Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The mysterious (at least to me) Swede’s Bay November 6, 2017

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Lindstrom, Minnesota, “America’s Little Sweden.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2015.

 

IN A STATE WITH A STRONG Scandinavian base, nuances of ethnicity show up in lutefisk dinners, lefse-making parties, Lutheran churches named Vasa and Vang, a Swedish coffee pot water tower, the Minneapolis-based American Swedish Institute and more.

 

 

That more includes a fading sign attached to a utility pole in rural Le Sueur County. On a recent Sunday afternoon drive, I noted a posting for SWEDE’S BAY and wondered. But the arrow to the bay pointed in the same direction as a sign warning PRIVATE ROAD DEAD END NO TURN AROUND.

 

 

The message was clear. Stay away.

 

 

So Randy and I didn’t venture toward Swede’s Bay in the vicinity of 480th Street/Orchard Road/Outback Lane. Sometimes I wish we weren’t such rule followers. But the warning sign was enough to deter me from searching farther along this remote rural gravel road.

 

 

Back home I googled the mysterious bay to discover Swede’s Bay is a lake in a cluster that includes the better known Lake Jefferson and German Lake northeast of Madison Lake. That raises another question: In the naming of the lakes, did the Germans and Swedes convene and decide fair is fair. Name that lake German, this one Swede’s?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The season of autumn in rural Minnesota, a photo essay October 24, 2017

 

IN THE SEASON of autumn, farm memories draw me back to the land.

 

 

To follow country gravel roads

 

 

and county highways

 

 

past sweeping fields of corn

 

 

harvested,

 

A vintage Gleaner combine harvests a cornfield along LeSueur County Road 13 near Lake Jefferson.

under harvest

 

Partially harvested…

 

and unharvested.

 

 

Roads lead me by farm sites,

 

 

aged stately barns

 

Near historic Marysburg in LeSueur County.

 

and mammoth bins awaiting the yield.

 

Following a tractor pulling a 1970s era gravity box along LeSueur County Road 13.

 

I observe, too, farmers creeping tractors trailing wagons,

 

 

zipping along rural roadways

 

Visiting at the intersection of LeSueur County roads 13 and 16.

 

and stalled in conversation at a rural intersection.

 

Cattle graze along 241st Avenue, just off LeSueur County Road 13.

 

I scan the landscape with the eyes of someone who misses the farm,

 

A harvested field glistens with puddled rainwater and mud. Too much rain has slowed the harvest for farmers in southern Minnesota. They will be working long days and nights to catch up and get the crop in before the snow flies.

 

who remembers the hurry of her farmer father,

 

Enjoying a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon along Waseca County Road 22.

 

who follows country roads in the season of autumn.

 

FYI: I shot these images in Rice, LeSueur and Waseca counties during a Sunday afternoon, October 22, drive with my husband.

Check back for more photos from that drive.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In appreciation of the Sunday afternoon drive: Snapshots from Main Street Waterville September 26, 2016

A recent street scene from small town Waterville, Minnesota.

A man and his dog in a recent street scene from small town Waterville, Minnesota.

SOME MIGHT LAUGH. Others may consider it an activity for old fogies. But I don’t care. I appreciate the Sunday afternoon drive. We all should.

I grew up with the occasional Sunday afternoon drive as a rare diversion from southwestern Minnesota farm life. My siblings and I would pile into the Chevy, Dad behind the wheel, Mom in the front passenger seat. My farmer father would steer the car along rugged township gravel roads, tires kicking a trail of dust. His drive had purpose, focus—to look at the crops.

Today I still study farm fields. But not with the same assessing eye as my dad. My livelihood doesn’t depend on yields from the land.

Still, those semi-leisurely drives taught me something important. They taught me the value of looking and truly seeing, of noticing the details. And they taught me the value of going for a drive.

In the past several years, since we became empty nesters, my husband and I have taken to Sunday (or Saturday) afternoon drives like moths to porch lights. We choose a general direction we want to travel and just go.

A snippet of Waterville's Main Street, including Ron's Hardware, jam-packed with merchandise.

A snippet of Waterville’s Main Street, including Ron’s Hardware Hank, jam-packed with merchandise. You have to see this place to believe it.

A Labor Day drive took us west to the small towns of Elysian and Waterville. We’ve explored both before. But, still there were new details awaiting discovery. I like nothing better than to park the van along the Main Street of a rural community and then walk, camera in hand, documenting the nuances that define a place.

Waterville is the self-proclaimed Bullhead Capitol of the World and celebrates Bullhead Days every June.

Waterville is the self-proclaimed Bullhead Capital of the World and celebrates Bullhead Days every June.

On this day, it was Waterville.

Bullheads Bar & Grill, one of several bars in Waterville.

This low-slung building along Main Street houses Bullhead’s Bar & Grill, one of several bars in Waterville. The name pays tribute to the bullhead, a fish abundant in area lakes.

The food sounds enticing and the prices really reasonable.

The food sounds enticing and the prices reasonable. If I hadn’t just eaten a Sticky Burger (burger with peanut butter and bacon) at Tucker’s Tavern in Elysian…

I appreciate vintage signage like this spotted on a downtown building.

I appreciate vintage signage like this spotted on a downtown building.

Madden's Orchard occupies this corner building next to a community park.

Madden’s Orchard occupies this corner building next to a community park.

And next to the mini park sits this mini building, which is for sale. I peered inside to see a popcorn machine, making this a former popcorn stand.

And next to the mini park sits this mini building, which is for sale. I peered inside to see a popcorn machine, making this a former popcorn stand. What possibilities could you see for this building besides reopening a popcorn stand?

Signage always catches my eyes, especially the vintage signs I often find in small towns.

Signage always catches my eyes, especially the vintage signs I often find in small towns.

Some lovely aged buildings occupy downtown Waterville. This one, left, houses a law office.

Many aged buildings occupy downtown Waterville. This one, left, houses a law office.

I love this simple, bold graphic marking The Cafe.

I love this simple, bold graphic marking The Cafe.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop anchors the corner building next to JC Ryan's Art Gallery. The coffee shop, which I blogged about four years ago, is available for lease. It's named after the

Singing Hills Coffee Shop anchors the corner building next to JC Ryan’s Art Gallery. The coffee shop, which I blogged about four years ago, is available for lease. It’s an inviting shop named after the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, a recreational trail that runs through town from Faribault to Mankato. Waterville is a popular southeastern Minnesota lakeside resort community.

I had a maple bacon sundae when I visited the coffee shop in September 2016. It was closed when I was there this year and, I believe, is closed for the season.

I had a maple bacon sundae when I visited the coffee shop in September 2014. It was closed when I was there this year and, I believe, is closed for the season.

Just walking the dog...

Just walking the dog in downtown Waterville…

You can learn a lot about a small town simply by reading the posters, signs and notices on storefront windows and doors.

You can learn a lot about a small town simply by reading the posters, signs and notices on storefront windows and doors.

TELL ME: Do you take Sunday afternoon drives? If so, why? If not, why not?

FYI: Check back for more photos from Waterville.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The joys & revelations of a Sunday afternoon drive in rural Minnesota September 1, 2015

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THERE IS SOMETHING about late August and early September in Minnesota that is comforting, yet tinged with melancholy. Comforting in the hope of harvest. Melancholy in that summer is all but a closed chapter in our book of seasons.

In the morning, fog lingers after nights that necessitate the closing of windows, the pulling on of blankets. But then, as the day progresses, the chill gives way to heat and humidity. It’s as if summer and autumn are tugging at the weather blanket.

Somewhere east of Northfield.

Somewhere east of Northfield.

Beyond the weather, there exist undeniable visuals of the seasonal changes, best observed during a drive in the countryside. I am a firm believer in the value of a Sunday afternoon drive to notice that which all too often passes unseen and unappreciated. So this past Sunday, my husband and I followed blacktop county and back gravel roads through the up-and-down terrain of rural Rice County.

We have neither smart phones or a GPS, thus rely on our over-sized 1994 Minnesota Atlas & Gazetteer and our sense of direction (the husband’s, not mine) to navigate when necessary. Mostly we just drive, turning when we please.

On the edges of fields, corn leaves are drying.

On the edges of fields, corn leaves are drying. This scene is along a road between Faribault and Dundas.

It doesn’t take much to please me. Simply by being in the country, I experience a sense of peace. All is well in the world as I notice the seasonal changes of corn leaves morphing from green to parched. I can visualize combines roaring across the land, golden kernels spilling into grain trucks.

Beautiful horses and beautiful goldenrod somewhere east of Northfield.

Beautiful horses and beautiful goldenrod somewhere east of Northfield.

In and along road ditches, clusters of goldenrod bloom.

Flowers are past their prime, but still lovely, in this vintage Ford pick-up truck parked on the Fossum farm along Rice County Road 28 east of Northfield.

Flowers are past their prime, but still lovely, in this vintage Ford pick-up truck parked on the Fossum farm along Rice County Road 28 east of Northfield.

And when I look across the landscape, I see that tinge of color creeping into trees, the browning of the green that teases autumn into our days. Flowers are fading. A red barn seems redder in a land that is growing more subdued and muted. Grain bins stand at the ready.

Bins peek above a cornfield between Faribault and Dundas.

Bins peek above a cornfield between Faribault and Dundas.

I love autumn. It is my favorite season. Yet, I am reluctant for the chapter of summer to end. For I know that all too soon, I will be immersed in the chapters (plural) of winter.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday afternoon of memories June 11, 2014

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Sunday drive, farmsite with red trucks

IT IS THE TYPE OF DAY when clouds dodge in and out of the sky. Mostly in. The type of day when I wonder if I should grab a sweatshirt heading out the door. The type of day when, one minute my husband and I are riding with the vehicle windows rolled down, the next zipping them up as the sun ducks behind clouds and cold air rushes inside.

Sunday drive, barn and silos, distant

It is the type of day, early in June, when grass and foliage appear vibrant green in a season of excess moisture.

Sunday drive, fork in the road

And I wonder how, after a deluge of rain the day prior, cars can still kick up dust along gravel roads.

Sunday drive, grain complex

Everything seems sharp and new, as if I am seeing everything for the first time on this Sunday afternoon drive. And I am, after the longest of Minnesota winters.

Sunday drive, hillside farmsite

Barns and farmhouses scattered between fields hold memories that cause my very soul to ache for missing the farm.

I grasp snapshots of prairie memories from the scenes that unfold before me.

Crossing the Straight River southeast of Faribault.

Crossing the muddy Straight River southeast of Faribault.

Me pedaling my bike over the bridge across the muddy Redwood River.

On the other side of the bridge, train tracks.

On the other side of the bridge, train tracks in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Me scanning the tracks as I cross the rails into Vesta.

The pick-up truck, a rural necessity.

The pick-up truck, a rural necessity.

Me sitting beside my Dad in his red-and-white Chevy pick-up, bouncing across the stubbled alfalfa field.

Birdhouse condominion perched atop a hill next to a building site in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Birdhouse condo perched atop a hill next to a building site in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Memories rise and fall like the hilly roads that twist and turn our van through the countryside southeast of Faribault.

Our drive takes us through Walcott Township in Rice County. I grew up in Vesta Township 120 miles to the west in Redwood County.

Our drive takes us through Walcott Township in Rice County. I grew up in Vesta Township 120 miles to the west in Redwood County.

I’m unfamiliar with this place, yet familiar.

An aged Fordson parked alongside a road southeast of Faribault.

An aged Fordson parked alongside a road southeast of Faribault.

I know these barns, these farmhouses, these tractors, these fields. In another place, another time.

A farm upbringing imprinted them upon my soul 120 miles to the west of here.

FYI: To read my first post from this Sunday afternoon drive, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delighting in the Sunday afternoon drive June 10, 2014

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The countryside spreads out before us as we begin our drive.

The countryside spreads out before us as we begin our Sunday afternoon drive.

MINNESOTA ATLAS SANDWICHED between us on the van floor, my husband and I head southeast of Faribault for our first Sunday afternoon drive of the season. The directional guide is primarily for my benefit as I occasionally have this urge to know “where we are.” We own neither smart phone nor GPS.

We prefer gravel roads over paved for the slower pace.

We prefer gravel roads over paved for the slower pace.

We have no specific destination, only aiming to follow back country roads to see what we can see.

We miss nothing, including the dog bounding out of the ditch.

We miss nothing, including the dog bounding out of the ditch.

As simple as that.

ls

Barrels and a John Deere bring back farm memories of the burning barrel and the putt-putt-putt of the tractor.

We are those kind of folks, former farm kids who grew up understanding the value in a Sunday afternoon drive.

Emerging corn.

Emerging corn.

Check out the crops.

Of all the country smells, I think my favorite is that of freshly-cut alfalfa.

Of all the country smells, my favorite is that of freshly-cut alfalfa.

Breathe in the indescribably intoxicating smell of freshly-mown alfalfa.

So many old barns and the sweet surprise of this old corn crib.

So many old barns and the sweet surprise of this old corn crib.

Wind along gravel roads past time-worn barns and vintage farm machinery, curve this way and that, windows rolled down, tires crunching, taking it all in.

From old farmhouses to new home hobby farms, we see them all.

From old farmhouses to new home hobby farms, we see them all.

Glorious countryside, oh, glorious countryside.

Lovely wild roses in the ditch.

Lovely wild roses in the ditch.

And then, an abrupt stop to smell the roses. Literally. Beautiful wild roses that filled the ditches of my youth spotted once again. I inhale their heady perfumed fragrance as I wade into tall ditch grass.

We even notice the rock piles and recall our days of picking rock.

We even notice the rock piles and recall our days of picking rock.

For an hour or so on this Sunday afternoon, the worries in my life cease. I am with the man I love, checking out the crops, smelling the roses, taking in every detail of the rural world that embraces us.

Even signage does not go unnoticed.

Even signage does not go unnoticed.

Life is good. In this moment. On this Sunday afternoon drive.

(Please check back for more photos from this Sunday afternoon drive just southeast of Faribault.)

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Seeking solace on a drive through rural Rice County January 21, 2014

The rural scene unfolds before us.

The rural scene, dominated by a blue sky, unfolds before us.

BLUE SKY STRETCHES before my husband and me as we traverse back gravel roads northwest of Faribault Sunday afternoon.

A drive along country gravel roads always uplifts me, no matter the season.

A drive along country gravel roads always uplifts me, no matter the season.

I yearn for this escape, for this reconnection to the land, this attempt to rejuvenate my spirit.

This scene

This scene inspires the poet in me.

Just being in the country calms my soul, brightens my outlook, causes me to pause and appreciate this land, this place God has created and given into our care.

Memories in this scene...

Memories in this scene…

In this moment, at this time, I slip into the past, envision myself laboring in the barns we pass. Soothing thrum of the milking machine. Cocooning warmth among cows snugged in mounds of golden straw. The comfort of ‘CCO radio.

I envision these fields seeded in corn or soybeans.

I envision these fields seeded in corn or soybeans.

In farm fields, I see a much younger and skinnier version of myself plodding between rows of soybeans to yank cockleburs on a scorching summer day.

The comfort of memories in a farm yard.

The comfort of memories in a farm yard.

At the sight of a farmyard, I hear my buckle overshoes crunch upon hard-packed snow as I follow the path from house to barn.

I imagine this field seeded in corn or soybeans.

An ocean of snow-washed land.

Memories unleash in this landscape, in the view of farmyards anchored into hillsides within an ocean of snow-washed fields.

A remnant of yesteryear in an old corn crib.

A remnant of yesteryear in an old corn crib.

I am happy here. Content. At peace.

Splashes of red jolt the blue and white landscape.

Splashes of red jolt the blue and white landscape.

Yes, even in this winter of too much cold and too many snowy days, I find solace in blue skies and sunshine, barns and white-washed fields.

The punctuation of a red wagon and its shadow stretching across the snow draw my attention.

The punctuation of a red wagon and its shadow stretching across the snow draw my attention.

FYI: To read my previous post featuring photos from this Sunday afternoon drive, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling