Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The artistry of winter in southeastern Minnesota April 18, 2018

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AS A LITERARY and visual artist, I see artistry in a Minnesota winter.

 

 

 

It’s there, in the shadows,

 

 

the snow,

 

 

the starkness of this season.

 

 

It’s there, too, in the curve of a woods-snugged road,

 

 

the rise and fall of a snow-edged highway,

 

 

the rustic dried grasses of swampland.

 

 

Poetry exists in a lone robin come too early for spring,

 

 

a squirrel clawed to a tree,

 

 

a lawn chair draped in new-fallen snow.

In this extended season of cold and snow, the artistry of winter remains, seemingly unwilling to yield to the artistry of spring.

 

 

But as certain as writer’s bloc vanishes, as certain as molded clay forms a sculpture, this artistry of a Minnesota winter will morph into the artistry of spring. I tell myself that as yet another winter storm storms into southern Minnesota.

 

NOTE: All images were taken from my Faribault yard or along Rice County Road 38.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Mazeppa, not just another small Minnesota town, Part II March 29, 2018

A scene in downtown Mazeppa, photographed in October 2016.

 

SMALL TOWNS CONTINUE to hold my interest.

 

The former creamery in Mazeppa houses the city maintenance garage and also serves as a backdrop for historical art.

 

 

Therein I often find unexpected delights, but also decline. Most of these communities are not the places they once were with thriving businesses lining Main Street. You know the story.

 

Out for a walk in downtown Mazeppa, October 2016.

 

Still, these towns are home to life-long residents or kids who stuck around or newbies—folks looking for a quiet and affordable place to live within driving distance of jobs outside city boundaries.

 

 

People make a town. And if they’re lucky, locals still have places to gather for fish fries and beer and BINGO and a meal out. Gathering spots—restaurants, bars, schools, churches and more—provide that sense of community essential to small towns.

 

 

 

WD’s, destroyed by fire, was a community gathering spot.

 

I saw those communal places when I visited Mazeppa in October 2016 (although one—WD’s Bar & Grill recently burned to the ground).

 

 

 

 

Patriotism often runs strong in small towns. The presence of the well-kept American Legion Post 588 in the heart of downtown Mazeppa confirms that.

 

 

 

 

Mazeppa is a visual delight for a photographer. Signs crafted by local sign painter Mike Meyer give this southeastern Minnesota riverside community a signature artsy look. This is a town I remember.

 

A unique business in Mazeppa. The shop was closed when I was in town. Andy Denny builds banjos here.

 

That’s the thing, too, about small towns. They need an identity to draw visitors. A unique business or three. A historical site. A theater or other arts venue. A natural attraction.

 

The Maple Street Bridge crosses the north branch of the Zumbro River a block off Mazeppa’s Main Street.

 

How often have you sidetracked off a main highway or interstate, or even a county road, to drive through a small town, maybe even stop? Not that often, I expect. But you’re missing something by not doing so. You’re missing out on people and places and experiences that are grassroots America. Interesting. Yes, even that quintessential word “charming.” Perhaps vibrant or thriving. Maybe not. But still at their root essence, authentic.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

Propped by Mike Meyer’s sign shop.

 

 

 

 

When I was in town in October 2016, work was being done on the original 1909 bank building, now housing the Mazeppa Area Historical Society. The exterior covering of the beautiful brick building traces back to the 1970s when the former People’s State Bank was “updated.”

 

In 1912, an addition was made to the bank building to house the local newspaper.

 

Signage on the side of the historical society building.

 

TELL ME about a favorite small town and why you appreciate the community.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

 

Dresbach & Dakota, that would be in Minnesota June 27, 2017

Following Interstate 90 along the Mississippi River bluffs in southeastern Minnesota.

 

IN THE MANY YEARS I’VE TRAVELED Interstate 90 along the Minnesota/Wisconsin border in southeastern Minnesota, I’ve never exited to explore Dresbach or Dakota.

That changed this past spring when Randy and I were returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin. Time allowed for the pull off onto Riverview Drive which passes through unincorporated Dresbach and Dakota, population 323 or thereabouts.

 

We pulled off Riverview Drive and curved the van to a small riverside park in Dresbach where I took this photo of the Mississippi.

 

Traffic signs in Dresbach.

 

Leaving Dresbach, I noticed this lengthy, leaning retaining wall.

 

We did a drive through with thoughts of returning again to poke around more. Both villages sit along the western bank of the Mississippi River between La Crosse and Winona, in Minnesota. The river setting is scenic, beautiful, worthy of a second look when the weather warms and river traffic increases.

 

A welcoming sign outside a business in Dakota. That’s quite a name, Trynowski.

 

Holy Cross Church in Dakota.

 

A well-preserved former corner gas station in Dakota that I found absolutely charming.

 

I snapped a few quick photos from the van and called it good. While both villages deserve more of my photographic study, this is a start.

TELL ME: Have you ever driven through/visited Dresbach or Dakota? If yes, what should I see the next time I’m in either community.

If anyone can provide information about any of the places photographed here, please share.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Observing the Minnesota harvest October 25, 2016

A farm site between Kenyon and Faribault.

A farm site between Kenyon and Faribault.

ALONG GRAVEL ROADS and across fields, farm machinery kicked up dust, shrouding rural southeastern Minnesota in pockets of hazy grey.

Somewhere southeast of rochester.

Somewhere southeast of Rochester.

Dust sometimes trailed plumes behind tractors.

All American Co-op in Stewartville Saturday afternoon.

All American Co-op in Stewartville Saturday afternoon.

The elevator in Hayfield.

Grain bins in Hayfield.

In small towns, tractors pulling grain wagons and trucks loaded with corn or soybeans waited at local elevators.

Bees wings accumulating along Main Street in Hayfield.

Bees wings (chaff from corn cobs) accumulate along Main Street in Hayfield.

And bees wings drifted, tinting Main Street and sidewalks red.

Near Root River County Park in Olmsted County.

Near Root River County Park in Olmsted County.

Near Wanamingo...

Near Wanamingo…

In township after township after township, I observed farmers gathering in the crops and working the land on Saturday. A good drying day. Sunshine and crisp temps. Perfect to finish the harvest.

A cluster of bins near Hayfield.

A cluster of bins by Hayfield.

A day trip drive this time of year requires patience as combines, trucks and tractors clog roadways, slowing traffic. But that’s OK. Sometimes we need to creep along, to simply appreciate this land and the farmers who plant, tend and gather in the crops.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Minnesota: A welcome weekend weather break from winter February 1, 2016

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Just outside of Faribault driving south on Interstate 35 toward Owatonna early Sunday afternoon.

Just outside of Faribault driving south on Interstate 35 toward Owatonna early Sunday afternoon.

WINTER EXITED MINNESOTA this weekend, ushering in a glimpse of spring. And it was glorious—this temporary respite from cold and snow.

 

Interstate 35, 6 driving south toward Owatonna

 

Temps rose above forty degrees. The sun shone. Cardinals shrilled. Snow melted into slushy puddles. And I walked across parking lots in a sweater rather than winter coat.

 

Interstate 35, 7 driving south toward Owatonna

 

I needed a weekend like this drenched mostly in sunshine, blue streaking through clouds, patches of blue sky pushing away clouds.

 

To the west of Interstate 35, clouds billow above snow-washed fields.

To the west of Interstate 35, clouds billow above snow-washed fields.

As my husband and I drove south toward Owatonna early Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t get enough of the sky.

 

Interstate 35, 11 driving south toward Owatonna

 

I’m holding onto those images now that the weather is about to change with a strong winter storm predicted for Tuesday. My county of Rice is under a Winter Storm Watch while counties to the south and west are under a Blizzard Watch.

 

Large swatches of blue sky prevailed to the west of the Interstate.

Large swatches of blue sky prevailed to the west of the Interstate.

I knew this weekend’s spring-like weather wouldn’t last.

Blue skies accentuate fighter jets at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport along the Interstate.

Blue skies accentuate fighter jets at Owatonna Degner Regional Airport along the Interstate.

It never does here in Minnesota in January.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Winona, Part II: A Prairie School Style office building at J.R. Watkins Co. January 7, 2016

The JR Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

The J.R. Watkins complex of buildings is on the National Register of Historic Places as noted by this marker.

AH, TO WORK in such a splendid place of marble and gold and Tiffany stained glass windows.

Greenery outside the Watkins' office building.

Greenery outside the Watkins’ office building.

That’s the setting for employees at J.R. Watkins, a Winona company that sells health remedies, baking products and much more; it’s especially known for its vanilla. Office workers labor inside a monumental building designed by noted Prairie School style architect George W. Maher of Chicago.

Chiseled above the main entry into the administrative building.

Chiseled above an entry into the administrative building.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

The sprawling building features a 70-foot high rotunda dome coated with 24-carat gold leaf.

On a September visit to this Mississippi River community, I toured the 1912 office building which anchors a corner on the edge of downtown. It’s an unexpected gem, this stone structure that resembles a government building or art museum rather than the headquarters of a business.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

Even the door handles are exquisite.

My husband and I couldn’t just walk inside. Rather, we phoned for access and then signed in.

Inside, looking toward the front doors.

Inside, looking toward the front doors and the Tiffany stained glass window featuring a rendition of Sugar Loaf.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

The Sugar Loaf window up close.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including the Watkins wagon.

Looking toward a mini-museum display of Watkins items, including a Watkins wagon.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

The building features 224 stained glass skylights.

Skylights up close.

Skylights up close.

And, as you would expect, the space we were allowed to explore was limited to the main lobby area. Still, this was enough to impress as I gazed upon marble walls, the stained glass skylights (of which there are 224) and the custom-made Tiffany stained glass window (there are three) featuring Winona’s noted bluff landmark, Sugar Loaf. Because the windows are covered on the exterior to protect them, they are not quite as impressive as they could be. Still, you can’t leave this building without thinking, wow.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for a post on the Winona National Bank building.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling