Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A photo documentary of Minnesota barns & thoughts on their demise April 16, 2015

Barn, 7 se MN

 

BARNS ONCE SHELTERED cows, pigs, sheep, a farmer’s livelihood. Some still do. But most don’t.

 

Barn, 14 se MN

 

Today all too many barns stand empty of animals and are used instead for storage of recreational vehicles and other possessions. Others are simply slumping into heaps, like rotting carcasses with backbones exposed.

 

Barn, 10 se MN

 

I fear barns will soon become memories rather than strongholds, symbols, anchors of farm sites. Their demise has been steady, sure. I see it every time I drive through the Minnesota countryside. Empty barns. Weathered siding. Curling shingles. Boarded windows. Weeds overtaking former cow yards.

 

Barn, 15 se MN

 

I understand the financial burden of keeping up these massive structures. Sometimes it just is not in the budget to maintain a barn that provides zero income.

 

Barn, 11 se MN

 

Back in the day when I rolled a wheelbarrow brimming with ground feed down the barn aisle, forked straw onto cement for cow’s bedding, shoved manure into the gutter, dodged streams of hot cow pee, shoveled pungent silage before stanchions, the barn and associated source of revenue were more important than the house. Long before my childhood home had an indoor bathroom, the barn had a gutter cleaner.

 

Barn, 18 se MN

 

Times have changed. Many farmers no longer raise cattle or hogs or milk cows. They plant cash crops and work off the farm.

 

Barn, 19 se MN

 

And so days and weeks and months and years pass and the empty barns, without the humid warmth of animals, without the daily care of the farmer, without the heartbeat of life, begin to die.

 

Barn, 21 se MN

 

Except for those that are saved.

 

Barn, 9 se MN

 

FYI: All of these barns were photographed in southeastern Minnesota, mostly around Pine Island and Oronoco.

Click here to learn about Friends of Minnesota Barns, a non-profit dedicated to celebrating and preserving Minnesota’s rural heritage.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

We didn’t find gold in Oronoco, but… April 8, 2015

ORONOCO. I delight in the way those “o”s roll off the tongue. Smooth. Repetitious. Like a steady drum beat.

But I’d never been to Oronoco, only seen the exit signs to this community off U.S. Highway 52 five miles north of Rochester. Time to change that, to visit this place named after the Orinoco River in South America. (And, yes, the spelling of Orinoco is correct.)

The old schoolhouse.

The old schoolhouse.

On a recent Saturday, my husband and I wound our way into this small town, home of Oronoco Gold Rush Days, an antique show and market held on the third weekend in August since 1972. That’s a long-standing event, its name tracing to the apparent discovery of gold here in the late 1850s and the establishment of the Oronoco Mining Company. That mining venture didn’t last long as the raging Zumbro River washed away the gold mining operation. Apparently little gold was found.

A boarded up building dated 1912.

A boarded up building dated 1912.

Historic buildings define the heart of this quaint river community. We did a quick drive through downtown and stopped only to browse two highway side antique shops as the day shifted toward evening.

The 1912 building up close.

The 1912 building up close.

Oronoco seems worth a return trip to poke around more, to see what we missed.

First Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1871, sits atop a hill.

First Presbyterian Church (today Presbyterian Church of Oronoco), constructed in 1871, sits atop a hill.

A front view of that beautiful old church.

A front view of that beautiful old church.

The community center.

The community center.

The downtown VFW sits atop a hill, too.

The downtown VFW sits atop a hill, too.

Sometimes a building's side view is as interesting as its front view.

Sometimes a building’s side view is as interesting as its front view.

FYI: To learn more about Oronoco area history, click here. For more info on Presbyterian Church of Oronoco, click here. To read my previous post about Antiques Oronoco, click here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting poetry & antiques in Oronoco April 7, 2015

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SOME ANTIQUE STORES are cluttered, dark, musty smelling. I suppose you can say that’s part of the character, the ambiance, the what-do-you-expect in a collection of old stuff.

This bust caught my eye.

This bust caught my eye at Antiques Oronoco.

But I prefer browsing in bright spaces where antiques and collectibles are showcased in artsy and creative ways.

Antiques Oronoco, north of Rochester, just off Highway 52.

Antiques Oronoco

That’s exactly what I discovered at Antiques Oronoco, located along West Frontage Road off U.S. Highway 52 just north of Rochester.

I expected to find Edgar Alan Poe collections beneath this perched raven. (Is this a raven?) But, instead, the books are titled "Treatment in General Medicine," "Bone/Tumors" and "Elimination Diets and Patients Allergies."

I expected to find Edgar Alan Poe’s “The Raven” beneath this raven.  But, instead, the books are titled “Treatment in General Medicine,” “Bone/Tumors” and “Elimination Diets and Patients Allergies.” Doesn’t matter. I truly like this artful way of displaying books.

A Native American sculpture.

A Native American sculpture.

A beautifully staged setting that lent an air of comfort and hominess.

A beautifully staged setting that presents comfort and hominess.

An unexpected scene as I rounded a corner.

An unexpected scene atop a vintage chest of drawers as I rounded a corner.

My eye is drawn to vignettes, merchandise staged to focus my interest. It’s in the details. The angle of a book. A cozy corner. Colors purposely grouped. The unexpected.

I was as much drawn to the art on the gravy bowl as to the writing on the edge of the aged shelving.

I was as much drawn to the art on the gravy bowl as to the writing, advertising KOOL cigarettes, on the edge of the aged shelving.

Sure, the standard shelving of merchandise exists at Antiques Oronoco. But there’s a visual orderliness and poetry in between.

A sign propped on an antique bike directs motorists to Antiques Oronoco.

A sign propped on an antique bike directs motorists to Antiques Oronoco.

I asked the owner for permission to photograph and for a business card. She handed me her card and I recognized her name, Yvonne Cariveau, a duplicate name for her daughter Yvonne Cariveau, an accomplished poet and enthuser of all things poetry (ie. Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride and Image & the Word) whom I know from Mankato.

As you often hear, it’s a small world.

The table is set as if for a special family dinner.

The table is set as if for a special family dinner.

On this Saturday, an unplanned stop at Oronoco Antiques reminded me that poetry is about more than words. It’s about connections and a friendly, welcoming smile. It’s about family. It’s about the ability to embrace each day, even after a tragic loss. Yvonne’s husband (the younger Yvonne’s father) died in a foggy December morning crash when another vehicle ran a stop sign at a rural Wisconsin intersection and slammed into Gordy and Yvonne Cariveau’s van.

One of Gordy Cariveau's favorite finds, and old scale which weighs accurate. According to charts on the scale, a 5'11" man should weight 170 pounds, for example. And a 5'5" woman, 132 pounds.

One of Gordy Cariveau’s favorite finds, an old scale which still weighs accurate today, according to Yvonnne. Charts on the scale claim a 5’11” man should weigh 170 pounds, for example. And a 5’5″ woman, 132 pounds.

I hugged the elder Yvonne the afternoon of my visit as she worked with family to stage and photograph items in her antique store. She possesses a remarkable strength and grace. And that, too, is poetry.

FYI: April is National Poetry Month, a celebration of all things poetry. Seek out poetry in your daily life. It is everywhere. In a blooming crocus, in a baby’s smile, in asparagus clipped from your backyard patch, in a cardinal’s call, in the words you type…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling