Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A place of peace for the faithful in Waterville September 30, 2016

 

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I AM NOT of the Catholic faith.

 

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Still I appreciate the strong, artistic visuals that hold great symbolism for those who are Catholic.

 

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On a recent visit to Waterville, I discovered the grotto at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. While there’s no comparison to the renowned Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, this southern Minnesota grotto is worth appreciating.

 

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Here, in this farming community, field stones were harvested and crafted into a religious shrine in 1929 that honors Christ, Mary and the archangel Michael. One can only imagine the labor and love invested in creating this quiet space of prayer and peace.

 

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Nearly 90 years later, this parish still cares for this place. Plants ring the shrine. Stones remain secure. And in 1992, the walls and floors were constructed and a time capsule installed.

 

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Faithful devotion endures through the generations at Holy Trinity Grotto in Waterville. I see that in this shrine.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up on the housetop in Waterville September 29, 2016

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THERE ARE VIKINGS fans and then there are Vikings fans.

 

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When I spotted this ginormous Vikings helmet atop a roof recently in Waterville, just a half block off Main Street, I thought it marked a bar. Waterville seems to have a sizable number of drinking establishments.

But, upon closer inspection, I determined this building is a residence.

There’s a story here.

What story would you spin from these photo prompts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The place to be on a fall Friday evening in Waterville September 28, 2016

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VISIT THE HOMEPAGE of the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown School District and you’ll see team sports photos front and center.

 

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Sports are big in these southern Minnesota communities, as they are in most small towns.

 

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WEM is the home of the Buccaneers, a fitting mascot for Waterville situated on two lakes. Resorts, campgrounds and cabins ring the lakes, drawing locals and vacationers to Sakatah and Tetonka lakes and the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.

 

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But on Friday evenings in the fall, it’s football that brings folks into town to cheer on the champion Buccaneers. Nine seems to be the team’s good luck number with state championships claimed in 1989, 1999 and 2009.

 

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I’ve never attended a football game here, but my husband did years ago when his alma mater, Healy High School, played here. He remembers an uneven playing surface and muck.

 

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Last week, when heavy rain fell and flooded this area of southern Minnesota, the Buccaneers moved their game against Le Sueur-Henderson to neighboring New Prague. But that didn’t deter them. Pirates are, after all, transient, extremely resourceful and not easily intimidated away from their home turf. They defeated the Giants 38-14.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A picture story from small town Minnesota September 27, 2016

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SMALL TOWNS SOMETIMES present images of time standing still.

 

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History lingers.

 

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The past writes in to the future.

 

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Long-time grassroots businesses maintain a presence, some strong, others struggling against the consumer pull to regional shopping centers, to discount and chain stores.

 

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Watering holes still lure in the locals with icy beer and plenty of BS, enough to crank up the town rumor mill.

 

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Signs of change creep in. An aging populace. Technology. New needs.

 

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But always the community webs together, lines interconnecting those who call this place, this small town, home.

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(All of these images were taken recently along two side streets and an alley off Main Street in Waterville, Minnesota.)

FYI: Please click here to read my first post from Waterville. And check back for more photos from this southern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In appreciation of the Sunday afternoon drive: Snapshots from Main Street Waterville September 26, 2016

A recent street scene from small town Waterville, Minnesota.

A man and his dog in a recent street scene from small town Waterville, Minnesota.

SOME MIGHT LAUGH. Others may consider it an activity for old fogies. But I don’t care. I appreciate the Sunday afternoon drive. We all should.

I grew up with the occasional Sunday afternoon drive as a rare diversion from southwestern Minnesota farm life. My siblings and I would pile into the Chevy, Dad behind the wheel, Mom in the front passenger seat. My farmer father would steer the car along rugged township gravel roads, tires kicking a trail of dust. His drive had purpose, focus—to look at the crops.

Today I still study farm fields. But not with the same assessing eye as my dad. My livelihood doesn’t depend on yields from the land.

Still, those semi-leisurely drives taught me something important. They taught me the value of looking and truly seeing, of noticing the details. And they taught me the value of going for a drive.

In the past several years, since we became empty nesters, my husband and I have taken to Sunday (or Saturday) afternoon drives like moths to porch lights. We choose a general direction we want to travel and just go.

A snippet of Waterville's Main Street, including Ron's Hardware, jam-packed with merchandise.

A snippet of Waterville’s Main Street, including Ron’s Hardware Hank, jam-packed with merchandise. You have to see this place to believe it.

A Labor Day drive took us west to the small towns of Elysian and Waterville. We’ve explored both before. But, still there were new details awaiting discovery. I like nothing better than to park the van along the Main Street of a rural community and then walk, camera in hand, documenting the nuances that define a place.

Waterville is the self-proclaimed Bullhead Capitol of the World and celebrates Bullhead Days every June.

Waterville is the self-proclaimed Bullhead Capital of the World and celebrates Bullhead Days every June.

On this day, it was Waterville.

Bullheads Bar & Grill, one of several bars in Waterville.

This low-slung building along Main Street houses Bullhead’s Bar & Grill, one of several bars in Waterville. The name pays tribute to the bullhead, a fish abundant in area lakes.

The food sounds enticing and the prices really reasonable.

The food sounds enticing and the prices reasonable. If I hadn’t just eaten a Sticky Burger (burger with peanut butter and bacon) at Tucker’s Tavern in Elysian…

I appreciate vintage signage like this spotted on a downtown building.

I appreciate vintage signage like this spotted on a downtown building.

Madden's Orchard occupies this corner building next to a community park.

Madden’s Orchard occupies this corner building next to a community park.

And next to the mini park sits this mini building, which is for sale. I peered inside to see a popcorn machine, making this a former popcorn stand.

And next to the mini park sits this mini building, which is for sale. I peered inside to see a popcorn machine, making this a former popcorn stand. What possibilities could you see for this building besides reopening a popcorn stand?

Signage always catches my eyes, especially the vintage signs I often find in small towns.

Signage always catches my eyes, especially the vintage signs I often find in small towns.

Some lovely aged buildings occupy downtown Waterville. This one, left, houses a law office.

Many aged buildings occupy downtown Waterville. This one, left, houses a law office.

I love this simple, bold graphic marking The Cafe.

I love this simple, bold graphic marking The Cafe.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop anchors the corner building next to JC Ryan's Art Gallery. The coffee shop, which I blogged about four years ago, is available for lease. It's named after the

Singing Hills Coffee Shop anchors the corner building next to JC Ryan’s Art Gallery. The coffee shop, which I blogged about four years ago, is available for lease. It’s an inviting shop named after the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, a recreational trail that runs through town from Faribault to Mankato. Waterville is a popular southeastern Minnesota lakeside resort community.

I had a maple bacon sundae when I visited the coffee shop in September 2016. It was closed when I was there this year and, I believe, is closed for the season.

I had a maple bacon sundae when I visited the coffee shop in September 2014. It was closed when I was there this year and, I believe, is closed for the season.

Just walking the dog...

Just walking the dog in downtown Waterville…

You can learn a lot about a small town simply by reading the posters, signs and notices on storefront windows and doors.

You can learn a lot about a small town simply by reading the posters, signs and notices on storefront windows and doors.

TELL ME: Do you take Sunday afternoon drives? If so, why? If not, why not?

FYI: Check back for more photos from Waterville.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Documenting Faribault’s latest flood, the third since 2010 September 22, 2016

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Locals are drawn under the viaduct that links the west and east side of Faribault during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs

Locals are drawn under the viaduct Thursday evening during yet another flood in our community caused by excessive rainfall. Here the Straight River runs over its banks. A flood warning continues until 5 a.m. Friday.

 

THE SCENES ARE ALL TOO FAMILIAR.

 

The water has risen so high that the Cannon River dam is no longer visible next to the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

The dam no longer visible.

 

 

A line of sandbags protect the mill operation and retail store along the banks of the Cannon River.

 

Sandbags stacked outside the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

Police tape runs along the sidewalk on Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Second Avenue between the Faribault Woolen Mill and Faribault Foods.

Police tape.

Several blocks of Second Avenue by the Cannon River are closed.

Several blocks of Second Avenue from Faribault Foods (left), past the Woolen Mill (right) to Caseys General Store were closed. The street runs past the Cannon River.

Roads barricaded.

Onlookers gather at the bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

The bridge entry to Teepee Tonka Park, now flooded by the Straight River.

And locals gathered by the dozens to document the scenes, to see how the mighty Cannon and Straight Rivers have once again overflowed their banks.

 

This Twin Cities news crew, parked near the Rice County Fairgrounds entry Thursday evening, was filming at the Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

A Twin Cities TV crew comes, too, pulled by the current of a news story.

 

Locals headed across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

Locals head across the Faribault Woolen Mill parking lot toward the rising Cannon River.

 

While the gawkers gawk, the sun draws a slim line of gold between grey clouds and glassy water.

 

Three police vehicles pulled into the Faribault Foods parking lot to check on folks checking out the flooded river along Second Avenue.

 

Police and firefighters watch the river watchers.

 

The Straight River rages toward the Faribault wastewater treatment plant.

 

Blocks away the Straight River churns muddy brown, raging under the bridge near the wastewater treatment plant.

 

A hastily built berm and sandbags protect the treatment plant.

 

Truckers haul dirt to construct a make-shift temporary berm protecting this city infrastructure.

 

During past floods, there have been issues with the sewer system.

As in past floods, the city has had to deal with sewer issues. This scene is by South Alexander Park.

Memories of the September 2010 and June 2014 floods linger.

 

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight river close to downtown.

A flooded street by Heritage Park near the Straight River close to downtown.

I’ve walked these roads, these sidewalks, these parking lots, this grass before, documenting the flooding.

 

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River.

In the midst of the flooding, beauty is reflected, here on the Cannon River near the Faribault Woolen Mill.

Still the scenes pull me here, into the quiet of an autumn night for the third flood in seven years.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dealing with flooding in Faribault

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:51 AM
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Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River.

Sandbags protect the Faribault Woolen Mill from the rising Cannon River in this June 2014 file photo. A similar scene is unfolding today.

AS I WRITE, SANDBAGGING is underway at Faribault’s historic woolen mill along the banks of the rising Cannon River.

At noon, the Faribault City Council will meet during an emergency session to declare a State of Emergency in my community. That allows the city to deal immediately with flooding caused by heavy rainfall.

The City of Faribault has issued an emergency alert, ordering motorists not to drive through or around barricades. With two rivers—the Straight and the Cannon—running through town, there are major flooding concerns.

We’ve seen this all before, in September 2010 and in June 2014. My community appears ready as we continue under a flood warning through tonight.

Be safe wherever you are/travel in flooded Minnesota today.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wisconsin’s rural character revealed along State Highway 21

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DRIVE THE INTERSTATE and you mostly miss the nuances of a place.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I photographed this scene along Wisconsin Highway 21, a rural region of the state.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, I photographed this scene along Wisconsin Highway 21, a rural region of the state.

But travel a back county road or a state highway and you begin to see the details that comprise a location. Like rural Wisconsin.

Stuck behind farm equipment along Highway 21.

Stuck behind farm equipment along Highway 21.

Wisconsin State Highway 21 between Tomah and Oshkosh has become a familiar stretch of highway for my husband and me as we travel that route to reach our second daughter’s home in the Fox Valley region. It is a busy stretch of roadway which often leaves us wishing for a quicker, safer east-west route. But options are limited, especially if we don’t want to travel through the Twin Cities metro.

The natural attraction, Castle Rock, juts up from the landscape.

The natural attraction, Castle Rock, juts up from the landscape near Coloma.

So we make the best of it, watching for the cranberry bogs east of Tomah, the Amish between Coloma and Wautoma, the natural wonder of Castle Rock,

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Probably the oldest drive-in along Wisconsin Highway 21, the Milty Wilty has been in business in Wautoma for 70 years.

the Milty Wilty in Wautoma and anything that screams Wisconsin.

Small family farms abound along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Small family farms abound along Wisconsin State Highway 21.

Highway 21 takes us past potato and dairy farms,

Hunting shacks for sale in Redgranite.

Hunting shacks for sale in Redgranite.

past hunting land and the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, across rivers and creeks,

Businesses in downtown Redgranite, one of my favorite towns along Highway 21.

Businesses in downtown Redgranite, one of my favorite towns along Highway 21.

through small towns like Omro and Redgranite,

The names of small town bars, like this one in Redgranite, amuse me.

The names of small town bars, like this one in Redgranite, amuse me.

past bars and churches,

Roadside stands are plentiful this time of year.

Roadside stands are plentiful this time of year. Here’s one in Redgranite.

to roadside stands and Piggly Wigglies.

Posted in a front yard in Redgranite.

Posted in a front yard in Redgranite.

This route reveals so much about the character of Wisconsin. Signs for brat fries. Bars aplenty. Strong opinions voiced in handcrafted signs.

One of my favorite restaurant icons, located in Wautoma.

One of my favorite restaurant icons, located in Wautoma.

Small town diners.

Making silage.

Making silage.

Farming and fishing.

Scenes along Wisconsin State Highway 21 reflect this area's rural character.

Scenes along Wisconsin State Highway 21 reflect this area’s rural character. This is near Coloma.

Travel the interstate and you will miss most of this. But follow a state highway and you will begin to understand a place. Like rural Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Road trip stories: A brief tour of beautiful Baldwinsville, a New York river town September 21, 2016

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Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

Near Syracuse in central upstate New York.

FOLLOWING A SPRING-TIME 3,029-mile road trip from Minnesota to Massachusetts and back, I hold a deep appreciation for warm and welcoming hotel employees. Especially those who direct you to local restaurants.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

On the list of dining options, Suds Factory River Grill.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone's Pub.

Also on the list, Sammy Malone’s Pub.

A desk clerk at the Comfort Inn Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York, handed me a three-page print-out of seven homegrown eateries in neighboring Baldwinsville, complete with addresses, websites, phone numbers and directions, after I inquired about “a good place to eat.” Now that’s what I call outstanding customer service.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

A walking path along the Seneca river in the heart of downtown Baldwinsville.

When my husband and I landed at the Comfort Inn in central upstate New York, I was exhausted. The second leg of our journey began that morning 516 miles to the southwest in Angola, Indiana. Except for 1 ½ hours lost in Buffalo, New York, while unsuccessfully searching for Niagra Falls, we’d driven strong and steady along the Interstate. We were in need of food and a place to stretch our legs before turning in for the night.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

Welcome to Baldwinsville.

The village of Baldwinsville, population around 7,300, proved the ideal setting to unwind. Located on the Seneca River, it’s a lovely town that reminds me of Northfield, Minnesota, marketed as “A Classic American River Town.” Baldwinsville fits that definition, too, but uses the tag “Lock Into an Experience.” That plays off the Erie Canal’s Lock 24 located in Baldwinsville, I learned after our visit.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

An example of the historic architecture downtown. Lovely.

Historic buildings fill the downtown. Restaurants border the river. Nature and commerce mesh in an inviting way.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening late May.

Fishing the Seneca River on a Friday evening.

In the waning light of a lovely late May Friday evening, Randy and I followed the river, dodging both geese and their droppings. We crossed a bridge to check out the restaurant options and to simply walk. The area teemed with people. Dining. Walking. Fishing. Baldwinsville has a this-is-the-place-to-be vibe.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

Pedestrians, including me, covered our ears as a fire truck screamed through downtown.

In their busyness, though, folks paused when a fire truck rumbled through town, siren piercing the evening ambiance and shaking the bridge upon which I walked.

Strong brick buildings like this grace the downtown.

Strong brick buildings grace the downtown.

 

This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

This mural at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar plays on the New Orleans BBQ and soul food served there.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Had I not been so hungry and weary, I would have checked out the church shown here.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

Another mural at Muddy Waters.

I admired the aged brick buildings with arched windows, the steepled church half a block away, the murals at Muddy Waters Kitchen and Bar. I wished I had more time to explore Baldwinsville.

The B'Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

The B’Ville Diner was packed with customers waiting to be seated.

Eventually we ended up at B’Ville Diner, an old-fashioned 1950s style diner that’s been around since 1934. Recommended by hotel staff, the eatery, at least for us, proved more about the experience than the food. We needed an affordable meal. B’Ville offered that in a nostalgic diner car setting.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Definitely a 50s vibe in the diner.

Randy had a little fun with the waitress, asking for a Beef Commercial—beef between two slices of white bread topped with mashed potatoes and gravy—rather than the Beef Pot Roast sandwich listed on the menu. She looked at him with zero recognition. He explained that in Minnesota, we call this a Beef Commercial. He was disappointed in the dish—clearly not homemade gravy or potatoes. My cheesy chicken sandwich laced with green peppers tasted fine.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner.

The liquor store is across the street from the diner. And, no, we didn’t stop there.

Refueled and refreshed, we headed back toward the Comfort Inn to settle in for the night before beginning the final five-hour leg of our journey east the next morning.

FYI: Periodically, I will feature more posts from my cross country Minnesota to Boston and back road trip in mid-May. Click here to read my earlier posts from Somerville and Medford, Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts following an attack at a Central Minnesota mall September 20, 2016

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A vehicle travels along Interstate 90 near La Crosse in the rain Friday morning. Fog shrouds the bluffs in grey.

A vehicle travels along Interstate 90 near La Crosse, on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi River, in the rain Friday morning. Fog veils the river bluffs.

WHEN FOG DESCENDS, shrouding the landscape in a veil of grey, the value of light magnifies.

Our eyes search for light.

We look for ways to banish the grey, to illuminate our world. We want desperately to find the light and to hold it high.

Events of the past weeks have shaded our skies grey here in Minnesota—first with the discovery of Jacob Wetterling’s remains and now the stabbings of 10 individuals at Crossroads Center in St. Cloud in what appears to be a possible act of lone wolf terrorism.

That both of these major crimes happened some five miles apart in Central Minnesota is pure coincidence. But it is not lost on me that the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jacob nearly 27 years ago and the mall attack on Saturday evening are in the backyard of Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon.

I like to think that Lake Wobegon—the region in which some of my in-laws live—is a pastoral setting of grazing cows, church spires and old-timers playing cards at the Chatterbox Cafe. It is and it isn’t. In today’s world, no place, not even Central Minnesota, is safe.

Even so, we Minnesotans are a strong, determined and resilient lot. We will, through the greyness of these days, search for the light of goodness and of hope. Of that I am certain.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling