Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Up North at the lake cabin September 29, 2020

The residuals of sunset tint the sky and the water on Horseshoe Lake.

 

JUST OVER A YEAR AGO, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law purchased a lakeside property in central Minnesota with a guest cabin. That bonus cabin, located a short walk from the year-round lake home, was among the main reasons they chose to buy this place. They wanted to invite family and friends to stay.

 

We fished from the dock while others fished from boats. Randy caught three fish. My solo catch got away after it flipped out of Randy’s hand on the dock. I then found a net.

 

What an incredible blessing the cabin has already proven to be to many in the family, especially during a global pandemic. Randy and I recently spent several days at the cabin, our third stay there in a year, and our first time without any other family. It was exactly what I needed. A respite. A break from reality while immersed in nature.

 

Signs like this mark lake properties in the central Minnesota lakes region. I find these collections, and signature art at the ends of driveways, to be visually, artistically and historically fascinating.

 

A speed boat flies across the water on the opposite side of the lake.

 

On the weekend of our September visit, neighboring lake properties remained unused. Nice and quiet, just how we like it.

 

Unlike many Minnesotans, I did not grow up with trips Up North to the cabin. I didn’t even grow up with vacations, except two—one to Duluth at age four and the other to the Black Hills of South Dakota around age ten. Such is the reality of a childhood on a crop and dairy farm, where the cows don’t allow for vacations. Randy grew up the same way.

 

Skies opened to beautiful blue reflecting on the water. We lounged lakeside for awhile.

 

Because of that and because, even as adults, we’ve vacationed minimally (due to cost and few vacation days until recently), we deeply appreciate, enjoy and delight in this time at the family lake cabin. We are experiencing something—time off and time at the lake—that many take for granted.

 

Pines border the driveway into the lake property. This scene is so Minnesota northwoods.

 

The central lakes region of Minnesota feels vastly different from life in Faribault south of the metro. And that’s exactly the point of getting away to the cabin. There I feel much more connected to the natural world. By the lake. By the family of resident eagles. By the crowded woods of thin pines that stretch tall and lean along the driveway into the lake property. By the rush of wind through those pines.

 

Chairs on a neighboring dock…

 

Combined, all of those differences create a sense of peace that only nature can deliver.

 

Randy cooks an evening meal of buffalo burgers, bacon and vegetables over a lakeside campfire.

 

Our brother-in-law has chopped plenty of wood for campfires and fireplace fires.

 

Even though the weather during our most recent visit was sometimes cool and exceptionally windy, Randy and I spent most of our times outdoors. Fishing. Hiking. And, in the evenings, pulled up to the warmth of a campfire. Oak chunks flamed before burning to red hot coals and embers. We talked. And sometimes just sat, lost in our thoughts. One evening we listened to band music carrying across the landscape from a nearby bar and grill.

 

A daytime view looking to the pine tops.

 

After our campfire time, before heading indoors, we paused to look skyward. To the stars filling the night sky. Beautiful in the lack of light pollution. Bright points in the inky darkness. Earlier in the summer, we showed those same stars to our four-year-old granddaughter, who was staying with us at the cabin along with her family. Isabelle was “too excited to sleep,” she told us. So outside we went to view the stars. Not that that helped settle her excitement. But why not take our granddaughter outside in her pajamas to see the stars?

 

Randy takes a quiet walk along the beach.

 

Such moments are part of a cabin vacation. Or any vacation. As Randy and I stood under the starry sky in September, we remembered that moment with Izzy and how we look forward to future stays at the lake cabin with our family. Building memories. Memories we never had, but which are now making. Because Randy’s youngest sister and her husband are sharing their piece/peace of heaven with us, their family. We are grateful.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up North at the Lake Cabin, Part II: Water, land & sky July 17, 2020

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The picture of a perfect summer day at Horseshoe Lake in the Brainerd lakes area.

 

UP NORTH AT THE LAKE CABIN in Minnesota writes poetry into summer days.

 

 

In water and land and sky.

 

 

Each sings with the relaxing rhythm of days that roll one into the other until dates are forgotten and the world seems to exist only among the towering pines.

 

 

 

Day fades into evening at the lake.

 

Poetry writes verses on the lake and in cloudless skies and skies heavy with clouds and skies tinged with the fiery and golden hues of day’s beginning and day’s end.

 

This family of loons swam and dove within view every day of our lake stay, of great interest to me since we don’t have loons in southern Minnesota.

 

A loon family and boat share the lake.

 

Loons call.

 

 

 

 

Boats cruise and buzz.

 

 

Water skiers fly across water’s surface.

 

 

Families laugh and talk. Reconnect. Make memories.

 

My 18-month-old grandson loved everything about lake life.

 

This is the poetry of Up North at the lake cabin. Sand between toes.

 

Grandpa (Randy) and granddaughter (Isabelle) check out the dock and lake.

 

Generations bonding.

 

 

Randy kayaking.

 

 

Solitary moments of gliding across the lake on a kayak or paddleboard.

 

The most memorable and creative watercraft I spotted.

 

Each experience, moment, scene writes poetry into summer days at the lake cabin. S’mores around the campfire. Dining lakeside. Spending every waking minute outdoors. Embraced by nature.

 

 

Water. Land. Sky.

 

Pine trees stretch tall and lean in the woods surrounding the lake.

 

Up North at the lake cabin.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
These photos were taken during a recent family stay at a Minnesota lake cabin. This is the second post in a 3-part series.

 

My first stay at an Up North Minnesota lake cabin September 22, 2017

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THROUGH THE PLEATED SHADES, lightning flashed like a strobe light outside the cabin. Soon thunder rumbled, not loud and crashing, but slow and ramping in volume. I willed myself to shut out the light, the sound, to fall asleep here in this place nestled in jackpines along the shore of a lengthy lake four hours from my southeastern Minnesota home.

 

Downtown Park Rapids features two rows of parallel parking down the middle of the street and diagonal parking curbside on both sides.

 

Randy and I arrived in a flush of rain after an afternoon in Park Rapids, a resort town abundant in shops and quirky in its center of the street parking. Already I loved this place, despite the grey skies and near constant rain.

Yet, this was not my vision of our first-ever stay at a Minnesota northwoods cabin. But when you can’t control the weather, you can either choose disappointment or embrace the situation. And I was determined to make the best of our visit with friends Jackie and Rick.

 

Jackie, right, took this selfie of the two of us. Photo courtesy of Jackie Hemmer.

 

When Jackie invited us to their cabin, I accepted with the enthusiasm of someone who has always wanted to experience this quintessential Minnesota activity of “going Up North to the cabin.” Our friends made us feel as comfortable as if we were family and long-time friends. We are neither. I met Jackie several years ago after connecting with her via blogging. She and Rick live some 40 miles from us in Rochester. Jackie is a nurse by profession and a blogger with strong photography skills.

 

Randy and I, left, with Jackie and Rick. Photo courtesy of Jackie Hemmer.

 

We joke that we could be sisters given our shared interests in photography, barns, cemeteries, country churches, small towns, gravel roads and much more. We are women of faith, mothers of three, grandmothers and wives who are grateful for loving and supportive husbands of 35 years. We each birthed sons who weighed nearly 11 pounds. Jackie beat me by two ounces.

Mostly, though, we have that natural connection of conversing with ease, of laughing and enjoying each others’ company in a developing friendship. Previously, the four of us had gotten together briefly several times. This weekend at the cabin would forge our evolving friendship.

 

With Rick at the wheel, we head across the lake. Photo courtesy of Jackie Hemmer.

 

Given the weather, we mostly sheltered inside the cabin peering through spacious windows toward the grey lake and rainy skies. We laughed and talked with barely a lull in the conversation. When the weather broke for a bit Saturday morning, I suggested a boat ride. I surprised all of them. I had to overcome a general uncomfortableness on water to board a boat.

 

As the boat picks up speed, waves trail behind.

 

I appreciate that Jackie and Rick honored my request that we not venture too far from shore. Eventually I felt comfortable enough to ask Rick to increase the boat speed. The distractions of my camera and Rick’s history tour of the lake along with Jackie’s encouragement made for a pleasant ride. There’s something to be said for friends who are supportive and loving.

 

Watching Randy relax and unwind from work gave me much joy. We needed this vacation.

 

That evening, after dining on grilled steak, we clustered around the dining room table for a game of Outburst. Boys against girls. We laughed and talked and laughed some more between munching on caramel corn from Molly Poppin’s Gourmet Snacks in Park Rapids. Before 11, we were off to bed and I slept well without rumbling thunderstorms.

 

Only a few boats were on the lake Saturday morning.

 

As wonderful as the cabin experience was, I had hoped to spot a loon. Sunday morning while looking across the lake, I noticed a black floating shape with the seeming distinctive curve of a loon. Jackie handed me binoculars while she fetched her glasses. Through the lenses, we confirmed a loon sighting. It would have to do—this lone loon in the distance. I was thrilled.

 

A grouping of loons. Photo by Jackie Hemmer.

 

That evening, hours after our mid-morning departure, Jackie texted a photo of seven loons with this message: Saw about 15 loons on the lake tonight just beautiful!

 

 

Just beautiful. That summarizes, too, our weekend stay with friends who blessed us with a delightful time at their Up North cabin.

 

FYI: Click here to read Jackie’s blog, “Who Will Make Me Laugh.”

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos by Jackie Hemmer are also copyrighted and used with her permission as noted.

 

Back from the Minnesota northwoods September 19, 2017

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Jackie Hemmer photographed me shooting lake scenes while on a boat ride on a lake south of Park Rapids. My husband and I were weekend cabin guests of Jackie and her husband, Rick.

 

WORDS TOOK ME to the northwoods of Minnesota. To a friend’s cabin. To a lake. To a book release party.

I am home now six days later, my suitcase emptied, tucked back in the closet.

But now the words and images of those days mingle memories of small towns explored, of laughter and good conversations shared, of a boat trailing waves and a loon on a lake, of wild rice hotdish and Gull Dam good beer.

Stories. There are so many stories waiting to be written.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo courtesy of my friend, Jackie Hemmer, who shares her words and photos at “Who will make me laugh.” Please check out Jackie’s blog post about our friendship and recent visit by clicking here.

 

Just like the Clampetts May 11, 2013

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Just like The Beverly Hillbillies, a rocking chair is secured atop this van.

Just like The Beverly Hillbillies, a rocking chair is secured atop this van.

MOVING WEST or heading west and north up to the lake cabin? I’m not sure given the cargo and the Maine license plate on the boat trailer.

But the fictional Clampett family of the 1962-1971 comedic television series, The Beverly Hillbillies, has nothing on these travelers spotted along Interstate 94 about five miles east of Alexandria Thursday afternoon.

What do you think? Lake cabin or permanent move?

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling