Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The shifting of seasons in Minnesota November 4, 2015

barn

Grey skies hang over a barn and harvested cornfield west of Sleepy Eye along U.S. Highway 14 on a late October morning.

AS THE SEASON SHIFTS here in Minnesota, I struggle to hold onto the light. To the color. To memories of lush landscapes and warm days.

A bare field near Belview in southwestern Minnesota.

A bare field near Belview in southwestern Minnesota on a late October morning.

I am no fan of the transition months—November and March. I’ve always thought these the least visually inviting. Grey skies dominate. Cold winds rage. The land appears devoid of color. Black fields. Muted tones. Everywhere.

One of my favorite barns in the Springfield area along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

One of my favorite barns in the Springfield area along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

But then a barn flashes red in the monotone landscape.

Clouds break apart over a farm along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

Clouds break apart over a farm along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

Sun spotlights through the clouds beaming light upon the land. A patch of blue emerges overhead.

In the final days of October, my camera landed on this stunningly beautiful treeline near Shieldsville.

In the final days of October, my camera landed on this stunningly beautiful treeline near Shieldsville. I’ve seen some of the prettiest fall colors near my Faribault home. This is true every year.

Nearing the end of October, some corn remained to be harvested.

Nearing the end of October, some corn remained to be harvested.

Along U.S. Highway 14 east of Springfield, this brick barn stands strong and tall.

Along U.S. Highway 14 east of Springfield, this brick barn stands strong and tall.

I begin to notice patches of color—autumn leaves still hanging on, corn carpeting fields, defiant red barns still standing.

The barn with the smiling lips, between Sleepy Eye and Springfield, always makes me smile.

The barn with the smiling lips, between Sleepy Eye and Springfield, always makes me smile.

Harvesting corn along U.S. Highway 52 in the Rochester area in mid-October.

Harvesting corn along U.S. Highway 52 in the Rochester area in mid-October.

A country church along Interstate 90 near the Winona exit reminds me of blessings and thankfulness, especially at harvest time.

A country church along Interstate 90 near the Winona exit reminds me of blessings and thankfulness, especially at harvest time.

Reasons to smile. Reasons to appreciate November. This eleventh month raises my awareness of thankfulness. Thankfulness that I live in Minnesota, a state of four seasons, of changing landscapes, of bountiful harvests. And this week of unexpected November warmth.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A photographic journey through rural western Wisconsin November 5, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Rural, red barn, bin and field

 

SHADOWS AND CURVES AND LIGHT.

 

Rural, round bales

Sky.

Rural, harvested cornfield

Land.

Rural, white barn and silos

Farm buildings.

All draw my eyes to the landscape, my hand to the camera, eye to the viewfinder, finger to shutter button.

 

Rural, red barn and Harvestores

 

Flash of color: A red barn.

 

Rural, red barn, fields and grey sheds

 

Rural scenes unfold before me on this drive through western Wisconsin, from Nelson north to St. Croix Falls in early October.

 

Rural, red barn and lone cow

 

I am linked to the land by my past, daughter of a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farmer. Even after 40 years away from the farm, fields and farm sites hold my heart more than any grid of city blocks or cluster of homes or urban anything.

If I could, I would live in the country again, close to the scent of dried corn stalks and fertile black soil.

 

Rural, house by trees

 

I would live under a sky that overwhelms, inside a white farmhouse with a welcoming front porch. That was always my dream.

But dreams cost money. Instead, I have lived in an old house along an arterial street in a town of some 23,000 for 30 years. I am grateful to have a house, to live in a community I love among dear friends.

 

Rural, country church and cemetery

 

Still, a part of my soul yearns, aches for the land I left.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday afternoon of memories June 11, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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Sunday drive, farmsite with red trucks

IT IS THE TYPE OF DAY when clouds dodge in and out of the sky. Mostly in. The type of day when I wonder if I should grab a sweatshirt heading out the door. The type of day when, one minute my husband and I are riding with the vehicle windows rolled down, the next zipping them up as the sun ducks behind clouds and cold air rushes inside.

Sunday drive, barn and silos, distant

It is the type of day, early in June, when grass and foliage appear vibrant green in a season of excess moisture.

Sunday drive, fork in the road

And I wonder how, after a deluge of rain the day prior, cars can still kick up dust along gravel roads.

Sunday drive, grain complex

Everything seems sharp and new, as if I am seeing everything for the first time on this Sunday afternoon drive. And I am, after the longest of Minnesota winters.

Sunday drive, hillside farmsite

Barns and farmhouses scattered between fields hold memories that cause my very soul to ache for missing the farm.

I grasp snapshots of prairie memories from the scenes that unfold before me.

Crossing the Straight River southeast of Faribault.

Crossing the muddy Straight River southeast of Faribault.

Me pedaling my bike over the bridge across the muddy Redwood River.

On the other side of the bridge, train tracks.

On the other side of the bridge, train tracks in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Me scanning the tracks as I cross the rails into Vesta.

The pick-up truck, a rural necessity.

The pick-up truck, a rural necessity.

Me sitting beside my Dad in his red-and-white Chevy pick-up, bouncing across the stubbled alfalfa field.

Birdhouse condominion perched atop a hill next to a building site in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Birdhouse condo perched atop a hill next to a building site in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Memories rise and fall like the hilly roads that twist and turn our van through the countryside southeast of Faribault.

Our drive takes us through Walcott Township in Rice County. I grew up in Vesta Township 120 miles to the west in Redwood County.

Our drive takes us through Walcott Township in Rice County. I grew up in Vesta Township 120 miles to the west in Redwood County.

I’m unfamiliar with this place, yet familiar.

An aged Fordson parked alongside a road southeast of Faribault.

An aged Fordson parked alongside a road southeast of Faribault.

I know these barns, these farmhouses, these tractors, these fields. In another place, another time.

A farm upbringing imprinted them upon my soul 120 miles to the west of here.

FYI: To read my first post from this Sunday afternoon drive, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delighting in the Sunday afternoon drive June 10, 2014

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The countryside spreads out before us as we begin our drive.

The countryside spreads out before us as we begin our Sunday afternoon drive.

MINNESOTA ATLAS SANDWICHED between us on the van floor, my husband and I head southeast of Faribault for our first Sunday afternoon drive of the season. The directional guide is primarily for my benefit as I occasionally have this urge to know “where we are.” We own neither smart phone nor GPS.

We prefer gravel roads over paved for the slower pace.

We prefer gravel roads over paved for the slower pace.

We have no specific destination, only aiming to follow back country roads to see what we can see.

We miss nothing, including the dog bounding out of the ditch.

We miss nothing, including the dog bounding out of the ditch.

As simple as that.

ls

Barrels and a John Deere bring back farm memories of the burning barrel and the putt-putt-putt of the tractor.

We are those kind of folks, former farm kids who grew up understanding the value in a Sunday afternoon drive.

Emerging corn.

Emerging corn.

Check out the crops.

Of all the country smells, I think my favorite is that of freshly-cut alfalfa.

Of all the country smells, my favorite is that of freshly-cut alfalfa.

Breathe in the indescribably intoxicating smell of freshly-mown alfalfa.

So many old barns and the sweet surprise of this old corn crib.

So many old barns and the sweet surprise of this old corn crib.

Wind along gravel roads past time-worn barns and vintage farm machinery, curve this way and that, windows rolled down, tires crunching, taking it all in.

From old farmhouses to new home hobby farms, we see them all.

From old farmhouses to new home hobby farms, we see them all.

Glorious countryside, oh, glorious countryside.

Lovely wild roses in the ditch.

Lovely wild roses in the ditch.

And then, an abrupt stop to smell the roses. Literally. Beautiful wild roses that filled the ditches of my youth spotted once again. I inhale their heady perfumed fragrance as I wade into tall ditch grass.

We even notice the rock piles and recall our days of picking rock.

We even notice the rock piles and recall our days of picking rock.

For an hour or so on this Sunday afternoon, the worries in my life cease. I am with the man I love, checking out the crops, smelling the roses, taking in every detail of the rural world that embraces us.

Even signage does not go unnoticed.

Even signage does not go unnoticed.

Life is good. In this moment. On this Sunday afternoon drive.

(Please check back for more photos from this Sunday afternoon drive just southeast of Faribault.)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The changing prairie view May 14, 2014

Newly-erected power lines, part of the Cap X2020 transmission line project, northwest of Morgan along Minnesota State Highway 67.

Newly-erected power lines, part of the Cap X2020 transmission line project northwest of Morgan along Minnesota State Highway 67, run seemingly into forever.

I FEEL ABOUT MONSTROSITY power lines as I do about wind turbines. I don’t appreciate their visual impact upon the land.

These towering giants, in my opinion, mar the landscape, distract and detract, cause me to feel small, unsettled and insignificant in their presence.

A farm site along Minnesota Highway 67 seems so small in comparison to the new transmission power poles.

A farm site along Minnesota State Highway 67 dwarfed by a new transmission power pole.

Perhaps it’s just the southwestern Minnesota prairie rooted girl in me who values her horizon wide and broad and vertically interrupted only by grain elevators, water towers, silos and groves of trees.

Old style power lines still run along Brown County Road 29.

Old style power lines still run along Brown County Road 29 between New Ulm and Morgan.

I wonder if my grandparents felt the same about the early rural electric co-op posts and lines strung along gravel township roads, the cement stave silos popping up on farms…old water-pumping windmills abandoned.

A cluster of Harvestore silos define a farm northeast of Vesta along Minnesota State Highway 19.

A cluster of Harvestore silos define a farm northeast of Vesta along Minnesota State Highway 19.

I felt a certain discontent when blue Harvestore silos began soldiering into southwestern Minnesota decades ago. They lacked personality and represented, to me, the demise of the small family farm.

Wind turbines in extreme southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, July 2013.

Wind turbines in extreme southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, July 2013.

These are my thoughts as I travel through my native prairie today. Progress does not always please me. Visually or otherwise.

(This post is cross posted at streets.mn.)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In loving memory of my farmer dad April 3, 2013

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The barn where I labored alongside my father while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

The barn where I labored alongside my father while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

CALL ME THE BARD of barns, if you will, for barns have inspired me to pen poetic words and to compose poetic photos.

There is something about a barn rising strong and majestic or sagging with the burden of age that moves me. I am reminded of my childhood years toiling in the barn—scraping manure, wheeling ground corn in the wheelbarrow, forking silage.

Cats clumped in corners. Buckle overshoes slapping against cement. WCCO booming “Point of Law.”

Fly specks. Pink baby mice. Long sandpaper cow tongues.

The milkhouse, attached to family barn. File photo.

The abandoned milkhouse, attached to family barn. File photo.

Stuck drinking cups overflowing. Twine on bales. Pails of frothy milk.

Cracked, chapped bleeding hands slimed with Cornhuskers lotion.

Footsteps of my father. Time with Dad. Gone 10 years ago today.

A snippet of the land my father farmed, my middle brother after him. The land and farm site are now rented out.

A snippet of the land my father farmed, my middle brother after him. The land and farm site are now rented out.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fargo bound: A lot of country June 19, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:55 AM
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Somewhere along Interstate 94 in Minnesota westbound for Fargo, N.D. Oftentimes you can see into forever.

I EXPECT FOR MANY WESTBOUND TRAVELERS, the drive from the Twin Cities metro area to Fargo, North Dakota, can stretch into long and boring infinity.

And I’ll admit, even though I appreciate wide open spaces and big sky, I, too, occasionally find myself bored on the 280-mile trip from our Faribault home. But I best learn to enjoy the journey as my youngest starts classes in two months at North Dakota State University.

Scenes like this along I94 possess a certain beauty, at least from my prairie heart perspective.

With that said, I know I’ll never like the portion of the trip that takes our family through the Twin Cities metro area. Heavy traffic, crazy drivers and road construction make for anything but pleasant travel.

Once we get past Monticello and transition into the more rural area, I start to relax and observe the landscape rather than worry about crazy drivers. Did I mention crazy drivers who weave and tailgate and drive 85 mph? Oh, yes, I did.

Cows graze in a pasture along the interstate.

When I focus my eyes, and camera, upon a pastoral scene of grazing cows or a tidy farm site or billowing clouds in the big sky, I begin to appreciate that which surrounds me. And if my family had the luxury of time, we’d exit the interstate and explore those places where life is lived at a slower pace and savored rather than rushed by at the hurry-up-and-get-there speed of taking the interstate.

We passed the bus of singer, songwriter and Nashville recording artist David Church westbound on I94. Since I am not a fan of country western music, I had to google David Church to learn about him.

There’s a lot of country to appreciate along Interstate 94 aiming west toward Fargo. A lot of country, indeed.

Enjoy the journey.

Born and raised on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm, I have a deep appreciation for barns.

The big sky truly defines the drive along Interstate 94 west toward Fargo.

Loved this farm site. If you look closely, you’ll notice a gem of an old pick-up truck in the shed behind the barn.

Grazing cattle. I never tire of a view like this.

FYI: Check back for posts from Fargo, where we found the locals particularly friendly.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling