Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A photo gift to all the winter-weary March 8, 2019

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Photographed inside a Faribault, Minnesota, greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

ON THE EVE of another major winter storm here in Minnesota, I am opting to remember that this snowy season will end and spring will eventually erupt in all her colorful glory.

 

Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

My great niece waters plants insider her family’s mini greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

Apple blossoms at River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May, 2017.

 

To convince myself of that possibility, I searched my archives for spring images, photos that I can visually imprint upon my thoughts. It is the best I can do now to deal with all this snow. It is my way of handling my disappointment in not seeing my grandchildren this weekend. It is my way of mentally preparing for the 6 – 10 inches of snow forecast to fall here Saturday through Sunday.

 

A pause in field work along the Rice-Steele County line in April 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Several years ago, my crocuses bloomed in mid-March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Walking with the baby and the dog in Northfield, Minnesota, on March 12, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. 2016.

 

Because I know plenty of other Midwesterners are as sick of winter as I am, I am sharing. May these photos provide a brief break from winter. May they remind you that warmth and greenery really do exist in cold weather locations. Just not now. But spring will come, my friends. Believe it.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BONUS PHOTO: The Lyndale Avenue walk-up/drive-up Dairy Queen in Faribault opened recently, an unofficial sign of spring. And, yes, Randy and I enjoyed our $1.99 Peanut Buster Parfaits.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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How a winter drive refocuses thoughts & inspires creativity March 7, 2019

An abandoned building near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

IT IS THE ABSENCE of color. White. Pervasive now in the Minnesota landscape, as one would expect in March.

The whiteness of the southern Minnesota countryside overwhelms vision. Snow layers the land, rooftops, roadways, seemingly every surface. It takes effort to focus on something, anything, beyond the white.

 

 

A much-needed Sunday afternoon drive through rural Rice County provided an opportunity to shift my thinking away from this interminable winter of too much brutal cold and too much snow. Yet, my thoughts never really drifted away from winter. How could they when wind swept snow across the roadway, sometimes finger-drifting drifts?

How could my thoughts wander to spring when everywhere I saw winter?

How could I escape winter when I observed ditches filled with snow to road level?

This drive wasn’t accomplishing what I’d hoped—a temporary alleviation of cabin fever. Who was I fooling? Only a vacation to a warmer climate or a weekend get-away to a hotel could deliver that. Neither will happen.

 

East of Northfield, Minnesota.

 

Realizing that, I tried harder to embrace the winter scenery. My camera allows me to reshape my thinking, to view the world through a different lens. To see beyond the colorless to the color. A red barn.

 

 

A flash of yellow in a road sign.

 

Blue sky backdrops a farm site near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

A blue sky.

 

Mailboxes protrude from banked snow in Dundas, Minnesota.

 

With camera in hand, I began to notice the details—to see art-wrapped mailboxes embedded in a snow bank,

 

Snowmobiling near Nerstrand.

 

a snowmobiler powering through winter,

 

 

power poles penciling horizontal lines over blank fields.

And when I saw all of that, the poetry of winter overwrote the absence of light, of all that white.

 

Note: All images have been edited with an artsy editing tool.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Lighting up the holidays with a Winterfest parade December 16, 2018

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Two weeks prior, city of Faribault snowplows were clearing eight inches of snow on the original date of the Parade of Lights. The rescheduled (due to the snowstorm) parade included the festive city snowplow.

 

WITH LIGHTS ALL AGLOW, from ground to sky, Faribault showcased its holiday spirit Friday evening during a festive Parade of Lights.

 

Across from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a crowd gathers outside Bernie’s Grill.

 

Warm temps hovering near 30 degrees brought out all ages to the second annual Winterfest. I was there, on the corner by third-generation family-owned Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, taking it all in.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue to the crowd waiting for the 5:30 p.m. fireworks and then the parade.

 

I sensed the anticipation as the crowd swelled, waiting for the fireworks followed by the parade.

 

 

Except for an inability to see only the highest fireworks over the tall buildings along Central Avenue, everything else went seemingly well.

 

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer tops a Faribault police vehicle.

 

 

A Faribault fire truck.

 

The back of the fire truck is a colorful blur of lights as it moves down Central Avenue.

 

Another entry from the city of Faribault.

 

The murmur of conversation, the rock of familiar holiday tunes like Jingle Bells, the bobbing of Santa hats, the flash of holiday lights…all created a real sense of holiday joy. I felt it. I heard it. I saw it.

 

One of my favorite units: sheep and a “wool blanket” on a “bed” representing the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

There’s something about an event like this that makes us all pause and celebrate, as a community, the spirit of Christmas. Faribault needed this. I needed this.

 

No holiday parade is complete without Santa and Mrs. Claus, here on the Elks Lodge float.

 

Keeping everyone safe…

 

Loved the gingerbread house.

 

To Faribault Main Street and to all who participated in the parade—from the Boy Scouts to the firefighters to local businesses and many more—thank you. You gave us all a gift on Friday evening. You brought holiday joy to Central Avenue, to our Minnesota community.

 

After the parade, the crowd disperses.

 

Parade-goers absolutely embraced these 45 minutes of Winterfest, this opportunity to unite and celebrate the holiday season in Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of Decorah, Part II November 27, 2018

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A close-up of stacked stones at Phelps Park in Decorah, Iowa, where the Civilian Conservation Corps crafted walls, a fountain and more.

 

WHEN YOU THINK public art, what pops into your mind? Sculptures? Murals? Sidewalk poetry? All fit the definition.

 

An example of the stone art at Phelps Park.

 

But public art stretches beyond the obvious. If you look for it, you will see art everywhere, as I did on a September visit to Decorah. This northeastern Iowa river town is rich in art, natural and otherwise.

 

In a downtown Decorah plaza, “Doe and Fawn” by Victoria Reed.

 

Art enriches a place by adding texture, interest, depth.

 

Look up to see this sculpture on the Nelson & Co building in downtown Decorah.

 

Art personalizes a place with character.

 

The colorful mural by The Cardboard Robot.

 

Art colors a town with vibrancy.

 

On display at Donlon Toy Jungle (inside Donlon Pharmacy), this 6-foot KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Details posted with that Ferris Wheel build.

 

Just another angle of the KNEX Ferris Wheel.

 

Art brings a community together, creating a cohesiveness that unites in working toward a common goal.

 

An artful door leading to apartments in downtown Decorah.

 

Art comforts.

 

Stacked stone art in Dunning’s Spring.

 

Art empowers, strengthens.

 

Inside The Cardboard Robot, shoppers are encouraged to be hands-on creative.

 

Art expands our imaginations to create.

 

This new bridge at Dunning’s Spring Park replicates a stone bridge of 140 years ago. Master stone mason Ted Wilson crafted the bridge along with Sean Smyth. The bridge features dry stonewalling, meaning there’s no mortar between joints.

 

We need art. Today more than ever. To bridge our differences.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The season of autumn in images & words October 23, 2018

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AS LEAVES SPIRAL IN BURSTS of wind to the ground, the season of autumn nears the exit here in Minnesota.

 

 

We are all cognizant of that impending departure. The farmers as they hurry to harvest crops. The squirrels as they gather and hide walnuts. And those of us who still have yards to prepare for winter.

 

 

I feel that pressure. To get the leaves raked,

 

 

the flowerbeds cleaned, flowerpots emptied,

 

 

the tabletop fountain hefted above garage rafters.

 

 

I wish for more days of cobalt skies, sunshine blazing warmth onto my back as I rake leaves, stuff them into trash cans.

 

 

 

 

I wish until I realize that by wishing, I am missing the season. So I grab my camera and turn it toward the maple leaves on the solo tree in our backyard, toward the woods edging our property, even to the neighbor’s bare branched trees.

 

 

Of course, I wish I could slow time, grab back summer days, hold onto each leaf stem yanked by the wind. But I can’t.

 

 

Every season brings its joys, its sorrow, its light, its darkness. That is a given. I can yearn for another season. Or I can choose to embrace the season in which I am living.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the snow falls too early in southern Minnesota October 14, 2018

Snow whitens the landscape at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street and Second Avenue in Faribault.

 

THERE’S A CERTAIN DISBELIEF, even among life-long Minnesotans, when you awaken on a mid-October morning to snow. Snow layering the grass. Snow layering leaves still clinging to trees. Snow still falling.

 

Heavy snow fell late Sunday morning as we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west out of Faribault. That’s the Interstate 35 overpass in this photo.

 

That was our Sunday morning here in southeastern Minnesota. I knew snow was in the forecast, but for parts farther south, like the next county south and to the Iowa border along Interstate 90. Not here. Not in Faribault.

 

Snow accumulates on my backyard maple tree.

 

But when I awakened around 6:30 a.m. Sunday, snow was falling and continued into early afternoon. And while I wasn’t exactly happy about a snowfall this early, I admit to retaining a certain excitement about that first snow of the winter. Except it’s not officially winter yet. Or is it?

 

The flowerpots I emptied on Saturday with snow falling and accumulating around them on Sunday.

 

Just yesterday Randy and I were looking for elusive fall colors, driving along back country roads in Rice County, no thought of snow on our minds. Afterward, we did yard work, emptied flowerpots of frozen flowers. No thought of snow on our minds.

 

 

Then today…we’re heading to and from the Fall Harvest Dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, in a snow globe world.

 

My favorite shot of the day is this rural scene near North Morristown.

 

 

 

 

I needed that drive into the country to view this early snowfall from an artistic perspective and not a gosh darn, it’s way too early for snow mentality. I needed this drive to see a landscape lightened by white, not dimmed by grey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I needed the visual reminder that, even in snow, beauty exists. Snow smudges softness into the landscape. I saw that painterly quality in fields and on barn roofs. In treelines. On a single leaf. And that was all it took for me to appreciate this first snowfall of the season here in Rice County in southeastern Minnesota.

 

 

Remind me of that appreciative attitude come January, February, March and April.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the backroads between Faribault and New Prague October 10, 2018

 

A MONTH AGO, before the grey of this too rainy autumn settled upon the southern Minnesota landscape, Randy and I followed the backroads from Faribault to New Prague en route to a brewery. We enjoy craft beers and wanted to check out Giesenbrau Bier Company, billed as a German style bier hall and garten.

I am directionally-challenged when roads are not prairie grid perfect. Randy knows this about me. It’s also a source of frustration when I am unable to read a map. Yes, we still rely on paper maps and atlases. But “just drive” seems more Randy’s philosophy. He’s always confident of eventually reaching our destination.

In no particular hurry to get there on this Sunday afternoon, we took some paved, some gravel, roads, occasionally stopping to observe and, for me, to take photos. At the time I jotted down locations, but have since misplaced my notes. We were somewhere northwest of Faribault, well off the interstate. I prefer this type of travel which allows for a close-up look at life.

 

 

 

 

From a town hall to a grasshopper,

 

 

 

 

 

from a lake to the detail of bordering cattails,

 

 

 

 

from a cornfield to a weathered corn crib to the cobs inside, I notice the overall picture and then the details.

 

 

Along the way we often come across small delights. Scenes that remind us of our rural roots. Scenes that remind us that life does not always need to speed, that afternoons like this are meant to be savored.

 

 

At one point, Randy parked the van along a gravel road so we could watch a couple baling hay. Not with a massive tractor and baler, but with a small tractor and an old-fashioned baler spitting out rectangular bales. Just like we remember from the farm. When the tractor reached the end of the field, the lean farmer leapt off the trailer and headed toward us.

 

 

“You looking for work?” he joked. We told him we’d pass, that we were former farm kids who understood the hard work of baling hay.

 

 

 

 

We continued on toward New Prague then, winding our way to the bier hall, then to a nearby park for a short walk before taking backroads home,

 

 

 

 

past another farmer baling hay and an aged barn with a new metal roof and a sturdy rock foundation.

 

 

I noted then that we should drive these roads again when autumn hues colored the hilly landscape somewhere between New Prague and Faribault. That would be now.

TELL ME: Do you drive backroads? If yes, where and what have you seen?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling