Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When yet another vehicle strikes another child heading to school October 18, 2017

A teen was struck on busy Second Avenue (pictured here intersecting with Minnesota State Highway 60), several blocks north of this Faribault intersection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

 

IF YOU’VE EVER EXPERIENCED trauma, you understand how a news story can trigger difficult memories.

Tuesday morning a vehicle struck a 13-year-old girl as she crossed a busy Faribault street on the way to her bus stop. Conscious, but incoherent, she was airlifted to a Twin Cities trauma center with unknown injuries.

Now the 54-year-old male driver of the 1998 Lincoln Navigator that hit the girl faces possible charges. According to news reports, he drove his vehicle around the right side of vehicles stopped for the teen at the Second Avenue crosswalk.

When I heard the news, my mind flashed back to May 12, 2006, the date a car hit my then 12-year-old son as he crossed a busy Faribault street on the way to his bus stop.

The similarities end in the commonality of Faribault Middle School students struck on busy streets around 7:30 a.m. while going to bus stops.

My son suffered only minor injuries of a broken bone in his hand, a possible rib fracture and a bump on his head after bouncing off the windshield of a blue 4-door car, possibly a Chevy Cavalier or Corsica. That driver left the scene and has never been found despite police follow-ups on many leads and a $1,000 reward offer (now expired).

In the years since that May morning when fear gripped my heart, I’ve sometimes wondered about that motorist. How could he/she drive away from my boy, just leave him lying on the side of the road? Police suspect, and I agree, that the driver had something to hide, a reason to continue on.

 

 

I still keep a file of email exchanges with police, newspaper clippings, medical bills, insurance documents, the accident report, the reward flier and even handwritten get well cards crafted by children to my son. This incident is part of my family’s history now, part of our story.

I changed on that May morning 11 years ago. I lost some faith in the goodness of people. For awhile I was angry, driven to find the man or woman who failed to stop. I couldn’t understand the lack of compassion and still can’t. But my resolve to find the individual lessened as the years passed, replaced by an acknowledgment that I likely will never have answers.

Still, on days like Tuesday when I hear of another child struck on her way to school, the memories rise, strong and painful.

 

FYI: Click here to read an award-winning poem I wrote about the hit-and-run involving my son.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Random bits of autumn from southeastern Minnesota October 11, 2017

I love Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha, especially in autumn decor. A photo similar to this hangs next to the hardware exhibit in the “Our World” play area at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Hill’s inspired the exhibit. I am honored to have my photo hanging in the museum.

 

WITH OCTOBER NEARING mid-month and days until winter here in Minnesota dwindling, I feel a sense of urgency to observe and experience every nuance of autumn. That often means ignoring outdoor fall chores for a road trip or a walk in the woods or a stop at the apple orchard.

 

Among the many inviting autumn scenes staged in Wabasha.

 

This past Sunday took Randy and me east toward the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, one of my favorite southeastern Minnesota communities. This city knows how to welcome visitors via two months of celebration, coined SeptOberfest. I’ll share two aspects of Wabasha’s focus on fall in upcoming posts. But for today, here’s a photo peak at those nuances of autumn which so endear me to this season in Minnesota.

 

The beauty of rural Minnesota in autumn along a county road east of Bellechester and heading toward Wabasha.

 

I love the vistas of drying corn and soybean fields sweeping across the land.

 

A farm site viewed from Minnesota State Highway 60 in the Zumbro Falls area.

 

I love the flashes of red farm buildings in a muting landscape.

 

My sister Lanae, a floral designer in Waseca, created this autumn scene in her backyard.

 

I love the fall décor that infuses townscapes and gardens.

 

One of several seasonal boutiques in Wabasha. Barton’s Brickhouse Boutique is located across from the VFW.

 

I love the seasonal boutiques offering handcrafted gifts and the scent of pumpkin and apple crisp.

 

We didn’t find fall colors in Wabasha; we were too early. But we spotted beautiful colors in this treeline at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on our drive back to Faribault.

 

In our many years of day trips in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I have found some of the best fall colors in Rice County. This scene was shot from Rice County Road 84/Falk Avenue. The gravel road parallels Rice County Road 20, which is considered the “back road” between Faribault and Northfield. This scene is near the intersection of CR 84 with 154th street.

 

I swapped on my telephoto lens for a closer look at the distant treeline as seen from CR 84. Other places to view wonderful fall colors in Rice County are west of Faribault around the lakes and also in Faribault along residential streets in old neighborhoods, at River Bend Nature Center and from City View Park. I think we have some of the best autumn hues in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I love the hillsides of trees transitioning from green to yellow, orange and red.

 

I shot this image and the four following at River Bend Nature Center late Sunday afternoon.

 

 

I love, too, the individual leaves that wave color in the wind.

 

 

I love drying milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

There’s so much to love about October, except the prospect of winter edging closer.

 

TELL ME: What do you like most about autumn? Feel free to share details about favorite fall destinations.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II from Hackensack: My observations of this northwoods Minnesota town October 10, 2017

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Lucette Diana Kensack, Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart.

 

IN THE HEART OF NORTHWOODS MINNESOTA, in the land of legends and lake cabins, sits a village of some 300 folks. Hackensack. Twice I’ve been here, twice photographing Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, Lucette, who resides along the shores of Birch Lake, and once picnicking along that same lake.

 

 

I’ve never explored this town much except with my camera. But simple observations through a viewfinder can reveal a lot about a place. In Hackensack, I see a hardy northwoods character, a laid-back attitude and a welcoming spirit.

 

The lovely log cabin library right next to Lucette is run by volunteers.

 

Nearby stands Paul Bunyan in chainsaw art.

 

I would love to sample food from the seasonal Butts & Buns BBQ.

 

That rugged character shows in log cabin style construction from lake homes to food truck and in the chainsaw carved wood sculptures around town.

 

 

This seems like my kind of kicked back place where I’d feel comfortably at home in buffalo plaid flannel and jeans. Kids biking along a narrow street with tackle box, fishing poles, bait and net in hand confirm my assessment of a town that appears Mayberry timeless.

 

 

 

Lucette is a tourist attraction.

 

 

Yet, there’s a definite awareness of tourism, of welcoming the temporary residents who arrive here in the spring to open their lake cabins for weekend get-aways, summer vacations and final autumn visits.

 

Hackensack hosts numerous arts-related events including the Northwoods Art & Books Festival and an annual Chainsaw Event.

 

My quick visual perusal of Hackensack certainly doesn’t tell the entire story. But it gives a glimpse of a place appreciated by those who live here. And appreciated, too, by the people who come here to experience the legends, the arts, the food, the sense of place that is so northwoods Minnesota.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TELL ME: If you’ve been to Hackensack, or live or vacation here, how would you describe this community? What should I know about Hackensack?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grieving & some thoughts October 3, 2017

This is an edited image I took several years ago at Valley Grove Cemetery near Nerstrand. I love how the oak stands strong and towering next to the gravestones. It fits the mood of this piece.

 

SUNDAY EVENING I WENT to bed with grief clutching my heart after watching an interview with a Minnesota mom who lost her daughter to domestic violence. Vanessa Danielson was allegedly set on fire by her boyfriend, now charged with her murder.

Monday morning I awoke to news of the largest mass shooting in America’s history with nearly 60 dead and some 500 injured. Once again, grief clutched my heart. Later in the afternoon, I learned that a native Minnesotan was among those shot at the country music fest in Las Vegas. Philip Aurich, a 1999 graduate of Concordia Academy in Roseville, underwent surgery and remained in critical condition at the time of an Academy Facebook posting about his injury.

The feelings that race through my mind, then linger, are ones of anger, of frustration, of grief, of shock, of disbelief. Not again. How can human beings do this to one another, treat each other with such disregard for life?

I’m not asking you to answer that question. Rather, I am asking that you make a positive difference in the lives of others via compassion and care. Listen. Empathize. Offer comfort, hope and encouragement.

In your community, wherever you live—from urban to rural, from Vegas to Minnesota, from prairie to mountain—try to be there for others. We will never stop all of the madness that exists in the world. But we can strive individually to make our neighborhoods, our communities, better places by focusing less on ourselves and more on others. That goes for families, too.

We can choose to speak up when we must. We can choose to be that positive influence for a young person, that encourager for someone in need of encouragement, that light in the absence of light.

The choice is ours, if we are free to make those choices. And not everyone is free. Consider that during October, National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, as a Minnesota mom grieves the loss of her daughter.

Grief still edges my heart. For that mom and for all those who lost loved ones in Vegas.

 

UPDATE 6:15 PM Tuesday: A Minnesotan, Steve Berger, 44, of Shorewood, is among those killed in the Las Vegas shooting. He was a 1995 graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, just a 20-minute drive from my home.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Wheeling Township, Part II: The Little Drummer Boy September 27, 2017

 

 

INITIALLY I FAILED to notice him, so focused was I on photographing Tim Chlan & Friends under the tent at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township’s Germanfest.

 

 

 

But then I spotted the fluorescent yellow sole of a tennis shoe, the thatch of blonde hair and finally the little boy sitting behind the concertina player on the temporary stage floor. His stubby fingers laced drumsticks between splayed legs. He was totally oblivious to my presence. Perfect.

As a photographer, I thrill in moments like this when I have an opportunity to capture a scene that tells a story, that is fleeting and precious and I know will connect with those who see my work.

 

 

 

I fired off about a half-dozen frames before the boy turned his attention from the drummer and noticed me with my camera.

 

 

 

 

I motioned for him to tap his drumsticks on the floor. He hesitated, smiled and tapped, then turned toward his aunt behind him.

 

 

 

 

I saw the flash of communication—his face questioning whether he should mimic the real-life drummer for the unknown photographer. Sensing his aunt’s approval, he resumed tapping the sticks.

 

 

 

What a delight to witness The Little Drummer Boy’s unplanned performance. Moments like these are a reminder of life’s simple joys, if only we take time to see them.

 

Please check back for another photo essay featuring this little guy, this time during a family photo shoot that I happened upon during Germanfest. That will publish in Part IV of my stories from St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What a joy to watch Izzy grow September 15, 2017

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My granddaughter Isabelle.

 

I WONDER SOMETIMES HOW I, a woman who has birthed and raised three children, can find such novelty in the transition of a baby girl into her own person.

 

Izzy stole Grandpa’s lawn chair and settled in for a few seconds.

 

But every time I see my 17-month-old granddaughter, I delight in the new things she can do. Her personality is emerging with each skill learned, each developmental stage reached, each step of independence. And it’s a joy to watch.

 

And then Grandpa found an Izzy sized lawn chair in the garage, saved from when our kids were little.

 

I’ve seen it all before. Thrice. But this is different because I’m not the mom. I’m the so-in-love grandma.

 

My eldest, Amber, helps her daughter with a bubble blower because Isabelle wants to blow bubbles all by herself.

 

This time the let me do it attitude charms.

 

Grandpa stands nearby just in case Izzy needs help. She didn’t.

 

The climbing onto and off an adult-sized lawn chair is not dangerous, but applause worthy.

 

I love this sweet photo of two of my three children (Caleb and Amber) and darling Isabelle back in Faribault for a recent family reunion. Caleb flew in from Boston for a long weekend. Our other daughter, who lives in northeastern Wisconsin, was already gone when I shot this portrait.

 

In my eyes, I see only a sweet little girl whom I adore with a love I never imagined.

 

Getting a 17-month-old and her uncle to sit still is not always easy. But I find the photo still endearing.

 

I love being a grandma.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hints of autumn in Minnesota September 11, 2017

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ALREADY THE EARTHY HUES of autumn brush the Minnesota landscape. Touches of red and orange and yellow tip trees now spiraling leaves onto grass and asphalt and sidewalks.

I delight in autumn, a season I welcome for the crisp nights that birth mornings of warm sunshine. Each day seems a gift to hold heart close.

 

 

Summer memories fly on the wings of butterflies dipping among fading plants—milkweed and goldenrod and petunias drying in pots.

The air carries the scent of corn ripening, the anticipation of harvest approaching, the promise of the yield.

 

 

And in the evening, when the sun slips too soon into darkness, when I close the windows against the overnight cold, I smell still the spicy aroma of chili ladled into handcrafted bowls shaped of the earth. And I am grateful for this season of autumn in Minnesota.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling