Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the road in southwestern Minnesota, a photo essay November 25, 2019

Sometimes I photograph scenes in the passenger side mirror, here the grain elevator in Morgan.

 

IF I STOPPED TO PHOTOGRAPH everything that grabbed my interest while on the road, I would never get anywhere. So I’ve learned to shoot on the fly—from the passenger seat and out the windshield or the side window. I set my camera’s shutter speed in sports mode (a fast speed to catch action) and then scan for photo ops.

Photographing in this style calls for a watchful eye, an ability to compose/frame a scene at a moment’s notice and a lot of luck. Factor in dirty/tinted windows and reflections and the challenge is even greater.

 

I often think, this creamery in Courtland would make a lovely brewery. I’m unsure of its use, but I think it’s a residence/apartments.

 

Still, I manage to capture plenty of images that I wouldn’t otherwise get.

 

Courtlands’ Swany’s Pub, left, always draws my eye for the signage.

 

With that background, I take you on the road, westbound toward my native Redwood County. My photo tour begins about 1 ½ hours into this road trip, in Courtland, This small town is a pass-through point for busy US Highway 14. It’s also the home of my maternal forefathers. Not a lot changes in Courtland, although the Crow Bar burned down a few years ago and has since been rebuilt. It’s across the street from Swany’s Pub.

 

The curve of this tire shop draws my focus.

 

The Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm, which I have yet to visit.

 

A billboard near New Ulm advertises Schell’s Brewery’s seasonal snowstorm beer.

 

Continuing west, New Ulm now requires driving through this long river town (due to a major road construction project on Highway 14). I love New Ulm, just not the time it takes to get through the city when you want to reach your destination quickly. The strong German heritage of this place, its natural beauty and a variety of attractions (including Schell’s Brewery) make me a fan of New Ulm.

 

Harvest was in full swing during my most recent trip to southwestern Minnesota a few weeks ago. This is near New Ulm.

 

Once outside the seat of Brown County, the rural landscape continues on the long stretch of roadways to Morgan.

 

Driving through Morgan, a small farming community.

 

Waiting at the elevator in Morgan.

 

I photograph this co-op elevator nearly every time we drive through Morgan.

 

Now I’m back in Redwood County and the familiarity of grain elevators and small town Main Streets.

 

Near Redwood Falls, a grain truck in a cornfield.

 

Photographing breaks the boredom of too many miles between Morgan and Redwood Falls.

 

Driving through part of the business district in downtown Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

 

Redwood always brings out mixed emotions in me. I attended junior high here, the worst two years of my youth due to bullying in school. From both teachers and classmates. Yes, teachers. But Redwood also evokes some wonderful memories of visiting my maternal grandfather, of hiking in beautiful Alexander Ramsey Park (known as The Little Yellowstone of Minnesota) and buying fabric in the basement of the J.C. Penney’s store. I sewed most of my clothes as a teen.

As I photograph these places, I am documenting my life. Not always directly, but indirectly. And if not my life, then the lives and places of those who call southwestern Minnesota home.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shifting seasons November 6, 2019

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The snowy rural landscape in south central Wisconsin last Friday.

 

LAST WEEK I SMUGLY smiled as my daughter shared that 5.5 inches of snow fell in Madison, Wisconsin, where she lives. We’d had none yet here in Faribault.

 

The snowy landscape en route to Madison. The southern Minnesota landscape now looks similar after a Tuesday night snowfall.

 

That changed last night. I awoke this morning to a landscape layered in several inches of snow. So much for my attitude of better you, Wisconsin, than us in Minnesota.

 

Sections of the interstate still showed residual salt brine, or whatever is used to treat icy/snowy roadways in Wisconsin.

 

That all said, Randy and I traveled to Madison the day after their snowfall. Only residuals remained like snow flying off semis, dried salt brine on the interstate, snow in shadowed woods and upon fields, and, in the capitol city, snow atop parked vehicles.

 

The bluffs along the Mississippi River near La Crosse are still autumn beautiful, albeit muted under cloudy skies. I photographed this last Friday.

 

Built into the Mississippi River-side bluff along I-90, Minnesota side, near La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

The beautiful and diverse landscape of southern Wisconsin as photographed from the interstate.

 

Despite Winter’s presence, we saw Autumn in seemingly no hurry to exit the Midwest. Stubborn leaves still clung to hillsides of trees. Rusty remnants of a season that, for me, was way too short this year.

 

From Minnesota to Wisconsin, so many cornfields remain unharvested. This one is in southeastern Minnesota.

 

For farmers also. I observed endless acres of unharvested cornfields during our four-hour drive to and from Madison. Way too much rain has muddied fields and delayed harvest. I feel for the farmers. They’ve experienced a difficult year with excessive rainfall. And now this snow…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota or North Dakota? November 1, 2019

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TRAVELING ALONG INTERSTATE 90 in southeastern Minnesota about 10 miles from La Crosse, Wisconsin, I noticed this sign. And I laughed. I was nowhere near North Dakota. Yet this road sign appeared to indicate otherwise, seemingly directing motorists to North Dakota.

Dakota is a town of some 325 in Winona County, Minnesota just off I-90.

Signs can be simultaneously informative and confusing. I love when I spot such signage to break the monotony of a long road trip.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Just another reason to appreciate Northfield, Minnesota August 6, 2019

On a corner along Division Street in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

WE ARRIVED IN NORTHFIELD to find the city abuzz. Or rather abuzz and resounding with the sound of music.

Randy swung the van into the first open parking spot, surprisingly just off Division Street and a short walk from Bridge Square, headquarters for the Vintage Band Festival. On this lovely August early evening, we headed toward the sound of music, rounded the corner by the post office and observed an audience packing the square and spilling onto the closed street. At that moment I wished for lawn chairs. These obvious seasoned fest attendees brought theirs. Without chairs, we settled onto the curb just a door down from the former First National Bank (now the Northfield Historical Society), site of the famous Jesse James-Cole Younger Gang bank raid. We listened to a few songs before deciding we couldn’t sit like this any longer. Maybe if we were younger…

 

Territorial Brass performs in Armory Square’s green space.

 

From there we aimed toward our destination, Reunion, a new restaurant in town. But first, we decided to check out another concert, this one in the Armory Square green space. Here, Arizona’s official historical brass band performed territorial period music. Territorial Brass band members, dressed in period attire, replicate the music of vintage brass bands in Arizona and New Mexico. And bonus, a vocal soloist, “Violet,” sang along with the instrumentalists. What a delight to hear the band, among some 40 performing during 100 concerts over the four-day Vintage Band Festival.

 

Soloist and band spokesperson, “Violet,” walked through the crowd while singing.

 

After listening for awhile, we left to dine at the new eatery. But, once inside Reunion, we learned the wait would be 45 minutes. I was disappointed, too hungry to wait. Had we known this, we would have reserved a dining spot earlier and awaited the text that our table was ready. Live and learn.

 

Among those listening to Territorial Brass.

 

Anyway, no matter, we appreciated the vintage music that added another reason to stop in Northfield on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

TELL ME: Have you ever attended Northfield’s Vintage Band Festival or a similar vintage band festival?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering Detroit Lakes January 17, 2019

 

IN THE WANING DAYS of October into the early days of November, Randy and I headed four hours northwest to Detroit Lakes, a Minnesota hotbed vacation spot in the summer and early fall. Not in late autumn. But friends offered us the opportunity to stay at a lakeside condo timeshare—something we’ve never done—and we accepted. It was exactly what we needed, to get away to a quiet spot in the off-season, to explore a place we’d never been, to take a break from the routine of life.

 

Randy, outside our lakeside condo.

 

A pair of trumpeter swans takes flight at sunset.

 

 

Despite the cold, we walked along the beach. We delighted in the water fowl, including elegant trumpeting Trumpeter Swans cavorting in the lake outside our condo. We appreciated the peace of not hearing a single emergency vehicle siren during our three-day stay.

 

I love thrift stores, this one in downtown Detroit Lakes.

 

We popped into the Historic Holmes Theatre in a former school building.

 

Local shops drew us in as did the arts center. We picked up fudge and double chocolate malted milk balls at the candy store.

On three evenings we dined out, a treat for us justified by the low cost of our three-night stay.

 

Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

We even participated in 1 ½ rounds of Trivia Night at a local pizza place. Randy endured an accusing glare from a local after reading a text message from our daughter during the competition. He was not cheating, proven by our mostly all incorrect answers.

 

The waterfall at Dunton Locks County Park south of Detroit Lakes.

 

An example of the beautiful pottery created by Mary Laabs at Dunton Locks Pottery.

 

Unfortunately, many of the sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes had already been moved indoors and out-of-sight for the winter.

 

We hiked in a county park and stopped at a pottery place and searched for elusive sunfish sculptures in Detroit Lakes.

Now, months out from that mini-vacation and already in the depths of a Minnesota winter, I remember those days in Detroit Lakes with fondness. And gratitude to those friends who gave us the opportunity to stay in a place on the lake where, bonus, I could even binge-watch HGTV. (By way of explanation, we get only a few TV channels at home and one is not HGTV.)

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Check back for more from Detroit Lakes.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The “real” Fergus Falls as viewed by a Minnesotan December 28, 2018

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A view of downtown Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, New York or Germany, you are likely familiar with the case of a now-fired Der Spiegel journalist who visited Fergus Falls and fabricated a magazine story about this west central Minnesota community and its people. If there’s one thing we Minnesotans don’t like, it’s lies about who we are. How this writer thought he could pen such a piece of fiction and get away with it is beyond my comprehension.

 

The iconic Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, click here to read a post on Bob Collins’ NewsCut blog at Minnesota Public Radio. He offers a good summary. Fergus Falls folks set the record straight with their own investigation of Claas Relotius’ claims in a particularly humorous piece. It’s worth your read.

 

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve been to Fergus Falls. Several times. And I’ve found it to be an artsy community with a lovely downtown and equally lovely people.

 

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls. This is the last of four billboards featuring my poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Heck, I even had a poem posted on billboards there back in 2011 as part of the (now-defunct) Roadside Poetry Project.

 

The iconic The Viking Cafe with its vintage booths and lunch counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I visited several places that endear Fergus Falls to me—The Viking Cafe, Dairyland Drive In, Kaddatz Galleries, Otto the Otter statue and top of my list, Victor Lundeen & Company. Then third-generation print shop owner Paul Lundeen gave me a personal tour of his second floor print shop, showing me lots of vintage art and type. You can bet I was an appreciative visitor given my interest in all things print.

 

Victor Lundeen & Co. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This is the Fergus Falls I saw. Not some backward, gun-toting community of hicks, as portrayed by the German magazine writer.

 

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take a look at my blog posts for my view of Fergus Falls. It’s nothing like Relotius’ fabricated version. And that’s a good thing.

 

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/30/a-photographic-tour-of-downtown-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/06/13/dairyland-an-old-fashioned-drive-in-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/23/touring-a-third-generation-family-print-shop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/22/up-on-the-rooftop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/17/off-i-94-artsy-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/12/prairie-poetry-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/18/my-visit-with-otto-the-otter/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/15/lunch-at-the-viking-cafe/

 

TELL ME: Are you familiar with this story and how would you react if a foreign writer negatively fictionalized your community? Have you been to Fergus Falls? If yes, what’s your perspective of this Minnesota community?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A glimpse of Northfield during the holiday season December 21, 2018

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Outside an antique shop in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

NORTHFIELD RATES AS ONE of my favorite Minnesota cities. It’s a charming/quaint/picturesque river town with a timeless small town feel.

 

Photographed through the front window of Quality Bakery, a snippet of the bakery’s holiday window display.

 

Signage directs families to Santa’s house in Bridge Square.

 

The Christmas tree in Bridge Square brightens the wintry landscape with bold red decorations.

 

For someone like me who prefers rural to urban, a 22-minute drive there with no traffic hassles, visual delights in a historic downtown, an artsy vibe (including sidewalk poetry) and more, make this college city of some 20,000 particularly appealing. Especially at Christmas.

 

Bridge Square in the heart of downtown Northfield.

 

An ornament on that community Christmas tree.

 

Santa’s house, where Santa has always been absent whenever I’ve stopped at Bridge Square.

 

Fancied up holiday window displays, a Santa House and Christmas tree in Bridge Square (the downtown community gathering spot), an annual Christmas Walk, the renowned St. Olaf College Christmas Concert and more transform Northfield into a magical place during the holiday season.

 

 

I recently spent some time Christmas shopping in the downtown made famous by The James-Younger Gang’s robbery of the First National Bank on September 7, 1876. Today that bank building houses the Northfield Historical Society. The museum sits right across the street from Bridge Square.

 

A wagon load of Wisemen awaits shoppers outside an antique shop.

 

It’s not that I like shopping—I don’t. But I’d rather shop in one-of-a-kind local shops than in Anywhere Mall, USA. Northfield offers an abundance of home-grown retail stores.

 

 

There’s a lot of creativity in Northfield. And an appreciation of that creativity. I once participated in a beer poetry reading at a local brewery. How cool is that?

 

Beau inside Marketplace @ 416.

 

Christmas or not, the Americana small town-ness of Northfield endears this river town to me.

 

 

TELL ME: Have you been to Northfield and, if so, what about it appeals to you? Or what town do you find especially charming wherever you live?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling