Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A must-see: The beauty of autumn in rural Rice County October 7, 2021

Just days ago color tinted trees edging a cornfield in rural Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

THE MUTED AND VIBRANT HUES of autumn mix in the rural Rice County landscape, creating stunning seasonal scenes. If you crave color and harvest, this is your moment to get out for an afternoon country drive.

Choose a gravel road, any gravel road, and see where it leads you, here past fields and trees turning color. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Randy and I consider our county a best-kept-secret-place to view fall colors. Last weekend we traveled mostly gravel and county roads from Faribault to the Nerstrand area and back and then west to Kelly Lake. In between, we stopped for a hike at Caron Park, a picnic lunch at the hilltop Valley Grove churches and then for apples at Apple Creek Orchard.

Harvest is well underway in Rice County. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As farm-raised kids—me in southwestern Minnesota and Randy in central Minnesota—we find ourselves drawn to the countryside, especially during spring planting and then again during fall harvest. Our weekend drives updated us on harvest progress as we passed fields of corn and soybeans. Some picked. Some still drying under the intermittent autumn sun.

Even under partly sunny skies, the colored hillside of trees were beautiful. This is on a gravel road (Falk Avenue) off Rice County Road 20 northeast of Cannon City. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Across an expanse of cornfield on County Road 84/Falk Avenue (just off County Road 20 between Cannon City and Northfield), we paused to admire a treeline in the distance. We return here each year to simply stop and appreciate the hillside aflame with the hues of autumn.

Entering the woods on Farmers Trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Likewise, we also follow nearby Farmers Trail, a remote gravel road (off Falk Avenue) which winds through woods. Primarily maples as evidenced by the colors and by the blue maple syrup tube collection system that weaves through the trees.

The beautiful treeline at Caron Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Caron Park, too, draws us to stop and hike into the woods. It’s a less-crowded option than the nearby popular Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The treeline at Caron Park, behind an open field of muted, dried grasses, is particularly stunning.

A family walks through the woods at Caron Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We walked into the woods, following a leaf-covered, eroded dirt trail that made me uncomfortable and unsure of my footing. Tree roots presented potential tripping obstacles. I focused more on staying upright than anything. Yet, despite that, I enjoyed the quiet and beauty of the woods. As did others, mostly young families.

We came across this farmer raking hay, like a scene from the past. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

As we continued to follow country gravel roads, we sometimes drove in clouds of dust trailing pick-up trucks. That, too, reminds me of my agrarian upbringing. Yes, nostalgia often seeps into our view and our conversations. Once a farm girl/boy, always a farm girl/boy. Even if we’re decades removed from the farm.

Beauty in autumn ruralness. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

I love how the rural countryside of Rice County often sweeps in valleys and hills, providing incredible vistas. Of farmland. Of wooded and open hillsides. Of land and sky connecting. All connected by gravel roads. This rural setting rates as particularly stunning in autumn.

The treeline across Kelly Lake is particularly beautiful in autumn. It should be even prettier than this soon. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

We ended our drive at another favorite fall destination, the public boat landing at Kelly Lake northwest of Faribault. The view of the treeline across the water—which was unusually clear—always looks particularly lovely, although the colors were not at their peak yet during out stop. Soon.

Appreciating the trees overhead while hiking in Caron Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021.

Heading back into Faribault toward home, I admired, too, how beautiful the trees in my community. Seventh Street. Second Avenue. There’s much to be said for looking in your own backyard for autumn’s glory. And I’ve found it. Right here, in Rice County.

FYI: Please check back for more photos from our country drive and for separate posts on Valley Grove churches and Apple Creek Orchard.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of autumn September 23, 2021

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Colorful oak leaves at Mission Park south of Crosslake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

DAYS AGO I SWITCHED out the art in my home to autumn scenes. To reflect the changing season.

I stitched this crewel embroidery art in the 1970s from a kit gifted by an aunt and uncle. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

I leaned two paint-by-number autumn landscapes, acquired several years ago in Detroit Lakes, atop a vintage chest of drawers. I exchanged an old mill scene for a rendition of a river winding through flaming orange woods in an interchangeable print my parents received as a 1967 housewarming gift. I hung a crewel embroidery piece I stitched of a multi-hued treeline set against a mountain backdrop. It was a 1974 high school graduation gift from my Uncle John and Aunt Sue. And I placed, too, a mammoth print of Robert Woods “White Mountains and Aspens” purchased for a few dollars at a garage sale in Medford.

“White Mountains and Aspens” by Robert Wood. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

Every piece of art I own—and I have a lot, acquired mostly at garage sales, thrift stores and recycled art sales at bargain prices—means something to me. Some is personal. But others simply inspire me or give me peace or take me into nature, as does most of the art now decorating my home.

It’s as if I’m bringing the outdoors in.

Outside, autumn eases into the landscape with oranges, yellows, reds and browns painting over green leaves. I noticed that especially last week on a short get-away to the central Minnesota lakes region where Randy and I stayed for several days at a family lake cabin south of Crosslake. We hiked into the woods at Mission Park and I found myself stopping often to photograph the leaves and the abundance of wild mushrooms. I’ll showcase images from that park soon. But for today, you get this solo image.

Take time to step outdoors. To walk in the woods. To appreciate the beauty of autumn as she paints color into the landscape. I welcome these September days. The cool mornings and evenings. The sunshine that warms the day. The earthy scent of the outdoors. The changing colors that delight me visually, that make this season so beloved to me.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Expressing gratitude in Northfield May 28, 2021

Thankful for… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

GRATITUDE IS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE. Feeling grateful takes effort. If you disagree, that’s OK. Maybe gratitude comes naturally for you. But, for most of us, I don’t think that’s true.

Rocco, The Gratitude Tree, just outside the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

That’s why I appreciate projects like The Gratitude Tree. Outside the Northfield Public Library, colorful tags sway in the wind on the branches of a small tree. The Gratitude Tree. And on those slips of paper, people have answered the question, “What are you grateful for?”

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I paused to read the responses, which seemed mostly focused on thankfulness for family, friends and others. That doesn’t surprise me, especially after this past year of separation due to COVID-19. Most of us crave human connection. We’ve missed our families, friends, co-workers…

A plastic container at the base of the tree holds tags and a Sharpie for writing notes of gratitude. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

It’s important to acknowledge that. To say it. To write it. To embrace this feeling of longing to be with people.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I’m grateful we’re at a point in the pandemic where those of us who are vaccinated can reclaim our lives. It feels good. Really good. I can hug my second daughter now. I can feel comfortable being out in public among other vaccinated individuals. I feel grateful for that.

The Gratitude Tree, outside the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

And I feel grateful for The Gratitude Tree, an ongoing project of Nika Hirsch of This Life Rocks. Nika is a young girl from Northfield who deals with social anxiety and selective mutism. Despite those challenges, or maybe because of, she chooses to connect with her community in positive ways. She’s previously hosted The Gratitude Tree and also The Giving Tree (a collection point for winter gear). She also paints stones with uplifting messages.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

We can all learn from Nika, a role model for community service and positivity. She inspires. She uplifts. She causes us to pause and think. To focus on the good in life. To see the reasons to smile, to feel happy, to give thanks.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

TELL ME: What are you grateful for?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

April observations from my Minnesota backyard April 23, 2021

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Oh, to see the trees leafing out…a sure sign of spring in Minnesota.

SPRING IN MINNESOTA brings depth to the landscape. A richness of color. Months of grey and brown fade, replaced by pops of vibrant hues in spring flowers, by vivid blue skies, by bursts of green in leafing trees.

My backyard shows all those signs of spring. As I hang laundry on the line on an April morning with a lingering nip of cold, the sun shines bright. The shrill voice of cardinals pierces through the steady noise of traffic.

Tulips color my yard.

Around the corner, next to the house foundation, 18 red and yellow tulips await the shifting of the sun. Soon they will “open their mouths,” as my now 30-something daughter assessed as a toddler.

Soon ferns will unfold in fullness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the same flowerbeds, ferns rise from the earth. Soon to fill the space, to wave in the wind with a rhythm that seems poetically beautiful.

Oh, the light on these hosta leaves…

Hostas erupt in clusters of green leaves that will eventually spread wide.

Soon the bleeding hearts will bloom. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And in three spots along the fence, bleeding hearts emerge, buds already forming on one plant.

This week has proven hard on plants with morning temps in the 20s. Tulip heads and bleeding heart buds drooped, bowing to the cold. They’ve since rebounded.

The reality of spring in Minnesota is fickle. One day sunshine and warmth, the next snow flurries and cold. I never quite trust, even in April and into early May, that winter has exited. We’ve experienced May snowstorms and certainly plenty in April. Snow shovels remain at the ready.

The greens of trees and of grass and plants seems particularly vivid in spring.

But for today, I believe in spring. I see it. Overhead in the greening of trees against the blue sky. Below in the push of plants through the cold soil. And in my spirit, I feel a renewed sense of optimism, a joyfulness that comes in this season of hanging laundry on the line with the sun beaming bright.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The greening of Minnesota May 3, 2020

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THIS TIME OF YEAR—early spring in southern Minnesota—I become a tree watcher.

 

 

That may sound odd to an outsider. But to us Minnesotans, who’ve come through another winter, watching trees leaf into a canopy of green doesn’t seem all that strange.

 

 

You can almost see the buds grow and leaves unfurl, a process now well underway. Green tints the skyline. And with warmth and sunshine, those once dormant trees are beautiful to behold.

 

 

Likewise the hillsides are awash in green with plants pushing through the cold earth.

 

 

And tulips open petals, popping vivid hues into the landscape. This is spring in Minnesota. Lovely. In color and in warmth.

 

These tulips from Paula in Holland are popping color into my life. They are in full bloom now in three vivid hues. Just beautiful!

 

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in the land. (Solomon’s Song of Songs 2:11-12 NIV)

 

© Copyright 2020 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

 

The season of autumn in images & words October 23, 2018

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AS LEAVES SPIRAL IN BURSTS of wind to the ground, the season of autumn nears the exit here in Minnesota.

 

 

We are all cognizant of that impending departure. The farmers as they hurry to harvest crops. The squirrels as they gather and hide walnuts. And those of us who still have yards to prepare for winter.

 

 

I feel that pressure. To get the leaves raked,

 

 

the flowerbeds cleaned, flowerpots emptied,

 

 

the tabletop fountain hefted above garage rafters.

 

 

I wish for more days of cobalt skies, sunshine blazing warmth onto my back as I rake leaves, stuff them into trash cans.

 

 

 

 

I wish until I realize that by wishing, I am missing the season. So I grab my camera and turn it toward the maple leaves on the solo tree in our backyard, toward the woods edging our property, even to the neighbor’s bare branched trees.

 

 

Of course, I wish I could slow time, grab back summer days, hold onto each leaf stem yanked by the wind. But I can’t.

 

 

Every season brings its joys, its sorrow, its light, its darkness. That is a given. I can yearn for another season. Or I can choose to embrace the season in which I am living.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another look at storm damage in Faribault, in & near my neighborhood September 25, 2018

Trees felled by the Thursday evening storm block the entrance to Wapacuta Park up the hill and within a block of my home.

 

AS CLEAN-UP CONTINUES in southern Minnesota, the National Weather Service has now identified 10 tornado tracks, five of those in my county of Rice. The strongest, an EF2 tornado with winds of 111- 135 mph, occurred in Morristown some 10 miles to the west of Faribault. Folks in that small town lost homes. The remaining nine were identified as EF1 tornadoes with winds of 86 – 110 mph. The nearest tornado occurred northwest of Faribault in the Roberds Lake area up to Interstate 35 by the Faribault airport, which was destroyed.

 

One of many fallen trees along about a two-block section of Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

The damage in Faribault neighborhoods, including mine, was apparently caused by straight-line winds/downbursts. Sunday afternoon Randy and I drove along Fourth Avenue Southwest, a few blocks up the hill from our home. It is one of my favorite neighborhoods with a tree-lined street fronting many stately old houses. The area has always reminded me of the beautiful homes along Lake Harriet in south Minneapolis.

 

Fallen trees, limbs and branches edge Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

A tree yanked from the ground along Fourth Avenue Southwest.

 

More fallen trees along the avenue…

 

Now the landscape of perhaps two blocks of Fourth Avenue looks much different with so many trees fallen or damaged. In many parts of Faribault, there is no evidence that a storm ever hit. I’ve seen only widespread pockets of damage that affect a block or two or three, no more.

 

Taking a pause from tree removal Sunday afternoon near the Wapacuta Park playground.

 

Evidence of energy crews working in my neighborhood for 1 1/2 days to restore power.

 

A look at damage to a neighbor’s property where a tree landed on his garage.

 

Chainsaws buzz as folks and tree removal services continue with clean-up.

 

We piled branches from a large fallen limb onto the boulevard for city pick-up next week. Our friend is keeping large hunks of wood (stacked on our driveway) for firewood.

 

Sunday afternoon Randy and I focused on our own backyard, where a large branch broke off a neighbor’s tree and fell into in a small wooded section of our property. It didn’t hit our garage. But limbs loom above a neighbor’s house. Randy cut branches while I hauled them curbside before our friend Steve arrived with a chainsaw. Steve is Paul Bunyan strong with a heart of gold, always willing to help anyone. Anytime. Saturday he led a crew (including Randy and me) removing a fallen tree from our friend Lisa’s house where three trees uprooted, one landing on her house. Even with 16 people, the job of removing a single tree and branches took several hours.

 

Along Third Avenue Southwest by Wapacuta Park.

 

Sunday Randy and I worked several hours on the fallen limb in our yard. After we were well into the project, I learned that the city of Faribault is doing a curbside tree branch pick-up beginning October 1. But they won’t take anything longer than four feet. Alright then. I may be sorting through the pile…

As I write on Sunday evening, Randy is back at our friend’s house helping Steve load chunks of tree trunk and limbs…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The greening of Minnesota May 23, 2018

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ON A RECENT MAY MORNING, I stepped outside with my aged camera, a Canon EOS 20D DSLR. I hoped to photograph the cardinal I’d heard shrilling within hearing distance. But when I scanned the woods behind my house and the adjoining properties, no flash of red appeared. The sharp song, too, had ceased.

 

 

Instead, I spied a gold finch hidden among the branches of the backyard maple.

 

 

I noticed, too, the green of leaves, how the morning sun danced a rhythm of light.

 

 

No green seems greener than the green of Minnesota in spring. After months of enduring a monotone world of greys, black, browns and white, I need color. Spring gives me that.

 

 

The sky, too, seems bluer, asserting itself with a profound boldness.

 

 

Yet, a softness remains in the landscape, in the unfurling of blossoms dancing in the wind in the light of spring.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of winter in the woods February 27, 2018

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HERE IN THE NORTHLAND, Winter pens poetry upon trees. If only we pause to notice.

 

 

I noticed last week as I photographed the visual poetry that glimmered, layered, clung to tree branches within view of my backyard.

 

 

Freezing rain sluiced ice along branches like strings of diamonds draped upon the woods.

 

 

Then snow fell, icing the same branches in white.

 

 

Darkness emerged later with moody Winter unleashing roiling emotions.

 

 

Tangled. Twisted. Tumultuous.

 

 

But hope shone in the shelter of snowy evergreens, lovely in the gloaming of the day. I observed therein the loveliness a poet sees when words flow from the brain into layers of verses. There’s a feeling of satisfaction, of comfort, of accomplishment. And the light, oh, the light.

 

 

 

The sky, too, the setting for these poems of February, delights. Not when grey. But when blue, oh, so blue.

 

 

This is Winter’s poetry, written here upon the Minnesota landscape, if we but choose to see and read it.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Check back tomorrow for a post that contrasts this one with a wish for Winter to exit.