Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The poetry of trees at sunset April 14, 2020



SUNSET. I FIND IT profoundly beautiful. Poetically beautiful.



Last week while walking a tree-lined trail in Faribault’s North Alexander Park, I stopped to appreciate the sunset through the trees.



I aimed my camera lens skyward, toward treetops. Branches, like lines drawn in wide chisel and felt tip markers, traced the sky. Sharp against backdrop canvases of blue, pink and orange. Lovely. The literary and visual work of an artist.



Scenes like this are so ordinary, yet extraordinary. Nature, when viewed in pause mode, seems even more stunning these days.



When I lift my camera and look through a viewfinder to frame a photo, I see so much. I notice details. Shapes. Colors. Patterns. Light.



It’s a process similar to writing poetry. I immerse myself in creating something beautiful. Poetry requires sparse, well-chosen words. Photography requires that, too, but in a visual way.



In this unprecedented time of social distancing, isolation and concern about COVID-19, I feel especially grateful for a quiet place to walk, to appreciate the art of nature and then create my own art via photography.



April is National Poetry Month. Celebrate by reading a poem, writing a poem or finding a poem in nature, like I did at North Alexander Park on a cold April evening with strong winds gusting from the northwest, sometimes shaking my camera lens.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Winter photo poetry February 18, 2019

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A WINTER LANDSCAPE IN RURAL Minnesota can, at first glance, seem visually unappealing. White upon white upon white.

But then a moment happens. A curtain opens in the mind to reveal a scene that holds spectacular beauty.

Stubble pokes through snowy fields. A farm site stands isolated, yet strong, in all that winter vastness. And then, a layer of golden light slips between land and clouds.

The light. The textures. The immensity of the scene. All collide before my eyes, to create a winter photo poem. Beautiful in its complexity. Beautiful in its simplicity. Winter.


I photographed this scene along Interstate 35 somewhere north of Faribault around sunset Saturday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Angels we have seen on high December 15, 2017

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YEARS HAVE PASSED since I thought about this observation: The angels are baking cookies.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


But when a family member recently noticed the gold and pink tinge of the evening sky, she suggested the cherubs were busy baking Christmas cookies.

Unless you’re a Helbling family member, you’ve likely never heard this comparison of the sunset, or sunrise, to angelic bakers. It’s an interpretation attributed to my late mother-in-law, passed on to her children and then to her grandchildren.

Many times while they were growing up, my three kids directed me to look outside, to see the fiery sky, to see the angels baking cookies. It is a sweet part of family lore passed from one generation to the next.

This time of year, traditions and stories seem more important than ever. What are some of your family stories and/or traditions? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Oh, for the poetic beauty of sunrises & sunsets in Minnesota May 1, 2017


SOMETIMES I WONDER if nature can offer anything more beautiful than a sunrise or a sunset. But then I have not seen the mountains of the West or the deserts of the Southwest or the ocean other than the Atlantic once.



Still, the sunrise and sunset are universal. We all see the same sun, just in different places.



Farm fields and a wide sky backdropped my youthful vision of the sun. To this day, for me, there’s nothing quite like a prairie sunset, the blazing ball of the sun overwhelming the southwestern Minnesota landscape. Those childhood memories leave me grieving for the sunsets I’ve missed while living in a valley within a city for 33 years. Hillside and trees filter and block the sinking sun.



Still, living in Faribault, a southeastern Minnesota community situated along rivers and lake, gives me an opportunity to view the sunset waterside. And there is beauty in that, too, in the reflections that dance poetry across water backdropped by a day shifting from twilight to dusk to dark.



FYI: These images were taken in mid-March from the shores of Wells Lake at King Mill Park along the Cannon River in Faribault. Click here to see additional photos of the above sunset as I entered Faribault along Highway 60 from the east.


Writing poetry as the sun rises

My fingertips linger within a mere whisper of the keyboard
as I pause, half-thought, words interrupted mid-phrase,
to tilt my head toward the window and the sunrise
spreading gold and pink across the sky like jam on toast.

In that morning moment, I desire nothing more
than to dip my fingers into the jar of dawn,
to sample her sweetness, to taste of her earthy goodness,
to delight in sunshine and rain and succulent fruit plucked from vines.

But language beckons me back to the keyboard,
to dip my fingers into the jar of words,
to choose and shape and share the poetry that rises within me,
in rhythm and verse upon the breaking day.


FYI: My poem about the sunrise published in Poetic Strokes, A Regional Anthology of Poetry From Southeastern Minnesota, 2012.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Artistry in a Minnesota sunset April 24, 2017

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The sun begins to set as we head west on Minnesota State Highway 60 toward Kenyon.


SUNRISE, SUNSET…so begin lyrics from a song in “Fiddler on the Roof.” I’ve always loved that musical and the song about the seasons of life. How quickly we progress from the sunrise of life to the sunset.

The setting and rising of the sun, while symbolic of life, are of themselves worthy of appreciation. There’s such beauty in the hues that break across the sky, weaving with clouds and sometimes water to produce spectacular visuals. Works of art, really.


A line of clouds divided the sky as we continued west.


On an early spring Saturday afternoon, returning from a day trip to La Crosse, Wisconsin, my husband and I aimed toward the setting sun, the sky layered in darkness and light.


Between Kenyon and Faribault, the sun silhouetted a farm site.


As we drove along Minnesota State Highway 60 west to Faribault from Kenyon, the sun slipped closer to the earth, blazing like a brilliant spotlight in our eyes.





Then, entering Faribault on the east side, cresting the Highway 60 hill before dipping toward the river valley, I saw before me hues of orange and yellow brushed across the sky like a watercolor painting. It was one of those moments of nearly indescribable, spectacular beauty. A gift at the end of the day.

Welcome home.

FYI: Please check back for photos of the sun setting over the Cannon River by the King Mill Dam. We headed there to watch the final moments of the sunset.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Minnesota prairie sunset May 5, 2014

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MY HUSBAND SCURRIED back to my mother’s house, told me to grab my camera and hurry.

And hasten we did.  Between her house and the neighbors, along the grass alley a block. Turn west at my uncle and aunt’s house. Fast-walk another block.


Prairie sunset 52


Focus on the setting sun, the sky colored in layered shades of orange and yellow, pink and purple.


Prairie sunset 54


Oh, how I love the sunset on my beloved prairie in my hometown of Vesta, Minnesota.


Prairie sunset 55


I can never get enough of it.


Prairie sunset 56


This moment when day transitions into evening with beauty unequal on a land that stretches flat into forever.

Spectacular sunset, like poetry sweeping across the prairie sky.

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Reflections on a prairie sunset June 30, 2013

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Sunset on the prairie

WE STOOD ALONG THE EDGE of the gravel road Saturday evening, my 13-year-old nephew and I, mesmerized by the glorious golden sun pinking the sky above and below a layer of blue grey.

I raised my camera. He lifted his phone. We snapped several photos, compared, wished for better zooms to photograph the prairie sky north of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota.

Sunset on the prairie 2

“It’s what I miss most about this place, the sunrise and the sunset,” I said.

“And the stars,” Stephen added.

Sun and stars.

He was right. The stars, too.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sunday sunset February 24, 2013

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ON THE WAY HOME from Montgomery, Minnesota, not Alabama, late this afternoon, the sun danced with the clouds:

Sunset - Copy

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Claiming a prairie sunset February 8, 2013

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MY HEART BELONGS to my native prairie. Always has, always will.

Even after three decades away from southwestern Minnesota, I remain connected to the sky and to the land, to the place that shaped me as a person, a writer, a photographer.

In an environment as stark as the prairie, you notice details.

Even in southeastern Minnesota, where I've lived for three decades, expanses of prairie exist like this sunset scene.

Even in southeastern Minnesota, where I’ve lived for three decades, expanses of prairie exist like this sunset scene.

And so, on a recent Saturday, as my husband and I traveled south and east from Cleveland to Kilkenny (that’s in southeastern Minnesota, not Ohio and Ireland), I observed daylight evolve into evening, the sun slipping in a slim band of rosy peach across the horizon.

In that moment my soul yearned for the land I left at age 17, the prairie, the place of my heart.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Traveling back home to the southwestern Minnesota prairie September 5, 2011

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The land and sky stretch out before us as we drive along Minnesota Highway 67 between Morgan and Redwood Falls in southwestern Minnesota at sunset Friday.

MY HUSBAND, SON and I traveled this weekend to my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota, the place that inspired the name for this blog, Minnesota Prairie Roots.

My roots run deep into this land, into the soil of Redwood County where I grew up on a dairy and crop farm. Although I left the farm 38 years ago at age 17, the fall after graduating from Wabasso High School, I still consider this home. It is the place that shaped who I became as a person and a writer.

It is the land that still inspires me in my writing and my photography.

Most Minnesotans don’t give this area of the state a second thought. In fact, I have discovered in my nearly 30 years of residing in Faribault, in southeastern Minnesota, that many residents of my community don’t know what lies west of Mankato. They think the state ends there.

That frustrates me to no end. In trying to explain the location of  Vesta, I typically say “half way between Redwood Falls and Marshall on Highway 19.” Usually I get a blank stare. What more can I say?

The sign that marks my hometown, population around 350 and home of the nation's first electric co-op.

They consider my hometown in the middle of nowhere. I don’t disagree with that. But I like the middle of nowhere. The prairie possesses a beauty unlike any other. The wind. The sky. The acres and acres of cropland punctuated by farm places and small towns appeal to me. They quiet my soul, uplift my spirit, connect to me in a way that I can’t explain.

This trip we were driving west in the evening, into the sunset. The ribbon of roadway between Morgan and Redwood Falls stretched into seeming infinity under a sky banded by clouds.

The sun sets as we travel along Minnesota Highway 67 northwest of Morgan toward Redwood Falls.

This stretch of highway between Morgan and Redwood Falls seems to go on forever, as do the utility poles.

It was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful.

What more can I say? I love my southwestern Minnesota prairie, the place that will always be my home, no matter where I live.

I prefer grain bins to skyscrapers. I shot this image as we traveled northwest of Morgan at sunset Friday.

My son told me I take a picture of this grain elevator complex every time we drive through Morgan. He is probably right. But I don't care. I see something different each time, each season, in which I photograph it.

My second shot of the elevator in Morgan, taken from the car while driving back to Faribault Sunday afternoon.

This trip I seemed to focus my camera on utility poles, which go on and on across the flat expanse of the prairie. I find a certain artistic appeal in this scene southeast of Morgan.

Soybean fields, pictured here, and corn fields define this rich farm land.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling