Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting with nature at Carleton College August 19, 2019

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TO WALK HERE, among wildflowers lining water’s edge, is to find peace. And these days I crave peace, a short escape from the challenges of life. Nature offers that quiet, that solitude, that ability to forget reality for awhile.



On a recent Saturday, Randy and I followed a trail into a nature area at Carleton College in Northfield. I thought how lovely to attend college here, to have this natural space available on the edge of campus. A place for students to retreat, to recharge, to reboot.





On this day, I retreated, focusing my attention (and camera) on vivid and pastel petals,



reflections on water,




the arc of bridges



and then, the unexpected—a memorial to Carleton alum Ann N. Nelson who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A second Carleton alum, Joe McDonald, also died there.



The memorial stone placed between benches next to a labyrinth drew my thoughts away momentarily to that awful day in our nation’s history. And I considered the pain and the horror of it all and how, even in this peaceful place, one cannot fully-escape the difficult realities of life.




© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Remembering 9/11 in Hastings, Minnesota September 11, 2018

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TODAY, WHILE DRIVING THROUGH HASTINGS, I noted an American flag suspended across U.S. Highway 61 near the bridge that spans the Mississippi River connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“Why is the flag there?” I asked Randy.

“September 11,” he said, and I had one of those moments when I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten the anniversary date of the terrorist attacks on our country.

To the people of Hastings, thank you for reminding me of a date, an attack, a part of history that I should always remember.


Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Thoughts from Minnesota after the Halloween Day terrorist attack in NYC October 31, 2017

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Assorted squash in Hayfield, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, October 2016


AT THE KITCHEN COUNTER, I position the knife across the squash, pushing hard to slice through the tough skin. When that effort fails, I thwack the squash against the cutting board, splitting the garden fresh produce in half.



As I work, the television blares a news conference from the living room. I sprinkle sea salt and grind fresh pepper onto the squash, add pinches of brown sugar and dabs of butter. In between I strain to hear the words of public officials talking about the latest terrorist attack, this time in my country, in Lower Manhattan in New York City.

Far removed from Minnesota, this attack still hits home. A bike path. A school bus. The selected weapon of terror—a rental truck from The Home Depot. Ordinary. Everyday. Unexpected. People just going about their daily routines. On Halloween afternoon.

As details unfold, I hear of eight dead and a dozen or more injured, bikers and pedestrians plowed down on that bike path. And then that school bus, with two adults and two children inside also struck by the rental truck.

Now he’s in custody, a 29-year-old suspect labeled as a terrorist. Shot. Hospitalized. Under investigation.

Back in my Minnesota kitchen, I slide the pan of squash into the oven. Soon the scent of autumn permeates my home. The TV still blares. And I think of family on the East Coast, although not in NYC. I grab my cell phone and text I love you! Happy Halloween! to my son in Boston. At times like this, I want nothing more than to hold close those dearest to me.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflecting on 9/11 September 11, 2016

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My then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers a year after 9/11 for a school religion assignment. He was a third grader in a Christian school at the time and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God by drawing a photo illustrating that time. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us

A year after the terrorist attacks, my then 8-year-old son drew this picture of a plane aimed for the twin towers. He was a third grader in a Christian school  and needed to think of a time when it was hard to trust God. To this day, this drawing by my boy illustrates to me how deeply 9/11 impacted even the youngest among us.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post first published on September 11, 2012. Today I am republishing it (with updated numbers) in honor of those who died 15 years ago today in acts of terrorism against our county. Blessed be their memories.


IF I WAS IN MY HOMETOWN today I would visit the cemetery just outside of Vesta, to the north along the gravel road and atop the lone hill which rises ever so slightly in a sea of ripening corn and soybean fields.

I’d walk the rows until I found the gravestones of the Kletschers, mostly clumped together, close still even in death.

I’d pause at the tombstones of my paternal great grandparents and grandparents, my father and then, finally, my Uncle Mike, the bachelor uncle who was like a second father to me and my five siblings. He lived the next farm over, farmed with our father and joined us for everyday meals and holidays. His inherent curiosity is a trait I possess.

Uncle Mike died on September 5, 2001, and was buried just days before 9/11.

Today thousands will visit graves of those who lost their lives on that horrific day 15 years ago when our nation was attacked by terrorists.

My uncle had never, as far as I know, been to New York or Washington D.C. or Pennsylvania, never traveled much. He stuck close to the prairie, close to the farm, close to the land he cherished with the depth of love only a farmer can possess.

I miss him and grieve his death with a depth of grief that comes only from loving someone deeply.

Today, on this the 15th anniversary of 9/11, countless family and friends and co-workers and others will grieve with a depth that comes from loving deeply. They may grieve privately or at public ceremonies marking the date nearly 3,000 innocent individuals lost their lives.

Some will travel to that field in Stonycreek Township in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, where the passengers of Flight 93 fought back against those who would terrorize this nation.

It is the one place I can most relate to in the whole horribleness of this American tragedy because my roots reach deep into the land. Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, a rural community of 250 in the Laurel Mountains of western Pennsylvania with a population 100 less than my Minnesota hometown.

None of this diminishes the significant impact made upon me by the terrorist-directed planes slamming into the twin towers or the destruction wreaked upon the Pentagon in urban settings.

But big cities—even though I’ve been to New York once in my life many decades ago while in college—are unfamiliar terrain, skyscrapers as foreign to me as a silo to a city-dweller.

A lone plane crashing into a field, plowing into the earth, that I understand.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling