EVERYONE OUGHT TO OCCASIONALLY take a drive into the countryside along back county roads and gravel roads trailing dust. It’s good for the soul, spirit and mind to route into a quiet place defined by fields and farm sites. Away from town. Away from houses clumped together in blocks. Into a wide open place where land and sky meet and space seems infinite.
Randy and I found all of that recently as we drove east of Faribault, passing fields sprouting corn, farm sites nudging the highway. We aimed toward our friend Barb and Bob’s farm, invited there to harvest rhubarb. It’s an annual spring rite for us.
But for me, this is about much more than gathering rhubarb. It’s about enveloping myself in the peacefulness of rural Minnesota. When only the trill of birds, the roar of a tractor and conversation with our friends break the silence, I feel utterly, contentedly at home. I feel grounded and rooted and connected and transported back to the farm of my youth, albeit 120 miles to the west.
I never pull a single stalk of rhubarb from the patch next to the aged clay block smokehouse. While Randy harvests, I roam. With my camera.
First, I pause to take in the rural landscape—fields, trees, gravel road below a clear blue sky. Oh, place of my heart.
Then I head toward the silo towering over the farm site. Many times I climbed the ladder into the silo back on my childhood farm to fork silage and toss it down the chute to feed the cows. It was hard, smelly work. But when you worked on a dairy, livestock and crop farm 60-plus years ago, chores were labor intensive.
From the silo, I turn my focus to the weathered plywood quilt block square displayed on the side of a tin-covered pole shed. The artwork, “Star Shadow,” honors Barb’s passion for quilting. It’s a nice addition to the building. I like barn quilt art, which surged in popularity perhaps a decade or more ago. There are places in Minnesota, like the Caledonia area in Houston County, where you can take a self-guided tour and view 59 barn quilts. For my generation, especially, quilts are part of our family history. Patchwork quilts layered beds, providing warmth on frigid Minnesota winter nights. I cherish remembrances of my paternal grandmother’s quilt tops, quilting frame and the quilts she gifted to me and all of her 40-plus grandchildren.
This visit to Barb and Bob’s farm brings back so many memories. I wander among the apple trees, most blossoms spent, and watch an elusive Monarch butterfly flit among the branches. I can almost taste the sweetness of apple jelly spooned onto buttered toast.
I check in with Randy, who hasn’t called me to help with the rhubarb harvest. He understands the pull I feel to photograph. Via photography, I notice details and that is such a gift. He’s gathered a growing stash of thick green stalks tipped in pink. Rhubarb seems such a humble fruit. Perfect for crisp, sauce or pie.
A tractor roars by then, dust rising around and behind as it pulls an unfamiliar farm implement down the gravel road. A roller, Randy notes later when we pass a packed farm field.
Then quiet settles again. Randy gathers the pile of rhubarb leaves, tidying the area around the old smokehouse.
We head back toward the farmhouse, this time rousing Barb and Bob, who earlier did not hear Randy’s knocks. We settle in for a chat which turns into a lengthy conversation in the shade of trees, near the lilac bush, in their front yard garden. Birds sing. Butterflies fly. Words rise. Cold, filtered well water poured from a fancy pitcher into thick, hefty glasses quenches thirst. The four of us simply enjoy each other’s company. No hurry. Nowhere to be.
I step away to photograph several of Barb’s many birdhouses.
And then the orange farm cat appears. I excuse myself again, to photograph Fred, who requires significant coaxing to come closer. But he is skittish. My camera lens, followed by the click of the shutter scares him away.
I circle back to the conversation circle, passing a bird bath with a trio of ballet dancers centering that circle. They are graceful and beautiful and seemingly out of place in this rural setting. Yet, they are not. The countryside overflows with grace and beauty. The grace of silence and solitude. And the beauty of the natural world.
On this day, I need this. To be in the serenity of this quiet place. To take in the countryside. To see the sky, the trees, the land. To talk with Barb and Bob. And then to leave with a clutch of rhubarb and the promise of warm rhubarb crisp pulled from the oven.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling