Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Spring planting in Minnesota & why I care May 25, 2022

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Seed source, rural Elgin, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

THE 2022 PLANTING SEASON has proven exceedingly challenging for Minnesota farmers. A late spring with unseasonably cold temps, coupled with too much rain, has delayed seeding of corn and soybeans.

A picturesque farm site in southern Minnesota, field in the foreground. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Some areas of our state have experienced widespread flooding, creating muddy conditions and lakes. Not exactly what farmers need in May. To add to that, destructive storms damaged or destroyed farm buildings and equipment, especially in the western region of Minnesota.

Soil type and topography (here on a hillside) affect tilling and planting, along with the biggest factor, weather. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Corn planting data from the United States Department of Agriculture (updated every Monday) shows below average planting progress throughout the Midwest, West and in some states east of Illinois. In Minnesota, only 60 percent of the corn was planted as of May 23. That compares to 98 percent last year and a 5-year average of 86 percent. That puts into perspective the 2022 planting delays.

Equipment, outside a farm outbuilding, ready for spring field work. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Yet, if you farm, you realize a stretch of good weather can quickly change everything for the good. Time will tell how this all plays out.

Following farm equipment on Minnesota State Highway 60. This is a common sight in spring which requires patience and caution by motorists. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I find it interesting that, nearly 50 years removed from the farm, I still pay attention to spring planting, and, later, harvest. I have friends who farm. But, more than that, farming is part of my history, part of who I am, even as an adult decades distanced from living on the land. I am proud of my rural heritage. It shaped me. It grew me. I see that rural influence in my writing, my photography, in the places I value and, I suppose, even in the way I live my life.

A well-kept barn in southern Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I am, and always shall be, honored to call myself a farm girl.

Another common sight on Minnesota roadways in the spring–a farmer hauling liquid manure to spread on fields. Not really anything you want to follow and I was thankful when the tractor turned. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did place shape you? I’d like to hear.

NOTE: I took these photos on May 14 in Goodhue, Olmsted, Rice and Wabasha counties in southeastern Minnesota. All images were taken through the passenger side windshield or side window while traveling on the roadway.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With gratitude to an anonymous friend May 20, 2022

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Love in three languages along the Virtues Trail in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2018)

THE GREETING CARD arrived in a non-descript blue envelope, our names and address printed in reddish marker. No return address, only a flower sticker in the upper left corner. A Saint Paul, MN postmark with a May 13, 2022, date inked the paper next to a floral postage stamp. And, on the back, an artsy heart sticker graced the envelope flap.

I expected to find a card inside wishing Randy and me the best on our 40th wedding anniversary. I was right on that. I appreciated the verse focused on God’s blessings and a prayer for continued blessings in our lives.

From an anonymous friend, an anniversary wish and gift. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But I did not expect the anonymous signature—A friend—or a faith-themed post-it note attached to a $20 bill. That note suggested we treat ourselves, perhaps to Dairy Queen ice cream, and to enjoy our day(s).

The thoughtfulness of this anonymous friend (whom I suspect reads this blog) touched me deeply. There are moments in life when we all need an extra hug, extra words of encouragement, extra kindness. For me, that moment is now. This year, thus far, has proven challenging with the death of my mom in January and recently the news that my husband will be losing his job of 39 years due to a change in business ownership and closure of the automotive machine shop.

A Peanut Buster Parfait from DQ. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

So, when that surprise anniversary card and cash gift arrived, I felt a surge of gratitude for the reminder that others care, that I am blessed by a loving and caring husband of 40 years, that God will, and always has, given us the strength we need to face and work through life’s difficulties.

While walking a recreational trail in Madison, Wisconsin, when my son lived in the Atwood Neighborhood there, I spotted this wonderfully uplifting message. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Many times in my life, I’ve been uplifted by others. I’ve tried to do the same. When someone is struggling or celebrating, I acknowledge that. We all need to be heard, understood, loved, cared for, uplifted. Appreciated. Valued. Encouraged.

The Betty, from The S’Cream in Owatonna. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016)

And today, because of that anonymous friend—who’s apparently read on this blog that Randy and I treat ourselves to Dairy Queen Peanut Buster Parfaits twice a year (upon opening and closing of the local franchise)—I feel especially cared for. When I taste the sweetness of ice cream, either from DQ or from our favorite area ice cream shop, The S’Cream in Owatonna, I will taste, too, the sweetness of love sent by an anonymous friend.

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TELL ME: How has someone encouraged you in life? Or how have you encouraged someone? I’d like to hear your stories.

I’d like to thank you, my readers, for your kindness, generosity and encouragement through the years. What a blessing you have been in my life.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections upon 40 years of marriage May 13, 2022

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Wedding guests toss rice at Randy and me as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church following our May 15, 1982, wedding. (Photo credit: William’s Studio, Redwood Falls)

FORTY YEARS. May 15, 2022, marks a milestone for Randy and me as we celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. Where did the years, then the decades, go?

Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982. (Photo credit: William’s Studio)

It seems only yesterday I walked down the aisle of St. John’s Lutheran Church, my slim hand clenching my farmer father’s massive hand. I walked with confidence and joy in my $82 off-the-rack high-necked lace wedding dress from Maurices, floral wreath encircling my head, left hand holding a bouquet of yellow roses, daisies and babies breath with ballerina flats pinching my toes.

Randy waited there, before the altar, at the front of the rural southwestern Minnesota church. In his charcoal grey rental suit with matching bow tie accenting his white shirt, single yellow rose pinned to his lapel. He even managed to scrub the grease from his fingernails just for our wedding day. The proof is in the professional photo of our hands focusing our shiny wedding bands. I haven’t seen Randy’s fingernails that clean since given his job as an automotive machinist.

The Vesta Hall, a community gathering place in my hometown, and our wedding reception site. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

While details of our wedding day aren’t as sharp as they once were, I have photos and my mom’s May 15, 1982, journal entry to refresh my memory. Mom noted that the supper of ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, fresh fruit salad, cabbage slaw, buns, relishes and beverages catered from Toni’s in nearby Marshall cost $2.65 a plate or $500 total. That covered the meal for 172, taxes and the cost of punch. Delicious punch, but in a putrid shade of green, as Randy reminds me to this day. Our colors were green and yellow.

Now, 40 years after that cool spring day which began with light rain opening to evening sunshine, it’s not details of the celebration which matter as much as the vows we made to each other before God, family and friends. For better or worse, in sickness and in health…

When you’re young—we were both not quite 26—and in love, the possibilities of challenges ahead seem unfathomable. But life happens with all its sorrows and joys and moments of incredible difficulties. And through all of those trying times, of which we’ve had plenty, Randy and I have stood together. We balance each other. He with calm. Me with organization and a plan of action. Our shared faith in God upholds us.

A favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016)

And now here we are, 40 years removed from our 2 pm wedding ceremony that included singing my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior,” with the congregation; listening to the pastor read Genesis 2:22-24; exchanging vows and rings; lighting the unity candle…

Randy in the automotive machine shop at NAPA Northfield, where he has worked for 39 years. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Here we are, still united. United as loving parents of three children, now adults. United as loving grandparents of a 3 and 6-year-old. And united now in facing the unexpected loss of Randy’s job (due to a change in ownership and resulting closure of the automotive machine shop) after 39 years at the same workplace. It is yet another challenge to manage, to navigate. Together.

Randy, as cliché as it sounds, remains a rock of strength as he has throughout our marriage. I appreciate that about him, as much today as I did on May 15, 1982, the day I married the man I love. And still love.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Difficult Mother’s Day experiences & what I learned May 5, 2022

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My friend Kathleen recently created an altered book honoring my mom, who died in January. She included a copy of this 2016 photo of my three adult children. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2022)

TRAUMA WRITES INTO my Mother’s Day history. Two events. Two Mother’s Days. Two memories that, even with the passing of time, remain vivid.

The first occurred in May 1987. Randy and I had just gotten off the phone with our moms. We wished them Happy Mother’s Day and then told them we were expecting our second child, due in November. The grandmas were excited. We were delighted to share the news.

And then it happened. The bleeding. The panic when I realized what was happening. The call to the ER with instructions to lie down and see my doctor in the morning. I recall lying in bed, flat on my back, overwhelmed by fear. “I don’t want to lose my baby,” I sobbed and prayed.

How could this be happening? Moments earlier we’d shared such good news. And now the future of our baby seemed uncertain.

Miranda, five days old. Photo source: hospital photo

In the end, we didn’t lose that precious baby girl born to us six months later. Miranda. Beautiful in every way.

Fast forward to the morning of May 12, two days before Mother’s Day in 2006. Miranda was a senior in high school, her older sister just returned home from college. And their little brother, Caleb, 12, was on his way to the bus stop. Then the unthinkable happened. While crossing the street to his bus, Caleb was struck by a car. He bounced off the car, somersaulted, landed on the side of the road.

The moment when I heard the sirens, when I instinctively knew deep within me that something had happened to my son, terror unlike anything I’d ever felt gripped me. I can’t explain how or why I knew. I just did.

I have a file thick with information related to my son’s hit-and-run. The file includes newspaper clippings, e-mail correspondence with the police, medical and insurance papers and more. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

In the end, Caleb suffered only a broken bone in his hand, cracked ribs, bumps and bruises. While it was a terrifying experience—compounded by the driver who left the scene and to this day has not been found—we felt relief in the outcome.

Even though I endured those Mother’s Day traumas in 1987 and in 2006, I did not lose a child. But in those experiences I gained empathy—for those who have lost children through miscarriage, still birth, disease, illness, accident, violence, suicide… And if that’s you, I am deeply sorry for the pain, grief and loss you’ve felt and feel.

My daughter Miranda and me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2016.)

Through those experiences I realized how deep my motherly love, how my children hold my heart in a way that the very thought of losing them caused me such angst. I would do anything to protect them from harm. Anything. Even today.

My son and I in 2016, when he graduated from Tuft’s University, Boston skyline in the background. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo by Randy Helbling)

Through those experiences I grew stronger. And I recognized that, no matter what, we are not alone. When Caleb was hit by the car, our family received overwhelming support from family, friends, his school and the greater community. There were prayers, encouraging cards and phone calls, a stuffed animal and even a gift certificate to Dairy Queen. What love, compassion and care.

To my dear readers who are mothers, you are cherished, valued, loved. And the children you raised/are raising are equally as cherished, valued and, above all, loved.

TELL ME: If you have a story or thoughts you would like to share about being a mom or about what your mom meant/means to you, please comment. I’d love to hear from you.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grieving in Minnesota, three tragedies April 23, 2022

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Third grader Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Charter School created this vivid work of art for a Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Published with this post for illustration purposes only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I CONTEMPLATED WHETHER I should write about the tragic deaths of four Minnesota children recently. But it’s important for me, in some small way, to pause and share that which imprints sadness upon my heart. To lose a child is perhaps life’s deepest sorrow.

The first tragedy happened on April 15 in rural Wabasso—I graduated from Wabasso High School—in southwestern Minnesota. Braxton Welch, 20 months, died after being struck by a vehicle driven by his dad. I cannot even begin to fathom the grief this family is experiencing. This is personal to me because I know the Welch family back a few generations. I knew Braxton’s deceased great grandfather Gary, who lived in my hometown of Vesta and worked as a mechanic at my Uncle Harold’s service station. And I babysat Braxton’s grandfather (Gary’s son), Troy, and siblings a few times as a teen. Now Troy has lost his grandson, a sweet little boy with the brightest blue eyes. Braxton loved dancing and giggling and his big brother. And I expect so much more.

To the west, in rural Lynd, a 9-year-old girl (not yet identified) has died after being shot in the head on April 18. Authorities are classifying the shooting as “accidental.” Again, an unfathomable tragedy. UPDATE, April 26, 2022: The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department has identified Caitlin Renee Demuth as the young girl who died as a result of this tragic shooting. A public visitation will be held from 5 – 7 pm Friday, April 29, at the Hamilton Funeral Home in Marshall.

And then way up north, in the port city of Duluth, the Barry family was found shot to death in their beds on April 20. The victims include mom, Riana, 44; dad, Sean, 47; and their daughters, Shiway, 12, and Sadie, 9. The identified shooter, their 29-year-old nephew/cousin, also died, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police continue their investigation into the motive while publicly stating the shooter struggled with mental health issues. This murder-suicide, resulting in the deaths of two children and three adults in a single family circle, is undeniably tragic. It is almost too much to bear and my heart absolutely breaks for everyone touched by this tragedy, especially family and friends but also the greater Duluth community and responding law enforcement.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe account to help extended family pay for the Barrys’ funerals and for travel and other expenses. I encourage you to visit that site, donate if you can and pause to read the comments written by those connected to the Barry family. You will read of a kind, loving and generous family who welcomed newcomers, of two little girls who sold Girl Scout cookies, of guinea pigs and bike riding and all those ordinary life events that, in death, take on new meaning.

Tears flow. I feel emotionally drained. My heart hurts. Yet, I recognize that what I feel is nothing compared to the friends and families of Braxton; the little girl from Lynd; and the Barry family. To experience their loss and grief seems incomprehensible. Tragic beyond words.

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FYI: A public vigil for the Barry family will be held on Sunday evening, April 24, outside the family’s home at 715 E. 12th Street in Duluth. A short program begins at 8 pm with the lighting of holiday lights on the home. Christmas was one of the family’s favorite holidays. Attendees can also share stories at the event. The public is also invited to bring new children’s books to be donated in the family’s honor. The Barrys had a Little Free Library outside their home to share their love of reading and of books.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Elusive grief April 13, 2022

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Me with my mom during a January 2020 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2020 by Randy Helbling)

JANUARY 13, 2022. Three months have passed since my mom died. Sometimes that feels like forever. And sometimes like yesterday.

In all that time, I have yet to grieve like I feel I should. That is a heart-wrenching, full-out crying session of shoulders heaving, tears gushing, emotions overtaking me.

And I keep asking myself, “Why can’t I cry?” I loved my mom and I miss her and losing her is one of life’s greatest losses.

The answer to my self-imposed question seems multi-layered. Losing my mom was a gradual process. One of declining health paired with an inability to connect with her during these awful years of a global pandemic. Long before her death, she lost the ability to talk on a telephone. So my weekly Sunday evening phone calls to her ceased. My last long-distance conversations with her were via speaker phone, me talking “at” her rather than “to” her.

One of my last portraits of Mom. We had a particularly good visit that day. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021)

As Mom’s memory and overall health faded, even our rare in-person visits at her care center proved difficult. I reminded myself that I was there for her, not for me. And that helped. If she connected with a flicker of recognition or a smile or a few words, then I felt grateful. It was always about her. Not me. Always.

Today I feel an emptiness. A void. An absence.

Her public funeral (not something I wanted/supported) did not provide an outlet for my grief. It was not a funeral as usual for me at the height of omicron. I did not stand in a receiving line accepting hugs and hand shakes. That was way beyond my comfort level among the unmasked in a crowded fellowship hall and sanctuary in rural southwestern Minnesota. I felt disrespected as a grieving daughter and nearly did not attend the funeral due to the health risk (to myself and others). But I mustered through, feeling like a masked outsider at my own mother’s funeral. Grief and comfort eluded me on Mom’s burial day because of choices made. And not necessarily just my choices.

Randy and Mom dye Easter eggs in her home in 2014. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2014)

And so here I am today, three months later. Recently I stood before a rack of Easter-themed greeting cards at Dollar Tree. My eyes scanned the labels—for daughter, son, granddaughter, grandson…then focused on “Mom.” And in that moment I felt the pain of losing Mom and I remembered the Easter of 2014 when Randy and I traveled 120 miles to my hometown of Vesta to spend the holiday weekend with her. I recall how she delighted in dyeing eggs, giddy like a child. Oh, to bring her such joy. But that April visit also proved a pivotal point for Mom. We observed her debilitating chronic pain, her inability to get around. Shortly thereafter, she moved into assisted living. Eventually, she would land in the nursing home wing of Parkview, her home for nearly eight years.

One of the many inspirational pieces Mom clipped and saved. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

As I reflect on Mom’s journey, I feel thankful that she lived to age 89, nearing 90. Too many times during her life, we did not think she would survive major health crises. A viral infection in her heart nearly killed her in the early 1980s. Open heart valve replacement surgery followed. She nearly bled to death another time. Pneumonia almost claimed her life years later. A broken neck resulting from a fall placed her in a metro area ICU trauma unit. Countless times we gathered at her bedside to say our goodbyes. But each time Mom pulled through and relief washed over me. Once more.

Did all of those near-death experiences factor into how I feel today about Mom dying? Perhaps. I’d mentally prepared myself and said “goodbye” so many times in the past. Now when I need to grieve, grief feels elusive.

Her name remains in black marker on my whiteboard prayer list. I thank God for bringing her to faith, for blessing me with her as my mother, for the long life she lived.

Her name remains inked, too, in my address book. I can’t bring myself to X it out, for doing so means finality.

I expect prior to Mother’s Day, when I’m standing before the card rack at Dollar Tree searching for a card for my daughter, my eyes will scan the labels then land on “For Mom.” And when that happens, grief will rise. Not in tears, but in the way grief sneaks up on you in the most ordinary of ways and clenches your heart with pain.

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JUST A NOTE: I recognize that grief is a process, one that takes time and differs for everyone. I recognize that many of you are also grieving and that you, too, may have experienced a loss of public comfort and grief during the pandemic. I’m sorry. I understand. I empathize. You are not alone. I care. Others care.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The woods are… April 6, 2022

Inside the woods at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, MN. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

FOR SOMEONE LIKE ME who grew up on the prairie, woods are not a natural fit. I’ve always felt a bit out of place in the density of trees. Uncomfortable even. But time and distance from a landscape of big sky and wide open spaces have eased me into the woods.

A view of the Straight River from Honor Point. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I appreciate woods, as long as there aren’t “too many” trees. I need to see glimpses, even vistas, of openness. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault offers both. Prairie and woods.

Love this quote on a memorial sign at River Bend. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On a recent visit, I followed trails into the woods. And, as always, I noticed the beauty therein. I view the natural world through many lenses. Close-up. From afar. With an artsy perspective. But mostly with a deep appreciation.

This mottling on a tree trunk looks like art to me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

It doesn’t take much to catch my eye, to cause me to pause and reflect. Photograph. Delight. Savor the moment, the scene.

I’m always drawn to leaves in water, here in a melting snow puddle along a trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Loved spotting this patch of green in mid-March. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Tangled branches and blue sky. Beautiful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

If you walk with me into the woods, you won’t fast track from Point A to Point B. Sometimes I go at a rapid pace. But most of the time, I can’t. Because I simply see too much. Poetry in puddled leaves. Spring in a patch of green grass. Abstract art in a mottled tree trunk. Dancers in twisted branches.

It took me awhile to get this focused shot with my zoom lens of a flitting cardinal. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Sights and sounds draw me to linger in the woods. The shrill call of a cardinal and a flash of red cause me to pause. I wait. Listen. Photograph.

The sign pointing to the Turtle Pond, where the turtles had not yet emerged on my March 19 visit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I feel such a sense of wonderment in it all. A peace, too, that comes only from immersing one’s self in the natural world. In the chaos and noises of life, the woods are on this day, indeed, my sanctuary.

TELL ME: How do you react to the natural world?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating poetry: Reflections from a Minnesota poet April 4, 2022

Roses from my husband, Randy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012)

Roses are red,

violets are blue.

Sugar is sweet

and so are you.

RAISE YOUR HAND if that’s the first poem you ever read or heard. My right hand is wildly waving. See it, right there next to a mass of many many hands?

Me, next to my posted poem, “River Stories,” selected for the 2019 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. (Minnesota Prairie Roots November 2019 file photo by Randy Helbling)

Today, April 4, marks day four of National Poetry Month, which celebrates the importance of poetry in our culture and lives. Whether you like or dislike poetry, it holds value as a form of artistic expression, communication, storytelling, endearment…

Many of my poems (plus short stories and creative nonfiction) have been selected for publication in The Talking Stick, an annual anthology published by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am proud to call myself a poet. A published poet. How did I get there? I’ve always loved words, the song of language. Poetry is, I think, a lot like music. It carries a rhythm. A beat. A cadence. That comparison comes from a poet who can’t carry a tune, can’t read a musical note, can’t play an instrument.

A Chamber Choir performs artsongs written from poems, directed by David Kassler. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017)

But in 2017, a chamber choir performed my poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” at two concerts in Rochester. David Kassler composed the music for my poem and six others as part of an artsong project. To sit in that audience and hear those vocalists sing my poem was overwhelmingly humbling. And validating.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at a Poetry Bash. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am a poet.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011)

My poetry has been published in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, anthologies… And in unexpected places. In 2011, my spring-themed poem bannered four billboards in Fergus Falls as part of the Roadside Poetry Project. Other poems have been posted on signs along trails as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride. “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” is currently showcased in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall, Minnesota, in my hometown area.

Jeanne Licari’s absolutely stunning interpretation of my “Lilacs” poem. Her “Lilacs on the Table” is oil on mounted linen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2014)

Some of my poems have inspired art in Poet-Artist Collaborations, been aired on the radio and read by me at poetry readings.

I read poetry at this event at my local arts center in March 2019. I was honored to read with other talented area poets. (Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts)

Even I’m surprising myself at the volume of poetry I’ve crafted through the decades. I never set out to be a poet. It simply happened as an extension of my love of words, of language. And that undeniable need to express myself creatively. Unlike that “Roses are red…” introductory poetry of old, my poems do not rhyme.

My poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” with accompanying photos (center of this photo) in the Lyon County exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the LCHS)

My poetry is like me. Unpretentious. Down-to-earth understandable. Flannel shirt and blue jeans. Honest. Detail-oriented. Rooted in the land with a strong sense of place and a story to be told.

TELL ME: What’s your opinion of poetry? Do you read it, like it, write it? I’d like to hear.

Please click on links in this post to read some of the poems I’ve written.

FYI: Content Bookstore, 314 Division St. S., Northfield, is hosting two Poetry Nights, both beginning at 7 pm. On Thursday, April 7, Northfield poet Diane LeBlanc will read from her latest works. That includes her new poetry book, The Feast Delayed. Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy and poet Greta Hardy-Mittell will read from their latest works also. Hardy’s newest poetry collection, Shelter in Place, just released.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Whispers of history & heritage at Valley Grove March 29, 2022

Valley Grove churches rise over the hill as I follow the prairie path back to the church grounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

ATOP THIS HILL, here on the edge of the Big Woods among acres of fields near Nerstrand, I hear the whispers. Wrapping around the two historic churches. Rising from the cemetery. Sweeping through the tall prairie grasses.

The cemetery sits next to the churches, then rings the old stone church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

This is Valley Grove, overlooking the countryside, the place where Norwegian immigrants came. Here they crafted their first church from stone in 1862, then built a second, of wood, in 1894. Both still stand.

The Valley Grove Preservation Society cares about the land, too, with restoration and preservation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
I spotted swirls of prairie grass alongside a trail. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Dried hydrangea alongside the wooden church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

The churches, cemetery and surrounding 50 acres are today owned, preserved and managed by the Valley Grove Preservation Society. They are a favorite nearby rural destination for me. I appreciate the natural beauty, the history, the country quiet and more. Even the wind.

A view from the parking lot, outside the fenced grounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On a recent March Sunday afternoon I walked the prairie paths, wound among aged tombstones, admired the sturdy churches. And while I’ve wandered these grounds many times and attended community celebrations inside and outside the church buildings, each visit brings new discoveries and reminders of why I love this place so much.

Atop the steeple of the old stone church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I value the rural-ness. On this afternoon, the shrill crow of a rooster, the sharp crack of gunshots and the barks of two dogs running loose broke the silence. In the context of location, the sounds fit. Not that I like gunshots echoing or strange canines circling me. But they did no harm as I continued along the stomped, sometimes soggy grass trail back toward the Valley Grove Cemetery and churches.

Land and sky define the prairie path. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

When following the prairie paths under a wide sky, I hear whispers of the past. Of wheels creaking under the weight of wagons crammed with an immigrant family’s belongings. Of a young mother bent over her baby, singing a soothing song from the Old Country. Of a weary farmer sighing after a long day of breaking the land.

The roofline and steeple of the simple 1862 stone church rise above the rural landscape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

If this place could speak, it would whisper the stories of all those Norwegian immigrants who settled in and around Valley Grove and then gathered on this hilltop location to worship, socialize, celebrate, mourn.

The 1894 church closeup. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
The bell in the wooden church still rings for special occasions. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

On this winter day, the church doors are locked. But I’ve been inside both buildings. They are basic. Simple. Mostly unadorned. The wooden church is still used today for special worship services like weddings. The old stone church serves primarily as a social gathering room. Both are well preserved. Valued.

In the foreground, the back of the old stone church, which sits near the wooden church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Soon four tapestries, woven in the Norwegian billedvev tradition, will grace the walls of the stone church. Minneapolis weaver Robbie LaFleur was commissioned by the Valley Grove Preservation Society to create the art. It features the plants, animals, land, immigrants and churches of Valley Grove. A grant from the National Fund for Sacred Places funded the project. LaFleur’s tapestries will be showcased during a Syttende Mail celebration from 2-4 pm Sunday, May 15.

One of many Oles buried at Valley Grove. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Much art already exists at Valley Grove, within the cemetery. I consider tombstones to be works of art, documentations of lives. The stone markers are many, from aged to recent. Names engraved thereon reflect the primarily Norwegian heritage. Ole. Erik. Einar. Inger. If these tombstones among the oaks could speak, oh, the stories they would tell. Of life in the Old Country. And of life in the New World, of this place, this Valley Grove.

FYI: Please check back for a post about the Valley Grove Cemetery.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Edging toward spring in Minnesota, sort of March 28, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Biking at River Bend Nature Center, Faribault, on March 19. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

GIVE MINNESOTANS A STRING of warm March days like we experienced briefly around the official first day of spring, and we’ll pop out of hibernation in full force.

Note that as I write this, though, snow globe snowflakes descend, layering the landscape and reminding us that, even if the calendar shows spring, in reality it is not. Temps are back into the 30s and 40s after those few days of 50s and 60s, topping 70 degrees.

During that brief hiatus from winter, I observed lots of people out and about while I was out and about. Walkers. Bikers. Babies in strollers. Kids playing in yards. A teen on a hoverboard. And a teen on a skateboard.

Warm weather multiplies the number of motorcycles on the road, too, as they roar out of storage. Note that some bikers ride even in winter, although not during snowfalls.

On that Monday of 70 degrees, I hung laundry on the line and then threw open windows to air out the house. Within minutes of opening windows, the street sweeper crept by, spinning dust clouds. I raced to close street-side windows.

Spring will come. As a life-long Minnesotan, I realize that. It’s just that as I age, winter seems longer. And colder.

TELL ME: Has spring arrived where you live? How do you define spring’s arrival?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling