Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reconnecting to southwestern Minnesota, root place of my creativity May 22, 2018

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

THERE IS NO PLACE, none, that I’d rather be this time of year than in rural southwestern Minnesota. It is the place of my heart, of my memories, of everything that shaped me into the person, the writer and photographer that I am today.

 

 

This place of wide skies and dark rich soil in some of Minnesota’s best farm land claims me still, decades after I left. I left not because I disliked this place, but for education and opportunity. Like so many of my generation.

 

In a reminder of decades past, a vintage tractor works the land on the edge of Delhi.

 

When I return to visit family here, I feel an ache of absence, that longing for a return to the familiar.

 

 

I realize those who’ve never lived on the prairie often fail to recognize its value, its beauty, its power in inspiring creativity. To many, even my own children, southwestern Minnesota seems the middle of nowhere. But to me, this land has always inspired. And it’s somewhere. Home.

 

 

Between Echo and Delhi.

 

A long familiar landmark tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner.

 

When you’ve lived in a place so stark, in a place that exposes you to the elements, where life evolves around the land, you learn to appreciate the details. Like the endless wind. The spaciousness of land and sky. The scent of tilled soil. Rows of corn erupting green from the earth. A lone tree along a highway.

 

 

 

 

Acre after acre after acre across this land, I take in the rural scenes of farmers working fields, rushing to get crops in during a particularly late planting season.

 

Near Morgan, Minnesota.

 

I notice vehicles kicking dust along gravel roads,

 

Parked near the grain elevator in Morgan.

 

small town grain elevators,

 

 

a school bus splashing color into the landscape. I see it all in this place, this middle of somewhere.

 

A rural-themed license plate on a vehicle driving past Echo on a recent weekday morning. I confirmed with writer and photographer Ruth Klossner that this was her vehicle. She was on her way to interview a source for a magazine article. Ruth collects cow items of all sorts and opens the doors of her Bernadotte home for visitors to view the massive collection.

 

This is my joy, to each spring return to my Minnesota prairie roots, to reconnect to the land, to embrace the birth source of my creativity.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of spring planting season in southern Minnesota April 18, 2016

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A pause in field work along the Rice-Steele County line Sunday afternoon.

A pause in field work along the Rice-Steele County line Sunday afternoon.

FARM IMPLEMENTS KICKED up dust Sunday afternoon under blue skies clumped with white clouds here in southeastern Minnesota.

Prepping the soil for planting along 270th Street East in southern Rice County.

Prepping the soil for planting along 270th Street East in southern Rice County.

It was the kind of balmy spring day that draws me to the land, to memories of spring planting.

This tractor and grain cart (typically used during harvest) sat unattended in southern Rice County Sunday afternoon.

This tractor and grain cart (typically used during harvest) sat unattended in southern Rice County Sunday afternoon.

While tractors and other equipment have changed since I left the farm of my roots at age 17, way too many years ago, one constant remains. This is the season of transition. An awakening. Black earth turned to warm sun. Seeding of the soil. The promise of a harvest.

Just outside Medford this farmer prepped the soil Sunday afternoon.

Just outside Medford this farmer prepped the soil Sunday afternoon.

The farm girl in me still lingers, waiting for spring days like this, for a drive into the country, for an opportunity to honor the land via photos, via thoughts, via a deep emotional connection to the earth.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Seeding the harvest in southern Minnesota May 30, 2014

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Between Morgan and New Ulm, Minnesota.

Between Morgan and New Ulm, Minnesota.

AS MOODY GREY SKIES—the kind that inspire a poet to pen poetry—loomed in southern Minnesota on Sunday afternoon, farmers hastened in the fields.

Near Mankato, Minnesota.

Near Mankato, Minnesota.

You could almost sense the urgency so late in the planting season.

Near Mankato.

Near Mankato.

It was as if time pressed above the earth, folded in the fabric of draping clouds.

Near Mankato.

Near Mankato.

Below, farmers stitched seeds into soil.

Near Delhi.

Near Delhi.

Hope of harvest in the prairie land.

Between Belview and Delhi.

Between Belview and Delhi.

The promise of spring fulfilled.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Planting season in southern Minnesota May 28, 2014

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IF THEY WEREN’T WORKING the land, farmers along a stretch between Mankato and west of New Ulm were preparing to plant on Saturday.

Field work, tractor on drive, west of New Ulm

Everywhere, these tenders of the earth steered tractors along roadways and through fields, hurrying to prep the soil and seed crops during this year’s delayed planting season.

Field work, truck w seed bags west of Mankato

Seed bags topped wagons and pick-up trucks.

Field work, John Deere on curve west of New Ulm

Mammoth tractors pulling equally mammoth implements crept along rural roadways.

Field work, John Deere in field west of New Ulm

Sky and land swallowed small scale tractors.

Field work, tractor hill, near Courtland

On a rare occasion dust flew in the field.

Field work, International on road west of New Ulm

And I took it all in, savoring this sweet time in the growing cycle as only one born and raised on a farm can.

Field work, bags on wagon, west of new Ulm

This place, this land, still claims my heart each spring, each summer, each fall, through the seasons of planting and growing and harvest.

Photos were taken along U.S. Highway 14 and along Brown County Road 29.
© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Working the land May 20, 2014

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A farmer in the field Sunday evening along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Zumbrota and Faribault.

A farmer in the field Sunday evening along Minnesota State Highway 60 between Zumbrota and Faribault.

THE EARTHY SCENT of freshly-turned soil wafted through the vents of the van Sunday afternoon as my husband and I traveled through southeastern Minnesota after a weekend trek to eastern Wisconsin.

A field along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

A ribbon of grass runs through a field along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

I love that smell of spring, of cold earth warming to the sun after a long winter.

Heading to or from the field on a frontage road along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

Heading to or from the field on a frontage road along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota on Sunday afternoon.

Planting’s been delayed because of excessive rainfall, as noted by muddy fields, water in road ditches, and by high water in streams, rivers and lakes in many areas. We drove 600 miles round trip along Minnesota State Highway 60, US Highway 52, a lengthy stretch of Interstate 90, onto a few miles of Interstate 94 and then across central Wisconsin on State Highway 21 from Tomah to Oshkosh and finally onto US Highway 41 north on Saturday and then back the next day.

Doing field work the old fashioned way in Amish country near Coloma, Wisconsin.

Doing field work the old fashioned way in Amish country near Coloma, Wisconsin.

On Saturday morning, except for a team of horses working the land in central Wisconsin, in the heart of Amish country, we noticed little movement in fields. In extreme southeastern Minnesota, though, farmers had already been out working the ground.

Working the land somewhere along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

In the field somewhere along Interstate 90 in southeastern Minnesota.

By Sunday, with a day of sunshine and warmer temps, we noticed more earth turned, the blackness distinguishable from soil exposed to harsh winter weather.

Working the land in southeastern Minnesota.

In the field in southeastern Minnesota on Sunday.

Our farmer fathers would be proud of my husband and me for, after all these years away from the farm, still noticing the progress, or lack thereof, of field work.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Awaiting planting in southwestern Minnesota April 23, 2014

YOU CAN SEE IT, sense it, almost smell and hear it—the anticipation of spring planting.

Along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and Vesta.

Along Minnesota State Highway 19 between Redwood Falls and Vesta.

Bare and stubbled fields stretch for miles and miles across southwestern Minnesota, earth turned to the warming sun, awaiting the seeds of spring.

Only remnants of winter remain in scattered patches of road ditch snow.

Along Brown County 29 southeast of Morgan.

Along Brown County Road 29 southeast of Morgan.

On the edges of farm yards, tractors and planters and other implements sit, pulled from machine sheds. Greased. Oiled. Ready.

Farmers wait. Thawing spring rains fall. Frost rises from the ground. Drying winds whip across the land.

A child-size John Deere tractor photographed in my hometown of Vesta.

A child-size John Deere tractor photographed at dusk a yard away from a field in my hometown of Vesta.

And the days unfold into the season of renewal and hope and sowing of seeds.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An on-the-road field report May 13, 2013

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Near St. Cloud Thursday afternoon.

Near St. Cloud Thursday afternoon on a day that seemed more November-like than May.

IN TYPICAL FORMER farm girl and farm boy fashion, my husband and I watched for farmers in the fields during our 600-mile round trip between Faribault and Fargo on Thursday and Friday to retrieve our youngest from North Dakota State University.

We traveled the interstate to Fargo, but took the back roads south and east (mostly Minnesota Highways 15 and 19) on the way home to avoid the road construction and traffic snarls near Clearwater and in the metro Friday evening.

Working the field near the Sabin exit.

Working the field near the Sabin exit Friday.

Digging, also near Exit 15 to Sabin.

Digging, also near Exit 15 to Sabin.

East of Moorhead, draft horses seed small grain.

East of Moorhead, draft horses seed small grain.

Based on our observations from Interstate 94, farmers between Fergus Falls and Moorhead, a distance of about 50 miles, are the most advanced in spring field work within the region we traveled.

Photographed near Collegeville.

Photographed near Collegeville on Thursday afternoon.

A Freeport area farm.

A Freeport area farm with an, as of Thursday afternoon, unworked field.

Field work before then rates as spotty and really only begins in the St. Cloud area.

As the sun begins to set along Minnesota Highway 15, a John Deere works the land.

As the sun begins to set along Minnesota Highway 15, a John Deere works the land.

North of Winthrop Friday evening.

North of Winthrop Friday evening, dust flies in the field.

Driving south on Minnesota 15 between I-94 and Winthrop Friday evening, we noticed lots of farmers out and about.

But then, heading east on State Highway 19, we saw fields basically untouched since last fall.

I expect, at least in southern Minnesota where we had those monumental late spring snowfalls, farmers are getting a wee worried about getting corn in the ground.

The sun sets across the prairie north of Winthrop on Friday.

The sun sets across the prairie north of Winthrop on Friday.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling