Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Spring afternoon at River Bend, a photo essay April 9, 2019

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AUTUMN’S OAK LEAVES cling to branches.

 

 

Swatches of green pop in the woods.

 

 

Fungi ladder tree trunks.

 

 

 

 

Brilliant red flashes against weathered grey.

 

 

Ponds populated by trilling peepers reflect the changing blue of the sky.

 

 

Geese honk territorial warnings best respected.

 

 

A camouflaged bird blends into stands of invasive buckthorn.

 

 

Dried vegetation proves a visual reminder that spring is not yet fully here in Minnesota.

 

 

But tell that to the woman walking barefoot.

 

 

Just behind the boys with feet still snugged inside winter boots.

 

 

At River Bend Nature Center in Faribault, people hiked and biked and rested on benches and even tracked squirrels in Sunday’s 60-degree temps. (More on the squirrels later.)

 

 

If not for the forecast of major snowfall later this week, I might believe these brown woods will soon leaf into a canopy of green.

 

 

No one would doubt that on Sunday, an ideal day to delight in the outdoors, to read poetry in the woods.

 

 

Spring spread her wings over River Bend on a lovely early April afternoon in southern Minnesota.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Defining spring in Minnesota March 27, 2019

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Looking skyward in my Faribault, Minnesota, backyard Monday morning.

 

HOW DO YOU define spring?

By the calendar? By tulips, daffodils, crocuses popping color into the landscape? By warmth?

 

A sure sign of spring in Minnesota: More motorcyclists on the roads, as reflected in this photo taken late Saturday afternoon.

 

Whatever your measurement of spring, it’s likely as personal as you are and reflects wherever you live.

I’ve lived all of my life in Minnesota, a state associated with cold and snow. Long winters. And this winter, especially, has been long with way above average snowfall in February. Finally, in recent weeks, temps warmed and snow melted with amazing speed. It’s beginning to feel and look more spring-like. Temps today are predicted to reach into the 60s.

 

Emerging in a south-facing flowerbed in my backyard Monday morning. Every year my tulips start to grow and then snow falls in April and, well, that’s not good. I expect no different this year.

 

First signs of spring for me may seem atypical. I look beyond flower bulb leaves emerging from the cover of leaf mulch.

 

A cloud of dust envelopes the street sweeper cleaning Willow Street Monday morning.

 

I see spring in the street sweeper roaring past my house, sucking up sand, dirt and other winter debris from roadways.

 

 

I see spring in our Christmas tree now uncovered, dried and dead, from a snowbank.

 

Aiming my camera lens directly upward to the sky from my backyard Monday morning.

 

I see spring in puffs of clouds against a sky morphed from the grey of winter to a sharp blue.

 

Flooded fields photographed Saturday morning in southern Minnesota.

 

I see spring in intense blue pools of water forming lakes in farm fields as the snow melts.

 

Typically, I would already have hung out laundry in 2019. But this year a snow-covered patio and too much snowfall and cold temps delayed that. Randy shoveled snow from the patio several days ago so I could hang out laundry Monday morning. That’s our Weber grill on the other side of the snowbank next to the clothesline.

 

I see spring in the laundry I now hang on the line, for the first time Monday morning. After the husband shoveled snow from the patio.

 

One of my favorite prints, picked up at a garage sale a number of years back.

 

I see spring, too, in the artwork I pull from my personal collection. Pastoral scenes that offer no hint of winter.

 

I appreciate that I can now find asparagus, one of my favorite vegetables, in local grocery stores.

 

I see spring in the bundle of asparagus I picked up at the grocery store. I can’t wait until locally-grown asparagus is available.

These things, for me, signal spring. How about you? Tell me what hearkens spring’s arrival for you.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo gift to all the winter-weary March 8, 2019

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Photographed inside a Faribault, Minnesota, greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

ON THE EVE of another major winter storm here in Minnesota, I am opting to remember that this snowy season will end and spring will eventually erupt in all her colorful glory.

 

Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

My great niece waters plants insider her family’s mini greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

Apple blossoms at River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May, 2017.

 

To convince myself of that possibility, I searched my archives for spring images, photos that I can visually imprint upon my thoughts. It is the best I can do now to deal with all this snow. It is my way of handling my disappointment in not seeing my grandchildren this weekend. It is my way of mentally preparing for the 6 – 10 inches of snow forecast to fall here Saturday through Sunday.

 

A pause in field work along the Rice-Steele County line in April 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Several years ago, my crocuses bloomed in mid-March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Walking with the baby and the dog in Northfield, Minnesota, on March 12, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. 2016.

 

Because I know plenty of other Midwesterners are as sick of winter as I am, I am sharing. May these photos provide a brief break from winter. May they remind you that warmth and greenery really do exist in cold weather locations. Just not now. But spring will come, my friends. Believe it.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BONUS PHOTO: The Lyndale Avenue walk-up/drive-up Dairy Queen in Faribault opened recently, an unofficial sign of spring. And, yes, Randy and I enjoyed our $1.99 Peanut Buster Parfaits.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Lunchbox love in January January 30, 2019

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HE DROPPED HIS BLACK LUNCHBOX onto the kitchen counter upon his arrival home. “I have something for you,” Randy said, flipping latches to unlock the box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of cheesecake.

 

I anticipated a sweet. Randy occasionally grabs a birthday treat for me from work. Not that I need sweets—because who does—but I enjoy the occasional piece of left-over cheesecake, square of apple pie bars, slice of chocolate cake. When Randy brings me a sweet rather than simply tells me about it, I am particularly happy. Already I craved whatever he’d stashed away for me.

“Here, I brought you spring,” he said, reaching inside.

Puzzlement flushed my face. Lemon bars? Rhubarb pie? What did he have inside that lunchbox?

 

 

Then Randy handed me a dead Monarch butterfly. Brittle. Wings folded. A dead butterfly when I’d expected dessert?

I regrouped my thoughts, put my disappointment on hold and reconsidered. In the midst of a record-breaking cold snap and recent snowfall (which required joint snowfall removal efforts that very morning), Randy decided I needed a glimpse of spring. Or, more accurately, summer, the season butterflies emerge. How sweet is that?

But where did he find this Monarch in January in Minnesota? Randy works as an automotive machinist. He found the butterfly—along with acorns and leaves—inside a cylinder head dropped off by a customer. More often he finds a mouse nest or evidence of mice.

 

The forecast for Minnesota on a Twin Cities TV station at noon-ish Tuesday.

 

He may not have given me what I expected. But Randy gave me exactly what I needed on an especially cold evening in late January. He gifted me with hope. That spring always follows winter. And that, even after nearly 37 years of marriage, love still offers sweet surprises.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The greening of Minnesota May 23, 2018

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ON A RECENT MAY MORNING, I stepped outside with my aged camera, a Canon EOS 20D DSLR. I hoped to photograph the cardinal I’d heard shrilling within hearing distance. But when I scanned the woods behind my house and the adjoining properties, no flash of red appeared. The sharp song, too, had ceased.

 

 

Instead, I spied a gold finch hidden among the branches of the backyard maple.

 

 

I noticed, too, the green of leaves, how the morning sun danced a rhythm of light.

 

 

No green seems greener than the green of Minnesota in spring. After months of enduring a monotone world of greys, black, browns and white, I need color. Spring gives me that.

 

 

The sky, too, seems bluer, asserting itself with a profound boldness.

 

 

Yet, a softness remains in the landscape, in the unfurling of blossoms dancing in the wind in the light of spring.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tulips, through the eyes of a child May 9, 2018

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EACH SPRING, when tulips push through the dark cold soil of Minnesota, as tight buds form and petals unclench in bursts of color, I think of my eldest daughter.

I remember her words, spoken as a toddler: “The flowers are opening their mouths.”

That may not be an exact quote. Amber may have said tulips. Too many decades have passed for me to recall. But, in her mind, those opening blooms resembled open mouths.

This week, as tulips open their mouths in my front and backyard flowerbeds, I remember Amber’s observation and the beautiful poetry of her words.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The weekend we’ve awaited in winter weary Minnesota April 23, 2018

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GOODBYE, WINTER, and welcome spring.

 

Buds are bursting in these trees along the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

This weekend brought spring to Minnesota, just a week after an historic blizzard. And the mood shifted dramatically to exuberance as Minnesotans soaked up the sunshine and warmth, me among them. I even sport a sunburned forehead.

 

“Thin ice” signs remained in place at Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna on Saturday. Edges of the lake were open, the middle still iced.

 

We haven’t had temps this warm—in the 60s—since October. That’s too many months.

 

In Nerstrand, a contrast of seasons in a melting snowman and yard art.

 

On Sunday afternoon Randy found enough snow for a snowball.

 

Randy and I took a drive in the Rice County countryside this weekend. Snow still remains in shadowed spots.

 

While winter still lingers in melting snowmen, patches of snow and ice on lakes, I see spring everywhere.

 

 

 

 

In budding trees and pussy willows and blooming crocuses. Even in mud baking dry in the afternoon sun.

 

Biking Sunday afternoon along a back gravel road in Rice County south of Northfield.

 

It was shirt sleeve warm weather in Minnesota on Sunday, this scene photographed in Faribault at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 21 and Seventh Street.

 

People were out and about everywhere—biking, riding motorcycles, pushing strollers, pulling wagons, walking, running, drinking craft beers on brewery decks and patios…

 

A fitting sign outside Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday.

 

There was this feeling of we’ve finally made it. If you’ve ever lived in a cold weather state, you understand that delight, that giddiness, that joy which marks the first really warm and sunny day of spring.

 

Randy pulled on his shades as we each enjoyed a glass of beer on the riverside deck of Chapel Brewing Sunday afternoon.

 

Smiles abound, jackets are shed, sunglasses pulled on, winter released. Even if snow still remains in shadowed patches, we understand that spring has arrived in Minnesota. Finally.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling