Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

About as Americana as it gets, July 4 in North Morristown July 1, 2022

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs at 1:30 pm and 4 pm on July 4 in North Morristown. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2016)

YOU LIKELY HAVE PLANS for the Fourth of July. But, if you don’t and live in southern Minnesota, I’d suggested attending the North Morristown July 4 celebration. This event is grassroots rural Americana through and through.

The homemade strawberry pie I ordered at the Pie Stand last Fourth of July. All pies are homemade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

It’s vintage food stands, homemade pie, old tractors packing the parade, music by Minnesota musicians (like Monroe Crossing), handcrafted kiddie rides and games, BINGO, a patriot program, fireworks and so much more.

One of the many vintage food stands which add to the nostalgic charm of this celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

I direct you (click here) to my most recent photo essay and accompanying copy published this week in the July issue of Southern Minn Scene, a regional arts and entertainment magazine. I create a column, “Through a SoMinn Lens,” for this monthly publication. My latest piece, “North Morristown on July 4, a slice of Americana,” features 24 of my photos in a 3.5-page spread, beginning on page 22 of Scene.

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead. This event is well-attended. Admission is free, but please purchase a button to help cover costs. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Perhaps my column will convince those of you who live in Minnesota to attend the Fourth of July celebration in North Morristown, which is not an actual town. This is simply a place in the middle of farm fields, west of Faribault and north of Morristown. The festival grounds sits across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School and next to farm sites and acreage.

The kiddie rides are homemade and vintage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021)

I’ve attended many times and love the down-home feel of this celebration, which is also a reunion of sorts for those who grew up in this area (which is not me). I recognize many of you, my readers, come to my blog from afar. So please enjoy North Morristown on the Fourth via my images and words.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration in 2016. I make no apologies for the grease-stained fingernails of this hardworking automotive machinist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

Happy Fourth!

TELL ME: How are you celebrating the Fourth of July?

Note: If you have seen my story on newsprint, please view it again online. The paper copy of the magazine has issues with clarity of images, and not just mine. All photos I submitted for publication are sharp, clear and focused, unlike the end printing results.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dime store memories in Plainview June 23, 2022

Plainview’s version of the old-fashioned dime store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

GRAB BAGS AND VINYL SINGLES. Goldfish and tiny turtles. And, oh, an endless assortment of whatever you needed, and didn’t need. Such are my dime store memories upon entering J.T. Variety & Toys in Plainview.

To the left, knick knacks. Center and to the right, supplies for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This crammed-with-merchandise store along West Broadway in the heart of downtown Plainview hearkens to yesteryear when Ben Franklin and F.W. Woolworth stores dotted Main Street USA. J.T. Variety & Toys fits the dime store model.

A sign directs customers to the shop at 333 West Broadway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And while I spotted no turtles, fish, grab bags or vinyl, the business offers a wide range of merchandise for all ages and interests.

Lots of fabric, lots of knick knacks. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Need a gift for Aunt Gertie or your next-door neighbor or whomever? There are knick knacks and home décor items galore.

Lots of rainbow yarn choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Crafters—whether knitter or seamstress or some other creative—can shop an array of colorful yarn skeins cramming cubbies, folds of sorted-by-color fabric layering shelves, and much more. Choices are bountiful.

Flowers, shoes, knick knacks, craft supplies…so much merchandise packed into this small store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The same goes for the selection of fake flowers splashing color into a display and spilling over into baskets lining the floor. Above the flowers I found a collection of summer shoes—flip flops, slip-ons shaped like insects…

Unlike the dime stores of old, credit cards are welcome at this variety store. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

If I sound a tad giddy about J.T. Variety & Toys, it’s because I am. A lot of those feelings trace to childhood memories of shopping dime store aisles. Back in the day, I mostly looked because, coming from a poor farm family, buying usually wasn’t an option, except for necessities. I would stand for a long long time in the pet section at the back of Woolworths looking at those mini imported pet turtles, wishing for one.

The toy section. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect the kids of Plainview gravitate to the toy section of their local variety store with its puzzles and games, marbles and Play Doh, trucks and dolls, Little Golden Book and other books, and much more. I’d feel giddy if I was a kid with money to spend here.

Lots of great book choices. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview is fortunate to have this homegrown business akin to the dime stores of old. It was here in this southeastern Minnesota small town, the day before our 40th wedding anniversary in mid-May, that my husband purchased a lovely anniversary greeting card while I paged through a storybook about Paul Bunyan. It wasn’t like he could buy a tiny imported pet turtle for me…

More yarn choices for crafters. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

TELL ME: Do you have dime store memories? Have you discovered a store similar to J.T. Variety & Toys (Dollar stores don’t count)? I’d like to hear.

To learn more about Plainview, read my previous posts by clicking here. And watch for several more stories on this community northeast of Rochester in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Peonies, wine & more at Aspelund June 16, 2022

Posing among the peonies in traditional Hmong attire. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

OH, HOW STUNNING the traditional Hmong dresses worn by two sisters posing among the peonies in a rural southeastern Minnesota garden.

Among the most vibrant peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Their unexpected presence graced my annual tour of Aspelund Peony Gardens with culture and color on a recent Sunday afternoon. What a delight to encounter these friendly women who say they simply love peonies. Their attire included floral print fabric. They traveled from the Twin Cities metro to this country location northwest of Wanamingo/northeast of Kenyon, site of Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. After they photographed each other, one sister asked me to photograph them with her camera. I obliged.

The tasting room is to the right, an addition to the Rohls’ home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A wine flight, on a peacock-shaped wood cut-out. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
Assorted peacocks, the winery “mascot,” can be found in the tasting room. The story behind the birds: Bruce attempted to relocate living peacocks from his father’s farm two miles away, only to have the birds return to their original home. He learned later that peacocks eat flower blossoms. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I try to come here every year in early June to see the rows and rows of peonies in bloom. And to sip wine. This visit, Randy and I met our friend Valerie and her friend Jean. The place was busy. Owners Dawn and Bruce Rohl sell wine and take orders for root peony tubers, available in the fall.

Rascal makes me smile. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2020)

Here Rascal the dog welcomes guests up the gravel driveway with raucous barking. I’d barely opened the van door when Rascal ran up and I reached down to pet him. Later I saw Princess the cat weaving through the peonies.

A view of the rural landscape from the vineyard. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)
A tin-sided outbuilding, likely a granary at one time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Grapevines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Those are the nuances which endear Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens to me. The simplicity of this place atop a hill overlooking the Zumbro River Valley, red barn and silo in the distance. This place of towering oaks and tire swing, of old tin-sided shed, apple trees, massive rhubarb plants, twisted grapevines…

A glimpse of the peony rows, all numbered for ordering tubers. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

So many fragrant and beautiful peonies… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Ants are drawn to peonies, including to this bud. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

On this June afternoon, the wind blew fierce, whipping lose ends of my hair, dipping peony stems, playing a refrain inside my head of “summer breeze makes me feel fine” (Seals & Croft 1972). I felt mighty fine in this peaceful place among blooming peonies. Some buds remained clamped tight, but likely have opened in the days since my visit.

A developing apple. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

I prefer meandering on this plot of land among the apple trees and grapevines and, especially, in the peony gardens. Here assorted shades of mostly pink and crimson flowers bloom. Colors vary from subdued to vibrant. Shapes, vary, too.

One of the more unusual peonies, layered in pink and yellow. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

But it’s not all visual for me. I take time to bend close to the blossoms (check for bees), smelling their fragrant perfume which, if you’re a romanticist, may prompt you to reflect on long ago brides gathering peonies from their mothers’ or grandmothers’ gardens for bridal bouquets. They did so in my community of Faribault, storing peonies in the cool sandstone caves along the Straight River to preserve until their wedding days. Faribault was once The Peony Capital of the World. Some of the Aspelund peonies were sourced from those once grown in Faribault.

Guests enjoy wine on the back deck. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

Touring Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens has become an early summer tradition for me. I feel comfortable here, at peace, soothed by the wind and the wine and the welcoming conversations. The small scale of the business suits me as do the unpretentious owners and the rural setting. As I watched two young girls sway on the tire swing, pushed by their dad, their happy voices rising, I felt such joy in witnessing this scene.

Sisters in traditional Hmong attire, one taking photos of the other. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

And I felt happiness, too, in that chance encounter with the two sisters from the Cities, celebrating their Hmong heritage in a field of peonies.

Peacock art inside the tasting room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2022)

FYI: Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens is open from 4 – 7 pm Thursday and Friday, noon – 7 pm Saturday and noon – 5 pm Sunday. Note that the tasting room is small, basically a walk-up and order space. Outdoor seating on the deck and other areas can be difficult to secure during busy times. However, you can order a glass of wine and walk around the gardens. If you want to see the peonies, go now; their bloom period is nearly done.

Click here to read previous posts from Aspelund Winery & Peony Gardens.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Plainview: Jon Hassler’s “the village in the corn” June 15, 2022

A portion of the Plainview mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

LAND. PEOPLE. ARTS. COMMUNITY. Those words theme a public mural stretching across the Plainview Area Community and Youth Center in the heart of this southeastern Minnesota small town.

The mural graces a wall of the community center, across the street from the former Jon Hassler Theater. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I remember the mural from my last visit here in 2013. I appreciate this public art now as much as I did then, for art can reveal much about a place.

In the heart of the community, the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, now closed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

While Plainview has lost some of its “arts” character with closure of the Jon Hassler Theater and Rural America Arts Center, it will always claim title (along with Staples) as the boyhood home (s) of noted Minnesota writer Jon Hassler. He moved to Plainview with his parents at the age of 10, remaining there until shortly after his 1951 high school graduation.

Hassler’s Grand Opening is based on Plainview.

Hassler, one of Minnesota’s most-beloved authors, focused his fiction on small town life. That includes Grand Opening, a novel based on Plainview. As in real life, the main character’s parents buy a run-down grocery store in rural Minnesota.

Source: Afton Press

While I have not yet read Grand Opening, I just finished Days Like Smoke, A Minnesota Boyhood. This is Hassler’s memoir, a manuscript published by Afton Press in 2021, many years after the author’s 2008 death. Edited by friend Will Weaver, another well-known Minnesota writer, this slim volume offers insights into Plainview, into Hassler’s experiences there and how that shaped his writing. He credits his parents’ Red Owl Grocery Store as the training grounds for his writing, the place where he acquired the latent qualities necessary to the novelist. In that grocery store, Hassler stocked shelves, ground coffee, interacted with and observed customers, and more.

The land (farming) is integral to the economy of Plainview, which is surrounded by corn and soybean fields. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This sentence in Hassler’s memoir is so telling of the influence Plainview had on his writing: I see the villagers passing along the checkout counter like the cast of characters they eventually turned out to be in my novel about this village in the corn. I love that phrase, “village in the corn,” for it fits agriculturally-based Plainview. The community is home to food processors, Plainview Milk Products Cooperative and Lakeside Foods, and celebrates Corn on the Cob Days each summer. Farming centers the local economy.

Two of the people featured on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It’s the people, though, including the characters, who truly define community. And Hassler shares plenty from Plainview, where he lived across from the stockyards for awhile, tried to derail a train, played high school football for the Gophers, watched endless movies at the Gem Theater, bloodied the nose of a third grader, sat at the bedside of his dying 11-year-old friend, biked to the bluffs along the Whitewater River to camp and fish, served as an altar boy…

The mural includes a faith-based dedication to Pauline Redmond. She co-owned the North Country Anvil Magazine/Anvil Press with her husband, Jack Miller. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In his memoir, Hassler remembers St. Joachim’s Catholic Church and Immanuel Lutheran Church standing as sentinels of the soul at opposite ends of Main Street. That’s such an insightful visual. Hassler valued his Catholic upbringing and faith throughout his life. But he also admits in his memoir to the strong current of religious animosity running under the surface of daily life in the village of my youth between Catholics and Lutherans. This comes as no surprise to me, growing up in rural Minnesota with the same denominational tension.

People also define place as noted on the mural. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

It was that undercurrent—specifically the defeat of Hassler’s father in a school board election—which ultimately caused Hassler’s parents to leave Plainview and return to Staples. He writes: I, newly graduated from high school, loved Plainview too dearly to follow them.

The interior entrance to the Jon Hassler Theater, photographed during a 2013 visit to Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2013)

Hassler’s love for Plainview endured, long after he left to attend college, then to teach, then to write and then to retire in 1997 after 17 years as writer-in-residence at Saint John’s University. Visit Plainview today and you get a strong sense of the place that shaped this writer. While businesses and people have come and gone, at its core, this remains “the village in the corn.”

TELL ME: Have you read any of Jon Hassler’s 12 novels or his nonfiction? I’d love to hear your take on his writing and what books you recommend.

Please check back for more posts from Plainview next week. Be sure to read my previous posts on Plainview published this week.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Revisiting Plainview, a must-visit community in southeastern Minnesota June 13, 2022

A mural themed to people, land, community and the arts graces a corner building in downtown Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

I FELT COMFORTABLY, nostalgically, at home in Plainview, a farming community of some 3,340 in southeastern Minnesota’s Wabasha County.

This Norman Rockwell type scene depicts small town Minnesota, here on a Saturday afternoon in Plainview. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Here kids bike along the main drag through town, passing by homegrown shops and other businesses. Here friendly shopkeepers engage in easy conversation that made me feel incredibly welcomed. And connected.

Just a block off Broadway, the local co-op. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

This is a rural community through and through. Home to the Plainview Milk Products Cooperative. Surrounded by farm fields. And, at its essence, home to residents rooted in rural life. Noted Minnesota author Jon Hassler, who penned novels about small town life, grew up here (and in Staples). His parents owned the local Red Owl grocery store.

Right forefront, The Shop on Broadway vends antiques and collectibles. It’s an uncluttered shop with artfully displayed one-of-a-kind merchandise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At The Shop on Broadway, relative newcomer to the area and co-proprietor Sonia spoke about a recently-purchased rural property.

Like a step back in time…J.T. Varieties & Toys. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At the variety store, the clerk and I exchanged histories of growing up on dairy farms.

Young Love is a combo floral and gift shop, plus small event center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Inside Young Love Floral & Finds, I found plenty of cow art to love.

A close-up of the lengthy mural on a building across the street from the former theater/arts center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Plainview, in many ways, surprised me. I’d been here previously, nearly 10 years ago when a wrong turn led Randy and me to this small town some 20 miles northeast of Rochester. During that brief stop, we popped into the Jon Hassler Theater/Rural America Arts Center. The theater closed soon after and the arts center followed. But both impressed me. This return trip to Plainview revealed a new side, a thriving business district of welcoming, one-of-a-kind shops.

Although I didn’t pop into the quilt shop, Piece by Piece Creative Collaboration, I should have. Next time. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Not all were open on the Saturday of my mid-May visit. But I perused enough to get a feel for what this community offers. As cliché as it sounds, Plainview seems an undiscovered gem with its independently-owned shops staffed by friendly folks with time to chat. I felt unrushed in uncrowded stores. Browse at my own pace. Take in the setting and merchandise and down-home feel of being in the moment in rural Minnesota.

J.T. Variety & Toys sells fabric and so much more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

That comes from someone who is not a shopper, who easily tires of mass-produced whatever in Big Box stores. But I didn’t feel that here in Plainview. Inside The Shop on Broadway and J.T. Varieties & Toys, I found nostalgia. Antiques and collectibles in The Shop. And at the Variety store, I stepped back in time, into a mercantile akin to the Ben Franklin or Woolworth’s of my youth. I eased down narrow aisles jammed with merchandise—ran my hand across beautiful cotton fabric layered on shelves, eyed endless knick knacks, appreciated the Little Golden Book storybooks for sale.

Created by Shantelle Speedling at Young Love Floral & Finds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At Young Love Floral & Finds, historic photos, a vintage Mallard Seeds sign (the seed company was once housed here as was a bank) and the First National Bank vault (now a storage space) revealed more about this community. I love this little shop owned by floral designer/creative Shantelle Speedling. The biggest surprise here: wood flowers. Speedling uses them in her floral designs and they are unbelievably beautiful.

The display window at Magnolia Cottage showcases women’s clothing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Another surprise came in finding The Magnolia Cottage Boutique. If this had not been my last shop stop, I may have tried on some of the clothing therein because I loved the styles. But I was tired and it takes a lot for me to try on clothes. The shop also sells home décor, gifts, flowers and more.

From what I read online, this cupcake shop is open only occasionally, It gets rave reviews for its artsy and delicious cupcakes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Next door, Cakes Etcetera was closed, so no cupcakes for me on this Saturday afternoon.

Love this vintage sign marking the bowling alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A few doors down, I spotted a vintage sign for Gopher Lanes Bar & Grill. The bowling alley is closed—for the summer. But that didn’t keep me from admiring the sign which is, oh, so Minnesotan. Before Plainview schools merged with Elgin and Millville, their mascot was the Gophers. And just some 10 miles to the southwest of Plainview, the town of Viola celebrates the lowly pocket gopher with an annual community celebration, the Viola Gopher Count. The 148th annual festival is scheduled this week on June 15 and 16. That’s another story and Viola, another place to visit. Just like Plainview.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more posts from Plainview. I’ll take you inside shops, show you signs, art and more discovered on a Saturday afternoon along Broadway. I’m sure I missed a lot of what Plainview offers. So if you are from this town, or have visited, I welcome your insights on places to check out.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bricks, bins & bars in Elgin June 6, 2022

This unique, artsy “fence” is the first thing I noticed in downtown Elgin. Absolutely love the creative functionality of these repurposed doors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

SMALL TOWNS, LIKE PEOPLE, have personalities. I’ve discovered that in my years of exploring rural regions. I can learn a lot about a place by simply walking through the heart of a community, even if I never enter a single business.

The door fence is to the right of this stately corner brick building with the lovely architectural details. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent day trip into Wabasha County in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped briefly in Elgin. Three words define my initial impression of the business district in this community of 1,090 just 20 minutes northeast of Rochester: bricks, bins and bars.

Beautiful brick buildings define downtown Elgin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bricks reference the row of aged brick buildings I spotted along one side of the street. One dates to 1899. I see so much potential in these historic structures if the “updates” on ground level were removed to reveal the original. I recognize, though, that takes money. But, as one who appreciates aged buildings with good, solid bones, I would love to see these buildings restored to their historic selves. What an asset that would be to Elgin.

Behind those brick buildings, bins rise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bins reference the mammoth grain bins back-dropping that row of brick buildings. This is most-assuredly a farming community, home to All-American Co-op. I especially appreciate the faded signage identifying the local ag business.

Identifying signage provides a vintage artsy backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

At one time, Elgin was also home to a creamery and milk service. The community honors its dairy heritage with Elgin Cheese Days, an annual small town festival slated this year for June 17-19. Events include a parade, carnival, tractor pull, burnouts, vendor and craft show, softball and volleyball tournaments, garage sales, music and the EMS Cheese Chase (walk/run). As these celebrations go, they are really reunions of those who once called this town home or still call this place home.

Bold signage for a place that welcomes everyone like family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
To the left, Out of Bounds Sports Bar, “where everyone knows your name.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
O’Neill‘s Pizza Pub serves more than pizza. There’s Irish whiskey, too, and a game room with classic games. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect lots of commiserating will occur at the local bars. That’s the third “b” I noticed during my walk along the main street. Bars abound here. The BlackTop Bar & Grill. The Out of Bounds Sports Bar. And O’Neill’s Pizza Pub.

The pub is open. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Although Randy and I didn’t patronize any of these places, I expect they are worth a stop for food and drink and conversation. As a group of cyclists told us, the bar they lunched at served up a mighty fine sandwich. We had packed a picnic lunch. Next time.

Banners feature students from the graduating class of 2022. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yes, we’ll return to Elgin to explore a bit more. Perhaps drive 1.5 miles south of town to pick up some cheese at Prairie Hollow Farm.

I wonder about the current use and history of this small building by the bins, by the alley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I know we missed a lot during our quick stop…

TELL ME: If you’re familiar with Elgin, what should I see/do next time I’m in town? I’m looking for any insider tips, things I might bypass because I’m unaware. Why should someone visit Elgin?

Please check back for another post from this community. And then it’s on to neighboring Plainview.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At Potsdam: Reflections on a country church May 31, 2022

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Potsdam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

NO MATTER HOW MANY country churches I discover, how many adjoining cemeteries I meander, my interest in these sacred places never wanes.

Detailed signage provides basic info about Immanuel Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent day trip in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I found Immanuel Lutheran Church of Potsdam, an unincorporated community close to Elgin. We bypassed it initially, then turned around to explore the church grounds along Minnesota State Highway 247.

A back and side view of Immanuel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Immanuel fits the bucolic image of a rural church—constructed of wood painted white, cross-topped steeple, bell snugged inside tower, stained glass windows running the length of the sanctuary.

Looking up toward the bell tower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This church is especially well-maintained, not always the case in rural houses of worship with often dwindling congregations.

The locked front doors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I longed to get inside this Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, to view the sanctuary, to settle into a pew, to see the art therein, to experience the peace such a place holds. But, as I expected, the front doors were locked.

Across the highway, a red barn. In the cemetery, gray stones. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
The German word “LIEBE” means love, found on a gravestone. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Beautiful flower art on an aged gravestone. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

So instead, I walked around the exterior, studying the details, bracing myself against the strong wind sweeping across this hilltop location. In the distance, twin silos rose on a farm site. Across the highway, a red barn contrasted with the gray of tombstones lodged under pines.

This is very much a farming area as noted by a farm wagon parked next to the cemetery on this Saturday and by the surrounding fields and farm sites. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

We briefly walked the cemetery, marveling at the early birth dates of some buried here—born in 1823, died in 1877. Clearly there are stories here of journeys across the ocean to America, then more travel westward to this land, this Minnesota. I expect those stories hold hardship and loss and struggles and, also, incredible strength, determination and resilience.

Pines tower over the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I claim no personal connection to anyone here. Yet, I feel a kinship in ancestors who left the Old Country. I feel, too, a kinship of faith. For it was faith which sustained many who left families an ocean away to forge a new life. Here they settled, built a church, planted pines. Here they gathered to celebrate and mourn. To pray and praise and plant hope upon the land.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Borrowing bikes in Pine Island May 26, 2022

In Pine Island, site of the “Borrow-A-Bike program. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

NOTHING IN LIFE is free. How often have you heard or read that adage? I expect often enough to recognize that statement mostly always rings true.

Details on borrowing a bike in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But in the southeastern Minnesota community of Pine Island, located along busy US Highway 52 some 10 minutes north of Rochester, there is, indeed, something offered for free. And that’s the use of a bicycle to ride the Douglas State Trail.

The bike borrowing building is next to the parking lot at Trailhead City Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

When I recently photographed the Borrow-A-Bike signs posted on a lovely aged brick building by Pine Island Trailhead City Park, I assumed the bikes were available for rent, because, you know, nothing is free. Turns out I was wrong.

Biking the Douglas State Trail in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Since 2009, the city has offered locals and visitors free usage of a fleet of bikes to ride the 12.5-mile paved recreational trail between Pine Island and northwest Rochester. The 70 donated, restored and maintained bikes are available in all sizes and even include some tandem bikes. Note that kids need signed authorization by a parent or guardian to borrow a bike and adults must register, sign a waiver, and grab a helmet before checking out a bike.

The trail bridge over the Zumbro River leads into the woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Bikes are available from 10 am – 6 pm Saturdays and Sundays, May – October, or by appointment weekdays.

A family walks the Douglas State Trail in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

What a great idea to not only draw visitors to Pine Island, but also to encourage people to get outdoors, exercise and explore rural Minnesota.

Douglas State Trail signage in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The trail follows an abandoned railroad line past wooded areas, open countryside and along the Zumbro River with a half-way stopping point in the unincorporated community of Douglas in Olmsted County. Next trip to the area, I need to find Douglas.

The Pine Island Cheese Company name honors the community’s history in cheese and butter-making. The building is available for event rental from the city. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This Borrow-A-Bike program is especially needed now with ever-rising gas prices and out-of-control inflation. Couples and families are seeking low-cost ways to enjoy time together and this offers that. Not everyone owns a bike. Not everyone can transport a bike/bikes. This program makes biking easy and accessible to all. Plus, it gets people outdoors and away from screens.

One of two cupolas atop the cheese company building in Pine Island. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Nothing in life is free…until you find something that is—like Borrow-A-Bike in Pine Island.

FYI: Click here for more information about Borrow-A-Bike.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring planting in Minnesota & why I care May 25, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:02 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Seed source, rural Elgin, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THE 2022 PLANTING SEASON has proven exceedingly challenging for Minnesota farmers. A late spring with unseasonably cold temps, coupled with too much rain, has delayed seeding of corn and soybeans.

A picturesque farm site in southern Minnesota, field in the foreground. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Some areas of our state have experienced widespread flooding, creating muddy conditions and lakes. Not exactly what farmers need in May. To add to that, destructive storms damaged or destroyed farm buildings and equipment, especially in the western region of Minnesota.

Soil type and topography (here on a hillside) affect tilling and planting, along with the biggest factor, weather. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Corn planting data from the United States Department of Agriculture (updated every Monday) shows below average planting progress throughout the Midwest, West and in some states east of Illinois. In Minnesota, only 60 percent of the corn was planted as of May 23. That compares to 98 percent last year and a 5-year average of 86 percent. That puts into perspective the 2022 planting delays.

Equipment, outside a farm outbuilding, ready for spring field work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yet, if you farm, you realize a stretch of good weather can quickly change everything for the good. Time will tell how this all plays out.

Following farm equipment on Minnesota State Highway 60. This is a common sight in spring which requires patience and caution by motorists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I find it interesting that, nearly 50 years removed from the farm, I still pay attention to spring planting, and, later, harvest. I have friends who farm. But, more than that, farming is part of my history, part of who I am, even as an adult decades distanced from living on the land. I am proud of my rural heritage. It shaped me. It grew me. I see that rural influence in my writing, my photography, in the places I value and, I suppose, even in the way I live my life.

A well-kept barn in southern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I am, and always shall be, honored to call myself a farm girl.

Another common sight on Minnesota roadways in the spring–a farmer hauling liquid manure to spread on fields. Not really anything you want to follow and I was thankful when the tractor turned. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did place shape you? I’d like to hear.

NOTE: I took these photos on May 14 in Goodhue, Olmsted, Rice and Wabasha counties in southeastern Minnesota. All images were taken through the passenger side windshield or side window while traveling on the roadway.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring the earth, past & present on Earth Day April 22, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Monarch attracting milkweed grows next to a soybean field in southwestern Minnesota. Planting milkweed is one way to help the earth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

TODAY, APRIL 22, marks Earth Day, a day to focus on our planet, the environment and ways we, individually and globally, can protect both.

This day gives me pause to reflect on an event which began in 1970, when I was nearing young adulthood. I remember the anti-litter campaigns, the energy shortage and even Earth Shoes. Fifty-two years later, the focus has shifted to clean energy, Zero Waste and climate change.

But, taking it down to a personal level, what am I doing to honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day on a daily basis? Some examples follow. What are you doing?

WHEN I WORE FEED SACKS

One of my all-time favorite images of laundry drying outside was taken on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2015)

I recognize that some of what I do is rooted in my past, where reuse was popular long before it became hip. For example, as a child I wore clothing stitched from feed sacks. Not all clothes, of course, but enough that I remember. Clothing was handed down the line from oldest to youngest siblings and sometimes among cousins. Whenever I got new clothes in my youth, they were either from the sales rack or sewn by my godmother or, later as a teen, by me. When I had children, most of their clothing came from garage sales. To this day, I dislike clothes shopping and gravitate to the discount rack. And, yes, I still occasionally buy second-hand. My approach to apparel is, I figure, earth-friendly.

Likewise when it comes to laundry, I either line dry outdoors or on a rack inside. To me hanging laundry isn’t a chore. I love the methodical rhythm of clipping laundry to the line early in the morning, then pulling it off when the sun has dried the clothes, towels, sheets… In the process, I’ve saved energy by not using my electric dryer.

SAVE THE BOWS, PLEASE, & THE CARDS

Examples of Christmas cards that were recycled into gift tags. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I also save and reuse gift bags, tissue paper and ribbons/bows. Through the years, I’ve taken a lot of ribbing for that practice. But, frankly, I don’t care. Tossing those items seems wasteful to me. And I am simply following the example set by my mother who, Christmas to Christmas, saved and reused tissue, ribbons, bows and carefully-folded wrapping paper. (We didn’t get birthday gifts.) I don’t reuse paper. Mom’s reasons for reuse were not necessarily rooted in the environment, but rather in finances. Wrapping paper and all the embellishments cost money. She also saved Christmas cards, repurposing them as gift tags, something I also do.

BREAD BAGS & PEACH PAPER

An outhouse repurposed as a storage shed on my middle brother and sister-in-law’s rural acreage near Lamberton. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

I also follow Mom’s example of washing and reusing plastic food storage bags. I don’t save bread bags, though. While growing up, I slid bread bags over my feet before slipping into boots. The bags kept my feet dry and warm, especially if my rubber boots leaked.

Thankfully I don’t need to repurpose the tissue from individually-wrapped crated peaches as toilet paper in the outhouse. Yes, I grew up using an outhouse in the warm weather months and a pot on the porch in the winter because our old farmhouse didn’t have a bathroom. I am quite appreciative of the small solo bathroom in my current house.

OLD IS JUST FINE WITH ME

A display at Reborn Home Furnishings, which recycles/upcycles/repurposes furniture. I discovered this shop during a visit to Luverne in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

The one other area in which I’ve really focused on reuse is furniture. I just counted all the furniture pieces in the six rooms on our main level. Of the 20 pieces, we’ve purchased only five new—the sofa, recliner, entertainment center and my office desk and chair. The dining room table and chairs came from two auctions 40 years ago. Other furniture either came from garage sales or from family. Even our bedroom ensemble—hideous 1950s blonde—is used. Not the mattress or boxspring. In the two second floor bedrooms, all of the furniture is second-hand.

RECYCLED ART, OH, HOW I LOVE THEE

Donated art fills a gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The center hosts an annual Recycled Art Sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2014)

And then there’s art. I love art and own a stash of it thanks to thrift stores, garage sales, the local recycled art sale and my mom. My “newest” pieces are “Jesus, the Good Shepherd” and “Jesus Knocks,” wedding gifts to my parents in 1954. Budget-friendly sources of art have allowed me to curate pieces I love in an earth-friendly way.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. How do you honor the spirit and intent of Earth Day in your daily life? Let’s learn from one another about ways we can reuse, repurpose, recyle, upcycle, reduce waste…

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling