Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Into the country to pick rhubarb, but so much more May 31, 2023

The gravel road past our friends’ Rice County farm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Bird folk art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Formerly a smokehouse, this is now used for storing gardening tools. The rhubarb patch flourishes alongside the aged building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Beautiful rural Rice County, east of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

First, I pause to take in the rural landscape—fields, trees, gravel road below a clear blue sky. Oh, place of my heart.

A familiar rural site, a silo. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Barb’s “Star Shadow” barn quilt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Apple blossoms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

The growing pile of rhubarb. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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 heads to a field with a roller to pack the soil. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Randy carries discarded leaves away from the rhubarb patch. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

Then quiet settles again. Randy gathers the pile of rhubarb leaves, tidying the area around the old smokehouse.

We visited near the lilacs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Birdhouse on an outbuilding. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

I step away to photograph several of Barb’s many birdhouses.

The shy farm cat. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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.

Bird bath art on the farm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2023)

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


Before winter settles in…savor these autumn days October 21, 2022

My next door neighbor’s maple tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

IN THE FLEETING DAYS of autumn here in Minnesota, there’s an urgency to get things done before winter. Hurry and rake the leaves. Tune up the snowblower. Wash the windows. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

Almost like seeing summer, autumn and winter in the trees viewed from my backyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

But in the haste of all that preparation, there’s also a need to slow down and delight in autumn. Simply stepping outside my home to view the backyard maple and neighbors’ trees fills my soul. I love the contrast of orange, red, yellow against the bold October sky. Sometimes when I look skyward, I see a mix of seasons from green leaves, to autumnal leaves to bare branches.

Sunshine filters through a branch on my backyard maple tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Every single day calls for pausing to appreciate the beautiful natural world of October in southern Minnesota. I know this won’t last and I need to savor these scenes.

The countryside near Nerstrand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Last Saturday morning, instead of pursuing yard work, Randy and I headed on one more drive through the countryside to view the diminishing fall colors. Leaf raking, although started, could wait. As we followed back county paved roads and township gravel roads through open farmland and through woods, I felt embraced and connected to the local landscape and scenes unfolding before me.

Farmer Trail twists through woods of primarily maple. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Sunshine dappled through trees.

To the north across cornfields and treelines, a cloud deck revealed the weather ahead. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

To the north, a cloud deck drew a nearly straight horizontal line across the sky, a hint of the cold weather to come. And it blew in later that day with a raw wind and a drop in temps.

Still some color along Crystal Lake at Cannon City. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Colors were well past their peak in Rice County. Still the occasional oak or maple dropped red or russet into muted tree clusters.

A grain truck holds the corn harvest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvested and unharvested fields of corn and soybeans spread before us. Grain trucks, some brimming with the yield, anchored fields. Former farm kids that we are, we discussed the crops. Always have, always will. It’s something we learned early on, me from Sunday afternoon drives with my parents and siblings to view the crops and during dinner table discussions.

A stately, well-kept barn along Coe Trail northwest of Cannon City. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

We passed farm sites, one with a well-kept signature red barn. There’s something about a barn…

A farm site in the colors of November. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Another farm place was all grey. Grey bin. Grey machine shed. Grey silo. Grey outbuilding. Grey garage. Weathered grey barn.

Driving through autumn on a rural Rice County road last Saturday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Soon the weather will shift to the grey of November, the month when winter creeps in. Already we’ve felt the bite of unseasonably cold October days that are giving way, this weekend, to unseasonable warmth. These mark bonus days. Days to drive the countryside, visit an orchard, take a hike…days for anything but raking leaves, washing windows or tuning the snowblower.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A country drive to see fall colors northwest of Faribault October 6, 2022

A view of the colorful foliage along Seventh Street in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

ON THE THIRD CONSECUTIVE DAY of viewing fall colors in southern Minnesota, Randy and I headed northwest of Faribault to area lakes. But even before we got out of town, we drove along two city streets—Second Avenue by Bethlehem Academy north to Seventh Street and then Seventh Street—which are particularly beautiful in autumn. There’s no need to leave Faribault to see stunning trees of orange, red and yellow mixed with brown and green.

A sweeping view of Kelly Lake and the colorful treeline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Yet, there’s something about a colorful lakeshore treeline against the October sky that is particularly lovely. Thus I suggest a country drive. Perhaps my favorite area autumn color viewing spot is at the public boat landing on Kelly Lake. We return there each fall and Randy joked that I could just use the same photos taken last year. I didn’t.

Belview Trail just outside Faribault winds past farm sites. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Hay bales line a hillside along CR 64. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)
A well-kept barn near Roberds Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

We edged Roberds Lake after trailing a winding gravel road past farm sites. Country drives are, by definition, about immersing ourselves in the country. Appreciating ripening corn and soybean fields, stately barns, ginormous round hay bales staged in a field… And then hugging the side of the road upon meeting a massive combine.

Sun and clouds mix over colorful woods near Roberds Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Mostly, I take in the landscape, this October day set against moody clouds on blue sky. Clouds create interest, depth, interesting patterns to backdrop fields and trees.

Shoreline and lake merge to create a “painting” of Kelly Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

I see curves and lines and the way everything flows, first with my eyes, then through the viewfinder of my aged Canon EOS 20-D camera. Water flows into trees, trees into sky. It all comes together to create this scene, this autumn.

A view of Lake Mazaska through the shoreline grasses. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

At the west-side boat landing in Shieldsville, Randy noted the low water level of Lake Mazaska. It would be impossible to launch a boat here. I photographed the lake through a stand of grass, perhaps bulrushes. A peeling, aged sign a block away landmarked Bulrush Bay.

Brilliant sumac by Kelly Lake. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Individual leaves and stems of grass don’t go unnoticed. The singleness merges into the whole. This whole of autumn in Rice County.

A picturesque creek along County Road 64/Irwin Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

We lunched at McCullough County Park on Shields Lake, swatting bees and beetles, before continuing our drive along County Road 64/Irwin Trail. An especially picturesque creek cutting through the land called for a stop, a photo.

One of many winding gravel roads we followed through the countryside, around lakes… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And then onward we drove, up and down and all around on gravel roads, the van kicking dust.

Among the many wooded hillside ablaze in color. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Traveling at a slower pace allows for taking in the unfolding landscape. Cornfield nudging a clump of colored trees. So much to see if only we look.

The historic Czech church and surrounding cemetery in Shieldsville Township. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And then a stop, an opportunity to stretch our legs and explore Trebon Cemetery surrounding an historic Czech church, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, established in 1886. We discovered this sacred place at the intersection of County Road 63/Kanabec Avenue and County Road 37/160th Street West several years ago. Like last visit, I wished I could get inside the church, but had to settle for peering through windows. The view of the countryside from the cemetery grounds is stunning.

This smiley face is a local landmark along Roberds Lake Boulevard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Aiming back toward Faribault, we passed the smiley face painted on the side of a building at the intersection of Roberds Lake Boulevard and County Road 37/West 185th Street. It’s been there forever, a rural landmark that makes me smile every time I see that happiness icon.

I appreciate homemade signage, including this well-worn sign by Lake Mazaska. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Several hours in the rural Rice County countryside filled my spirit with happiness. Autumn has a way of weaving joy into my life with her color, her last hurrah before winter arrives. So I say, get out there. Take a country drive. Slow down. Pause. Delight in these October days.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Parts of Rice, Le Sueur & Nicollet counties in all their autumn splendor October 3, 2022

The beginning of our day trip took us west out of Faribault along back county roads. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

AUTUMN POPPED COLOR—brilliant oranges, reds, yellows—into the landscape on an October day as beautiful as they come here in southern Minnesota.

Harvesting beans along Le Sueur County Road 12. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Throughout Rice, Le Sueur and Nicollet counties, leaves are rapidly changing, splashing hillsides, groves, shorelines and other stands of trees in spectacular seasonal hues.

Photographed at the public boat landing on Horseshoe Lake just off Rice County Road 14 by Camp Omega. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Randy and I headed on a fall color drive Monday morning, referencing the DNR Fall Color Finder guide promising plenty of colorful leaves to the west. Hours of traveling mostly county roads (including gravel) through the southern Minnesota countryside on our day-long drive provided incredible leaf viewing.

The distant shoreline of Horseshoe Lake blazes fiery colors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Retracing our exact route through Rice and Le Sueur counties and a small section of Nicollet County would be nearly impossible. But we started out by heading west on Rice County Road 12, eventually following CR 14 to Horseshoe Lake by Camp Omega. The public boat landing there was our first stop to view a lakeside treeline ablaze in fiery hues.

Crops ripen against a farm site backdrop in Le Sueur County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

It wasn’t just the trees that drew my eye. I love, too, the acres of corn and soybeans drying under the autumn sun. The muted gold of corn leaves adds to the sense of seasons shifting.

A grain truck holds the harvest along Le Sueur County Road 12. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Harvest is well underway with combines and grain trucks in fields. I appreciate the rural landscape any time of year, but especially now as farmers bring in the crops.

Cattle in a pasture along CR 101 on the way to the Kasota Prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

From fields to farm sites (especially barns) to roadside vegetable stands to cattle in pastures, I found myself reconnecting with my agrarian roots, my prairie roots, while on this day trip.

A memorable message marks the entrance to the Kasota Prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Fiery hillsides of trees edge the Kasota Prairie in the distance. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)
A lone cedar stands atop a hill on the Kasota Prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Near Kasota, we turned onto Le Sueur County Road 101 off CR 21 and took a winding gravel road about five miles to the Kasota Prairie. It was worth the dusty road, the meandering drive, to reach this grassland. As we pulled into the parking lot and hiked an uneven dirt trail into the prairie, I stopped multiple times to photograph the distant treeline painted in shades of mostly orange, red, brown… This prairie is a must-see, oh, so lovely, showcasing backdrop trees that hug the Minnesota River.

Colorful treelines can be seen along both sides of US Highway 169. Stunning. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Color in the Minnesota River Valley is near-prime. Originally, we’d intended to tour Mankato, but shifted gears when I learned that my poem, “The Mighty Tatanka,” is not yet posted as part of The Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Instead, we drove to St. Peter and took US Highway 169 north out of town. And wow, oh, wow. The colors along the stretch of highway from St. Peter to Le Sueur, especially, are spectacular. This is a must-drive right now. Don’t wait. Not one day. Not two days. Go now.

A memorable barn because of its copper-hued roof. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Heading east on Minnesota State Highway 19 toward New Prague, we turned south at Union Hill and shortly thereafter took a gravel road to State Highway 13, then turned onto Le Sueur County Road 145, landmarked by a barn roof the color of copper set against an autumn backdrop of trees.

A road sign that fit the day’s purpose, to view leaves. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

If I remember correctly, this farm site is along Leaf Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Heading back toward Faribault, another stunning treeline next to a cornfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

More gravel roads, including one appropriately named Leaf Trail, and blacktop eventually led us to Millersburg and aiming home to Faribault mostly along CR 46. Interstate 35 may have been a better choice for fall colors based on the colorful trees spotted there on Sunday between Faribault and the first Lakeville exit.

A view of Lake Washington from the public boat landing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

But by then it was late afternoon, many road miles later with stops at lakes and the prairie and a park for a picnic lunch. We’d had a full day. A day full of autumn in Minnesota at its best. Warm. Mostly sunny. And ablaze in colors, the reason I so love this season.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Back to southwestern Minnesota, the place of my roots July 13, 2021

A well-kept farm site west of New Ulm. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

THE JULY FOURTH WEEKEND took me back home, home being my native southwestern Minnesota. There my extended family gathered at my middle brother’s rural acreage near Lamberton for the first time since December 2019. To see so many family members—not all attended—felt wonderful.

Heading west toward Redwood County, we passed this chopper and wagons in Brown County. Minnesota Prairie Root photo.

Being back in that rural area of our state, in a familiar landscape, felt comforting. No matter where I’ve lived as an adult, Redwood County remains home. The place of my roots. The land and sky and wind imprinted upon me like ink on the pages of a book. Words that thread through my writing even today.

One of several deer spotted as we drove west. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Perhaps my perspective seems too nostalgic. And if it does, I offer no apologies. I value the place which shaped me as a person and as a writer and photographer.

A farm site along US Highway 14 west of Owatonna as we begin our 2.5-hour drive west. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Near Mankato, a truck pulls a farm wagon. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Skirting Mankato on US Highway 14, the land dips into the Minnesota River Valley, then rises, opening to flat farm land. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

The familiar scenes which appear before me en route from Faribault to southwestern Minnesota welcome me back. The red barns. The vast fields of corn and soybeans. The expansive sky. Even the tractors and farm wagons and pick-up trucks.

Entering Morgan, where grain elevators edge the main route through town. This is in eastern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

All are part of the rural-ness. My rural-ness. The grain elevators and gravel roads and power lines stretching seemingly to infinity.

So many beautiful red barns along the route west. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I could write chapters about the gravel roads I biked as a teen—how the gravel crunched beneath tires, how wild roses flourished in ditches, how vehicles kicked up dust. I could write chapters about barns—how I labored inside ours, feeding cows and calves, and pitching manure. I could write chapters about the ice and snow storms that left our farm without electricity, once for an entire week in the depth of winter.

Love the old ACO silo on this farm site west of New Ulm. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

A trip back to southwestern Minnesota prompts such memories. I remember. I relive. But, most of all, I recognize just how thankful I am to have been raised in this rural region. On the land. In the shadows of silos and grain elevators. Just a softball pitch away from the barn. Within scent of cows, steers and calves. As close to the earth as bare feet or the end of a hoe hacking cockle burrs in a soybean field.

Co-ops like this one in Morgan are part of my rural history. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As rural scenes unfold, my memories, too, unfurl. Memories of hard work and challenges balanced by carefree afternoons and prairie sunsets and all the beauty this place holds for me. Still today, some 40-plus decades after I left this land.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Autumn in rural southern Minnesota, before the snow October 29, 2020

Following a back road between Zumbrota and Mazeppa on October 18, before our recent snowfall here in southeastern Minnesota.

AS I VIEW THE LANDSCAPE layered in snow and consider the unseasonably cold temp of 12 degrees, I reflect that only 11 days ago, southern Minnesota looked and felt much different. Like the season of autumn rather than winter.

Grain trucks parked in Kenyon.

Today I take you back to October 18, to photos from a Sunday drive that started in Faribault and continued east through Kenyon, Zumbrota, Mazeppa, Oronoco and Pine Island, then back home.

An aged silo between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.
Cattle graze in pastureland between Kenyon and Wanamingo.
On October 18, the day of our drive, farmers were busy harvesting, here in a cornfield between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.

As farm-raised kids, Randy and I enjoy these rural drives that transport us back in time and also give us a much-needed break from the realities of COVID-19, of politics, of life stressors. I never tire of seeing cornfields and farm sites, especially during the harvest.

Farmers on the road were a common site, here on Minnesota State Highway 60 west of Zumbrota.

There’s something about immersing myself in the countryside, about simply being in a rural landscape, that comforts me. That soothes and calms. I need that now more than ever.

The Zumbro River Valley stretches before us between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.

We all have, I think, those places which offer us such a respite. Perhaps yours is a room in your house, a place in nature, maybe even within the pages of a book. I’ve been reading a lot lately and highly-recommend Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds.

Following another farmer, just outside Zumbrota.

Fall. It’s my favorite season, cut too short this year by an early significant snowfall. I’m not happy about it and I doubt many Minnesotans are. We often boast about our hardiness. Yet, we grow weary, too, of our long, cold winters. Most of us, anyway.

A farm site atop a hill between Zumbrota and Mazeppa.

Yet, we choose to live here. This is home. And always will be for me. No matter the season.

© 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


Delighting in a Sunday afternoon drive in rural Minnesota May 12, 2020

We met an occasional vehicle on our country drive southeast of Faribault, Minnesota.


I ABSOLUTELY, UNDENIABLY needed this. To drive into the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. To get away. To view the greening of the land. To forget for a half hour about the realities of life. To focus on nature. To photograph rural Minnesota.


We drove past farm sites.


Past lovely barns…


Clouds and cold weather defined Mother’s Day in southern Minnesota.


And that’s exactly what Randy and I did mid Mother’s Day afternoon, aiming southeast of Faribault to follow back country gravel roads. My sense of direction doesn’t exist. I trust Randy to steer us onto roadways that fulfill my need to go at a leisurely pace, to stop when I see something I must photograph, to appreciate the details of place.


Following gravel roads. Up and down.


Occasionally the cloud-heavy sky spit rain onto the windshield as we dipped up and down, hilltops offering sweeping vistas of a lush landscape.


We spotted corn coming up in this field along 250th Street East southeast of Faribault.


Corn popped green, curving rows into one field.


Chickens strayed from a farm site across the road to a field.


Those chickens seem so small in the vastness of farm fields.


Rogue chickens paused in another field to observe us while I swung my lens to photograph them.


An old farm site along 233rd Street East.


It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a gas barrel like this.


At one point, atop a hill, we studied a farm site below with broad barn, weathered corn crib and a red gas barrel next to an aged shed. Such building sites remind me of yesteryear, when an assortment of small structures defined a farm place.


That baby goat wanted so badly to scale that rock, without success.


Even the adult goats are cute.


And then, the road curved, leading us to the sweetest surprise of the drive—goats, fenced on both sides of the roadway. Windows rolled down, we heard their plaintive baa and watched as a baby goat struggled to climb a rock. I ooohed and aaahed over the cuteness of these goats.


Spring blooms, finally, in southeastern Minnesota.


Too soon we headed back to town. Randy needed to light the charcoal grill to smoke and cook a pork roast for supper. A Zoom call with family awaited us, too. But, in that short time, I found exactly what I needed—a joyful, therapeutic and sweet escape into the southeastern Minnesota countryside.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In rural southern Minnesota: Peonies & wine June 19, 2019


UNDER INTERMITTENT GREY SKIES, fragrant blossoms of pink, burgundy, coral, rose and more popped brilliant color into the landscape at a rural Minnesota winery which doubles as a peony business.



On the deck at Aspelund Winery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.


Within miles of the winery, the beautiful landscape of southern Minnesota.


If you love the showy and elegant peony, appreciate good wine and delight in the quiet of a countryside location, Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens (outside Aspelund and to the northwest of Wanamingo) is a must-visit. Randy and I met friends there Sunday afternoon to view the peony fields and to sip raspberry and apple wines.






It was exactly what I needed—to relax in a beautiful natural setting accented by peonies. There’s still time to tour the farm between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday or Sunday to see the peonies before their brief blooming season ends. (Check Facebook for updates.)


Co-owner Dawn Rohl wears a peacock pin on her denim jacket. The peacock is the winery symbol/mascot.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.




Co-owners Bruce and Dawn Rohl greet visitors to their hilltop location with the welcoming warmth of long-time friends. They are a salt-of-the-earth and knowledgeable couple who work hard to grow magnificent peonies and craft tasty wine. I recommend Rascal Red, a raspberry wine. Below the tasting room, the Rohls develop their wines, the newest an in-progress asparagus wine made from asparagus grown near the vineyard.



The list of peonies available for purchase.



During our visit, flower lovers meandered among the peonies, some selecting bushes to buy and pick up to plant in the fall. Soon Bruce will sell his hybridized peonies lining the entry to the tasting room.





Whether you’re serious about peonies or wine, or simply appreciate both, this rural Goodhue County winery and peony gardens rate as a unique, enjoyable and ideal way to spend an afternoon in a stunning rural setting among friends. Be sure to pet Rascal, the family dog who can open the door to the tasting room.

FYI: The winery is located at 9204 425th Street, rural Wanamingo (just outside Aspelund). If you take Minnesota State Highway 60 between Kenyon and Wanamingo, you will see a sign directing you to Aspelund, which is basically a church, a town hall and a farm site. Click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the winery and gardens.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


When the snow falls too early in southern Minnesota October 14, 2018

Snow whitens the landscape at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street and Second Avenue in Faribault.


THERE’S A CERTAIN DISBELIEF, even among life-long Minnesotans, when you awaken on a mid-October morning to snow. Snow layering the grass. Snow layering leaves still clinging to trees. Snow still falling.


Heavy snow fell late Sunday morning as we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west out of Faribault. That’s the Interstate 35 overpass in this photo.


That was our Sunday morning here in southeastern Minnesota. I knew snow was in the forecast, but for parts farther south, like the next county south and to the Iowa border along Interstate 90. Not here. Not in Faribault.


Snow accumulates on my backyard maple tree.


But when I awakened around 6:30 a.m. Sunday, snow was falling and continued into early afternoon. And while I wasn’t exactly happy about a snowfall this early, I admit to retaining a certain excitement about that first snow of the winter. Except it’s not officially winter yet. Or is it?


The flowerpots I emptied on Saturday with snow falling and accumulating around them on Sunday.


Just yesterday Randy and I were looking for elusive fall colors, driving along back country roads in Rice County, no thought of snow on our minds. Afterward, we did yard work, emptied flowerpots of frozen flowers. No thought of snow on our minds.



Then today…we’re heading to and from the Fall Harvest Dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, in a snow globe world.


My favorite shot of the day is this rural scene near North Morristown.





I needed that drive into the country to view this early snowfall from an artistic perspective and not a gosh darn, it’s way too early for snow mentality. I needed this drive to see a landscape lightened by white, not dimmed by grey.







I needed the visual reminder that, even in snow, beauty exists. Snow smudges softness into the landscape. I saw that painterly quality in fields and on barn roofs. In treelines. On a single leaf. And that was all it took for me to appreciate this first snowfall of the season here in Rice County in southeastern Minnesota.



Remind me of that appreciative attitude come January, February, March and April.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling