Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A mostly snowless Minnesota landscape March 2, 2015

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MILE AFTER MILE, westbound across Minnesota, the snow cover diminished.

Near Madison Lake, Minnesota.

Near Madison Lake, Minnesota.

Except for pockets of snow in the shade of trees or buildings, most yards lay bare, dormant grass exposed.

Road and drainage ditches, typically drifted full, gaped crevices in the land.

Farm fields lie exposed in this shot along U.S. Highway 14 west of Mankato.

Farm fields lie exposed in this shot along U.S. Highway 14 west of Mankato.

Fields normally layered white in February rolled out like a stubbled black carpet. Mile after endless mile the snow cover decreased as my husband and I journeyed from Rice County through Le Sueur, Blue Earth, Nicollet and Brown counties before reaching our destination in Redwood County.

Another rural scene between Mankato and Courtland.

Another rural scene between Mankato and Courtland.

Nearly all 120 miles, the wind shoved against the van, creeping inside, chilling my feet and legs, even snugged under a patchwork throw.

The farther west we drove, the more we felt the wind in the wide open spaces, the prairie, the place of my youth. There is no wind like a prairie wind. Ceaseless. Relentless. Fearsome.

On the drive back east later that day, we spotted a column of black in the distance and considered the source of the fire.

Except, as we drew nearer, we saw dust, not smoke. Rising like a super-sized dust devil, a wind-fueled dust storm swept across bare earth. It was almost frightening to witness this storm growing in size, eroding the soil as it raced across acres of farm land.

The landscape appears more like it does in early spring rather than in the heart of a Minnesota winter. This farm place lies between Mankato and Courtland.

The landscape appears more like it does in early spring rather than in the heart of a Minnesota winter. This farm place lies between Mankato and Courtland.

In that moment, I considered how beneficial snow is in curbing erosion, in supplying moisture to the land, in maintaining balance in the landscape.

FYI: These images were shot on the morning of February 21. Shortly thereafter, my camera stopped working. Therefore I have no photos of the dust storm or the landscape beyond Courtland to the west.

My community of Faribault is deep in snow. No exposed earth here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota Faces: Friends February 27, 2015

Portrait 9: Nimo and Nasteho

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

Friends, Nimo, left, and Nasteho.

“They assume I’m a terrorist.”

I’ll always remember that statement shared with me 2 ½ years ago by a then high school senior who asked me to photograph her and a friend at the International Festival Faribault.

Nasteho, a native of Kenya, posed with Nimo for this beautiful portrait of the pair. They were among students volunteering at the fest.

What Nasteho told me that August day in 2012 broke my heart. She’d been subjected to ongoing insults from a customer in her workplace, felt stares at the grocery store, been flipped the bird while driving. All because of the way she dressed, her skin color and her ethnicity.

“There is no respect for Somalis,” she concluded.

I couldn’t disagree with her. I’d heard the negative comments, too, about Faribault’s newest immigrants.

Despite the outright prejudice Nasteho had already endured at such a young age, she did not appear bitter or angry, only desiring of respect and understanding. She seemed wise beyond her years. Poised. Thoughtful. Well-spoken.

I recall thinking, if only those who hold disdain for Somalis could meet Nasteho. They would see her as the beautiful, young and spirited woman I photographed.

It is the personal connections that bridge differences. I believed that then. I still believe that now.


This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A threat that strikes incredibly close to home February 26, 2015

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IT’S A BIT LIKE THE ELEPHANT in the room. Do I write about it or not? To avoid the topic seems akin to closing my eyes and pretending I don’t see that which exists.

“It” would be the terrorist threat against the Mall of America.

I live 45 minutes from the mall, which the Somali terror group al-Shabab specifically names as a possible target for attack in a video released this past weekend.

Tucked away in the north land, most Minnesotans likely have felt secure here, far removed from such terrorist threats.

But I’ve always thought this mega shopping center in Bloomington could be a target for attack by terror groups or individual extremists.

Consider the name, Mall of America. “Mall” represents commerce and trade and, probably in the eyes of those who dislike Americans, consumer greed. And the “America” part of the mall’s name, well, that’s a bonus. Precisely the place these terrorists hate.

The Mall of America draws some 40 million visitors annually. With its 520 plus stores, 50 restaurants, LEGO play area, aquarium, theme park, movie theaters and more, the complex is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, according to the MOA website. Perfect target.

I’ve never been to the mall. I simply have no desire to visit. So, for me personally, I don’t need to consider whether I would feel safe going there now.

But for those planning a trip here, this threat certainly must weigh on minds, consciously or subconsciously. Northfield Middle School recently canceled an eighth grade band trip to the mall. The Orono Middle School likewise canceled a physics class visit.

How about you? If you had a daughter or granddaughter who is crazy about the American Girl doll, would you now take her to the MOA American Girl store?

Would you celebrate a child’s birthday at Nickelodeon Universe®?

Would you tour SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium?

Would you see “American Sniper” in a mall theater?

A friend’s daughter works at MOA. You can bet both mom and daughter now carry a level of concern. Who wouldn’t?

The ever-changing/growing diversity of Faribault High School as seen in this post commencement gathering outside the school.

This photo shows the ever-growing diversity in my community as seen in this gathering after Faribault High School’s 2012 commencement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And I have to wonder about Minnesota’s Somali population. Do they now feel like they are under scrutiny? My own community of Faribault has a significant Somali population. Even before this threat, tension has existed here between some long-time locals and these newest immigrants. I hope this current situation does not heighten tensions.

I have to trust that Minnesota Nice will prevail.

Al-Shabab has also successfully recruited young Somali men in Minnesota to join its cause. That’s already been a major cause for concern among officials and those in the state’s Somali population.

I have to believe that most Minnesotans will stand sensibly strong and watchful in the face of this latest threat.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Snow Minions February 25, 2015

THIS IS HOW MUCH my husband and I know about current day cartoons. We confused these snow sculptures with Sponge Bob Square Pants:


Snow sculpture, Minions close-up


Yes, go ahead and laugh.


Snow sculpture, Minions


Can you see the similarities between Sponge Bob and the Minions? OK, maybe not so much. But to the untrained don’t have kids at home or grandkids yet, the two different cartoon characters do kind of resemble one another.


Snow sculpture, Minions in yard


Kurt Klett recently sculpted these Minions from the Universal Pictures 3-D movie “Despicable Me” in his Faribault front yard. This marks the sixth year he’s created a snow sculpture. Soon he’ll change the heart to a shamrock in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

The “Fight MS” message is Klett’s personal campaign to raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis. He has the disease.

You have to admire a guy who, each year, crafts snow sculptures, especially in a winter like this with minimal snow and plenty of frigid temps.

His artwork brings a bit of fun to a long, cold Minnesota winter.

FYI: Click here to read about the snow sculptures Klett created in 2014 in his yard at 417 Second Street Northwest.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The death of a camera February 24, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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MY CANON EOS 20D died on Sunday.

My trusty fifth eye, my Canon EOS 20D.

My old Canon 20D camera, with a battery grip.

I should have seen this coming, should have been shopping for a different camera. But when you’re in denial, it’s easy to cross your fingers, utter a prayer, hope against hope that everything will be alright and the error message won’t flash again or the camera won’t lock. Again.

But all the hope in the world could not save my Canon DSLR from the graveyard.

My new camera.

My new camera, minus a battery grip, which would have cost me an additional $200. Batteries are $80. I did not get a new lens, although I really wanted one.

I’ve replaced it with a used Canon EOS 7D. I’m not convinced yet that I will keep the replacement as it requires more camera knowledge than I possess. It’s rather like returning to my film 35 mm SLR camera, relearning the basics of shutter speed and f-stops and ISOs. Then toss in white balance and a whole lot of other settings and I’m overwhelmed.

Yes, I got lazy with my 20D and relied on the cheat icons for landscapes, portraits, action and such. I never bothered to learn the manual operations.

But it worked. I was shooting award-winning photos, images that sold to various sources, photos that I liked. The camera was a dependable workhorse during my many years working for a magazine.

Now I’m back at square one. And I don’t like it. I feel unsettled. I don’t like change. Plus, as my husband will tell you, I find it difficult to spend this much money on a camera, even if I need it for work. I am not good at spending money on myself.

Adding to the challenge is the lack of an English language manual. Yes, I can go online and find a manual. But gosh, darn it, when I pay this much for a camera, even if it is used, it should come with a manual printed in a language I can read.

I can take free classes at the place where I purchased my camera. That is a plus. And the saleswoman who sold me the EOS 7D was extremely patient and helpful in instructing me in the basics. Extremely patient.

That’s why, when I returned an hour after I left, she probably wanted to hide in the back room. But, while shooting in the community of Elko on the way home, I noticed a diagonal line across every single frame. Back to the camera store my husband and I zoomed.

Turns out a strand of hair was caught inside the camera.

Is this a sign?

Should I keep my new used camera? Do I just need to give it time and practice? I have 29 days to change my mind.

I have another option. A friend has a Canon 20D, just like my old one. He’s offered to let me try it out. Plus he’s got a cool lens that may interest me. He promises to sell the camera at a better price than anywhere else. Hmmmm.

Your opinions are welcome.

© 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The yellow house February 23, 2015

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You can't miss this bright yellow house along a Redwood County road just off U.S. Highway 14 in Lamberton.

You can’t miss this bright yellow house along a Redwood County road just off U.S. Highway 14 in Lamberton.

WHEN I SEE A HOUSE painted a jolting hue like this bright yellow house in Lamberton, I have questions.


Is this the homeowner’s favorite color?

How have people reacted to this color choice?

What do you think of houses painted in unexpected, bold colors? Have you ever chosen an unconventional traffic-stopping color for your home? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


When roads are slick… February 20, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:46 AM
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THE THUNK JARS my focus from the computer screen to office window.

Through the pane, I notice an overhead wire swaying.

My first view of the crash through my living room window.

My first view of the crash through my living room window.

I grab my camera, always at hand, dash to the living room and focus on a vehicle that has taken out the stop sign.

No need for me to rush outside as several motorists stopped.

No need for me to rush outside as several motorists stop.

I don’t know the circumstances of the crash. But the side street past my corner house feeds into an arterial road. The driver may have curved toward the stop sign and power pole to avoid crashing into traffic during the 8 AM rush hour. And, yes, there are morning, after school and after work rush hours.

Streets are slicked with a layer of fresh snow. Only 10 minutes or so prior, a City of Faribault truck sprayed sand onto the roadway. Even so, these things happen, especially when driving downhill.

The driver documents the scene with his cell phone.

The driver documents the crash scene with his cell phone.

Damage to the vehicle’s front appeared substantial from my sideways glimpse through the window.

A Faribault police officer arrives within minutes.

A Faribault police officer arrives within minutes.

Be careful out there, both on sidewalks and roadways.

A City of Faribault worker removed the downed stop sign and replaced it with a temporary one shortly after the police left.

A City of Faribault worker removes the downed stop sign and replaces it with a temporary one.

Allow extra time to stop, especially at icy downhill intersections.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



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