Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Sleepy Eye: When a small town clinic goes the extra mile August 23, 2019

Sleepy Eye Lake with the steeples of St. Mary’s Catholic Church visible in the distance across Minnesota State Highway 4.

 

ON A WEEKDAY AUGUST AFTERNOON as lovely as they come in Minnesota, I sat at a shelterhouse picnic table along the shores of Sleepy Eye Lake eating a salad. Sportsman’s Park proved a picturesque place to enjoy a picnic lunch with my husband and son before continuing west to visit my mom in a care center.

 

 

After lunch, we followed a paved trail to a public dock with a view of the lake and the town of Sleepy Eye to the south. I wasn’t at all surprised by the mucky green growth polluting the lake like most lakes in southern Minnesota.

 

 

A few kids hung out at a second dock angling for fish in the murky water. And two bikers zipped by in this park which also features 16 camping sites, two camper cabins, disc golf and a playground. Just a nice spot to picnic and enjoy the outdoors.

 

 

Sportsman’s Park seems pretty typical of most small town parks at first glance. But then I noticed something unique—a row of six white bicycles. Further investigation revealed a seasonal bike rental program offered through the Sleepy Eye Healthcare Foundation. Begun in the summer of 2017, Bike Share allows users to download an app and rent a bike. I never would have expected this in a community the size of Sleepy Eye with a population of some 3,400.

 

 

But given the 3.12-mile paved Sleepy Eye Bike Trail and the camp sites and cabins at this park, this seems an ideal fit.

 

 

The nonprofit foundation, part of Sleepy Eye Medical Center, aims “to provide excellent healthcare to our patients and to enhance the wellness and quality of life in the communities we serve.” Bike Share fulfills that mission. Maybe other healthcare teams offer the same in rural communities. But this is the first I’ve seen.

 

 

Additionally, the Sleepy Eye Healthcare Foundation sponsors an annual 5K Run/Walk for Health, a golf tournament and post-secondary scholarships for students entering the healthcare field. I’m not surprised really at the level of community support. I grew up in the county just to the west and understand the importance of local healthcare access. Without it, people sometimes drive hours to clinics and hospitals.

 

 

I’m getting sidetracked here. So I’ll circle back to those bikes, to my appreciation for these rural clinics and hospitals that show they care about the communities they serve through programs like Bike Share. The sign below the main Sportsman’s Park sign summarizes well the spirit of small towns like Sleepy Eye in the words “a cooperative project.” Working together to enhance wellness and the quality of life seems a noble goal no matter where you live, no matter the size of your community.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Inside Grizzly Canyon in downtown Sleepy Eye August 22, 2019

Grizzly Canyon Antiques & Collectibles in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota.

 

GRIZZLY CANYON. The name doesn’t really fit Sleepy Eye, a small farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. There are no grizzly bears, or canyons, here. But the business name seems to fit Montana Mielke, the young man who owns Grizzly Canyon Antiques and Collectibles on Sleepy Eye’s main drag.

 

A local stops in to chat and play cards with Montana Mielke, left.

 

With a head of thick curly hair, a full beard and a stout build, his appearance suggests a rugged outdoorsman. This is all conjecture on my part. I never asked about his interests or the stories behind his personal and business names.

 

 

Not that either matters. He’s a personable guy, son of Brent Mielke who owns Zooman’s Wacky World of Fun across the street next to Sleepy Eye Stained Glass. His dad does his thing, he does his, Montana noted as we chatted.

 

 

As antique shops go, Grizzly Canyon is neat, orderly and not at all stuffed. I appreciate that. I often feel overwhelmed with too many antiques and collectibles cramming most antique stores.

 

 

While browsing and photographing some of the merchandise, with Montana’s OK, I noticed one particularly unusual piece—a Cape Canaveral U.S. Air Force Missile Test Center toy replica.

 

 

 

 

But I also spotted what I would expect to find in Sleepy Eye—items featuring Chief Sleepy Eye, the Dakota leader after whom this town is named.

 

 

 

 

Names. There’s that word again. Somehow Grizzy Canyon fits this narrow store with the Beware of Rattlesnakes poster and the wide-mouthed striking rattlesnake flashing its fangs inside a glass case.

 

 

FYI: Grizzly Canyon is open from 10:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Downtown Sleepy Eye: A glimpse of small town character August 20, 2019

Just east of Sleepy Eye on U.S. Highway 14. That’s Christensen Farms headquarters to the right.

 

SMALL TOWNS, like cities, possess character. Each is unique. No matter how many rural communities I visit or how often I tour the same town, I discover something new. It takes more than a precursory glance to truly appreciate a community. Too often people dismiss small towns as places to simply pass through when traveling from Point A to Point B. But these communities are much more. And to see that requires pulling off the highway, parking your vehicle and exploring.

 

Agriculture anchors the small towns of southwestern Minnesota.

 

On a recent drive to southwestern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped in Sleepy Eye, which is west of New Ulm which is west of Mankato. I am forever pointing out to folks that civilization exists west of Mankato. I am proud to have grown up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie in rural Redwood County. I once lived and worked for the newspaper in Sleepy Eye, located in Brown County next to my county of origin.

 

A snippet of downtown Sleepy Eye.

 

Sleepy Eye, like so many other small towns, has felt the impact of a more mobile society, of technology and more. Businesses I remember—a bakery, a department store—have long closed.

 

A wooden cut-out of Chief Sleepy Eye as photographed through an antique shop window. The town is named after this Dakota leader.

 

Photographed inside the entry of Sleepy Eye Stained Glass.

 

This refurbished marquee at the PIX Theatre marks the site of a forthcoming brewery and coffee shop.

 

But new businesses have opened in the decades since I left. Antique shops. Sleepy Eye Stained Glass, the reason for our stop. And the soon-to-open Sleepy Eye Brewing and Coffee Company.

 

Agriculture centers these small towns as evidenced in this storefront signage.

 

A display window at Zooman’s Wacky World of Fun drew my interest. I would like to explore this space open to the public (on weekends) for birthday and other parties. It was closed when I was in Sleepy Eye.

 

Another section of downtown Sleepy Eye.

 

While Randy searched for stained glass, I grabbed my camera and meandered through a short stretch of the business district along busy U.S. Highway 14. I found myself wishing the second stoplight had not been removed during recent road reconstruction. The downtown is much less pedestrian friendly now. It’s a difficult roadway to safely cross.

 

Posted on a door at the bottom of a stairway leading to upstairs apartments by Sleepy Eye Stained Glass. I love discovering signage like this.

 

That aside, I managed and took some photos that show the unique character of Sleepy Eye. Enjoy. And check back for more posts from this southwestern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with nature at Carleton College August 19, 2019

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TO WALK HERE, among wildflowers lining water’s edge, is to find peace. And these days I crave peace, a short escape from the challenges of life. Nature offers that quiet, that solitude, that ability to forget reality for awhile.

 

 

On a recent Saturday, Randy and I followed a trail into a nature area at Carleton College in Northfield. I thought how lovely to attend college here, to have this natural space available on the edge of campus. A place for students to retreat, to recharge, to reboot.

 

 

 

 

On this day, I retreated, focusing my attention (and camera) on vivid and pastel petals,

 

 

reflections on water,

 

 

 

the arc of bridges

 

 

and then, the unexpected—a memorial to Carleton alum Ann N. Nelson who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A second Carleton alum, Joe McDonald, also died there.

 

 

The memorial stone placed between benches next to a labyrinth drew my thoughts away momentarily to that awful day in our nation’s history. And I considered the pain and the horror of it all and how, even in this peaceful place, one cannot fully-escape the difficult realities of life.

 

 

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Minnesota roadside sweet corn stand August 13, 2019

 

Along Minnesota State Highway 3 just south of Dundas.

 

ACROSS SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, signs pop promoting sweet corn. Fresh. From the field. Tasting of summer.

 

 

Some farmers sell at local farmers’ markets or to grocery stores. Others vend from pick-up trucks, beds heaped with piles of sweet corn.

 

Randy selects corn from the Highway 3 stand.

 

Others park a wagon roadside,

 

 

secure a payment box thereon and trust customers to pay on the honor system.

 

 

Shove bills into box, bag your corn and go.

 

 

I love those stands—the unmanned ones that show people still believe in the goodness of other people. Trust. Honesty. Goodness. Virtues seemingly lost on too many these days. But still present in rural Minnesota.

 

 

And I love stories, like the one posted at a sweet corn stand along Minnesota State Highway 3 between Dundas and Faribault.

 

These entrepreneurs are growing pumpkins and squash, too, in the field next to the sweet corn stand.

Stories that make customers want to buy, and then return.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Just another reason to appreciate Northfield, Minnesota August 6, 2019

On a corner along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

WE ARRIVED IN NORTHFIELD to find the city abuzz. Or rather abuzz and resounding with the sound of music.

Randy swung the van into the first open parking spot, surprisingly just off Division Street and a short walk from Bridge Square, headquarters for the Vintage Band Festival. On this lovely August early evening, we headed toward the sound of music, rounded the corner by the post office and observed an audience packing the square and spilling onto the closed street. At that moment I wished for lawn chairs. These obvious seasoned fest attendees brought theirs. Without chairs, we settled onto the curb just a door down from the former First National Bank (now the Northfield Historical Society), site of the famous Jesse James-Cole Younger Gang bank raid. We listened to a few songs before deciding we couldn’t sit like this any longer. Maybe if we were younger…

 

Territorial Brass performs in Armory Square’s green space.

 

From there we aimed toward our destination, Reunion, a new restaurant in town. But first, we decided to check out another concert, this one in the Armory Square green space. Here, Arizona’s official historical brass band performed territorial period music. Territorial Brass band members, dressed in period attire, replicate the music of vintage brass bands in Arizona and New Mexico. And bonus, a vocal soloist, “Violet,” sang along with the instrumentalists. What a delight to hear the band, among some 40 performing during 100 concerts over the four-day Vintage Band Festival.

 

Soloist and band spokesperson, “Violet,” walked through the crowd while singing.

 

After listening for awhile, we left to dine at the new eatery. But, once inside Reunion, we learned the wait would be 45 minutes. I was disappointed, too hungry to wait. Had we known this, we would have reserved a dining spot earlier and awaited the text that our table was ready. Live and learn.

 

Among those listening to Territorial Brass.

 

Anyway, no matter, we appreciated the vintage music that added another reason to stop in Northfield on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

TELL ME: Have you ever attended Northfield’s Vintage Band Festival or a similar vintage band festival?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Charming Northfield, Minnesota August 5, 2019

A pedestrian bridge crosses the Cannon River in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

CHARMING. That word, when tagged to towns, seems overused. But I attach that adjective to Northfield because it fits.

 

As a fan of historic architecture, I appreciate all the old buildings that define Northfield’s downtown.

 

This college town, hugging the banks of the Cannon River in southern Minnesota, charms with its downtown historic architecture,

 

On the Carleton College campus, a lovely nature area.

 

its natural beauty,

 

Message on the exterior of the Northfield Arts Guild.

 

its artsy focus,

 

 

A patch of tomatoes grows in the boulevard in this bike-friendly city.

 

its front-yard flower and vegetable gardens,

 

The entry to The Contented Cow.

 

its home-grown shops and eateries, and much more.

 

A section of a poem stamped into a Northfield sidewalk.

 

Think independent bookstore, Content. Think The Contented Cow, a British style pub. Think Tanzenwald and Imminent breweries and Loon Liquors Distillery and Cocktail Room. Think Sidewalk Poetry, public art sculptures, the Northfield Arts Guild. Think the First National Bank of Northfield (robbed by the James-Younger Gang) now turned historical society.

 

 

Today I feature a few photos from Northfield in images taken after the rain finally stopped on a recent Saturday. Enjoy this glimpse of a community that bills itself as the place of “cows, colleges and contentment.” That fits given the rural setting, St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, and the seeming contentment of those who live and visit this city.

 

The river runs through, making Northfield’s downtown especially picturesque.

 

TELL ME: Have you visited Northfield or do you live there? If so, tell me what you love about this town. Or tell me about a similar community you would tag as charming.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling