Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Random bits of autumn from southeastern Minnesota October 11, 2017

I love Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha, especially in autumn decor. A photo similar to this hangs next to the hardware exhibit in the “Our World” play area at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Hill’s inspired the exhibit. I am honored to have my photo hanging in the museum.

 

WITH OCTOBER NEARING mid-month and days until winter here in Minnesota dwindling, I feel a sense of urgency to observe and experience every nuance of autumn. That often means ignoring outdoor fall chores for a road trip or a walk in the woods or a stop at the apple orchard.

 

Among the many inviting autumn scenes staged in Wabasha.

 

This past Sunday took Randy and me east toward the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, one of my favorite southeastern Minnesota communities. This city knows how to welcome visitors via two months of celebration, coined SeptOberfest. I’ll share two aspects of Wabasha’s focus on fall in upcoming posts. But for today, here’s a photo peak at those nuances of autumn which so endear me to this season in Minnesota.

 

The beauty of rural Minnesota in autumn along a county road east of Bellechester and heading toward Wabasha.

 

I love the vistas of drying corn and soybean fields sweeping across the land.

 

A farm site viewed from Minnesota State Highway 60 in the Zumbro Falls area.

 

I love the flashes of red farm buildings in a muting landscape.

 

My sister Lanae, a floral designer in Waseca, created this autumn scene in her backyard.

 

I love the fall décor that infuses townscapes and gardens.

 

One of several seasonal boutiques in Wabasha. Barton’s Brickhouse Boutique is located across from the VFW.

 

I love the seasonal boutiques offering handcrafted gifts and the scent of pumpkin and apple crisp.

 

We didn’t find fall colors in Wabasha; we were too early. But we spotted beautiful colors in this treeline at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on our drive back to Faribault.

 

In our many years of day trips in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I have found some of the best fall colors in Rice County. This scene was shot from Rice County Road 84/Falk Avenue. The gravel road parallels Rice County Road 20, which is considered the “back road” between Faribault and Northfield. This scene is near the intersection of CR 84 with 154th street.

 

I swapped on my telephoto lens for a closer look at the distant treeline as seen from CR 84. Other places to view wonderful fall colors in Rice County are west of Faribault around the lakes and also in Faribault along residential streets in old neighborhoods, at River Bend Nature Center and from City View Park. I think we have some of the best autumn hues in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I love the hillsides of trees transitioning from green to yellow, orange and red.

 

I shot this image and the four following at River Bend Nature Center late Sunday afternoon.

 

 

I love, too, the individual leaves that wave color in the wind.

 

 

I love drying milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

There’s so much to love about October, except the prospect of winter edging closer.

 

TELL ME: What do you like most about autumn? Feel free to share details about favorite fall destinations.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Attention, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans: A new must-read book by Marta McDowell September 21, 2017

 

WHEN A PACKAGE LANDED on my front doorstep some 10 days ago, I wondered about its content. I hadn’t ordered anything. But inside I found a newly-released book, The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired The Little House Books.

Ah, yes, I had been expecting this. Sort of. But I’d forgotten about the book by bestselling author Marta McDowell that includes three of my photos. More than a year had passed since Marta and I connected.

Now I was holding the results of this New Jersey writer’s intensive research, multi-state visits and hours of writing. It’s an impressive book for the information and the art published therein on the places and plants in the life of author Laura Ingalls Wilder.

 

Every summer, the folks of Walnut Grove produce an outdoor pageant based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. Many pageant attendees arrive at the show site dressed in period attire and then climb aboard the covered wagon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I have not yet read the entire book. But I am sharing this new Timber Press release now because Marta will be at Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Avenue, in Minneapolis from 7 – 8 this evening (September 21) to present The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I expect the book to be enthusiastically received here in Minnesota and by Laura fans world-wide.

 

The southwestern Minnesota prairie, in the summer, is a place of remarkable beauty. I shot this image outside Walnut Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

I am among those fans with the added bonus of having grown up only three townships north of the Charles and Caroline Ingalls’ North Hero Township home near Walnut Grove in Redwood County, Minnesota. Long before the Little House TV show, long before I realized the popularity of Laura’s book series, I loved her writing. A teacher at Vesta Elementary School read the books aloud to me and my classmates during a post-lunch reading time. That story-time instilled in me a deep love for the written word and a deep connection to The Little House books.

 

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 in 2010.

 

With that background, you can understand my enthusiasm for Marta’s book which focuses on the landscapes and specific plants that surrounded Laura and her family. Laura writes with a strong sense of place, a skill I’ve often considered may trace to her blind sister, Mary. Laura became her sister’s “eyes.”

 

I cannot imagine so many grasshoppers that they obliterated everything. I took this photo at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna during a previous traveling exhibit on Minnesota disasters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Marta writes of specific plants and places in her book, taking the reader from Wisconsin to Minnesota to Missouri and in between—wherever Laura lived. In the section on Walnut Grove, she notes the wild plums, the morning glories and the blue flags (iris) that Laura writes about in On the Banks of Plum Creek. I’ve walked that creek and creekbank, seen the Ingalls’ dug-out, wildflowers and plums. I am of this rich black soil, these plants, this land. There’s a comfortable familiarity in reading of this land the Ingalls family eventually left because of a grasshopper infestation and resulting crop failures.

 

My black-eyed susan photo is published in Marta’s book. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

To be part of Marta’s book on Laura Ingalls Wilder is an honor. The vintage botanical illustrations, original artwork by Garth Williams, historic photos, maps, ads, current day photos like my three and more make this volume a work of art.

There is much to learn therein, much to appreciate. So for all of you Laura fans out there, take note. You’ll want to add The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Frontier Landscapes That Inspired the Little House Books to your collection.

 

DISCLAIMER: I received a complimentary copy of this book and was paid for publication of my three photos.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Photo shopping in New Prague May 2, 2017

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A front window at Vintique in downtown New Prague. The shop specializes in vintage Czech jewelry and in vinyl records.

A front window at Vintique in downtown New Prague. The shop specializes in vintage Czech jewelry and in vinyl records.

 

WHEN I SHOP, it’s sometimes with my camera. I’m shopping for photo ops. Most of the time shopkeepers are OK with me photographing inside their businesses as they recognize the value of media exposure. But occasionally I encounter a resistant merchant. Not that that happened while snapshotting these scenes. I photographed outside the shops, thus no permission was needed in a publicly visible place.

 

It was the mannquin peeking from behind the sign that prompted this photo at Vintique.

It was the mannequin peeking from behind the sign that prompted this photo at Vintique.

 

I just liked what I saw in the windows of the antique and music shops in downtown New Prague.

 

I mean, how fun would it be to play one of these guitars. Yes, I pumped up the color saturation a tad because, well, I just could. Call it artistic license.

In a music store window…

 

I mean, how fun would it be to play one of these guitars? I pumped up the color saturation a tad because, well, I can. Call it artistic license while photo shopping.

TELL ME: Do you notice window displays? What appeals to you in a display?

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Snapshotting Northfield on a Sunday afternoon in April April 25, 2017

 

THE TEMPERATURE ON THE FIRST National Bank of Northfield sign flashed 68 degrees. Sixty-eight glorious degrees on a Sunday afternoon as sunny and beautiful as they come in southern Minnesota in April.

 

Unhooking a fish and fishing in the Cannon River by Bridge Square in the heart of Northfield’s downtown.

 

Daffodils, accented by curly willow, make a simple art statement in planters scattered throughout the downtown area.

 

Lots of downtown Northfield restaurants offer outdoor dining, including here at The Hideaway.

 

Everywhere people ranged in this river city. Bikers, outdoor diners, walkers, anglers, an auburn-haired child navigating across grass sprouted with dandelions, a woman smoking a cigarette in a doorway, an elementary-aged boy drawing an owl in a sketchbook, a line of families waiting outside a dance studio, college co-eds walking in pairs…

 

Poetry is imprinted in downtown sidewalks, this poem across a side street from Bridge Square.

 

Randy and I meandered the river walk, pausing to talk with a biker couple from Hartland asking about Froggy Bottoms, a riverside eatery. We chatted with the red-haired toddler’s mom who admired my camera and shared her passion for photography. She does the social media photos for her and her partner’s BlueNose Coffee in neighboring Farmington. We traded business cards and wished each other a good day and I thought how warm and friendly this young woman with the beautiful baby girl.

 

MakeShift Accessories is one of my favorite downtown Northfield shops given its creative uniqueness.

 

In all the times I’ve visited Bridge Square in downtown Northfield, I’ve never noticed the Civil War Monument topped by this eagle. This time the adjacent fountain was turned off, shifting my focus to the memorial and not to the water.

 

Handwritten notes on business doors always amuse me.

 

Reaching the end of the river walk, Randy and I circled to Division Street, slipping into the occasional business to peruse gifts, antiques and art. As we strolled, I paused to snap photos of whatever caught my eye. A haphazard collection of images.

 

Toys were corralled in a wagon outside a downtown Northfield antique shop.

 

The James-Younger Gang robbery of the First National Bank draws many visitors to Northfield. The original bank now houses the Northfield Historical Society and sits across the street from the current bank.

 

On the side of the historic bank building are holes ringed in black, supposedly marking bullet holes made during the bank raid.

 

Had a company party not drawn us indoors to a pizza and sports bar, I would have lingered longer outdoors, gathering with my camera those details, those Northfield scenes that perhaps remain unnoticed by too many.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

The window of a barbershop across from Bridge Square.

 

One of two murals on the Northfield Union of Youth building.

 

Another mural on The Key (youth center) building caught my eye.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The generational magic of the holidays, as seen through my camera lens January 3, 2017

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

Three generations: my mom, my eldest daughter and my granddaughter.

MY HOLIDAYS HELD magical photographic moments, mostly because of my granddaughter, just days shy of turning nine months old.

Isabelle is so accustomed to Grandma and her DSLR Canon that she crawls toward me whenever I have my camera in hand. So I try to be quick and sneaky, not always possible with an active baby.

 

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But I managed, at a family holiday gathering this past weekend in southwestern Minnesota, to photograph some special moments. I’m always seeking to document emotions, interactions and everyday life. Posed portraits also hold value.

 

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I aimed my lens toward my mom, in her eighties, and her connection to her great granddaughter. I love watching the interaction between the two generations and observing my own daughter as a loving and caring mom.

 

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Often I found myself crawling and chasing after Izzy, sometimes placing my camera on the floor to get her perspective. That resulted in my favorite shot of the weekend—Isabelle crawling while her daddy and grandpa watched from the next room.

 

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Grandpa also thought he should teach his grandbaby to maneuver the stairs. She’s a little too young for that. But that didn’t stop Izzy from pausing at the base of the stairway to imagine the possibilities. Stairs appear particularly daunting from a baby’s perspective.

 

Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

Santa visits with my mom and my niece.

As always, Santa showed up at the extended family holiday gathering to parcel out candy, humor and questions about naughty and nice. All ages landed on his lap, earning a moment of Santa’s full attention.

 

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There’s something magical about that—when, for a brief span of time, we all believe in Santa Claus.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo moment: Two ladies buying squash November 29, 2016

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AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, I strive to document, to tell a story, to record moments and emotions, to photograph people and places and events. Succinctly stated, I desire to present life. As it is.

Nothing gives me greater satisfaction in photography than capturing candid memorable moments. Yes, I take posed photos. But I prefer not to. So if I’m cruising with my camera and someone alerts others to my presence, I typically stop photographing. I want to be unseen. Just there. Blending in. Not always easy to do with a bulky Canon DSLR camera slung around my neck. But I try.

Recently I was rewarded with one of those prize shots while photographing at Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store, in Jordan. A moment of everyday life right there, outside the signature yellow building along US Highway 169.

Two elderly women were shopping for squash as if it was the most important thing in the world on a weekday afternoon in October. And to them, it was important.

I had one chance to photograph them. I love the results—the joy and concentration on their faces as they peruse the squash. I notice the clothing. I can’t recall the last time I saw a woman wearing a kerchief. There are details, too, of oversized purse (not bag) and cane in hand.

I note also the care the merchandiser takes in marketing the squash with historical information, flavor notations and graphics.

The subject of this image is not extraordinary, newsworthy or remarkable. It’s simply ordinary. Everyday. Two ladies buying squash. And therein lies its value to me as a Minnesota photographer.

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Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store is now closed for the season and reopens in time for Memorial Day weekend.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Follow-up: When a camera dies June 25, 2015

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Three of the cameras from a vintage collection of cameras once used by my parents and me.

Three of the cameras from my collection of cameras once used by my parents and/or me.

IF PHOTOGRAPHERS never embraced change, they would still shoot with an old Brownie or a Polaroid or some other camera long ago obsolete.

That said, here’s how I handled the recent death of my Canon EOS 20D. I wrote about the unexpected demise of my DSLR in a late February post. That story generated great discussion and input, some of you encouraging me to challenge myself with a much-upgraded camera. Others suggested I stick with what I knew.

In the end, after trying a Canon 7D and much stress and agonizing over its operation, I purchased a Canon 20D from my friend Lee. It’s exactly like my old one except for the telephoto lens that came with this used camera. Lee was happy to get his unused 20D out of basement storage, thus solving my problem.

I can almost hear the uproar, the outcry, the “Oh, she could take much better photos with a better camera.” True? Perhaps from a technically perfect perspective.

Too much camera for me. For now.

Too much camera for me. For now.

But the bottom line is this: Focusing on the operations of the camera—worrying about f-stops and ISO and shutter speeds—stressed me and took the joy out of my photography. I lost my passion and artistry. Rather, I thought mostly about settings that would assure I had enough light or correct depth of field, or whatever I needed to even take a decent photo. I admire photographers who can handle all of that without flinching.

I suppose in time, I would have learned. You can argue that. I already had the basics down from my days of shooting with film. Just trying to operate the newer 7D, I learned more about the manual options on my 20D. That is the good that came out of this.

I used this camera as a teenage.

I used this camera as a teenage.

But the single thing that this Death of a Camera reinforced for me is that it’s not always about the camera. It’s about how you take photos (perspectives and angles and composition, etc.) and the subjects of your photography and lighting that create memorable images.

Like a writer, a photographer has a voice.

What is my voice? It is, like my writing, down-to-earth detailed and about a sense of place. Rural and small town Minnesota (mostly). Close-up. From a distance. The people who live in this place. I strive to photograph that which others pass but don’t truly see. I strive to connect you, via my photos, to this place I love. To the ordinary, which is often the extraordinary.

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© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
My photos are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission. If you are interested in purchasing rights to use my images, please check my “About” page for contact information. I am grateful to the individuals, ad agencies, authors, charities, magazines and others who have found value in my photos and purchased rights to use selected images that meet their needs. 

Most of all, I am grateful to you, my readers, for appreciating my photography.