Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

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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

 

The simple joys of life with kids on a spring day in rural Minnesota May 8, 2018

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IT TOOK TWO SWEET KIDS to remind me just how joyful the early days of spring on a rural Minnesota acreage.

 

My favorite photo of Evelyn and Landon as my great niece celebrated her birthday on Sunday.

 

On Saturday, Randy and I watched our great niece and nephew while their parents celebrated their wedding anniversary with an all-day date. We were happy to do so. We love these two little ones who live within miles of our home. The family moved here a few years ago, our only family so close. The kids call Randy “Papa Two.” I’m just Audrey.

 

 

With sunshine and summer-like weather, we spent the entire day outdoors. Roaming. Playing. Running (the kids, not us). By mid-afternoon, the pair had successfully exhausted us. By then, Grandma and Grandpa arrived as our tag-team replacement.

 

 

It was a busy and adventurous day. I’m more cautious in my approach to caring for children than my husband. So when I observed Randy allowing the two to climb among the branches of a lilac (I think) bush, I advised against it. “You gotta let ‘em be kids,” he said. OK, but I wanted them safe and uninjured. Other than a slight slip from a branch and resulting tears, they were just that. OK.

 

 

 

 

I played side-by-side with Landon and Evelyn in the sandbox, pushed them in swings, supervised the watering of greenhouse plants.

 

 

 

We petted goats and watched chickens.

 

 

And we paused, too, to smell the perfume of apricot blossoms.

 

 

Landon told us that he wants to work on tractors when he grows up. No surprise there. He’s crazy about John Deere. And after observing his barbering skills on his little sister’s hair, I advised against that as a career.

Evelyn wants to be a horse girl, whatever that means. She already has the cowgirl boots, which I pulled on and off her feet multiple times. She prefers bare feet to the trappings of socks and shoes.

I love that these siblings would rather be outdoors than anywhere. I love that they have such good imaginations. We sat on the front stoop and in lawn chairs and “fished” with tiki torches, landing five tuna and past-our-limit walleyes from the front lawn “lake.”

 

 

We picked up sticks and loaded them into Landon’s mini gator which he steered like a seasoned farmer across the yard to the campfire pit. His efforts, though, to convince us to start a fire failed. While he and Evelyn can persuade us to do a lot, starting a fire on a hot and windy afternoon was not one of them.

 

 

Piggyback (or maybe horseyback for Evelyn) rides and tiny hands clasped in ours…such sweet moments. I’ll take them. Kids remind us that we need to pause in life, to take a day just to delight in the sunshine, the great outdoors, the carefree days of childhood.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove? April 27, 2018

 

The historic Valley Grove Churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

ALL YOU SCIENTIST, ENTOMOLOGY, biology types out there, I need your input to solve a mystery. I suppose I could google the topic, but I’d rather read your theories or fact-based conclusions.

 

The buzzing started once we stepped inside the front gate and onto the grass between the two churches.

 

Last Sunday afternoon while walking on the grounds of Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand, I heard a buzzing. Like a zillion bees. At first I thought I was hearing things because, when I would stop, the droning also stopped.

I questioned whether I could be suffering from tinnitus, an occasional issue given my hearing loss. I’m nearly deaf in the my right ear which causes all sorts of problems in determining sound sources and in hearing in general.

 

 

But this buzzing seemed real. I risked asking my husband if he heard what I heard. He did. We paused on the dormant dried grass. No buzzing. Then we took a few steps and the irritating hum resumed. Then my observant husband, with the way better vision than me, saw the flies. Everywhere. Infinite numbers settled on the grass as if sunning themselves. I strained to see the camouflaged flies and then photograph them. I managed one image of a single fly. Whenever either of us moved, they, too, moved. It was the craziest thing.

 

One of several birdhouses located on the grassland hiking area.

 

I’m a woman who has a history with flies. They were part of my growing up environment on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. A fly swatter was always at the ready. Sticky fly traps dangled from ceilings in our farmhouse; one even hung over the kitchen table. Not at all appealing. But I’d rather see a dead fly than have one land on my dinner plate. In the barn, biting, swarming flies were a constant problem. For cows. And for humans.

 

This aged, massive oak is a focal point in the corner of the cemetery.

 

But why were these thousands (maybe even millions) of flies here, on these church and cemetery grounds on a sunny late April afternoon, the first warm weekend of the season in Minnesota? There were no cattle (although the occasional piles of deer and other animal poop). There was no food.

 

 

The insects didn’t swarm the entire grounds—mostly just the area between the two historic church buildings and along the edge of the adjoining cemetery.

 

 

Once I got past the fly territory, I enjoyed my time at Valley Grove. It’s a beautiful place of quiet, of peace, set high atop a hill with lovely rural vistas. There are hiking trails and history in the cemetery (and churches when they are open). Generations of families are buried here. And there are oak trees, including one held together by thick chains in the corner of the cemetery.

This place holds stories. And now it holds one more story—the mystery of the fly invasion.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling