Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thanksgiving morning December 2, 2014

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Thanksgiving morning sunrise between Faribault and Kenyon

 

THE SUN WAS BEGINNING to edge into the landscape as we aimed east out of Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon on Thanksgiving morning.

I’d been awake since 5 a.m., unable to sleep. Shortly before 6 a.m., I rose to shower, grab breakfast, pack and head out the door for the 300-mile drive to Appleton, Wisconsin, south of Green Bay to visit our daughter.

 

Driving into Kenyon, the view of the rising sun is temporarily blocked.

Driving into Kenyon, the view of the rising sun is temporarily blocked.

 

Snow ribboned the pavement, whitened the land, locked the temperature in the icebox category. This was not the Thanksgiving I envisioned. The world seemed more Christmas-like than November.

But this is Minnesota and, after living here my entire life, I should accept that the weather is unpredictable. I’d just shoveled more than a half a foot of snow from our driveway and sidewalk the day prior.

 

Thanksgiving morning sunrise 2

 

These thoughts rolled through my brain as the sun eased above the earth in a brilliant, blinding orb. On this day of national thanksgiving, I was grateful to be on the road with my husband, closing the miles between us and the daughter I love and cherish.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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And there was light & clouds & beauty everywhere in rural Minnesota August 4, 2014

Power lines between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

Power lines tower over a cornfield between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

ALL THE WAY HOME, from southwestern Minnesota to southeastern, I watched the sky and the light and the crops as daylight edged ever nearer night.

A farm site between Morgan and New Ulm.

A farm site sits next to a corn field between Morgan and New Ulm.

There’s something magical about this time when light angles sharp shadows and a certain glow prevails.

Along U.S. Highway 14 between New Ulm and Courtland.

Along U.S. Highway 14 between New Ulm and Courtland.

On this particular evening, grey mingled with white and blue, clouds stretching and towering and sometimes nearly imprinting upon the earth.

I waited for the rain. Then, just east of Courtland along U.S. Highway 14, one of Minnesota’s most dangerous rural highways, the sky opened. For a short period, rain rushed across the windshield, washing away residue of bugs and bird poop with each swipe of the wipers.

Traveling U.S. Highway 14 near Eagle Lake.

Traveling U.S. Highway 14 near Eagle Lake.

Soon enough, the rain stopped and dry pavement rolled beneath the van tires.

Grain bins along Minnesota State Highway 60 just off U.S. Highway 14.

Grain bins along Minnesota State Highway 60 just off U.S. Highway 14.

I focused once again on the light—the contrast of fading sunlight against battle grey sky,

Light ripples across a hillside of corn between Waterville and Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60.

Light ripples across a hillside of corn between Waterville and Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60.

light spotlighting a hillside of tasseling corn,

Just east of Waterville along Minnesota State Highway 60.

Just east of Waterville along Minnesota State Highway 60.

vibrant yellow traffic signs popping alongside the road.

Barn and bins behind a corn field near Waterville.

Barn and bins behind a corn field near Waterville.

The landscape appeared more focused, like a bold-lined picture colored with pointy new crayons. Sharp. New. Unrounded.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Waiting for the stoplight on a Saturday evening in Faribault July 26, 2014

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Stop and go, red

STOP.

Stop and go, green

GO.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Light, oh glorious photographic light June 5, 2014

Corn sprouts along Minnesota Highway 60 east of Faribault. Photographed around 7:45 p.m.

Crops emerge in fields along Minnesota State Highway 60 east of Faribault. Photographed around 7:45 p.m.

LIGHT. Therein lies a factor that can make or break a photo.

Any student of photography covets the golden hour, that time around sunrise and sunset when light softens and sets a magical mood and tone.

A gravel road shoots off

A gravel road shoots off 220th Street East southeast of Faribault.

Monday evening, driving to and from a friend’s rural acreage east of Faribault to gather buckets of rhubarb, moody skies and light drew me to raise my camera, to fire off a few rapid shots of the landscape.

A decaying farm site along 220th Street East.

This windmill and decaying barn and silo caught my eye along 220th Street East.

There was no time to pause and compose, only snap through the rolled down passenger side window of the van.

Back in town, that sweet sweet light, although fading, still mingled with hovering grey skies that threatened more rain.

Several blocks from my home, Willow Street intersects with Minnesota State Highway 60. To the left is the home, now a museum, of founding father, Alexander Faribault.

Several blocks from my home, Willow Street intersects with Minnesota State Highway 60, right, and Division Street, left. To the left is the home, now a museum, of founding father, Alexander Faribault.

Again, I lifted my camera, this time shooting through the windshield, to capture a few images of this place I’ve called home for 32 years.

A portion of historic downtown Faribault in the fading light of day.

A portion of historic downtown Faribault in the fading light of day.

Historic buildings define downtown Faribault. I love this downtown for its quaintness, its history, its small town feel (although Faribault, in my opinion, is not a small town with nearly 30,000 residents).

Historic buildings define the downtown area.

Historic buildings define downtown Faribault.

I often wonder why locals and outsiders seem not to value this historic district with the same enthusiasm shown to similar historic Minnesota communities like Stillwater, Red Wing and Hastings, even neighboring Northfield.

Such were my thoughts during the golden hour of sunset.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s in the details March 25, 2014

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Farm site 2

IN A FLASH, I’ve passed the farm site along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon.

But I’ve clicked the shutter button, preserving this rural scene, a moment frozen in time. Many times, for whatever reason, I have photographed this place.

Later, viewing this most recent image on a computer screen, I notice the details that escaped my eyes during that drive-by. And I wonder how, all too often, we miss the details.

Farm site 3

Details comprise the whole, define our lives in ways we never realize. A look. An intonation. A reflex. Puzzle them together and you have life.

A snapshot. An album. A collection of minutes, hours and days that collectively become weeks and months and years. And suddenly you are, like me, past middle age, a generation away from death.

You wonder about the details, whether you’ve noticed and embraced and lived them.

Farm site 1

Have you swung in a tire swing?

Or have you simply viewed tires as a necessity to carry you along the highway of life? Too busy to notice details.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on Minnesota’s rural landscape November 5, 2013

Expansive sky and land inspire the poet in me. Photographed, as are all photos here, along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon.

Expansive sky and land inspire the poet in me.

WHAT DRAWS YOUR EYE in a rural landscape?

Strong lines pull me in, lead me to wonder where that gravel road would take me.

Strong lines pull me in, lead me to wonder, “Where would that rugged gravel road take me?”

Or do you even notice your environment as you travel from point A to point B?

Noticing the geometry in these buildings clustered on a farm site.

I notice the geometry in these buildings, how they cluster and fit together on this farm site.

I challenge you, the next time you drive through rural Minnesota, or rural Anywhere, to truly see your surroundings. Don’t just look with glazed eyes. See. Once you see, you will appreciate.

A sense of history defines this farm in that strong barn which dominates.

A sense of history defines this farm in that strong barn which dominates and in the mishmash roof lines of the farmhouse. Both cause me to reflect upon my rural upbringing, upon my forefathers who settled 150 miles from here on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

History, point in life, memories, even your mood on a given day, will influence how you view the rural landscape, what draws your focus.

I see here trees huddled, protecting and sheltering that house from the elements. My thoughts turn introspective at this scene.

I see trees huddled, protecting and sheltering that house from the elements, from that threatening sky. My thoughts turn introspective as I consider how we are all sometimes vulnerable and huddled, drawn into ourselves.

Whether a writer or photographer, architect or historian, teacher or retiree, stay-at-home mom (or dad), a farmer or someone in between, you will lock onto a setting that inspires creativity or prompts thought or perhaps soothes your soul.

There is much to be said for noticing details, for understanding that the miles between small towns are more than space to be traveled.

FYI: These edited images were photographed nine days ago while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Kenyon. In just that short time, the landscape has evolved with crops harvested, trees stripped of their leaves by strong winds and now, today, snow in the forecast.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling