Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An October afternoon at Dunton Locks County Park October 24, 2019

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A stunning autumn scene sets the backdrop for this dock at Dunton Locks County Park, rural Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

 

OCTOBER MARKS ONE of those months when we Minnesotans feel the need to get outdoors as often as possible, to take in the autumnal hues, the sunny skies, the measured days of light and warmth. Too soon winter arrives and all the glories of October become but a memory.

 

 

 

 

In recent weeks, I’ve added pages to my autumn memories via viewing vistas of landscapes turning from green to the oranges, reds, yellows and browns of the season. Like at Dunton Locks County Park outside Detroit Lakes. It’s a lovely place just a short drive south of this northwestern Minnesota city. Here trees hug shorelines and trails lead through dense woods.

 

 

 

 

On the late Wednesday afternoon of our visit, lots of folks enjoyed the park on a particularly glorious day. A woman fished. A guy gazed toward the water from the bridge spanning the rapids linking Muskrat Lake and Lake Salle. A kindergartner and her mom collected colored leaves. A young family—new baby girl bundled against Mom and second son riding atop Dad’s shoulders while oldest son ran ahead—hiked in this park within a mile of their home.

 

 

 

 

There’s something about being outdoors on a beautiful day that brings us all together to appreciate the simple things in life. A sunny day. Crunch of drying leaves underfoot. The sound and rush of water roaring over rocks. The overwhelming feeling of gratitude for living in a place like Minnesota where we have easy access to public parks, where open space is abundant and where, on an autumn afternoon, folks delight in the beauty of this land.

 

BONUS PHOTO:

 

Rails for a mechanical boat tram run across the grass between two lakes at the park. The tram operates from Memorial Day to Labor Day and transports boats between Muskrat Lake and Lake Salle.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My prairie place of peace in Faribault July 8, 2019

 

I’VE FOUND MY PARK in Faribault. The place of wildflowers and waving grasses, of songbirds and waterfowl, of gravel trails that curve around bodies of water.

 

 

Faribault Energy Park reminds me of southwestern Minnesota, the prairie place of my roots. Located on the city’s northwest side and visible from Interstate 35, this Minnesota Municipal Power Agency park invites visitors to walk paths in an ever-changing natural landscape.

 

 

Even with the steady drone of I-35 traffic in the background, birdsong breaks through the noise. The memorable voice of the red-winged blackbird, especially, sounds a sensory delight.

 

 

I’ve visited the park mostly in the evening, when the golden light of sunset falls upon ponds, angles through grasses and flowers, and slices between tree branches.

 

 

Daisies, milkweed, clover, Iris and other flowers familiar but not identifiable to me by name populate the landscape in clusters of white, clumps of purple, flashes of yellow. Focusing my camera causes me to slow down, to notice blossoms I might otherwise miss while following the winding dirt paths.

 

 

But visitors can’t miss the wind turbine towering above the park next to a hillside block of solar panels. Informational signage explains how wind energy converts into electricity. Faribault Energy Park, though, is a dual fuel (natural gas and fuel oil) facility, not primairly wind-powered, and runs during periods of high demand for electricity.

 

 

This park serves also to educate, welcoming students to tour the plant each May, to view the control room, the steam turbine and then to walk those wetland area trails. Tours are also available by appointment.

 

 

For folks like me simply seeking a place to escape into and photograph nature, Faribault Energy Park wetlands park offers a respite of natural beauty. Some also come here to fish, although I’ve yet to see an angler pull in a catch.

 

 

But I’ve observed geese and ducks claim this property and swim these ponds. I’ve glimpsed, too, an otter gliding through the water.

 

 

And I’ve rested in the gazebo.

 

 

 

In the chaos and busyness of life, reinforced here by the sights and sounds of adjacent I-35 traffic, I still find peace in this place reminiscent of my native southwestern Minnesota prairie.

 

 

FYI: Faribault Energy Park is located at 4100 Park Avenue. The wetlands park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Copyright 2019 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

 

A must-see in New Ulm: German Park August 3, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS HAS THE LAKE HARRIET Rose Garden. St. Cloud has the Munsinger/Clemens Gardens. Chaska has the Minnesota Landscape Aboretum.

A view of German Park from the street-side steps that lead to the park at the bottom of the hill.

A view of German Park from the street-side steps that lead to the park. There’s also access at the bottom of the hill so you don’t need to take the steps.

And New Ulm has German Park, centered by a replica of the Bethesda Fountain in New York City’s Central Park.

Stroll the paths and enjoy the flower gardens.

Stroll the paths and enjoy the flower gardens. Or sit and contemplate.

If you haven’t discovered this park in the heart of Minnesota’s most German community, then you need to visit this oasis just a block from New Ulm’s downtown business district. I came across German Park a few years ago and revisited it on the Fourth of July while en route to a family gathering an hour farther west along U.S. Highway 14.

The Angel Fountain centers the park which features an abundance of plants and flowers.

The Angel of the Waters Fountain centers the park which features an abundance of plants and flowers, a picnic shelter and other amenities.

Here, in a tranquil setting of fountain and flowers, my husband, son and I lunched on sandwiches and fruit while delighting in the beauty of this place. There’s a reason the New Ulm tourism website lists German Park as one of the “Top Ten Things to See.” This place, this park, is poetic and pleasing, and just plain lovely.

Gigantic urns overflow with flowers.

Gigantic urns overflow with flowers like these petunias, lilies, marigolds and more.

This is a flower lover's delight.

This is a flower lover’s delight.

These roses, which remind me of the wild roses that grew in road ditches when I was growing up, were nearly done blossoming.

These roses, which remind me of the wild roses that bloomed in road ditches when I was growing up in southwestern Minnesota, were nearly done blossoming.

The pathways are designed to allow visitors a close-up look at the flowers.

The pathways are designed to allow visitors a close-up look at the flowers.

I love these rustic urns, which are so large and heavy it would take several people to move them.

I love these rustic urns, which are so large and heavy it would take several people to move them.

A shady spot to rest.

A shady spot to rest.

The fountain

The fountain is a small reproduction of the fountain in New York’s Central Park. French sculptor Jules-Felix Coutan created this fountain purchased in 1998 from an auction house in Atlanta. It is a gift to the city from Barbara Sweasy Haroldson.

Be forewarned.

Be forewarned.

Splashing your hands in the fountain is not forbidden.

Splashing your hands in the fountain is not forbidden.

Water spills over the fountain cherubs.

Water spills over the fountain cherubs.

Angel of the Waters

Angel of the Waters, the focal point of German Park.

In another section of the park, greenery and benches, marked by lovely columns, offer a place of respite.

In another section of the park, greenery and benches, marked by lovely columns, offer a place of respite.

Imprinted on columns is information about what I assume to be park supporters. The August Schell Brewing Company is a major New Ulm attraction.

Imprinted on columns is information about what I assume to be park supporters. The August Schell Brewing Company is a major New Ulm attraction and on the list of “Top Ten Things to See” in this city.

German Park was obviously a community effort. I love when a community works together to create something stunningly beautiful like his park.

German Park was obviously a community effort. I love when a community works together to create something stunningly beautiful like this park.

Local history is imprinted on pavers.

Local history is imprinted on pavers.

Along the street above the park

This granite statue along German Street just above the park honors the German-Bohemian immigrants who lived in the section of New Ulm known as Goosetown.

A portion of New Ulm's downtown business district with the Glockenspiel, another of the city's "Top Ten Things to See," in the background.

A portion of New Ulm’s downtown business district along N. Minnesota Street with the Glockenspiel in the background.

FYI: German Park is located at 200 N. German Street, several blocks south of U.S. Highway 14 and a block from N. Minnesota Street. The Summer Concerts in the Park series at German Park continues every Monday through the end of August. Music starts at 7 p.m.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ring, not rain, dance in a Wisconsin park June 20, 2014

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CITY PARK IN APPLETON, WISCONSIN, is one of those parks that causes you to linger and appreciate.

"Ring Dance" by sculptor Dallas Anderson serves as City Park's focal point. Private donations paid for the $483,000 fountain sculpture which was dedicated in August 1996.

“Ring Dance” by sculptor Dallas Anderson serves as City Park’s focal point. Private donations paid for the $483,000 fountain sculpture which was dedicated in August 1996.

It’s the setting as much as the fountain sculpture focal point that pull me into this neighborhood park next to Lawrence University on the eastern edge of downtown.

Spectacular one-of-a-kind historic homes define the neighborhood.

Spectacular one-of-a-kind historic homes define the neighborhood.

Historic, sprawling homes draw my eyes to inviting front porches and turrets and other architectural details. Homes so lovely I would move into any of them if I had the money.

A beautiful bush flowers during my May visit to City Park.

A beautiful bush flowers during my May visit to City Park.

Rather, I covet that which I cannot own, imagine gleaming wood floors creaking with age, thick plaster walls, shining banisters, banks of windows streaming sunlight into rooms pasted with cabbage rose wallpaper.

Hubert House Film House

The Hubert House Film House, right across from City Park, is part of Lawrence University.

The writer in me is writing the stories of these homes as my eyes scan exteriors while strolling the park perimeter.

Impressive First English Lutheran Church.

Impressive First English Lutheran Church.

And then, I pause to study First English Lutheran Church, a strong stone structure that dominates a street corner. Stunning.

close-up

Moving in as close as I can without water spraying onto my camera.

Back in City Park, the lure of water leads me to the fountain, where sculpted children dance, ankles intertwined.

Fountain information imprinted upon a plaque.

Fountain information imprinted upon a plaque.

If I could, I would join the circle, the “Ring Dance,” washing away worries.

A rainbow...

A rainbow…

But on this evening, sunlight on water beaming a rainbow, I simply appreciate the moment.

Rush of bubbling water. Sunlight fading in the golden hour. Time here, with the man and daughter I love.

BONUS PHOTOS from an earlier visit in August 2011:

Impatiens fill planters in the park.

Impatiens fill planters in the park.

Time with grandma in the park.

Circling “Ring Dance.”

A food truck stops at City Park.

A food truck stops at City Park.

FYI: For more information about “Ring Dance” sculptor Dallas Anderson, click here.

This coming Sunday, June 22, City Park, 500 E. Franklin Street, hosts the annual Juneteenth Festival sponsored by African Heritage, Inc., and the City of Appleton. The noon to 5 p.m. free admission event celebrates freedom, unity and community. The fest  includes performances by Chicago-based Ayodele Drum & Dance, a Michael Jackson impersonator and other musicians; showing of “Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in Appleton,” a pop-up museum exhibit; games; and children’s activities. Food vendors will also be on site. For more information about Juneteenth Festival, click here.  

Click here to read a previous post from City Park. And watch for a future post on an unusual tree discovered here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mankato’s newest public art project: “Poetry Walk and Ride” August 5, 2013

MANKATO HAS LAUNCHED its newest form of public art—poetry posted on signs in parks and along recreational trails.

My artsy effort to illustrate this post.

A scene I created to illustrate the poetry project.

The Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride is designed “to inspire and encourage poets of all ages, to provide public art in our communities and to encourage exercise,” says Yvonne Cariveau who suggested the project to the Southern Minnesota Poets Society of which she is a member.

Serving on the committee for the Mankato and North Mankato CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour, an exhibit of annual rotating outdoor sculptures, Cariveau envisioned a similar concept for poetry.

The Poets Society embraced the idea (member Susan Stevens Chambers organized a contest) and, with support from the cities of Mankato and North Mankato and numerous businesses, the project took off.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems.

My husband and I listen to one of my selected poems, “The Thrill of Vertical.”

Today 34 poetry signs are up, mostly in Mankato, with a few in North Mankato, for reading and listening. Yes, listening. Poets recorded their poems, which can be accessed via phone, dialing (507) 403-4038 or scanning a QR code.

Me, next to my "Off to Mankato to 'get and education'" poem posted near Glenwood Gardens.

Me, next to my “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education'” poem posted near Glenwood Gardens.

Two of the 34 poems, 27 selected in a competitive process, are mine.

"Off to Mankato to 'get and education'", posted near Glenwood Gardens, in the background in this photo.

The setting in which one of my poems is posted near Glenwood Gardens.

You’ll find “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’” near Glenwood Gardens close to the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Division Street. The poem was inspired by my arrival in the autumn of 1974 as a freshman at Bethany Lutheran College, located not all that far from the posted poem.

"The Thrill of Vertical," located next to Hiniker Pond.

“The Thrill of Vertical,” next to Hiniker Pond.

My second poem, placed at Hiniker Pond Park in what seems like North Mankato but is really Mankato, also was prompted by my college year experiences. In “The Thrill of Vertical,” I write about zipping down the curving and hilly streets of Mankato on my 10-speed bike. Interestingly, the street I remembered in writing this poem is where “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’” is posted along a recreational trail. Back in the 70s, there was no such trail.

Reflecting on that hurtling ride, I can’t help but think how stupid I was to fly at such speeds, back hunched, hands gripping racing handlebars, no helmet and two narrow bicycle wheels separating me from unforgiving pavement.

Today that crazy college kid abandon is forever captured in words, now published for all to see and recorded for all to hear. Until next June, when the 2013 poetry signs will come down and new ones will be erected.

Likewise, the other published writers—all of whom had to live within a 50-mile radius of Mankato, who range in age from seven to over 70 and are anywhere from new poets to recognized published poets—wrote about topics such as Mankato history, the river, Fudgsicles, family, mentors and more.

The challenge in writing the poems, for me anyway, came in the restrictions of 40 characters or less per line in a poem limited to 18 lines. It is a good exercise for any poet, to write within such confines, to value every letter, every space, every word.

One hundred twenty poems, submitted in specified age categories for those in third to 12th grades and then in adult divisions of humorous and serious, were anonymously judged. Doris Stengel, past president of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, considered the adult entries while Peter Stein, League of Minnesota Poets youth chairperson, judged the youth poems. It is always rewarding as a poet to know that your work was selected on the basis of merit and quality rather than by name recognition.

The poems are posted in locations like this, near the shelter house in Hiniker Pond Park. the unobtrusive signs are about the size of a standard sheet of paper.

The poems are posted in locations like this, along a trail near the shelter house in Hiniker Pond Park. The unobtrusive signs are about the size of a standard sheet of paper.

In addition to the 27 winning poems, seven poems from notable Mankato area poets are among those posted.

Reaction to the poems thus far has been enthusiastic, says project initiator Cariveau, herself a poet. Her humorous poem, “Dreams of Coldstone,” was among those selected.

“People,” says Cariveau, “love the poems and are surprised by them.”

As for my reaction, I appreciate a project that makes poetry accessible. Those who may not otherwise read poetry likely will in an outdoor setting. Short poems. Easily read or heard. Non-intimidating. This is public word art at its best.

FYI: To read a list of the winning poets and the titles of their poems, click here.

For a map showing the locations of the posted poems, click here.

To learn about the Southern Minnesota Poets Society, click here.

You can hear me read my poems by calling (507) 403-4038 and then punching in 427 for “The Thrill of Vertical” and 416 for “Off to Mankato to ‘get an education’”.

Information on the 2014 Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride contest will be posted early next year on the SMPS website.

A chapbook of this year’s poems will also be published and will be available for purchase via the SMPS website and perhaps at other locations in Mankato.

P.S. I did not showcase other poems here in photos because I was unaware of their locations when I was in Mankato to photograph mine.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vote to rebuild parks in four flooded Minnesota communities June 9, 2011

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Michael Mann & Tina Marlowe.

FOR SOME TIME NOW, I’ve been committed to helping the folks of Hammond in southeastern Minnesota recover from a devastating September 2010 flood.

I’ve assisted in the best way I can—not physically—but with words and photos on this blog. We all possess talents and mine are not hanging sheetrock or swinging a hammer. I write. There is power in words.

Last October I brought you a series of stories and photos from Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls, where I interviewed several individuals and shot many photos showing the damage caused by the flooded Zumbro River. The women I spoke to shared heartbreaking stories. Yet, they remained strong. That impressed me.

I spoke to Tracy Yennie in Zumbro Falls several weeks after the flood damaged her home.

A gutted, flood-ravaged home in Zumbro Falls.

The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery, where a portion of a building once stood in Hammond. The building lies in a heap in the street.

I saw gutted homes and businesses, a child’s toy lying in a pile of discarded appliances. Truly, I could not fathom the personal loss of possessions and home.

In March I published a series of stories about Tina Marlowe and her family, who lost so much to the floodwaters in Hammond. Hers was one story of many that you will never hear. Some residents have decided not to return. Others await possible buy-outs or funding to repair their homes.

But beyond the individual losses, these towns have suffered as communities. They’ve lost gathering spots and places for their children to play. Parks need rebuilding. To do this, these communities need money.

Marlowe, who was recently elected to the Hammond City Council, has started the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project and is accepting donations of monies, materials and labor to rebuild the recreational areas in her river hamlet.

Send donations to: City of Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project, 320 East Center Street, Hammond, MN. 55991. Click here to learn more about this effort.

 

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo on September 25, 2010.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

AND NOW A 16-YEAR-OLD Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School student, Amy Schultz, has stepped up, leading the push to secure a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant that will repair flood-damaged parks in Zumbro Falls, Hammond, Pine Island and Owatonna.

Schultz tried for a grant earlier this year, focusing solely on Zumbro Falls and Hammond. Now she’s expanded her area, hoping that the inclusion of Pine Island and Owatonna will mean more votes. The top 10 projects, those with the most votes, get the $50,000.

Simple? Yes. Just vote by:

Voting continues through June. When I checked the ranking for this project on Wednesday morning, Schultz’s idea stood at number 27. Let’s blast that number into the top 10.

This high schooler is determined. Just read this information I found online, in news releases she sent to cities, Chambers of Commerce and elsewhere: “The local parks are part of the fabric that joins these picturesque river towns together. It is where families and friends come to play and visitors come to sit by the riverside all summer long. So many memories have been made here over the years and we need to restore them for current and future generations.”

Convincing words from a young woman who wants to make a difference in four Minnesota communities still recovering from the September 2010 flash floods.

Vote today and every day until the end of June for the “Rebuild Parks in Owatonna, Zumbro Falls, Pine Island and Hammond MN” project.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling