Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Borrowing bikes in Pine Island May 26, 2022

In Pine Island, site of the “Borrow-A-Bike program. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

NOTHING IN LIFE is free. How often have you heard or read that adage? I expect often enough to recognize that statement mostly always rings true.

Details on borrowing a bike in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But in the southeastern Minnesota community of Pine Island, located along busy US Highway 52 some 10 minutes north of Rochester, there is, indeed, something offered for free. And that’s the use of a bicycle to ride the Douglas State Trail.

The bike borrowing building is next to the parking lot at Trailhead City Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

When I recently photographed the Borrow-A-Bike signs posted on a lovely aged brick building by Pine Island Trailhead City Park, I assumed the bikes were available for rent, because, you know, nothing is free. Turns out I was wrong.

Biking the Douglas State Trail in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Since 2009, the city has offered locals and visitors free usage of a fleet of bikes to ride the 12.5-mile paved recreational trail between Pine Island and northwest Rochester. The 70 donated, restored and maintained bikes are available in all sizes and even include some tandem bikes. Note that kids need signed authorization by a parent or guardian to borrow a bike and adults must register, sign a waiver, and grab a helmet before checking out a bike.

The trail bridge over the Zumbro River leads into the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bikes are available from 10 am – 6 pm Saturdays and Sundays, May – October, or by appointment weekdays.

A family walks the Douglas State Trail in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

What a great idea to not only draw visitors to Pine Island, but also to encourage people to get outdoors, exercise and explore rural Minnesota.

Douglas State Trail signage in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The trail follows an abandoned railroad line past wooded areas, open countryside and along the Zumbro River with a half-way stopping point in the unincorporated community of Douglas in Olmsted County. Next trip to the area, I need to find Douglas.

The Pine Island Cheese Company name honors the community’s history in cheese and butter-making. The building is available for event rental from the city. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This Borrow-A-Bike program is especially needed now with ever-rising gas prices and out-of-control inflation. Couples and families are seeking low-cost ways to enjoy time together and this offers that. Not everyone owns a bike. Not everyone can transport a bike/bikes. This program makes biking easy and accessible to all. Plus, it gets people outdoors and away from screens.

One of two cupolas atop the cheese company building in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Nothing in life is free…until you find something that is—like Borrow-A-Bike in Pine Island.

FYI: Click here for more information about Borrow-A-Bike.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thinking of Mom on her birthday May 24, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
My mom celebrates her 82nd birthday at Parkview Home in Belview, Minnesota, in May 2014. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2014)

THE FIRSTS ALWAYS prove the hardest. And today marks a first. Today would have been my mom’s 90th birthday, had she not died in January.

I miss her. Sometimes believing she is truly gone feels impossible. A lot of that has to do with COVID—of seeing so little of her during the pandemic and then attending her funeral in the absolute height of omicron. Like so many other families with elders in long-term care, with loved ones who passed during COVID, the loss is compounded. Closure seems elusive in the absence of community comfort.

But I don’t want to dwell on that. I want to focus instead on my mom, a woman of deep faith, humble, kind…and such a gift to me.

I think back on her birthday in May 2014, shortly after she moved into the long-term care center which became her home for the remainder of her life. Randy and I drove the 2.5 hours to visit her, bringing with us a homemade chocolate cake and several jugs of lemonade. A few extended family members joined us to celebrate.

I took a photo of Mom as she gazed upon that rectangular cake, nine candles blazing, sprinkles scattered atop the homemade chocolate frosting. She looks content, pleased. That I could bring her joy on her 82nd birthday still makes me smile.

On Monday I smiled, too, as Mom’s sister Rachel and her husband, my Uncle Bob, stopped to see me en route back to their Missouri home after a visit to Minnesota. As Rachel and I stood in the driveway wrapping our arms around each other in the tightest hug, I felt a moment of fleeting sorrow mixed with comfort. None of my mom’s siblings attended her funeral due to COVID concerns, health issues and/or distance. I was thankful for their decision, although I knew it had to be difficult for them not to say goodbye to their sister. As my godmother and I hugged upon her arrival, I felt Mom’s presence. There was an undeniable moment of shared grief.

Later, after I served lunch, I grabbed a bag of gingersnap cookies from the kitchen counter to pass around. Mom’s favorite. I’d baked a batch awhile ago and froze some. When Mom lived at Parkview, I made gingersnaps for her every Christmas.

Today, May 24, I think of gingersnaps and birthday cakes and multiple memories that remind me of the mom I loved, still love. And miss. Oh, to sing “Happy birthday!” one more time.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Waiting for ducklings & goslings May 23, 2022

A marshy pond near the entry to River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 15, 2022)

MAKE WAY FOR DUCKLINGS. That award-winning children’s picture book by Robert McCloskey comes to mind each spring as ducklings and goslings hatch. McCloskey’s book, which won the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book in 1942, tells the story of a duck family adventuring around Boston. That’s some 1,400 miles from my southern Minnesota home.

Geese atop a nest at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 15, 2022)

Opportunities abound to observe newly-hatched spring waterfowl in my Minnesota community of Faribault, where two rivers run through—the Straight and the Cannon—and assorted ponds dot the landscape.

New signage graces the entrance to the nature center in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

One of two mallards I saw. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 15, 2022)
An obviously human-made nest in the pond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent stop at River Bend Nature Center, I expected to see goslings and ducklings. But I didn’t. Instead, I saw two adult ducks in the grass aside the road upon entering the center. And then I spotted two grown geese atop a nest and a lone goose cruising the nearby pond. I need to check other locales, like the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. Ducks and geese are prolific there to the point of being a nuisance. I always watch where I step.

Sky and water come together. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Despite the absence of sighting newborn waterfowl at River Bend, I found other scenes to focus my interest. I especially appreciated the sky, a patchwork of blue and white with clouds seemingly suspended overhead.

Pond close-up. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And below, in the pond, those skies reflected on the water, among dried and greening grasses.

This sign at River Bend points to an actual spring, not a reference to the season. I love these kitschy homemade signs scattered throughout the nature center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This time in May, especially with a late spring, seasons mix. Textures and remnants of autumn remain, contrasting with the greening of spring.

Just inside the entrance a short distance is the waterfall, between the road and the Minnesota State Correctional Facility, Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A short walk to the nearby waterfall yielded disappointment. With the recent rains, I expected water to be rushing over the rock ledges. Rather, there was barely a trickle. The same went for the spring, just off the parking lot near the nature center entrance. No water flowed.

A goose swims alone in the pond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But back in the pond, the three geese I watched seemed comfortably settled. Soon, I expect, they will make way for goslings (not ducklings).

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you love books…here’s your sale May 21, 2022

Books I selected from the AAUW’s “Minnesota table,” albeit Prairie Perpendicular (one of my all-time favorite fiction books) is set in small North Dakota farming community and written by a North Dakotan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IF YOU LOVE BOOKS and live in the Faribault area, you have four more days to shop for used books during the local American Association of University Women’s annual sale at the Faribo West Mall.

After a break due to COVID, the sale is back. Just a note, though, that Rice County is currently experiencing a medium level of community transmission of the virus. That’s a change from the high transmission level we’ve been in for a few weeks.

But back to those books. As someone who loves to read and who appreciates books sold at a bargain price, this sale is a must shop. Mostly, I read books I get through the library. There’s always a stack in my house. Books I own also line shelves in my living room. There’s something about owning a book. I had so few when I was a child and longed for a library in my hometown.

Minnesota poet Robert Bly autographed this copy of “The Voices.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Yes, I’m drawn to books and I’ve found some treasures through the years at the AAUW Faribault Chapter’s Book Sale. The last treasured discovery was a slim volume of poetry, The Voices by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Robert Bly. It’s a limited first edition copy, #14 of 50, autographed by Bly, a well-known Minnesota poet who died last November.

I found this vintage (perhaps 1960s) booklet at a past AAUW Book Sale. I love the graphics. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2016)

I’m also drawn to “Minnesota” books, whether about Minnesota or written by Minnesotans.

Science fiction books my son bought at the 2011 AAUW Book Sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2011)

When my son was in high school, he’d accompany me to the AAUW sale, hauling home bags of science fiction and fantasy titles.

This year I’ll search for books that interest my grandchildren, ages three and six. And I expect I will find other books that interest me or someone I know. It’s a bit of a treasure hunt, this filing through donated used books packed on tables and sometimes in boxes.

Proceeds from the sale also enable the AAUW to offer scholarships and other programs locally. There are other benefits, like keeping books out of the landfill by recycling them, encouraging reading, making books accessible and affordable…

Here are the remaining sale hours:

Saturday, May 21, 10 am–5 pm

Sunday, May 22, noon–5 pm

Monday, May 23, 4-7 pm ($8 bag sale)

Tuesday, May 24, 4-7 pm (books are FREE)

TELL ME: Do you shop used book sales? If yes, what treasures have you found?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Straight River Art Festival features fine art, music & more May 19, 2022

Promotional graphic created by artist Jeff Jarvis. (Credit: Straight River Art Festival)

WE ARE A CREATIVE BUNCH, we Minnesotans. And this weekend, 20 creatives from Faribault, Northfield and the surrounding area will showcase their work at the Straight River Art Festival.

The new event runs from 9 am–6 pm Saturday, May 21, at Heritage Park, alongside the Straight River, just a block from Faribault’s historic downtown. There fine artists will set up booths to vend their art, engage in conversation and, for some, demonstrate their crafts.

An example of Tami Resler’s pottery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

Featured art includes stained glass, jewelry, pottery, apparel and accessories, photography, hand-blown glass, textile design, painting, drawing, fiber art, quilting and woodcarving. Some of the artists are familiar, others perhaps not as much. Yet each brings talent and enthusiasm to the creative process. To have them all together in an outdoor setting makes their art easily accessible and visible.

Mark Joseph. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Performing artists are also part of the Straight River Art Festival with music by Lil’ Fun Band (11 am-1 pm), Pop Prohibition (1:30-2:30 pm) and Mark Joseph (3-4 pm).

Hands-on art created at a past arts-oriented event in Faribault and unrelated to this Saturday’s festival. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2019)

The Paradise Center for the Arts is involved, too, offering hands-on art activities for kids.

This mural on the back of The Upper East Side in downtown Faribault features the art of Jeff Jarvis, a multi-talented artist at West Cedar Studio, Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021)

Faribault-based food truck, El Jefe, will be on site vending authentic Mexican food. El Jefe has a restaurant just a block away along Central Avenue, next to Fleur de Lis Gallery. Jess Prill, jewelry artist and gallery owner, is one of the key organizers of the art festival, along with Faribault artists Tami Resler and Paula Person. They’ve also tapped into other artists, like Jeff Jarvis, for help with the fest.

Brigg Evans Textiles are fabric pieces printed from original scanned Seri Batiks created by Suz Klumb, aka Brigg Evans. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

Prill loves art festivals. And, obviously, art and artists given her creative bend and home-grown Fleur de Lis Gallery. “Faribault is an amazing town with a ton of talent to highlight so I knew this event would be a great way to do that,” she says. She also notes the need for “more fun things for people in the community to do in town.” Her desire to create a new arts festival drew her to Resler and Person, both actively engaged in the arts and with strong connections to local creatives.

Down to Earth Stoneware, pottery by Diane Lockerby. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

“We are all very passionate about the town and the arts and are very excited to bring this event to the community,” Prill continues.

Bending Sunlight Glassworks, artist Sandra Seelhammer. (Photo credit: Straight River Art Festival)

I’m excited, too, as I share Prill’s love of the arts. I cannot imagine a life without writing and photography. Both feed my spirit, my soul, my need to create. And this Saturday 20 creatives who share that passion will fill Heritage Park with their art and creative energy.

FYI: For more information about the participating artists, visit straightriverartfestival.com by clicking here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with nature as spring greens the Minnesota landscape May 18, 2022

Aiming my camera lens skyward on a beautiful mid-May afternoon at Falls Creek County Park, rural Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 15, 2022)

I FIND MYSELF, daily, tipping my head back to view the trees, leaves unfurling, greening the landscape.

An especially vivid green tree in the woods at Falls Creek Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In these early days of a much-too-late spring in Minnesota, the greens appear especially intense, vivid, lush. The infusion of color is almost like visual overload after months of living in a colorless, drab world. I welcome the change with my eyes wide open.

At sunset, hillside trees and the maple in my backyard create an artsy scene. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

From the woods that bump against my backyard to area parks and nature centers, I feel such gratitude for places where I can immerse myself in nature. Even if that’s simply looking skyward.

Even though buckthorn is an invasive tree, the scent of its flowers is lovely. Photographed at Falls Creek County Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In this tech-centered world, we need to pause, to take a break, to connect, really connect, with nature. Falls Creek County Park, just east of Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60, offers such a place to embrace the natural world.

A footbridge leads into the woods at Falls Creek County Park. (Minnesota Prairie roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
So soothing…water rushing over rocks in Falls Creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Falls Creek flows under the footbridge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As soon as I step onto the footbridge over Falls Creek, I feel a sense of peace. In the sound and sight of water rushing over rocks. There’s nothing more soothing than that symphony, except perhaps the rush of wind through trees.

A fallen tree blocks the trail at Falls Creek Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This park is more wild than tamed. Narrow dirt trails, packed hard by hikers’ shoes, call for caution. Roots can trip. Sections of eroded creek bank along the main path require focused walking, especially over a makeshift bridge of branches. In one area, a large, fallen tree blocks the route.

Wildflowers galore in the park woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Still, despite the obstacles, this park is navigable. And worth visiting, especially now, when wildflowers blanket the woods. White, yellow, purple.

Winding Falls Creek. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent hike through Falls Creek County Park, Randy and I encountered another hiker and his two unleashed dogs who rushed us. I didn’t appreciate that, never do. But we also met a pre-teen girl and her dad on the bridge, she with book—some series about drama divas—in hand. The title fits his daughter, the dad said. They come to the park to read and to listen to music along the creek. How wonderful, I thought, to see this young girl into reading. And reading in the woods besides.

On the bridge, the first stone I spotted. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I tipped the pair off to painted stones I’d discovered, pointing to the bright pink stone at the end of the footbridge. I found two more in the woods. “Look to your right,” I said. I delight in such unexpected messages that always cause me to smile and uplift me.

An encouraging message on a stone tucked into a tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On this day, I took to heart the words—Everything will be okay!—printed on a stone painted a metallic, glittery turquoise. On this day, I needed to read that encouraging message left in the woods, left for me to see as I immersed myself in nature, in this Minnesota spring.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Apartments popping up all over Faribault, plus a new park May 17, 2022

Traffic curves past Straight River Apartments, under construction along First Avenue Northeast in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

FOR MORE THAN A YEAR now, I’ve observed construction of a new apartment complex near downtown Faribault next to an in-progress city park.

Another view of Straight River Apartments, northeast side. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Straight River Apartments stand on the site of a former massive city garage, just north of the American Legion and aside train tracks tracing the Straight River. Fleckenstein Bluffs Park is adjacent. Both are definitely improvements to the properties.

The sprawling nature-themed playground fits the setting along the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)
Animals, like this chipmunk, are incorporated into the playground equipment, following the nature theme. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)
The climbing apparatus at Fleckenstein Bluffs by Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

As I’ve watched developments on this land, I’ve considered how the apartment location will connect renters to nature and downtown. Renters will not only benefit from the next-door park, complete with nature-themed playground, picnic shelter and scenic overlook over the Straight River, but will also have direct access to the Straight River Trail.

A view of the Straight River and the train track crossing, photographed from the Straight River Trail. This scene is by Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
A river overlook at Fleckenstein Bluffs was fenced during my visits. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
A short distance from the park, just off the Straight River Trail, a pathway leads to this opening in the woods along the river. There’s a picnic table in this space. Rocks were hauled in and placed along the river bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Just a short walk, jog or bike ride away along the trail, those who live here can immerse themselves in woods and sidetrack off the paved route to river’s edge for a picnic, to meander or to fish. I thought a canoe and kayak launch were also part of the park plan, but see no indication that will happen.

Photographed in mid-March as workers work on Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Meanwhile, construction continues with an anticipated August opening of the 111-unit “boutique and high-tech apartment complex,” according to INH Properties. Apartment rental prices range from $925/month studio to two-bedroom two-bath plus den starting at $1,500/month. I’ve been out of the apartment market for decades, so rates seem high to me for Faribault. Yet, I realize that’s the going market rate in a community with a rental housing shortage.

A north end view of Straight River Apartments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Faribault is seeing a bit of a boom in apartment building construction. Other new complexes include Hillside Apartments across from Buckham Center and The Lofts at Evergreen Knoll on the site of the former Evergreen Knoll restaurant near Walmart.

The restrooms and park shelter being built at Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

Plans are also underway to build a 74-unit apartment near the viaduct, just blocks from my Willow Street home. And then even further along Willow, near the Faribault Soccer Complex and Middle School, developers are planning a 200-250 unit apartment complex. All of this new housing will bring even more traffic to my already heavily-traveled city street. And I’m not feeling at all good about that. More traffic equals more noise, more wear and tear on my street. More litter. More pollution.

No matter my concerns about more traffic past my house, the construction of new apartment buildings in Faribault is a good thing for those in need of rental housing. Our growing workforce demands local housing access. At least one Faribault business, C & S Vending, is planning workforce housing of three 12-plexes and one 8-plex. I’m sure there are other projects I’m missing in this summary.

At the Fleckenstein Bluffs Park, a xylophone, among several large scale musical instruments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo late April 2022)

We are a growing community. We need rental housing and affordable single family homes and nearby parks. (A new, community-centered park is also planned near the viaduct.) Come August, a whole lot more people will be living near downtown Faribault as Straight River Apartments open. Now we need to focus also on making home ownership available and affordable, if that’s even possible given the tight market and cost of new construction today…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The elusive egret May 16, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Through blurred trees in the foreground, an egret that has just taken flight. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

FROM ONE HOLDING POND to the next, then to the next, they flew. The elusive egrets.

Pond walking. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent evening, I tried to photograph egrets at the Faribault Energy Park, place of dirt trails, ponds, creek, assorted trees, wildflowers and wetlands along Interstate 35.

A wildlife photographer I am not. But that doesn’t keep me from trying.

Wings so broad and white. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Randy spotted the egrets first, in the waterway near the small shelter just off the entry road into the park. I hurried toward the shelter thinking I would quickly get the shots I wanted. But, as I soon discovered, egrets are observant and evasive. Before I even reached the site or had adjusted my camera for action shots, the two egrets were in the air.

Either landing or taking off, I can’t recall which. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

They flew toward the nearest holding pond. I followed, stood on the dirt trail, zoomed from afar and clicked the shutter button multiple times. When I moved, the egret of my focal attention took off. I was intentionally trying to respect the birds and remain unobtrusive. But I suspect, even if I had simply been walking the trails minus my camera, their behavior would have been the same.

Hanging near the shoreline in the third pond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

By this time I determined that egrets are camera, or people, shy, preferring to just be left alone in their watery habitat.

This unfocused image shows motion as the egret takes flight, neck curved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

They are an interesting bird. Long of neck, curved when they fly. Wide white wing span, which leaves me wondering how they possibly keep those feathers so snowy white. Thin black legs resembling sticks. Long, jolt of orange beak. And not exactly graceful in flight. Rather clumsy-appearing, in my opinion.

My final photo as the egret flies during the golden hour or sunset. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I wonder what those egrets thought of me, earthling far below or nearby. Without wings. And although my legs are long given my height, they are no match for an egret’s long twiggy legs. I can’t compete with their vision either. That I observed in the short time I attempted to photograph…the elusive egret.

TELL ME: Do you know anything about egrets and/or their behavior?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections upon 40 years of marriage May 13, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,
Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding. (Photo credit: William’s Studio, Redwood Falls)

FORTY YEARS. May 15, 2022, marks a milestone for Randy and me as we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Where did the years, then the decades, go?

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982. (Photo credit: William’s Studio)

It seems only yesterday I walked down the aisle of St. John’s Lutheran Church, my slim hand clenching my farmer father’s massive hand. I walked with confidence and joy in my $82 off-the-rack high-necked lace wedding dress from Maurices, floral wreath encircling my head, left hand holding a bouquet of yellow roses, daisies and babies breath with ballerina flats pinching my toes.

Randy waited there, before the altar, at the front of the rural southwestern Minnesota church. In his charcoal grey rental suit with matching bow tie accenting his white shirt, single yellow rose pinned to his lapel. He even managed to scrub the grease from his fingernails just for our wedding day. The proof is in the professional photo of our hands focusing our shiny wedding bands. I haven’t seen Randy’s fingernails that clean since given his job as an automotive machinist.

The Vesta Hall, a community gathering place in my hometown, and our wedding reception site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

While details of our wedding day aren’t as sharp as they once were, I have photos and my mom’s May 15, 1982, journal entry to refresh my memory. Mom noted that the supper of ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, fresh fruit salad, cabbage slaw, buns, relishes and beverages catered from Toni’s in nearby Marshall cost $2.65 a plate or $500 total. That covered the meal for 172, taxes and the cost of punch. Delicious punch, but in a putrid shade of green, as Randy reminds me to this day. Our colors were green and yellow.

Now, 40 years after that cool spring day which began with light rain opening to evening sunshine, it’s not details of the celebration which matter as much as the vows we made to each other before God, family and friends. For better or worse, in sickness and in health…

When you’re young—we were both not quite 26—and in love, the possibilities of challenges ahead seem unfathomable. But life happens with all its sorrows and joys and moments of incredible difficulties. And through all of those trying times, of which we’ve had plenty, Randy and I have stood together. We balance each other. He with calm. Me with organization and a plan of action. Our shared faith in God upholds us.

A favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016)

And now here we are, 40 years removed from our 2 pm wedding ceremony that included singing my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” with the congregation; listening to the pastor read Genesis 2:22-24; exchanging vows and rings; lighting the unity candle…

Randy in the automotive machine shop at NAPA Northfield, where he has worked for 39 years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Here we are, still united. United as loving parents of three children, now adults. United as loving grandparents of a 3 and 6-year-old. And united now in facing the unexpected loss of Randy’s job (due to a change in ownership and resulting closure of the automotive machine shop) after 39 years at the same workplace. It is yet another challenge to manage, to navigate. Together.

Randy, as cliché as it sounds, remains a rock of strength as he has throughout our marriage. I appreciate that about him, as much today as I did on May 15, 1982, the day I married the man I love. And still love.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods on a lovely spring day in Faribault May 12, 2022

We sat on the bench near this shelter in Teepee Tonka Park to eat our picnic lunch and watch the Straight River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

ON THE AFTERNOON of River Bend’s Maple Syrup Fun Run, Randy and I followed a dirt trail into the nature center from Teepee Tonka Park. We’d just finished a picnic lunch alongside the Straight River, where we watched the fast-flowing water, a swooping blue jay and a father hiking with his two young daughters through the riverside woods. We also discussed how Faribault needs a canoe and kayak launch site.

Tree rings drew my interest. There are lots of dead and fallen trees and branches in these woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And then, once we finished eating and planning, we dropped the cooler in the van and walked a ways into the woods. Our pace is typically leisurely. I prefer a take your time, notice, listen and see hike compared to a raising your heart rate pace. My photography factors into that.

Fungi grow on a trailside tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This walk found me pausing to photograph fungi laddering a towering tree.

A worm for lunch. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And a bit further, Randy and I stopped to watch a robin nip at, then fully consume, an earthworm.

The pedestrian bridge crosses the Straight River into the woods on both ends. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
The Straight River as seen from the bridge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Near the river bank, a lone mallard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Onward we went, lingering on the pedestrian bridge to watch the river flow. I never tire of the poetically powerful pull of flowing water. It’s soothing and comforting and peaceful. Something I needed to feel on this Saturday, at the end of an incredibly stressful week.

A railroad trestle crosses the Straight River,. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2020)

A ways down the path, Randy noticed a critter among debris tossed over the hillside by the former state hospital onto land adjoining the trail. Who knows what junk lies here? Or what animals. As hard as I looked, I couldn’t see the creature he noticed.

Then along came a young couple with their dog and we engaged in a brief conversation. They’ve poked around in the junk, they said, and found old bottles. And an old Fresca can from the 1980s. Randy and I caught each others’ eyes. “Old Fresca can from the 1980s.” Inwardly we laughed. The 1980s do not fit our definition of “old.”

Unfurling leaves are greening the landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On they went. On we went. Soon we reversed, retracing our steps. I noticed the greening trees and landscape. I could see spring. Feel it. Finally. I welcomed the nuances of May, of sunshine and warmth, in a spring that has been too cold and rainy. I found spring in the woods. In a robin. In a river. In recognizing the beauty of this unfolding season.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling