Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the road: A favorite nature break in Zimmerman September 28, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

THE SHERBURNE COUNTY PARK has become, for us, a stopping point on the drive north to an extended family member’s guest lake cabin south of Crosslake.

 

Birds take flight from the prairie area of Grams Park last September. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

Photographed in Grams Park during an early September 2019 visit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The park features a mix of woods, prairie and swampland. I took this photo about 10 days ago.

 

Randy and I typically pack a picnic lunch for a noonish stop at Grams Regional Park in Zimmerman. It’s a lovely spot not far off U.S. Highway 169. Here we eat our sandwiches, fruit and other picnic food before stretching our legs along trails that trace through this 100-acre park.

 

 

 

 

Typically, we follow the paths into the woods and then along curving boardwalks across wetlands or bogs, or whatever the proper terminology for the swampy areas lush with cattails.

 

Wildflowers photographed last September at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

At the prairie on the edge of the woods, this native pocket prairie has been planted.

 

Wildflowers along a wooded trail.

 

It’s a welcome break from the highway, this temporary immersion in nature—among the trees and wildflowers and peace in a place we’ve grown to appreciate.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019.

 

Ten days ago, the leaves at Grams Park were morphing into beautiful autumn hues.

 

A cluster of oak leaves by our picnic table.

 

And, during this season, the woods are particularly beautiful as leaves morph into the golden, brown and sometimes fiery hues of autumn. I may not love that autumn signals the transition toward winter. But I delight in the way she moves there.

 

I love this aspect of Grams Park, a nature discovery play space for kids.

 

Kids can play with these wooden discs…

 

…and learn about the rusty patched bumblebee.

 

If one positive change comes from COVID-19, I think it’s that we all hold a deeper appreciation of the outdoors, of the spaces which give us a respite from reality. And Grams Regional Park is such a place, more than a stop for lunch en route to the lake cabin.

 

Berries photographed in early September of last year. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite park that you’ve grown even more fond of during the global pandemic?

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My poem included in collection vying for Minnesota writing award September 23, 2020

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WE ARE SIXTEEN STRONG, 16 area poets whose collected poetry, Legacies: Poetic Living Wills, is now a finalist in the 2020 Minnesota Authors Project: Communities Create contest.

I learned of this honor only recently via Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy. A gifted poet and tireless promoter of poets and poetry, he submitted the collection to the debut contest sponsored by the Minnesota Library Foundation, Minnesota libraries and Bibliolabs.

According to the MN Reads MN Writes website, the new contest is designed “to recognize community-created writing and to highlight the central role that libraries play in providing support for local authors and the communities they serve.”

I crafted my poem, “Life at Forty Degrees,” in response to Hardy’s 2018 call for submissions to an anthology of “poetic living wills.”

The content of the poetry collections is summarized as “poems (that) deal with death and dying, with the things that make life meaningful in the face of death, and with the legacies that the poets hope to leave behind or have received from others before them.” My poem, about hanging laundry on the clothesline, focuses on the legacy passed on to me by my grandmothers.

You can read the collection by clicking here.

The winner of the first-ever Minnesota Authors Project: Communities Create contest will be announced later this month at the annual Minnesota Library Association’s annual conference. No matter the outcome, I feel honored to stand in the “finalist” category with 15 other gifted poets from Northfield and nearby (like me from Faribault).

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

LOVE blooms in Northfield mural September 18, 2020

The Northfield Arts and Culture Commission awarded $3,000 toward this mural project.

 

SUNFLOWERS. LILIES. DAISIES.

 

I love the bold hues of this mural mixed with grey and black.

 

Flowers bloom in bold colors painted onto an exterior block wall in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

Mural on the Domino’s building.

 

Just a half block off Division Street, up the hill from Bridge Square, on the building housing Domino’s Pizza, a colorful mural stretches, drawing appreciative onlookers. Including me. During Northfield’s The Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration last Saturday, many a passerby posed for photos against the colorful and inspiring backdrop.

 

Outlined in blue, the word LOVE.

 

This mural commissioned by the owner of the building and created by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre features more than vibrant flowers. It highlights a single word: LOVE.

 

The signature of mural artist Brett Whitacre on a corner of the mural.

 

And perhaps that is the unconscious draw. We all need LOVE. More than ever right now. These are difficult days of dealing with a relentless and deadly virus, social unrest and injustices, and a country in turmoil.

 

I expect the LOVE mural will continue to be a popular photo backdrop, especially for couples holding their wedding receptions at The Grand Event Center just across the street.

 

To pause for a moment in the chaos and appreciate this beautiful example of uplifting public art is to take a respite. To choose for a moment to embrace LOVE. That one emotion we all need. That connects us. If we allow it to do so.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Northfield: Snapshots of an abbreviated Defeat of Jesse James Days September 17, 2020

The site of the 1876 attempted bank robbery, now the Northfield Historical Society.

 

TYPICALLY, THE DEFEAT OF JESSE JAMES DAYS in Northfield finds Randy and me avoiding this college town only 20 minutes from Faribault. Crowds and congestion keep us away as thousands converge on this southeastern Minnesota community to celebrate the defeat of the James-Younger Gang in a September 7, 1876, attempted robbery of the First National Bank.

 

Waiting for fair food at one of several stands.

 

But this year, because of COVID-19, the mega celebration scaled back, leaving Northfield busy, but not packed. And so we walked around downtown for a bit on Saturday afternoon, after we replenished our book supply at the local public library—our original reason for being in Northfield.

 

The LOVE mural painted on a pizza place in Northfield drew lots of fans taking photos, including me.

 

On our way to Bridge Square, a riverside community gathering spot in the heart of this historic downtown, I paused to photograph the latest public art project here—a floral mural painted on the side of the Domino’s Pizza building by Illinois artist Brett Whitacre. (More info and photos on that tomorrow.)

 

One of the many Sidewalk Poetry poems imprinted into cement in downtown Northfield.

 

Northfield’s appreciation of the arts—from visual to literary to performing—is one of the qualities I most value about this community. As a poet, I especially enjoy the poetry imprinted upon sidewalks.

 

An impromptu concert in Bridge Square.

 

A fountain, monument and the iconic popcorn wagon define Bridge Square in the warmer weather season.

 

Buying a corn dog…

 

I was delighted also to see and hear a guitarist quietly strumming music in the town square while people walked by, stopped at the iconic popcorn wagon or waited in line for corn dogs and cheese curds. Several food vendors lined a street by the park.

 

The Defeat of Jesse James Days royalty out and about.

 

Among fest-goers I spotted Defeat of Jesse James royalty in their denim attire, red bandanna masks, crowns and boots, the masks a reminder not of outlaws but of COVID-19.

 

Photographed through the bakery’s front window, the feet-shaped pastries.

 

Yet, in the throes of a global pandemic, some aspects of the celebration remained unchanged. At Quality Bakery a half a block away from Bridge Square, the western-themed window displays featured the bakery’s signature celebration pastry—De-Feet of Jesse James.

 

A sign outside a Division Street business fits the theme of the celebration.

 

For a bit of this Saturday, it felt good to embrace this long-running event, to experience a sense of community, to celebrate the defeat of the bad guys.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road to & from Wisconsin September 14, 2020

 

Eastbound traffic along Interstate 90/94 was particularly heavy in eastern Wisconsin on Labor Day. We were driving westbound back home to Minnesota.

 

IF UNSCIENTIFIC OBSERVATIONS hold any value, then I assess that media reports about more people traveling via vehicle on Labor Day weekend held true.

 

Electronic road signs in Wisconsin are often creative and humorous. I consider humor an effective way to convey a message.

 

Randy and I were among the thousands hitting the road on the long weekend. Our destination: Madison, Wisconsin, some 260 miles/four-plus hours south and east of our Minnesota home. We drove there to see our second daughter and her husband and our son. We realize there’s some risk of COVID-19 exposure involved given their jobs. But we can’t not see them. Well, I suppose we could, but…

Typically, we explore Madison’s art and food scene. But that last happened during a mid-February visit, pre-virus spread here in the Midwest. Or at least knowledge of the spread. We limit our exploration now to whatever we can do outdoors, like walking the city bike trails and exploring other natural areas.

 

This farm site near St. Charles, Minnesota, in the heart of Amish country, is particularly lovely.

 

The drive to and from Madison is an easy one with four-lane highway or interstate all the way, except for a short stretch in Minnesota east of Owatonna. We left mid Saturday morning and expected uncrowded roadways. Instead, traffic proved plentiful as people embraced summer’s final weekend. Lots of pick-ups pulling campers. Westbound traffic was especially heavy on Saturday, eastbound on Monday. The opposite directions we were aiming.

 

I love this stretch of valley east of La Crosse for its scenic farm sites and landscape.

 

The scenery en route is particularly lovely, especially along the Mississippi River bluffs nearing La Crosse, Wisconsin. East of that river city, picturesque farms define the valley.

 

In Monroe County, rock formations rise from the land.

 

And later, rock formations rise alongside Interstate 90 like ships upon the sea.

 

I never tire of seeing these unusual rocks.

 

And then the Wisconsin Dells, with equally intriguing rock formations and tree buffeted gorges, offer another visual respite from the traffic. Even with all the detracting-from-nature waterparks.

 

Crops are ripening in Minnesota. This was the scene Labor Day afternoon as we returned home.

 

One of the aspects I most appreciate about Madison is its closeness to the rural landscape. This barn sits atop a hill just outside the city along I-90/94.

 

Rural Wisconsin as photographed from I-90/94.

 

I always appreciate the rural landscape of fields and barns.

 

Near Madison, this sign from a cattle breeder wishes travelers well. This makes me laugh.

 

And the humorous signage in Wisconsin. When you’re living in the middle of a pandemic, humor helps. To break up the drive and to break away for a moment from the seriousness of life.

 

On the drive home on Labor Day weekend, we were concerned about possible Interstate closure in La Crosse due to a visit by Vice President Mike Pence. Thankfully his visit did not affect us and we noticed nothing unusual except this flag on an overpass and a few strategically placed law enforcement vehicles.

 

TELL ME: Have you “gotten away” recently? Close to home? Or more distant?

Please check back for more posts from Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My writing publishes in The Talking Stick, Volume 29 September 11, 2020

Two stories and a poem I wrote just published in the latest The Talking Stick literary anthology.

 

AS A WRITER, getting one’s work published always validates personal creativity.

I’m honored to once again have my writing selected for publication in The Talking Stick literary journal, an annual project of the Park Rapids area based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc.

This year my short story, “Josephine Holding Deloris,” earned honorable mention in creative nonfiction. The story connects a 1 ½-inch square vintage family photo to my life experiences.

 

The beginning of my award-winning story.

 

Nonfiction judge Jill Johnson, author of several books, including Little Minnesota: 100 Towns Around 100, praises my work. “Thank you for sharing your touching story about your grandmother and aunt. You connected the tiny size of the photo to the small moments of life. You allowed the reader a vivid description of mother and daughter and brought the connection full circle. Keep writing!”

My poem, “Final Harvest,” and second piece of creative nonfiction, “A Quick Guide to Practicing Minnesota Nice,” were also chosen for publication in Insights, The Talking Stick, Volume 29.

This year’s book features 139 poems and stories (selected from 300 submissions) by 92 Minnesota-connected writers. My writing has published many times in The Talking Stick and earned multiple honors.

Copies of the latest book and past volumes are available for purchase at jackpinewriters.com. On the back cover of Insights, the editors note, “In the midst of social distancing, in the midst of mask wearing and Plexiglas shields, we are all grieving the changes in our world. But let’s keep one thing the same—you can still curl up with a good book and read. You can open the pages of Talking Stick 29 and see what your fellow Minnesota writers have written, and some how, perhaps, we can all feel a little bit closer.”

I’d encourage you to order a copy of this collection featuring so many talented writers. That includes Bernadette Hondl Thomasy, a native of Owatonna and a reader of this blog. Her “Mother’s Mojo” also earned honorable mention in creative nonfiction. She co-authored the book, Under Minnesota Skies, with her sister Colleen Hondl Gengler. Minnesota, in my opinion, has produced many gifted writers in all genres. And you’ll find a fine sampling of those creatives in Insights, The Talking Stick, Volume 29.

Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

View from my office window September 8, 2020

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ON A RECENT AFTERNOON, I took a visual break from the computer, a mental break from writing, to glance out my office window.

The view isn’t particularly lovely. Lots of parked vehicles in my line of vision. Almost like a car lot, a repair shop, a junkyard.

And then there’s the street itself, a main artery through Faribault, heavy with traffic. The drone of vehicles and wail of sirens assures few moments of peace.

So, when I take a break from work, that is what I see. I often wish my office was located elsewhere in our house, with a view of the wooded hillside that rises to the south and west. But, unless we move the kitchen or demolish the garage and add on, I’m stuck with this spot, this scene.

But, amid all of this, there is a splash of beauty in the flowers that rise right outside my office window. Phlox in white and shades of pink and purple. And hydrangea that anchor each side of the front steps, their massive flowers so beautiful that people occasionally stop to inquire about them. That includes a neighbor, a trucker, and the last person I would think interested in flowers. I’ve promised him hydrangea roots in the spring. Maybe he’ll give me some of his lovely peonies in return.

 

An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly feeds on my phlox.

 

My perennials provide the nature perspective I need when breaking briefly from work. And, on a recent summer afternoon, those phlox presented even more—three Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies swooping, hovering, landing among the blossoms.

I grabbed my camera, with no intention of hurrying outside to photograph the butterflies. I knew from experience that they would be gone before I grabbed my shoes, flew outside and rounded the house. So I opted to photograph through the screen window, filthy from all the passing traffic.

The results were not sharp images and I deleted most. But one stood out. Soft. Butterfly feeding upon vivid pink blossoms. Poetic. Exquisite. A natural respite from the clutter that typically defines the view from my office window.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A fair alternative September 4, 2020

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Photographed on August 29 in the Ace Hardware store parking lot, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

MINNESOTANS LOVE THEIR FAIRS. County and then state. And right about now, crowds would be converging on the Minnesota State Fairgrounds in Falcon Heights for the final days of the Great Minnesota Get Together.

But not me; I haven’t attended in nearly 40 years. And not anyone at the fair this year due to COVID-19 and the resulting cancellation of this big food/entertainment party.

While the fair features everything from crop art (gone virtual this year) to farm animals, from carnival rides to marketplaces, from politicians (especially this election year) to princesses, the food seems the draw. Anything on-a-stick. And a lot not on a stick.

To satisfy the hungry masses missing fair food, the State Fair this year offered a drive-through Food Parade at the fairgrounds for $20/vehicle plus whatever the cost for the foods ordered from 16 participating vendors. Tickets quickly sold out for the food frenzy event that continues through Labor Day weekend.

While people are waiting in their vehicles for turkey legs, mini donuts, egg rolls on-a-stick, sno cones, walleye cakes, funnel cakes, Sweet Martha’s cookies and much more, I’m content to avoid the congestion.

I know faithful fair food devotees will tell you it’s not the same…but I spotted this food stand in the parking lot of the local Ace Hardware Store on Saturday morning. Cheese curds and pronto pups vended right here in Faribault. No need to travel to the Cities or pay $20 or wait in line at the fairgrounds.

I already hear the protests. “But it’s not the fair!” And that would be accurate. No crowds pressing in. No feeling of togetherness. No endless food choices. Just a taste of the fair, right in my backyard. In hardware store and other parking lots around Minnesota. Streetside. On fairgrounds in Rice and Steele counties during special food events earlier this summer. And even in some restaurants. It may not be the same experience as the State Fair, but, hey, it’s something. Which is better than nothing during a global pandemic.

FYI: To find pop-up fair food stands in Minnesota, visit the Fair Food Finder Facebook page by clicking here.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Prince in Henderson September 3, 2020

This bronze statue of Prince, crafted by Brodin Studios in Kimball, Minnesota, focuses a Prince Memorial Garden in Henderson, Minnesota.

 

MY CONNECTION TO THE MUSICIAN Prince, of Purple Rain fame, stretches back to my stint as a news reporter for the Owatonna People’s Press. The girlfriend of my then co-worker Roy was an extra in the movie. In a crowd scene, probably, although I’m uncertain. I don’t recall her name, but she was a quiet and beautiful young woman with hair the color of corn silk.

 

The mural (painted by Moises Suriel) and a memorial bench were the first installations in 2018 with the statue added recently. Donations from fans primarily funded the project.

 

Fast forward to 36 years after the release of that 1984 movie and I found myself in Henderson, where a memorable scene from the movie was filmed on the banks of the Minnesota River. I’ve not seen the movie nor am I familiar with Prince’s music, other than “Purple Rain.” Still, I recognize his value as a musician and his worldwide popularity. He’s an important part of Minnesota’s performing arts history and a draw for those who are fans.

 

An overview of the Prince Park in downtown Henderson, located at 522 Main Street/Minnesota State Highway 19 and next to the busy Henderson RoadHaus, a bar, restaurant and event center (and popular with bikers).

 

For those reasons, I wanted to photograph the latest tribute to Prince, a lovely pocket park in the heart of historic downtown Henderson. The park focal point is a life-size bronze statue of Prince set against a backdrop mural. Purple petunias, purple benches, even a purple mailbox (with guestbook inside) frame the garden honoring Prince Rogers Nelson.

 

Up close with Prince, in bronze.

 

On the Saturday afternoon I visited, Joel King, president of Prince Legacy Henderson Project Inc., presided at the site, purple folding chair open on the sidewalk next to his vehicle. He worked as a cameraman for Graffiti Bridge (the sequel to Purple Rain), has a long credit history in filming and now lives in Henderson. He introduced himself as the man behind the Prince memorial and offered plenty of advice on photographing it. Ever the cameraman.

 

Another look at the Prince memorial.

 

I got a few photos; not as many as I wanted. I decided I would do better to return on a day when no one is around, when I can take my time photographing this homegrown Prince Garden, when Henderson isn’t teeming with people…

 

This billboard stands along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 in Faribault, which is about an hour from Henderson. Paisley Park is only a 40-minute drive from Henderson.

 

FYI: This Friday, September 4, The Relief Sessions Summer Concert Series in Burnsville honors Prince during a “Celebrating the Music of Prince! LIVE!” session from 7:30-8:45 pm by Chase & Ovation. The group bills itself as presenting the “World’s Premier Prince Tribute Show.”

TELL ME: Have you heard Chase & Ovation or seen the Prince park in Henderson or toured Prince’s home and studio at Paisley Park?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take a (story) walk along Central in Faribault September 2, 2020

 

A page from Eric Carle’s book, From Head to Toe, photographed inside a StoryWalk display case.

 

“I can do it!” What an empowering statement, especially for young children. Those four words refrain in an installment of pages from the children’s picture book, From Head to Toe, now posted on street corners in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

 

Posted next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes and looking down a side street off Central.

 

I love this latest addition to my community as part of a StoryWalk® CENTRAL project coordinated locally by Buckham Memorial Library. The idea is rooted in Vermont and seems to be a trend right now in the library world. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and the public library in neighboring Northfield are hosting similar story walks.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue, you can see one of the StoryWalk pages posted next to an historic-themed bench.

 

Last week one evening, Randy and I walked Central Avenue with our four-year-old granddaughter, viewing the colorful story crafted by noted author and illustrator Eric Carle. He is perhaps best-known for his children’s picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’ve long been a fan of Carle’s creativity. He understands how to connect with the littlest of people through colorful illustrations and simple, repetitive and engaging language.

 

Historic Central Avenue provides the backdrop for StoryWalk CENTRAL.

 

Bold colors and strong shapes define Carle’s art.

 

The book engages.

 

It took Isabelle a bit to get into From Head to Toe. But when she observed Grandma and Grandpa wriggling their hips like crocodiles, bending their necks like giraffes and stomping their feet like elephants, she joined in. Carle’s book calls for the reader and listener to actively participate in the book by doing the actions associated with each animal. It’s a great way to get kids up and moving. Adults, too.

 

The thoughts behind StoryWalk.

 

And that, according to information posted on one of the 12 signs, is part of the motivation behind the interactive StoryWalk® concept. The book “combines early literacy learning, family engagement and physical activity.” And promotes brain growth and physical health through exercise.

 

The animals lead the action.

 

The book also highlights diversity in the different ethnicities of the children and in the different animals Carle has created in his story. I especially appreciate that in our diverse community of Faribault. Buckham Memorial Library Director Delane James echoes my thoughts, praising From Head to Toe as a book that “resonates with everybody in the community…anyone can enjoy it no matter who they are.” And that means even those who can’t read or whose native language is one other than English. Like me, she calls Carle’s book “empowering.”

There are plans for more, and longer, book installations, all funded by a federal grant and coordinated with multiple city departments, James says. She noted the joint efforts of library, economic development, engineering and public works staff in getting the first StoryWalk® CENTRAL in place. From Head to Toe will remain posted for several months. This will be an ongoing and evolving public art and literacy project with five years worth of books included in the funding. The library buys multiple copies of the featured books, then removes and laminates the pages for posting in the weather-proof display cases.

 

The 12th, and final, story board is located outside the entry to Buckham Memorial Library. This is looking north toward Central Avenue. The final board is designed to get kids and others inside the library, although the library is currently open by appointment only.

 

I appreciate, in this time of a global pandemic, a safe activity I can do with my granddaughter when she’s visiting. Only after we arrived home did Izzy share, “That’s Isaac’s favorite book.” That means we’ll be back on Central with her 20-month-old brother, wriggling our hips, bending our necks, stomping our feet and repeating, “I can do it!”

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling