Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Delighting in a Sunday afternoon drive in rural Minnesota May 12, 2020

We met an occasional vehicle on our country drive southeast of Faribault, Minnesota.

 

I ABSOLUTELY, UNDENIABLY needed this. To drive into the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. To get away. To view the greening of the land. To forget for a half hour about the realities of life. To focus on nature. To photograph rural Minnesota.

 

We drove past farm sites.

 

Past lovely barns…

 

Clouds and cold weather defined Mother’s Day in southern Minnesota.

 

And that’s exactly what Randy and I did mid Mother’s Day afternoon, aiming southeast of Faribault to follow back country gravel roads. My sense of direction doesn’t exist. I trust Randy to steer us onto roadways that fulfill my need to go at a leisurely pace, to stop when I see something I must photograph, to appreciate the details of place.

 

Following gravel roads. Up and down.

 

Occasionally the cloud-heavy sky spit rain onto the windshield as we dipped up and down, hilltops offering sweeping vistas of a lush landscape.

 

We spotted corn coming up in this field along 250th Street East southeast of Faribault.

 

Corn popped green, curving rows into one field.

 

Chickens strayed from a farm site across the road to a field.

 

Those chickens seem so small in the vastness of farm fields.

 

Rogue chickens paused in another field to observe us while I swung my lens to photograph them.

 

An old farm site along 233rd Street East.

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen a gas barrel like this.

 

At one point, atop a hill, we studied a farm site below with broad barn, weathered corn crib and a red gas barrel next to an aged shed. Such building sites remind me of yesteryear, when an assortment of small structures defined a farm place.

 

That baby goat wanted so badly to scale that rock, without success.

 

Even the adult goats are cute.

 

And then, the road curved, leading us to the sweetest surprise of the drive—goats, fenced on both sides of the roadway. Windows rolled down, we heard their plaintive baa and watched as a baby goat struggled to climb a rock. I ooohed and aaahed over the cuteness of these goats.

 

Spring blooms, finally, in southeastern Minnesota.

 

Too soon we headed back to town. Randy needed to light the charcoal grill to smoke and cook a pork roast for supper. A Zoom call with family awaited us, too. But, in that short time, I found exactly what I needed—a joyful, therapeutic and sweet escape into the southeastern Minnesota countryside.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday afternoon autumn drive in Rice County October 22, 2019

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A beautiful oak tree along the shore of Union Lake at Albers Park, Rice County, Minnesota.

 

IN THIS TOO WET and too gloomy of Minnesota autumns, days like this past weekend are a gift. Sunshine and dry weather. Trees morphing from green into sometimes blazing red. Skies still and beautiful and the scent of earth and harvest prevailing.

 

One of my favorite places to photograph in rural Rice County in autumn: the shoreline of Kelly Lake.

 

A mass of maple leaves at Albers Park.

 

From the shores of Union Lake, the steps leading down to the lake at Albers Park.

 

On Sunday afternoon we took a drive through western Rice County to view the fall colors. I needed the outing after a week of mostly lying around feeling awful. An all too early in the flu season virus struck me hard. Residuals remain and I’m still not back to 100 percent.

 

Across the water, colorful trees line the shore of Kelly Lake.

 

Autumn beauty in a single leaf.

 

A playground at Albers Park stands empty on a beautiful October Sunday afternoon.

 

But a few hours away from home viewing the changing landscape, taking photos and walking about in the beauty of autumn lifted my spirits considerably. Especially since I missed my niece Katie’s wedding on Saturday. Nothing will make up for that. But such is life. I knew wedding guests wouldn’t appreciate my not entirely healthy presence.

 

Not everyone could play like me on Sunday. Farmers were working hard to harvest crops on a rare sunny day.

 

On a beautiful autumn afternoon in southeastern Minnesota, none of that mattered. Sunshine does the soul good. So do fresh air and thoughts focused outward instead of inward.

The afternoon ended perfectly with a stop at an area apple orchard. More to come on that.

 

Maple leaves up close.

 

I hope that you, like me, have found time to delight in these closing days of autumn. Trees in colorful glory. Sun streaming. Scents of harvest and earth rising.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the backroads between Faribault and New Prague October 10, 2018

 

A MONTH AGO, before the grey of this too rainy autumn settled upon the southern Minnesota landscape, Randy and I followed the backroads from Faribault to New Prague en route to a brewery. We enjoy craft beers and wanted to check out Giesenbrau Bier Company, billed as a German style bier hall and garten.

I am directionally-challenged when roads are not prairie grid perfect. Randy knows this about me. It’s also a source of frustration when I am unable to read a map. Yes, we still rely on paper maps and atlases. But “just drive” seems more Randy’s philosophy. He’s always confident of eventually reaching our destination.

In no particular hurry to get there on this Sunday afternoon, we took some paved, some gravel, roads, occasionally stopping to observe and, for me, to take photos. At the time I jotted down locations, but have since misplaced my notes. We were somewhere northwest of Faribault, well off the interstate. I prefer this type of travel which allows for a close-up look at life.

 

 

 

 

From a town hall to a grasshopper,

 

 

 

 

 

from a lake to the detail of bordering cattails,

 

 

 

 

from a cornfield to a weathered corn crib to the cobs inside, I notice the overall picture and then the details.

 

 

Along the way we often come across small delights. Scenes that remind us of our rural roots. Scenes that remind us that life does not always need to speed, that afternoons like this are meant to be savored.

 

 

At one point, Randy parked the van along a gravel road so we could watch a couple baling hay. Not with a massive tractor and baler, but with a small tractor and an old-fashioned baler spitting out rectangular bales. Just like we remember from the farm. When the tractor reached the end of the field, the lean farmer leapt off the trailer and headed toward us.

 

 

“You looking for work?” he joked. We told him we’d pass, that we were former farm kids who understood the hard work of baling hay.

 

 

 

 

We continued on toward New Prague then, winding our way to the bier hall, then to a nearby park for a short walk before taking backroads home,

 

 

 

 

past another farmer baling hay and an aged barn with a new metal roof and a sturdy rock foundation.

 

 

I noted then that we should drive these roads again when autumn hues colored the hilly landscape somewhere between New Prague and Faribault. That would be now.

TELL ME: Do you drive backroads? If yes, where and what have you seen?

© Copyright 2018 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

 

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