Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Saturday, and I’m at the Rice County Landfill October 27, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:11 AM

IT’S ONLY 8:15 on Saturday morning and already this day is not going as planned.

I had hoped to sleep in, meander on to downtown Faribault for the fall festival, where I will sample chili, wander through shops and simply enjoy my day. Later, I will visit art studios on the South Central Minnesota October Studio Tour.

But I will do none of that. Instead, I am dressed in my grubbiest clothes—worn-out jeans, an old T-shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, another sweatshirt, a stocking cap, brown cotton work gloves and tennis shoes. Not exactly “I want to be seen in public” attire.

No one really cares, though. I am at the Rice County Solid Waste Landfill with my husband unloading broken bricks from our should-have-been Cash for Clunkers, hail-pocked, rusty 1988 wood grain-paneled maroon van.

Handful by handful, we remove more than a ton of broken chimney brick from out van into a demo bunker at the Rice County Landfill.

Handful by handful, we removed more than a ton of broken chimney brick from our van Saturday morning.

We are here because we must make hay while the sun shines. Translation: The morning fog has lifted to reveal a rare sunshine-filled sky absent of rain clouds, an ideal day for outdoor tasks.

So we are here dumping the old chimney bricks that have been piled on our driveway for weeks, soaking up the never-ending rain.

“My fingers are cold,” I complain only 10 minutes into the job. Already moisture has soaked through the thin cotton fabric, offering minimal protection from bricks that feel like chunks of frigid ice.

I am flinging bricks from the back of the van like a mad woman. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Bricks slam onto the mud-slicked floor of the cement demolition bunker, scattering upon impact. “We should have brought a shovel, a pail,” I say, chastising myself for failing to think ahead. Next trip.

Twenty-two minutes later we are driving through the muck and water away from the bunker and back to the weigh-in scale. We have just, by hand, deposited 1,300 pounds of bricks here. And now we are on our way home for another van load.

I am rubbing my hands together, trying to warm them as the van’s heater spews warm air. And I am trying not to breathe in the soot that lingers in the van, the soot that leaves an acrid taste in my mouth that won’t go away. We should have worn protective masks.

Back home we pile the remaining bricks into the van, scraping the last bits and pieces from the driveway with a scoop shovel. By 9:44 a.m. we are on the landfill scale, which tells us that we’ve just unloaded another 1,040 pounds of bricks. Finally, we are rid of all the bricks that once comprised a chimney in our house. Thank God for the woman who bought the stacks of unbroken bricks to recycle as landscaping for her garden

As we drive into town, I suggest that we reward ourselves with doughnuts. I am hungry from the hard labor and fresh air. And I need to fuel up for the yard work that lies ahead. We stop at a grocery store bakery where I hope we’ll go unnoticed in our rag-a-muffin clothes. Of course, we run into someone we know, Ray and Donna, looking for pumpkin doughnuts. We decide on caramel rolls, without the nuts, for our still-slumbering teenaged son (who really should be up helping us).

Soon we are home wolfing down those scrumptious caramel rolls, washing away the soot with glasses of milk.

Then it’s back outside to dig up dahlia tubers, plant tulip bulbs, transplant iris. Mud, thick and gummy like paste, sticks to my gardening shovel. The soil, heavy and cold, freezes my fingers. I consider the farmers, who have been unable to harvest corn and soybeans because of the wet conditions. I have nothing to complain about, nothing at all.

I rise from the earth in my mud-stained jeans, swipe my arm under my drippy nose, then head toward the garage. My husband is there, tinkering with the snowblower on this Saturday, when the sun shines, when I’d rather be touring art studios than tossing bricks or digging in the heavy, cold dirt.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling