Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Up close in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Part II September 16, 2020

 

PLACE REVEALS ITSELF in the details.

 

Sunflowers brighten the Atwood Community Gardens.

 

Put me in a location, like the Atwood Neighborhood on the east side of Madison, Wisconsin, and I will focus on the nuances. The seemingly little things that, when connected, define this as a neighborhood rooted in art, in the outdoors, in a genuine care for one another.

 

This is one busy bike path, frequented by all ages.

 

All of this I surmised simply by walking along Atwood area residential streets and past businesses and by following the Capital City State Trail for several blocks.

 

Flowers, oh, so many flowers…

 

My post today takes you back to the bike path, to those details that caused me to pause with my camera as bikers zipped past me. To photograph the flowers.

 

An artsy sign in the community garden.

 

Inspiring graffiti.

 

Madison’s capitol is depicted in this manhole cover art.

 

And the signs—always the signs, the aged brick buildings and, yes, even the manhole covers.

 

A little seasonal fun added to the Atwood Community Gardens.

 

And resident garden skeleton.

 

Cow art by the Goodman Community Center and right next to the bike trail.

 

What I observed pleases me as a creative, as an appreciator of aged architecture, as a nature lover and as a human being who values respect for others.

 

Colorful flowers thrive, including this zinnia.

 

The natural beauty of the Atwood Neighborhood appeals to me.

 

Spotted in a window of a residence along the bike trail.

 

The spirit of the Atwood Neighborhood appeals to me, too. With its earthiness. Its embracing of differences. Its sense of neighborhood pride. Its art. I feel comfortable here. Welcome. And that, my friends, is more important than ever in these times of upheaval, discontent, frustration and disconnect.

#

Note: Like anywhere, no place is utopia, and that includes the East Side of Madison. While visiting my son, who lives in the Atwood Neighborhood, I learned of a recent daytime “shots fired” along his street. He didn’t tell me about this, of course, not wanting to worry his mom. There have been other similar incidents. Does this concern me? Yes. But then I think of my neighborhood in Faribault, considered small town to many, but not to me. In the 36 years I’ve lived here, my section of town has seen violence also. In 1999, a young man was stabbed to death within blocks of my home. We’ve also experienced drive-by shootings only blocks away. Not recently. No matter where you live, no place is fully safe. But, of one thing I am certain. We each have within us the capacity to shine lights of hope in our neighborhoods, to be decent and kind and caring.

Please check back soon for more posts from this section of Madison, Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on September 11 in photos from NYC, thoughts from Minnesota September 11, 2020

My son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11. He was a third grader in a Christian school and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.

 

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001. The date is forever seared into our memories as the day terrorists targeted the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a jetliner flying over Pennsylvania. When those planes crashed. When those towers fell. When fires raged. When thousands died, we grieved. Individually. And collectively as a nation.

 

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumni, Ann Nelson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

Yet, as a Minnesotan nearly 1,200 miles removed from New York City and D.C. and Pennsylvania, I did not experience the same depth of fear and grief as others much nearer to the target sites or with loved ones lost.

 

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sure, I remember where I was—at home with my kindergarten age son and another boy in my care. I remember how the boys stacked wooden toy blocks and then crashed toy airplanes into the two towers, copying the scenes played and replayed on television because I could not bring myself to shut off the TV.

I recall, too, the eeriness, the feelings of uncertainty and worry and disbelief.

 

The Faribault firefighters pay special tribute to the fallen New York firefighters on their memorial sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But none of this, none of this second-hand experience, compares to those who lived it and saw it. Like NYC photographer Keith Goldstein, a gifted creative whose work I follow on his blog, Far Earth Below. Keith excels in portrait photography. On the street, not the studio. Real. Everyday life. Raw and emotional and difficult sometimes to view. But honest in every way.

Keith was there on 9/11. He saw the devastation, destruction, death as he headed from his East Village home toward the towers. He found himself unable to photograph the horror unfolding before him. But several years later, as construction began on the Freedom Tower, he lifted his camera to undertake a project, “Looking On, Watching the Building of the Freedom Tower.”

The photos of people watching construction of the tower are signature Keith Goldstein. Honest. Emotional. Real. Every time I view Keith’s work, I wonder how he does it. How does he manage these focused, powerful images without his subjects noticing his presence? It’s a gift, a talent honed from years of experience.

That talent was recognized by Olympus Passion, which published a portion of his “Looking On” project in November 2018. Keith shared that publication on his blog today and I invite you to study his images and read the story he wrote about his 9/11 experiences. I expect you will be as impressed as I am by his work and the insights his photos provide.

I invite you also to continue following Keith’s photo blog. I appreciate how his images show me a world far removed from my Minnesota home. A world much different. Yet, a world I need to see because, even though my life and world are much different than his, we still live in this place called America.

Keith is as kind and decent and caring as they come. We’ve communicated occasionally via email, so I know this to be true. Several years ago he gifted me with a colorful print on aluminum of an immigrant vending t-shirts. My choice of photos. Choosing an image proved challenging. But I wanted a portrait. Signature Keith.

As different as we are, we are connected by our love of photography. And by our desire to share the world we view through our cameras.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of gravel roads, barns & cornfields August 3, 2020

Rural Rice County, west of Faribault, Minnesota.

 

ON A SULTRY SUNDAY SUMMER AFTERNOON of oppressive heat and humidity, I needed to get out of the house. Away. Into the country. On a drive. It was too hot to walk, to do anything outside of air conditioning.

 

Steady rain the night before kept the dust down on gravel roads we drove.

 

Following back county and township roads in and around Faribault, Randy and I got the rural fix we needed. For me, the crunch of gravel upon tires and the washboard vibration of a road in need of grading.

 

The corn crop around here looks good.

 

I needed, too, to see cornfields stretching across the land, tassels flagging fields. My heart aches at the sight, for the missing of living in the country. Memories still root me there.

 

 

And then I spotted a barn flashing bold red into the landscape on the edge of Warsaw. I’ve long admired that well-kept barn.

 

 

Weaving through Warsaw, Randy reminisced about living there decades ago as we passed his former rental place. At the Channel Inn in Warsaw, we paused only long enough for a photo of the vintage signage.

 

Without my telephoto lens on my camera, I couldn’t get a good shot of these turkeys. But you can make out two along the treeline and one by the field. The rest went the other direction.

 

And then we followed more gravel roads, routes not previously taken, but which revealed a PIG HOTEL sign on a house. I missed that photo op, but I promise to return. I almost missed the wild turkeys edging the woods.

 

 

A bit further, I saw the cutest little brick barn. Solid. As good as new. Beautifully poetic in its construction.

 

 

Past a gravel pit and an unknown lake and farm sites set among fields on rolling land, we aimed back toward town. Past Ableman’s Apple Creek Orchard, a favorite, and a roadside sign reminding us that we are not alone. Ever.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Along Wingra Creek: The natural beauty of Madison July 30, 2020

Wingra Creek, photographed from the recreational trail with the same name.

 

MADISON. My first impression several years ago of Wisconsin’s capital city remains unchanged. This is a place defined by water, lots of green space, an extensive recreational trail system and residents who love their Badgers, bikes, beer and cheese.

 

I took this photo in downtown Madison in June 2018. Love the buildings and vibrancy and walk-ability of this area, including the nearby state capitol. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

As I’ve explored Madison, pre-COVID, I’ve always felt comfortable. And that says a lot for someone who doesn’t really like big cities all that much. Madison maintains a minimum metro feel, yet offers all the amenities of a growing urban area. During past visits, I’ve spent time downtown—including inside the capitol, restaurants and art museums—and toured the Olbrich Botanical Gardens and more.

 

Another way to follow Wingra Creek, via paddleboarding.

 

Oh, the loveliness of sunset lighting when photographing a flowering milkweed.

 

A single wildflower stalk rises along the creek bank.

 

On a visit in early July, because of the global pandemic, I confined my activities to a stop at a frozen custard shop and to walking. One evening I grabbed my camera to follow a section of the Wingra Creek Path near my daughter and son-in-law’s home. The golden hour of sunset presented ideal soft-glow lighting for photos.

 

A flowering milkweed.

 

Flowers flourish along the grassy creek bank.

 

A patch of bee balm.

 

While the rest of the family walked ahead, I lagged, stopping to photograph the many wildflowers that grow along the banks of Wingra Creek.

 

I’ve learned to be vigilant while using Madison’s recreational trails due to the high volume of bikers. Because of a hearing loss, I often don’t hear them approaching from behind. And most speed by.

 

Occasionally a biker zipped by at a rate of speed which caused me concern. I recognized quickly that I needed to pay attention to activity around me and not get too lost in photographing this beautiful place.

 

Flowers, grass, trees, water, sky…

 

A coneflower.

 

Berries on a bush along the trail.

 

Had I not known I was in the middle of a city, I would have thought myself in the countryside.

 

Looking down Wingra Creek from a foot bridge linking to a park. The trail is to the left.

 

The tiniest of flowers I photographed.

 

The first wildflower photo I took on this walk and among my favorite for the perspective.

 

The water. The flowers. The lack of city noises. All define this recreational trail as a place to embrace nature.

 

A trailside reminder that we’re still in a global pandemic.

 

Dog walkers. Bikers. Families out for an evening stroll. Joggers. Us. Everyone simply enjoying time outdoors with subtle reminders that we remain in a world-wide health crisis. A sign reminding trail users to social distance. A discarded face mask littering the side of the pathway.

 

The trail passes through this tunnel.

 

But for a short while we mostly forgot all about the tunnel of COVID-19.

 

Paddling in Wingra Creek.

 

When we retraced our path and crossed a footbridge back to my daughter’s street, I almost missed the paddleboarder gliding under the bridge, so quiet was she. As I watched, I admired her skills.

 

Light filters softness into my floral photos.

 

And I thought, how peaceful this moment in the golden hour of a July sunset.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

June bride at the Village of Yesteryear June 26, 2020

A sign marks the Village of Yesteryear, a sprawling collection of historic buildings in Owatonna.

 

WHILE WALKING TOWARD THE HISTORIC CHURCH, I first saw her. The woman dressed in black. With a camera. Although I wondered at her formal attire, I didn’t consider that she might be someone other than a photographer interested in the Village of Yesteryear.

 

The District 14 school moved here in 1963.

 

I took this photo of the old school before the bride and her bridesmaids arrived.

 

From a distance, I photographed the photographer at work.

 

But soon enough, when I saw a bride and her attendants rounding the back of the 1856 District No. 14 schoolhouse, the photographer’s purpose became clear.

 

Trees frame the steeple of the Saco Church.

 

By that time, I’d reached St. Wenceslaus Church of Moravia, a church built in 1891 and moved here, to the grounds of the Steele County Historical Society in Owatonna, in 1962.

 

While I’ve previously been inside this historic church, it was locked on Saturday.

 

I pondered for a moment whether a wedding was planned here, but saw nothing to indicate that. So I took a few photos of the aged church, which was locked, just like all the other buildings in this historic village on this late Saturday afternoon. And while I did that, I kept my eye on the nearby photo session.

For one, I didn’t want to stray into the path of the professional photographer. I’ve been in her shoes and understand the frustration of dealing with wedding guests who get in the way and want to take photos. That presents challenges in time and management and more.

 

I stood to the side and photographed the bride and her attendants.

 

But, as I neared the group of women while en route to the parking lot, I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Is it okay if I take your picture? I’m a blogger.” The bride was quick to approve and the photographer invited me to stand next to her. I declined. “I don’t have my mask,” I explained. She didn’t have her face mask either.

 

From the back of the church, the bride and her party are visible from afar.

 

That is the reality of living during a global pandemic. As excited as I was to happen upon this most common of summer scenes—an outdoors bridal photo session—I still remembered COVID-19. Minutes earlier I’d congratulated the bride on her wedding day, specifically commenting on the challenges of marrying in a pandemic.

 

You can see and feel the love in this photo.

 

But, as I framed a few photos, my thoughts shifted back to the moment, to the celebration, to the joy. Here were four beautiful young women, stunning in their sparkly dresses, arms wrapped around one another, luscious bouquets of peonies clutched in their hands, posing for portraits against an historic backdrop.

In that moment I witnessed life. Ordinary and celebratory. Life full and joyous. Life as lovely as a June bride.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Making American Stories during Faribault Car Cruise Night, Part III June 25, 2020

Closing in on downtown, only blocks from Central Avenue, at the end of the car cruise route.

 

AS I WATCHED AND PHOTOGRAPHED the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night, I considered not only the stories I would tell with my photos, but the stories of those participating in this monthly summer event.

 

What’s the story behind the TOOTIE license plate on this Ford Fairlane?

 

And where was this young boy riding prior to the cruise?

 

What stories have been written, and shared, in this 1956 Chevy station wagon?

 

What prompted them to join the cruise? What would they see? How would they feel? What memories would they take away from this leisurely Friday evening drive around Faribault area lakes and back into town? Will they, years from now, talk about the summer of 2020 and how, even in the midst of a global pandemic, they went on a car cruise?

 

What’s the story behind this vintage Pontiac owned by Sharon and Tom?

 

The back of that beautiful Pontiac.

 

Life is one long story. With many chapters. And editing along the way. Sometimes by us, sometimes by those who think they can edit our lives or rewrite our stories. They can’t. They are not us. Our stories are ours.

 

Part of Faribault’s “American Stories” campaign.

 

“Making American Stories” is among a handful of marketing slogans selected by local tourism folks to promote Faribault. That theme, along with crafting, experiencing, shaping and preserving American stories, is bannered on signs posted throughout my community. I like this campaign. It’s clear, meaningful, uncomplicated and fitting. It defines community strengths—from history to home-grown businesses to things to do.

 

What’s the story behind “The Rock” shirt?

 

What leads someone to own a vintage car like this Buick Electra?

 

What prompts someone to get all creative and build a rat rod?

 

What’s the full story behind this tattoo?

 

Where did the owners find this vintage Chrysler convertible and what’s its history?

 

And on summer evenings in to early autumn, one of those local once-a-month activities is Faribault Car Cruise Night. It brings together the past and the present. Links vintage vehicles and new. Seniors and kids. Car collectors and, new this year, Harley riders.

 

What’s the story behind the ATV?

 

Wonder what stories this Pontiac GTO convertible could tell?

 

So many American stories in the making during the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night.

 

Switched from a Central Avenue-based park-and-look event, this actual driving cruise has added a new dimension in the making of this American story. I wonder about the stories. Those already written. And those being written.

This concludes my three-part photo series on the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisin’ in red, Part II from Faribault Car Cruise Night June 24, 2020

A 1957 Chevrolet.

 

WHEN I PHOTOGRAPH car shows, I find myself drawn to red vehicles.

 

A hot rod.

 

For one, the color red pops in photos.

 

 

But, I’m also wondering if red cars are more common? Is that why, when I scroll through frames from the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night, that I notice lots of red vehicles in my photos.

 

Ford Fairlane.

 

Red cars.

Mid-60s Chevy pick-up truck.

 

Red trucks.

 

 

Even red Harley Davidson motorcycles. Bikes ended the parade.

 

Ford Mustang.

 

When I think of a red vehicle, I think of speed. And being a bit show-offy.

 

 

Mid 1960s Ford Mustang.

 

 

I think of youth. Although that’s not necessarily accurate. How many guys have purchased red cars during the stereotypical mid-life crisis? Maybe you don’t want to answer that question. Red, I suppose, looks good on anyone, no matter their age.

 

Camaro Super Sport.

 

Red seems an attention-grabbing hue. A good color choice for on-the-road visibility.

 

 

Whether a vehicle is fire-engine red or a shade muting more to maroon, the undertones will always catch my eye. There’s just something about red…

 

1962 Chevrolet.

 

TELL ME: Have you ever owned, or do you own, a red vehicle or shade thereof? What’s your color preference in a vehicle? And why?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisin’ into summer during COVID-19, Part I June 23, 2020

Heading east on Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street past the courthouse and Fareway Foods, Car Cruise Night participants arrive in the downtown Faribault business district Friday evening, June 19.

 

IN A SUMMER THAT FEELS anything but normal due to COVID-19, I welcome distractions. And a sense of semi-normalcy.

 

A 1957 Chevrolet.

 

For awhile Friday evening, during Faribault Car Cruise Night, I could pretend that we are not in the midst of a global pandemic. The event has been revamped this summer from vehicles parked along Central Avenue to an actual cruise. The June 19 evening cruise started at the Faribault Middle School, leading drivers out of town and around area lakes before heading back to Faribault and finishing on the south end of Central Avenue.

 

I swung my camera lens east and west to take in the cruise coming and going, including this 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

 

Watching the parade from the back of a pick-up truck parked in a business parking lot.

 

My friends Curt and Leann in their 1959 Ford Galaxie.

 

In deciding where to sit, Randy and I intentionally looked for a spot that would keep us clear of crowds. And we found that in front of the Rice County Government Center. The uncrowded setting also allowed me to roam onto the courthouse lawn to take photos.

 

Pre-cruise, I photographed this traffic westbound along busy Fourth Street.

 

We waited for nearly an hour from the 6 pm start time to see the first car rolling toward us on Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street. But it was a lovely summer evening to sit outdoors, so we didn’t mind the wait. I did worry, though, about shooting into the sun while photographing the parade of vehicles. And that did prove to be somewhat problematic.

 

Waving from a Chervrolet Corvette.

 

 

A group of bikers closed out the cruise line.

 

No matter, I got plenty of photos—images which show a sense of community, of fun, of joy. This cruise felt different. Lots of smiles. Hand waving. Showing off by a few drivers.

 

A 1955 Chevrolet.

 

 

A Ford Falcon.

 

Many seemed grateful simply to be out on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

 

So enjoyed this bagpipe player and his addition to Faribault Car Cruise Night.

 

He started playing next to the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Then moved nearer the courthouse.

 

Adding to the festivities was the music of a lone bagpiper stationed on the courthouse lawn. He stood for awhile next to the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial in a show of respect. I noticed many an appreciative driver and passenger looking his way. The live music definitely added a new dimension to the cruise and I hope will continue.

 

 

 

 

Mostly, I felt an overwhelming sense of being part of something that was more than a parade of collector, vintage and other vehicles. I felt a sense of togetherness while not together. I felt a spirit of community.

 

 

In a summer when nearly every event that brings people together has been canceled, we had this, this escape. For a short time on a Friday evening in June in Faribault.

 

Please check back for two more posts from the June 18 Faribault Car Cruise Night.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Portrait in a pandemic June 20, 2020

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

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, May 15, 2020.

 

EVERY TIME I AM IN PUBLIC, I am reminded that we are living during a global pandemic. But even before I leave the house, I do a mental check list. Got my mask? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Hands washed? Check.

I admit, even after several months of this new way of living, pulling two elastic bands over my ears to hold a cloth face mask in place feels unnatural. Uncomfortable. Odd. But it’s necessary to protect others and to reduce my risk.

And then I need to remember to use hand sanitizer. Upon leaving a store. Before I re-enter my vehicle. Back home, no grocery bags set on counters. Hands washed. I’m learning.

A month ago, while attending the May Faribault Car Cruise Night, I took the above portrait of a man walking along Central Avenue in the heart of our downtown. I appreciate the story this image tells. It represents, to me, the portrait of a pandemic.

In my city of some 24,000, there have been 653 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, June 19. That’s a fairly high number for our population, in my opinion. County-wide, we’ve had 743 positives, according to information on the Rice County Public Health Services web page. Our state prison accounts for 26 percent of those cases. We have the sixth highest incidence rate of the virus in Minnesota. Four county residents have died.

This virus knows no boundaries. Rural-ness offers no protection. We are all, by the fact that we are human, part of this pandemic. Part of the story. Part of history. Portraits in a pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photographic perspective June 8, 2020

I delight in dried grasses dancing in the wind at sunset at River Bend Nature Center.

 

A MONTH AGO, as spring broke in Minnesota, Randy and I headed to one of our favorite local outdoor places—River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

 

Beauty in a single grass stem.

 

As usual, I carried my camera. My camera invites me to see the world in a different and more detailed way. I look through the viewfinder with an artist’s eye and with an intent, creative focus.

 

Randy surveys the prairie below.

 

Directions to the prairie route.

 

An overview of the land.

 

I use photography to create and to document. And in the process, I find joy. If you’re a photographer, you understand that moment when everything—the light, the subject, the composition—comes together. It’s, to be somewhat trite, magical.

 

Greenery dangles from a tree, looking lovely in the evening light.

 

People often comment that I must have a “really good camera.” I don’t. It’s second-hand, an EOS 20D Canon, old by today’s standards. It doesn’t perform especially well in low light. But I love this camera; it’s my second 20D.

 

I love the muted, dreamy tone of this image, the softness in the light of a setting sun as I shot through the field of dried grasses.

 

Today’s smartphone cameras can technically surpass the quality of my aging DSLR. But there’s one thing technology can’t replace. And that’s the photographer’s skill-set, talent, experience and creativity.

 

The moon rises while the sun sets.

 

I understand the basics of photography—of lighting, composition, focus… But even more, I recognize the importance of perspective and storytelling. Of thinking outside the box. Of creating art with my photography.

 

A red-winged blackbird catches my eye.

 

When you see my photos, I want you to feel immersed in a sense of place. In that moment when I stand or squat or kneel to frame an image, I want you there. Or when I set my camera on the ground and aim the lens upward without looking through the viewfinder.

 

A prairie path…

 

I strive to tell stories, to introduce you to people and take you to places and events you may not otherwise see. To show you my little corner of the world and beyond, through my life lens.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling