Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The choice is ours November 10, 2020

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The historic Ames Mill sits along the banks of the Cannon River in downtown Northfield. Malt-O-Meal hot cereals are made in the mill. You can often smell the scent of cereal wafting through this southern Minnesota community.

THE CITY OF NORTHFIELD, about a 20-minute drive northeast of my Faribault home, has long-rated as one of my favorite Minnesota communities. For many reasons.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River in downtown Northfield.

It’s situated along the banks of the Cannon River, making for a picturesque setting.

Standing along a river walk, I photographed the pedestrian bridge in downtown Northfield.
I spotted this art on the hood of a car parked along Division Street near Bridge Square.
From the river walk, nearly under the pedestrian bridge, I photographed the Cannon River and distant buildings.

Homegrown businesses fill the historic downtown, which edges the river. Here you’ll still find an independent bookstore plus antique shops, boutiques, restaurants, an arts center, the public library and much more.

Bridge Square, Northfield’s downtown community gathering spot often chalked with messages.

And, in the heart of Northfield’s business district you’ll also find a community gathering spot. Bridge Square. Here you can buy popcorn from a vintage wagon in the summer, take the kids or grandkids to visit Santa during the holiday season. You can rest here on a bench and engage in conversation. Watch the river flow by or the water fall over the fountain sculpture or the nearby dam.

This motor vehicle bridge lies next to the Ames Mill, across the river from Bridge Square.

But Bridge Square is so much more than a Norman Rockwell-like place to meet, gather and relax. It’s also a spot where opinions are expressed. Students from St. Olaf and Carleton, two noted private liberal arts colleges based in Northfield, use this space to gather and voice their concerns. And, even though I may not always agree with their views, I appreciate that they share them. To see young people concerned enough about an issue to publicly express their thoughts gives me hope.

Among the many messages, peace vs division.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope. Out of all the chalked messages I read on Sunday while at Bridge Square, I found one that really spoke to me. Peace vs division. Oh, how we need that. Peace. Not division.

A message printed on a step leading to the river walk. You’ll also find poems imprinted into sidewalks in downtown Northfield.

That stop at Northfield’s town square, with so many issues printed in chalk on cement, could easily have overwhelmed me. I could have despaired at all the problems that need fixing. But rather, I choose to see this as an acknowledgment of concerns. Of the possibilities. Of the solutions. Of choices which can bring peace rather than division.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Close-up in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison July 22, 2020

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One of the many inspiring signs posted in the residential neighborhood where I walked a square block.

 

THE MESSAGES ARE STRONG. Powerful. Statements that express the beliefs of those who live here. In a section of the Atwood Neighborhood in Wisconsin’s capital city.

 

A view of the Atwood neighborhood, including the bike trail that crosses this busy street. The residential neighborhood photographed for this post is to the left (and unseen) in this image.

 

On a recent trip to Madison to visit our second daughter and her husband and our son, I walked a block-square residential area near the son’s apartment building on the east side. I chose that over following the bike trail since I suffer a hearing loss and often don’t hear bikers fast-approaching from behind. Madison has a great system of recreational routes. But strolling sidewalks feels safer for me as I take in my surroundings, sometimes pausing to take photos.

 

Charming homes and yards…with powerful messages posted.

 

I was delighted to find fairy gardens in one yard.

 

Vegetables grow in a watering tank along the boulevard.

 

In the block I walked near the trail, also near Olbrich Botanical Gardens and Lake Monona, I found plenty to photograph. This is a well-kept area of older homes snugged together. Most front yards overflow with flowers, including in one, sweet fairy gardens. Inviting front porches, decks and entries define these homes that truly fit the definition of charming.

 

A bold door carries a strong message.

 

This sign references the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, which prompted a movement.

 

A statement of beliefs outside another Atwood home.

 

In these mostly lawn-less properties, there seems a cohesiveness of pride and of people who care about others, about issues, about this place they call home. And beyond. I saw that in the many posted signs addressing current-day concerns.

 

Bowling balls make for interesting garden art.

 

Lilies burst color into one of many front yard gardens.

 

This typewriter garden art intrigued me. I wished I could roll a piece of paper into the typewriter and leave a message.

 

Among the lilies and the outdoor art—including a rusting vintage typewriter—I experienced a sense of neighborhood that expands into home-grown businesses like Monty’s Blue Plate Diner, Michael’s Frozen Custard, the Barrymore Theatre

 

In this photo, the message I quote below is posted in the sign to the far right, bottom.

 

And I heard, too, this overall general message: No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling