Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Smithsonian & companion exhibits in St. Peter focus on water August 24, 2016

"Water/Ways" prompts me to think about all the uses of water.

“Water/Ways” prompts me to think about all the uses for water and much more.

I FLUSH THE TOILET. Wash my hands. Drink a glass of water. Throw laundry in the washing machine. Shower. Water plants.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something. In this interactive exhibit, I learned that 240 gallons of water are needed to make a single smartphone.

And I never think about it. Water. It’s just always there, flowing from the faucet.

This "Water/Ways" art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

This “Water/Ways” art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

But “Water/Ways,” a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, and “We Are Water MN” are causing me to consider this vital natural resource that flows through every aspect of my days.

The Treaty Site History Center sits along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

The sidewalk curves like a river to the Treaty Site History Center along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon I visited the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter where the Nicollet County Historical Society is hosting joint national, state and local water-themed exhibits through September 25. After that, the Smithsonian show will move to these Minnesota communities: Red Wing, Sandstone, Lanesboro and Detroit Lakes.

Entering the "Water/Ways" exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

Entering the “Water/Ways” exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

What does water mean to you? That question posted on a display panel sets the tone for this exhibit packed with information about water. More than simply words, the panels feature interactive aspects that stretch this beyond a compilation of facts and accompanying visuals.

According to this graphic, 40 states are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. that includes Minnesota.

According to this graphic, 40 states (in red) are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. That includes Minnesota.

What would you lose if you did not have water?

A section of the exhibit shows the most common pollutants in Minnesota waters.

A section of the Minnesota exhibit asks, “What’s in the water? Minnesota’s common pollutants and where they come from.” Visitors can pull the cards from the rack (shown here) and learn about those common pollutants to Minnesota waterways.

What’s in the water?

Visitors share water memories.

Visitors share water memories.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

Visitors are encouraged to share their memories of water, to list ways they can protect water, to learn what’s in Minnesota’s water and more. In this state of 11,842 lakes, water covers more than 13 million acres (or six percent of Minnesota), more than any other state. That’s according to a 2010 “Minnesota Water Facts” report I found online from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

I appreciate the "We Are Water MN" aspect of the exhibit.

I appreciate the “We Are Water MN” aspect of the exhibit.

The Minnesota Humanities Center collaborated with the DNR and other agencies in creating the companion exhibit, “We Are Water MN.”

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Additionally, Nicollet County infused its water history. The Minnesota River runs through this county with 105 miles of river front land and was instrumental in bringing early settlers to the region. My own maternal ancestors settled in the Minnesota River Valley near Courtland.

In a side room, you'll find Kay Herbst Helms' photo exhibit, "Water Rights?" In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

In a side room, you’ll find Kay Herbst Helms’ photo exhibit, “Water Rights.” In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

A photo in Kay Herbst Helms' "Water Rights" exhibit.

A photo of a photo in Kay’s exhibit.

On droplets of water,

On paper droplets, visitors write about water.

Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms brings her photographic perspective to “Water/Ways” with 19 black-and-white water-themed photos in her “Water Rights” collection. Her exhibit, she says, “celebrates water and some of the people who are helping to protect our water rights now and for generations to come.”

Another idea expressed about water.

More ideas expressed about water.

This isn’t the first time Kay has focused on water in photography. She created “Water Vapors” and now “Water Vapors II,” showing through September 30 in the History Center Art Gallery at the Blue Earth County Historical Society in Mankato.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

This quote in the “Water/Ways” exhibit strikes me more than any other:

No water, no life.
No blue, no green.

These panels address the cultural

These panels address how water inspires humanity in our art, music, dance and literature.

What does water mean to you?

BONUS PHOTOS:

"We Are Water MN" pins in a jar at the exhibit.

“We Are Water MN” pins in a jar.

This section directs us to look to the future as it relates to water.

This section directs visitors to look to the future of water.

There's even a section for the little ones to put on a puppet show.

There’s even an area for little ones to put on a puppet show.

More panels, more information to digest.

More panels, more information to digest.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about a celebration I participated in as part of the “Water/Ways” exhibit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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In St. Peter: Celebrating water through dance, poetry & photography August 23, 2016

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the History Site Treaty Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the Treaty Site History Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the log cabin, traffic thrummed in a steady rhythm, the noise sometimes detracting from the five young women dancing barefoot in the grass and from the poets reading in to the wind.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the St. Peter history center.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the history center.

Still, despite the traffic noise from busy U.S. Highway 169 in St. Peter, the focus remained primarily on “When Water Dreams: A Celebration,” hosted Sunday afternoon at the Treaty Site History Center.

This photo of Swan Lake near Nicollet is one of 19 black-and-white images included in an exhibit by Kay Herbst Helms.

This photo shows a side view of Kay Herbst Helms’ photo of Swan Lake, one of the largest prairie potholes in the contiguous United States. Located in Nicollet County,  the lake covers 14 square miles. I’ll tell you more about Kay’s exhibit of 19 black-and-white photos in a follow-up post.

I was part of that event thanks to Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms. Kay’s latest photo project, “Water Rights,” sidebars “Water/Ways,” a Museum on Main Street exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution showing through September 25 at the Nicollet County Historical Society host site in St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon, along with other invited southern Minnesota poets, I read “In which Autumn searches for Water,” a poem published four years ago as part of an “It’s All One Water” collaboration in Zumbrota. I clarified before reading my poem that I wrote this when our region was suffering a drought, unlike now when Minnesota has been deluged with rain. Here’s the third verse in my five-verse poem:

But she finds at the pond site, the absence of Water,
only thin reeds of cattails and defiant weeds in cracked soil,
deep varicose veins crisscrossing Earth.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. John Hurd and Susan Stevens Chambers also read their poetry.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. Christina’s mother, Susan Stevens Chambers, also read, both her poetry and that of Henry Panowitsch. Two others, Craig Nelson and Mira Frank, read the works of published poets, including that of local poet Jim Muyres who was unable to attend.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

I’ve come to enjoy poetry readings—listening to the rhythm of words penned by those who, like me, are moved to string words together in a lyrical way that touches emotions.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday's event.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday’s event venue site.

With water as the theme for Sunday’s celebration, poets read of lakes and rivers, of rain and of drought, of ships steaming immigrants across the ocean, and more.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Those clustered in lawn chairs, on blankets and standing—some folding paper cranes for the Minnesota State University, Mankato, 1000 Peace Crane Project—focused on the scene unfolding before them.

Water celebration, #47 dancer close-up arms up

 

Water celebration, #49 dancer close-up arms behind

 

Water celebration, #57 dancer with hands together

 

Water celebration, #67 dancers with hands up

 

Dressed in blue, members of Rural Route Dance Ensemble moved with such grace, like water lapping at the shore, waves rolling in the ocean, rain falling from the heavens. I won’t pretend to be an expert in dance; I have viewed few dance performances. But dance, like poetry, is open to interpretation.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

Life experiences, emotions and more shape poetry—how it is written, read and interpreted.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book, Good Thunder, Blue Earth.

The poetry readings of Good Thunder writer Susan Stevens Chambers mesmerized me. Susan has a melodic voice that soothes and comforts like the sound of rushing water. Except her words don’t rush. They flow. I especially savored Susan’s selected readings from her recently published compilation of rural-themed poems, Good Thunder, Blue Earth, published by River Place Press.

 

Water celebration, #94 Susan's dress blowing in breeze

 

As this poet read, her long blue dress swayed in the wind and I thought of gentle waves. Of water.

FYI: Check back for a post on the Smithsonian “Water/Way” exhibit, including more information on Kay Herbst Helms’ photography exhibit, “Water Rights.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Scenes along Minnesota State Highway 99 December 29, 2015

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Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 near Cleveland #2

 

MINNESOTA STATE HIGHWAY 99 rolls through farm country and small towns from northeast of Faribault to Nicollet.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 farmsite near Cleveland

 

I call it the back road to my native southwestern Minnesota. It’s the route my husband and I take to vary our travel or to avoid U.S. Highway 14 road construction and/or traffic between Mankato and Nicollet.

Usually we are in a hurry , which allows no time to explore. It is a sad fact of much travel these days. But even in haste, I notice details.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 bridge over MN River in St. Peter

 

When Randy mentioned that the Highway 99 bridge over the Minnesota River in St. Peter is due for replacement, I snapped a photo just as were about to cross it. I love bridges like this with architectural character. The 1931 steel truss bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and slated for rehab (not replacement) in 2017, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation website.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 Swedish Imports sign in St. Peter

 

Waiting at a stoplight just across the bridge in the heart of downtown St. Peter, I turned my camera lens to a Swedish Imports sign, noting that we really must stop here sometime.

 

Travel, Minnesota Highway 99 Schmidt Meat Market sign in Nicollet

 

To the west of St. Peter in Nicollet, I photographed a sign for Schmidt’s Meat Market as we drove through town. The market has become a destination for many. We stopped there once. I popped inside, but quickly retreated to the car. Most people like the smokey smell of a meat market. I don’t. But that’s OK. We’re all different, with distinct tastes, likes and dislikes. That keeps the route through life varied and interesting.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Highway blessings in St. Peter November 25, 2015

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YOU’LL FIND IT in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. And in the Psalms:

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, St. Peter, MN.

 

You will also find this Scripture in St. Peter. The town. The words banner across the front of a house along South Minnesota Avenue/U.S. Highway 169 which slices right through the heart of this southern Minnesota community.

I know nothing about the house—whether it’s home or business or something else.

But I know that I appreciate the blessing of this bible verse upon travelers like myself passing through St. Peter.

If you are traveling this holiday, may your journey be safe.

#

Click here to read my first post in this three-part “blessings” series. Check back on Thanksgiving to read my personal list of blessings during the past year.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When watching high school football is about more than just the game November 2, 2015

The St. Croix Valley Crusaders and the Jackson County Central Huskies line up before the game starts Saturday afternoon.

The St. Croix Lutheran Crusaders and the Jackson County Central Huskies line up on the football field before the game starts Saturday afternoon.

I DRESSED IN MY BUFFALO PLAID red and black on Saturday. Not because I wanted to portray Mrs. Paul Bunyan on Halloween. Rather, I was showing my support for the St. Croix Lutheran High School football team which Saturday afternoon competed against Jackson County Central in state play-offs. My nephew, Stephen (number 87), plays tight end for the red-attired Crusaders.

 

Football, 120 scoreboard

 

Sometimes the action looked like nothing but a pile of players to me.

Sometimes the action looked like nothing but a pile of players to me.

While the St. Paul based school pushed hard to win, they couldn’t defeat the Huskies, a husky and formidable team from southwestern Minnesota. The final score: 44 – 26.

Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter hosted the game.

Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter hosted the game.

The Halloween themed sign held by the JCC cheerleaders.

The back of the Halloween themed sign held by the JCC cheerleaders.

JCC players run through the sign and onto the field for the start of the second half.

JCC players run through the sign and onto the field for the start of the second half.

Certainly, seeing my nephew’s team win on the football field at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter would have been a Halloween treat. But, JCC dominated, proving the truth in the words the players busted through before starting the second half:

Trick or treat, smell our cleats. The Huskies can’t be beat.

JCC cheerleaders fire up the crowd.

JCC cheerleaders fire up the crowd.

Crusaders fans, including Winnie the Pooh. Some students dressed in Halloween costumes.

Crusaders fans, including Winnie the Pooh. Some students dressed in Halloween costumes.

My brother, right, and friends watch the game.

My brother, right, and friends watch the game.

The Crusaders pep band infused school spirit.

The Crusaders pep band infused school spirit.

The spirit of JCC fans, led by enthusiastic cheerleaders, impressed me. Not that Crusaders fans weren’t supportive. We were. I can vouch for my sister-in-law’s continual encouraging screams. My youngest brother stood behind us, several bleacher rows away in an aisle, chewing gum super fast and focusing his eyes on the field the entire game. St. Croix Lutheran came with a pep band. But no cheerleaders. Students seemed subdued for a play-off game.

Occasionally, the clouds parted and sunshine shone upon the football field.

Occasionally, the clouds parted and sunshine shone upon the football field.

Ready for action...that's my nephew, Stephen, #87 in the front.

Ready for action…that’s my nephew, Stephen, #87 in the front.

Crusaders fans cheer on their team.

Crusaders fans cheer on their team.

I’m a quiet fan, too. I was here on this Saturday to support my nephew. Not in a super vocal way. Simply by my presence. If his team won, good. If they didn’t, they didn’t.

The Crusaders huddle.

The Crusaders huddle on the sidelines.

A ref makes a call.

A ref makes a call.

I found myself studying the varying footwear and leggings.

I found myself studying the varying footwear and leggings.

Repeatedly during breaks in the action, the announcer emphasized respect as highly-important in competition. I value respect; both teams showed respect for each other. But, bottom line, these teams play to win. That’s why they’re on the field.

A sign proclaims Husky Power.

A sign proclaims Husky Power.

It is easy, when you are as far behind as the Crusaders were during the game, when plays just aren’t working, when the other team repeatedly scores, to give up. I felt that in a sense Saturday. JCC was the stronger team. Even I, someone who does not watch football much, could see the Huskies’ dominating power.

Stephen, #87, tackles the JCC player carrying the football.

Stephen, #87, tackles the JCC player carrying the football.

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St. Croix Lutheran and Jackson County Central in action.

A JCC player prepares to throw the football, left.

A JCC player prepares to throw the football, left.

This is the first football game I’ve attended in probably 40 years. I don’t know many of the nuances of the game. But that’s OK. I understand the basics.

Several Crusaders players left the field with injuries.

Several Crusaders players left the field with injuries. Here teammates support one another.

And I understand the value in being with family—on this Saturday four of my five siblings and their spouses—to support Crusaders number 87. This is what families do. They support and encourage one another. In good times and difficult times.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Halloween treat: Perry the corpse flower blooms at Gustavus Adolphus College October 31, 2013

THE TIMING COULDN’T BE BETTER.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry, which lasted until Sunday.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph Perry in July 2010.

At 2 a.m. today, Perry the corpse flower began blooming in a third floor greenhouse in the Alfred Nobel Hall of Science on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

What better day than Halloween for the rare blossoming of this rare tropical plant emitting the stench of death or rotting meat, depending on your nose and opinion.

A sign at Gustavus Adolphus College directs visitors to the Nobel Hall of Science where "the corpse flower" grows in a third floor greenhouse.

A sign at Gustavus Adolphus College directs visitors to the Alfred Nobel Hall of Science where “the corpse flower” is blooming in a third floor greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

You can view, and smell, this mammoth Amorphophallus titanum, nicknamed Perry, from 2 p.m. – 9 p.m. today (Halloween) or from noon to 8 p.m. on Friday, November 1.

As of noon Friday, most visitors who signed Perry's guestbook came from the St. Peter-Mankato area. However, as word of the blooming spread, visitors were expected from all over--some had already come from Paris and Sweden (they were already visiting in the area).

The Petty guestbook signed by visitors in 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I saw Perry when the plant bloomed in 2010.  (You can view photos from that visit by clicking here.)

A close-up of Perry's unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath.

A close-up of Perry’s unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

If you plan to see Perry in person, make haste. If you can’t get to St. Peter, then click here to watch Perry via web cam.

Happy Halloween!

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In St. Peter: Waiting for the corpse flower to bloom October 29, 2013

PERRY MANIA is invading Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

A shot through a window into the viewing area shows Perry beginning to open.

A shot through a window into the viewing area shows Perry beginning to open in late July 2010.

OK, that may be a bit of a stretch. You decide, But interest in the predicted early November blooming of Perry, otherwise known as the “corpse flower,” is strong.

Think web cams, “featured news” on the college website, headlines in the St. Peter Herald, a Perry blog and even Perry themed t-shirts, cap, mugs, tote bag, bumper sticker and other merchandise available for purchase.

A close-up of Perry's unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath.

A close-up of Perry’s unfolding spathe, an outer purple vase-like sheath. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

And all of this because the rare tropical plant, a native of Sumatra in Indonesia and with the largest unbranched inflorescence in the world, is about to blossom.

This mammoth plant, which can reach heights of eight to 10 feet and a life span of 40 years, is noted for its distinct rotting flesh/rotting meat odor.

A shot through the window into the viewing area of the titan arum.

A shot through the window into the viewing area of the titan arum shows the high level of interest in the corpse flower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Three years ago, my husband, son and I were among the 5,000 plus curious who flocked to the third floor greenhouse in the Nobel Hall of Science to view, and smell, the Amorphophallus titanum, aka Titan Arum. Gustavus named its plant, seeded in 1993, after the Titan Hyperion, associated with intellectual curiosity. That would be Perry, for short.

I don’t recall the precise smell of Perry only 12 hours after the plant began blooming in late July 2010. But I do remember thinking the odor was not nearly as bad as I had imagined and that I’ve smelled worse (like a slurry pit being emptied) while traveling through rural Minnesota.

One of the Yang boys wards off the offending odor with a perfumed bandanna.

The odor was too much for this boy, who covered his face with a perfumed bandanna when visiting Perry in 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But others, such as elementary-aged kids from Edina, pressed perfumed bandannas to their noses.

A diagram explained the life cycle of "the corpse plant."

A diagram explains the life cycle of “the corpse plant.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

To see, and smell, a corpse flower in bloom is a rare opportunity, one limited to only a few days. This marks Perry’s third blooming. And there isn’t exactly an abundance of these plants in the world, one of the reasons Gustavus botanists are invested in conservation of the Titan Arum. Gustavus received 20 Titan Arum seeds from a San Francisco physician  in 1993 and Perry is the result.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry, which lasted until Sunday.

Visitors came with cameras in hand to photograph the rare blooming of Perry in July 2010. Perry has previously bloomed in 2007 and 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Is Perry worth seeing, worth smelling, worth photographing? Definitely.

If you’re hypersensitive to odors, though, pack your perfumed bandanna.

FYI: As early November nears, be sure to check the Gustavus Adolphus website (click here) often for updates on Perry and the precise date when blooming is expected. Some Facebook fans are predicting blossoming on Halloween or even earlier.