Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A mostly snowless Minnesota landscape March 2, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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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


16 Responses to “A mostly snowless Minnesota landscape”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    It is good to see more farmer adopting low-till methods. It helps hold down the soil and retain moisture… but I’ll bet the pheasants, geese and turkeys are loving this. 🙂

    Wonderful essay.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    More snow poised to fall again this evening and over night. I also heard something about above average temperatures the next 7-10 days. Snow snow go away; come back next season. I am through with Winter. I am especially enjoying seeing the dawn of the new day on the horizon as I commute into St. Paul instead of blackness. Yay Spring!

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    “Ceaseless. Relentless. Fearsome.” So aptly put. The winds have been felt most intimately over the years as I rode West for the annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Sturgis Bike Rally. The winds’ impact varied depending on which bike I was on. My first (a very light weight Suzuki 1400….550# dry wt) did not do well in such gust/cross-winds on I90 and, by the time our arrival destination was achieved, I was totally exhausted. The next bike was the opposite…a very large, heavy Kawasaki ‘Nomad’. It was on the upper end of the weight scale and “floated” down the road with a smooth effortless forward momentum that allowed me to arrive with my energy level in tact. My current ride (’96 HD Heritage Softail) is in between the two for handling and weight…….but Sturgis is not a destination any longer and riding the hills in the Coulee Region has far less wind impact than your prairies. Memories have just now flooded back……..thank you, dear Friend………..

    • You are welcome. I appreciate your unique perspective from the seat of a motorcycle. My husband rode a Harley, until he was hit by a car and the bike totaled. So he will comment occasionally on the challenges weather presents to bikers.

  4. It was interesting while watching the great PBS documentary on the Dust Bowl to learn that it was directly attributable to poor farming techniques, i.e. tilling up those grasslands. Disaster.

  5. Pat in NW Iowa Says:

    I grew up on a farm in the hills of NW Iowa. I have watched for 50 years or more, the removal of trees from waterways and edges of fields all around Iowa and nearby states. There are now many miles of farmland with nothing left to slow down the wind. Something was forgotten in the greed to get more farmland or the wish to make it more convenient to run huge machinery across a field. The land suffers, and then we all suffer. Hopefully, some intelligence will be sparked and bring a remembrance of methods to save our topsoil.

    • I would agree with your observation of disappearing trees and, I might add, draining of natural potholes/sloughs, to gain farmland. I think farmers today are becoming more aware of their need to care for the environment. At least I hope so.

  6. Jackie Says:

    I’m quite saddened by the lack of snow this winter, it feels so….lame! Oh well, I enjoyed your country landscape photo’s, they cheered me up a little bit 🙂

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