Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In the Pumpkin Patch under the bridge in Wabasha October 13, 2017

 

MASSIVE MAMMOTH PUMPKINS sprawl across brick and cement walkways under the bridge in Wabasha in this season of autumn. Here among dried leaves drifted from trees and below traffic crossing the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, locals have staged the Pumpkin Patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a place that attracts all ages, that draws people here to wander among the gigantic pumpkins somehow wrangled into place. This year’s winning pumpkin, grown by Gary Russell of Plainview, weighs 879 pounds. That’s a lot of pumpkin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As enthralled as I was by these hefty pumpkins, I observed that my 18-month-old granddaughter and a lot of other kids (and their parents and grandparents) and others were equally as impressed.

 

My granddaughter carries a bean bag to toss into the candy corn prop.

 

 

 

 

The Pumpkin Patch certainly celebrates the season with pumpkins of all sizes, festive fall displays, themed kids’ games, occasional pony rides and music, and more. It’s the perfect mix to bring people to this spot, to draw them into nearby boutiques, eateries and more as they explore this southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

Izzy loves owls, including this one painted onto a tree in a bean bag toss game.

 

 

 

Families pose for photos on the stage against backdrops of fall decor.

 

Just across the street, more autumn-themed activities await families. Check back tomorrow as I showcase that portion of Wabasha’s SeptOberfest celebration.  Wabasha wins my high praise for crafting creative spaces that focus on families and celebrate autumn in Minnesota.

 

FYI: For more details on all events in Wabasha’s nearly two-month-long SeptOberfest, click here.

To read about Zootopia on the RiverFront, my first post in this three-part series from Wabasha, click here.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pumpkins, picking & prayer September 2, 2015

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HAVE YOU EVER TRIED to coax a cat onto a pumpkin? It is difficult at best.

I am not a cat owner. But I grew up with farm cats, simply calling, “Here, kitty kitty,” and the felines would come running. They did not, however, appreciate any attempts to dress them in doll clothes and then plop them into a doll buggy.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

The sprawling garden includes pumpkins and popcorn.

That “here, kitty kitty” tactic did not work with Gretchen, who belongs to friends, Jeff and Mandy. My bible study group gathered recently at their rural Faribault acreage. We always socialize for an hour before digging into our study. And on this perfect late summer evening in Minnesota, we surveyed Mandy’s garden. Gretchen meandered with us among the vines and rows.

Hannah's sunflowers

Hannah’s sunflowers

Mandy grows vegetables that I’ve never seen grown—like kidney beans and burgundy beans and tomatillos. This year she’s had help from Hannah, a teen who wanted to learn gardening.

Jeff coaxes Gretchen...

Jeff coaxes Gretchen…

...onto the pumpkin.

…onto the pumpkin.

Hannah planted pumpkins which just kept growing and growing and growing into ginormous orbs. I wanted to photograph them. But I needed scale. Ah, Gretchen the cat would be perfect. So Jeff, kind friend that he is, agreed to lure Gretchen onto a Great Atlantic (or something like that; Jeff couldn’t quite remember the name) pumpkin. Eventually I got an acceptable photo.

Later, Gretchen hopped atop a fence post, providing for more photo ops as the sun edged down:

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 1

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 2

 

Garden, Gretchen the cat at sunset 3

 

When the photo shoots and garden tour ended, we began moving toward the house. But we were sidetracked. Debbie and I, dairy farmers’ daughters, checked out the barn. Most of the guys headed to a shed and scrounged in a scrap metal pile. Steve, the artist among us, found metal for art projects and a trough that will work as a flower planter. Then Mike and I waded through tall grass with Mandy, aiming for the wood pile. There we rooted out wooden boxes. Mike also found scrap wood for his oldest son’s May wedding.

The barn rises high above the garden.

The barn rises high above the garden.

One person’s junk is another’s treasure.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

The top of the silo and the barn roof.

What a fun evening it was, first touring and photographing the garden and Gretchen, then picking, then gathering around the kitchen table with dear friends to study, to share and to pray. I am blessed.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’m not anti pumpkin, but… October 30, 2013

The $10 ginormous pumpkins.

The ginormous $10 pumpkins.

JUST DAYS BEFORE HALLOWEEN, Steve Twiehoff of Twiehoff Gardens, a family run produce business on Faribault’s east side, was trying to pitch an 85-pound pumpkin to me. For $10, the pumpkin would be mine and Steve would even load it into the van.

“The neighbor kids will love you,” Steve encouraged.

One of two wagonloads of pumpkins at Twiehoff's Garden.

One of two wagonloads of pumpkins at Twiehoff’ Gardens.

But truth be told, I don’t intend to purchase a pumpkin, big or small, this year.

All sizes of pumpkins are available.

All sizes of pumpkins are available.

Does that cast me in the role of a pumpkin Grinch? Maybe.

Late afternoon sunshine slants through the open poleshed door, spotlighting pumpkins for sale at Twiehoff Gardens.

Late afternoon sunshine slants through the open poleshed door, spotlighting pumpkins for sale at Twiehoff Gardens.

In reality, the lack of a pumpkin purchase projects my present life phase as an empty nester. With no kids in the house, there’s no need to carve a jack-o-lantern. Not that I ever did; that was my husband’s job.

In 1994, my daughters, Amber, left, and Miranda, right, dressed as a butterfly and Dalmatian respectively. Their 10-month-old brother, Caleb, was too young to go trick-or-treating.

In 1994, my daughters, Amber, left, and Miranda, right, dressed as a butterfly and Dalmatian respectively. Their 10-month-old brother, Caleb, was too young to go trick-or-treating.

I focused, instead, on creating homemade costumes for our trio. Those ranged from taping hundreds of cotton balls onto a garbage bag for a sheep costume to stitching strands of red yarn onto trimmed panty hose for Raggedy Ann’s hair to dabbing black spots onto a white t-shirt for a Dalmatian to painting butterfly wings. What moms won’t do.

Five years later Caleb headed out the door dressed as an elephant.

Five years later Caleb headed out the door dressed as an elephant.

I also transformed kids into an elephant, angel, pirate, cowboy and even a skunk, plus a few more characters/animals I’ve long forgotten.

Yes, I’ve done the Halloween thing. So, if for a few years I fail to buy a pumpkin, please excuse me.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Charming Wabasha on a day in October October 13, 2011

Nothing says "small town" like a hardware store, including Hill's Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT Wabasha that keeps drawing me back to this 1830 Mississippi River town?

Small town charm? Yes.

Historic buildings? Yes.

The river and the eagles? Yes.

Now add to that the yummy, chewy, chocolate-covered caramel turtles from The Chocolate Escape, the homemade tomato basil soup at The Olde Triangle (Irish) Pub, the street side festive corn shocks/fall decorations, and the gigantic pumpkins at the Pumpkin Patch under the Minnesota Highway 60 Mississippi River bridge.

Wabasha knows how to woo visitors with its irresistibly charming personality. While I delight in that put-on-its-best-face appearance, I search for the nuances that define this town’s character.

Dogs plopped on the sidewalk. A cat tucked under a stairway. Handwritten signs. Bricks, bikes and books. Tile floors. Friendly barbers. An old clock. Unattended stores. Polite motorists who stop for pedestrians. Benches that invite sitting a spell.

It’s there, all there, in Wabasha. Join me for a photographic stroll through this river town on an October afternoon.

Then, the next time you’re in Wabasha, or any town, take note of the store windows and walkways, the rooflines and the signage, the vibe of the place you are visiting. Seek out the details and enjoy.

Corn shocks, scarecrows and pumpkins add a festive flair to the downtown.

I saw two dogs and a cat hanging out, this one near Heritage Park by the bridge.

The historic skyline of Wabasha.

A storefront display of vintage fans in the window of Passe Electric.

A snapshot aimed toward the upper wall and ceiling of The Bookcliffs at Pembroke Avenue, just off the main drag.

The death of a businessman, announced in the window of his business, Gambles Hardware.

A nutcracker collection displayed in The Chocolate Escape.

More of those lovely old buildings.

An inspiring message posted inside The Bookcliffs.

A bench featuring Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon from the movie "Grumpy Old Men," which was based on the setting of Wabasha, rests under the bridge.

The Pumpkin Patch, an autumn attraction under the bridge in Heritage Park.

My favorite pumpkin carving in the Pumpkin Patch.

Jewels on the River, a jewelry shop in the old city hall next to the bridge.

A scene under the Mississippi River bridge.

Crossing the Mississippi River bridge eastbound from Wabasha into Wisconsin.

IF YOU’RE LOOKING for something to do this weekend, consider coming to Faribault for the Fall Festival & Chili Cook-Off on Saturday, October 15, in our historic downtown. Sample and vote for chilis, served street side at businesses from11 a.m. – 1 p.m. A Kids’ Costume Parade along Central Avenue kicks off the event at 10:30 a.m. followed by pumpkin painting and treasures in the haystack for the kids. Adults will find plenty of shopping options in the downtown. Click here for more information.

You’ll also want to check out the South Central Minnesota Studio ArTour which begins Friday with previews in several studios from 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. The tour of 23 art studios in the Faribault, Northfield and Cannon Falls area, featuring 46 artists, officially begins Saturday and continues on Sunday. Hours are 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Click here for more information.

© Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honesty goes a long ways at roadside market October 19, 2010

 

 

Mounds of squash for sale at George Denn's roadside market.

 

BY GEORGE, that George is a mighty trusting fellow.

But, hey, the system must work for George W. Denn, purveyor of pumpkins, gourds, squash, hay and straw bales, corn shocks, apples, honey, popcorn, wheat, pumpkin seeds and books—I think that’s it—along Blue Earth County Road 2 on the Blue Earth/Le Sueur county line.

When you pull up to George’s roadside spread northeast of Mankato by Wita Lake next to his farm, he’s nowhere to be seen. That’s where the word “trust” factors into his Hey by George! business.

The Christian pumpkin farmer-writer relies on his customers’ honesty to simply deposit their payments in a secure metal box attached to the side of an old truck. Signage directs shoppers to “PAY ON OTHER SIDE” or to “PAY HERE.”

Apparently the system works. Or, if it doesn’t always work, perhaps George figures his business can survive a few stolen pumpkins, gourds or squash among the thousands he’s displayed.

If anyone happens to take one of George’s $14.99 inspirational books or some of his produce without paying, he/she may want to turn to page 35 in Hey By George!.

George reveals that he’s not only mighty trusting, but he’s also mighty forgiving.

 

You pay on the honor system, depositing your money into a box attached to the side of this old truck.

 

 

The money goes here, in this secured box, as directed.

 

 

If you can't find the perfect pumpkin here, then you probably won't find one anywhere.

 

 

A kitschy sign lists the price for corn shocks.

 

 

Piles of squash for purchase.

 

 

A close-up of the bumpy squash at Hey by George!

 

 

Heaps of squash at Hey by George!

 

 

Wispy wheat makes an artful display beside the wheel of the old truck.

 

 

Colorful squash next to the old truck are for sale.

 

 

Jars of wheat are among the offerings at George's roadside market.

 

 

George Denn's two books, Hey By George! and Hey By George II, are tucked into plastic boxes and are also sold on the honor system.

 

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling