Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The day the music died February 1, 2019

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.

 

SIXTY YEARS AGO ON FEBRUARY 3, a charter plane crashed into a northern Iowa field killing all aboard. It was, they say, the day the music died.

 

Portraits of the deceased musicians. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.

 

Dead were rising musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.

 

All around Clear Lake, you’ll see posters from the annual Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom. I found this one at the AmericInn Hotel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.

 

This weekend the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, continues its Winter Dance Party honoring those singers who performed there before that fatal flight en route to Moorhead, Minnesota.

 

The ballroom stage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.

 

Several years ago I visited Clear Lake, a delightful lakeside community just across the border from Minnesota. That trip included a stop at the Surf Ballroom. My knowledge of the famed musicians and of music in general is rather limited. But I do remember Don McLean’s lengthy American Pie hit from 1971 with that repetitious the day the music died. That line references the deaths of Holly, Valens and Richardson. I never understood that as a teen. I simply liked the melody, puzzled by the words.

 

Another tribute to the Surf’s most memorable performer, rock and roll legend Buddy Holly. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.

 

I am of that era when rock and roll represented rebellion with young people challenging societal norms and authority, voicing their opinions via music. It was a time of turmoil in many ways. A time of change.

 

This display references American Pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2015.

 

The February day the trio of musicians died in 1959 in Iowa really wasn’t the day the music died. Rather, rock and roll continued to rise, flying, soaring, reaching new heights of popularity.

THOUGHTS?

 

TO READ MY ORIGINAL POST on the Surf Ballroom, complete with more photos, click here.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of Decorah, Part II November 27, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A close-up of stacked stones at Phelps Park in Decorah, Iowa, where the Civilian Conservation Corps crafted walls, a fountain and more.

 

WHEN YOU THINK public art, what pops into your mind? Sculptures? Murals? Sidewalk poetry? All fit the definition.

 

An example of the stone art at Phelps Park.

 

But public art stretches beyond the obvious. If you look for it, you will see art everywhere, as I did on a September visit to Decorah. This northeastern Iowa river town is rich in art, natural and otherwise.

 

In a downtown Decorah plaza, “Doe and Fawn” by Victoria Reed.

 

Art enriches a place by adding texture, interest, depth.

 

Look up to see this sculpture on the Nelson & Co building in downtown Decorah.

 

Art personalizes a place with character.

 

The colorful mural by The Cardboard Robot.

 

Art colors a town with vibrancy.

 

On display at Donlon Toy Jungle (inside Donlon Pharmacy), this 6-foot KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Details posted with that Ferris Wheel build.

 

Just another angle of the KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Art brings a community together, creating a cohesiveness that unites in working toward a common goal.

 

An artful door leading to apartments in downtown Decorah.

 

Art comforts.

 

Stacked stone art in Dunning’s Spring.

 

Art empowers, strengthens.

 

Inside The Cardboard Robot, shoppers are encouraged to be hands-on creative.

 

Art expands our imaginations to create.

 

This new bridge at Dunning’s Spring Park replicates a stone bridge of 140 years ago. Master stone mason Ted Wilson crafted the bridge along with Sean Smyth. The bridge features dry stonewalling, meaning there’s no mortar between joints.

 

We need art. Today more than ever. To bridge our differences.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I love Decorah, Part I November 26, 2018

Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in downtown Decorah draws many visitors interested in learning about their heritage.

 

TWICE I’VE VISITED DECORAH in northeastern Iowa. It’s one of those towns that feels comfortable, inviting, an ideal destination for someone who prefers rural to urban.

 

Decorah is named after Ho-Chunk Chief Waukon Decorah. I spotted this portrait by noted artist Charles Philip Hexom on a stairway wall at the public library.

 

What makes Decorah so appealing to me?

 

 

 

 

The architecture.

 

“Doe and Fawn” sculptures by Victoria Reed stand in a public plaza near a downtown co-op.

 

Love this mural of “Irene” painted by Valerie Miller of Steel Cow.

 

A stone sculpture on the Nelson & Co. building.

 

The art.

One of my favorite spots in Decorah, the waterfall at Dunning’s Spring Park, site of a former grist mill and gifted to the city in 1946.

 

The natural beauty.

 

Valdres House, one of many authentic Norwegian rooted buildings at Vesterheim. This is a typical Norwegian landowner’s house, dismantled and shipped from Norway to Decorad in the mid 1970s.

 

The downtown shops and eateries. The city’s appreciation of its strong Norwegian heritage, even if I’m of German heritage.

And the people. While at Pulpit Rock Brewing, Randy and I shared a picnic table with a young couple and their daughter (and her grandpa). They were quick to answer our questions about places to eat, sleep and explore.

Upon their recommendation, we stayed at a new hotel on the edge of town and met a trio of college friends together for their annual girlfriends’ reunion. They welcomed us into their circle at a gas-fired campfire on a perfect early autumn evening. When did hotels start adding this amenity? I loved it. There’s something about fire…

 

The Upper Iowa River runs through the 34-acre Decorah Community Prairie and Butterfly Garden. This view is from a scenic overlook in Phelps Park.

 

And water. Water is part of the draw for me to this river town.

 

Magnificent stone work at Phelps Park, which also includes a fountain (not on at the time of my visit) crafted from stone.

 

Upon the recommendation of the family at the brewery, we sought out Phelps Park. There we found extensive stonework done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I often wonder when I see such work, “How did they build this without modern equipment?”

Outside an historic downtown building with a corner tower, I chatted it up with an elderly man on a bench. He drives in from the farm every morning to meet friends for coffee and to sit and people-watch. He lives out by the supper club, he said, which meant nothing to me. But I pretended like it did. He’ll never see me again.

That’s the thing about travel. If you engage with the locals, you’ll learn a thing or ten about the place you’re visiting. Stuff you won’t find on a website, stuff best learned in conversation.

TELL ME: Do you chat it up with locals when you’re traveling? I’d like to hear your stories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Decorah. Have you ever visited Decorah and, if so, what appeals to you there?

NOTE: I took these photos during a mid-September visit to Decorah. The landscape obviously looks much different today. So if you’re not inclined to visit this Iowa city now, think ahead to next spring or summer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Who screams for ice cream? November 19, 2018

I’ve never been to Conny’s Creamy Cone, just noticed it recently while enroute to Como Park. The shop, open from March to October, is on the corner of Dale Street and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul. It features 24 flavors of soft serve ice cream and a menu that includes burgers, cheese curds, onion rings and much more. Have you ever been here? Spotting this shop inspired this post.

 

SEASONAL ICE CREAM SHOPS have mostly shuttered here in Minnesota as demand drops with the onset of cold and snow. Or does it? I still eat ice cream from November – March. Straight from a carton in my freezer into a bowl onto a spoon and into my mouth. Yum.

 

The Betty, Cool Mint Flavor Burst ice cream, crème de mint and Oreos flurried together, then topped with whipped cream, and served at The S’Cream in Owatonna, one of my favorite ice cream shops. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

As much as I enjoy ice cream at home, I also enjoy the occasional stop at an ice cream shop once those businesses re-open around April 1, depending. There’s just something about standing outside a walk-up window, scanning the choices and choosing a treat to welcome spring or to cool down on a humid summer day that makes me happy. You know, the kid with an ice cream cone kind of happiness, although I seldom choose a cone. I prefer a shake or something more complex.

 

Lots of dogs waiting in line with their owners at Blast Softserve. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

I also prefer homegrown ice cream shops with creative names for both business and offerings to chain anything. Ditto for restaurants. I want to experience a sense of place by dining at original, hometown eateries.

 

One of my favorite area bakeries, Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

I like small town bakeries, too. And craft breweries.

 

Long lines formed to the two serving windows at Blast Softserve, 206 West Rose St., Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2014.

 

None of this should come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile. I delight in exploring small towns, discovering that which defines the character of a community and makes it memorable. It could be a sign, architecture, a person, an event… Or a sweet little ice cream shop.

 

Serving up a cone at The Whippy Dip in Decorah, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite homegrown ice cream shop?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

For the love of books, a spotlight on several Little Free Libraries October 22, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

 

I was delighted to find a Little Free Library near my son’s apartment when I visited him in Somerville, Massachusetts, in May of 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHENEVER I SPOT A LITTLE FREE LIBRARY, I feel a deep appreciation for the stewards of these mini libraries.

The ability to read, as I see it, is the foundation of learning. But to read, you need access to books. Not everyone has that, whether by geographical location or lack of money for books.

So those individuals who place a Little Free Library in their yards (or elsewhere) and then stock and restock shelves have my gratitude. They realize the importance of easy 24/7 access to books.

 

The LFL Todd and Susan Bol installed outside the community-owned Vesta Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I grew up in a rural Minnesota community without a library. I understand what it’s like to be without library books. But thanks to Little Free Library founder Todd Bol, my hometown of Vesta has had a small public library since July 1, 2012. A Little Free Library. Todd gifted that to this small farming town. I am grateful.

 

A LFL in downtown Decorah, Iowa.

 

Recently I spotted two particularly distinct Little Free Libraries, one in the heart of downtown Decorah, one of my favorite northeastern Iowa cities. The library sits in a public plaza next to Oneota Community Food Co-op. That it’s barn-shaped seems especially fitting in a primarily agricultural state. A red barn remains an iconic symbol of rural life.

I grabbed a hardcover copy of James Patterson’s Double Cross with every intention of starting to read the book while in Decorah. That never happened and now the book sits on my to-read pile back here in Minnesota. First I need to finish The Girls of Ames—A Story of Women & a Forty-Year Friendship by Jeffrey Zaslow. The national bestseller published in 2009. The book holds special interest for me given one of the women taught journalism at Faribault High School and served as advisor to the student newspaper when my second daughter was co-editor. It’s an excellent read. And quite revealing.

But I digress.

 

 

A variety of books for all ages fill an eye-catching LFL posted at 805 State Street in Waseca. It’s designed as a TARDIS, the featured mode of transportation on the BBC sci-fi television show “Doctor Who.” I know nothing about the show. To me, the TARDIS resembles a blue phone booth.

 

 

The stewards of the Waseca TARDIS do a great job of visually promoting the LFL with the library now seasonally decorated for autumn and Halloween. Inside, they’ve also stocked Halloween-themed books. They seem to have a lot of fun with their LFL. I expect given its location along one of Waseca’s main arteries that the library is well-used.

 

 

What kid wouldn’t be drawn to a mini TARDIS? Or adult for that matter?

 

 

 

I love when folks run with the LFL idea and get especially creative, all for the purpose of getting books into the hands of others.

 

A cat watched as I photographed the TARDIS LFL.

 

FYI: This post is dedicated to Todd Bol, who founded the Little Free Library movement and who died on October 18 of pancreatic cancer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Back at Seed Savers Exchange for a close-up look, Part II October 19, 2018

A garden lab at Seed Savers Exchange, photographed in September.

 

I ALWAYS THOUGHT THAT, as an adult, I would grow a big garden from which I would gather produce to eat fresh, can and freeze. But the reality is that, since leaving my childhood farm 44 years ago, I’ve never lived in a place with enough sunny space for a garden.

 

An easy-to-grow-from-seed flower, the sturdy zinnia, photographed at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

Sure, I’ve grown tomatoes in pots and seeded lettuce and spinach into the earth, but not with great success. I’ve had my most success with herbs. I began growing those only in recent years and wonder why I didn’t do so earlier. The taste of freshly-clipped rosemary, basil and oregano is superior to dried.

 

Cow art at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

While this sign warned of a bull at Seed Savers, I never saw one.

 

Dying morning glories drape the Seed Savers barn accented by a vintage lawn chair.

 

While lack of land and time kept me from gardening, I appreciate the art I learned long ago on a Minnesota farm. There I planted, weeded and harvested in the garden.

 

This signage explains the test garden at Seed Savers.

 

A sign at Seed Savers for cucumbers I tasted in Faribault.

 

Flowers and vegetables mix in Seed Savers gardens.

 

I appreciate those who continue the time-honored tradition of gardening. Like Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. Like family members. Like those who sell fresh produce at farmers’ markets. Like my local library, which has a community garden. From that public garden I sampled this summer lemon cucumbers and chocolate peppers, originating from Seed Savers seeds. And when I entered Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, I passed by pollinator friendly flowers like the draping Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blooms, also from the Seed Savers collection.

 

About those morning glories on the barn…

 

 

There’s lots to learn at Seed Savers Exchange.

 

Seed Savers, even for a now non-gardener like me, proves an interesting place to visit. For the history. For the education shared in signage and plants. For the reminder that it’s important to save seeds, to grow the food we eat, to plant the flowers that bloom beauty into the landscape and into our souls.

 

So many seeds to choose from at Seed Savers…

 

…even milkweed seeds to plant for Monarch butterflies.

 

TELL ME: Are you or have you been a gardener? I’d like to hear your stories. Or, if you’ve been to Seed Savers, I’d like to hear your take on this place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling right at home at Seed Savers Exchange in rural Iowa, Part I October 18, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

 

 

HAVE YOU EVER VISITED a place where you were so comfortably at home that you felt as if you’d been there before, but you hadn’t?

 

 

Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, feels that way to me. A nonprofit that preserves heirloom plants through planting and nurturing and seed saving, Seed Savers appeals to the farm girl in me. The peaceful setting. The red barn. The ruralness of it all. Iowa. So like my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

A tangle of plants, some towering, some not, drew me into a garden near the massive red barn where young women scooped seeds from ripe tomatoes during a mid-September visit. This is their work, this preservation of seeds. I thought of hippies and pioneers and how this tedious labor matters.

And I thought of biting into a sun-warm tomato plucked from the garden, juice trickling from the corners of my mouth. Memories from the farm.

 

 

 

 

I watch Monarchs and bees wend among towering stems of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blossoms, their flight like words of poetry in Diane’s Garden.

 

 

 

 

There’s so much to love about this place. Berries in the back of a pick-up truck. Chicks clustered, safe behind chicken wire. A path that leads away from the farm site to narrow streams. Quiet as only quiet can be in the countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

And then a second garden on the other side of the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. Here my favorite flower—the simple zinnia and corn drying to harvest and sunflowers heavy with seed. And more, oh, so much more.

 

 

Inside the visitors center, the results of it all—rows and rows and rows of stocked seed packets. Bull’s Blood Beet. Rat-Tailed Radish. Hungarian Heart Tomato. What to choose from among all the alliterations, all the words that write of bounty and beauty. I choose Sea Shells Cosmos Mix for myself, Gold Medal Tomato for a niece with a passion for gardening.

 

 

I wish I could stay here, far from the stresses of life. I feel a peace in being here, sequestered from reality, from noise, from the world. There’s something about Seed Savers Exchange that feels comfortably familiar to me. Like I lived on this land once, walked below this blue sky, wandered among the waving blossoms of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate. Yet I’d not been here prior to this visit. Except perhaps in the poetry of words and of memories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Seed Savers Exchange.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling