Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Near Menahga: “The perfect recipe for a fire” May 16, 2013

It's easy to understand how fire could race through acres of pines under hot, dry and windy conditions. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Itasca State Park.

It’s easy to understand how fire could race through acres of pines under hot, dry and windy conditions. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from Itasca State Park, used for illustration purposes only and not within the Green Valley Fire area.

HUNDREDS OF MILES removed from the Green Valley Fire raging in the Park Rapids/Menahga area of northwestern Minnesota, I cannot even fathom the challenges faced by firefighters, the fears experienced by residents.

My connection to the region comes via the co-editor of a literary journal, The Talking Stick, in which I’ve been published several times. Late Wednesday afternoon I emailed Sharon Harris of rural Menahga, concerned about her and extended family who live nearer Park Rapids than Menahga.

The fire came within two miles of Harris’ home and that of her mother, sister and niece. They had to evacuate their pets—cats and dogs—to a local animal clinic. Without a trailer, though, Harris’ niece had to leave her horses behind.

“We were lucky,” says Harris, who was able to return to her home and sleep overnight after evacuating her pets.

Not so fortunate were those who lost their homes—at last count 12 homes, two commercial properties and 43 outbuildings in Hubbard and Wadena counties, according to information posted at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday on the Minnesota Incident Command System website.

Harris, who works in Menahga at the First National Bank of Menahga and Sebeka, says many bank customers lost their homes.

The fire, which has reportedly burned through a pine stand of 7,100 acres, is 25 percent contained, according to the most recent information posted by the MNICS Wednesday evening. Click here to read details.

Harris, off work due to a family medical situation, drove to Menahga late Wednesday evening to catch up on work. She writes:

So much smoke still in the air in the area where the wildfire jumped Highway 71. It is right around Blueberry Golf Course and the Hubbard County/Wadena County line where it crossed. I guess the golf course is okay, amazingly. So it will be Friday before I drive to Menahga in the daytime and will be able to see any damages.

She remembers well the weather conditions on Tuesday, the day the fire began around 3 p.m. and then quickly spread to the area north of Menahga. Harris says:

I have never felt such a wind that day (Tuesday). When I drove from Menahga to Park Rapids around 4 p.m. that day, the wind just buffeted my car all over the road. Crazy. The perfect recipe for a fire: so hot, so dry, and wild wind.

And, as often happens in the early, uncertain stages of a major wildfire, locals are speculating about its cause. “I heard that lightning started it. Before that, I heard that someone was doing a controlled burn and it got away from them…”

No matter the cause, the facts stand: Twelve homes destroyed. Two commercial properties gone. Forty-three outbuildings burned. Already.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stepping off a fictional cliff & landing on my feet May 8, 2013

TS 19 in which my poem, "Hit-and-Run," received honorable mention.

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

IMAGINE THE SWEET SURPRISE of learning you earned honorable mention in a writing competition.

That would be reality for me, dear readers.

I received a thick envelope from Sharon Harris of the Menahga-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc recently announcing that two of my entries, a poem titled “The Farmer’s Song” and a short story, “The Final Chapter,” were accepted for publication in The Talking Stick 22.

Getting my work accepted into this Minnesota anthology of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry is nothing new; this marks my fourth time in the annual book. I’ve previously had poetry and creative nonfiction published here.

Neither is the award of an honorable mention novel. In 2010 I received honorable mention for my “Hit-and-Run” poem based on the real-life experience of my son being struck by a hit-and-run driver at age 12.

But this year marks my first time submitting a short story. Decades have passed since I penned fiction. I can’t recall ever entering fiction in a contest. So when I submitted “The Final Chapter,” I did so with minimal, if any, confidence.

I labored over every word, every paragraph, of my short story before finally deciding if I didn’t submit, I would never know whether I’d written a piece worthy of publication. Sometimes you just have to step off the cliff.

I would have been content simply getting my story about an 80-year-old woman losing her grip on reality accepted. (Twenty-five pieces of fiction were selected for publication.) But then, to experience that additional affirmation of honorable mention…, well, my confidence level soared.

It gets even better, dear readers. After members of the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc read all of the submissions, they forwarded their top picks to published writers in each category. St. Paul author John Reimringer, who won the 2011 Minnesota Book Award in novel and short story for his book, Vestments, chose and critiqued the top three short stories, including mine.

Rare is the opportunity to receive such personal, professional feedback. Until you read “The Final Chapter,” you will not fully understand Reimringer’s comment. But, here’s what he wrote:

I like the economical, unsentimental sketch of Clara’s life, and the way she chose third person narrative in the last few paragraphs keeps us in Clara’s pov (point of view) even as it’s clear she’s losing her grasp on reality.

OK, then, basically Reimringer likes my story, just as I enjoyed Vestments when I read, and then reviewed, his award-winning book several years ago for Minnesota Moments magazine. Little did I know then that I would connect with him several years later.

I was hopeful I could meet Reimringer at The Talking Stick book release party in late September. But that won’t happen. My eldest daughter is getting married the same weekend. And that wedding, dear readers, easily trumps honorable mention.

FYI: To learn more about The Talking Stick, which publishes for the 22nd time late this summer, click here. And click here to learn more about The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling