Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artistry in a Minnesota sunset April 24, 2017

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The sun begins to set as we head west on Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon.

 

SUNRISE, SUNSET…so begin lyrics from a song in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’ve always loved that musical and the song about the seasons of life. How quickly we progress from the sunrise of life to the sunset.

The setting and rising of the sun, while symbolic of life, are of themselves worthy of appreciation. There’s such beauty in the hues that break across the sky, weaving with clouds and sometimes water to produce spectacular visuals. Works of art, really.

 

A line of clouds divided the sky as we continued west.

 

On an early spring Saturday afternoon, returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin, my husband and I aimed toward the setting sun, the sky layered in darkness and light.

 

Between Kenyon and Faribault, the sun silhouetted a farm site.

 

As we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west to Faribault from Kenyon, the sun slipped closer to the earth, blazing like a brilliant spotlight in our eyes.

 

 

 

 

Then, entering Faribault on the east side, cresting the Highway 60 hill before dipping toward the river valley, I saw before me hues of orange and yellow brushed across the sky like a watercolor painting. It was one of those moments of nearly indescribable, spectacular beauty. A gift at the end of the day.

Welcome home.

FYI: Please check back for photos of the sun setting over the Cannon River by the King Mill Dam. We headed there to watch the final moments of the sunset.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those blue spring wildflowers April 11, 2017

 

THE DAINTY BLUE FLOWERS layer the front lawn of a central Faribault home like a lovely carpet. There’s no denying that. After months of viewing a primarily beige, grey and white landscape, it’s a visual delight to see this vibrant spread of Siberian Squill set against the backdrop of an aged brick house painted white.

Thanks to Valerie at Valerie’s Voice, I now know the identity of this spring wildflower. Valerie photographed a similar scene in neighboring Northfield.

 

 

Wanting to know more about these brilliant blues, I searched online. And what I found on the website Minnesota Wildflowers, a field guide to the flora of Minnesota, gave me reason to reconsider my appreciation of Siberian Squill. According to Minnesota Wildflowers, this plant is invasive to our state. The comments section proved especially interesting.

As I consider other particularly invasive plants, several obvious ones pop to mind—dandelions, Creeping Charlie and buckthorn. We’ve battled all three on our property. So, as much as I really really really like those Siberian Squill, the lovely blue wildflowers won’t ever be purposely introduced into my yard.

 

 

I’ll just enjoy the ones growing in that front yard along Fifth Street Northwest in Faribault.

TELL ME: Would you plant these flowers in your yard? Perhaps you don’t consider them invasive.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A pleasant afternoon hiking & photographing at River Bend Nature Center until… April 10, 2017

 

SUNDAY’S UNUSUALLY WARM weather drew me back to Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center, this time for a walk that centered more on prairie than woods.

 

My husband, Randy, poses by one of River Bend’s biggest cottonwoods next to a parking lot nearest the center’s entrance.

 

With camera once again in hand, I scanned for photo ops, many pointed out by my hiking companion husband. I appreciate that he understands and supports my interest in photography.

 

 

As we hiked, I noticed a theme connecting nearly everything that drew my interest. I was focusing on texture—in dried prairie grass,

 

The deeply textured bark of a cedar tree.

 

bark,

 

 

new leaves,

 

 

a cone of seeds,

 

 

fungi,

 

 

a milkweed pod,

 

 

moss,

 

 

pussy willow,

 

 

 

the remnants of last season’s cattails…

Because the landscape remains so stark yet in early April in Minnesota, the eye catches such details. Or at least my eyes.

 

 

Yet several things distracted me from texture: the red dot of a bug and the red dash of a cardinal,

 

Randy and I hung out on the pond dock for awhile listening to the frogs and watching the geese.

 

the overwhelming roar of frogs,

 

 

the mating antics and flight of geese and then, the most unexpected—the sight of a sixty-something man walking toward us with a gun holstered and strapped to his belt.

 

We met the gun-carrying man not far from a bird observation deck marked by this sign.

 

The surprise showing of that weapon unsettled me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this just was not right for a person to be walking in a nature center on a Sunday afternoon with a handgun at his waist for all—including children—to see. Back home I checked the nature center website. Under Visitor Rules and Regulations, I found this:

Therefore, it shall be unlawful, except upon permission of the Executive Director or his/her agent, for any person to:

15. Possess or use any firearms, air guns, paintball guns, archery equipment, or other weapons within the nature center; or discharge any missile or other projectile from such a weapon into the nature center from beyond nature center boundaries without prior approval by River Bend’s board of directors (example: prescribed deer management hunts);

In my opinion, common sense should tell anyone not to carry a weapon into a nature center.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring emerges at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault April 5, 2017

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WITH THE CALENDAR flipped to April, the greening of the grey is subtly emerging in Minnesota as the season shifts from winter to spring.

 

 

The Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center.

 

Nesting pond along the entry to River Bend Nature Center.

 

Wisps of buds. Greening in the pond and woods. Skies and water so incredibly blue you wonder if your winter weary eyes are fooling you.

 

A frog camouflaged in the Turtle Pond.

 

 

The banks of the Straight River proved a popular spot Saturday afternoon. The woman in the purple is wearing a t-shirt with this message: “Leave me alone. I’m only speaking to my dog today.”

 

Frogs making more noise than raucous children on a playground. Geese nesting. River flowing.

 

Saturday’s weather proved perfect for motorized and non-motorized bking.

 

I almost cried when I met this trio of walkers as I thought of my mom and wished I could guide her on a walk through the woods.

 

Two teens parked their bikes trailside to explore the waterfall.

 

Give us Minnesotans a nice day of warmth and sunshine, like that on Saturday, and we, too, emerge from our homes to celebrate this changing of the seasons.

 

My husband, oldest daughter and granddaughter walking through River Bend Sunday afternoon.

 

My husband and I were among the throngs of visitors hiking at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault during Saturday’s respite warmth. We returned Sunday with our eldest daughter and her daughter. By then conditions had changed from sunny to cloudy with a brisk wind and much lower temps. The weather required stocking caps and winter coats (for the oldsters) unlike the sweatshirts of the previous day. Few others were out and about.

 

If not for Randy’s sharp eye, we may have stepped on this toad (or is it a frog?) sitting on a trail Saturday afternoon.

 

Another immobile amphibian sitting in the parking lot Sunday afternoon.

 

Even the frogs, a deafening chorus on Saturday, were quiet in Sunday’s cold. The toads hunched immobile.

 

Blue skies reflected Saturday afternoon in the nesting pond for geese.

 

As a Minnesotan, I understand how weather can change, just like that. So I accept each warm and sunny day as a gift.

 

Rustic signs mark trails at River Bend Nature Center.

 

TELL ME: Are there signs of spring where you live? Please share.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part VI From La Crosse: Atop Grandad Bluff March 30, 2017

Driving toward the landmark Grandad Bluff from downtown La Crosse, Wisconsin. The 600-foot high bluff towers in the distance.

 

THE BRISK MARCH AFTERNOON WIND did not lend itself to standing atop a bluff. So I thought. I pulled on my hand-knit stocking cap, buttoned my wool coat, wrapped a plaid scarf around my neck and tucked my hands inside gloves. I was ready to face the fierce winter wind of Wisconsin.

 

The view of La Crosse from this bluff is stunning.

 

But I needn’t have concerned myself about the cold. Exiting the van in Grandad Bluff Park, I found the air still, no brutal wind slapping my skin as it had along the Mississippi River in downtown La Crosse. We—my husband, second daughter and her husband—were all surprised. We expected uncomfortable temps that would send us scurrying back to the van shortly. Rather, we found this spot 600 feet above the city to be calm. How could that be? I still have not figured it out.

 

 

 

 

The city’s landmark Grandad Bluff—the highest bluff in the La Crosse area with views of Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa—teemed with visitors.

 

 

My son-in-law John photographs my husband, Randy, and daughter Miranda.

 

 

A haze hung over the distant landscape as I surveyed the scene of gridded streets, buildings exposed by naked trees, slips of water tracing through the land, distant river valley bluffs rising.

 

Peering through binoculars at the scene below.

 

It took me awhile to assimilate, to edge near the solid fencing overlooking the city. I am a flatlander, an embracer of prairie and horizontal lines, not at all a fan of heights.

 

I walked part way to the second scenic outlook point before turning back.

 

But with my camera for comfort, I could view the scene far below. For awhile.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

Several signs provide background history on the bluff and surrounding area.

 

A flag flies atop the bluff.

 

Nearing the top of the bluff, you’ll pass by the Apline Inn Bar & Grill, a long-time La Crosse establishment. I need to check this out.

 

FYI: This concludes my six-part “From La Crosse” series.

Click here to view a story and photos from an October 2015 visit to Grandad Bluff. Autumn is an absolutely beautiful time to view the river valley from this scenic overlook.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of Dana & Judy in the Paradise March 13, 2017

An overview of Judy Saye-Willis’ exhibit, “From Garden to Gallery: Natures Gentle Colors.”

 

EVERY ARTIST, whether a sculptor, painter, wordsmith, photographer or anything in between, brings values and background into his/her work.

 

A section of Dana Hanson’s portrait of Christ, titled “All For You.”

 

For Faribault artist Dana Hanson, faith clearly inspires her art.

 

Nature’s influence is seen both in the subject and in the weld (a plant) dye used in this art by Judy.

 

For Northfield artist Judy Saye-Willis, the natural world seems the most influential.

 

Dana’s “You Are Loved” faith-based painting.

 

They are two diverse artists currently exhibiting at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Dana paints with a brush, oil on canvas. Judy works with fabric and dyes as a fiber artist in this particular From Garden to Gallery—Natures Gentle Colors collection.

 

In her One Color Series, Judy dyed each piece in a single color dye bath.

 

Both infuse passion and devotion into their work. Judy uses natural dyes to color fabric. Rhubarb root, black walnut, sumac, goldenrod, prairie wildflowers and more are dye sources for this artist who, like me, grew up on a southwestern Minnesota farm. Judy played in the fields and pastures of the prairie and I can see that in her art. She holds a closeness to the land.

 

This trio of paintings is titled MESSENGERS OF HOPE with the horses subtitled, from left to right, “Light,” “Passion Fire” and “Grace.”

 

Dana’s art sometimes comes to her, she says, in visions—her faith-based horse paintings inspired during worship. There is symbolism in her work, threads of light and hope. Her art is her visual ministry, Dana writes on her website.

 

A close-up of Judy’s panel tagged as “When Life Gives you Lemons make Art.” She used lemon juice for a discharge and dyed in cochineal. The repetition in the art is in the style of Andy Warhol.

 

I appreciate the artistic talents of both artists. I appreciate also their dedication to the craft. I appreciate the strength of their work.

 

“His Light” by Dana.

 

How I interpret their artwork may or may not match their intentions. But that’s the thing about art. We each bring to art our values, our backgrounds, our experiences. When our eyes lock on a piece of art, we react as only we can, with introspection that is uniquely and individually ours.

 

The Paradise Center for the Arts is housed in an historic former theater in downtown Faribault.

 

FYI: Dana and Judy’s exhibits will continue through March 27 in the main floor galleries at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, Faribault. These photos are only a sampling of the artwork in their exhibits.

© Text copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork copyrighted by the artists and photographed with permission.

 

A determination to rediscover the joys of winter in Minnesota January 20, 2017

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. I think my uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck to reach the milkhouse.

I pose with my mom and four siblings atop a hard-as-rock snowdrift blocking our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. Location: rural Vesta, Redwood County, Minnesota.

BACK IN MY LIFE-ON-THE-FARM days, I loved winter. Every bucket of snow pushed from the farmyard with the loader of the John Deere tractor created a mountain. Soon a whole range rimmed the yard. There my siblings and I roamed, our imaginations taking us to the wilds of Alaska.

I am trying to reclaim that enthusiasm for winter—for carving caves into snowbanks, for sledding down hills, for building snow forts, for tossing snowballs. Not that I plan to engage in any of those activities. But I need to rediscover that winter can be fun. And my go-to place for that now is Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center.

 

river-bend-142-river-bend-sign-landscape-copy

 

From 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, January 21, River Bend celebrates its annual WinterFest with kicksledding, snowshoeing, games, nature crafts, animal shows and more.

 

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I’m uncertain whether I will make that event. But I embraced the winter season by hiking the trails of River Bend in the balmy 30-degree warmth of a recent January afternoon. You can read about that by visiting the Faribault Tourism website “Stories” section. Click here. Enjoy.

TELL ME: How do you embrace winter? For those of you living in warm weather climates, go ahead, laugh, or share a story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling