Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Poking around Jordan on a Saturday afternoon February 21, 2017

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

A scene in downtown Jordan on Saturday afternoon, an exceptionally warm February day in Minnesota.

JORDAN, MINNESOTA is quintessential small town, the type of place where kids bike to the ballpark, propel skateboards down the middle of the street and walk the dog with friends.

A Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan's many historic buildings.

Empire Wok, a Chinese restaurant is housed in one of Jordan’s many historic buildings.

It’s an historic town of aged buildings, a creekside restaurant dubbed The Feed Mill and a collection of gift, specialty and antique shops clustered within walking distance of each other.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Two guys rested on a bench Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan.

Here curbside benches encourage sitting for a spell.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

This sign drew me into a wonderful little shop.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk.

Inside The Jordan Junker I found this creatively repurposed school desk with a U.S. map top-side. It would make for a unique end table. And, yes, the desk opens to storage inside.

Creative signage lures shoppers.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

Customer favorites at Pekarna Meats, family-owned since 1893, are smoked pork sausage, ring bologna and baby back ribs.

And the meat market sees a steady stream of customers.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Numerous shops are located downtown.

Saturday afternoon my husband and I popped into this 1854 Minnesota River Valley community to poke around a few downtown shops. I appreciate the slower pace of Jordan, the Mayberry feel of this place with railroad tracks slicing through the business district. Here shopkeepers chat it up with customers in a welcoming way that is neighbor-friendly.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

Two historic log cabins are situated downtown where bikers and others stopped on Saturday afternoon.

The community has a good vibe. And although our stay was brief and we didn’t see everything Jordan offers, I got a good sense of this small town. Only months earlier I visited Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store located along U.S. Highway 169 on the outskirts of Jordan. That place buzzes with busyness and the rush of traffic on the four-lane, so different from the quiet of downtown.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I delight in exploring small Minnesota towns like Jordan. This merchandise was displayed outside The Vinery Floral Home & Garden.

I’ll return to Jordan, next time better prepared with an itinerary. Seven years have passed since my last stop in the heart of the community. I won’t let that much time lapse before my next visit.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

Another eye-catching sign outside a local garage.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite small town? I’d like to hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a close-up of a Jordan antique shop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One grand winery & pizza place in the Minnesota River Valley June 6, 2014

A vineyard at Grandview Valley Winery, rural Belview, Minnesota.

A vineyard at Grandview Valley Winery, rural Belview, Minnesota.

TWO YEARS AGO TOMORROW, in the scenic Minnesota River Valley north of Belview, a winery opened.

Folks have raved to me repeatedly about Grandview Valley Winery, located on land that’s been in a family (Wayne and Kari Rigge and John and Laura Rigge) for four generations.

Now, after visiting this winery, I understand their enthusiasm.

The winery and its vineyard.

The winery and its vineyard.

But it’s not just the great homemade pizza and the wine that appeal to me. It is the geographic surroundings, the pronounced pastoral loveliness of this peaceful place positioned within the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

Entering Belview from the north.

Entering Belview from the north upon returning from the winery. Grandview is nearly six miles north of this small town.

Pause to read the Boiling Spring historic marker.

Pause to read the Boiling Spring historic marker.

Another marker notes the Knutson family farm.

Another marker notes the Knutson family farm.

To get there from nearby Belview, follow Redwood County Road 7 north, winding past farm places, past historical markers for Boiling Spring and the Knutson family farm, where my Aunt Iylene grew up.

Turn onto this gravel road just off Redwood County Road 7.

Turn onto this gravel road just off Redwood County Road 7.

This is good pasture land.

This is good pasture land.

Incredible aged bedrock.

Inpressive aged bedrock.

And then, shortly after the markers, turn east, your vehicle kicking up dust as you pass more farms, cattle grazing in pastures and mammoth bedrock heaped in hills along tree-hugged gravel roads leading to Grandview.

Almost there.

Almost there.

Arriving at Grandview Valley Winery.

Arriving at Grandview Valley Winery.

Nearly six miles from Belview, you reach vineyard and winery.

Dine inside or outside on the patio to the left.

Dine inside or outside on the patio to the left.

Solitude embraces with the type of comfort that comes from being in a locale where you feel cocooned from the world, sheltered from the worries and stresses and rush of everyday life. For me, it was the “I could live here” thought. Or at least escape here for a few hours. This marks the perfect place to sip a glass of valley made wine with delicious homemade pizza.

The nearly full parking lot.

The nearly full parking lot.

Not that Grandview offers quiet dining. Quite the opposite. The gravel parking lot on this late May evening, is already nearly full. Inside the winery, diners pack tables while several groups gather on the patio. It’s almost a surprise to see so many here in this rural location, although I’ve been warned about the busyness and sometimes long wait for pizza.

The bacon cheeseburger and BBQ pulled pork pizza.

The bacon cheeseburger and BBQ pulled pork pizza.

But on this Saturday evening, probably because of area high school graduation parties, my husband, a sister, my older brother and his wife, and I need not wait all that long for our two pizzas—halves of German, BBQ pulled pork, buffalo chicken and bacon cheeseburger. To my surprise, I find the sauerkraut-topped German pizza to be especially tasty and my favorite of the four.

The guys order beer, my brother choosing  Goosetown, a German craft beer from August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. Goosetown is an historic nod to an ethnic New Ulm neighborhood where primarily Catholic, German-Bohemian immigrants began settling in the late 1800s. They kept gaggles of geese. My husband opts for Grain Belt’s Nordeast, another Schell’s made beer, because Goosetown is not on the beer list he’s been handed and he doesn’t hear my brother’s order.

I failed to photograph the wine. But I did photograph the wine list.

I failed to photograph the wine. But I did photograph the wine list.

I choose a semi-sweet white wine made from Frontenac Gris grapes and finished with hints of peach, apricot and green apple. Rockin’ Coyote holds the promise of summer and the wild side of this land where I’m certain more than a few coyotes range.

Our conversation flows with the ease that comes from dining among those you love, those who know your history and your quirks and don’t care.

We laugh. And I am teased mercilessly for my gullibility as my sister-in-law reveals that crawdads will not be served at her daughter’s wedding as she previously told me.

Grandview feels like home to me, my connectedness as solid as the aged bedrock lodged in this land.

FYI: Click here for more information about Grandview Valley Winery.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meander west this weekend September 29, 2011

WEST WOULD BE my destination of choice this weekend.

Not west as in West. But west as in Fergus Falls or the Upper Minnesota River Valley.

Two arts events in western Minnesota this weekend will take you nearly into the Dakotas.

I’d like to be at the Lake Region Writers Network Conference at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus listening to author Leif Enger (of Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young and Handsome) talk about “place” in writing.

I’d like to be there picking up my copy of Lake Region Review, a literary magazine of regional writing. You see, two months ago I received this e-mail:

Dear Ms. Helbling,

The Editorial Board of Lake Region Review 2011, after careful consideration, has finalized selections for Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine. While editors and readers were pleased with the number of submissions, the sheer volume of entries also made their choices much more difficult.

Regardless, the board is pleased to inform you that the work indicated below HAS BEEN ACCEPTED WITH REVISION for publication in Lake Region Review 2011, which will be released at the LRWN Oct. 1 writing conference at M-State in Fergus Falls:…

But I won’t be in Fergus on Saturday at the conference. It’s a long drive there from Faribault and I have this room to paint and…

…not only that, but back in June my husband and I traveled the 200 miles to Fergus Falls to see my winning entry in the spring Roadside Poetry competition splashed across four billboards near the college.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

So I’ll wait for the LRWN folks to send me a copy of their literary magazine, which I’m mighty pleased to be a part of because, well, any time you win a highly-competitive contest judged by others of literary talent, it’s an honor.

I’LL HAVE TO WAIT until another year also to attend an arts event that’s long been on my list of “things I want to do.” That’s Meander—Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl. Thirty-three art studios featuring the work of 45 artists will be open during a free self-guided tour that begins Friday (2 p.m. – 6 p.m.), continues into Saturday (9 a.m. – 6 p.m.) and ends Sunday (9 a.m.– 4 p.m.).

This event is happening in the Minnesota River Valley region of western Minnesota near the towns of Ortonville, Appleton, Madison, Milan, Dawson, Montevideo and Granite Falls. It’s beautiful land—prairie and fields, rock and woods, rivers, small towns, farms…

The region seems a mecca for artists, which doesn’t at all surprise me given I’m a southwestern Minnesota native. Something about this land fosters creativity. Remember my earlier mention of Leif Enger and his focus on place? At the writers’ conference in Fergus Falls, he’ll “look at how geography of a tale infuses it with gravity, wit and credibility.”

I suspect place, as much as anything, influences the photography, paintings, pottery, fiber art, woodworking and other art created by those artists featured in the Meander.

Meander featured artist Kerry Kolke-Bonk of Appleton created the painting, "What goes around comes around," to promote this year's art tour.

According to economic impact information I received from Kristi Fernholz, Community Development Planner for the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, the Meander brings in an average of $1,652 in art sales per artist (2010 and 2009 statistics).

Last year, art sales during Meander weekend totaled $69,395. In addition, attendees infuse the area with more money spent on food, lodging and other shopping.

I won’t be one of those shoppers this year. But you could be. If you have an open schedule this weekend, consider a trip west, as in western Minnesota.

#

FYI: Click here for more information about Meander—Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl.

#

Click here for more information about the Lake Region Writers Network. If you would like to purchase a copy of the first-ever Lake Region Review with my poem (sorry, not going to yet divulge its title), send $10 plus $3 for shipping and handling to:

Lake Region Writers Network, P.O. Box 356, Battle Lake, MN. 56515

#

Click here for more information about Roadside Poetry.

© Text and photos copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring the Kasota Prairie on an October afternoon October 7, 2010

 

 

A rock juts into the Kasota Prairie.

 

I CAN HEAR, in the distance, the steady thrum of traffic, presumably from U.S. Highway 169 or perhaps from nearby Minnesota Highway 22. I’m uncertain because I’ve never been here before and I haven’t consulted a map to pinpoint my location.

If not for the endless drone, I could be standing in the middle of a remote South Dakota or western Minnesota prairie.

But I am in south central Minnesota, at the Kasota Prairie, on a 90-acre remnant of the prairie land which comprised one-third of our state before 1850. Here native prairie grasses remain and grazed lands have been restored.

 

 

A view from the parking lot with a stone wall framing the prairie.

 

On a Friday afternoon, my husband and I discover this scenic spot in the Minnesota River valley two miles from Kasota. Because I favor the sweeping, wide open spaces of the prairie, the place of my roots, to the cramped confines of wooded land, I am comfortably at home here.

Prairie meets sky at Kasota. Stems of grasses dried to the muted earthen shades of autumn sway in the wind, mingling with the wildflowers and the berries I can’t always identify.

Occasionally a block of ancient rock juts through the soil, breaking the vista of plant life.

 

 

Water, rock, sky and prairie meld in this scenic Kasota Prairie landscape.

 

I pause often along the walking trails, even stray from the trampled paths, to examine the mottled stone, to admire a lone, rock-encircled barren tree atop a hill, to identify the red berries of wild roses, to study a clutch of feathers left by a predator, to take in the distant hillside of trees tinted in autumn colors.

 

 

My favorite image from the Kasota Prairie, a barren tree encircled in rock.

 

 

 

Wild rose berries on the Kasota Prairie.

 

 

Trees on a distant hillside change colors under October skies.

 

There is so much to appreciate here. Wind. The sky, quickly changing from azure blue wisped with white to the angry gray clouds of a cold front. Land, rolling out before me, unbroken except for sporadic pockets of water, the occasional tree or cluster of trees and those rocks, those hard, ancient rocks that interrupt this land, this Kasota Prairie.

 

 

A sign marks the Kasota Prairie entrance.

 

 

To truly appreciate the prairie, notice the details, like the berries growing among the grasses.

 

 

A narrow path runs along the barbed wire fence border line of the prairie.

 

FYI: To find the Kasota Prairie, take Le Sueur County Road 21 one mile south of Kasota. Then turn west onto township road 140 and go one mile.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling