Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on July-December 2022 December 31, 2022

AS I CONTINUE MY REVIEW of 2022 with a focus on messages found and photographed while out and about in the second half of the year, I hope you will feel moved to reflection and thoughtfulness. Words can hurt or heal. Words can diminish or build up. Words can defeat or encourage. Words are powerful and we need to remember that. Always. In 2023, I wish for more kindness and understanding, more compassion and love, more goodness in the words we speak and write.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

JULY

Inspirational messages on benches in public spaces always draw my attention and my camera lens. Whether at a nature center, city park, garden or elsewhere, I will pause and read such uplifting quotes. I loved this message on a bench at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Gardens in Faribault. Touching the lives of others in a compassionate and meaningful way is among the greatest legacies one can leave.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2022)

AUGUST

Some time after the Rice County Fair ended, I meandered through the fairgrounds. During that look-around, I found a 4-H food stand sign leaning against a building. Painted with the 4-H theme of hearts, hands, head and health, it offered qualities we should all strive to follow: a heart to greater loyalty, hands to larger service, a head to clear thinking and health to better living. How much better this world would be if we followed the 4-H motto, and supported 4-Hers by dining at “1 great food stand.”

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

SEPTEMBER

September took me back to my native southwestern Minnesota to view an exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home,” at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Two of my poems, “Hope of a Farmer” and “Ode to my Farm Wife Mother,” are included in that exhibit. To see my writing displayed there along with the work of other noted southwestern Minnesota writers was truly an honor.

A posted quote from poet and essayist Bill Holm speaks to the influence of the land on writers. He notes the difference between the woods eye and the prairie eye. As prairie natives, Holm (now deceased) and I see with prairie eyes. He summarizes well the influence of the prairie on creativity. I’ve always felt the prairie influence in my writing and photography.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

OCTOBER

In a world that today feels more divisive than ever, I am encouraged by messages like the “EVERYONE WELCOME” sign posted in the window of a downtown Faribault business. I like how each colored line layers atop the previous one until the words emerge in a bold black, EVERYONE WELCOME.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2022)

NOVEMBER

I laughed when I read the poster in the window of my local library: Because not everything on the internet is true. Duh? Yet, it’s a message that needs to be posted because too much inaccurate and blatantly false information circulates online and people believe it. That’s the scary part. And then the falsehoods are repeated and they grow into something awful and horrible and detrimental.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2022)

DECEMBER

My chosen words for December come from the Adopt-a-Tree program in Faribault. Businesses, individuals, non-profits and more purchase and decorate trees to give to families in need of a Christmas tree. But before those trees go into homes, they are displayed at Central Park.

One donor focused on suicide crisis intervention and prevention and support for those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Anything that opens the conversation about mental health gets my backing. We need to continue talking about mental health. We need to reduce the stigma.

But beyond conversation, we need to “do.” We need to show care and compassion for those living with mental health struggles. We need to support and encourage them, and those who love them. We desperately need more mental healthcare professionals so people in crisis can access care immediately. Wait times of six weeks or more are unacceptable. Try waiting six weeks if you’re having a heart attack. That’s my comparison.

As we move into 2023, I am hopeful. Hopeful that we can grow more compassionate and kind. Hopeful that I will continue to discover positive messages posted throughout southern Minnesota.

Happy New Year, everyone!

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on January-June 2022 December 30, 2022

IN CONSIDERING PHOTOGRAPHIC year-in-review posts, I could have focused on what a challenging year 2022 was for me and my family. It was. Rather, I’m featuring words, words in photos I took and previously published here. Words that hold personal or community value. As a writer and photographer, communication is my work. And my passion. So I scrolled through my photo files to find words photographed from January-May in this, my first-half review of a year I’m eager to leave behind.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2022)

JANUARY

Ask like you care. I strung these four magnetic words together and stuck them to my refrigerator door. They are a reminder to always engage in meaningful and caring conversation. Too often when people ask, “How are you?”, they fail to listen. I am big on listening, really listening. Listening equals caring.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

FEBRUARY

Bridge Square in downtown Northfield offers an outlet for public expression of opinion, often chalked onto the sidewalk. This quote about artists resonates. Creatives have the power to open eyes and ears and hearts to different ideas and perspectives, and therein lies great value.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2022)

MARCH

Among my favorite word finds of 2022 were the signs posted in the windows of Bridge Square Barbers in Northfield. I loved the humor and creativity. The signs prompted me to write a short story, “Barbershop Prompt,” which earned second place in creative nonfiction in The Talking Stick 31 Escapes anthology competition. It pays, literally, to pay attention to words.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2022)

APRIL

A sign bannering Northfield’s celebration of Earth Day represents, in many ways, the strong concern for the environment that prevails across the planet. Such awareness is nothing new; it was big in the 70s when I was a coming-of-age teen. But now the voices seem louder, stronger, bolder and cover additional topics, like climate change. We all ought to care because this Earth is our home. And we each ought to move beyond words to action.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

MAY

May marked 40 years of marriage for Randy and me. We didn’t celebrate in a big way, just quietly. But someone remembered. Someone who anonymously mailed an anniversary card with $20 and a suggestion. I appreciated the thoughtfulness, even the remembering, because too few people remember such special occasions any more. I value greeting cards, the handwritten word and the love they hold.

(Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2022)

JUNE

Words galore imprinted upon buttons pinned to a bulletin board at The Shop on Broadway in Plainview. I discovered the humorous, some Minnesota-themed, multi-message buttons on a day trip to this southeastern Minnesota community.

There’s a whole world of words awaiting discovery. A world that’s filled with so much to experience, delight in, ponder, learn from and more, if only we pause and take it all in.

PLEASE CHECK BACK as my year-in-review continues with July-December 2022.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Words worth considering January 8, 2021

Posted at the Congregational Church, UCC, located at 227 Third Street Northwest, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

AS I PONDERED TODAY’S POST, even considered not writing one because I feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained from the events of January 6 inside our nation’s Capitol, I remembered messages I photographed back in June.

These messages, in the light of recent events in America (this week and in the past year, especially), seem more important than ever. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

The messages, posted on the side of the historic Congregational Church of Faribault United Church of Christ, are worth our focus. They are a reminder that we, as human beings, can strive to protect, care for, forgive, share, embrace and love.

We all need to look within ourselves but also look through the windows of others. Here I aim my camera up at the historic UCC in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

We can choose those actions over destruction, neglect, animosity, selfishness, separation and hate.

We can open the doors to better days by the choices we make. Some day I want to tour this church, to see the beauty therein in stained glass and more. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The many facets of this window create a beautiful piece of art, a metaphor as it applies to people. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.
The historic steeple of Faribault’s UCC. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I feel such sadness, mixed with hope, over all that has transpired in recent days. I sense that most Americans, including me, will now hold a deeper appreciation for democracy. For freedom. Perhaps we (or at least I) have become too complacent.

A historic marker tells the history of this aged church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

It would do us all good to review the suggestions posted at Faribault’s Congregational Church. To reflect. And then to put into practice those very basic principles of common decency and kindness. And to remember that what we think, say and write, and how we act, matters. Just like it did in 1776.

The impressive Congregational Church, Faribault United Church of Christ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Please note that I monitor all comments on this, my personal blog, and will not publish anything I deem false, inflammatory, etc.

 

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