Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Why I hate traveling around the Twin Cities on a summer weekend August 12, 2013

“OH, THE PLACES you’ll go…you can steer yourself any direction you choose…”

Apparently Dr. Seuss has never driven through the Twin Cities metro on a weekend, especially this last one.

You could not go any direction you chose due to road construction. Everywhere.

On Saturday morning, heading north from Faribault on Interstate 35 and then eventually northwest on Interstates 494 and 94, my husband, son and I encountered gridlock, as in stopped traffic or traffic moving at a 20 mph maximum for mile beyond endless mile. I have never seen the traffic situation this bad in 30 years of occasionally traveling these three interstates.

It all started near Lakeville, where we crept along to the I-35 Burnsville split.

But pity the poor motorists backed up even further as the sound bound lanes of 35 were shut down completely for the entire weekend. After viewing the miles and miles of stopped traffic there, we opted for an alternative route home on Sunday (more on that in a minute).

Back to Saturday morning. Before the river bridge in Burnsville, north bound traffic finally opened up. Yeah. Little did we know…the worst was yet to come.

Not long after exiting 35 onto 494 west bound, which for once was not a harrowing experience of trying to shoehorn our van into traffic, we encountered more delays. Again, road construction is to blame along with the usual heavy weekend traffic. All told, travel time from Faribault to Monticello totaled nearly two hours. Usual drive time is maybe an hour and 20 minutes.

The only two positives in all of this: At least everyone was creeping along, meaning no crazy motorists driving like maniacs and/or weaving in and out of traffic. And roads are being improved.

Four hours later, following a brief stop at a rest stop, we reached our destination, a family reunion in Morris.

The reunion was great (photos of that forthcoming tomorrow). But the thought of returning home through the metro on Sunday afternoon, not so much. We knew the traffic then would be even worse with motorists heading back into the Cities from a weekend up north.

My husband’s oldest sister, after sharing a story of how she and her husband once sat for 40 minutes on a metro interstate on a Sunday afternoon without moving, proved the deciding factor in taking the long back way home. At least we would be moving.

So near St. Cloud, we exited 94 on Sunday and followed Minnesota Highway 15 all the way to Winthrop. Seems other motorists had the same idea. Yeah. But at least we were moving.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault.

Road construction on Minnesota Highway 21 in Faribault. Nothing compared to metro road construction and the major traffic snarl-ups there. Sorry, but I failed to photograph the interstate gridlock.

Five hours later, following a lunch break and a stop to purchase fresh veggies at a roadside stand, we drove into Faribault and, ta da, more road construction. In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen this much road work on major roadways (Minnesota Highways 60 and 21) in my community. Not quite metro area gridlock, but…

DO YOU HAVE ANY stories to share about traffic in the Twin Cities metro this past weekend?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A watercolor photo of an historic Minnesota library

HE’S PULLED INTO the 15-minute parking spot in front of the library on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I wait in the front passenger seat as my husband dashes inside to return a DVD and pick up a book for me.

I am grateful for his consideration, that I am not the one racing up the sidewalk in the rain.

As I watch the rain glide in sheets across the windshield, I notice how the old stone library, with its signature stained glass windows, appears distorted. The colored windows, in soft shades of rose and wheat, seem undefined, as if brushed in watercolor.

In that moment I stretch downward, reaching for the camera bag at my feet, considering that the dreamy scene unfolding before me might just make for an interesting image. Leaning slightly back, I aim my camera lens upward and snap several photos.

I don’t know what to expect. But later, when I upload the images into my computer, I am pleased to see the surreal first frame exactly as I had hoped. Dreamy. Like a painting.

This marks an epiphany for me as a photographer. When I am willing to think beyond the confines of a neat, orderly, precise photo, the unexpected happens. And it’s  magic.

An unedited image of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault as taken through the front windshield of our family car while rain was falling. The unusual hue of the sky is from the tint in the windshield.

FYI: The 1929 Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library, built of Kasota stone, was designed in the Art Deco style by Charles Buckham of Vermont and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anna Buckham gifted the library to the city of Faribault in memory of her husband, Thomas Buckham, a prominent local judge and avid Greek scholar with a special interest in the arts.

Anna Buckham chose a Greek theme for the library which includes a Greek window designed by world-renowned stained glass artist Charles Connick of Boston.

In the library’s Great Room, Alfred J. Hyslop, a former art professor at Carleton College in Northfield, painted four Greek murals depicting scenes from Olympia, Athens, Sparta and Delphi.

And, yes, I really should photograph the Connick window and murals to show you. I see this library, use this library, all the time. I’ve simply grown complacent to its artful beauty.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling