Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the road to & from Wisconsin September 14, 2020

 

Eastbound traffic along Interstate 90/94 was particularly heavy in eastern Wisconsin on Labor Day. We were driving westbound back home to Minnesota.

 

IF UNSCIENTIFIC OBSERVATIONS hold any value, then I assess that media reports about more people traveling via vehicle on Labor Day weekend held true.

 

Electronic road signs in Wisconsin are often creative and humorous. I consider humor an effective way to convey a message.

 

Randy and I were among the thousands hitting the road on the long weekend. Our destination: Madison, Wisconsin, some 260 miles/four-plus hours south and east of our Minnesota home. We drove there to see our second daughter and her husband and our son. We realize there’s some risk of COVID-19 exposure involved given their jobs. But we can’t not see them. Well, I suppose we could, but…

Typically, we explore Madison’s art and food scene. But that last happened during a mid-February visit, pre-virus spread here in the Midwest. Or at least knowledge of the spread. We limit our exploration now to whatever we can do outdoors, like walking the city bike trails and exploring other natural areas.

 

This farm site near St. Charles, Minnesota, in the heart of Amish country, is particularly lovely.

 

The drive to and from Madison is an easy one with four-lane highway or interstate all the way, except for a short stretch in Minnesota east of Owatonna. We left mid Saturday morning and expected uncrowded roadways. Instead, traffic proved plentiful as people embraced summer’s final weekend. Lots of pick-ups pulling campers. Westbound traffic was especially heavy on Saturday, eastbound on Monday. The opposite directions we were aiming.

 

I love this stretch of valley east of La Crosse for its scenic farm sites and landscape.

 

The scenery en route is particularly lovely, especially along the Mississippi River bluffs nearing La Crosse, Wisconsin. East of that river city, picturesque farms define the valley.

 

In Monroe County, rock formations rise from the land.

 

And later, rock formations rise alongside Interstate 90 like ships upon the sea.

 

I never tire of seeing these unusual rocks.

 

And then the Wisconsin Dells, with equally intriguing rock formations and tree buffeted gorges, offer another visual respite from the traffic. Even with all the detracting-from-nature waterparks.

 

Crops are ripening in Minnesota. This was the scene Labor Day afternoon as we returned home.

 

One of the aspects I most appreciate about Madison is its closeness to the rural landscape. This barn sits atop a hill just outside the city along I-90/94.

 

Rural Wisconsin as photographed from I-90/94.

 

I always appreciate the rural landscape of fields and barns.

 

Near Madison, this sign from a cattle breeder wishes travelers well. This makes me laugh.

 

And the humorous signage in Wisconsin. When you’re living in the middle of a pandemic, humor helps. To break up the drive and to break away for a moment from the seriousness of life.

 

On the drive home on Labor Day weekend, we were concerned about possible Interstate closure in La Crosse due to a visit by Vice President Mike Pence. Thankfully his visit did not affect us and we noticed nothing unusual except this flag on an overpass and a few strategically placed law enforcement vehicles.

 

TELL ME: Have you “gotten away” recently? Close to home? Or more distant?

Please check back for more posts from Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The greening of Minnesota May 3, 2020

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THIS TIME OF YEAR—early spring in southern Minnesota—I become a tree watcher.

 

 

That may sound odd to an outsider. But to us Minnesotans, who’ve come through another winter, watching trees leaf into a canopy of green doesn’t seem all that strange.

 

 

You can almost see the buds grow and leaves unfurl, a process now well underway. Green tints the skyline. And with warmth and sunshine, those once dormant trees are beautiful to behold.

 

 

Likewise the hillsides are awash in green with plants pushing through the cold earth.

 

 

And tulips open petals, popping vivid hues into the landscape. This is spring in Minnesota. Lovely. In color and in warmth.

 

These tulips from Paula in Holland are popping color into my life. They are in full bloom now in three vivid hues. Just beautiful!

 

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in the land. (Solomon’s Song of Songs 2:11-12 NIV)

 

© Copyright 2020 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

 

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

 

Winter photo poetry February 18, 2019

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A WINTER LANDSCAPE IN RURAL Minnesota can, at first glance, seem visually unappealing. White upon white upon white.

But then a moment happens. A curtain opens in the mind to reveal a scene that holds spectacular beauty.

Stubble pokes through snowy fields. A farm site stands isolated, yet strong, in all that winter vastness. And then, a layer of golden light slips between land and clouds.

The light. The textures. The immensity of the scene. All collide before my eyes, to create a winter photo poem. Beautiful in its complexity. Beautiful in its simplicity. Winter.

 

I photographed this scene along Interstate 35 somewhere north of Faribault around sunset Saturday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road in Wisconsin: Deer & cows & more, oh, my June 4, 2018

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About to enter Wisconsin at La Crosse.

 

SINCE MY SECOND DAUGHTER moved to Wisconsin seven, or maybe it’s eight, years ago, I’ve grown to love this neighbor to the east of Minnesota.

 

Crossing the Mississippi River with Minnesota to the right, Wisconsin to the left.

 

A particularly scenic vista heading west toward La Crosse and eventually Minnesota.

 

 

I like Wisconsin’s rural character, its rolling hills and bluffs and open farmland.

 

East of La Crosse.

 

 

 

Cow cut-outs line a ballpark fence in Mauston. Can you correctly answer the dairy trivia question? Check the end of this post for the answer. And also check back tomorrow to learn all about this herd of cows.

 

I like the quaint farm sites, the cows grazing and the proud promotion of dairy. This is, after all, the Dairyland State.

 

A cheese-promoting mouse statue along the interstate.

 

I’m amused by the obsession with brat frys and cheese and the Green Bay Packers.

 

I’ve never seen so many dead deer as in Wisconsin, except in Pennsylvania. Live ones, too. On the return trip to Minnesota from Madison, I counted 17 dead deer along the interstate. I likely missed some. I didn’t count the miscellaneous roadkill. On the trip out, I saw even more dead deer, but didn’t tally those.

 

I’m not so amused, though, by all the dead deer along roadways.

 

This message flashed multiple times on signs along the interstate on Memorial Day weekend. During the 538-mile round trip to Madison and back to Faribault, I saw only one law enforcement officer, a policeman just outside Kenyon, MN. I wish one would have been around to catch the driver of the car that passed a semi on the left shoulder of the interstate in Wisconsin.

 

Nor do I find the drinking culture particularly positive.

 

As expected, there’s plenty of road construction mixed into summer travel.

 

But all in all, I find Wisconsin an interesting and beautiful state with small town nuances that often delight me.

 

The Wisconsin Dells, with its many waterparks, is a popular tourist destination. Here vehicles are backed up along the interstate following a serious car crash. I was thankful we were on the opposite side. Traffic gridlock stretched for many miles.

 

I am now in the process of discovering a region of Wisconsin previously unvisited. That’s the Madison area. In the past, visits to my daughter took me off the interstate at Tomah and across the state to Oshkosh and then a bit north into the Fox Valley. Now she lives in Madison, a Memorial Day weekend destination. It’s a four-hour drive, an hour less than the previous drive. But it’s still scenic and so quintessential Wisconsin.

 

FYI: Please check back for more posts from Wisconsin, including one on those cows in Mauston and several posts from Madison. All photos here were taken along Interstates 90 and 94, except the image in Mauston.

TRIVIA QUESTION ANSWER: D. Holstein

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The artistry of winter in southeastern Minnesota April 18, 2018

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AS A LITERARY and visual artist, I see artistry in a Minnesota winter.

 

 

 

It’s there, in the shadows,

 

 

the snow,

 

 

the starkness of this season.

 

 

It’s there, too, in the curve of a woods-snugged road,

 

 

the rise and fall of a snow-edged highway,

 

 

the rustic dried grasses of swampland.

 

 

Poetry exists in a lone robin come too early for spring,

 

 

a squirrel clawed to a tree,

 

 

a lawn chair draped in new-fallen snow.

In this extended season of cold and snow, the artistry of winter remains, seemingly unwilling to yield to the artistry of spring.

 

 

But as certain as writer’s bloc vanishes, as certain as molded clay forms a sculpture, this artistry of a Minnesota winter will morph into the artistry of spring. I tell myself that as yet another winter storm storms into southern Minnesota.

 

NOTE: All images were taken from my Faribault yard or along Rice County Road 38.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter exposure in southern Minnesota March 15, 2018

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Near New Ulm.

 

IN THE NAKEDNESS of winter, when trees are stripped bare of leaves, when fields lie exposed to the elements, rural Minnesota seems especially vulnerable.

 

Near Essig along US Highway 14.

 

In no other season do I notice more the intimate details of this place.

 

Along US Highway 14 somewhere west of Owatonna.

 

Red barns seem redder.

 

By Morgan

 

Power poles appear more intrusive.

 

Morgan, Minnesota

 

Grain elevators dominate, shoving grey mass into an already colorless landscape.

All of this I see through eyes that crave now the melting of snow, the cloaking of the land in the greening of spring.

 

NOTE: All images have been edited to create an artsy look.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter poetry from the Minnesota prairie March 5, 2018

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IN THE FADING OF THE DAY, as clouds shove grey across the southwestern Minnesota prairie, a Dodge pick-up jolts color into the March landscape.

The sight pleases me visually, unleashes poetic thoughts of horizontal prairie lines. My eyes trace the truck traveling along a gravel township road against backdrop tree lines. Even the rich black soil runs horizontal across fields of melting snow.

In this scene, I see the immensity of the prairie. Land stretching. Sky stretching. Far. High. Endless.

The red pick-up provides a point upon which to focus my eyes, in which to ground myself. Still, I feel a certain smallness, a vulnerability. Even in this land where I once belonged, where my roots run deep.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The season of autumn in rural Minnesota, a photo essay October 24, 2017

 

IN THE SEASON of autumn, farm memories draw me back to the land.

 

 

To follow country gravel roads

 

 

and county highways

 

 

past sweeping fields of corn

 

 

harvested,

 

A vintage Gleaner combine harvests a cornfield along LeSueur County Road 13 near Lake Jefferson.

under harvest

 

Partially harvested…

 

and unharvested.

 

 

Roads lead me by farm sites,

 

 

aged stately barns

 

Near historic Marysburg in LeSueur County.

 

and mammoth bins awaiting the yield.

 

Following a tractor pulling a 1970s era gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13.

 

I observe, too, farmers creeping tractors trailing wagons,

 

 

zipping along rural roadways

 

Visiting at the intersection of LeSueur County roads 13 and 16.

 

and stalled in conversation at a rural intersection.

 

Cattle graze along 241st Avenue, just off LeSueur County Road 13.

 

I scan the landscape with the eyes of someone who misses the farm,

 

A harvested field glistens with puddled rainwater and mud. Too much rain has slowed the harvest for farmers in southern Minnesota. They will be working long days and nights to catch up and get the crop in before the snow flies.

 

who remembers the hurry of her farmer father,

 

Enjoying a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon along Waseca County Road 22.

 

who follows country roads in the season of autumn.

 

FYI: I shot these images in Rice, LeSueur and Waseca counties during a Sunday afternoon, October 22, drive with my husband.

Check back for more photos from that drive.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling