Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Monarchs & milkweed October 8, 2018

Monarch attracting milkweed grows next to a southwestern Minnesota soybean field. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A TIME EXISTED WHEN I CONSIDERED milkweed a weed as noted in the second syllable of the word. My dad assured me that the plant needed eradication from farm fields. So out it went.

 

Milkweed, along the prairie path at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Decades later and more informed, I consider the milkweed valuable, a plant to be appreciated and not yanked from the earth. Through the years, we learn a thing or two or twenty.

 

It all begins with the milkweed, where adult female Monarchs lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. These plants grow in Stockholm, Wisconsin, outside a bookstore.

 

Eventually caterpillars emerge from the eggs and grow, here in Stockholm, Wisconsin.

 

Then the caterpillars spin into a chrysalis for the final transformation. This chrysalis is on the side of my house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Finally, a Monarch butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, this one photographed about a month ago in New Prague.

 

I’ve learned that the milkweed is necessary to the survival of the Monarch butterfly. Adult female Monarchs lay their eggs on one plant—milkweed. And the resulting caterpillars feed on milkweed leaves.

I remember a time when Monarchs were many. Through the years, as milkweed plants dwindled, so did the numbers of these beautiful orange and black butterflies.

 

Milkweed and other flowers rim the shoreline by the King Mill Dam in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But now people are beginning to care, to understand the importance of growing milkweed, me among them.

 

I photographed this sign in Russ’ shop when I first met him seven years ago. He had free swamp milkweed seed in a jar on the store counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

When I revisited Russ in September, I found him tending these milkweed plants outside his shop. His commitment to Monarchs remains as strong as ever.

 

In Stockholm, Wisconsin, Russ the bookseller continues as a strong advocate of milkweeds and Monarchs. I first met him during a 2011 visit and recently returned to find this shopkeeper still advocating for Monarchs. And growing milkweeds.

 

 

At Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, I spotted packets of milkweed seeds among the many seeds sold in the farm’s retail shop.

 

Packets of milkweed seed ready for the taking at the Valley Grove event. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

 

At the recent Valley Grove Country Social near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, a representative of the Northfield Prairie Partners Chapter of Wild Ones handed out envelopes of milkweed seeds and information on Monarchs and milkweeds.

 

An unripened milkweed pod. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Photographed at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Photographed 10 days ago at my brother’s rural Redwood County acreage.

 

Beyond all of that, I find milkweed pods beautiful in shape and, when fully-ripened, like art erupting. I am repeatedly drawn to photograph the wisps of fluff embedded with seeds. Seeds that will naturally fly on the wind, fall to the earth and grow new plants. Or, when harvested, shared by those who care about an orange and black butterfly. Like Russ in Stockholm.

TELL ME: Do you grow milkweed for Monarchs?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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My first photo shoot after breaking my wrist September 11, 2018

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MY PASSION FOR PHOTOGRAPHY runs deep. Like my love of words. Together they comprise this blog. Take away one and balance vanishes. My photos illustrate my words and my words my images.

But this summer, after slipping on rain-slicked steps and breaking my left wrist in early June, I could no longer use my camera. It takes two hands to operate my DSLR—one to hold the camera and click the shutter button and the other to support and manipulate the lens.

 

 

I knew my blogging would be intermittent without the ability to gather new content with my camera. But I had no choice except to post less often and to snap the occasional passable photo with my smartphone.

 

 

Given my orthopedic doctor’s initial timetable for my recovery, I expected the camera ban to last until the end of September. But as healing and therapy progressed, he gave me an early out, freeing me from my splint in late August and approving photography—with the admonition not to do “anything silly.” Whatever that means.

 

 

Upon my return home after that medical appointment, I grabbed my camera and stepped into the backyard to try my hand at photography. These are my first images post bone break and implant surgery. I quickly learned that I could not manipulate my telephoto lens. I simply did not have the strength. I have since exchanged that long and heavy lens for a regular lens. That I can twist.

I’m easing back into photography, realizing that if I push my passion too much, I risk slowing my recovery. It feels great to have my hands back on my camera.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The golden hour at the King Mill Dam, Faribault, Minnesota September 10, 2018

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Fishing in the gloaming of the day, June 12, Cannon River at King Mill Park, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

IN PHOTOGRAPHY, LIGHT isn’t everything. But it ranks among the top factors in creating a good photo as do framing, perspective, practice and creativity. A good camera is nice, too. Not essential. My Canon DSLR 20-D, for example, would be considered aged by most. Yet, I manage to produce marketable and memorable images.

 

Golden light slices across the sky.

 

A bird in a bush presents a striking silhouette in this edited image.

 

Glint of sunlight on water. Beautiful simplicity.

 

If you’re serious about photography, you’re aware of the golden hour—the hour right after sunrise and right before sunset. The light is softer, warmer then, lending itself to photography.

 

The King Mill Dam, Faribault, Minnesota.

 

Soft colors tinge the sky as the sun sets with this bush in the foreground.

 

High above, sunshine glints on the trails of a jetliner.

 

Several months ago, just days before I fractured my left wrist thus halting all photography for the summer, I shot some evening golden hour scenes at King Mill Park along the Cannon River in Faribault. I love this time of day in southeastern Minnesota. There’s a certain peacefulness as day closes and the door opens to evening, then night.

 

Milkweed and other flowers rim the shoreline.

 

Rather than expound in words, I’m showing you, because, oftentimes, a picture really is worth 1,000 words.

 

FYI: Tomorrow I’ll show you the first images I shot after my orthopedic doctor cleared me to use my camera some 10 weeks after my bone break and subsequent surgery to implant a plate.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The value of no child left inside August 21, 2018

I appreciate the message on this license plate, photographed last fall in Nisswa, Minnesota. For every National Wildlife Federation license plate purchased in Montana, $20 goes toward programming that encourages kids in that state to get outside and play.

 

GROWING UP IN RURAL SOUTHWESTERN MINNESOTA in the 1960s and 1970s, I spent most of my time outdoors. There was nothing to keep me inside. No TV for a long time. No electronic games. No anything. Except books. And the few toys we had.

 

I love this scene of two boys who dumped their bikes at the edge of a pond to look for life in the water. I photographed this scene in October 2016 at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

 

The outdoors offered so much more. A grove in which to carve paths. Trees for a treehouse. A spacious farmyard for a game of softball. Tall grass for a journey West via imaginary covered wagons. Gravel drive and gravel roads for biking. Snow mountains and drifts to sled and slide and travel across. Vast expanses of grass upon which to lie and gaze at animal-shaped clouds.

Outside of play, the outdoors presented a place to work—to pull weeds from soybean rows and tassels from seed corn, to pick rocks from fields, to haul hay and buckets of milk replacer, to wheel grain and do all those chores necessary on a farm.

The house was mostly a place to sleep and eat and, on Saturday evenings, wash away the grime in the galvanized bath tub hauled from porch to kitchen.

It all sounds so nostalgic. So wonderful. And it was in many ways. But life was also admittedly hard in the kind of way that day-in-day-out, the physical labor circled in a never-ending cycle. We had little in material possessions. I suppose you could say our family lived in poverty, although I had no recognition of that at the time.

 

Boys at the turtle pond, River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

We were rich, though, in our love of the outdoors, of the land. I wanted to be outside. I am thankful for having grown up in a place and time when I could roam outdoors without fear and in free play.

 

It’s important to take time and notice nature. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

Most kids today are missing that unstructured free time outdoors to just be kids, to stretch their imaginations. Sometimes I wonder if kids are even capable any more of playing on their own, without adults planning an activity, a game, a sport, for them. It’s a different world. If I was a kid today and lived as I did then, I would be considered free-range and my parents probably would be the object of concern and likely under fierce attack on social media.

 

Minnesota Praiire Roots file photo, October 2016.

 

Despite the changes in society, it’s still important for kids to get outdoors–away from electronics and scheduled activities–to simply play. To use their imaginations. To be in nature. To appreciate the warmth of the sun, the waft of the wind, the scent of flowers, the smell of earth, the feel of dirt between their fingers, the taste of a sun-ripened tomato, the birdsong of morning…

THOUGHTS?

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

https://www.nwf.org/Northern-Rockies-and-Pacific-Region/Northern-Rockies

 

 

Exploring Madison: First stop, Olbrich Botanical Gardens June 6, 2018

My first view of the downtown Madison skyline with Lake Monona in the foreground.

 

GREEN SPACE. Those words define my first impression of Madison, Wisconsin. This is an outdoor-friendly city with prolific public pathways, with an obvious bend for recreational activities that take folks outside.

 

Closing in on downtown Madison with the state capitol on the left.

 

In woods, parks, gardens, open spaces and tree-lined streets, green colors the lush landscape. Lakes and waterways add to the city’s natural beauty. This capital city of 252,000-plus pulses with bikers, boaters, joggers, walkers and others simply enjoying the outdoors. There’s a certain undeniable vibe in Madison, as if those who live and visit here need to spend every minute outside before winter sweeps cold and snow into the land in a matter of months. But I expect even then plenty of outdoor activity happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On my first visit to Madison, where my second daughter and her husband recently relocated, I walked through the Olbrich Botanical Gardens, a 16-acre space of outdoor gardens and a tropical conservatory. On the afternoon of our visit, exceptionally high heat and humidity left me drained and occasionally seeking a shaded bench. Time and temps kept us from the Bolz Conservatory, a spot I’ll check out during a cooler season.

 

 

 

 

While the gardens are beautiful, they were not at their peak during our transitioning from spring into summer tour. Yet, it was a delight just to be there with my daughter and husband, walking the pathways, smelling fragrant flowers, enjoying the art and water features, observing young people celebrating quinceanera

 

The Thai Pavillion from across a creek.

 

Of special visual interest is the Thai Pavilion and Garden, the only one in the continental U.S. It was a gift from the Thai government and the Thai Chapter of the Wisconsin Alumni Association. UW-Madison, located in the heart of the downtown, has one of the largest Thai student populations of any U.S. post-secondary institution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some 1,000 volunteers work these gardens, greet visitors and more. What a labor of love in a place that seems so suited for Madison, a metro area with a small town feel and lots of green space.

 

 

FYI: Check back for a second post from the Olbrich Botanical Gardens as I take you up close into the Thai Pavilion and garden.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The greening of Minnesota May 23, 2018

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ON A RECENT MAY MORNING, I stepped outside with my aged camera, a Canon EOS 20D DSLR. I hoped to photograph the cardinal I’d heard shrilling within hearing distance. But when I scanned the woods behind my house and the adjoining properties, no flash of red appeared. The sharp song, too, had ceased.

 

 

Instead, I spied a gold finch hidden among the branches of the backyard maple.

 

 

I noticed, too, the green of leaves, how the morning sun danced a rhythm of light.

 

 

No green seems greener than the green of Minnesota in spring. After months of enduring a monotone world of greys, black, browns and white, I need color. Spring gives me that.

 

 

The sky, too, seems bluer, asserting itself with a profound boldness.

 

 

Yet, a softness remains in the landscape, in the unfurling of blossoms dancing in the wind in the light of spring.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: You can’t beat the pre-season price & peacefulness at this lakeside Indiana inn May 4, 2018

A sunset view of Lake James in Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana.

A sunset view of Lake James in Pokagon State Park, Angola, Indiana.

 

I’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO STAY in a lakeside resort or cabin. And you’d think, as a life-long Minnesotan, that would be part of my vacation history. Yet, the opportunity to stay lakeside never presented itself. Until May 2016.

 

Docked at Lake James in Pokagon State Park.

Docked at Lake James in Pokagon State Park.

 

And it happened not in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but rather in the extreme northeastern corner of Indiana. Because my husband made a wrong turn, we ended up at the Potawatomi Inn Resort & Conference Center while en route from Minnesota to Massachusetts for our son’s college graduation.

 

The newer section of the Potawatomi Inn, opened in 1995.

The newer section of the Potawatomi Inn, opened in 1995.

 

Prior to departure, we’d plotted the location of our first day stopping point—some 600 miles away in Angola, Indiana. I’d researched lodging options, including a weekday pre-season special of $59 a night at the Potawatomi Inn. I mentioned the deal to Randy, who muttered something like “What are you going to get for $60?” So I scrapped the idea and resigned myself to staying at a non-descript chain hotel along Interstate 80/90.

 

Lovely framed signage inside the entry to the historic section of the inn complex

Lovely framed signage inside the entry to the historic section of the inn complex promotes Indiana state parks as “memories made naturally.”

 

Then came that wrong turn and we ended up directly in front of the entrance to Pokagon State Park, wherein the Inn is located. “It won’t hurt to look since we’re right here,” I suggested. “We can always leave if we don’t like it.” Randy agreed and steered the van along the tree-lined road into the park. After explaining our mission to the park ranger, we continued toward the Inn, our expectations low.

 

This is the original 1920s section of the historic inn with a dining room and lounge on the first floor and hotel rooms on the second level.

This is the original 1920s section of the historic inn with a dining room and lounge on the first floor and guest rooms on the second level.

 

We couldn’t have been more surprised. Rounding a turn, before us sprawled a complex of buildings perched atop a hill and edged by manicured plantings of trees, flowers and shrubs. It was beautiful to behold.

 

This massive sun deck overlooks Lake James.

This massive sun deck overlooks Lake James, the boat rental house and the public campfire pit.

 

The Lake James dock at sunset.

The Lake James dock at sunset.

 

The lovely sun deck up close as daylight fades.

The lovely sun deck up close as daylight fades.

 

And below, across a wide expanse of lawn, lay Lake James. The setting appeared like paradise to two weary travelers.

 

The decor is a bit dated and the bedspread showing wear. But the room was clean, the bed comfortable, the setting beautiful and the

The decor is a bit dated and the bedspread showing wear. But the room was clean, the bed comfortable, the wooded setting beautiful and the location quiet. Our room was located in the new part of the inn, opened in 1995.

 

Still, I wasn’t convinced. How could a place this lovely, at least from the exterior, cost only $59/night? Time to check out the interior. The front desk clerk, whose name eludes me, but whose husband is a native of Delano, Minnesota, greeted us with Hoosier hospitality and suggested that, since we were from Minnesota, we should have a lake view room. Perfect. It was a nice gesture. But the room was much too cramped, the promised lake view from a small, high window. We returned to the front desk, landing in a much more spacious room with windows overlooking woods. Perfect.

 

Cabins in the woods are also available for rent.

Cabins in the woods are also available for rent.

 

After being on the road for 10 hours, the Potawatomi Inn was precisely where we needed to stay. Away from the Interstate in a peaceful natural setting.

 

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the original wooden toboggan run in 1935. It was updated through the years to a refrigerated slide.

The Civilian Conservation Corps built the original wooden toboggan run in 1935. It was updated through the years to a refrigerated slide.

 

We walked to the lake and then followed a trail to the park’s historic toboggan run.

 

The historic dining room, nearing closing time, was a quiet place to dine on a weekday evening in late May.

The historic dining room, nearing closing time, was a quiet place to dine on a weekday evening in late May.

 

We shared a dinner of barbecued ribs with enough for both of us plus left-overs. I love the pine cone design on the over-sized plates.

We shared a dinner of barbecued ribs with enough for both of us plus left-overs. I love the pine cone design on the over-sized plates.

 

Suspended from the dining room ceiling.

Suspended from the dining room ceiling.

 

We explored the buildings, dined in an historic dining hall. And then, when evening faded to dark, we joined a young couple around a campfire. From Elkhart, an hour to the west, they, too, were Hoosier friendly. As we talked, we learned what brought them to the Potawatomi Inn. Cancer. Tyler was taking a break from chemotherapy, his treatment set to resume four days later. He and Kelsey—ironically once an oncology nurse now working in labor and delivery—inspired us with their upbeat attitudes, their thankfulness for the good prognosis, a 95 percent cure rate for Tyler’s cancer.

 

A lovely courtyard filled with plants and with a water feature offers a lovely place to dine outside the Courtyard Cafe.

A courtyard filled with greenery and with a water feature offers a lovely place to dine outside the Courtyard Cafe.

 

Now, as I reflect on the wrong turn that led us to the Potawatomi Inn, I am especially grateful. We spent our first night on the road in a tranquil setting. We met some truly wonderful Hoosiers. And I fulfilled my wish to stay at a lakeside resort.

 

The Lonidaw Lounge just outside the historic dining room.

The Lonidaw Lounge just outside the historic dining room.

 

But what really clinched my appreciation for this resort was my husband’s response to a question asked by a friend about a favorite part of our Minnesota to Massachusetts trip. “The Potawatomi Inn,” Randy answered. I agree.

 

The library is well-stocked with books, board games and puzzles. You'll also find a pool, spa and sauna; activity, exercise, video and game rooms; and a gift shop on-site.

The library is well-stocked with books, board games and puzzles. You’ll also find a pool, spa and sauna; activity, exercise, video and game rooms; a conference room; and a gift shop on-site.

 

FYI: The low rate we got in May 2016 was a pre-season weekday special. Don’t expect a deal this good during the busy summer months. And since this rate is from two years ago, expect that rates have likely increased. I’d highly recommend staying here. It was a great option to a chain hotel and in the most peaceful of settings.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling