Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What a Red Flag Warning means for Minnesota farmers October 4, 2011

Farmers are in the fields harvesting corn (pictured here) and soybeans under extremely dry conditions.

WHEN I HEARD about the National Weather Service’s “Red Flag Warning” for west central and south central Minnesota Monday evening, it was the first time I had heard that terminology.

What does it mean?

Here’s the definition, direct from the NWS:

A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW…OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF STRONG WINDS…LOW RELATIVE HUMIDTY…AND WARM TEMPERATURES WILL CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL.

That’s a strongly-worded warning for those folks living in the communities and rural areas along and west of a line from Alexandria to Fairmont.

Farmers, especially, have to be worried about the fire danger given they are in the middle of harvesting corn and soybeans in tinder dry fields. Mix dry plant material, strong winds and the heat of a combine exhaust, for example, and you have the potential for a devastating fire.

Michael, a southwestern Minnesota farmer who blogs at Minnesota Farmer, writes two days ago about fires he spotted last Thursday while combining beans. Click here to read his October 2 post which explains how blazes start and the resulting, devastating financial impact on farmers.

It’s all too easy for those of us who live in town, even if we grew up on a farm, to forget about the dangers that come with harvest. And this year, the fire danger is particularly high.

The Red Flag Warning remains in effect until 7 p.m. Wednesday.

DO YOU LIVE in the Red Flag Warning area? If so, has there been an increase in the number of fires recently? Please submit a comment and share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meander west this weekend September 29, 2011

WEST WOULD BE my destination of choice this weekend.

Not west as in West. But west as in Fergus Falls or the Upper Minnesota River Valley.

Two arts events in western Minnesota this weekend will take you nearly into the Dakotas.

I’d like to be at the Lake Region Writers Network Conference at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus listening to author Leif Enger (of Peace Like a River and So Brave, Young and Handsome) talk about “place” in writing.

I’d like to be there picking up my copy of Lake Region Review, a literary magazine of regional writing. You see, two months ago I received this e-mail:

Dear Ms. Helbling,

The Editorial Board of Lake Region Review 2011, after careful consideration, has finalized selections for Lake Region Writers Network’s first literary magazine. While editors and readers were pleased with the number of submissions, the sheer volume of entries also made their choices much more difficult.

Regardless, the board is pleased to inform you that the work indicated below HAS BEEN ACCEPTED WITH REVISION for publication in Lake Region Review 2011, which will be released at the LRWN Oct. 1 writing conference at M-State in Fergus Falls:…

But I won’t be in Fergus on Saturday at the conference. It’s a long drive there from Faribault and I have this room to paint and…

…not only that, but back in June my husband and I traveled the 200 miles to Fergus Falls to see my winning entry in the spring Roadside Poetry competition splashed across four billboards near the college.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem.

So I’ll wait for the LRWN folks to send me a copy of their literary magazine, which I’m mighty pleased to be a part of because, well, any time you win a highly-competitive contest judged by others of literary talent, it’s an honor.

I’LL HAVE TO WAIT until another year also to attend an arts event that’s long been on my list of “things I want to do.” That’s Meander—Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl. Thirty-three art studios featuring the work of 45 artists will be open during a free self-guided tour that begins Friday (2 p.m. – 6 p.m.), continues into Saturday (9 a.m. – 6 p.m.) and ends Sunday (9 a.m.– 4 p.m.).

This event is happening in the Minnesota River Valley region of western Minnesota near the towns of Ortonville, Appleton, Madison, Milan, Dawson, Montevideo and Granite Falls. It’s beautiful land—prairie and fields, rock and woods, rivers, small towns, farms…

The region seems a mecca for artists, which doesn’t at all surprise me given I’m a southwestern Minnesota native. Something about this land fosters creativity. Remember my earlier mention of Leif Enger and his focus on place? At the writers’ conference in Fergus Falls, he’ll “look at how geography of a tale infuses it with gravity, wit and credibility.”

I suspect place, as much as anything, influences the photography, paintings, pottery, fiber art, woodworking and other art created by those artists featured in the Meander.

Meander featured artist Kerry Kolke-Bonk of Appleton created the painting, "What goes around comes around," to promote this year's art tour.

According to economic impact information I received from Kristi Fernholz, Community Development Planner for the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, the Meander brings in an average of $1,652 in art sales per artist (2010 and 2009 statistics).

Last year, art sales during Meander weekend totaled $69,395. In addition, attendees infuse the area with more money spent on food, lodging and other shopping.

I won’t be one of those shoppers this year. But you could be. If you have an open schedule this weekend, consider a trip west, as in western Minnesota.

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FYI: Click here for more information about Meander—Upper Minnesota River Art Crawl.

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Click here for more information about the Lake Region Writers Network. If you would like to purchase a copy of the first-ever Lake Region Review with my poem (sorry, not going to yet divulge its title), send $10 plus $3 for shipping and handling to:

Lake Region Writers Network, P.O. Box 356, Battle Lake, MN. 56515

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Click here for more information about Roadside Poetry.

© Text and photos copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Benson theatre hosts screening of Midwest thriller, Munger Road July 26, 2011

The DeMarce Theater, a long-time business in downtown Benson in western Minnesota.

NEARLY SIX MONTHS after Tim and Susie Kletscher purchased the historic DeMarce Theatre in downtown Benson, they are hosting the screening of a Midwest thriller that just could hit the big-time.

Munger Road, written and directed by Nicholas Smith, debuts to the public at a 7 p.m. showing on Thursday, July 28, with a second show at 9 p.m. and repeat shows on Friday evening.

A promotional poster for Munger Road's screening in Benson.

“I’m extremely excited. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us, our theater, and Benson,” Tim Kletscher says. “I feel really honored to have this chance. At this point it’s an independent film done by a ‘rookie’ movie writer and director, but there’s a really good chance that it will be shown in many theaters and DVDs will be sold.”

The PG-13 movie, shot in and around Smith’s native St. Charles, Illinois, is based on an urban legend about a supposedly haunted stretch of rural Munger Road. As versions of the story go, the ghost of a little girl killed on train tracks along the road still haunts the site as does a farmer who lived on a farm near the tracks.

The movie version focuses on four teens that go missing along Munger Road the night before the annual Scarecrow Festival.

St. Charles really does have an annual Scarecrow Festival—this year October 7 – 9—during which Munger Road will premiere. Actor Bruce Davison, with popular film credits like Six Degrees of Separation and X-Men, stars in the movie.

For now, the Kletschers get the honor of the first public screening in their western Minnesota theatre, which was recently updated with a new digital

Another poster promoting the Illinois-based thriller.

projection and surround sound systems and a silver screen.

The couple got their lucky break because Munger Road executive producer Jeff Smith, Nick Smith’s dad, grew up in Benson and graduated from Benson High School in 1973. The Smiths have many close friends and family in Benson and a nearby family lake cabin where they are currently vacationing.

“Originally, Jeff Smith, wanted to do a private showing for his friends and relatives.  I wasn’t supposed to advertise it, discuss it, tell about it, or anything with fear that it would jeopardize their movie company opportunity,” Tim Kletscher says.  “Then, he called back a week later and wanted to screen it to the public. He needed to start generating revenue, so they could start getting it in the hands of ‘mini-major’ film companies. I told him I’d do all I could to get as many people here to see it as possible. So, I’ve been pounding pavement and flapping my jaw about it since…trying my hardest to drum up excitement.”

That promotional groundwork has also included airing the movie trailer before every Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 showing at the DeMarce Theatre and doing interviews with area media.

Kletscher is hoping for big crowds to fill the 320-seat theatre. He’ll have Munger logo, “I survived the Drive” t-shirts, designed by Nick Smith, for movie-goers to purchase. Before the film starts, Nick Smith will address the audience and ask them to later evaluate the movie on comment cards. “They really want to hear what average people say about it,” says Kletscher, who has been in nearly daily phone contact with the Smiths and recently met them.

He’s impressed with the personable father-son, whom he terms “down-to-earth, Midwest guys.”

“Nick’s been rolling with the Hollywood guys, but he hasn’t lost his roots,” Kletscher says. “He’s unbelievably talented.”

It’s that hometown connection which led the Smiths back to Benson to screen their thriller. “The city of Benson means a great deal to my family,” a promotional poster reads. “We are very proud…”

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Tim and Susie Kletscher’s purchase of the DeMarce Theatre in February, click here to read an earlier blog post. Also, go to the DeMarce Theatre Facebook page by clicking here.  For the record, Tim Kletscher is my cousin and an elementary school teacher in Benson.

Text © Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo and posters courtesy of Tim Kletscher

 

Lunch at the Viking Cafe June 15, 2011

The Viking Cafe in Fergus Falls.

“We r eating at the viking café in fergus falls,” I texted.

“Oh boy,” she texted back.

Oh, boy, indeed.

Typically I don’t text while dining because I consider such phone usage rude. But my husband and I had arrived in this western Minnesota community within the hour and I wanted our three kids to know we’d gotten there safely. I figured the Viking message would amuse them.

Only the middle daughter, who lives in Wisconsin, texted back. The second daughter was busy with a wedding and the teenage son opted to ignore the message.

We didn’t explore any other noonish eating options in Fergus Falls. When we drove downtown, I hadn’t even mentioned the Viking to Randy. But my spouse spotted it and pulled into the one available parking space practically in front of the restaurant.

It was only then that I told him I had read about the Viking in Tasty Foods along Minnesota’s Highways. This was meant to be.

Kim Embretson confirmed our decision. I had never met Kim until that moment, when I stepped from the car, saw him strolling toward us and figured he looked like a local.

“Is that a good place to eat?” I inquired after approaching him and learning that he was, indeed, from Fergus Falls.

Kim praised the Norwegian-American restaurant, suggesting we try a daily special such as the meatloaf, hotdish or a pork or beef sandwich and the homemade soup. He got me right then and there. I’m a soup lover. The vegetable soup sometimes includes rutabagas, something typically not found in veggie soup, Kim said.

And when I asked about sites to see and things to do in Fergus, Kim pointed us to the wine and panini bar, The Spot, across the street; to the art fair around the corner; to the Kaddatz Galleries in the next block; to the river walk; and, because I asked, to the kitschy otter statue in Adams Park. He even gave us specific directions to the park and directed us to the metal goose sculpture at the Otter Tail County Historical Society.

Fergus Falls tourism people, Kim rates as a fine, fine spokesman for your community. He gave us more details than I’ve written here. Every town should have someone so enthused about where they live.

As a side note, he also cheered the Roadside Poetry Project, which was the specific reason we traveled to Fergus—to see my winning poem splashed across four billboards.

The well-marked Viking Cafe, established in 1967.

I was getting downright hungry, so we thanked Kim for his suggestions and walked toward the Viking Café, which has been around since 1967. Prior to that, another restaurant was housed in the building beginning in the 1930s or 1940s, depending on your information source.

Enter the Viking and you feel like you’ve stepped back in time.

The view, once you step into the Viking Cafe. The lunch counter is on the right. A viking ship is suspended from the ceiling. Swords and shields adorn the walls in a viking-themed decor.

Two rows of ramrod straight wooden booths define this long, narrow eatery anchored on one side by an old-fashioned lunch counter. The place even has a candy counter, for gosh sakes, and an oversized bubble gum machine tucked into a corner next to the coat/hat racks.

Napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers sidle up next to ketchup bottles on tables.

Stools line the lunch counter stretching nearly the length of the cafe.

A Norman Rockwell print hangs on the wall by the coat racks and bubble gum machine right inside the cafe entry.

An old-fashioned candy counter at the front of the viking-themed restaurant.

Primary restaurant seating is in these vintage wooden booths.

Waitresses hustle to booths at an almost frantic pace, taking orders and delivering our food in the short time it takes me to circle the room once snapping pictures. Randy has ordered the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy and a side of peas with a mini strawberry shortcake for dessert. I’ve selected a bowl of vegetable soup and a roast beef sandwich on whole wheat bread slices.

I’m typically not a fan of meatloaf, but even I like the meatloaf sampled from Randy’s plate. We agree that his food and my soup, which includes a homemade dumpling, and my sandwich qualify as  simple, good comfort food at reasonable, reasonable prices—$6.40 and $6.95 for our respective plates.

Our food: meatloaf with mashed potatoes and vegetable soup with a beef sandwich.

But it’s the atmosphere, more than the food, which I appreciate about the Viking on this Saturday. From the wooden booths to the well-worn tile floors to the viking décor to the lunch counter, especially the lunch counter stools, this café evokes simpler days. You cannot help but feel better for having eaten here, having experienced this slice of Americana where a cell phone feels so much out of place.

Menus are stacked on a counter below a shelf of viking decor.

Another view of those lunch counter stools, looking from the back of the cafe toward the front.

Looking from the back of the cafe, which is semi dark (for photos), toward the front.

CAFE BONUS: If you need to use the facilities, you will have to walk downstairs to the basement. That’s where I discovered this little gem, at the bottom of the stairs. I think this piece of memorabilia should be moved upstairs, where the dining public can view, maybe even use, it.

A character reading machine which apparently reads your character based on your weight, or something like that.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Prairie poetry in Fergus Falls June 12, 2011

SATURDAY MORNING MY HUSBAND and I hit the road, heading north on Interstate 35 and then west on Interstate 94 to the west central part of Minnesota.

This was our destination:

It's approaching noon on Saturday, and we've nearly reached our destination, Fergus Falls.

Because of this:

The first of my four Roadside Poetry billboards in a stretch of ditch along North Tower Road in Fergus Falls.

I got word last Monday that my winning Roadside Poetry Project spring poem will come down on June 17, to be replaced with a summer poem. (Click here to read a previous post about my poem.) So if I wanted to see “Cold earth warmed by budding sun sprouts the seeds of vernal equinox” and my name—all sprawled across four Burma Shave style billboards—we had to get our butts up to Fergus Falls.

So we did, making the 200-mile trip this weekend under big skies that stretched all the way to the Dakotas.

After a few stops, including a swing into Melrose to view an historic Catholic church (more on that in another post), we eventually reached Exit 54 into Fergus some 3 1/2 hours later. We followed Highway 210/West Lincoln Avenue, turned onto North Tower Road and drove past the NAPA Auto Parts store before reaching those poetry billboards. I mention NAPA because Randy works at the NAPA store in Northfield as an automotive machinist and we found it interesting that my poems just happened to be right down the road from the Fergus NAPA store.

We passed right by the NAPA store to reach my billboards just down the road.

When Randy pulled to the side of North Tower Road by my billboards, I determined this was not the safest place to park. So we pulled into the Fastenal parking lot and then descended the steep ditch, wading through tall, and wet, prairie grasses—sweet clover, June grass, alfalfa—and more than a few thistles.

Our shoes and jean legs were soon soaked with moisture. But, you know, that really didn’t matter. I was so focused on viewing my four-line, spring-themed poem and on taking photos that the wet feet and denim seemed more a nuisance than anything worth fretting over on a glorious early Saturday afternoon.

And so, billboard by billboard, we worked our way down the road ditch, stopping by each sign for photos. Eventually I handed the camera over to Randy, who managed to figure out how to turn on the camera, focus it, compose and snap some pictures.

Me posing by the last of the four billboards with my spring poem.

This may be the first and last time my poetry, and my name, will be on billboards, so I savored every letter, every word, every line, every billboard...

Then I snapped this image of my husband, who had plucked a spear of prairie grass and slipped it into his mouth. The frame marked one of those quick clicks of the camera that resulted in a photo that you could never recapture given its spontaneity.

A sweet shot of my husband as he walked away from the final billboard.

I’m uncertain how long we worked the road ditch along North Tower. But long enough to appreciate that this spot on the edge of town, under a sky that always feels bigger, wider, on the open prairie, perfectly fit a poem written by me, a southwestern Minnesota prairie native.

I crouched to capture this image which focuses on the road ditch prairie grasses.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling