Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Embracing & celebrating the Hispanic Heritage in Northfield September 14, 2019

 

AFTER A WEEK OF TORRENTIAL RAINS, the sun broke through to a perfect Saturday afternoon in Northfield.

 

 

 

 

In this picturesque, historic Minnesota river town, people gathered to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at the public library. And what a celebration.

 

Art on the back of the portable stage.

 

 

 

 

Dancing centered the event as colorfully-costumed dancers entertained the crowd in this community tagged as the place of cows, colleges & contentment.

 

 

On this Saturday, it was also a city celebrating the culture of its Hispanic residents.

 

 

Giving us all a snapshot of this beautiful culture woven into our Minnesota communities.

 

 

 

 

I appreciate any opportunity to learn more about another culture. If I’ve observed one thing about those of Hispanic heritage, it’s the importance of family and of being together.

 

 

I also love the bright colors of this culture as noted in flags and costumes.

 

 

Attending this event simply made me happy with the vivid costumes.

 

 

Upbeat, thrumming music.

 

 

Wide smiles. All bring joy.

 

 

 

 

From the dancing

 

Sunlight filters through the colored tents, casting an orange hue onto young artists.

 

 

The art tents.

 

to the hands-on art

 

 

 

The candy table

 

to the vendors

 

 

 

 

to the food trucks and more, I felt immersed in the Hispanic culture for an afternoon.

 

 

Right there in the heart of Northfield. The celebration continues into October.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Connecting with nature at Carleton College August 19, 2019

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TO WALK HERE, among wildflowers lining water’s edge, is to find peace. And these days I crave peace, a short escape from the challenges of life. Nature offers that quiet, that solitude, that ability to forget reality for awhile.

 

 

On a recent Saturday, Randy and I followed a trail into a nature area at Carleton College in Northfield. I thought how lovely to attend college here, to have this natural space available on the edge of campus. A place for students to retreat, to recharge, to reboot.

 

 

 

 

On this day, I retreated, focusing my attention (and camera) on vivid and pastel petals,

 

 

reflections on water,

 

 

 

the arc of bridges

 

 

and then, the unexpected—a memorial to Carleton alum Ann N. Nelson who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A second Carleton alum, Joe McDonald, also died there.

 

 

The memorial stone placed between benches next to a labyrinth drew my thoughts away momentarily to that awful day in our nation’s history. And I considered the pain and the horror of it all and how, even in this peaceful place, one cannot fully-escape the difficult realities of life.

 

 

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Just another reason to appreciate Northfield, Minnesota August 6, 2019

On a corner along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

WE ARRIVED IN NORTHFIELD to find the city abuzz. Or rather abuzz and resounding with the sound of music.

Randy swung the van into the first open parking spot, surprisingly just off Division Street and a short walk from Bridge Square, headquarters for the Vintage Band Festival. On this lovely August early evening, we headed toward the sound of music, rounded the corner by the post office and observed an audience packing the square and spilling onto the closed street. At that moment I wished for lawn chairs. These obvious seasoned fest attendees brought theirs. Without chairs, we settled onto the curb just a door down from the former First National Bank (now the Northfield Historical Society), site of the famous Jesse James-Cole Younger Gang bank raid. We listened to a few songs before deciding we couldn’t sit like this any longer. Maybe if we were younger…

 

Territorial Brass performs in Armory Square’s green space.

 

From there we aimed toward our destination, Reunion, a new restaurant in town. But first, we decided to check out another concert, this one in the Armory Square green space. Here, Arizona’s official historical brass band performed territorial period music. Territorial Brass band members, dressed in period attire, replicate the music of vintage brass bands in Arizona and New Mexico. And bonus, a vocal soloist, “Violet,” sang along with the instrumentalists. What a delight to hear the band, among some 40 performing during 100 concerts over the four-day Vintage Band Festival.

 

Soloist and band spokesperson, “Violet,” walked through the crowd while singing.

 

After listening for awhile, we left to dine at the new eatery. But, once inside Reunion, we learned the wait would be 45 minutes. I was disappointed, too hungry to wait. Had we known this, we would have reserved a dining spot earlier and awaited the text that our table was ready. Live and learn.

 

Among those listening to Territorial Brass.

 

Anyway, no matter, we appreciated the vintage music that added another reason to stop in Northfield on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

TELL ME: Have you ever attended Northfield’s Vintage Band Festival or a similar vintage band festival?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Charming Northfield, Minnesota August 5, 2019

A pedestrian bridge crosses the Cannon River in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

CHARMING. That word, when tagged to towns, seems overused. But I attach that adjective to Northfield because it fits.

 

As a fan of historic architecture, I appreciate all the old buildings that define Northfield’s downtown.

 

This college town, hugging the banks of the Cannon River in southern Minnesota, charms with its downtown historic architecture,

 

On the Carleton College campus, a lovely nature area.

 

its natural beauty,

 

Message on the exterior of the Northfield Arts Guild.

 

its artsy focus,

 

 

A patch of tomatoes grows in the boulevard in this bike-friendly city.

 

its front-yard flower and vegetable gardens,

 

The entry to The Contented Cow.

 

its home-grown shops and eateries, and much more.

 

A section of a poem stamped into a Northfield sidewalk.

 

Think independent bookstore, Content. Think The Contented Cow, a British style pub. Think Tanzenwald and Imminent breweries and Loon Liquors Distillery and Cocktail Room. Think Sidewalk Poetry, public art sculptures, the Northfield Arts Guild. Think the First National Bank of Northfield (robbed by the James-Younger Gang) now turned historical society.

 

 

Today I feature a few photos from Northfield in images taken after the rain finally stopped on a recent Saturday. Enjoy this glimpse of a community that bills itself as the place of “cows, colleges and contentment.” That fits given the rural setting, St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges, and the seeming contentment of those who live and visit this city.

 

The river runs through, making Northfield’s downtown especially picturesque.

 

TELL ME: Have you visited Northfield or do you live there? If so, tell me what you love about this town. Or tell me about a similar community you would tag as charming.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A powerful Northfield sculpture focuses on mental health July 30, 2019

 

PAUSE ON THE CORNER of Division Street by the Northfield Public Library in the heart of this historic southern Minnesota river town, and you will find yourself next to a massive rusting sculpture.

 

 

 

The public piece calls for more than a cursory glance at an abstract person reaching skyward. The art calls for passersby to stop, read the inscription at the base of the sculpture and then contemplate the deeper meaning of “Waist Deep.”

This temporary downtown art installation, created by 15 Northfield High School students and three professional artists through the Young Sculptors Project and funded with a $10,000 grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, creates a community-wide public focus on mental health issues. After two years, the sculpture will be permanently placed in the high school courtyard sculpture garden.

 

 

Like any art, “Waist Deep” is open to personal interpretation. The signage notes, though, that the sculpture is meant to support those struggling with mental health in the community, of needing and receiving help from caring others.

 

 

As I looked at the layered and fractured pieces comprising the sculpted person, I saw beyond the arm reaching for help and the lowered arm with curved hand clawing the earth. Both represent, in my eyes, darkness and light, hopelessness and hope. Mental illness leaves a person feeling incomplete and broken. Fractured. Trying to hang on. Reaching.

 

 

I photographed the sculpture on a recent weekend morning under rainy, then partially cloudy and sunny skies, not unlike the ever-changing skies of mental illness. Sometimes pouring. Sometimes parting. Sometimes shining with hope.

As the sculpture name “Waist Deep” and art itself suggest, those dealing with mental health issues can feel waist deep in the water of the disease—flailing, perhaps unable to swim, battling the overpowering waves.

We have a responsibility to throw a life-line. How? First, start seeing mental illness like any other illness. Call it what it is—a brain disease. End the stigma. Someone suffering from depression, for example, can no more wish away or snap out of depression than a diabetic can cure his/her disease by thinking positive thoughts. Educate yourself.

 

 

Support those who are waist deep. Show compassion. They need care, love, encouragement, support just as much, for example, as cancer patients.

Be there, too, for the caregivers, who feel alone, who work behind the scenes to secure often elusive professional care for their loved ones. In Minnesota the shortage of mental health care professionals and treatment centers, especially outside the Twin Cities metro area, is documented in media report after media report. It’s a crisis situation. Telling someone in a mental health crisis they need to wait six weeks plus for an appointment with a psychiatrist or a psychologist is absurd and unacceptable. We wouldn’t say that to someone experiencing a heart attack. They would die without immediate care. Those waist deep do sometimes. Every day. And it shouldn’t be that way.

I applaud the 15 NHS students and the three artists who created the public art piece in Northfield. Projects like “Waist Deep” shine the spotlight on a disease which has too long been hidden, shoved in the dark corner of silence.

THOUGHTS?

FYI: I’d encourage you to read the book Regular & Decaf by Minnesotan Andrew D. Gadtke and published by Risen Man Publishing, LLC. It features conversations between Gadtke and his friend, both of whom have brain diseases. It’s a powerful, insightful and unforgettable read.

 

Spread a little sunshine with words of gratitude July 26, 2019

 

GRATITUDE. How do you define that word, express it, show it?

 

 

I express my thankfulness mostly in words, written and spoken.

 

 

For that reason I was especially drawn to a tree on a hillside outside the Northfield Public Library. Upon the branches dangle colorful tags. And on those paper pieces, people penned their responses to this prompt: What are you grateful for?

 

 

 

 

I filtered through some of those answers last Saturday when heavy rains ended and the sky broke to partially cloudy. To read those responses brought more sunshine into my day, I expect exactly as The Spread Sunshine Gang intends. The Gratitude Tree is a project of the group, “a non-profit with the mission to share goodness, kindness and generosity to the Twin Cities metro area and beyond,” according to the Sunshine website.

 

 

 

 

 

That mission makes me smile as do these additional thoughts from the website:

The Spread Sunshine Gang believes the world needs more love, happiness, forgiveness and kindness. We are a motley crew of hard-working people who make time to spread a little sunshine. Through random acts of kindness and dedication to paying it forward we create events for others to do the same.

 

 

 

 

I love this, absolutely love the purpose behind projects like The Gratitude Tree. In a world where selfishness and meanness and anger seem sometimes all too prevalent, we need to pause and ponder gratitude. And then we need to act on that word and shine our thankfulness and love.

 

 

TELL ME: What are you grateful for? Have you seen a Gratitude Tree or something similar? I’d love to hear.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An aha moment while reading poetry January 15, 2019

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines during an event at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter in August 2016. I also read. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

MANY TIMES I’VE READ my poetry aloud at events. I’m not a fan of public speaking. But it’s getting easier to stand before an audience and share what I’ve written. Practice helps.

When I read six poems at Content Bookstore in Northfield several days ago, I experienced a real connection with the audience. I don’t know if it was the intimate setting in a cozy independent bookstore or the people in attendance or the poems I selected or my frame of mind. Probably all. But something clicked that made me realize my poetry meant something to those hearing it.

 

Five of my works (poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction) published in Volume 26 of The Talking Stick, Fine Lines.

 

This proved a profound moment—to recognize that words I crafted into poetry sparked emotional reactions. I had created art. Literary art.

People laughed when I read a poem about my 40th high school class reunion and selecting “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

 

TS 19 in which my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” received honorable mention.

 

But, when I read an especially powerful, personal poem titled “Hit-And-Run,” I observed facial expressions change to deep concern, even fear. I struggled to get through the poem about my son who was struck by a car in 2006. I glanced at his then middle school science teacher sitting in the audience and remembered the support she gave our family. When I finished the final lines of the poem with an angled police car blocking the road to my boy, I sensed a collective sadness. I felt compelled to tell the audience, “He was OK.”

After that, I composed myself to read four additional poems. I read with inflection, with all the emotion a writer feels when writing a poem. I unleashed those feelings into spoken words. Words that, when verbalized, hold power beyond print. Poetry, I understood, is meant to be read aloud to fully appreciate its artistic value.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling