Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Wisconsin: Quick, look before the snow melts March 5, 2020

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An iconic Wisconsin farm site photographed from Interstate 90 on February 15.

 

OH, WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few weeks make. I’m talking snow cover here. With temps rising into the 40s, even 50s in some places in Minnesota, and sun shining bright in the afternoons, the snow pack is diminishing.

 

Photographed on February 15 while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, this tree stand appears like an island in an ocean of snow.

 

I can now see patches of grass in my lawn, curbing along streets and indications that we are getting closer to spring. As a life-long Minnesotan, though, I recognize the potential for lots more snowfall, even into May.

But for now, we’re delighting in days that lean toward spring. Sixty degrees is forecast for this weekend. Imagine how that will facilitate snow melt. And lift spirits.

 

This hillside barn is located near Madison, in an area more urban than rural.

 

That all said, I’m finally getting around to sharing snowscape photos I took in mid-February while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, eastbound toward Madison. Scenes along that route are becoming familiar to me now given the frequency of trips to visit our second daughter, her husband and our son in the capital city.

 

A pastoral scene along I-90 in southern Wisconsin.

 

Wisconsin, for all the jokes about beer, brats and cheese, and fan fanaticism for the Packers and Badgers, is a lot like Minnesota. Friendly folks. Diverse landscape. Mostly rural with just enough urban. Interesting. I’ve enjoyed exploring Madison from botanical gardens to art museums to a repurposed mill next to my son’s apartment building.

 

In the valley east of La Crosse, the length of this barn along I-90 impresses me.

 

A picturesque farm site sits in the valley.

 

Another long barn.

 

 

With the exception of Rochester, Minnesota, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, the four-hour drive to Madison from Faribault takes us primarily through rural regions. I especially like the area east of La Crosse where high rolling hills border farm fields and farm sites in the valley. Hills and wide sky dwarf the farms, a strong visual that always impresses upon me our smallness in this vast universe.

 

This scene, especially, emphasizes our smallness.

 

Such are my thoughts as we travel. I never tire of looking at these rural scenes, often wishing we had time to follow backroads deep into the hills. We did once, years ago while vacationing, and nearly lost our way such are the twisting paths within those hills.

 

Nearing Madison, a traditional farmhouse and barn define this farm.

 

I digress. I expect if I was to photograph these sames scenes today, they would appear much different with snow no longer defining the landscape. What a difference only a few weeks make…

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pass the salt, please, or not February 20, 2020

Interstate 90 in Wisconsin is noticeably white from road salt. It was like this all the way from La Crosse to Madison last weekend.

 

WHEN YOU’RE ON THE INTERSTATE for nearly four hours, you start to notice things. Like the semi drivers seemingly nodding behind the wheel as their rigs hit the rumble strip or drift toward your lane. Or the guy driving with his window open on a cold February afternoon because maybe, just maybe, he’s trying to stay awake. Or the driver who can’t wait even a second as he tailgates, then swoops around on the right before cutting in front of you.

All of this happened on a recent trip to and from Madison, Wisconsin, along Interstate 90. In addition to the questionable, and often frightening behavior (especially by four professional truck drivers), I noticed something else—a heavily-salted interstate. I-90 in Wisconsin stretched before Randy and me like ribbons of white.

 

There was much less salt, if any, on I-90 in southeastern Minnesota.

 

By contrast, I-90 in Minnesota appeared mostly clear of road salt. Why the difference in bordering states? I don’t know the stance Wisconsin takes on salting to cut snow and ice. But I do know that the Minnesota Department of Transportation is shifting toward a more conservative use of salt due to concerns about salt entering our waterways. We are, after all, The Land of 10,000 Lakes.

 

This sign along I-90 welcomes travelers to Minnesota along the Mississippi River by La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

In media reports I’ve heard and read, MnDOT is taking a technological and scientific approach to treating roads in an effort to reduce salt usage. That includes pre-treating roads before storms (which uses less salt), relying on calibrations, factoring in temperature and other data to determine how roadways should be treated. It’s no longer simply a load up the trucks with salt and sand and chemicals and get out there mindset.

I appreciate this respect for our natural resources, this shift in thinking. Just remind me of that the next time I complain of icy roads or sidewalks. Or the next time Randy and I throw salt down on our icy driveway or sidewalk.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sample billboards along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin February 19, 2020

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Drive Interstate 90 between La Crosse and Madison, Wisconsin, and you’ll see lots of billboards around the larger cities and in the area by the Dells. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

BILLBOARDS CAN CLUTTER the landscape. Too many words. Too many materialistic messages. Too much visual imprint when I’d rather see the natural surroundings.

 

As you would expect in Wisconsin, there are lots of signs for cheese places along I-90. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

But I understand the value of signs, large or small, in drawing people into businesses, to destinations, to detour off the interstate. That said, I noticed a lot of vacant billboard real estate while traveling Interstate 90 from La Crosse to Madison, Wisconsin, this past weekend. I can only speculate that in a tech driven world, this form of marketing to the masses is declining.

 

Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots. Anyone know the story behind this billboard?

 

Still, I pay attention to roadside signage and noticed a billboard with a simple and profound message: FORGIVE and BE KIND. I photographed the sign within 10 minutes of Exit 69, the road to Mauston and Oxford. A LAMAR Advertising credit runs along the bottom.

FORGIVE and BE KIND. The words are simple enough. But forgiveness and the added directive to “be kind” can prove a struggle when the pain and hurt run deep. Yet, both can be achieved. It takes work. Time. Healing.

 

Another cheese sign along I-90 in south central Wisconsin. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the FORGIVE and BE KIND billboard and/or on billboards in general.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to Wisconsin February 18, 2020

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An ice fisherman photographed at the La Crosse, Wisconsin, rest stop.

 

I OFTEN WONDER, what do outsiders think? And, by outsiders, I mean those of you unfamiliar with a Midwest winter, specifically with the sport of ice fishing.

I mean, let’s say you’re from Miami or LA or Dallas and you’ve never seen a village of fish houses atop a frozen lake let alone vehicles driving onto and across the ice. For Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, scenes like this are simply part of our winters.

Or let’s say you pull off the interstate, like we did on Saturday along I-90 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and you spot two guys loading fishing equipment onto a sled in a rest area parking lot. Randy and I saw exactly that.

The scene seemed so Midwest Norman Rockwell-like. Bucket and fishing gear atop a simple pull-behind sled. Fisherman layered in warm outdoor outerwear topping a red-and-black buffalo plaid flannel shirt. Paul Bunyan fashion at its finest.

As we exited the parking lot, I managed a photo. Iconic. A guy on his way to ice fish in the backwaters of the Mississippi River on a Saturday morning in mid-February. Love it.

TELL ME: Have you ever been ice fishing, or even observed an angler ice fishing? And, yes, I’ve fished through a hole in the ice on a frozen lake. Just not in recent years.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Color my winter world January 8, 2020

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The nearly colorless landscape of southwestern Minnesota in late December.

 

MY EYES, MY SPIRIT, my very being craves color this time of year.

I need pops of color to break the white monotony of a Minnesota winter landscape. Without color, the bleakness of setting presses down the spirit. Not that winter can’t be beautiful. It’s just that I prefer a world beyond black and white.

So when I’m out and about, I find myself drawn to hues that flash. Like red, especially red. Set against a backdrop of white, red appears even bolder, stronger.

 

Parked in a Morristown, Minnesota, driveway.

 

A red pick-up truck.

 

Red barns, like this one in southwestern Minnesota, really stand out in a winterscape.

 

A red barn, tractor, outbuildings.

 

Right next to the I-90 in the Wisconsin Dells, a colorful waterslide breaks the grey of a foggy late December morning.

 

Even, while driving through the Wisconsin Dells recently, red spiraling on an outdoor waterslide.

 

Taillights are welcome along a foggy I-90 in Wisconsin.

 

And, on that same trip, the welcome red of taillights beaconing through thick fog pressed upon Interstate 90.

During a Midwest winter, red equals the visual equivalent of happiness.

TELL ME: Do you involuntarily gravitate toward color this time of year? If yes, I’d like to hear more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shifting seasons November 6, 2019

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The snowy rural landscape in south central Wisconsin last Friday.

 

LAST WEEK I SMUGLY smiled as my daughter shared that 5.5 inches of snow fell in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives. We’d had none yet here in Faribault.

 

The snowy landscape en route to Madison. The southern Minnesota landscape now looks similar after a Tuesday night snowfall.

 

That changed last night. I awoke this morning to a landscape layered in several inches of snow. So much for my attitude of better you, Wisconsin, than us in Minnesota.

 

Sections of the interstate still showed residual salt brine, or whatever is used to treat icy/snowy roadways in Wisconsin.

 

That all said, Randy and I traveled to Madison the day after their snowfall. Only residuals remained like snow flying off semis, dried salt brine on the interstate, snow in shadowed woods and upon fields, and, in the capitol city, snow atop parked vehicles.

 

The bluffs along the Mississippi River near La Crosse are still autumn beautiful, albeit muted under cloudy skies. I photographed this last Friday.

 

Built into the Mississippi River-side bluff along I-90, Minnesota side, near La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

The beautiful and diverse landscape of southern Wisconsin as photographed from the interstate.

 

Despite Winter’s presence, we saw Autumn in seemingly no hurry to exit the Midwest. Stubborn leaves still clung to hillsides of trees. Rusty remnants of a season that, for me, was way too short this year.

 

From Minnesota to Wisconsin, so many cornfields remain unharvested. This one is in southeastern Minnesota.

 

For farmers also. I observed endless acres of unharvested cornfields during our four-hour drive to and from Madison. Way too much rain has muddied fields and delayed harvest. I feel for the farmers. They’ve experienced a difficult year with excessive rainfall. And now this snow…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota or North Dakota? November 1, 2019

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TRAVELING ALONG INTERSTATE 90 in southeastern Minnesota about 10 miles from La Crosse, Wisconsin, I noticed this sign. And I laughed. I was nowhere near North Dakota. Yet this road sign appeared to indicate otherwise, seemingly directing motorists to North Dakota.

Dakota is a town of some 325 in Winona County, Minnesota just off I-90.

Signs can be simultaneously informative and confusing. I love when I spot such signage to break the monotony of a long road trip.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling