Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota prairie native discovers a ship docked in the Wisconsin woods January 26, 2012

I GREW UP on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, a mostly flat land vertically-interrupted only by small-town grain elevators and water towers, by silos and groves of trees hugging farm sites.

I never felt hemmed in. How could I feel confined under an endless sky in a land that stretches into forever, nearly unbroken before your eyes?

Perhaps that will help you understand why I sometimes struggle with trees. I’m not talking a tree here, a tree there, but trees packed so tight that they become a forest. Dense. Black. Blocking views. I need to, have to, see the land spreading wide before me if I’m exposed for too long to miles of thick woods.

Likewise, I prefer my land flat.

All of that said, time and age and exposure to geography beyond the prairie have resolved some of those space and landscape issues for me. I can, within limits, appreciate terrain that rolls and rises, trees that clump into more than a shelter belt around a farmhouse.

I can appreciate, too, geological anomalies like Ship Rock, a natural formation jutting out of seemingly nowhere from the trees that crowd State Highway 21 in Adams County near Coloma in central Wisconsin.

Ship Rock is located next to Wisconsin Highway 21 in the central part of the state.

Whenever I pass by Ship Rock, which has been numerous times since my second daughter moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, in December 2010, I am awestruck by this isolated pinnacle of Cambrian sandstone. Finally, this past summer, my husband, teenaged son and I stopped to climb around the base of the rock cropping and to photograph it (me mostly photographing rather than climbing).

Ship Rock rises from the flat landscape, a surprise in the Wisconsin woods.

My husband walks across the rocks below the looming Ship Rock.

If you can ignore the distracting graffiti, then you can appreciate the nuances of the mottled stone, the ferns that tuck into crevices, the surprise of this Ship Rock docked in the most unexpected of places. The rock formation truly does resemble a ship.

I am surprised by the ferns that grow in the tight spaces between rocks.

Grass sweeps between rocks in this August 2011 image taken at Ship Rock.

A month ago while traveling past Ship Rock, I snapped a photo. The ship seemed forlorn and exposed among the deciduous trees stripped of their summer greenery. Yet she also appeared threatening, a looming presence rising dark and foreboding above the land awash in snow.

I could appreciate her, even if she wasn’t a grain elevator or a water tower, a silo or a cluster of trees breaking a prairie vista.

Ship Rock, photographed from the passenger window of our van at highway speeds in December.

CLICK HERE for more information about Adams County, Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Guess that state April 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:17 AM
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I’M BACK, READERS.

After two days without posts, which rates as totally out of character for me, you may be wondering why I haven’t written. Well, simple. I’ve been in another state for the Easter holiday.

Where have I been?

I could just tell you. But I’d rather make you guess. So today we are going to play “Guess that state.”

Scroll through the photos and clues below and then submit your guess. If you guess correctly, you do not win a prize. Rather you can take pride in the knowledge that you have learned more about one of our 50 states.

So…, let’s get started.

This helicopter on a trailer offers minimal info as to the identity of the mystery state. But it was the only photo I took as we drove here Friday afternoon, through rain, for more than three hours. On Saturday, some areas of this state were under a flash flood warning. Sirens wailed in the town where we were staying.

This natural rock formation known as the Ship Rock is located near the middle of the state.

Beer and bars. No additional words needed.

Residents of this state appreciate their dairy farmers.

Ah, nothing like the tropics to brighten my mood after a long winter. OK, you got me. This is actually a Mexican restaurant in a resort town in the central part of our mystery state.

At this museum, you will see an exhibit featuring magician Harry Houdini, who claims this state as his birthplace. If you know the name of the town, you score bonus points for your smartness. Do not cheat by googling.

Pockets of Amish, or maybe it's Mennonite, or both, reside in areas of this state. I was fortunate to capture this image Sunday afternoon while driving past this farm place.

This photo offers three clues: snow, brats and Piggly Wiggly. Along this stretch of highway on Saturday afternoon, we could have stopped at three brat fries at three grocery stores. (The husband did purchase a brat at The Festival Foods brat fry fundraiser for the Boy Scouts.)

This photo clue should be the clincher. Fire hydrants in the town where my family stayed are painted gold and sometimes green and gold.

PLEASE SUBMIT your guesses along with any comments you wish to make regarding these images or these clues or this state.

Good luck!

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling