Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Unofficial nasty weather in southwestern Minnesota October 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:06 PM
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Redwood County farmland only miles from my hometown of Vesta. This photo was taken last spring.

ABOUT MID-MORNING TODAY, an e-mail popped into my in-box. “Windy greetings” the subject line read. I clicked.

“Are you blowing away down there too?” wrote my cousin Dawn. “This is just nasty.”

She didn’t explain how nasty, but I can about guess. Dawn lives in Redwood County, smack dab in the middle of the Minnesota prairie—the place of endless fields, wide open spaces and few trees to break the unrelenting wind.

Big skies, wide open spaces and wind are a part of the landscape in southwestern Minnesota, where I shot this cornfield image about two months ago.

And today, from all I’ve read and heard, those winds will blow strong and sustained at 30 – 40 mph, sometimes reaching gusts of 60 mph. Dawn’s right. That’s downright nasty. And scary.

I speak from experience. This past summer I was caught, along with three family members, for 45 minutes in a car in a night-time thunderstorm that packed 70 mph winds. We were on unfamiliar Redwood County Road 5 between Walnut Grove and my hometown of Vesta when the storm hit.

I have never been more frightened in my life. Torrential rain in pitch black darkness pierced periodically by jagged lightning. Winds buffeting and rocking the car, flattening roadside grasses to the gravel shoulders. No radio. No cell phone service. No way of knowing where we were, what lay ahead of us, when the storm would end.

That July night I pressed my head against the back of the car seat in prayer. My 78-year-old mom kept telling us we were in the safest place we could be although I didn’t believe her for a second and I told her so. But I suppose it’s just natural for a mother to comfort her child, even if that daughter is in her 50s.

So…, when you start talking wind, strong wind, I listen. As I look out of my office window now I see the tops of the trees dancing against the backdrop of a dismal, gray sky. Rain is falling. My neighbor’s slender, house-hugging shrubs are swaying, too, and the few leaves left on trees are twisting and turning and spiraling to the earth.

Yet, because I live in a valley in Faribault, in the city, I certainly am not seeing the full power of the wind like my cousin out on the wind-swept prairie some 100 miles away.

My advice to Dawn (who also rode out that July storm in a vehicle) would be this: Do not travel. And, if you must attend your son’s football game tonight, pull on the winter coat, cap and mittens, and anchor yourself to the bleachers.

U.S. Highway 14 slices through the heart of southwestern Minnesota. I wouldn't advise travel if winds reach 60 - 70 mph. I took this photo several years ago during the summer.

READERS, IF YOU have a weather report to share, please submit a comment to Minnesota Prairie Roots. You know how we Minnesotans are—always obsessed with the weather.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A roadside oddity: the Kasota Zoo

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:37 AM
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WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I loved the story about The Three Billy Goats Gruff. Do you remember that tale of the three goats planning to cross a bridge, but first encountering a hungry troll?

The goats, beginning with the smallest, tricked the troll into waiting for the next, and bigger, goat. The third, and largest, goat was so big that he easily tossed the troll into oblivion and safely crossed the bridge.

I’m not sure why I enjoyed that tale so much. Maybe because I owned that storybook and my mom read and reread the words until I had them memorized. Or maybe I just appreciated that three goats could outsmart a mean old troll.

Anyway, because of that childhood literary introduction to goats, I’ve always rather enjoyed these mischievous animals. I find them humorous and cute and naughty all at the same time.

So, when I saw a bunch of goats fenced in at the Kasota Zoo several weeks ago, I had to investigate. Believe me, this is unlike any zoo you’ve ever seen. Propped pallets and a hodge podge of fences corral the 32 pygmy goats at this roadside oddity on the southern edge of Kasota.



The Kasota Zoo, home to 32 pygmy goats.



The goats have plenty of space to roam at the Kasota Zoo.


Toss in rocks and old tires, a bunch of shacks (some covered with tarps) and a few American flags and you have, by far, the strangest, weirdest, oddest, most unusual zoo I have ever visited.



American flag decor adds a patriotic flair to this down-home zoo.


I really question whether this even qualifies as a zoo given I paid no admission and saw no pathways that would take me beyond standing next to the fence watching the goats.

That’s when zookeeper Eugene joined me. I have no idea where he appeared from, but, all of a sudden, there he was. His co-zookeeper, girlfriend Patty, was hunkered down in a lawn chair on the zoo driveway.

I didn’t learn too much from Eugene. He’s not the most talkative fellow. But you can tell he genuinely cares for these goats, which are rotund enough to have eaten a troll or two. His zoo has been here 30-plus years, he says.

He grew up with goats; his dad had milk goats.

But Eugene and Patty raise and care for pygmy goats, which they’ll sell to anyone who wants one.

“Do you have names for all of them?” I ask Eugene.

“That one’s Number 8,” he says, pointing, while I struggle to keep from laughing that a goat would be named Number 8.

But then he picks out Spot and Chucky. That’s more like it, I think—name-names for these inquisitive creatures that have scooted up to the fence to see me.



Eugene and Patty have named all their goats, although I can't tell you the name of this one.


I don’t spend much more time at the Kasota Zoo, just enough for Eugene to tell me that he has a visual impairment and that Patty is legally blind.



Eugene, the zookeeper at the Kasota Zoo, wears thick glasses, but still struggles to see.


I don’t mention a word about trolls to these zookeepers. Not a single word.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling