Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hints of autumn in Minnesota September 11, 2017

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ALREADY THE EARTHY HUES of autumn brush the Minnesota landscape. Touches of red and orange and yellow tip trees now spiraling leaves onto grass and asphalt and sidewalks.

I delight in autumn, a season I welcome for the crisp nights that birth mornings of warm sunshine. Each day seems a gift to hold heart close.

 

 

Summer memories fly on the wings of butterflies dipping among fading plants—milkweed and goldenrod and petunias drying in pots.

The air carries the scent of corn ripening, the anticipation of harvest approaching, the promise of the yield.

 

 

And in the evening, when the sun slips too soon into darkness, when I close the windows against the overnight cold, I smell still the spicy aroma of chili ladled into handcrafted bowls shaped of the earth. And I am grateful for this season of autumn in Minnesota.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Spring in southeastern Minnesota May 10, 2017

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THESE ARE GLORIOUS DAYS in Minnesota. This May. This month when the landscape morphs from greys and browns into the vibrant greens of spring.

 

 

Leaves unfurl a canopy of green.

 

 

Lawns grow lush and sprout crops of dandelions.

 

 

Tulips pop bold colors like exclamation marks in flowerbeds.

 

 

Coiled fiddleheads unwind into feathery ferns dancing in cool spring breezes.

 

 

Bleeding hearts awaken, pushing new growth from stems dangling dozens of pink hearts. Hearts of love and hope and the beating of spring. All of this I see as if for the first time, although 60 springs have passed since I was born a Minnesotan.

 

 

In the countryside, I watch a blue green Ford pick-up truck tool along an Interstate frontage road between strips of greening road ditches.

 

 

I observe, too, farmers working the land. Soon shoots of green will emerge from black soil as corn and soybean seeds erupt in new growth.

This is the season of newness in Minnesota, when anything seems possible. And perhaps it is.

 

TELL ME: How do you view and react to spring, wherever you may live?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Spring emerges at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault April 5, 2017

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WITH THE CALENDAR flipped to April, the greening of the grey is subtly emerging in Minnesota as the season shifts from winter to spring.

 

 

The Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center.

 

Nesting pond along the entry to River Bend Nature Center.

 

Wisps of buds. Greening in the pond and woods. Skies and water so incredibly blue you wonder if your winter weary eyes are fooling you.

 

A frog camouflaged in the Turtle Pond.

 

 

The banks of the Straight River proved a popular spot Saturday afternoon. The woman in the purple is wearing a t-shirt with this message: “Leave me alone. I’m only speaking to my dog today.”

 

Frogs making more noise than raucous children on a playground. Geese nesting. River flowing.

 

Saturday’s weather proved perfect for motorized and non-motorized bking.

 

I almost cried when I met this trio of walkers as I thought of my mom and wished I could guide her on a walk through the woods.

 

Two teens parked their bikes trailside to explore the waterfall.

 

Give us Minnesotans a nice day of warmth and sunshine, like that on Saturday, and we, too, emerge from our homes to celebrate this changing of the seasons.

 

My husband, oldest daughter and granddaughter walking through River Bend Sunday afternoon.

 

My husband and I were among the throngs of visitors hiking at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault during Saturday’s respite warmth. We returned Sunday with our eldest daughter and her daughter. By then conditions had changed from sunny to cloudy with a brisk wind and much lower temps. The weather required stocking caps and winter coats (for the oldsters) unlike the sweatshirts of the previous day. Few others were out and about.

 

If not for Randy’s sharp eye, we may have stepped on this toad (or is it a frog?) sitting on a trail Saturday afternoon.

 

Another immobile amphibian sitting in the parking lot Sunday afternoon.

 

Even the frogs, a deafening chorus on Saturday, were quiet in Sunday’s cold. The toads hunched immobile.

 

Blue skies reflected Saturday afternoon in the nesting pond for geese.

 

As a Minnesotan, I understand how weather can change, just like that. So I accept each warm and sunny day as a gift.

 

Rustic signs mark trails at River Bend Nature Center.

 

TELL ME: Are there signs of spring where you live? Please share.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reclaiming an appreciation for winter through photography February 2, 2017

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IN THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH, I embraced winter. I saw potential in every snowfall. Snow caves and tunnels. Snow forts. Sledding.

 

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Snow pushed to the edge of the farmyard and rock-hard snowdrifts formed a mountain range, a seasonal anomaly on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. It was the ideal setting to role-play the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or to challenge siblings in King of the Mountain.

 

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I can’t reclaim those carefree days lingering now only in memories. But I can still appreciate winter, an attitude I’m relearning. That is easiest accomplished through the lens of my camera.

 

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Heading out of Faribault last Sunday afternoon for Owatonna along Interstate 35, I felt the sun radiating warmth through the van windows. And I noticed, too, the blueness of the sky scuttled by white clouds. I welcomed the blue after too many grey January days.

 

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Aiming my camera to the west toward farm fields layered in a thin coating of snow, I was nearly fooled into thinking I was back on my native prairie. The land appeared familiar in the winter commonality of bare trees and open fields. And I found comfort in that—in the uncluttered landscape, in the simplicity of lines, in the visual vulnerability the earth shows in winter.

 

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TELL ME: What do you most appreciate about winter, if you appreciate it? If you don’t, why not?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A determination to rediscover the joys of winter in Minnesota January 20, 2017

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. I think my uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck to reach the milkhouse.

I pose with my mom and four siblings atop a hard-as-rock snowdrift blocking our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. Location: rural Vesta, Redwood County, Minnesota.

BACK IN MY LIFE-ON-THE-FARM days, I loved winter. Every bucket of snow pushed from the farmyard with the loader of the John Deere tractor created a mountain. Soon a whole range rimmed the yard. There my siblings and I roamed, our imaginations taking us to the wilds of Alaska.

I am trying to reclaim that enthusiasm for winter—for carving caves into snowbanks, for sledding down hills, for building snow forts, for tossing snowballs. Not that I plan to engage in any of those activities. But I need to rediscover that winter can be fun. And my go-to place for that now is Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center.

 

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From 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. this Saturday, January 21, River Bend celebrates its annual WinterFest with kicksledding, snowshoeing, games, nature crafts, animal shows and more.

 

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I’m uncertain whether I will make that event. But I embraced the winter season by hiking the trails of River Bend in the balmy 30-degree warmth of a recent January afternoon. You can read about that by visiting the Faribault Tourism website “Stories” section. Click here. Enjoy.

TELL ME: How do you embrace winter? For those of you living in warm weather climates, go ahead, laugh, or share a story.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fashionably cold in Minnesota January 4, 2017

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Along a gravel road somewhere between Nerstrand and Kenyon, Minnesota.

Along a gravel road somewhere between Nerstrand and Kenyon, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2014.

WHILE ROAD-TRIPPING FROM MINNESOTA to Massachusetts last May, I found myself defending my home state. Apparently non-residents have a singular impression of Minnesota. And that would be “cold.”

Back then, when spring was emerging green and beautiful here, I assured non-residents that Minnesota is about much more than cold weather.

But today I can’t argue with the cold assessment as arctic air settles into Minnesota, plunging temperatures to the single digits above zero. Thank you, Canada, for kicking the cold out your front door toward your neighbor’s property.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

Me bundled up several years ago for two hours of ringing bells for the Salvation Army in arctic cold. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Fortunately, Minnesotans know how to handle the frigid temps. Along with complaining, we bundle up. At least I do. Fashion isn’t nearly as important to me as warmth. Gone are the days of caring whether a stocking cap will flatten my hair or whether my Northwest Territory boots are in style. Warmth trumps appearance.

 

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Yet, apparently you can be “cute and cozy” in outdoor winter attire, according to a Scheels billboard I spotted along U.S. Highway 14 between Waseca and Janesville. The model appears well-cozied in her winter jacket, leggings and boots (which seem more fashionable than practical). I wouldn’t want to be slip-sliding around on the ice in those heels.

That all said, I appreciate Scheels’ efforts to convince us that we really can be fashionable in outdoor winter attire. Now if only we could convince the rest of the country that Minnesota is about much more than cold weather.

TELL ME: When you think of Minnesota, what word pops into your head? Cold? Snow? Something else?

How can Minnesota change its “cold” image? Or should we?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In which I see that, yes, winter really has arrived in Minnesota November 22, 2016

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A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon.

A scene along Minnesota State Highway 23 between Foley and St. Cloud on Sunday afternoon, after the sun emerged from grey skies.

THE FIRST SNOWFALL of the season always arrives with considerable hoopla here in Minnesota. As if we hadn’t seen snow that layers the ground in white.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Round hay bales create a snow fence along Highway 23.

Last week, sections of my state got plenty of snow. We’re talking two feet in Leader in north central Minnesota. Mixed with high winds, blizzard conditions prevailed in many regions. Down here in the southeastern section? Only flurries. And I’m just fine with that.

Just outside of Monticello.

Just outside of Monticello.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

Under grey skies on the flat land north of Monticello, snow dusts fields.

However, a Sunday day trip 2.5 hours north and west of the metro took my husband and me into a snowy central Minnesota landscape.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

Along Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman, snow covers the rural landscape.

And, yes, I confess, I delighted in seeing snow-covered ground for the first time this winter season. There’s something about that initial snow that is magical and pure and, well, beautiful.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley.

I snapped this wintry scene as we pulled into a convenience store/gas station in Foley on Sunday afternoon.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

This truck clearly has not moved in awhile.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

The heavy, wet snow is piled now along the roadside, here in Foley.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

A rural resident cleans out the end of his driveway along Benton County Road 3.

Some parking lots were treacherously icy, like this one where we turned our van around in Gilman.

Some parking lots are treacherously icy, like this one in Gilman.

As long as you don’t have to deal with the snow and ice. As long as roads are clear, which they were except for icy patches on Benton County Road 3 north of Gilman.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

I especially appreciate the visual contrast of red barns, this one north of Gilman, against the white landscape.

Everything always seems sharper, brighter on a white canvas.

I photographed this train by the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It's heading for Clear Lake.

I photographed this train near the Minnesota State Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. It’s heading for Clear Lake.

Today brings a predicted wintry mix of precipitation to Minnesota. Rain mixed with snow, which likely will create slick roads. That type of winter weather is always unwelcome. But this is Minnesota. I should expect this.

I'm already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

I’m already waiting for spring, even though winter has just started. Here the same train I photographed in St. Cloud passes through Clear Lake as we all wait.

But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t. Is it May yet? The novelty and excitement of seeing the first snowfall has apparently already faded for me.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling