Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

West of Mankato August 23, 2017

Cattle graze in a pasture along U.S. Highway 14.

Cattle graze in a pasture along U.S. Highway 14.

 

WHEN I TELL FELLOW MINNESOTANS I grew up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, specifically near the small town of Vesta, I typically get a blank stare. So, when “Vesta” doesn’t register with them, I mention Marshall to the west and Redwood Falls to the east of my hometown. Both are county seats and fair-sized communities, in my opinion.

 

Driving on U.S. Highway 14 around Mankato traveling to southwestern Minnesota.

Driving on U.S. Highway 14 around Mankato traveling through southern Minnesota toward the prairie.

 

Even after dropping those two names, I still often get that quizzical look. It’s as if they have no idea there’s anything west of Mankato.

 

This barn along U.S. Highway 14 west of Sleepy Eye always catches my eye.

Gotta love this barn between Sleepy Eye and Springfield.

 

Grain storage along U.S. Highway 14.

Grain storage along U.S. Highway 14.

 

 

But there is. Lots. Land and sky and small towns and oddities and grain elevators, and corn and soybean fields stretching into forever. There are pitch-black skies perfect for star-gazing and sunsets so bold I sometimes wonder why I ever left this land.

 

There are so many well-kept barns along U.S. Highway 14, this one between Mankato and Nicollet.

There are so many beautiful old barns along U.S. Highway 14, this one between Mankato and Nicollet.

 

I understand beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I simply want others to see that this corner of Minnesota, just like the lakes and woods to the north and the rolling hills and rivers to the south and the Twin Cities metro, is lovely and quirky and interesting in a peaceful prairie way.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

U.S. Highway 14 passes through many small towns, like Sleepy Eye where these guys were shopping for a car.

Shopping for cars in Sleepy Eye, one of many small towns along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

 

A farm site between Mankato and Nicollet.

A farm site between Mankato and Nicollet.

 

Baling the road ditch between Mankato and New Ulm.

Baling the road ditch between Mankato and New Ulm.

 

If you appreciate barns, this area of Minnesota offers plenty of barn gazing.

If you appreciate barns, this area of Minnesota offers plenty of barn gazing.

 

FYI: All of these photos are from my files and were taken along U.S. Highway 14 between Mankato and Lamberton. That would be west of Mankato.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I, outside the Paine in Oshkosh: Flowers and art and water June 19, 2017

paine-gardens-116-wire-basket-sculpture

 

HEAT AND HUMIDITY PRESSED heavy upon me as I wandered the gardens of The Paine Art Center on a summer day in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Yet, the heat didn’t stop me from appreciating the lush flowers and plants, the water features, the sculptures and more showcased on this estate.

 

 

 

paine-gardens-106-side-view-with-gardens-in-foreground

 

It’s a lovely place, this late 1920s mansion and the landscape surrounding it. An episode of The Bachelor was filmed here in October.

 

paine-gardens-120-zinnias

 

I realize most of you likely will never travel to eastern Wisconsin to tour The Paine. My second daughter lives in the area. So please join me on this walk around the grounds—a welcome visual summer respite for us dwellers of the North. And for those of you in other regions, I hope you, too, will appreciate the beauty of this estate once owned by Nathan and Jessie Paine of Wisconsin lumber business wealth.

 

A sweeping lawn stretches between the gardens and the rear of the late 1920s mansion.

A sweeping lawn stretches between the gardens and the rear of the late 1920s mansion.

 

Sculptures, water features,plants and flowers all intertwine in the gardens.

Sculptures, water features, plants and flowers all intertwine in the gardens.

 

Italian master sculptor created this marble sculpture titled "Girl with a Bird."

Italian master sculptor created this marble sculpture titled “Girl with a Bird.”

 

Artsy and beautiful planters abound, including this one outside the Carriage House.

Artsy and beautiful planters abound, including this one outside the Carriage House.

 

The Carriage House is available for rent, for events like wedding receptions.

The Carriage House is available for rent, for events like wedding receptions.

 

The showcase reflecting pond.

The showcase reflecting pond.

 

How lovely those lilies in the pond.

How lovely those lilies in the pond.

 

And how lovely the other lilies growing in the gardens.

And how lovely the other lilies growing in the gardens.

 

 

FYI: Because I have so many photos of the gardens, I will feature my images in two more posts. Click here to read my first post from inside this historic mansion.

Click here for more info about The Paine Art Center and Gardens.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: These images were taken in July 2016.

 

Part V from La Crosse: A final look at downtown March 29, 2017

 

IN ONE FINAL PHOTO sweep through downtown La Crosse, I present a collage of images.

 

 

I am drawn to signs and architecture, to distinct characteristics which define a town’s personality.

 

 

 

 

La Crosse is a river town, storied in history. You can see that in the aged buildings which flank streets that bend, like the Mississippi River. History holds a place of honor within this downtown.

 

 

 

 

Yet, this Wisconsin city is not stodgy, existing only in the past. Rather, La Crosse is like a sometimes flamboyant relative claiming attention with loud colors and signs and messages. I doubt I’ve ever seen more vivid and unique signage in a small Midwestern city.

 

 

 

But that does not surprise given La Crosse’s considerable number of downtown drinking establishments. Wisconsinites love their booze. And this is a college town. Visit in the daytime or early evening and you can avoid that whole bar scene, although remnants of night life may linger the morning after with beer in a glass outside a bar door. (True sighting.)

 

 

 

 

La Crosse seems, too, part big city urban yet rooted in rural. Somehow the blend works in a downtown that draws all ages.

 

 

FYI: Please check back for one more post in this “From La Crosse” series as I take you to one of the city’s most notable natural landmarks.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A spectacular February weekend in southern Minnesota in photos February 20, 2017

TO ALL THE SNOWBIRDS who’ve headed to Texas or Florida or Arizona for the winter. To all the people out there who consider Minnesota nothing more than a place of snow and cold. To any Minnesotan who complains about winter (and I have and I do), I present this weekend photo essay from balmy southern Minnesota:

Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan was shirt-sleeve warm for this teen on his cellphone.

Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan was shirt-sleeve warm for this teen on his cellphone.

Families were out and about everywhere, including this little girl with her baby doll in downtown Jordan.

Families were out and about everywhere, including this sandal-clad girl with her baby doll in downtown Jordan.

Snow clings to the edges of Sand Creek rushing through the heart of Jordan.

Sand Creek rushes through the heart of Jordan with only remnants of snow remaining.

Bikers were out all over, some powered by their two feet and...

Bikers were out all over, some powered by their two feet and…

others powered by fuel, like these bikes parked in downtown Jordan.

others powered by fuel, like these bikes parked in downtown Jordan.

Minnesotans fished, here Sunday afternoon from the banks of the Cannon River by the woolen mill dam in Faribault. Snow pushed from the parking lot edged the river bank.

Minnesotans fished, here Sunday afternoon from the banks of the Cannon River by the woolen mill dam in Faribault. Snow pushed from the parking lot edged the river bank.

Meanwhile, on Union Lake in northern Rice County, ice fisherman by the dozens fished Sat

Meanwhile, on Union Lake in northern Rice County, ice fisherman by the dozens fished Saturday afternoon despite water puddling atop ice near the shoreline. Vehicles lined the road in Albers Park next to the lake.

Saturday proved a perfect warm and sunny day for sitting on an overturned bucket on the frozen lake to fish.

Saturday proved a perfect warm and sunny day for sitting on an overturned bucket or lawn chair on the frozen lake to fish.

Just south of Union Lake Trail along Rice County Road 46, a bald eagle watched me...

Just south of Union Lake Trail along Rice County Road 46, a bald eagle watched me…

watching it.

watching it.

At Faribault Energy Park Sunday afternoon, geese dealt with frozen and partially open pond water.

At Faribault Energy Park Sunday afternoon, geese dealt with frozen and partially open pond water.

Runners ran along city streets and sidewalks and along rural roads in ideal weather conditions, here along Rice County Road 46.

Runners ran along city streets and sidewalks and along rural roads in ideal weather conditions, here along Rice County Road 46.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault, moss greened the ground.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault, moss greened the ground.

At Faribault Energy Park, the windmill was set against a beautiful sunny blue dky.

At Faribault Energy Park, the windmill was set against a beautiful sunny blue sky on a day that felt more like spring than winter.

Remind me of this glorious, stunning, unbelievably warm weekend of near 60-degree temps after the next snowfall and the next plunge to sub-zero temps. I want to remember this stretch of February days and how our collective Minnesota spirit soared.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Faribault December 10, 2016

snowing-in-downtown-faribault-176

 

Let it snow.

 

snowing-in-downtown-faribault-178

 

Let it snow.

 

snowing-in-downtown-faribault-180

 

Let it snow,

 

snowing-in-downtown-faribault-184

 

in historic downtown Faribault on Saturday afternoon.

Beautiful.

Just beautiful.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Southwestern Minnesota: The place of my heart, in images & words December 6, 2016

I shot this rural farmsite/sunset scene while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

I shot this rural farmsite/sunset scene while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

OFTENTIMES IT TAKES LEAVING a place to appreciate it.

A farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Redwood County near my hometown of Vesta.

A farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Redwood County near my hometown of Vesta.

There are days when I miss my native southwestern Minnesota prairie with an ache that lingers. I long for wide open space and forever skies,

The grain elevator in Morgan.

The grain elevator in Morgan in eastern Redwood County.

for farm fields and familiar grain elevators,

This gravel road connects to Minnesota State Highway 19 between Vesta and Redwood Falls.

This gravel road connects to Minnesota State Highway 19 between Vesta and Redwood Falls.

for gridded gravel roads

A prairie sunset photographed from Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

A prairie sunset photographed from Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

and flaming sunsets. And quiet.

Sure, I could drive into the country here in southeastern Minnesota and see similar sites. But it’s not the same. This is not my native home, the place that shaped me. Although decades removed, I shall always call the prairie my home.

Minnesota State Highway 67, one of the roadways leading "home."

Minnesota State Highway 67, one of the roadways leading “home.”

With family still living in southwestern Minnesota, I return there occasionally. And that, for now, is enough. I drink in the scenery like gulping a glass of cold well water tasting of iron and earth. I am refreshed, renewed, restored.

This lone tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner has been here as long as I can remember.

This lone tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner has been here as long as I can remember.

I need to view the prairie, to walk the soil, to reclaim my roots. I need to see the sunsets, to breathe in the scent of freshly-mown alfalfa, to watch corn swaying in the breeze, to observe snow drifting across rural roadways, to feel the bitter cold bite of a prairie wind.

A farmer guides his John Deere tractor along Minnesota State Highway 67 near Morgan.

A farmer guides his John Deere tractor along Minnesota State Highway 67 near Morgan.

There are those who dismiss this region as the middle-of-nowhere. It’s not. It’s a place of community, of good hardworking people, of Saturday night BINGO and Sunday morning worship services. It’s lines at the grain elevator and fans packing bleachers at a high school basketball game. It’s acres of corn and soybeans in the season of growth and tilled black fields in the time between. This place is somewhere to those who live here. And to those of us who were raised here.

Every trip back along Minnesota State Highway 67, I am drawn to photograph the electrical lines that stretch seemingly into forever.

Every trip back along Minnesota State Highway 67, I am drawn to photograph the electrical lines that stretch seemingly into forever.

For me, this land, this prairie, shall always be home.

© Copyright 2106 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods on an autumn afternoon in southern Minnesota November 10, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

autumn-day-35-walking-in-leaves

 

I DOUBT I’VE EVER SEEN so many oak leaves layering the ground. Thick. Brown. Rustling underfoot.

As my husband and I hiked into Kaplan’s Woods in Owatonna on Sunday afternoon, I noticed the abundance of oaks that distinguishes this city park from other parks/nature centers I’ve visited.

There’s something about an oak that denotes history and strength.

Yet, the distraction of all those oak leaves crackling underfoot doesn’t detract from my ability to notice nature’s details.

 

kaplans-woods-25-close-up-of-leaves

 

Flash of yellow among mostly brown and grey.

 

kaplans-woods-26-bare-trees

 

Bare (or mostly bare) branches set against a signature cobalt blue November sky.

 

kaplans-woods-29-fungi-on-tree

 

Fungi laddering up a tree trunk. Beautiful in an artistic, natural way. Like Nature’s sculpture.

 

kaplans-woods-32-barrier-in-woods

 

And then an unnatural road block at the end of a muddied path. “A gated community,” Randy jokes. And we laugh. Together. In the woods, under the oaks.

 

kaplans-woods-33-initials-in-dirt

 

In the dirt, initials carved with a stick, an “A” and maybe a “U.” Another Audrey? Probably not.

We turn around, our path blocked. I suggest we return to the main trail into the woods. We’re unfamiliar with this place and I have no intention of getting lost. Neither does Randy.

 

kaplans-woods-34-moss-on-trees

 

Leaves crunch beneath our shoes. But then I stop abruptly, swing my camera left toward a moss covered log, the golden light falling just right.

I fail to hear or notice the runner closing in behind us. I’m in the zone, focused on photographing a selected scene. Randy, however, is watchful. He warns me. We step aside and continue on, a biker now barreling toward us on his mountain bike.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling