Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part II from Hackensack: My observations of this northwoods Minnesota town October 10, 2017

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Lucette Diana Kensack, Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart.

 

IN THE HEART OF NORTHWOODS MINNESOTA, in the land of legends and lake cabins, sits a village of some 300 folks. Hackensack. Twice I’ve been here, twice photographing Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette, who resides along the shores of Birch Lake, and once picnicking along that same lake.

 

 

I’ve never explored this town much except with my camera. But simple observations through a viewfinder can reveal a lot about a place. In Hackensack, I see a hardy northwoods character, a laid-back attitude and a welcoming spirit.

 

The lovely log cabin library right next to Lucette is run by volunteers.

 

Nearby stands Paul Bunyan in chainsaw art.

 

I would love to sample food from the seasonal Butts & Buns BBQ.

 

That rugged character shows in log cabin style construction from lake homes to food truck and in the chainsaw carved wood sculptures around town.

 

 

This seems like my kind of kicked back place where I’d feel comfortably at home in buffalo plaid flannel and jeans. Kids biking along a narrow street with tackle box, fishing poles, bait and net in hand confirm my assessment of a town that appears Mayberry timeless.

 

 

 

Lucette is a tourist attraction.

 

 

Yet, there’s a definite awareness of tourism, of welcoming the temporary residents who arrive here in the spring to open their lake cabins for weekend get-aways, summer vacations and final autumn visits.

 

Hackensack hosts numerous arts-related events including the Northwoods Art & Books Festival and an annual Chainsaw Event.

 

My quick visual perusal of Hackensack certainly doesn’t tell the entire story. But it gives a glimpse of a place appreciated by those who live here. And appreciated, too, by the people who come here to experience the legends, the arts, the food, the sense of place that is so northwoods Minnesota.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TELL ME: If you’ve been to Hackensack, or live or vacation here, how would you describe this community? What should I know about Hackensack?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Only in Minnesota: Babe the Blue Ox tops the news following a severe storm August 4, 2016

NOT EVEN THE STRENGTH of an ox could match the power of Mother Nature during severe thunderstorms that rolled through the Brainerd Lakes area of Central Minnesota Thursday morning.

At Paul Bunyan Land along State Highway 18 east of Brainerd, strong winds toppled a 6,000-pound iconic Babe the Blue Ox statue. The 18-foot tall by 24-foot wide ox is “a little dinged up, but in true Paul Bunyan fashion, back up on his feet in no time,” according to an entry on the attraction’s Facebook page.

See for yourself:

Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher & courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Photo by Adam Rademacher & courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Reeds Backhoe Service worked to upright Babe. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Reeds Backhoe Service worked to upright Babe. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe suffered a few dings, including to his flank. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe suffered a few injuries, including to his rear flank. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe's horn was also damaged. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunayn Land.

Babe’s horn was also damaged. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunayn Land.

Babe, back on his feet. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

Babe, back on his feet. Photo by Adam Rademacher and courtesy of Paul Bunyan Land.

If you’re from Minnesota or you’ve ever vacationed in the Brainerd Lakes area, you understand the importance of Babe the Blue Ox. He, along with his owner, lumberjack Paul Bunyan, are the stuff of Northwoods legend. Since the early 1950s, statues of the pair welcomed visitors to the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center near Baxter. Parents slipped their children’s names to the ticket taker and soon Paul was personally greeting Johnny or Jane from Wherever. Such is the stuff of summer childhood memories in Minnesota.

In 2003, the long-time tourist attraction closed and Paul and Babe moved to their new home next to This Old Farm Pioneer Village east of Brainerd. This morning, Babe proved his resiliency in adversity. Paul Bunyan Land opened at 10 a.m. Thursday, right on schedule.

BONUS STORY & IMAGE:

Paul Bunyan book cover

 

Several months ago I purchased Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, a slim book (more like a pamphlet) at a used book sale in Faribault. Published by Bang Printing of Brainerd, likely in the 1960s, this book was written by Daphne Hogstrom and illustrated by Art Seiden. I acquired it for the art more than the story. I value such period graphics, especially this publication about a Minnesota legend.

According to the author, Babe the Blue Ox is as wide as the Mississippi River, stands 11 pine trees tall, does the work of 60 men and can pull rivers.

Legend goes and this writer writes, that Paul pulled Babe from a snowdrift in the year of the blue snow, thus the hue of this much beloved ox.

FYI: Click here to view the full gallery of storm damage images. All photos are courtesy of the Rademacher family and available for the public to use, according to the Paul Bunyan Land FB page. Note that Thursday’s storm caused severe damage throughout the Brainerd Lakes area with trees and power lines down. Damage reports are still coming in. This storm, and specifically the toppling of Babe the Blue Ox, is leading Minnesota news stories today.

© Story copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Is it true about “no flannel” in Boston? January 22, 2014

UNTIL MY SON PREPARED for a flight to Boston last spring to visit three colleges, I’d never heard of Tufts University.

My son in a Tufts University sweatshirt. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

My son in a Tufts University sweatshirt. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

He had to spell out the name for me, T-U-F-T-S.

That was my introduction to the private research university he now attends after transferring from North Dakota State University. The move to Tufts’ Medford, Massachusetts, campus was the right one for him. He’s challenged in his studies and happy living in a metro area far from the wind-whipped plains of Fargo. I don’t necessarily think he would be where he is today, though, without that year at NDSU.

But back to Tufts, which has a current student population of nearly 11,000 with 5,255 of them undergrads.

Last Thursday I was watching NBC’s Parenthood. The TV show focuses on the lives of the Braverman family, including college student Drew. Drew’s girlfriend, Amy, is currently staying with him in his Berkeley dorm room. I missed the season 4 finale in which Amy revealed she’d gotten into Tufts.

In Thursday’s episode, Amy shared that the girls at Tufts are snobby and everyone is smart and she simply cannot return there because she doesn’t fit in.

Awhile ago, I asked my son if he ever felt out of place at Tufts. I mean, this is a college where lamb is served in the dining center and there’s a sailing team. Not exactly a part of his lower middle class upbringing.

A man of few words, he said that depends on who he is with and that even then he doesn’t let his lack of family wealth bother him. Unlike Amy on Parenthood, I’ve never heard him call anyone at Tufts “snobby.”

Financial aid at Tufts is based on need, the sole reason my son can afford to attend this distinguished university. Annual attendance cost far surpasses our yearly family income. Tufts has set a goal of “ensuring that no highly qualified applicants are turned away because their need exceeds the university’s resources,” according to information on the Giving to Tufts portion of the university’s website. Our family is grateful to Tufts for embracing that philosophy of admitting students “not based on ability to pay, but on ability, pure and simple.”

That all said, when the son was home in Minnesota for holiday break, we went clothes shopping. I swear he grew an inch or more in the three months since I’d seen him.

About one thing he was adamant: “They don’t wear flannel shirts in Boston.” This from a 19-year-old who, only after entering college, began caring about attire. Not to say he dressed poorly. But fashion simply never mattered much to him.

Now he’s back at Tufts with these new clothes: four sweaters, three pairs of jeans, grey pants, and a winter scarf (in Tufts colors).

Legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

Legendary Paul Bunyan (dressed in his flannel lumberjack shirt) and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

Surprisingly, though, he took his flannel back to Boston, too. He likely can wear the shirts, unnoticed, under his new sweaters.

Had he left his flannel shirts behind in Minnesota, I would have swiped them. I take no shame in dressing like Paul Bunyan.

FYI: Click here to reach Tufts’ Facebook page and the latest on the university’s mention in the Doonesbury comic strip.

Click here to reach Wikipedia’s “Tufts University in popular culture.”

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Paul Bunyan land: Hackensack hosts art and book fest August 16, 2013

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids' fishing contest.

Every Tuesday during the summer months, Hackensack hosts a kids’ fishing contest on Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT’S A SWEET SMALL TOWN snugged in Minnesota’s northwoods north of Brainerd, half way to Bemidji.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

This would be lumberjack Paul Bunyan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You’ll find statues of legendary Paul Bunyan here…

Paul Bunyan's sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake.

Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette, stands next to the library along Birch Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

and of his bride, Lucette. She stands near Birch Lake, next to an old log cabin that houses a library run by volunteers.

Several summers ago I photographed this log cabin library in Hackensack.

The Hackensack library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

It’s no wonder Hackensack, home to not quite 300 permanent and who knows how many seasonal residents, will host its 18th annual Northwoods Art & Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Saturday, August 17.

I’ll be there. Sort of.

I’ve submitted two poems to the Sixth Annual Poetry Display/Recognition, as I’ve done for several years.

Fest-goers can peruse the poems inside the Union Congregational Church and vote for their favorites for the six Popular Choice awards. The poetry committee will also select six Works of Merit. Poets will read their poems beginning at 1:30 p.m. with award winners announced afterward. Local newspapers will publish the winning poems.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

A collection of works by eight Minnesota writers.

But there’s more. Twenty-plus Minnesota authors and poets will sign and sell their books throughout the day. Sweet. Any event that promotes Minnesota writers and artists gets my support. Among the literary offerings is Bards of a Feather Write Together—A Collection. It features the poetry, fiction and memoirs, some previously published, of eight Minnesota writers, all members of the writing group Bards of a Feather. I am currently reading this debut anthology and thoroughly enjoying the variety of voices and content therein.

Visual artists will also be part of the Hackensack fest, selling their original artwork. Original and created by the artist. No resale items. Splendid.

No Minnesota festival is complete without food, which you’ll find in the food court.

I wish I could join this celebration of Minnesota writers and artists. But distance and previous commitments won’t allow me to be there. My poems will have to do. For this year.

FYI: For more information, click here to reach the Northwoods Arts Council website. The council is the festival sponsor.

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of Bards of a Feather Write Together for review purposes.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetry & more in Paul Bunyan land August 18, 2011

The lake side of the Hackensack Lending Library. To the left stands Lucette Diana Kensack..

Lucette Diana Kensack

SEVERAL SUMMERS AGO while vacationing in northern Minnesota, my family stopped in Hackensack, 50 miles north of Brainerd. The initial draw to this town of 285 was the 17-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack. I appreciate kitschy roadside art. What can I say?

Two other discoveries, however, trumped seeing Lucette. A stone’s throw from Lucette, along the shores of Birch Lake, sits the cutest log cabin—a Works Progress Administration project and today home of the Hackensack Lending Library.

And just down the street from Lucette and the library, I found the sweetest pink fairy tale cottage.

Those small-town treasures marked my introduction to Hackensack.

Now, fast forward to last summer. I wasn’t back in Hack, not physically anyway. Rather my poetry was among poems displayed at the town’s annual Northwoods Art and Book Festival. During that event, the featured poets are invited to read their poetry. Fest-goers can also vote for their favorites with six poems selected for “Popular Choice” awards. Six poems are also recognized as “Poems of Merit.” All of the original and unpublished poems are posted without author names attached.

I didn’t attend last year, didn’t win and didn’t deserve to win. My poetry wasn’t worthy of an award.

This year my poetry is back at the Northwoods Festival set for this Saturday, August 20, and I’m more confident that I’ve actually written poems that could win an award. Oh, I’d love to tell you which poem is mine (or it could be both poems that I submitted; I haven’t been told). But I won’t unfairly sway the voting. Suffice to say my rural background shines in my writing.

If Hackensack wasn’t such a long drive from Faribault, I’d be there taking in the poetry, the art, the music, the book-signings, the food. However, if you’re in the Brainerd lakes area or parts north on Saturday, check out the Northwoods Art and Book Festival from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. and then tell me all about it by submitting a comment.

Voting for the “Popular Choice” awards begins at 9 a.m. and closes at 1 p.m.

If you’re already thinking, “Audrey, I don’t like poetry,” rethink your thinking. I promise you that my poetry rates as down-to-earth, understandable and not at all stuffy.

This whole concept of getting poetry out to the public via a display like the one in Hackensack pleases me. Just like the Roadside Poetry billboards in Fergus Falls. I was fortunate enough to win the spring competition and have my four-line poem plastered across four billboards there.

These new poetry venues, and the increasingly popular sidewalk poetry in cities like St. Paul, Mankato and now Northfield, are bringing poetry to the people. That’s a good thing because, in reality, how many of us actually pick up a book of poetry for leisure reading?

Minnesota poet Todd Boss and designer/animator Angella Kassube are also making poetry even more appealing by utilizing visuals in their acclaimed motion poems. Click here to read some of those.

Poetry has certainly evolved through the years, a necessity to keep writers interested in writing it and readers interested in reading it.

Professionally, I’ve only begun to unfold my wings as a poet. Even publicly calling myself a “poet” still sounds foreign to my ears. But with publication in two magazines and four anthologies, soon to be five (The Talking Stick, Volume 20, published by Park Rapids-based Jackpine Writers’ Bloc); winning the spring 2011 Roadside Poetry competition; inclusion at the Hackensack festival; and recent notification that one of my poems will publish in the Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine, I finally feel worthy of the title “poet.”

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

The sweet fairy tale house in Hackensack, located near Lucette and the park and photographed in 2009.

"Curve around the corner/You are free/To change directions/Or your mind," reads this poem by Marlys Neufeld of Hanska and imprinted in a Mankato sidewalk.

HOW DO YOU FEEL about poetry? Do you read it? Why or why not?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Exploring Minnesota at the MSAD Scarecrow Fest October 18, 2010

 

 

A sign welcomes visitors to the Scarecrow Fest at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.

 

EVERY YEAR IN FOREVER, my family has crossed the viaduct to Faribault’s east side to view the scarecrows at the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. Autumn would not be autumn without this annual tour.

Years ago we loaded up the kids. Today it’s just me and my husband. But we still get the same kick out of seeing exactly what MSAD students, Faribault High School American Sign Language students, families and others have created for the October Scarecrow Fest.

This year, undoubtedly, has been my favorite with scarecrow scenes themed around Minnesota’s great outdoors. The displays are completely family-friendly—nothing scary or macabre or remotely frightening.

I suppose, though, that the sizes of the mosquitoes could frighten non-Minnesotans. But, shhhhhh, we’ll just let them think that our “state bird” grows as big as a bird and that we really do need Paul Bunyan-sized cans of OFF mosquito repellent.

 

 

With mosquitoes this big...

 

 

...swarming and droning...

 

 

...you really do need a mega can of bug repellent.

 

And, yes, Paul Bunyan was depicted in two of the creations. Unfortunately, in one case, Babe the Blue Ox, Paul’s side-kick, had toppled in the wind. But my husband set him upright for a photo op before Babe tumbled back to earth—at the mercy of Paul’s axe, noted a little girl who was touring the fest grounds.

Then I had to add, in a garish Halloween comment, that Paul was making Babe into steak. So much for keeping this family-friendly…

 

 

This Babe the Blue Ox had toppled in the wind, but he stood briefly for this photo.

 

 

This second Babe the Blue Ox sculpture stood his ground in the elements.

 

Honestly, I had to admire the ingenuity of the contestants with gourds transformed into fish and mosquitoes, a loon with a sock head and a pumpkin painted red to represent the cherry on Spoonbridge and Cherry at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

 

 

MSAD's version of the cherry and spoon sculpture.

 

 

One of my favorite entries, this sockhead loon.

 

Unfortunately Split Rock Lighthouse had fallen by the time we arrived for our tour. Typically the weather takes a toll on this wind-swept campus.

But, for the most part, these exhibits need to be durable, durability being one of the criteria considered by judges evaluating the vignettes. They also look at use of materials, overall appearance and creativity.

I bet the judges had a tough time this year deciding who should win. The entries were that good. Of course, why wouldn’t they be? With an “Explore Minnesota” theme, competitors had a whole wide state of 10,000 lakes and loons and land to create a scarecrow scene of this place we Minnesotans love, despite our over-sized “state bird.”

 

 

Pumpkins were painted to resemble animals in the Como Zoo entry.

 

 

Detail. Detail. Even the name on this mock tombstone reflects Minnesota.

 

 

As you might expect, with an "Explore Minnesota" theme, many of the 17 Scarecrow Fest scenes included boats.

 

FYI: You have only a few hours to view the scarecrows, if any remain on the MSAD campus. They will be gone by 3 p.m. today.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating words and art in Paul Bunyan land August 19, 2010

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Paul Bunyan's sweetheart, Lucette Diana Kensack

I’VE BEEN INVITED to Hackensack, home of Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart. Lucette Diana Kensack lives (or technically, stands) along the shores of Birch Lake next to a quaint 1930s log cabin that is the Hackensack Lending Library.

The lakeside of the Hackensack Lending Library. To the left stands Lucette.

Just down the road along First Street sits a sweet, pink fairy tale cottage.

Unfortunately, I’m not traveling to Hackensack, which lies midway between Brainerd and Bemidji and marks the half-way point on The Paul Bunyan Trail. I was just in Hackensack last summer and another trip that far north is not on the schedule. But if it was, I tell you, I would want to stay at that Hansel and Gretel cottage. (I don’t care that it’s a private home.)

I discovered the fairy tale cottage while visiting Hackensack last summer.

Instead, I’ll be back here in southern Minnesota awaiting results of a poetry competition. You see, some time ago I submitted two poems for possible display at The Northwoods Art Festival and Book Fair in Hackensack from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday, August 28.

Recently I learned that both my poems were selected for display and are vying, like all the chosen poems, for “Works of Merit” designation by long-time Brainerd poet Doris Stengel. The visiting public will also vote for their six favorites as “Popular Choice” award winners. As far as I know, no cash prizes are made. Rather the prize lies in peer and/or public recognition.

I would love to tell you which of the untagged poems are mine. But since I don’t want to be accused of voter fraud, illegal lobbying or some other such poetic “crime,” I have sworn myself to secrecy. I’m quite certain that revelation of my poems’ titles could lead to disqualification.

That disclaimer aside, if you’re in the Hackensack area on August 28, check out the arts festival and specifically the poetry display at the Union Congregational Church. Minnesota writers and illustrators will be at the church signing and selling their books. At 1:30 p.m., the award winners will be announced and display poets can read their poems.

But there’s more to this fest than the written word. You also will find artists who work in paint, clay, metal, wood, fiber and photography. Throw in food and music and you have a genuine Paul Bunyan-worthy Minnesota festival.

Come to think of it, perhaps I should have penned a poem about Paul Bunyan.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling