Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Spring flooding in my home county of Redwood April 30, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:57 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, traveling back to my hometown of Vesta, I noted snow sculpted in some road ditches. This late in April, the scene was unexpected. But then a blizzard raged across southern Minnesota only weeks earlier. And that road ditch snow, hard-packed by prairie winds, had yet to melt in the then 60-degree temps.

 

Nearing Vesta (left in photo) along Minnesota State Highway 19, I saw more and more flooding of farm fields.

 

A view of the flooding from Highway 19 just northwest of Vesta.

 

And just across the highway, more flooding.

 

Beyond the snow, though, I noticed water setting in farm fields. The late significant snowfalls and plugged culverts and tiles likely contributed to the collection of snow melt water in many low-lying areas. It would be awhile, I surmised, before farmers would be working this land.

 

 

The deep blue of those temporary ponds appeals to the poet in me. I see lines of poetry in splashes of blue across an otherwise drab landscape stubbled by remnants of last year’s harvest.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta. That’s my home farm in the distance. There have been times when the river flooded across the roadway.

 

A temporary lake of floodwaters borders my hometown of Vesta.

 

Flooded farmland along the Redwood River on the edge of Vesta.

 

On the south edge of Vesta, within view of the Redwood River, a lake formed as the river overflowed its banks and flooded surrounding farm land. The town itself was in no danger with a hill—rare as they are on the prairie—bordering that end of town.

 

Water spreads easily across the almost tabletop flat landscape, here just north of Vesta.

 

There’s something about floodwaters that draws my appreciation, causes me to stand and just look at the river and recognize its power.

 

These grain bins sit a gravel road and short stretch of land away from the floodwaters of the Redwood River in Vesta.

 

I realize that soon (maybe even as I write) this flooding will be another memory as farmers ready for planting and, in several months, the harvest.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My award-winning water story publishes April 8, 2017

 

 

“Water Stories from a Minnesota Prairie Perspective” has published in southern Minnesota based River Valley Woman’s April issue. My story won the nonfiction category in the “We Are Water” writing contest sponsored by Plum Creek Initiative with the support of The League of Women Voters and River Valley Woman. That honor includes a $250 prize.

I don’t have a hard copy yet, but I viewed the story online. And so can you by clicking here and advancing to page 50 of the April issue. The piece is lengthy per submission guidelines requiring 5 – 12 pages of copy.

No matter how many times I’ve been published, I still thrill in seeing my words out there for others to read and perhaps appreciate. You can find print copies of the magazine in many locations like Mankato, St. Peter, New Ulm, Redwood Falls and surrounding smaller communities. Click here for a complete list.

In reading my story, you will learn of my growing up years on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm, the place that shaped me into the person, writer and photographer I’ve become. Farm life as I remember it from the 1960s – 1970s no longer exists. So this story, while written for a competition, was also written for me and my family. There’s an importance in reclaiming memories through written words, in telling the stories that define a place, in sharing my roots with you, my readers.

FYI: Click here to read my first blog post about winning this writing competition.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Weaving memories and thoughts into a winning water story March 2, 2017

AS SOON AS I READ the first six words of the email—I am so pleased to announce—from Plum Creek Initiative, I knew I had won.

I finished reading the good news, then burst out the kitchen door into the garage. “I won! I won! I won!” I shouted. My husband gave me a questioning look. “I won the contest.”

 

From the Plum Creek Initiative Facebook page.

From the Plum Creek Initiative Facebook page.

 

And then I explained. My nearly six-page “Water Stories from a Minnesota Prairie Perspective,” was selected as the winning entry in the nonfiction division of a contest sponsored by Plum Creek Initiative and the League of Women Voters. The placing earned me a $250 prize and publication in a New Ulm-based magazine, River Valley Woman.

 

I photographed these"We Are Water MN" pins in a jar at an exhibit last summer at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter.

I photographed these pins in a jar at an exhibit last summer at the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter. “We Are Water MN,” telling the story of Minnesota water, accompanied a “Water/Ways” exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street Program. I participated in a “When Water Dreams: A Celebration” by reading my poem, “In which Autumn searches for Water.” Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms invited me and other poets to read our water poems, connecting with her photo exhibit, “Water Rights.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Tasked to write on the theme of “We are Water,” I tapped into my growing up years for water memories, weaving in my relationship with water and the importance of water. It worked. I felt really good about the story when I submitted it. But when I read that the sponsors were “overwhelmed with the participation and quality of the submissions,” I doubted myself. I shouldn’t have.

 

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna.

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Here’s what nonfiction judge Renee Wendinger wrote in part about my story: …noted your ability to “retain a balance of idea, craft, and theme resonant to water…[she] reminds us that water is an integral component, making the processes of life possible, a resource we too often take for granted.”

As a writer, I appreciate such specific feedback. This judge, herself a noted author of orphan train fiction and historical nonfiction books, understood and valued my story. That’s reaffirming.

 

Water rushes over limestone ledges in Wanamingo's Shingle Creek.

Water rushes over limestone ledges in Wanamingo’s Shingle Creek. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Writing about water proved much easier than I expected. My stories flowed one into the other, including a reference to Plum Creek. I grew up only 20 miles from Walnut Grove, where author Laura Ingalls Wilder lived along the banks of that rural waterway. I’ve waded in that creek to the Ingalls’ dugout site.

 

The water runs clear in the North Branch of the Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The water runs clear in the North Branch of the Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Plum Creek Initiative, a long-term water quality improvement and women’s leadership program focusing on water quality in southern Minnesota, draws its name from Plum Creek. The organization has launched a pilot program in my native Redwood County to address water quality issues. That pleases me.

 

The Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The Zumbro River in Pine Island. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I am pleased, too, with this opportunity to write on the subject of water in a way that will perhaps make a difference. Two North Mankato residents won the other divisions—Holly Ahlbrecht with her fictional “Weaving the Water” (selected by judge Nicole Helget) and Laura K. Murray with a collection of poetry (selected by judge Gwen Westerman).

FYI: Click here to learn more about Plum Creek Initiative. Read the official contest winners’ announcement on the Plum Creek Facebook page.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of water, in images & words November 11, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna.

WATER. What is it about this compound of hydrogen and oxygen that fascinates us? Or at least me.

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna.

The Straight River churns at the Morehouse Park dam in Owatonna.

The sound of rushing water, like rushing wind, soothes. It comforts me in the sort of way a lullaby can quiet a crying baby. It’s as if that rushing sound is locked away in our subconscious, there before birth. Undeniable, connecting us to the water womb comfort of our mothers.

Wind-churned water bobbed this mud hen along the surface of Lake Kohlmier.

Wind-churned water bobbed this mud hen along the surface of Lake Kohlmier.

Water’s powerful pull extends well beyond the audible. Water sustains us. Physically. Yet more. Visually, water draws us near to watch its movement—flowing, tumbling, rushing, rocking.

The Straight River flows toward the historic Owatonna Public Utilities building.

The Straight River flows toward the historic Owatonna Public Utilities building.

I am captivated by the musical, rhythmic movement of water.

Still, clear creek water in Kaplan's Woods.

Still, clear creek water in Owatonna’s Kaplan’s Woods.

Sometimes a ballad.

Water rushes over the Morehouse Park dam.

The turbulent waters at the Morehouse Park dam.

Other times rock-n-roll.

A close-up of the churning Straight River as photographed from the Morehouse Park recreational trail bridge.

A close-up of the churning Straight River as photographed from the Morehouse Park recreational trail bridge.

Maybe a turbulent county western song of love lost, love found, too much booze and too many late nights. Bluesy. Sad. Hopeful.

I can rest beside a waterfall, a dam, a creek, a river for considerable time, almost hypnotized by the sights and sounds. It’s as if water washes away my worries, sending them downstream, far, far away. I find peace in water.

A creek in Kaplan's Woods.

A creek in Kaplan’s Woods.

Water holds such power.

TELL ME: What power does it hold for you?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Smithsonian & companion exhibits in St. Peter focus on water August 24, 2016

"Water/Ways" prompts me to think about all the uses of water.

“Water/Ways” prompts me to think about all the uses for water and much more.

I FLUSH THE TOILET. Wash my hands. Drink a glass of water. Throw laundry in the washing machine. Shower. Water plants.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something.

I never think about how much water it takes to make something. In this interactive exhibit, I learned that 240 gallons of water are needed to make a single smartphone.

And I never think about it. Water. It’s just always there, flowing from the faucet.

This "Water/Ways" art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

This “Water/Ways” art directs me to the exhibit at the NCHS.

But “Water/Ways,” a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian’s Museum on Main Street program, and “We Are Water MN” are causing me to consider this vital natural resource that flows through every aspect of my days.

The Treaty Site History Center sits along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

The sidewalk curves like a river to the Treaty Site History Center along U.S. Highway 169 on the north edge of St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon I visited the Treaty Site History Center in St. Peter where the Nicollet County Historical Society is hosting joint national, state and local water-themed exhibits through September 25. After that, the Smithsonian show will move to these Minnesota communities: Red Wing, Sandstone, Lanesboro and Detroit Lakes.

Entering the "Water/Ways" exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

Entering the “Water/Ways” exhibit, a collection of informational panels.

What does water mean to you? That question posted on a display panel sets the tone for this exhibit packed with information about water. More than simply words, the panels feature interactive aspects that stretch this beyond a compilation of facts and accompanying visuals.

According to this graphic, 40 states are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. that includes Minnesota.

According to this graphic, 40 states (in red) are expected to experience water shortages by 2024. That includes Minnesota.

What would you lose if you did not have water?

A section of the exhibit shows the most common pollutants in Minnesota waters.

A section of the Minnesota exhibit asks, “What’s in the water? Minnesota’s common pollutants and where they come from.” Visitors can pull the cards from the rack (shown here) and learn about those common pollutants to Minnesota waterways.

What’s in the water?

Visitors share water memories.

Visitors share water memories.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

One way a visitor pledges to protect water.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

This graphic breaks down water usage in Minnesota.

Visitors are encouraged to share their memories of water, to list ways they can protect water, to learn what’s in Minnesota’s water and more. In this state of 11,842 lakes, water covers more than 13 million acres (or six percent of Minnesota), more than any other state. That’s according to a 2010 “Minnesota Water Facts” report I found online from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

I appreciate the "We Are Water MN" aspect of the exhibit.

I appreciate the “We Are Water MN” aspect of the exhibit.

The Minnesota Humanities Center collaborated with the DNR and other agencies in creating the companion exhibit, “We Are Water MN.”

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Vintage ice skates were part of the local portion of the exhibit.

Additionally, Nicollet County infused its water history. The Minnesota River runs through this county with 105 miles of river front land and was instrumental in bringing early settlers to the region. My own maternal ancestors settled in the Minnesota River Valley near Courtland.

In a side room, you'll find Kay Herbst Helms' photo exhibit, "Water Rights?" In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

In a side room, you’ll find Kay Herbst Helms’ photo exhibit, “Water Rights.” In the table display, visitors are asked to pen their thoughts on water.

A photo in Kay Herbst Helms' "Water Rights" exhibit.

A photo of a photo in Kay’s exhibit.

On droplets of water,

On paper droplets, visitors write about water.

Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms brings her photographic perspective to “Water/Ways” with 19 black-and-white water-themed photos in her “Water Rights” collection. Her exhibit, she says, “celebrates water and some of the people who are helping to protect our water rights now and for generations to come.”

Another idea expressed about water.

More ideas expressed about water.

This isn’t the first time Kay has focused on water in photography. She created “Water Vapors” and now “Water Vapors II,” showing through September 30 in the History Center Art Gallery at the Blue Earth County Historical Society in Mankato.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

One of many quotes spark conversations about water.

This quote in the “Water/Ways” exhibit strikes me more than any other:

No water, no life.
No blue, no green.

These panels address the cultural

These panels address how water inspires humanity in our art, music, dance and literature.

What does water mean to you?

BONUS PHOTOS:

"We Are Water MN" pins in a jar at the exhibit.

“We Are Water MN” pins in a jar.

This section directs us to look to the future as it relates to water.

This section directs visitors to look to the future of water.

There's even a section for the little ones to put on a puppet show.

There’s even an area for little ones to put on a puppet show.

More panels, more information to digest.

More panels, more information to digest.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about a celebration I participated in as part of the “Water/Ways” exhibit.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In St. Peter: Celebrating water through dance, poetry & photography August 23, 2016

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the History Site Treaty Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

The southern Minnesota based Rural Route Dance Ensemble performs Sunday afternoon next to a log cabin at the Treaty Site History Center along Highway 169 in St. Peter.

ON THE OTHER SIDE of the log cabin, traffic thrummed in a steady rhythm, the noise sometimes detracting from the five young women dancing barefoot in the grass and from the poets reading in to the wind.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the St. Peter history center.

A Smithsonian exhibit on water is currently showing at the history center.

Still, despite the traffic noise from busy U.S. Highway 169 in St. Peter, the focus remained primarily on “When Water Dreams: A Celebration,” hosted Sunday afternoon at the Treaty Site History Center.

This photo of Swan Lake near Nicollet is one of 19 black-and-white images included in an exhibit by Kay Herbst Helms.

This photo shows a side view of Kay Herbst Helms’ photo of Swan Lake, one of the largest prairie potholes in the contiguous United States. Located in Nicollet County,  the lake covers 14 square miles. I’ll tell you more about Kay’s exhibit of 19 black-and-white photos in a follow-up post.

I was part of that event thanks to Mankato photographer Kay Herbst Helms. Kay’s latest photo project, “Water Rights,” sidebars “Water/Ways,” a Museum on Main Street exhibition organized by the Smithsonian Institution showing through September 25 at the Nicollet County Historical Society host site in St. Peter.

Sunday afternoon, along with other invited southern Minnesota poets, I read “In which Autumn searches for Water,” a poem published four years ago as part of an “It’s All One Water” collaboration in Zumbrota. I clarified before reading my poem that I wrote this when our region was suffering a drought, unlike now when Minnesota has been deluged with rain. Here’s the third verse in my five-verse poem:

But she finds at the pond site, the absence of Water,
only thin reeds of cattails and defiant weeds in cracked soil,
deep varicose veins crisscrossing Earth.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. John Hurd and Susan Stevens Chambers also read their poetry.

League of Minnesota Poets President Christina Flaugher reads her poetry. Christina’s mother, Susan Stevens Chambers, also read, both her poetry and that of Henry Panowitsch. Two others, Craig Nelson and Mira Frank, read the works of published poets, including that of local poet Jim Muyres who was unable to attend.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

Mira Frank reads the works of published Minnesota poets, here from County Lines.

I’ve come to enjoy poetry readings—listening to the rhythm of words penned by those who, like me, are moved to string words together in a lyrical way that touches emotions.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday's event.

This water bottle was sitting in the grass at Sunday’s event venue site.

With water as the theme for Sunday’s celebration, poets read of lakes and rivers, of rain and of drought, of ships steaming immigrants across the ocean, and more.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

An appreciative audience attended the water celebration.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Volunteers taught attendees to fold paper cranes.

Those clustered in lawn chairs, on blankets and standing—some folding paper cranes for the Minnesota State University, Mankato, 1000 Peace Crane Project—focused on the scene unfolding before them.

Water celebration, #47 dancer close-up arms up

 

Water celebration, #49 dancer close-up arms behind

 

Water celebration, #57 dancer with hands together

 

Water celebration, #67 dancers with hands up

 

Dressed in blue, members of Rural Route Dance Ensemble moved with such grace, like water lapping at the shore, waves rolling in the ocean, rain falling from the heavens. I won’t pretend to be an expert in dance; I have viewed few dance performances. But dance, like poetry, is open to interpretation.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

North Mankato poet John Hurd reads.

Life experiences, emotions and more shape poetry—how it is written, read and interpreted.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book.

Susan Stevens Chambers reads from her new book, Good Thunder, Blue Earth.

The poetry readings of Good Thunder writer Susan Stevens Chambers mesmerized me. Susan has a melodic voice that soothes and comforts like the sound of rushing water. Except her words don’t rush. They flow. I especially savored Susan’s selected readings from her recently published compilation of rural-themed poems, Good Thunder, Blue Earth, published by River Place Press.

 

Water celebration, #94 Susan's dress blowing in breeze

 

As this poet read, her long blue dress swayed in the wind and I thought of gentle waves. Of water.

FYI: Check back for a post on the Smithsonian “Water/Way” exhibit, including more information on Kay Herbst Helms’ photography exhibit, “Water Rights.”

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
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