Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Through a SoMinn Lens August 27, 2019

 

 

AS A CREATIVE, I always appreciate the opportunity to get my work out to a broader audience. I want to share my images and words. Not because I possess some big ego. But rather I want others to view the world around them through an artful perspective. With joy. With appreciation. Through the creative lens of a writer and photographer who seeks to notice the details within the wider picture, to engage all the senses. I strive for that in my art.

My newest creative endeavor landed me at Southern Minn Scene, a Southern Minnesota arts, entertainment and lifestyle magazine. The publication’s coverage area stretches from just south of the Twin Cities metro to the Minnesota/Iowa border and from the Mississippi River on the east to Mankato on the west (although I aim to stretch that western boundary farther west toward my native prairie).

Each month I’ll craft a photo essay, accompanied by several paragraphs of text, in a column titled Through a SoMinn Lens. If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you’ll see familiar images. And other photos I haven’t previously published here. All the copy, though, will be new with my column leaning toward poetic prose. As a published poet, I value that art form. Journalistic style writing is reserved for the occasional features I will also pen for Southern Minn Scene.

 

 

My column debuts in the just-published September issue, which you can read online by clicking here. I focus on Wabasha’s SeptOberfest, a two-month celebration of autumn. I love this Mississippi River town any time of year for its natural and historic beauty, but especially during this family-friendly event.

 

 

I also crafted a feature on the annual Germanfest at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township. That’s east of Faribault and near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. I’ve posted about that ethnic celebration several times here. I love the people of St. John’s. They are friendly, kind, and incredible cooks and bakers. The story proved an ideal fit for this food-themed issue of Southern Minn Scene. Be sure to read other writers’ food-focused stories about tasty desserts in the region to new foods at the Minnesota State Fair.

Beyond that, thank you for valuing art, whether literary, visual or performing. Today, more than ever, we need the arts. They enhance our lives, bring joy, broaden our worlds, our perspectives.

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work published by Southern Minn Scene, but not for this post.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Downtown Wabasha up close during SeptOberfest September 27, 2018

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Autumn decor (including German flags) adds an artistic seasonal welcome to a side street next to Heritage Park in downtown Wabasha.

 

GIVEN MY PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE, I see beyond an overview. I notice details. And in the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, details abound, especially during SeptOberfest, the community’s annual two-month celebration of autumn.

 

Driving toward Wabasha and the bridge that connects Wisconsin and Minnesota.

 

Pumpkins line picnic tables in Heritage Park, site of many SeptOberfest events, including activities for children.

 

A view from the river bank of the Mississippi and the bridge between Wabasha, Minnesota, and Nelson, Wisconsin.

 

On a recent late week day afternoon, I walked about 1 ½ blocks from Heritage Park, a community gathering spot under the grassy area of the bridge connecting Wabasha to Nelson, Wisconsin, through the business district. I intentionally looked up, down and around to see the character of Wabasha. Details reveal much about a place and its people.

 

Signs above a business note the history of the building. Wabasha has some beautiful historic architecture as noted in the reflections in the window.

 

This street clock adds to the visual historic appeal of downtown Wabasha.

 

German or Irish, Wabasha has your food tastes covered during SeptOberfest.

 

I especially enjoyed the woodcarvings of George Schwalbe currently displayed in the front window of Jerry Arens Insurance.

 

Scroll through my photos and you will note an appreciation for history and heritage and a strong sense of community pride. Folks here care about how this town looks.

 

Outside Pure Identity Salon & Spa, the Tin Man, created from a pumpkin.

 

Pay attention to signs in windows. They tell you a lot about a town.

 

Festive scenes like this are staged throughout downtown Wabasha.

 

I appreciate the seasonal décor of scarecrows propped on straw bales, of festive banners, of carved pumpkins. I remember a town that goes the extra length to transform a downtown into a memorable visual. Wabasha impresses.

 

 

If you value small towns, you must visit Wabasha, also home to the National Eagle Center. Make this river town a day trip, an overnight destination. Now, as autumn blazes color into the landscape, as Wabasha celebrates the season during SeptOberfest.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A favorite fall event in Minnesota: SeptOberfest in Wabasha September 26, 2018

I photograph festive Hill’s Hardware Hand nearly every time I’m in Wabasha. A photo I took of the hardware store several years ago hangs near the Our World hardware store exhibit (modeled after Hill’s) at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul.

 

WABASHA IN SOUTHEASTERN MINNESOTA ranks as a favorite fall day trip for me. I love everything about this community from its historic architecture to the river to the National Eagle Center to its annual celebration of autumn and much more.

 

Banners throughout the downtown add to the charm.

 

A riverside play area awaits kids in Wabasha’s version of “Zootopia.”

 

A creative way of measuring height in Zootopia.

 

Another look at Zootopia, packed with activities for the kids.

 

An elephant slide zips kids down the hill into riverside Zootopia.

 

This Mississippi River town, population around 2,500, knows how to promote itself with fall-themed activities, events and attractions for all ages. From a pumpkin derby to a straw maze, petting zoo, kids’ themed play area, seasonal boutiques, a German parade and lots more, activities abound during SeptOberfest.

 

Outside a salon, a pumpkin transforms into the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.

 

Across from the Pumpkin Patch, an eye-catching street corner scene.

 

Pumpkins galore…these on a picnic table in the Pumpkin Patch.

 

Beyond that, I delight in the pumpkins, straw bales, scarecrows, shocks, German flags and other décor which add seasonal visual interest.

 

All over downtown are old buildings and harvest displays.

 

This all takes planning, hard work and time. I want the good folks of Wabasha to know I appreciate their efforts. They understand the value of bringing people into town, of growing as a fall destination, of promoting their community.

 

“Grumpy Old Men,” a film set in Wabasha in 1993, themes this year’s straw maze.

 

Gigantic sunflowers brighten the Pumpkin Patch.

 

Pumpkins transformed into characters from the movie “Trolls.”

 

Last year my eldest daughter, her husband and our then 1 1/2-year-old granddaughter joined us on a weekend afternoon to take in the kids’ activities. Izzy loved the riverside Zootopia play space, the straw maze and the Pumpkin Patch. This year Randy and I stopped in Wabasha on a late weekday afternoon. There were no crowds, only a few kids playing at Zootopia. The town was mostly shutting down for the day. But weekends you can expect crowds, though not overwhelming, with lots of families enjoying SeptOberfest.

 

There’s lots to do in the Pumpkin Patch, including playing tic-tac-toe.

 

If you’ve never been to Wabasha in the autumn, I’d encourage you to visit. There’s still lots happening in October. Click here to learn more. Also head down Minnesota State Highway 61 to LARK TOYS on the outskirts of nearby Kellogg for a spin on the handcarved carousel and a visit to the toy store and other attractions.

 

An overview of the Pumpkin Patch created under the bridge that connects Wabasha, Minnesota, to Nelson, Wisconsin.

 

For someone like me who appreciates small towns, especially river towns, and loves autumn, Wabasha offers an ideal one-day get-away.

TELL ME: Have you ever been to Wabasha’s SeptOberfest? Or tell me about another small town autumn celebration you’ve attended and enjoyed.

Check back for another post from Wabasha.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Frozen” comes to Wabasha’s SeptOberfest October 17, 2017

 

THE WORLD OF ELSA and Anna and Olaf is mostly foreign to me. But to anyone with young kids, those are wildly popular characters from the hit 2013 Disney animated film “Frozen.”

 

 

So it was a smart move on the part of SeptOberfest organizers in Wabasha to theme a straw maze after the movie.

 

 

Set along the main drag through this Mississippi River town in southeastern Minnesota, the “Frozen” Straw Maze features handcrafted characters from the film staged atop straw bales.

 

 

When kids aren’t tracing the winding trail or climbing atop bales, they can rock and bounce on mini horses or scoot down one of two slides propped against bales.

 

 

The “Frozen” maze presents just another fun and engaging free activity for families visiting Wabasha during SeptOberfest. This is my kind of family-friendly small town.

 

FYI: This concludes my three-part series on three key family-focused aspects of SeptOberfest. Click here to read my first post about Zootopia on the RiverFront. And click here to view my post about the Pumpkin Patch. This fest runs until October 21.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In the Pumpkin Patch under the bridge in Wabasha October 13, 2017

 

MASSIVE MAMMOTH PUMPKINS sprawl across brick and cement walkways under the bridge in Wabasha in this season of autumn. Here among dried leaves drifted from trees and below traffic crossing the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, locals have staged the Pumpkin Patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a place that attracts all ages, that draws people here to wander among the gigantic pumpkins somehow wrangled into place. This year’s winning pumpkin, grown by Gary Russell of Plainview, weighs 879 pounds. That’s a lot of pumpkin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As enthralled as I was by these hefty pumpkins, I observed that my 18-month-old granddaughter and a lot of other kids (and their parents and grandparents) and others were equally as impressed.

 

My granddaughter carries a bean bag to toss into the candy corn prop.

 

 

 

 

The Pumpkin Patch certainly celebrates the season with pumpkins of all sizes, festive fall displays, themed kids’ games, occasional pony rides and music, and more. It’s the perfect mix to bring people to this spot, to draw them into nearby boutiques, eateries and more as they explore this southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

Izzy loves owls, including this one painted onto a tree in a bean bag toss game.

 

 

 

Families pose for photos on the stage against backdrops of fall decor.

 

Just across the street, more autumn-themed activities await families. Check back tomorrow as I showcase that portion of Wabasha’s SeptOberfest celebration.  Wabasha wins my high praise for crafting creative spaces that focus on families and celebrate autumn in Minnesota.

 

FYI: For more details on all events in Wabasha’s nearly two-month-long SeptOberfest, click here.

To read about Zootopia on the RiverFront, my first post in this three-part series from Wabasha, click here.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Free family fun at Zootopia on the RiverFront in Wabasha October 12, 2017

My first view of Zootopia on the RiverFront from the hill overlooking this play area along the Mississippi River in Wabasha.

 

ON AN EARLY OCTOBER Sunday in Wabasha, brilliant sunshine angled sharp shadows across the beaten grass of a riverside attraction teeming with kids and watchful adults.

 

 

 

 

 

The lion tunnel proved especially popular.

 

Here, while a young boy carried his tacklebox and fishing pole along a busy Mississippi River walkway, kids tossed rings, rolled balls, scrambled through a tunnel, zipped down a slide and more in a magical land. Here adults encouraged and interacted with the little ones and clicked endless photos.

 

 

 

 

My son-in-law, Marc, takes Izzy’s photo as she walks through the tiger tunnel while her mom (my daughter Amber) watches.

 

Walking on the colorful walrus crafted from tires…

 

My husband and I joined in on the SeptOberfest kids’ activities along with our 18-month-old granddaughter and her parents.

 

You can zip down this elephant slide into Zootopia on the RiverFront.

 

 

I discovered the play area after sighting an elephant slide behind Hill’s Hardware Hank. I walked the half-block to check it out and found the city of Zootopia. The good folks of Wabasha crafted a temporary themed play area after the movie of the mammal metropolis. What a delight for not only grandmas like me, but also for all those kids and other adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wabasha has always impressed me as a small town that knows how to bring visitors into the community. The addition of Zootopia on the RiverFront to this year’s nearly two-month long SeptOberfest just notched up my respect for the tourism, business and other leaders in this southeastern Minnesota town of some 2,500. These folks are smart enough to realize that bringing families into town equals an immediate financial return plus an investment in future returns. The kids’ activities are free. But the local economy benefits from monies dropped in restaurants, gas stations, and ice cream and other shops.

 

Randy waits for Izzy to emerge from the lion tunnel.

 

Running in the kick ball croquet area.

 

Even the big kids/aka grandpas can have fun.

 

Watching my 1 ½-year-old granddaughter crawl multiple times through the lion tunnel, place rings on elephant trunks, roll a ball in the kick ball croquet area and more simply made me happy. Even at her young age, Izzy could participate in most of the activities.

 

 

This Zootopia rated as just plain good old family fun—Wabasha style.

 

In the foreground, on the hillside, giraffes (and zebras) overlook Zootopia.

 

FYI: Zootopia on the RiverFront continues through October 21. Click here for more details.

Check back for two more posts on kids’ SeptOberfest activities in Wabasha.

This community is also home to the National Eagle Center, another family friendly place to visit.

 

Random bits of autumn from southeastern Minnesota October 11, 2017

I love Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha, especially in autumn decor. A photo similar to this hangs next to the hardware exhibit in the “Our World” play area at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Hill’s inspired the exhibit. I am honored to have my photo hanging in the museum.

 

WITH OCTOBER NEARING mid-month and days until winter here in Minnesota dwindling, I feel a sense of urgency to observe and experience every nuance of autumn. That often means ignoring outdoor fall chores for a road trip or a walk in the woods or a stop at the apple orchard.

 

Among the many inviting autumn scenes staged in Wabasha.

 

This past Sunday took Randy and me east toward the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, one of my favorite southeastern Minnesota communities. This city knows how to welcome visitors via two months of celebration, coined SeptOberfest. I’ll share two aspects of Wabasha’s focus on fall in upcoming posts. But for today, here’s a photo peak at those nuances of autumn which so endear me to this season in Minnesota.

 

The beauty of rural Minnesota in autumn along a county road east of Bellechester and heading toward Wabasha.

 

I love the vistas of drying corn and soybean fields sweeping across the land.

 

A farm site viewed from Minnesota State Highway 60 in the Zumbro Falls area.

 

I love the flashes of red farm buildings in a muting landscape.

 

My sister Lanae, a floral designer in Waseca, created this autumn scene in her backyard.

 

I love the fall décor that infuses townscapes and gardens.

 

One of several seasonal boutiques in Wabasha. Barton’s Brickhouse Boutique is located across from the VFW.

 

I love the seasonal boutiques offering handcrafted gifts and the scent of pumpkin and apple crisp.

 

We didn’t find fall colors in Wabasha; we were too early. But we spotted beautiful colors in this treeline at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on our drive back to Faribault.

 

In our many years of day trips in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I have found some of the best fall colors in Rice County. This scene was shot from Rice County Road 84/Falk Avenue. The gravel road parallels Rice County Road 20, which is considered the “back road” between Faribault and Northfield. This scene is near the intersection of CR 84 with 154th street.

 

I swapped on my telephoto lens for a closer look at the distant treeline as seen from CR 84. Other places to view wonderful fall colors in Rice County are west of Faribault around the lakes and also in Faribault along residential streets in old neighborhoods, at River Bend Nature Center and from City View Park. I think we have some of the best autumn hues in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I love the hillsides of trees transitioning from green to yellow, orange and red.

 

I shot this image and the four following at River Bend Nature Center late Sunday afternoon.

 

 

I love, too, the individual leaves that wave color in the wind.

 

 

I love drying milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

There’s so much to love about October, except the prospect of winter edging closer.

 

TELL ME: What do you like most about autumn? Feel free to share details about favorite fall destinations.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling