Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At Aspelund: Peonies & wine June 9, 2020

Fields of peonies are currently in bloom at Aspelund Peony Gardens, rural Wanamingo.

 

JUNE IN MINNESOTA BLOOMS peonies in shades of pink, burgundy and crimson, others white, bending, swaying in the wind, perfuming the air.

 

Such beauty in the many hues and fragrances.

 

Layered blossoms open to the warm sun, their beauty unsurpassed in the book of old-fashioned flowers, the bouquets of long ago brides—our grandmothers, our great grandmothers.

 

This sign along the gravel road marks Aspelund Peony Gardens & Winery.

 

A lovely pink peony up close.

 

At the bottom of the hill, rows and rows of peonies grow against a country backdrop.

 

In southeastern Minnesota, I’ve found a place where fields of peonies grow. Lovely in their beauty against a rural landscape. Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery northwest of Wanamingo.

 

I love how this grey shed provides a blank canvas for the vivid peonies to pop.

 

Each June, Randy and I drive there to take in the loveliness. To enjoy and smell these flowers that once defined our community of Faribault as The Peony Capital of the World. No more. That title long ago gone, we now find fields of peonies a half hour away.

 

So many peonies…

 

I like to study the peonies from sweeps of flowers to single blooms.

 

Love these vivid shades…

 

Aspelund Peony Gardens sells peonies to the public, in the form of peony plants ordered now and tubers picked up in the fall for planting then. While meandering between the peony rows, I overheard many serious conversations about peonies. I come for the beauty and tranquility found in these acres of flowers.

 

The hilltop vineyard offers a grand view of the surrounding countryside.

 

In this rural setting I find a certain peacefulness in sweeping vistas of the countryside, especially from the hilltop vineyard.

 

Rascal, left, roams among those visiting the gardens and winery.

 

Look at that face. Rascal just makes me smile.

 

Rascal helps Bruce and Dawn Rohl at the check-out/peony ordering station.

 

Rascal the dog greets visitors by barking upon their arrival and then wandering among guests. He adds another layer of back-on-the-farm friendliness.

 

From the bottom of the hill, looking across the peony gardens toward the parking area and winery.

 

On this acreage, at this business, gardeners Bruce and Dawn Rohl—a couple as friendly and welcoming as you’ll ever meet—also craft wine. Randy and I wove our way from the peony gardens onto the tiered deck to order flights of wine, mine tasting of elderberries, raspberries, caramel, apples and cinnamon.

 

The tasting room, far right, opens soon, per allowances under COVID-19 rules.

 

One of my wine samples in a flight of four.

 

In the background you can see part of the tiered deck where guests can enjoy Aspelund wine at tables allowing for social distancing.

 

During our June 6 visit, only outdoor service was available due to COVID-19 restrictions. The small indoor tasting room reopens soon. I’d still recommend sitting outside to experience the rural beauty of this place. I’d also recommend wearing masks when passing near others and when ordering and getting your wine. The Rohls encourage masks. It’s the right thing to do for a couple who so graciously open their rural acreage (yes, they live here, too, in the attached house) and business to others.

 

An aged shed near the vineyard.

 

The next week, probably two, depending on weather, promises to offer excellent viewing of peonies in bloom. The garden is open from 4-7 pm weekdays and from 10 am – 4 pm weekends. The winery is open from noon to 5 pm weekends only. Check the Facebook page for any changes to those times. Above, all, delight in the flowers and savor the wine at Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery, one of my favorite spots to visit each June in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Small town Minnesota: Pretty in pink butcher shop July 24, 2019

 

WHEN I’M OUT AND ABOUT in small town Minnesota, I look for the unique, the interesting, the whatever that makes a rural community memorable.

 

 

A month ago we stopped in Wanamingo to kill some time while waiting for friends to arrive at nearby Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens. Along the main route through downtown, I spotted a local butcher shop, Wanamingo Meats & Catering, aka Blondies Butcher Shop. You can’t miss it.

 

 

Bright pink shutters class up an otherwise non-descript brick building also accented by a pink Holstein cow, pink signage and pots of primarily pink petals.

 

 

And then there’s the message out front: Its (sic) better to have grilled and burned than to never have grilled at all. As a mega fan of grilled foods—thank you, Randy, for grilling every weekend year-round—I agree.

 

 

Blondies Butcher Shop certainly focuses visual attention, exactly the point to draw customers inside this female-owned business. I’ll remember this small town shop next to the grain bins long after I’ve exited Wanamingo.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In rural southern Minnesota: Peonies & wine June 19, 2019

 

UNDER INTERMITTENT GREY SKIES, fragrant blossoms of pink, burgundy, coral, rose and more popped brilliant color into the landscape at a rural Minnesota winery which doubles as a peony business.

 

 

On the deck at Aspelund Winery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

Within miles of the winery, the beautiful landscape of southern Minnesota.

 

If you love the showy and elegant peony, appreciate good wine and delight in the quiet of a countryside location, Aspelund Winery and Peony Gardens (outside Aspelund and to the northwest of Wanamingo) is a must-visit. Randy and I met friends there Sunday afternoon to view the peony fields and to sip raspberry and apple wines.

 

 

 

 

 

It was exactly what I needed—to relax in a beautiful natural setting accented by peonies. There’s still time to tour the farm between noon and 5 p.m. on Saturday or Sunday to see the peonies before their brief blooming season ends. (Check Facebook for updates.)

 

Co-owner Dawn Rohl wears a peacock pin on her denim jacket. The peacock is the winery symbol/mascot.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

 

 

Co-owners Bruce and Dawn Rohl greet visitors to their hilltop location with the welcoming warmth of long-time friends. They are a salt-of-the-earth and knowledgeable couple who work hard to grow magnificent peonies and craft tasty wine. I recommend Rascal Red, a raspberry wine. Below the tasting room, the Rohls develop their wines, the newest an in-progress asparagus wine made from asparagus grown near the vineyard.

 

 

The list of peonies available for purchase.

 

 

During our visit, flower lovers meandered among the peonies, some selecting bushes to buy and pick up to plant in the fall. Soon Bruce will sell his hybridized peonies lining the entry to the tasting room.

 

 

 

 

Whether you’re serious about peonies or wine, or simply appreciate both, this rural Goodhue County winery and peony gardens rate as a unique, enjoyable and ideal way to spend an afternoon in a stunning rural setting among friends. Be sure to pet Rascal, the family dog who can open the door to the tasting room.

FYI: The winery is located at 9204 425th Street, rural Wanamingo (just outside Aspelund). If you take Minnesota State Highway 60 between Kenyon and Wanamingo, you will see a sign directing you to Aspelund, which is basically a church, a town hall and a farm site. Click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the winery and gardens.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The sacred art of Holy Week & of Easter April 21, 2019

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion. I photographed this window at Vang Lutheran Church, rural Dennison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IN MY YEARS of photographing churches, most in rural Minnesota, I’ve grown to appreciate stained glass windows. They prevail in country churches.

 

Jesus’ crucifixion as depicted in a stained glass window inside Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

All tell stories, most biblical. I admire this visual art, this way of sharing scripture and faith that connects beyond words.

 

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church, filled with stained glass windows. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As sunlight streams through the colored pieces of glass, that bold beauty causes eyes to land on the art, to focus on whatever the artist has chosen to depict. Holiness. Reverence. Hope. Eternal life.

 

The women and angel outside the empty tomb on the risen Lord as interpreted on a stained glass window in Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I sorted through my photo files selecting specific stained glass window images that portray today. Easter.

 

This shows a snippet of the center stained glass window in a trio above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

May you see in these stained glass art photos the story of Holy Week and the reason I celebrate Easter—the resurrection of Christ.

 

A photo of Christ’s face from a stained glass window in my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A most blessed and happy Easter to each of you, dear friends.

 

NOTE: As I wrote this post Monday afternoon, I heard breaking news of the devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. While I’ve never been there, my heart breaks for this loss of a house of worship, for the works of art and history and heritage therein. Such a loss causes me to value even more the stained glass windows of the churches I’ve photographed. 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts following a country drive west of Wanamingo March 30, 2016

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Rural Minnesota, 102 barn & cattle

 

WE ALL HAVE OUR PLACE of comfort, the place that brings us peace and allows us to escape, if but for a minute or an hour or a day.

For me, that’s a drive in the country, along the less-traveled back roads of Minnesota.

 

Rural Minnesota, 106 barn and corn stubble

 

I am of the land, of sky and fields and barns and silos and farmhouses. Rural Minnesota shaped me into the person I’ve become. A writer. A photographer. A poet. A keeper of rural life and of small towns.

 

Rural Minnesota, 110 barn & Harverstore silos

 

 

Memories of farm life tuck away in my heart. Doing chores—feeding calves and cows and scooping silage and manure. Walking beans. Picking rock. Gathering around the supper table with my parents and siblings to eat that which we’d grown and raised. Playing in the grove. Racing across rock solid snowdrifts sculpted by the prairie wind.

Life on the farm wasn’t easy. But it was good. Good in the sort of way that comes from working hard and understanding that family and faith come first.

 

Rural Minnesota, 111 house in Aspelund

 

I grew up poor. There were no birthday gifts, except from an aunt, my godmother. A meal was sometimes comprised of a kettle of plain white rice. Clothes were sometimes stitched from feed sacks and most certainly handed down. There was no telephone or television or indoor bathroom in the early years of my life. I went to church and Sunday School every week.

I am grateful my parents were never wealthy in the monetary sense. I would not be the person I am today. It is not important to me to have the newest or latest or best. I am content with what I have. I consider myself grounded and honest and loyal. Down-to-earth. Rooted. I love the land and I love family.

 

Rural Minnesota, 103 barn & silo

 

These are the thoughts that surface when I journey through the Minnesota countryside, when I photograph barns and farmhouses and other rural scenes. I am capturing the essence of the place that shaped me. Land. Sky. Fields. Barns. Silos. Farmhouses. And, yes, my family and my faith.

 

Rural Minnesota, 108 sprawling farmhouse

 

FYI: These images were taken while traveling along Goodhue County Road 30 west of Wanamingo, Minnesota, and in Aspelund, a slight veer to the north. I did not grow up in this area. Rather, I was raised on a dairy and crop farm in Redwood County, on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. My childhood home was nothing like the houses pictured here. Ours was a tiny woodframe farmhouse heated by an oil burning stove in the living room. The kitchen had an interior trap door that led to a dirt cellar. It was cramped. But it was home.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part VI from Wanamingo: A symphony at Shingle Creek March 29, 2016

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Going fishing in the North Fork of the Zumbro River, Wanamingo.

This mom tipped us off to Shingle Creek. She and her son are heading to the river to fish.

IF NOT FOR THE LOCAL MOM we met at Riverside Park in Wanamingo, my husband and I would have missed out on exploring Shingle Creek. We would have driven right over the bridge spanning the creek along Goodhue County Road 30.

On the south side of this road, we followed a path along Shingle Creek.

On the south side of this road, we followed a path along Shingle Creek.

But the mom, who was fishing with her son in the North Fork of the Zumbro River into which the creek feeds, told us about the loveliness of the waterway. She even offered to walk us there. But we declined and listened to her directions—cross the road, climb over the railing and follow the trail.

Lovely Shingle Creek.

Lovely Shingle Creek.

The short route was not limestone covered as she described, but simply a trampled, uneven path through the woods. Decaying leaves, dead limbs sprouting mushrooms, hard earth beneath winter feet aching for this spring-like day in March.

Water rushes over limestone ledges.

Water rushes over limestone ledges.

Only a short distance from the paved county road, we stood on the bank of the creek and watched water spill over limestone shelves, rush along the creekbed, and then tumble and foam over rocks.

Further down, water churn below rocks.

Further down, water churns below rocks.

Churning water mesmerizes me. It is poetry and song and art, a symphony of sights and sounds that carries me away from everyday life to a place of peace. I feel the same watching campfire flames dance in flickers of orange and yellow.

Fire and water. Water and fire.

On this Saturday afternoon in Wanamingo, I experienced the serenity of Shingle Creek. All because a local mom shared this community’s natural beauty with us, just a couple on a day trip 25 miles from home.

FYI: This concludes my six-part series of “from Wanamingo” posts. Thank you for joining me on this tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part V from Wanamingo: Landmarks & oddities March 28, 2016

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Some of the airport luggage carts still remaining in Wanamingo.

Some of the airport luggage carts still remaining in Wanamingo.

MOST SMALL TOWNS possess oddities and landmarks unique to the community. Wanamingo in Goodhue County is no exception.

A few years back, I spotted row upon row of airport luggage carts parked outdoors in a lot on the north edge of town. It was the oddest sight. Only a small cluster of carts remains now. They’re still a mystery to me.

 

Small town Wanamingo, 47 elementary school

 

I am also intrigued by the massive pipes winding along the roofline of Kenyon-Wanamingo Elementary School. Typically, these heating (I presume) pipes run underground. Why are these atop the roof?

 

Small town Wanamingo, 44 butcher shop sign

 

At Wanamingo Meats and Catering, a hot pink sign and hot pink shutters draw attention to this downtown business owned by two sisters. That explains the pink. Butcher shops aren’t typically owned by women. Customers sing the praises of this business on its Facebook page.

 

Small town Wanamingo, 38 Ringo's sign above bar

 

Downtown, I noticed a bar and grill with a seeming identity crisis. A sign high on the building identifies the business as Ringo’s Bar & Grill. But an over-the-door sign banners J B’s Tavern.

I would love to get inside this aged house, to know its story.

I would love to get inside this aged house, to know its story.

On the north end of Main Street, I photographed a hulking old house with a widow’s walk. Surely there’s a story here. I expect the original owner may have been someone of great importance in Wanamingo.

That this portion of the old creamery was saved and posted on a highly-visible corner impresses me.

That this portion of the old creamery was saved and posted on a highly-visible corner along Minnesota State Highway 57 impresses me.

Finally, on the corner of Riverside Park, angles signage for Minneola Creamery. A quick google search tells me the creamery, organized in December 1893, was one of the most successful in Minnesota. In 1908, according to information in History of Goodhue County, Minnesota by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, the creamery manufactured 550,00 pounds of butter selling for $125,000. Oh, the things I learn because I notice and photograph. And because I delight in touring small town Minnesota.

WHAT ODDITIES OR LANDMARKS would I find in your town/city? Let’s hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow as I conclude my “from Wanamingo” series. To read the first four posts in this series, check last week’s archives.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With joy & thankfulness on Easter March 27, 2016

This stained glass window of the women at Jesus' empty tomb rises above the altar at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

This stained glass window of the women at Jesus’ empty tomb rises above the altar at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

This shows a snippet of the center stained glass window in a trio above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

This depiction of the risen Lord centers three stained glass windows above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

He is not here; he has risen!

© Photos copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Scripture text from the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Luke 24:5 & 6

 

Part IV from Wanamingo: Touring Trinity Church March 24, 2016

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Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Second Avenue, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Second Avenue, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

THE LUTHERAN CHURCH STANDS solid on a corner lot a few blocks off Wanamingo’s Main Street. Brick strong. Enduring strong. In the faith strong.

The cornerstone of this ELCA church is dated 1922, to the left in this photo.

The cornerstone of this ELCA church is dated 1922, to the left in this photo.

A cornerstone on Trinity Lutheran Church simply notes LUTHERAN CHURCH 1922. I know nothing more about the history of this congregation, of this building.

The beautiful sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

The beautiful sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

That matters not. For I appreciate churches like this which are lovely houses of worship. For these truly are houses to the families of faithful. Therein, worshipers, if not related by blood, are related by the commonality of faith and lives shared. They truly become family in joy and in grief.

One of my favorite stained glass windows in Trinity is this one of Ruth gathering grain to help support her mother-in-law. The window is partially covered by the balcony.

One of my favorite stained glass windows in Trinity is this one of Ruth gathering grain to help support her mother-in-law. The window is partially covered by the balcony. To me, this window symbolizes deep love and devotion to family.

This trio of stained glass windows rises above the altar.

This trio of stained glass windows rises above the altar.

One of the windows flanking the side of the sanctuary.

One of the windows flanking the sanctuary.

Within the walls of an aged sanctuary like Trinity, visual symbols of faith embrace those who enter therein. Intricate stained glass windows shine the light of grace and of Scripture.

One can only imagine the messages delivered from this sturdy pulpit.

One can only imagine the messages delivered from this sturdy pulpit.

The sturdy pulpit with its handcarved trim looms as a time-honored place for preaching of the Word, the wood dulled by the hands of many preachers.

Balcony pews.

Balcony pews.

Worn pews reflect the history of generations.

Another view from the church aisle.

Another view, this from the center church aisle.

Art, history and a heavenly presence prevail. It is here, within the walls of Trinity. Visually. And in spirit.

BONUS PHOTOS:

The risen Lord centers the trio of stained glass windows above the altar.

The risen Lord centers the trio of stained glass windows above the altar.

A basket holds church bulletins and other worship essentials.

A basket holds church bulletins and other worship essentials.

Church mail slots.

Church mail slots.

A final message for worshipers is posted on a window next to an exterior front door.

A final message for worshipers is posted on a window next to an exterior front door.

FYI: Please check back next week for more posts in my “from Wanamingo” series.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III from Wanamingo: The connection to a beloved hymn March 23, 2016

The Lars Larson log cabin sits next to the water tower in Wanamingo. The information center can be seen to the right

The Lars Larson log cabin sits next to the water tower in Wanamingo. The blue grey structure to the right is the information center.

IN THE UNLIKELIEST OF PLACES, beneath an aged water tower and next to an historic log cabin, an unexpected bit of Wanamingo’s history is revealed. It is typed on sheets of paper sandwiched under Plexiglas in a handcrafted case labeled Information Center.

The song: It Is Well With My Soul.

The song: It Is Well With My Soul. The writer and composer’s names are highlighted in blue.

It is the story of the beloved hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, and its link to this Southeastern Minnesota farming community of nearly 1,100.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.

My lips move in silence as I read the familiar words, the familiar melody chorusing comfort. It is well, it is well with my soul.

The story of the Spaffords and the hymn, along with images, is posted.

The story of the Spaffords and the hymn, along with images, is posted.

I’d never considered the story behind the words. But now that I’m reading about Horatio and Anna Spafford’s personal tragedy, I am deeply moved. The couple lost their four oldest daughters at sea when the Ville du Haure collided with an English sailing ship en route to Europe in 1873. Only Anna survived, cabling her husband, who remained back home on business, with two words: Saved Alone.

During his voyage to see his grieving wife, Horatio penned It Is Well With My Soul. Three years later, Philip Bliss composed the accompanying music.

This sign marks the log cabin.

This sign marks the log cabin.

But what does any of this have to do with Wanamingo? The connection begins about two decades earlier when 14-year-old Anna Larson journeys to Wanamingo Township from Chicago to be with her ill father. Lars E. Larson moved to Minnesota the year prior in hopes farming would improve his health. He died in the spring of 1857, within a year of Anna’s arrival. That same year, Anna, 15, met her Sunday School teacher, 29-year-old Horatio Spafford. In 1861, she married Horatio, a then successful Chicago attorney.

Within 10 years, the Spaffords have four daughters. And then those girls are dead, drowned at sea. Their mother, Anna, survives, kept afloat by a plank until she is rescued.

How many people drive by this log cabin on Main Street in Wanamingo and never stop? We were tipped off by a local to the story I've shared here, thus my husband and I stopped.

How many people drive by this log cabin on Main Street in Wanamingo and never stop? I was tipped off by a local to the story I’ve shared here, thus I stopped.

Having read this story behind the familiar hymn while standing in the shadow of the Wanamingo water tower next to the Larson log cabin, I am moved. I am moved by the faith of Horatio Spafford who, in sorrow rolling like sea billows, penned such profound and comforting words. It is well, it is well with my soul.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for another post in my “from Wanamingo” series. I will take you inside Trinity Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling