Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Wisconsin: Quick, look before the snow melts March 5, 2020

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An iconic Wisconsin farm site photographed from Interstate 90 on February 15.

 

OH, WHAT A DIFFERENCE a few weeks make. I’m talking snow cover here. With temps rising into the 40s, even 50s in some places in Minnesota, and sun shining bright in the afternoons, the snow pack is diminishing.

 

Photographed on February 15 while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, this tree stand appears like an island in an ocean of snow.

 

I can now see patches of grass in my lawn, curbing along streets and indications that we are getting closer to spring. As a life-long Minnesotan, though, I recognize the potential for lots more snowfall, even into May.

But for now, we’re delighting in days that lean toward spring. Sixty degrees is forecast for this weekend. Imagine how that will facilitate snow melt. And lift spirits.

 

This hillside barn is located near Madison, in an area more urban than rural.

 

That all said, I’m finally getting around to sharing snowscape photos I took in mid-February while traveling along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin, eastbound toward Madison. Scenes along that route are becoming familiar to me now given the frequency of trips to visit our second daughter, her husband and our son in the capital city.

 

A pastoral scene along I-90 in southern Wisconsin.

 

Wisconsin, for all the jokes about beer, brats and cheese, and fan fanaticism for the Packers and Badgers, is a lot like Minnesota. Friendly folks. Diverse landscape. Mostly rural with just enough urban. Interesting. I’ve enjoyed exploring Madison from botanical gardens to art museums to a repurposed mill next to my son’s apartment building.

 

In the valley east of La Crosse, the length of this barn along I-90 impresses me.

 

A picturesque farm site sits in the valley.

 

Another long barn.

 

 

With the exception of Rochester, Minnesota, and La Crosse, Wisconsin, the four-hour drive to Madison from Faribault takes us primarily through rural regions. I especially like the area east of La Crosse where high rolling hills border farm fields and farm sites in the valley. Hills and wide sky dwarf the farms, a strong visual that always impresses upon me our smallness in this vast universe.

 

This scene, especially, emphasizes our smallness.

 

Such are my thoughts as we travel. I never tire of looking at these rural scenes, often wishing we had time to follow backroads deep into the hills. We did once, years ago while vacationing, and nearly lost our way such are the twisting paths within those hills.

 

Nearing Madison, a traditional farmhouse and barn define this farm.

 

I digress. I expect if I was to photograph these sames scenes today, they would appear much different with snow no longer defining the landscape. What a difference only a few weeks make…

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wisconsin’s rural character revealed along State Highway 21 September 22, 2016

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DRIVE THE INTERSTATE and you mostly miss the nuances of a place.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I photographed this scene along Wisconsin Highway 21, a rural region of the state.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I photographed this scene along Wisconsin Highway 21, a rural region of the state.

But travel a back county road or a state highway and you begin to see the details that comprise a location. Like rural Wisconsin.

Stuck behind farm equipment along Highway 21.

Stuck behind farm equipment along Highway 21.

Wisconsin State Highway 21 between Tomah and Oshkosh has become a familiar stretch of highway for my husband and me as we travel that route to reach our second daughter’s home in the Fox Valley region. It is a busy stretch of roadway which often leaves us wishing for a quicker, safer east-west route. But options are limited, especially if we don’t want to travel through the Twin Cities metro.

The natural attraction, Castle Rock, juts up from the landscape.

The natural attraction, Castle Rock, juts up from the landscape near Coloma.

So we make the best of it, watching for the cranberry bogs east of Tomah, the Amish between Coloma and Wautoma, the natural wonder of Castle Rock,

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Probably the oldest drive-in along Wisconsin Highway 21, the Milty Wilty has been in business in Wautoma for 70 years.

the Milty Wilty in Wautoma and anything that screams Wisconsin.

Small family farms abound along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Small family farms abound along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Highway 21 takes us past potato and dairy farms,

Hunting shacks for sale in Redgranite.

Hunting shacks for sale in Redgranite.

past hunting land and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, across rivers and creeks,

Businesses in downtown Redgranite, one of my favorite towns along Highway 21.

Businesses in downtown Redgranite, one of my favorite towns along Highway 21.

through small towns like Omro and Redgranite,

The names of small town bars, like this one in Redgranite, amuse me.

The names of small town bars, like this one in Redgranite, amuse me.

past bars and churches,

Roadside stands are plentiful this time of year.

Roadside stands are plentiful this time of year. Here’s one in Redgranite.

to roadside stands and Piggly Wigglies.

Posted in a front yard in Redgranite.

Posted in a front yard in Redgranite.

This route reveals so much about the character of Wisconsin. Signs for brat fries. Bars aplenty. Strong opinions voiced in handcrafted signs.

One of my favorite restaurant icons, located in Wautoma.

One of my favorite restaurant icons, located in Wautoma.

Small town diners.

Making silage.

Making silage.

Farming and fishing.

Scenes along Wisconsin State Highway 21 reflect this area's rural character.

Scenes along Wisconsin State Highway 21 reflect this area’s rural character. This is near Coloma.

Travel the interstate and you will miss most of this. But follow a state highway and you will begin to understand a place. Like rural Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Abandoned November 10, 2014

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DO YOU EVER WONDER, as I do, about the history of a place?

Look at this old farm site in the area of Ellsworth in western Wisconsin:

 

Rural, old farmstead

 

Imagine the farmer who settled here, proud to own a piece of land. Consider how he labored to build a barn and a house and then erected a windmill.

The windmill once stood proud, fins catching the wind, providing energy to pump water from the well. An old pump remains dwarfed in the presence of the now bladeless windmill.

The barn, with numerous additions, seemingly defies age in her strong, straight rooflines. But her windows are boarded, her roof rusted.

Mismatch of fence panels askew presents a certain disconnected visual chaos.

Was it illness or lack of money or a non-caring attitude or none of the above that caused this farm site to fall into disrepair and apparent abandonment?

What happened to the house? Who drove the vintage car? Where are the horses? So many questions and no answers.

The place is for sale, or maybe it’s just the car and/or manure spreader.

What is the story of this farm? Every place, every person, writes a story.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photographic journey through rural western Wisconsin November 5, 2014

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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

 

The beautiful barns of Wisconsin June 16, 2014

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FOCUSING ON ANYTHING but the barn on a farm site proves difficult for me during drive-by shoots.

So why fight the natural farm girl instinct? I don’t.

 

Barn in Wisconsin 97

 

Along Wisconsin State Highway 21, I’ve spotted some mighty fine barns in the past few years of traveling that forever stretch of roadway between Tomah and Oshkosh.

 

Barn in Wisconsin 98

 

Strong barns with stone foundations.

 

Barn in Wisconsin 109

 

Barns with character.

 

Barn in Wisconsin 116

 

And barns that, for their mammoth size, overwhelm all other buildings on a farm site.

 

Barn in Wisconsin 106

 

Occasionally another farm building grabs my attention.

But, oh, how I love barns.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

 

Antiquing in Wisconsin: A stop in Poy Sippi November 20, 2013

POY SIPPI.

The words roll off my tongue with a sound that pleases me.

Just like this small Wisconsin town. Poy Sippi. Off the beaten path. Sandwiched between busy State Highways 21 and 10. A community discovered a year ago while searching for an alternate route to avoid road construction along U.S. Highway 41 from Oshkosh to Appleton, where my second daughter lives.

Private property or a business? I don't know. But this is one of the first places I notice entering Poy Sippi from the south.

Private property or a business? I don’t know. But this is one of the first places I notice entering Poy Sippi from the south.

This October, my husband and I are back in Poy Sippi, named after the Pine River, called Poygan Sippi by the Pottawatomie because it flows into Poygan Lake, according to the Poy Sippi Public Library website.

As we drive by the Tire Center, I snap this photo.

As we drive by the Tire Center, I snap this photo.

The uniqueness of the name fascinates me as do the poetically pleasing vowel and consonant combinations in Poy Sippi.

Our first glimpse of The Shop in October 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Our first glimpse of The Shop in October 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We have not explored Poy Sippi, except for The Shop, a delightful antique shop along Main Street/Highway 49.

The corner grocery store and meat market.

The corner grocery store and meat market.

Dan Chier and Co. run the place, directly across the road from “49” Meats & Groceries, the corner grocery store/meat market touting “the best steaks around.” And I don’t doubt that. These small town meat markets often do offer the best in meats, this one specifically noting its home-smoked meats.

Looking toward the front the antique shop.

Looking toward the front the antique shop.

At one time the building which houses Dan’s shop operated as a general store. Dan shows me photocopies of historic photos. It’s no stretch to imagine the former mercantile occupying this space with the worn wood floor, wainscoting on the ceiling and aged double front doors.

Oh, how I wish I had bought this clock, crafted by Don's mom (recently deceased) from an old album.

Oh, how I wish I had bought this $5 clock, crafted by Dan’s mom (recently deceased) from an old album.

I wish I had known about these vintage blue canning jars when my daughter was planning for her September wedding. I rented quart sized jars like this for $2/each. Don is selling them for $3/each. He sold lots for weddings, he says, but the wedding demand seems to be fading. Now some are using the jars for lights.

I wish I had known about these vintage blue canning jars when my daughter was planning for her September wedding. I rented quart sized jars like this for $2/each. Dan is selling them for $3/each. He sold lots for weddings, he says, but the wedding demand seems to be fading. Now some are using the jars for lights. Oh, and see that fruit print on the top shelf. I spotted that framed piece a year ago, liked it then and still like it now. I should have negotiated a deal with Dan. He’s open to negotiating.

More merchandise.

More merchandise, leaning against the building next door which is for sale.

It’s the perfect place for an antique shop.

Friendly shopkeeper, Don Chier.

Friendly shopkeeper, Dan Chier.

I appreciate Dan’s warm welcome as much as the old stuff he offers for sale both inside and outside his shop in Poy Sippi. Off the beaten path. A short-cut between two busy highways.

BONUS PHOTOS:

I was a bit creeped out when I spotted this deer head on the garage next to Don't main shop last fall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I was a bit creeped out when I spotted this deer head on the garage next to Dan’s main shop last fall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Same spot as above, just looking the other direction toward Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Same spot as above, just looking the other direction toward Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

The building to the north of the garage (and deer head) that's for sale.

The building to the north of the garage (and deer head) that’s for sale.

The entry to The Shop.

The entry to The Shop.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fifties flashback in a Wisconsin cornfield November 14, 2013

Back in the day, picking corn

IF NOT FOR THE TRAFFIC that surrounds me on this four-lane on a Saturday afternoon, I might be traveling directly into a rural scene from the fifties or sixties.

For there, over to the right along this Appleton, Wisconsin, area roadway, a farmer works the field with his Case tractor towing a pull-behind corn picker that drops ears of corn into a wagon.

I get one chance to photograph the scene, but plenty of time to ponder why this farmer chose to harvest his crop with vintage farm machinery.

Is he simply trying to reclaim an era when farmers worked with the wind at their backs, the sun upon their faces, the scent of plant and earth in the air, embracing harvest from the seat of an open air tractor?

(NOTE: This photo was taken in mid-October.)

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Harvesting photo ops in rural Minnesota and rural Wisconsin October 16, 2013

A rural scene along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Zumbrota.

A cornfield awaits complete harvest along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Faribault and Zumbrota, Minnesota.

IT IS THE FORMER FARM GIRL that drives me to turn my camera toward the fields this time of year, to the harvest of corn and soybeans.

Harvest in progress near U.S. Highway 10 east of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Harvest in progress along U.S. Highway 10 east of Appleton, Wisconsin.

This past weekend provided the perfect opportunity to scope out the harvest on a 600-mile round trip through southeastern Minnesota across central Wisconsin to Appleton (just south of Green Bay) and back. Lots of windshield time with the husband. And lots of time to observe rural Wisconsin and rural Minnesota and capture those scenes with the quick click of my shutter button while passing by at highway speeds.

A scenic

A cornfield awaits harvest along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

In most areas, corn fields have faded from green to a golden hue. Soybean fields likewise are transforming to the muted browns of autumn.

A combine works the land along U.S. Highway 52 north of Rochester.

A combine works the land along U.S. Highway 52 north of Rochester, Minnesota.

Combines kick up dust.

A vintage grain truck rolled out of storage and parked along side a southeastern Minnesota field.

A vintage grain truck parked along side a southeastern Minnesota field.

Grain trucks rumble out of storage.

Lots of pumpkins harvested also and for sale, these along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Lots of pumpkins harvested also and for sale, these along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Hurry hangs heavy.

Bringing in the crop along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Bringing in the crop along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

There’s that anticipation, that sense of urgency, that hustle to get the crop out. Before the snow flies.

FYI: Here are a few photo tips for all you on-the-road wannabe photographers out there: Clean your vehicle windows. Make sure you are the passenger and not the driver; safety first. Set your camera at a fast shutter speed. Anticipate. Watch the glare on your windows. Then shoot, shoot, shoot.

If results are not perfect, and they likely will not be due to bugs, sun, and a myriad of other issues, use photo editing tools. Crop. Change the contrast. Sharpen if necessary. Get creative as I did here with usage of the artistic “cartoonify” editing tool. And, if all else fails to produce a pleasing image with the impact you desire, hover and delete.

PLEASE CHECK BACK tomorrow, when I take you on a tour of a Tomah, Wisconsin, cranberry farm.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling