Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Pelican Rapids: The symbolic art of the pelican October 17, 2019

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Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota

 

OVER-SIZED SCULPTURES, roadside kitsch—whatever term you tag to mammoth outdoor art, I’m a fan. Many Minnesota communities, from Fergus Falls’ otter to Rothsay’s prairie chicken to Garrison’s walleye, identify themselves with public art symbols.

 

The scenic early October drive to Pelican Rapids from Detroit Lakes.

 

Most recently I discovered Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, a northwestern Minnesota town some 50 miles from Fargo, North Dakota. We made a day trip there from Detroit Lakes, where we stayed for a few days recently. Our eventual destination: Maplewood State Park to the east of Pelican Rapids.

 

The horses seem to be galloping off this painting by Marcella Rose, such is the movement she brushed into the scene.

 

Marcella Rose’s pelican art.

 

The varied art of Marcella Rose.

 

We parked downtown, walked around, popped into artist Marcella Rose’s studio and shop,

 

Pete the Pelican

 

Signage about Pete the Pelican.

 

and then looked for Pete the Pelican. The iconic symbol stands 15 ½ feet high and was built from steel, concrete and plaster in 1957. He sits on a concrete base at Mill Pond Dam along the Pelican River.

 

Walking toward the suspension bridge. More info coming in a second post.

 

A nearby park features a unique suspension bridge which also drew our interest.

 

 

 

 

Other, smaller, “friends of Pete” pelican sculptures are scattered throughout the downtown adding to the town’s artsy appeal.

 

Pete the Pelican from another perspective.

 

Pete the Pelican has become a tourist attraction in Pelican Rapids, providing lots of photo ops. This is a town I’ll long remember precisely because of the public pelican art.

TELL ME: Are you drawn to over-sized sculptures? Give me examples of such public art you’ve seen and like. What value do they add to a place?

Please check back for another post from Pelican Rapids.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Autumn ablaze at Maplewood State Park October 14, 2019

 

 

BEFORE THE WINTER STORM arrived with predictions of feet of snow in nearby North Dakota, we embraced autumn at, for us, a previously unvisited state park. Maplewood State Park east of Pelican Rapids in northwestern Minnesota fits its name. This place blazes with hillsides of trees set among prairie and lakes.

 

A rutted and narrow gravel road takes motorists on a scenic drive through the park.

 

These horseback riders led their horses to the lake for a quick drink.

 

Restored prairies are found throughout Maplewood State Park, this one along a trail to a scenic overlook.

 

Last Wednesday, only days before that predicted winter storm (which also edged into western Minnesota), we toured this park that features scenic overlooks, miles of hiking and horseback riding trails, and a five-mile driving loop.

 

Driving into Maplewood State Park.

 

A glorious fall scene repeated throughout the park.

 

Trees ablaze at the picnic grounds.

 

We hit the park at the peak of fall color. So did many others—busloads of school children, generations of families, couples, horseback riders…

 

Wildflowers on the prairie.

 

Acres and acres of prairie grass wave in the wind.

 

Even dried seed heads hold beauty.

 

When you live in Minnesota or the Dakotas, you need to take in every single last glorious day of autumn before the snow flies, the leaves fall and winter settles in for months.

 

 

 

We enjoyed a sunshine-filled, albeit windy, afternoon exploring Maplewood. There’s something incredibly soothing about immersing one’s self in the outdoors, far from work and worries. Spirits soar in sunshine in a place that is spectacularly beautiful in this season of autumn.

 

 

TELL ME: What’s your favorite location to view fall colors?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Night at the Museum” brings history to life & memories, too, Part II October 2, 2019

Chatting it up in the Harvest and Heritage Halls.

 

THE ENTHUSIASM OF THE KIDS impressed me. Girls in Laura Ingalls Wilder style calico bonnets and prairie skirts and dresses. Boys in period caps and hats and bib overalls. And then the teens in football jerseys, celebrating locally-grown 1941 Heismann Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

 

A photo cut-out of Bruce Smith next to Pleasant Valley School and next to a grassy area where kids (mostly) tossed footballs.

 

All engaged in Night at the Museum, an event hosted by the Rice County Historical Society last Saturday. They led activities, participated and presented a local living history that reminded me of those who settled and grew this southeastern Minnesota county.

 

Checking out the one-room Pleasant Valley School.

 

One of many vintage books inside Pleasant Valley School.

 

Pleasant Valley School, built in the 1850s, and Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in 1869. Both were relocated to the Rice County Historical Society grounds.

 

While it’s easy to romanticize that life, the reality is that life back-in-the-day was labor intensive and often difficult. But also joyful. Just like today, only different in the joys and challenges. Back then students learned from books and used slates and chalk. Lots of rote memorization within the confines of a bare bones one-room country school. Today’s kids use different tools—primarily technology. And hopefully they learn in better ways than simply memorizing and regurgitating.

 

 

As I pounded out words on a manual typewriter in the Heritage and Harvest Halls, I thought how grateful I am for computers. Writing and photography are so much easier with this tool. No more xxxxing out words on paper or buying and processing film. When I spoke with my husband Randy on a crank telephone, I recalled the days without a telephone and how my mom ran to the neighbor’s farm when a fire started in a hay bunk next to the barn. Now I use a cellphone and, yes, also a landline. Watching two men team up on sharpening an axe, I recalled the mean rooster on my childhood farm. When we’d all had enough of his terrorizing us, Dad grabbed the axe.

 

Visitors ride in a wagon pulled by a vintage John Deere tractor during Night at the Museum.

 

 

One of many area business signs now displayed at the museum.

 

When I saw a Surge milking machine, I remembered how hard my dad worked on our family’s crop and dairy farm and all those years I helped with barn chores and watched Dad head out to the field on his John Deere tractor.

 

Behind glass, memorabilia from a local dairy, closed years ago.

 

A storyteller, left, roasts hot dogs with another volunteer.

 

 

These are the places, the times, I remembered as I walked from spot to spot at the Rice County Historical Museum grounds. Night at the Museum provided many opportunities for reflection, for remembering when I was young (er)…

 

Folks gathered around the fire to hear these musicians perform at Night at the Museum.

 

FYI: Please click here to read my first post about this year’s Night at the Museum.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with history during “Night at the Museum,” Part I October 1, 2019

This volunteer informed visitors about the history of an 1856 log cabin, once located near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

WHEN HISTORY BECOMES AUTHENTIC, I get interested. Not to say I dismiss museum exhibits packed with information, artifacts and such. But I engage most with the past when that past comes alive.

 

The festive setting outside the late 1850s Pleasant Valley School welcomed visitors to A Night at the Museum.

 

That happened Saturday during the Rice County Historical Society’s annual Night at the Museum. Volunteers dressed in period costume took visitors like me back in time—

 

Gathering outside Pleasant Valley School before “class.”

 

Inside the school entry, a place to wash.

 

 

 

Propped against the wall at the front of the classroom.

 

As the early evening sun slants through the windows, class begins.

 

into a one-room country school,

 

Next to the school, Holy Innocents Episcopal Church, built in 1869 and moved here in 1959 from Cannon City, Minnesota.

 

Waiting for “worshipers” to enter the church.

 

 

Beautiful vintage altar cloth authentic to the church.

 

 

An 1800s hymnbook.

 

an aged Episcopal church,

 

Outside the 1856 log cabin, visitors could walk on stilts and mow lawn.

 

 

Inside the log cabin, a young visitor learns about pioneer era beds.

 

an 1856 log cabin…

I found myself watching, listening, experiencing the history of Rice County, Minnesota. I didn’t grow up here so this place doesn’t hold the same significance it would for life-long residents rooted here for generations. But I’ve lived in Faribault long enough to care about the history of this county and the people who shaped it.

 

Inside the Harvest and Heritage Halls, many local business signs are now displayed. I remember these businesses, some of which closed in recent years. I love signage for its art and its history.

 

And I’ve lived long enough to now see items like local business signs, typewriters, telephones, a Surge milking machine and more in museum exhibits.

I am grateful for efforts to preserve these parts of our past and to showcase history during interactive events like Night at the Museum. To witness history in this way connects me personally to the past of this place I’ve called home since 1982.

FYI: Check back for Part II from this living history event.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting at the Faribault Farmers’ Market September 27, 2019

 

Garden-fresh flowers, like these spider mums, are available at the Faribault Farmers’ Market, open now on Saturday mornings from 7 a.m. – noon in Central Park.

 

SHOPPING AT A FARMERS’ MARKET is not simply about shopping for garden-fresh produce, home-baked goods, handcrafted items and more. It’s about the experience. That much I’ve learned in my many years of frequenting the Faribault Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.

 

Musicians perform at the recent Faribault Farmers’ Market Family Day while shoppers visit the market.

 

A Minnesota item crafted by Becker Woodcraft LLC.

 

Vegetables are in abundance.

 

The experience is one of community—of coming together, of connecting, of appreciating this place and the people committed to sharing their products.

 

My friend Al sells his flowers and produce.

 

Old-fashioned zinnias grown by Al.

 

One of the youngest vendors from 3 Glad Girls sells gladiolus.

 

My local farmers’ market offers opportunities to chat with vendors like Kelly of The Giant’s House Bakery, Al with his ever-brilliant bouquets of my favorite zinnias, Denny with whatever creative treat he concocts (like chocolate-dipped jalapenos), Tiffany of Graise Farm with her duck eggs…

 

 

Heirloom tomato.

 

One of the more unusual items for sale, agates displayed in a bowl of water.

 

 

I often pause and chat with friends who are also seeking locally-grown/baked/crafted food/goods. Pumpkins. Kolacky. Homemade jams and jellies. Cookies. Bouquets of flowers. Jewelry and art.

 

A bouncy house provides fun for the kids during Family Day.

 

A musician plays the flute during Family Day.

 

The goats were a popular Family Day draw.

 

Meet the goat.

 

Milk the goat.

 

When the Faribault Farmers’ Market hosted Family Day a few Saturdays ago, I was pleased to see Central Park crowded with young families enjoying the extras of fun activities, informational booths, music and farm animals up-close.

 

Kids make fruit and vegetable prints during Family Day.

 

The atmosphere felt festive and spirited with a prevailing sense of community. More than ever today, we need to reclaim and maintain that feeling, that sense of connection that brings us together. We need one another. Whether we live in town or the country. Your local farmer’s market is a good place to start building community.

 

 

TELL ME: Do you shop farmers’ markets? If yes, what do you buy? Tell me also about your experiences.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wine, wheat & unwinding at a Wanamingo area winery September 25, 2019

Heritage Wheat Demonstration Day at Aspelund Winery.

 

VISIT ASPELUND WINERY and Peony Gardens between Kenyon and Wanamingo, and you’ll discover a place of peace. I love this country spot. For its quiet setting. Its beauty. The genuine friendliness of owners Bruce and Dawn Rohl. And the wine.

 

So many lovely peonies in multitudes of colors, shapes and scents. The Rohls hybridize, grow and sell peony plants. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, June 2016.

 

In the spring, I delight in the peony fields bursting with color and fragrance.

 

A pile of wheat awaits threshing.

 

In autumn, the changing hues of the surrounding farmland delight me as I sip wine on the tasting room deck.

 

Separating the wheat with a treadle-powered threshing machine.

 

This past Sunday afternoon brought a new experience as I watched the threshing of wheat, then grinding into flour. The winery hosted Heritage Wheat Demonstration Day, part of the Cannon Falls Area Historical Society’s Heritage Wheat Project.

 

First, threshing the wheat.

 

Grinding and regrinding the wheat into fine flour.

 

Bruce Rohl grinds the wheat into flour.

 

After observing that process, I held a deeper appreciation for the early farmers who worked hard to grow, harvest, separate and grind wheat into flour. What a job.

 

 

But, oh, the delicious result—the grainy textured bread…

 

 

I didn’t just watch this demo, though. I wandered through the vineyard, already harvested. Photographed a golden apple.

 

Rows of flint corn border the driveway into the winery.

 

The Rohls grind this flint corn into corn meal for cornbread. They also grow popcorn, offered for sale and also for complementary tasting with their wines.

 

Examined the towering flint corn the Rohls grow and grind into corn meal.

 

 

 

I paused, too, to photograph a homemade (I think) vehicle parked on the grounds.

 

A mug of mulled Lady Cara-Mel wine from Aspelund Winery.

 

And, of course, no visit here is complete without wine, this time mulled and sipped from a mug. Perfect for an autumn afternoon on the deck overlooking the ever-changing Minnesota countryside.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

More than a car show September 20, 2019

 

CAR CRUISES REPRESENT much more than a bunch of vintage vehicles washed and waxed for prime public viewing.

 

 

 

 

Car Cruises represent passion, family projects, heritage, stories, history, art…whatever perspective you bring to a car show.

 

 

 

 

But most of all, they represent community. I’ve attended enough car shows, most in my city of Faribault, to recognize that these events bring folks together. To mingle in the street or on the sidewalk to talk cars. Or family. Or weather. Maybe even politics, but probably not.

 

 

 

 

While the vehicles take participants and attendees back in time, so does the overall feel of a car show. In this high tech busy world, we need to remember the importance of gathering and of visiting. Face-to-face, cellphones tucked away.

 

 

 

Faribault offers one final opportunity this season to embrace togetherness at the Faribault Car Cruise Night set for 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friday, September 20, at Faribault Harley-Davidson, a move from the usual Central Avenue location. I prefer the intimate and historic downtown setting. But I also understand the need to change things up a bit.

 

 

 

The Harley dealer is also offering a free showing of the classic movie, American Graffiti, at 6 p.m. (according to promotional info). The event is advertised as family-friendly with offerings of popcorn, s’mores, pop and a bonfire. Bring your lawn chairs and blankets.

 

 

This vintage wagon promotes tourism and the Minne-Roadtrip that includes the communities of Faribault, Northfield and Owatonna.

 

 

I appreciate the efforts of Faribault Main Street and others who organize Car Cruise Night. They are building community, connecting us with one another. Exactly what we need in an ever-increasingly disconnected world.

 

All of these photos were taken at the August Faribault Car Cruise Night in historic downtown Faribault.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling