this middle of somewhere.

 

A rural-themed license plate on a vehicle driving past Echo on a recent weekday morning. I confirmed with writer and photographer Ruth Klossner that this was her vehicle. She was on her way to interview a source for a magazine article. Ruth collects cow items of all sorts and opens the doors of her Bernadotte home for visitors to view the massive collection.

 

This is my joy, to each spring return to my Minnesota prairie roots, to reconnect to the land, to embrace the birth source of my creativity.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Words matter & my hope for 2018 December 29, 2017

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Some of the quotes posted on my refrigerator.

 

WORDS HOLD INCREDIBLE power—to hurt, to heal, to build, to tear down, to discourage, to embolden, to darken, to enlighten…

 

A wall of quotes…I love this public posting of inspiring words discovered this past September inside the Jack Pine Center in Pequot Lakes.

 

During my life, I’ve felt the sting of unkind words unleashed by teen bullies, by a teacher who should never have been a teacher, by individuals angered with my writing, by those who spoke (or wrote) without first considering how deep their words would wound me. Oftentimes it is those we love most who hurt us the most.

Perhaps you can relate. And if you can’t, I am thankful you can’t.

I expect my words have also at times hurt others. And I’m sorry for that.

 

 

As a professional wordsmith, I strive to use words in a positive way. I realize the power in the words I write and in the words I speak. I accept that responsibility.

 

 

 

 

Often I turn to words to inspire me, to give me hope and refocus my thinking when I need a shift in mindset. With that thought, I want to share some of the quotes currently posted on my fridge and in my office.

 

Inspirational quotes posted on my desk, on the shelf above my desktop screen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all. —Emily Dickinson.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. —Philippians 4:13

Keep your heart brave and your imagination wild. (from a Hallmark bag)

Let your roots grow down into Him and let your lives be built on Him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught and you will overflow with thankfulness. —Colossians 2:7

Without a love for books the richest person is poor. —unknown

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.— Romans 12:12

Sometimes it’s nice to get an unexpected hug for no other reason than just because you’re loved. So while you’re reading these words, don’t think of them as just words…Think of each one as a hug for your heart from mine.  —Barbara J. Hall

It is my hope that in 2018 we as individuals, as communities, as a nation, as a world, will grow kinder in our use of words. I hope we will think before we speak/write, considering the power of our words.

Thoughts? Or a favorite quote you’d like to share?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“I hated myself”: Journey to recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge April 30, 2013

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir sings a solo during a presentation on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

A member of the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir rehearses his solo before a concert on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

SHE’S FOUR MONTHS to graduation, this mother of four, this 13-year meth addict.

Jill speaks with passion, sharing her downward spiral into addiction and her remarkable recovery through Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. Her voice raw with emotion, Jill reveals how, as a single mom trying to raise a son and a daughter, who had cystic fibrosis, she gave her girl up for adoption. That pushed her over the edge.

Later, she would marry, have two more children and, eventually, her husband would enter treatment at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, a faith-based recovery program for those with drug and alcohol addictions. “I watched him turn into a godly man,” Jill says. “Our lives are unbelievable. We love each other. It’s amazing what God can do when He’s in your life. He restores.”

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choirs performance.

Praise and personal testimonies highlighted the choir’s performance.

By age 13, James from my community of Faribault, was smoking crank out of a light bulb. The son of a teacher and social worker, he had no direction or purpose in life. He was using and selling drugs and breaking into places. By age 22, he’d been to prison twice, had a son. “You try to manage and have as much fun as you can before you get locked up again,” he says.

He also used heroin. Then his brother died. “They’re thinking they’re going to bury two kids in the same month,” James says of his parents.

In 2011 he graduated from the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge treatment program. “I found God and feel God. I have the joy of the Lord.”

And then James shares more. He was once best friends with a 27-year-old Faribault man charged last week with first-degree attempted murder and first-degree and second-degree assault in an attack on his fiance, stabbed more than 30 times. She survived and is out of the hospital.

“Bad things happen…God sustains you,” this former addict says.

Heartbreaking and inspirational stories were shared.

A soloist performs with the choir.

Heidi, 22, the daughter of divorced parents and an alcoholic father, grew up in a small town. She started drinking, eventually wracked up two driving under the influence charges, was in and out of court-ordered treatment.

She turned to abusing prescription drugs, yet managed to go to college, even held a job in sales. She stole from her family, got into heroin.

By her admission, Heidi says, “I threw away opportunities in life…I hated myself…I was sitting in my apartment all day getting high.”

Then she overdosed, suffered a seizure.

Heidi is set to graduate in May from Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. “I needed a relationship with God,” this young woman says.

IF YOU’VE NEVER attended a Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge presentation like the concert/personal testimonies I heard at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, on Sunday, I’d encourage you to do so. You will never forget the stories of these courageous individuals who have overcome so much to reclaim their lives and their families and forge new relationships with God.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

Choir members line up and dish up at the potluck after the service and concert.

At the potluck dinner after the concert, I sat with Tyler, a 20-year recovering heroin addict and father of two boys, 9 and 13. When his wife died two years ago, Tyler knew he needed to change. You’d never guess, just looking at and talking with this well-groomed and articulate young man, that he’d once been into drugs. He’s been in and out of treatment several times. But this time, in the longer one-year faith-based recovery program, Tyler’s succeeded.  He’s set to graduate soon, will start college and work, and get his boys back.

Tyler, Jill, James and Heidi and about 35 others, through primarily song and those few personal testimonials, brought their messages of hope, joy and recovery to my church through the center’s community outreach program.

Anthony Bass, who played for the Minnesota Vikings from 1998-2000 and is now the church relations manager for Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge and is planting a church in northeast Minneapolis, says the on-the-road programs are part of an effort to help fight heroin, meth and prescription drug addictions, showing “how God’s power has helped and restored.”

Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge has eight facilities in Minnesota—in Minneapolis, Brainerd and Duluth and one soon to open in Rochester. The name was changed last October from Minnesota Teen Challenge to Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, more accurately reflecting the ages of program participants. Eighty percent are over age 18.

Bass also asked for prayers and financial support.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

The Trinity Quilt Makers gifted the group with this stash of quilts.

As I sang the hymn, “Who Are You Who Walk in Sorrow,” with the congregation and choir members, I considered how fitting these words:

Great companion on our journey,
Still surprise us with Your grace!
Make each day a new Emmaus;
On our hearts Your image trace!

FYI: Click here to learn more about Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Note that I may or may not have the correct spellings of names referenced in this story. I did not check the spellings. And, yes, I asked and was given permission, to photograph the Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge Choir.)

 

Gaining confidence as a poet October 19, 2011

I THINK ALL WRITERS, if we’re honest with ourselves, face insecurities about writing.

Can we write? Is our writing “good enough” to publish? Will anyone read, or even care about, what we write?

I’ve long overcome any issues I faced about journalism style writing. I’m confident in my abilities to pull together a good feature story or another journalistic piece given my educational background in mass communications and my years of experience in journalism. And with several years of blogging to my credit, I’m also confident in that writing style.

It’s poetry which has challenged my confidence. Although I’ve written poetry off and on since high school—which stretches back nearly four decades—I’ve never written much poetry, at least not enough to consider myself a true poet. Until now.

Finally, this year, with the publication of two poems in two Minnesota literary journals and winning the spring Roadside Poetry contest, I’m comfortable adding “poet” to my writing credentials.

Getting to the point of feeling comfortable with the term “poet” really began 11 years ago with publication of a poem in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 2. I considered that a stroke of good fortune. But when four more poems published in the next two volumes, I began to think that maybe, just maybe, I could write poetry. After all, I had competed against other writers to get into the Poetic Strokes anthologies.

Then I had a poem accepted for publication in The Lutheran Digest.

Next, I earned an honorable mention for my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” published last year in The Talking Stick, Forgotten Roads, Volume 19.

Finally, this year, I had an official poet epiphany when I entered three poetry competitions and was subsequently published on Roadside Poetry billboards, in The Talking Stick, Black & White, Volume 20 and Lake Region Review.

Although I don’t know how many poets I competed against in Roadside Poetry, I do have the numbers for the two literary journals. The Talking Stick this year published 140 pieces of poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction from 99 writers, me being one of them with my poem, “Abandoned Barn,” and my creative nonfiction, “Welcome Home.” That’s out of 326 submissions from 171 writers.

Look at the list of writers, and you may recognize a few names like Marge Barrett, Tim J. Brennan, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Jerry Mevissen, Candace Simar…

It’s quite a process to get into The Talking Stick with five members of The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc reading all of the entries and then an editorial board meeting to vote and discuss. The top four to seven favorites in each category are then forwarded to celebrity judges—this year Kris Bigalk, Kevin Kling and Alison McGhee—to choose first and second place winners in each division.

As for Lake Region Review, the process of selecting the works for publication is equally as rigorous. Co-editors Mark Vinz—author, professor emeritus of English at Minnesota State University Moorhead and first coordinator of MSUM’s Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing—and Athena Kildegaard—author and lecturer at the University of Minnesota Morris—worked with a staff of 10. They read more than 200 submissions before narrowing the field to 27 established and emerging writers.

I’m one of those 27.

And so is Leif Enger, author of the 2001 New York Times best-seller Peace Like a River, which happens to be a favorite book of mine. It’s nice to be in the company of someone who, like me, writes with a strong sense of place.

Most of my poetry connects to the southwestern Minnesota prairie, where I grew up on a dairy and crop farm. Specifically, the barn on the home place inspired my two distinct barn poems which published in The Talking Stick and Lake Region Review.

I don’t know what moved the editors of either publication to select my poems for inclusion in their literary journals. But I did incorporate lines such as “hot cow pee splattering into her gutters” and “rusty hinges creaking like aged bones.”

According to Co-editor Kildegaard at Lake Region Review, editors chose pieces that were “fresh, creative, lively, interesting. We were looking for writing that has something new to say.”

Apparently I had something new to say about the old barn.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up today stands empty of animals.

WRITERS FEATURED in the recently-published 212-page The Talking Stick, Black & White, Volume 20, are from, or have a strong connection to, Minnesota. Those published in the 138-page debut of Lake Region Review live primarily in west central Minnesota. Eight writers have been published in both collections.

The cover of Lake Region Review is a detail of an original landscape painting, “Christina Lake: View from Seven Sisters,” by American impressionist painter Stephen Henning of Otter Tail County.

IF YOU’RE A WRITER, specifically of poetry, did you/do you struggle with confidence issues? At what point did you/will you call yourself a poet?

FYI: For more information or to purchase copies of either literary journal featured here, click on the appropriate link below:

www.lakeregionreview.net

www.thetalkingstick.com

And click here for more information about Roadside Poetry.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

God’s beauty blooms in Richard’s art September 18, 2011

I HAVE NOT MET Richard Vilendrer, only spoken with him briefly on the phone.

Yet, I feel a connection to this 72-year-old Faribault man, this artist who creates art for the pure joy of doing so. I understand that. It is the same reason I write and take photos for this blog.

You can see that joy in Richard’s art, which I discovered Saturday morning at the Faribault Farmer’s Market. I had passed only a few vendors’ booths—laden with the typical fresh produce, flowers and baked goods you would expect to find in this venue—when I noticed the pen-and-ink and colored pencil drawings vended by Carol Vilendrer, Richard’s wife of 35 years.

I stopped and just stood there. And it flashed through my mind that this Christian-themed art would be a good fit for Christian greeting cards. And when I looked further, I saw that Richard had already made cards. But I write greeting card verses for an Indiana-based publisher and I asked Carol then and there if I could direct my editor to Richard’s work. So I am. I don’t know if this will go anywhere; I have to try, though.

There’s a certain passion in Richard’s art and you can sense that when you speak with the man. He doesn’t do this for the money—although he’s sold some pieces—but for the pure enjoyment of creating art.

Since grade school this former Faribault Regional Center employee, who worked with handicapped children until the center closed, has put pencil to paper. As a youth, when he should have been listening in English class, he was instead inspired by textbook images—of Indians and of soldiers in helmets and of airplanes—to duplicate those drawings.

Scripture and Christian songs inspire Richard.

Today words from a song heard on Twin Cities-based Christian radio station KTIS, or words from Scripture or a found feather on a nature walk inspire him to first draw in pencil, then go over the pencil with ink and finally fill in with colored pencil.

He prefers to draw small, detailed subjects like his hand or a feather or a maple leaf. Yet, he’s also drawn John Deere tractors and buildings and classic cars.

Richard uses a technique called cross hatching—to perfect shading—by using a ball point pen to draw lines close together in one direction and then crosses in an opposite direction. He learned that in high school. Mostly, though, he’s self-taught, without formal training. He calls his artistic skills a “God-given talent.”

This man of faith has used that gift from God to create artwork for fundraisers at his church, Divine Mercy in Faribault.

A year ago, he suffered a stroke. But even in that he sees the blessing—the stroke affected his entire right side, not his left. Richard, the artist, is left-handed.

Nature and faith inspire his detailed art.

A pen-and-ink drawing of a building at the former Faribault Regional Center where Richard worked.

St. Lawrence Church in Faribault where Richard and Carol Vilendrer were married 35 years ago this coming October 1.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in purchasing Richard’s art or learning more about him, submit your contact information (which I will not publish) in a comment and I will pass that along to Richard.

PLEASE NOTE THAT the photos in this post are not 100 percent accurate to the true colors of Richard’s work. His drawings were wrapped in plastic, which filtered the colors and which created some glare. I edited each image somewhat to overcome those challenges.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling