Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Into eastern Rice County to view fall colors October 4, 2022

A stunning treeline along Cannon City Boulevard just outside Faribault city limits. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

ANOTHER DAY OF SUNSHINE and unseasonably warm temps here in southern Minnesota prompted Randy and me to once again hit the road in search of fall colors. This time we headed into eastern Rice County, following backroads in the Cannon City and Nerstrand areas with a lengthy stop at Valley Grove Churches.

The historic Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, photographed from the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Immersed in the Valley Grove prairie, I viewed the Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

A spectacular view from the Valley Grove Cemetery right next to the churches. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

At those historic hilltop churches, we followed prairie trails until we reached the highest point. There we stood, impressed by the distant Big Woods treeline colored in the hues of autumn. Valley Grove is one of our favorite spots in any season, but especially when the leaves are morphing color.

Driving through Nerstrand Big Woods. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Our drive also took us on the road slicing through Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. We didn’t stop, simply enjoyed driving under a canopy of trees evolving in color. They have not yet reached their prime.

Driving through the woods on Farmer Trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

As always, Farmer Trail (off Falk Avenue) drew us in. This secluded road twists and turns among the maples and seems a well-kept secret. Thick woods edge the gravel road on both sides. I feel sheltered here, as if I’ve briefly entered some magical place.

The rolling hills around Valley Grove are especially colorful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

This time of year in southern Minnesota truly feels magical given the remarkable beauty found in trees shifting from green to yellows, reds, oranges and browns.

The view from City View Park is breath-taking. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

My community of Faribault is ablaze and still erupting with color. City View Park on the east side overlooks the city, offering a vista view. The Shattuck-St. Mary’s clock tower always focuses my eye when taking in the city below and beyond.

Crossing the viaduct from Faribault’s east side, fall colors splash into the city landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Even traveling down the viaduct into downtown impresses in the autumn. There’s so much to see locally in autumn colors whether along a city street, an area lake, a back country road.

Deep in eastern Rice County, a gravel road curves near Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

If there’s anything I want to impress, it’s that all of this—this autumn color spreading across the landscape—is right here in Faribault, in Rice County, in our backyard. I don’t know if everyone realizes that. I also want to impress that the days of autumn are fleeting. A cold front is moving in along with wind. Now is the time to get out there and view the fall colors, at least locally.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Valley Grove Country Social, up close September 22, 2022

The young boy wearing these cowboy boots watched intently as Northfield artist David F. Allen worked on a painting of Valley Grove Church. The two talked about creating (the little guy likes to color) and about a newly-acquired pig named Pinky. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

IN TELLING A STORY, whether in images or words, details matter. Combined, details comprise the whole. And that’s the approach I take in creating.

A painting of the 1862 Valley Grove stone church and cemetery by David F. Allen and for sale at the Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022, photographed with the artist’s permission)
Panels placed alongside the stone church provided historical details. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

In the entry of the 1894 church, more historical info and photos. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Recently I attended the Valley Grove Country Social in rural Rice County. This event, hosted by the Valley Grove Preservation Society, celebrates the history, heritage, land and people rooted to two hilltop Norwegian churches with adjoining cemetery and restored prairie. One of the first pastors here founded St. Olaf College in nearby Northfield.

Folks gather outside the 1894 church to converse and to view the art of David F. Allen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Many people from my area hold this place dear and that shows in the upkeep of the 1862 stone church and the 1894 wood church rising high above a landscape of prairie, farm fields and wooded areas near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

A section of the cemetery looking toward the rolling prairie land. The Social included tours of the cemetery and of the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A prairie restoration project fills the prairie with wildflowers, grass and insects. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
This striped gopher ran across the cemetery lawn before popping into a hole. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I, too, despite no personal connection to Valley Grove, have come to hold this site dear. I appreciate the historic churches and cemetery and the surrounding landscape. And I also appreciate gatherings like the Country Social.

This prop horse harnessed to a buggy features a horse hide blanket. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An accordion players plays with Hutenanny under the oaks in the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Ribbon-tied notecards for sale in the stone church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

This Social showcases Valley Grove in a way that stretches beyond history, although that decidedly focuses the celebration. Music and art and hands-on activities weave into the all of it.

Doing laundry the old-fashioned way. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Corn ground at the Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Toys like this stick horse were available for kids to use. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I love to see adults and youngsters engaging, conversing, teaching, learning. The younger generation will one day carry on with events like this and with the preservation of history and heritage at Valley Grove. So offering hands-on activities like rope-making, corn grinding, doing laundry, playing with yesteryear toys…is vital.

Musicians perform under the oaks while Social attendees listen and/ore explore the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

While I was persuaded to wind twine into a rope with Randy, I simply observed the other participatory activities. I prefer to meander unobtrusively (not always easy) with my camera, observing, documenting. I strive to tell a story that will encourage others to embrace events and places like Valley Grove. There’s so much right here in Rice County to explore and experience. We need to treasure that which is in our backyard. Just like the “eat local” movement, I say, “Explore local.”

The goats drew lots of admirers as they wandered, tethered, with their owner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The kids’ tent, right, featured hands-on activities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A leashed dog came with its owner. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Much of what I feature here on my blog is local. And, if it isn’t, it’s rooted in my region. I value southern Minnesota, especially the small towns, the rural landscape, the people, the arts, the events…the all of it defining this place I call home.

TELL ME: What specific places and/or events do you appreciate where you live and which you feel go unnoticed by many locals?

This concludes my three-part series on the 2022 Valley Grove Country Social. Click here to read my first post about Bjorn Norgaard and my second post, an overview of the Social.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting, celebrating & more at Valley Grove Country Social September 21, 2022

Vehicles line the gravel driveway leading to the hilltop Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand, during the September 18 Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A COUNTRY SOCIAL EVOKES an essence of history, of community celebration, of activities that hearken to a bygone era. The Valley Grove Country Social held on Sunday afternoon high atop a hill near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park fits that and beyond. This site, the location of two historic churches and an adjoining cemetery, marks one of my favorite places in rural Rice County for its history, natural beauty and peace.

Inside the stone church, now used for fellowship, folks grab refreshments, converse and view historical information and art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Among the newest additions to the stone church are four tapestries woven by Minneapolis artist Robbie LaFleur and reflective of Valley Grove. This one is titled “Pastor Quammen Skis between Parishes.” He was the longest serving pastor at the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
A vintage buggy adds another historic aspect to the Valley Grove Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

On this September afternoon, I delighted in an event that brings people together to celebrate Norwegian heritage and history, people and place, stories past and present, the arts, and, oh, so much more.

Bouquets and vintage photos edge window sills in the oldest church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

An organist and violinist play during a recital in the newer church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Horse-drawn wagon rides onto the prairie drew many passengers throughout the afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Grinding corn as part of the hands-on learning opportunities. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Northfield artist David Allen brought his brushes, watercolors and paper to paint on-site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

From garden and prairie flowers tucked into Mason jars set atop window sills in the 1862 stone church to a recital inside the 1894 church to horse-drawn wagon rides to kids grinding corn to an artist painting, the scope of activities proved broad. There was something for everyone from the youngest to the eldest. Generations mingled, connected. One taught, the other learned.

From cemetery’s edge, the open prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Rope making, a nod to Valley Grove’s agrarian roots, was part of the Country Social. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
All ages were drawn to these two goats. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To observe, to converse, to listen, to feel, to experience all of this imprints upon my soul gratitude for those who know this place, this Valley Grove, is worth preserving and sharing. Although I hold no personal connection here, I feel connected. It is my faith, my love of the land, especially the surrounding prairie and farmland, and the quiet of this remote rural location which cause me to feel comfortably at home, at peace.

One of David Allen’s paintings of Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

If you’ve never visited Valley Grove and live near enough to tour, then do. I’ve been here many times to walk the cemetery and grounds, to hike through the prairie, even once sitting on the front steps of the wooden church for a picnic lunch. The churches are locked when not open for events or special services like a wedding or Christmas Eve worship.

A musician performs with the group Hutenanny under the oak trees in the cemetery.

Still, whether inside or outside the two churches, a sense of the past prevails. Gravestone after gravestone bears the names of Norwegian immigrants and their descendants. Study the markers and stories begin to emerge, whether real or imagined. I can only imagine the joys and sorrows shared here.

Toys of yesteryear were available to try. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Valley Grove is about more than a place where historic churches stand next to a cemetery. It is a gathering spot for those who are celebrating, those who are grieving, those who are remembering and, on this afternoon of a Country Social, a place of connecting with community.

Please check back for more photos from the Valley Grove Country Social. And click here to read my first post from the event, a personal piece about a young man named Bjorn.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Lyon County: Prairie-rooted poetry at the museum September 20, 2022

The sprawling Lyon County Historical Society Museum in the heart of downtown Marshall, across from the post office. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

RECENTLY I TRAVELED back to my native southwestern Minnesota, destination Marshall, 18 miles west of my hometown of Vesta. Specifically, I targeted the Lyon County Historical Society Museum to view the award-winning “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit. Two of my poems, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” and “Hope of a Farmer,” are featured therein.

Me, photographed next to the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” My one regret is that my mom (pictured in two smaller photo insets) never saw this exhibit in person. She died in January. (Photo by Randy Helbling, September 2022)
To the far left is the panel featuring my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” In the center is my poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
My poem, “Hope of a Farmer.” That is not my dad in the photo. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

The exhibit, which won a 2021 Minnesota History Award from the Minnesota Alliance of Local History Museums, opened in January of the same year. Finally, I got to Marshall last week. Up until my visit, I was unaware that two, not just one, of my poems are included. When I read the title “Hope of a Farmer,” I thought to myself, I wrote a poem with that title. And then, as I read, I realized this was my poem.

The second floor exhibit celebrates Lyon County in the award-winning exhibit, “Making Lyon County Home.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Now I’m doubly honored that my rural-themed poetry inspired by my farmer father and farm wife mother were chosen to be part of this outstanding exhibit focusing on the people, places, businesses, communities, activities, events, history and arts of Lyon County.

A clothes pin bag hangs in an exhibit space near my “Ode” poem, quite fitting. Visitors can turn a dial to generate “wind” blowing dish towels on a clothesline. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Excerpt from “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” (click here to read the entire poem):

In the rhythm of your days, you still danced,

but to the beat of farm life—

laundry tangled on the clothesline,

charred burgers jazzed with ketchup,

finances rocked by falling corn and soybean prices.

This panel honors literary and visual artists of the region. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

As I read the “Imagining the Prairie” informational panel, my gratitude to the LCHS staff, volunteers and Museology Museum Services of Minneapolis (lead contractor for the exhibit) grew. I appreciate that an entire panel focuses on the arts: The Lyon County landscape…has inspired painters and poets and artists of all kinds. I’ve long thought that as I see the prairie influence in my writing and photography. Farms, vast prairies, wide skies and tumbling rivers define the landscape of southwestern Minnesota.

Corn rows emerge in a field near Delhi in southwestern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Excerpt from my “Hope of a Farmer” poem (click here to read the entire poem):

I see my father’s work laid out before him—

first seeds dropped into rich black soil,

next, corn rows carefully cultivated,

then fervent prayers for timely rain.

A fitting quote from Bill Holm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

A quote from poet, essayist and musician Bill Holm of nearby Minneota, summarizes well the lens through which we prairie natives view the world and the creative process. The prairie eye looks for distance, clarity, and light…

A grain complex and the Oasis Bar & Grill in Milroy, near Marshall. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Holm, who died in 2009, was among southwestern Minnesota’s best-known writers, having penned poetry and multiple books such as his popular The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth and Boxelder Bug Variations. His boxelder bug book inspired his hometown to host an annual Boxelder Bug Days, still going strong.

Poetry by Leo Dangel in the ag-focused part of the exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

To see my poems featured alongside the work of gifted writers like Holm and equally-talented poet Leo Dangel in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit was humbling. Dangel, who died in 2016, wrote six collections of poetry. The prairie and rural influence on his work show in the featured poems, “A Farmer Prays,” “A Clear Day,” and “Tornado.”

My poem honoring my mom… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Both men taught English at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, reaffirming their devotion to this rural region and to the craft of writing. The exhibit includes a section on the university, which opened in 1967 within 10 years of my leaving the area to attend college in Mankato. I sometimes wonder how my writing would have evolved had I stayed and studied on the prairie.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, which is right next to Lyon County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

When I returned to Marshall for the first time in 40 years, nothing about the town seemed familiar. Time has a way of changing a place. But when I reached the top floor of the county museum, saw my poems and began to peruse the “home” exhibit, I felt like I was back home. Back home on the prairie, among cornfields and farm sites and grain elevators and all those small towns that dot the landscape. Back home under a wide prairie sky with land stretching beyond my vision. Back home where I understand the people. Back home in the place that influenced my writing as only the prairie can for someone rooted here.

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Please check back for more posts featuring the Lyon County Museum and the area.

The ode honoring my mother initially published in South Dakota State University’s 2017 literary journal, Oakwood.

And the poem about my father was chosen as a “Work of Merit” at the 2014 Northwoods Art & Book Festival in Hackensack.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about dragonflies at Montgomery Orchard September 1, 2022

From an elevated platform, a bird’s eye view of the corn maze and the countryside at Montgomery Orchard in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2010)

THIS TIME OF YEAR, I see, hear, feel autumn on Minnesota’s doorstep.

Already the next-door-neighbor’s maple is turning color, red leaves spiraling into my yard. Goldenrod flag the landscape. Crickets chirp, their incessant chorus singing a refrain of autumn’s approach. Mornings feel pull-on-the-jeans-and-sweatshirt crisp until sunshine warms the day.

And apple season time is underway with area orchards opening, complete with apple picking, hay rides, corn mazes and other activities to draw in customers.

Montgomery Orchard signage in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

This weekend Montgomery Orchard, located a mile east of the intersections of Minnesota state highways 13 and 99 in Montgomery Township, opens for the 2022 season. Now I could write about many other orchards opening, too, but chose this one to highlight because of a unique program there on Saturday, September 3. The Minnesota Dragonfly Society will present information on dragonflies at 11 am and again at 1 pm with dragonfly catching after each presentation.

A dragonfly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

Now, I’ve never heard of the Dragonfly Society whose mission is “ensuring the conservation of Minnesota’s dragonflies and damselflies through research and education.” I appreciate that as I find dragonflies fascinating.

The Dragonfly Band has also been booked for the Saturday event at the orchard.

Randy walks through the Minnesota Twins-themed maze in October 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

Montgomery Orchard is going all out with the dragonfly theme this year. The six-acre Be-A-Mazed corn maze is shaped like a dragonfly with interactive trivia about the insect posted throughout the cornfield. Two maze options are offered with a shorter half-hour route geared toward families with young children and a second longer route.

I last visited this orchard 12 years ago, not long after it opened. The business has grown substantially since then, now spreading over 105 rural acres. The Cider Haus is open Saturdays and Sundays, serving five in-house made hard ciders, like Northern Trek and Prairie Harvest, and wine, like the award-winning Plum Crazy and The Full Monty.

Montgomery Orchard bagged apples. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2010)

Apples, in nearly a dozen varieties, are grown and sold here throughout the apple season. Currently ready for picking and/or purchase are Zestar and SweeTango.

In Minnesota, visiting an orchard has developed into an experience, exactly as Montgomery Orchard promotes with its tag, “where friends, family and nature come together.” Hikes and hayrides are also part of the offerings here.

Flamin’ Bleu pizza purchased in-house at Pizzeria 201 in April 2013. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

And on Saturday, popular Montgomery-based Pizzeria 201 will be at the orchard vending pizza from its mobile wood-fired pizza oven. Visitors can also purchase caramel apples, jellies, jams and more from the orchard store.

This orchard is just one of many in my region which I’ve visited and recommend. Others include Apple Creek Orchard, rural Faribault; Trumps Orchard, Faribault; and Fireside Orchard & Gardens, rural Northfield.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite apple orchard? What makes it a go-to destination for you?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the way to Mac’s Park Place, rural Mazeppa August 8, 2022

A quick snapshot I took of Mac’s Park Place roadside sign through the passenger side window of our van. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

BACK COUNTRY ROADS often lead to interesting discoveries. Places that reveal America at its grassroots basic. Such is the road leading to Mac’s Park Place. And such is Mac’s.

It was the homemade sign posted along Wabasha County Road 21, which winds through the Zumbro River Valley, that caught the attention of Randy during a day trip in southeastern Minnesota. I missed the sign sporting an angler and a fish along with a list of all Mac’s offers:

BEER

BURGERS

RV CAMPING

FISHING

PULL TABS

That roadside signage was enough to make Randy reverse course and aim down a gravel road to Mac’s Park Place along 406th Avenue, rural Mazeppa. The restaurant/bar/campground is located between Mazeppa and Oronoco along the Zumbro River.

This is an area lovely in natural beauty. Winding river. A bit of backwoods wild. The ideal setting for a place like Mac’s, perhaps not widely-known to those without connections to the area.

Check back to see what I saw along the route to Mac’s, and then at Mac’s. I wondered at some point if we should continue on, not quite knowing what we were driving into…

© Copyright 2022 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