Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Autumn on a rural Minnesota acreage, a photo essay October 4, 2018

A restored windmill towers above a refurbished mini barn (soon to be art studio) on my brother and sister-in-law’s rural Redwood County acreage.

 

OF SIX FARM-RAISED SIBLINGS, only two live in the country. Neither farmers. But two work in the ag industry, one as the CEO of an ethanol company, the other as part owner in an implement dealership.

 

 

My middle brother remains in our home county of Redwood and welcomes us back for extended family gatherings, most recently our annual autumn tradition of making horseradish—157 jars this year. The tradition honors our deceased farmer father. He dug and processed horseradish roots for many years. Now we do the same but with easier methods than using an old meat grinder powered by a drill. Like Dad, we give away the condiment.

 

Sunflowers ripen and dry under the prairie sky.

 

Our annual gathering in rural Lamberton isn’t about the horseradish as much as it is about family.

 

I’ve always delighted in milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

 

While I enjoy our time together, I usually slip away to meander, to take in the rural setting, to photograph. I need that peacefulness amid all the chattering and joking and loudness of a group with some strong personalities.

 

How lovely the broom corn rising and swaying in the prairie wind.

 

My artsy sister-in-law creates vignettes like this that change with the seasons.

 

A sunflower, heavy with seed, bows to the earth.

 

I need quiet. And I need to take in the shifting of the seasons, the artful autumn displays, the aged buildings, all the visual reminders of a rural life I still miss decades removed from the country.

 

A gazing ball in a flower garden reflects sky, land and dried black-eyed susan seed heads.

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to escape to this acreage, to reclaim the serenity of rural Minnesota.

 

An old shed recently moved onto the acreage, to be rebuilt or salvaged for the wood.

 

I realize nostalgia tinges my view of country life. Much has changed since I left the farm nearly 45 years ago. But not the love I hold for the land, for the quiet and grace and muted tones of harvest time.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Watching the 2018 Winter Olympics from the perspective of a Minnesota soldier’s daughter February 13, 2018

My dad, Elvern Kletscher, at Camp McNair in Korea, photo dated February 14 (1953).

 

WATCHING THE WINTER OLYMPICS the past several days, I’ve felt a closeness to my deceased father. He walked this soil, this mountainous land so different from the flat, open farm land of his southwestern Minnesota home.

 

This photo from my dad’s collection is tagged as “Kim, Rowe, Allen & me, May 1953 Machine Gun Crew.” That’s my father on the right.

 

He landed here in 1952 with a ship full of other U.S. Army soldiers, gun in hand. A young man sent here by his government to fight on foreign land in a region that still is without solid peace. He fought on the front lines. Kill or be killed. Buddies dying. Explosions and hungry Korean orphans begging for food across barbed wire and him eating bark from trees and cold that felt even colder than the coldest of Minnesota winters.

 

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad’s military photos, is simply labeled “front line.” That would be “front line” as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

 

When I see the blowing snow and rugged mountain ranges during Olympics coverage, I think of my foot solider infantryman father, ranging through and over those Korean mountains. Scared. Yet doing what he must to survive. Kill or be killed.

 

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

 

I think of him on Heartbreak Ridge, picking off a sniper who had taken many of his buddies. And I think of the fiery shrapnel piercing his skin and the Purple Heart he would claim decades later, when he was an old man. Because a fire had destroyed his military records. Because he had tucked most of his war memories away. Because no one cared about what happened on a Korean mountaintop in 1953.

 

On the back of this photo, my dad simply wrote “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

 

I regret that I didn’t understand him and the inner turmoil he carried with him from Korea back home to Minnesota. I regret that I didn’t ask more about his war experiences, that I didn’t recognize the trauma he suffered as a result. I regret that healing never fully came, although he found understanding and solace in the company of other veterans with similar shared experiences late in life.

All of this I consider when I view the Olympic athletes in their designer clothing, medals around their necks, applause of crowds, praise of many.

All of this I consider when I see the sister of the North Korean dictator seated behind our Vice President.

All of this I consider when I view those Korean mountains flashing across my TV screen.

 

Dad penciled on the back of this 1953 photo from Korea: “Sgt Smith & me from the States to Korea.”

 

I think of my dad as I retrieve a shoebox full of his black-and-white Korean War era photos. I sit on the sofa filing through those curled images while Olympic athletes ski and skate and propel themselves down an icy tunnel. On the back of one photo, I read my dad’s cursive notation: me in Korea May, 53.

Sixty-five years have passed since he left Korea. I wish I could sit with him now, ask him about his time in Korea, about the stories behind those photos. Perhaps he would talk, perhaps not.

 

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

 

I wonder, would he turn off the television or would he watch the Olympians perform? Could he handle seeing the backdrop of those rugged mountains where too many of his buddies died? Would he flash back to the horrors of war?

 

My dad carried home a July 31, 1953, memorial service bulletin from Sucham-dong, Korea. In the right column is listed the name of his fallen buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe.

 

The reality is that I can’t ask him. He died in 2003. But I can write. I can use my words to tell his story, to apologize for my lack of understanding, to honor him. And this I do as Olympians cross country ski, stop, sprawl stomach down, then fire their rifles in this land, this Korea. This land where my soldier father from Minnesota shot his weapon, too. Kill or be killed.

© Copyright 2018 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

 

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.

 

family-izzy-grandma-looking-58

 

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.

 

family-izzy-grandma-55

 

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.

 

family-izzy-crawling-47

 

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.

 

family-izzy-at-bottom-of-stairs-82

 

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.

 

family-santa-leaving-143

 

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

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling