Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artistry along Minnesota State Highway 68 January 9, 2018

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STATE HIGHWAY 68 slices diagonally across rich Minnesota farmland southeast of Morgan.

 

 

I often travel this section of roadway until it intersects with Brown County Road 29 when I return to my roots in Redwood County. The angle of the highway in a place where roads typically run in a straight gridded pattern confuses my sense of direction. I must use the sun as my compass. Or remind my mind that highway 68 does not run true north or south, east or west.

Other than the directional issue, I delight in this roadway for the visuals. My photographer’s eye appreciates the power poles that stretch along the highway. Wires loop between poles reinforcing the horizontal lay of this land. There’s just something about the repeating line of poles and wire that artistically pleases me.

 

 

And then there are the sunsets which, in this exposed plain, prove spectacular, even in layers of clouds. Everything—trees, barns, fields—seems insignificant beneath a fiery sun suspended above the land, my native land.

NOTE: These photos were taken several weeks ago.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Southwestern Minnesota: The place of my heart, in images & words December 6, 2016

I shot this rural farmsite/sunset scene while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

I shot this rural farmsite/sunset scene while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

OFTENTIMES IT TAKES LEAVING a place to appreciate it.

A farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Redwood County near my hometown of Vesta.

A farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Redwood County near my hometown of Vesta.

There are days when I miss my native southwestern Minnesota prairie with an ache that lingers. I long for wide open space and forever skies,

The grain elevator in Morgan.

The grain elevator in Morgan in eastern Redwood County.

for farm fields and familiar grain elevators,

This gravel road connects to Minnesota State Highway 19 between Vesta and Redwood Falls.

This gravel road connects to Minnesota State Highway 19 between Vesta and Redwood Falls.

for gridded gravel roads

A prairie sunset photographed from Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

A prairie sunset photographed from Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

and flaming sunsets. And quiet.

Sure, I could drive into the country here in southeastern Minnesota and see similar sites. But it’s not the same. This is not my native home, the place that shaped me. Although decades removed, I shall always call the prairie my home.

Minnesota State Highway 67, one of the roadways leading "home."

Minnesota State Highway 67, one of the roadways leading “home.”

With family still living in southwestern Minnesota, I return there occasionally. And that, for now, is enough. I drink in the scenery like gulping a glass of cold well water tasting of iron and earth. I am refreshed, renewed, restored.

This lone tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner has been here as long as I can remember.

This lone tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner has been here as long as I can remember.

I need to view the prairie, to walk the soil, to reclaim my roots. I need to see the sunsets, to breathe in the scent of freshly-mown alfalfa, to watch corn swaying in the breeze, to observe snow drifting across rural roadways, to feel the bitter cold bite of a prairie wind.

A farmer guides his John Deere tractor along Minnesota State Highway 67 near Morgan.

A farmer guides his John Deere tractor along Minnesota State Highway 67 near Morgan.

There are those who dismiss this region as the middle-of-nowhere. It’s not. It’s a place of community, of good hardworking people, of Saturday night BINGO and Sunday morning worship services. It’s lines at the grain elevator and fans packing bleachers at a high school basketball game. It’s acres of corn and soybeans in the season of growth and tilled black fields in the time between. This place is somewhere to those who live here. And to those of us who were raised here.

Every trip back along Minnesota State Highway 67, I am drawn to photograph the electrical lines that stretch seemingly into forever.

Every trip back along Minnesota State Highway 67, I am drawn to photograph the electrical lines that stretch seemingly into forever.

For me, this land, this prairie, shall always be home.

© Copyright 2106 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Autumn, Southern Minnesota’s season of harvest & hope October 4, 2016

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Somewhere between Morgan and New Ulm, in the middle of prime Minnesota farm land.

Somewhere between Morgan and New Ulm, in the middle of prime Minnesota farm land early Saturday evening.

HARVEST. That word holds the seasons of a farmer’s hope.

A partially-harvest cornfield between New Ulm and Morgan.

A partially-harvest cornfield between New Ulm and Morgan.

From spring planting to summer growth to autumn ripening, a farmer focuses on the outcome—a yield that brims with golden corn and soybeans.

Harvesting between St. Peter and Nicollet.

Harvest equipment sits in a cornfield west of St. Peter.

Through months of looking toward the skies, of weathering too much or too little rainfall, of watching heat shimmer waves across fields, of tending and waiting, a farmer anticipates this season of harvest.

Driving west on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

Driving west on Minnesota State Highway 99 toward Le Center.

On a day trip Saturday from the southeastern to the southwestern side of Minnesota—through Rice, Le Sueur, Blue Earth, Nicollet, Brown and Redwood counties and back—I observed the harvest. Minimal on the eastern side, which has been flooded with too much recent rainfall, but in full swing in the counties of Brown and Redwood.

Combing beans near New Ulm.

Combining beans near New Ulm.

Farmers worked the land, dust enveloping combines.

A red grain truck jolts color into a field near New Ulm.

A red grain truck jolts color into a field near New Ulm.

North of Belview, trucks await the harvest.

North of Belview, trucks await the harvest.

Parked outside the elevator in Morgan.

Parked outside the elevator in Morgan.

Farming communities like Morgan are busy with harvest.

Farming communities like Morgan are busy with harvest.

Grain trucks idled in fields and barreled down county roads toward local elevators

Near Courtland.

Near Courtland.

Grain bins near Waterville.

Grain bins near Waterville.

or homestead grain bins.

Driving into Courtland.

Driving into Courtland.

This time of year, motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving farm equipment.

This time of year, motorists need to be watchful of slow-moving farm equipment.

Harvest started west of St. Peter.

Harvest started west of St. Peter.

The landscape crawled with tractors and combines and trucks, farmers at the wheels, guiding the crops toward harvest.

White among fields of golden crops.

A harvested field against a farm site backdrop of white.

And I observed it all. No longer an intimate part of this process as I once was so many decades ago on my Redwood County childhood farm, I am still connected to this season by the memories that trace deep within me.

West of New Ulm, grain wagons sit in a field.

West of New Ulm.

Harvest still holds me in hope.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A forever road February 24, 2016

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Minnesota State Highway 68 near Morgan.

Minnesota State Highway 68 near Morgan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

WITHIN SOUTHWESTERN MINNESOTA, I occasionally travel sections of roadway that stretch visually into forever. One is the diagonal of State Highways 67 and 68 running from Evan through Morgan to Redwood Falls. It’s a distance of about 20 miles. But it seems much farther.

After years of following a section of that route back to my native Redwood County, I’ve realized that the flatness of the land along a road as straight as a ruler lengthens the distance in my mind.

Few farm places snug the highway. Trees stand only in groves sheltering farm sites. As far as I can see down the asphalt ribbon—and it’s a long ways—utility poles guard road ditches in precise vertical lines.

And because this roadway angles across the land rather than runs straight north or south, I feel geographically unbalanced. Any sense of direction is lost.

That all said, I delight in photographing forever roads like this which draw the viewer right into the scene. It’s as if I am writing poetry with my camera.

TELL ME, WHAT SECTION of roadway evokes this same reaction in you?

© 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural patriotism May 19, 2014

Along Brown County Road 29 between New Ulm and Morgan, Minnesota.

Along Brown County Road 29 between New Ulm and Morgan, MN.

RED

Along U.S. Highway 14 between Mankato and Nicollet, MN.

Along U.S. Highway 14 between Mankato and Nicollet, MN.

WHITE

Along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm, MN.

Along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm, MN.

AND (touches of) BLUE.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural driveway May 8, 2014

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I KEEP FLIPPING between the three photos.

Pick-up, unedited

Original.

Pick-up between Sleepy Eye and Morgan

Edited.

Pick-up between Sleepy Eye and Morgan 2

Or edited.

But I can’t choose a favorite.

I like them all.

I like the lines of the field and drive, how my eyes are drawn to follow that pick-up into the farmyard.

I like the muted tones of grey and blue and those splashes of red in truck and outbuildings.

I like the ribbons of greening grass trimming the driveway, the bare trees edging the farm site.

This rural scene, along Brown County Road 29 southeast of Morgan, pleases me for the memories it holds. Not of this farm, but of my childhood on the farm. My heart is happy every time I travel back to southwestern Minnesota, past the fields and farms, gravel roads and grain elevators…through small towns…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A muddy shoe ban in Morgan July 24, 2013

YOU BEST NOT ENTER the Shell convenience store/gas station in Morgan with muddy shoes. I never checked my flip flops nor the floor upon entering. My initial focus was finding the bathroom in Wayne’s C-Store, as it’s known by locals.

Posted on doors of the Shell station in Morgan.

Posted on doors of the Shell station in Morgan.

Only afterward did I ponder the message and wonder how many times staff has dealt with mud trekked inside this retail hub in this rural southwestern Minnesota community. Often enough, apparently, given the postings on the two front doors.

A view right outside the Shell station.

A view right outside the Shell station.

My husband and I had just driven about 100 miles, more than an hour of that in rain. But, unless our soles acquired mud while walking from our gravel parking space into the store, they should have been clean.

A rural-themed mural on the side of Wayne's C-Store.

A rural-themed mural on the side of Wayne’s C-Store.

After photographing the NO MUDDY SHOES ALLOWED! sign and the mural on the side of the convenience store, I swung my camera around to photograph Harvest Land Cooperative across the street.

A snippet of the Harvest Land Co-op complex across the highway from the Shell station.

A snippet of the Harvest Land Co-op complex across the highway from the Shell station.

There’s something about an elevator that always causes me to pause and reflect on my rural Minnesota prairie roots.

The hatchery is closed.

The hatchery is closed.

From there I skirted vehicles parked alongside the Shell station and dodged puddles to photograph signage on the next door old Morgan Hatchery.

A side view of the former hatchery.

A side view of the former hatchery.

At that point I likely muddied my flip flops. But that was just fine. I wasn’t returning to the NO MUDDY SHOES ALLOWED! store.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling