Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why a community should care about its alleys January 25, 2018

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This alley of art in Clear Lake, Iowa, impresses me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I NOTICE DETAILS, always have. This heightened awareness weaves into my work. I write and photograph with a strong sense of place, a quality instilled in me long ago by growing up on the prairie. In that vast space of sky and land, every nuance of the environment imprints upon the soul.

My reactions to a place evolve from first impressions, most often viewed through my camera lens. I see the world in details of color, balance and perspective, of light and mood and texture and more.

 

An alley in Milaca, photographed in September 2017.

 

With that background, you can perhaps better understand why, when photographing a community, I notice more than the slick fronts of buildings, the parks and other attractions tourism offices promote. I look beyond those to the alleys, the roof lines and even the sidewalks. The details.

 

The scene along a balcony on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office is one of my favorite alley photos for the story it tells. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

 

It is the alleys in particular that draw my visual interest and show me the side of a community often overlooked. And too often neglected. There’s much to learn in those alleyways about people and places and cultures and even socioeconomic status.

 

I love the sweet surprise of these floral paintings brightening an alley in downtown Clear Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

Hanging baskets line the alley behind Larson’s Mercantile in Clear Lake, adding a splash of color to the downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

The Contented Cow opens onto a riverside space between buildings in historic downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.

 

Looking further down that narrow space, I photographed a wedding party gathering near the Cannon River. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A mural on The Key (youth center) building in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

Through the years, I’ve documented many behind and between businesses scenes with my camera. I’ve seen how a community can convert an alley into a lovely and inviting space. Clear Lake, Iowa, and Northfield, Minnesota, especially, have succeeded with this attention to detail beyond storefronts.

 

Michelle’s Garden, right next to the alley behind buildings along Faribault’s Second Street and Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

The back of The Crafty Maven (now closed) sat right across the alley from the garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

This mural of an iconic scene from downtown Faribault was installed along an alleyway visible from busy Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street in the heart of downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My community of Faribault, too, boasts an alley-side mini park and an alleyway mural creating a more inviting downtown. But dumpsters overflowing with garbage in other sections of the downtown counterbalance the positive efforts.

 

The behind buildings parking lot scene in downtown Faribault highlights the area’s ag base. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2014.

 

In my opinion, every community should pay closer attention to the details. They are part of the whole, of the impression visitors gather of a place beyond the side we’re supposed to see.

THOUGHTS? I’m interested, especially, in hearing how your community or other communities have beautified alleys and/or backs of businesses.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Christmas blessings in images & words December 24, 2017

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While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.

 

 

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

 

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

 

 

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 

 

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

 

 

During the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

 

 

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.

 

 

Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

 

 

MY DEAR READERS,

I wish for you the gifts of good health, happiness, peace, and wonderful times with family and friends. May joy and contentment ease into your days, even if you are missing loved ones or dealing with challenges. Life is a gift. And you are, too.

Merry Christmas!

Audrey

 

Text comes from the gospels of Matthew and Luke, chapters 2.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

On the road to southwestern Minnesota, a photo essay December 19, 2017

A former country school near Essig along U.S. Highway 14.

 

TWICE A YEAR, my husband and I head west from our Faribault home to my native southwestern Minnesota for gatherings with my extended family. We travel solely with destination in mind, not deviating to meander through small towns and explore. We get on Interstate 35 in Faribault, exit onto U.S. Highway 14 in Owatonna and then follow the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway all the way to our destination 2.25 hours away in Lamberton. That would be in Redwood County, just 10 miles east of Walnut Grove.

Near Janesville, this billboard sparkles in the morning light.

Everything along this route is familiar to me from the curves in the highway to the billboards to the farm sites and my favorite barns west of Springfield. While sometimes the drive can seem like forever, especially when wind whips snow to create iffy driving conditions, mostly I enjoy the rural route.

At the beginning of our trip, I photographed this farm site west of Owatonna. The farther west we drove, the greyer the skies became.

Enjoy this photo essay along U.S. Highway 14, aiming west toward the prairie into some of our state’s richest farmland as we headed back for the holidays last Saturday.

Red barns splash color into the rural landscape, here near Janesville.

 

An ethanol plant near Janesville breaks the monotony of farm fields.

 

Highway 14 takes us through New Ulm. I spotted this catchy and festive billboard on the west end of town.

 

You know you’re in the heart of farmland when you see a cash corn price posted on a sign, this one at Christensen Farms near Sleepy Eye.

 

This reindeer statue stands along the east edge of Sleepy Eye. It’s there year-round.

 

Weathered by wind and weather, this barn sits west of Sleepy Eye.

 

A row of vintage trucks are parked atop a hill on the east edge of Springfield.

 

One of my favorite barns on a farm site west of Springfield.

 

We reach our destination in Lamberton where grain elevators mark this rural community.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating Laura Ingalls Wilder at a Chicago museum & I’m in December 18, 2017

Follow U.S. Highway 14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, west across the prairie to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and then on to De Smet, South Dakota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MINNESOTA PRAIRIE ROOTS. My blog name honors my roots in Redwood County where Laura Ingalls Wilder, celebrated author of the Little House book series, lived for awhile as a child. Walnut Grove lies just 20 miles distant from my childhood home. It is a place where earth and sky spread wide, where fertile black soil grows tall corn and the wind seldom stops blowing.

 

The American Writers Museum in Chicago. Photo courtesy of Lee Engquist.

 

Some 500 miles to the south and east of Walnut Grove lies Chicago. Windy, yes. But otherwise distinctly different. Nothing prairie-like here in this city. Until you look close, to the new American Writers Museum which opened in the heart of Chicago in May.

 

An overview of a section of the Laura Ingalls Wilder exhibit. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

I’ve not visited the museum. Yet, I hold a connection to this acclaimed museum now showcasing a temporary exhibit, “Laura Ingalls Wilder: From Prairie to Page.” I grew up with the Little House books read by an elementary school teacher each day after lunch. That was long before the books grew in popularity, long before the TV series, long before Walnut Grove became a destination for Laura fans.

 

My Laura Look-A-Like Contest photo close-up in the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

But my love of Laura’s writing and my native prairie roots are not my only connections to this exhibit which runs through spring 2018. A photo I took several years ago during a Laura Look-Alike Contest in Walnut Grove is included in the exhibit.

 

Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in a Walnut Grove city park in July 2013. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Awhile ago, Boston-based Amaze Design contacted me about using the image. The design company manages content development for the museum.

 

This section features noted American authors. Within the museum is info highlighting Minnesota writers F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, Charles Schulz and more. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

An exhibit in the Children’s Literature Room. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

Another exhibit focuses on the writing process. Photo courtesy of Laurel Engquist.

 

From what my friend Laurel, who recently toured the 11,000 square foot literary museum tells me, the place is impressive. Located on the second floor of a building at 180 N. Michigan Avenue, it includes 13 permanent exhibits in six galleries plus temporary exhibits. Laurel spent hours there wandering, reading, observing and participating in interactive aspects of displays. She was surprised to find my Laura Look-Alike photo as part of the American Voices Exhibit.

 

The prairie near Walnut Grove is especially beautiful in the summer. I took this photo at the Laura Ingalls Wilder dug-out site north of Walnut Grove many years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’m honored to have my work included. I’m proud of my prairie roots, of my rural upbringing in a part of Minnesota made famous by a much-loved American writer.

 

FYI: If you’re wondering how Amaze Design found my photo, look no further than searching the internet. I also have photos included in exhibits at the Children’s Museum in St. Paul and in the World War II Museum in New Orleans. All found my work online, on this blog.

 

Disclaimer: Amaze Design paid for rights to use my Laura Look-A-Like image in the exhibit.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thanks to friends Laurel and Lee Engquist for permission to share their photos.

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Meet me at the Faribault library Thursday evening November 8, 2017

 

A snippet of the display I’ve created for the Local Authors Fair at Buckham Memorial Library.

 

TOMORROW EVENING (November 9) I join 13 Faribault area writers as we showcase the craft of writing at Buckham Memorial Library’s Local Author Fair.

I’m ready with a display of sample published works, educational hand-outs, free candy and a Minnesota anthology for you to buy. I have limited copies of Fine Lines, The Talking Stick, Volume 26 in which five of my works published this year.

 

Grab a mini candy bar from my table and get a bonus quote about the craft of writing.

 

The drop-in event on the second floor Great Hall features each writer at his/her own table. So simply circulate, meet the authors and engage in conversation. You have only one hour, from 6 – 7 p.m., to meet everyone.

Here’s a sample of my writing, an award-winning poem printed in 2014 in Symmetry, The Talking Stick, Volume 23, and published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc:

 

This auction barn in Montgomery inspired my poem, “Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sunday Afternoon at the Auction Barn

 

Shoulder brushes shoulder as bidders settle onto plank benches

in the tightness of the arched roof auction barn,

oil stains shadowing the cement floor below their soles,

where a farmer once greased wheel bearings on his Case tractor.

 

The auctioneer chants in a steady cadence

that mesmerizes, sways the faithful fellowship

to raise hands, nod heads, tip bidding cards

in reverent respect of an ancient rural liturgy.

 

Red Wing crock, cane back rocker, a Jacob’s ladder quilt,

Aunt Mary’s treasured steamer trunk, weathered oars—

goods of yesteryear coveted by those who commune here,

sipping steaming black coffee from Styrofoam cups.

 

Find me, introduce yourself and ask me about my passions—writing and/or photography—and hear my story.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Let’s talk writing & photography at a Local Authors Fair November 3, 2017

A promo posted at Buckham Memorial Library for the November 9 Local Authors Fair.

 

TERM ME A WRITER, author, poet, blogger, storyteller, wordsmith, photographer, artist. All fit me and my passions—writing and photography.

 

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Next week I’ll share those passions at a Local Authors Fair from 6 – 7 p.m. Thursday, November 9, in the Great Hall of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. You’re invited to come and visit with me and 13 area writers.

 

My poem initially published in In Retrospect, The Talking Stick, Volume 22, an anthology published by The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc based in northern Minnesota. This past spring Rochester Minnesota composer David Kassler transformed the poem into a song performed by a Chamber Choir at two concerts in Rochester. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

This informal drop-in fair presents a wonderful opportunity to network and to show folks my work—I’m bringing lots of samples. I’m ready, too, to talk about the craft of writing. Writing truly is a craft honed through decades of experience. From pounding out hard news stories under deadline to penning poetry to blogging and more, I’ve covered most aspects of writing. As a wordsmith, I remain passionately passionate about my love of language and of storytelling.

 

A serene country scene in Redwood County, Minnesota, where I grew up. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Through the years, my voice has evolved. I write with a strong sense of place rooted in my native southwestern Minnesota. That stark land created in me an awareness of details—of heat shimmering waves above cornfields, of a whipping prairie wind driving snow across gravel roads, of rough cow tongues slurping water from drinking cups…

 

In 2012, my poem, “Her Treasure,” was selected for inclusion in a poet-artist collaboration at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota. Connie Ludwig, right, created a watercolor, “Pantry Jewels,” inspired by my poem. See the art behind me. This is an example of my rural-rooted poetry. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I write in a way that’s earthy and accessible. Rural. Homey. Comfortable. When you read my work, you understand me. I am genuine and unpretentious.

 

Me shooting lake scenes while on a boat ride on a lake south of Park Rapids in mid-September. Photo courtesy of Jackie Hemmer at Who Will Make Me Laugh.

 

And I’m ready to answer questions about writing and photography at the Authors Fair. I’ve even prepared hand-outs with basic writing and photography tips, including a poetry tutorial dissecting my published poem “This Barn Remembers.”

 

 

In addition, you can purchase a recently-published anthology, Fine Lines, The Talking Stick, Volume 26, which includes five of my works: my award-winning short story, “Art Obsession,” another short story, two pieces of creative nonfiction and a poem. The collection features writing by 99 other Minnesota authors. I will have limited copies available for $10.

And then just to sweeten the pot, I’m giving away chocolate. Grab a mini candy bar and let’s talk about the craft of writing and the art of photography.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Wheeling Township, Part IV: A not-so-perfect perfect portrait October 5, 2017

 

WHEN I OBSERVED a family gathering for photos during the St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township Germanfest, I raced to join the photographers. I expected to get a classic posed group shot. But what I got proved better. Much, much better.

 

 

I witnessed six women and a sister focused on getting their brother/son/nephew/grandson to join the group for a portrait. I didn’t hear the little guy object. Loving attention from all those family members likely curtailed any negative behavior.

 

 

I adore this series of photos. In each frame I see the deep love this family holds for one another, especially for that sweet little boy.

 

 

The best portraits are not always the perfectly posed, everyone smiling shots. Rather, they are the ones that tell a story, that snapshot a moment of interaction, of emotion, of love. Those are the best photos.

 

BONUS PHOTO:

 

 

 

This concludes my four-part series from Germanfest.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling