Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artistry in a Minnesota sunset April 24, 2017

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The sun begins to set as we head west on Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon.

 

SUNRISE, SUNSET…so begin lyrics from a song in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’ve always loved that musical and the song about the seasons of life. How quickly we progress from the sunrise of life to the sunset.

The setting and rising of the sun, while symbolic of life, are of themselves worthy of appreciation. There’s such beauty in the hues that break across the sky, weaving with clouds and sometimes water to produce spectacular visuals. Works of art, really.

 

A line of clouds divided the sky as we continued west.

 

On an early spring Saturday afternoon, returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin, my husband and I aimed toward the setting sun, the sky layered in darkness and light.

 

Between Kenyon and Faribault, the sun silhouetted a farm site.

 

As we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west to Faribault from Kenyon, the sun slipped closer to the earth, blazing like a brilliant spotlight in our eyes.

 

 

 

 

Then, entering Faribault on the east side, cresting the Highway 60 hill before dipping toward the river valley, I saw before me hues of orange and yellow brushed across the sky like a watercolor painting. It was one of those moments of nearly indescribable, spectacular beauty. A gift at the end of the day.

Welcome home.

FYI: Please check back for photos of the sun setting over the Cannon River by the King Mill Dam. We headed there to watch the final moments of the sunset.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The skies of summer in southwestern Minnesota July 8, 2016

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Sky in sw MN, 27 red barn close-up

 

DECADES AGO, I LAY flat on my back in a Redwood County, Minnesota farm yard, eyes fixated on the clouds. I wasn’t a weather watcher. Rather, I was a girl with an imagination. As I lay there, I imagined a monstrous bird swooping from the sky to bite a chunk from the silo.

 

Sky in sw MN, 15 big sky & farm site

 

I’d just viewed a movie about a giant bird attacking the Empire State Building. It was no surprise then that I noticed frightening creatures looming in the sky.

 

Sky in sw MN, 21 highway 14

 

That was then. This is now, decades later, when I am still fascinated by the clouds of summer. There’s nothing quite like the summer skies of my native southwestern Minnesota prairie. Traveling west on July 2 to a family gathering near Lamberton, I delighted in the perfect summer sky of white clouds suspended above the land in a background of blue.

 

Sky in sw MN, 23 corn, barn & bins

 

Below, fields of corn and soybeans stretched for acres, broken only by farm sites, grain elevators, small towns and slashes of roadways.

 

Sky in sw MN, 7 big sky & farm site

 

The sky and land are so big here. I suppose to some, the vastness can unsettle. But for me it’s freeing.

 

Sky in sw MN, 28 full corn field, farm site and cloudy sky

 

My mind wanders from worries and difficult realities of life, of attacking giant birds, to a carefree state. I simply feel happy here beneath clouds that hang like wispy pulls of cotton candy above the greening cropland.

 

Sky in sw MN, 24 bins and sky

 

This land, this sky, this place, this rural Minnesota shall always claim my heart and my imagination.

 

Sky in sw MN, 30 entering Lamberton

 

TELL ME: What place claims your heart and why?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Note: All of these photos were taken on July 2 while traveling westbound on U.S. Highway 14 between Sleepy Eye and Lamberton, Minnesota.

 

Reflections on a prairie sunset June 30, 2013

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Sunset on the prairie

WE STOOD ALONG THE EDGE of the gravel road Saturday evening, my 13-year-old nephew and I, mesmerized by the glorious golden sun pinking the sky above and below a layer of blue grey.

I raised my camera. He lifted his phone. We snapped several photos, compared, wished for better zooms to photograph the prairie sky north of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota.

Sunset on the prairie 2

“It’s what I miss most about this place, the sunrise and the sunset,” I said.

“And the stars,” Stephen added.

Sun and stars.

He was right. The stars, too.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road to Fargo, where sky meets land February 20, 2012

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Only 192 miles to Fargo, North Dakota. We've already driven 93.

SKY. That single word defines a road trip from Faribault to Fargo.

Don’t talk miles and time to me. Talk sky.

Once past the St. Cloud exit along Interstate 94, you start noticing the sky, how, the farther west you travel, the larger it becomes until the sheer immensity of that above overwhelms that below.

Sky meets land somewhere westbound along Interstate 94 toward Fargo.

For those who live in the confines of the city, where buildings and masses of streets and highways pull the sky downward and ground it, the vastness of the skies can unsettle the spirit and create a sense of vulnerability. You can’t help but feel exposed under brooding clouds and a sky that stretches into a distance without end.

Interstate 94 sometimes seems to run right into the sky as you drive west.

Yet, for me, a prairie native, there’s a certain sense of calm that comes from traveling into the sky. Because that is what you do when driving west from Minnesota toward the Dakotas. You drive into the sky.

After an initial awareness that you really are incredibly small compared to that above, you begin to notice the details. Or at least I begin to appreciate the details—like the hard edge where sky meets land, the ever-changing skyscape as clouds shift and the day wanes, the nuances in colors and texture that define firmament and field.

Power lines set against the backdrop of the sky provide a visual vertical respite for the eyes.

It is as if you’ve brushed yourself right into a landscape painting.

And I can’t get enough of it, of the strong horizontal lines that sweep across my vision, reconnecting me to my prairie past.

The landscape: flat and into forever near Fargo/Moorhead.

The ever-changing clouds blend with the rural landscape.

As the sun sets, the sky broods.

The sharp contrast of black and white against blue pleases my eyes.

Fence lines and farms slice through the land.

A church spire in the distance draws my eye in this place where my soul reconnects to the prairie.

ALL OF THESE IMAGES were taken with my DSLR camera, set at a fast shutter speed, while traveling along Interstate 94. Check back for more posts from this trip to Fargo.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An almost-summer evening on the farm June 1, 2011

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The sun sets on the farm site where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota.

OH, SWEET EVENING of almost-summer on my childhood farm. Daylight fades, washing the sky in the palest of prairie rose pink. Shadows sharpen before the last lingering rays of sunlight retire for the night.

Underneath the branches of the sturdy old tree, which once sheltered a long-gone farmhouse and a tractor-tire sandbox, the cousins and siblings, ranging in age from 11 to 25, one-by-one grab double ropes, straddle a car tire and ask for a push.

My 11-year-old nephew and a tire swing...

And then they are swinging through the air, spinning nearly out of control, dodging danger in a tree trunk, wisps of hair flying, smiles as wide as the prairie sky, until, finally, they plead for someone, anyone, to stop the dizzy-inducing carnival ride.

My oldest daughter...

...discovers joy on a tire swing...

...far from her big city home, in the place she calls "the middle of nowhere..."

...and sometimes "nowhere" can be as much fun as Minneapolis on an almost-summer evening.

Oh, sweet evening of almost-summer on the farm, when I grip my camera, dodge the swaying tire to capture the moments, to vicariously relive the exuberance of tipping my head back, catching the wind as I ride the tire swing. I feel the twirling, dizzy oblivion through the lens of my camera, wishing I could grasp the ropes, straddle the tire, stretch my toes heavenward and tickle the belly of the sky.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Red in the morning December 3, 2010

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Sunrise, December 3, 2010, Faribault, Minnesota

MY HUSBAND ALERTED ME to the beautiful sunrise this morning when he came to kiss me goodbye. I snapped up the shade in my office, gave him a hurried peck, and grabbed my camera, all the while explaining that I was sorry but I had to get a photo before the red sky disappeared.

I was right in not waiting, because, just like that, the red faded into the grayness of the day.

“Red at night, sailors’ delight. Red in the morning, sailors take warning.”

That’s holding true here today in Faribault. Around noon, light snow began falling. As the afternoon advanced, the snowfall got heavier and heavier, piling into inches. Flakes are still falling strong and steady on this day of the red sky morning.

Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling