Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When yet another vehicle strikes another child heading to school October 18, 2017

A teen was struck on busy Second Avenue (pictured here intersecting with Minnesota State Highway 60), several blocks north of this Faribault intersection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2015.

 

IF YOU’VE EVER EXPERIENCED trauma, you understand how a news story can trigger difficult memories.

Tuesday morning a vehicle struck a 13-year-old girl as she crossed a busy Faribault street on the way to her bus stop. Conscious, but incoherent, she was airlifted to a Twin Cities trauma center with unknown injuries.

Now the 54-year-old male driver of the 1998 Lincoln Navigator that hit the girl faces possible charges. According to news reports, he drove his vehicle around the right side of vehicles stopped for the teen at the Second Avenue crosswalk.

When I heard the news, my mind flashed back to May 12, 2006, the date a car hit my then 12-year-old son as he crossed a busy Faribault street on the way to his bus stop.

The similarities end in the commonality of Faribault Middle School students struck on busy streets around 7:30 a.m. while going to bus stops.

My son suffered only minor injuries of a broken bone in his hand, a possible rib fracture and a bump on his head after bouncing off the windshield of a blue 4-door car, possibly a Chevy Cavalier or Corsica. That driver left the scene and has never been found despite police follow-ups on many leads and a $1,000 reward offer (now expired).

In the years since that May morning when fear gripped my heart, I’ve sometimes wondered about that motorist. How could he/she drive away from my boy, just leave him lying on the side of the road? Police suspect, and I agree, that the driver had something to hide, a reason to continue on.

 

 

I still keep a file of email exchanges with police, newspaper clippings, medical bills, insurance documents, the accident report, the reward flier and even handwritten get well cards crafted by children to my son. This incident is part of my family’s history now, part of our story.

I changed on that May morning 11 years ago. I lost some faith in the goodness of people. For awhile I was angry, driven to find the man or woman who failed to stop. I couldn’t understand the lack of compassion and still can’t. But my resolve to find the individual lessened as the years passed, replaced by an acknowledgment that I likely will never have answers.

Still, on days like Tuesday when I hear of another child struck on her way to school, the memories rise, strong and painful.

 

FYI: Click here to read an award-winning poem I wrote about the hit-and-run involving my son.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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“Frozen” comes to Wabasha’s SeptOberfest October 17, 2017

 

THE WORLD OF ELSA and Anna and Olaf is mostly foreign to me. But to anyone with young kids, those are wildly popular characters from the hit 2013 Disney animated film “Frozen.”

 

 

So it was a smart move on the part of SeptOberfest organizers in Wabasha to theme a straw maze after the movie.

 

 

Set along the main drag through this Mississippi River town in southeastern Minnesota, the “Frozen” Straw Maze features handcrafted characters from the film staged atop straw bales.

 

 

When kids aren’t tracing the winding trail or climbing atop bales, they can rock and bounce on mini horses or scoot down one of two slides propped against bales.

 

 

The “Frozen” maze presents just another fun and engaging free activity for families visiting Wabasha during SeptOberfest. This is my kind of family-friendly small town.

 

FYI: This concludes my three-part series on three key family-focused aspects of SeptOberfest. Click here to read my first post about Zootopia on the RiverFront. And click here to view my post about the Pumpkin Patch. This fest runs until October 21.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Tour Rice County for fabulous fall colors October 14, 2017

Kelly Lake, rural Faribault.

 

WHEN MINNESOTANS CONSIDER best places to see fall colors, they often think of the North Shore and Mississippi or Minnesota River towns. I doubt many think of Rice County.

 

Angling in Kelly Lake.

 

But we have some fantastic colors right here, right now, in this region an hour south of the Twin Cities metro.

 

I switched lenses for a closer view of the Kelly Lake angler and the stunning treeline.

 

Saturday morning, after picking up potatoes and zucchini at the Faribault Farmers’ Market, Randy and I headed north and west out of town on Minnesota State Highway 21 for a fall color tour. Our first turn took us off the highway headed for Kelly Lake. There we pulled into the public access off Kelly Lake Trail so I could snap a few photos in the beautiful mid-morning light.

 

A scene along 175th Street West on the way to French Lake.

 

Fishing French Lake.

 

A section of the French Lake shoreline ablaze in orange.

 

From there we drove toward French Lake, stopping at the public access along 177th St. West. I photographed more anglers fishing in the wind and cold. Already clouds were beginning to push in, greying the skies.

 

Near Roberds Lake.

 

Arriving a short while later at Roberds Lake, even heavier clouds settled in. We wished for sunshine to better showcase the fall colors, but realistically did not expect the veil of grey to lift.

 

Ableman’s Apple Creek Orchard is located at 5524 185th Street West. “Take a left by the smiley face near Roberds Lake” to find the orchard.

 

 

 

 

A turn onto 185th Street West yielded a surprise—Ableman’s Apple Creek Orchard. We stopped for a bulging bag of pie apples, chatting it up with friendly Diane who lives a mile down the road. Before we pulled back onto the highway, I admired the stone foundation on the mammoth orchard barn and photographed a stone still horse.

 

 

A clump of colorful woods southwest of Roberds Lake along Garfield Avenue required another stop on a gravel road.

 

Not much luck fishing Cedar Lake on this Saturday morning.

 

 

 

Eventually we reached Cedar Lake, where boaters were trying their luck—one had fished for three hours with only a single catch.

 

 

 

My eyes swept across the lake to the opposite shore and trees flaming red and orange between those still green.

 

 

As time raced toward noon, Randy steered the van back toward Faribault along Rice County Road 12. Swatches of colorful trees sweep along this stretch of roadway in the distance.

 

 

Eventually we ended up on Cedar Lake Boulevard before connecting with Roberds Lake Boulevard. There, at that intersection, a stunning maple flamed fire against the grey like an exclamation point at the end of our Rice County Fall Color Drive.

 

FYI: If you want to see the fall colors in Rice County, I wouldn’t wait. They likely will not be around for much longer.

Click here to read a previous post about places in eastern Rice County to view the fall colors.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Sweet Land, the musical” proves as memorable & moving as the film October 13, 2017

The program cover from Thursday evening’s performance of “Sweet Land, the musical.”

 

SEATED ONLY ROWS from the intimate stage in an historic Faribault theater, I felt part of the set, part of the scene, part of the story that unfolded before me in “Sweet Land, the musical.”

What a gift to see this St. Paul-based History Theatre performance right here in my community, in the late 1800s Newhall Auditorium on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. I appreciate that History Theatre, through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, is touring this show in Greater Minnesota. Even though I live only an hour from the Twin Cities metro, I don’t attend theater there due to cost and, well, the hassle of driving and parking. Tickets for the Faribault performance were only $20.

 

A promo from the “Sweet Land” film website.

 

I walked into Newhall Auditorium with high expectations. Ali Selim’s independent film “Sweet Land,” upon which the musical is based (and rooted in Minnesota writer Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat”), rates as one of my all-time favorite movies. Filmed in my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, the setting of wide skies and land, naturally draws me in.

But it is the challenges faced by German immigrant Inge Altenberg, come to America in 1920 to marry Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik, that make this story memorable and especially relevant today. As I listened to character Pastor Sorenson warn, “She (Inge) is not one of us,” I reflected on how we welcome, or don’t welcome, immigrants to Minnesota.

 

Faribault native Ann Michels in the lead role of Inge Altenberg alongside Robert Berdahl as Olaf Torvik on-stage at the History Theatre. While the movie was filmed in the Montevideo area of southwestern Minnesota, the musical sets the story farther north in the Park Rapids/Hubbard County area. Photo courtesy of the History Theatre.

 

I was especially pleased that the History Theatre performance did not deviate from the film storyline, following it right down to the cup of coffee brewed by Inge and which the pastor declared too strong for his liking. Details like these are important because they connect with the audience in a relatable way.

Performers also connected via music. A musician even stroked a cello (or maybe it was a bass; I’m uncertain) to mimic the moo of a cow during a barn scene. Music from a violin, piano and, surprise, an accordion, and more followed the storyline plot from fast-paced and dramatic to soulful and reflective.

I felt the intensity of emotions in Inge as she struggled to learn English, in Pastor Sorenson as his voice boomed suspicion from the pulpit, in Olaf as he battled to hold his feelings in check.

My nearness enhanced my experience, especially during a softball game when actors moved off the stage, so close their gloved hands nearly touched audience members. As the musical progressed, I saw sweat sliding down performers’ faces.

During an apple pie making scene, I almost expected the scent of cinnamon to waft through the theater. While it didn’t, I caught the nuances of the interaction between Inge and her neighbor. When Inge called the pie strudel, Brownie corrected her. “No, apple pie.”

That’s the thing about this story, this film, this musical—seemingly subtle exchanges prompt the audience to think, to ponder whether the coffee someone brews really is too strong or whether it is our reactions that run too strong.

 

FYI: “Sweet Land, the musical” is showing at the Sheldon Theatre in Red Wing at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 14, and at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington at 7 p.m. on Sunday, October 15, closing out the tour to communities in Greater Minnesota.

The lead actress role of Inge is played by Faribault native Ann Michels, who gave an outstanding performance to an appreciative hometown audience. The musical is part of the Fesler-Lampert Performing Arts Series offered at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. This marks my first time attending a show here and you bet I’ll be back. The Vienna Boys Choir comes to the historic Faribault theater at 7:30 p.m. on November 16.

Special thanks to my husband, Randy, for gifting me with tickets to “Sweet Land” for my birthday.

 

In the Pumpkin Patch under the bridge in Wabasha

 

MASSIVE MAMMOTH PUMPKINS sprawl across brick and cement walkways under the bridge in Wabasha in this season of autumn. Here among dried leaves drifted from trees and below traffic crossing the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, locals have staged the Pumpkin Patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a place that attracts all ages, that draws people here to wander among the gigantic pumpkins somehow wrangled into place. This year’s winning pumpkin, grown by Gary Russell of Plainview, weighs 879 pounds. That’s a lot of pumpkin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As enthralled as I was by these hefty pumpkins, I observed that my 18-month-old granddaughter and a lot of other kids (and their parents and grandparents) and others were equally as impressed.

 

My granddaughter carries a bean bag to toss into the candy corn prop.

 

 

 

 

The Pumpkin Patch certainly celebrates the season with pumpkins of all sizes, festive fall displays, themed kids’ games, occasional pony rides and music, and more. It’s the perfect mix to bring people to this spot, to draw them into nearby boutiques, eateries and more as they explore this southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

Izzy loves owls, including this one painted onto a tree in a bean bag toss game.

 

 

 

Families pose for photos on the stage against backdrops of fall decor.

 

Just across the street, more autumn-themed activities await families. Check back tomorrow as I showcase that portion of Wabasha’s SeptOberfest celebration.  Wabasha wins my high praise for crafting creative spaces that focus on families and celebrate autumn in Minnesota.

 

FYI: For more details on all events in Wabasha’s nearly two-month-long SeptOberfest, click here.

To read about Zootopia on the RiverFront, my first post in this three-part series from Wabasha, click here.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Free family fun at Zootopia on the RiverFront in Wabasha October 12, 2017

My first view of Zootopia on the RiverFront from the hill overlooking this play area along the Mississippi River in Wabasha.

 

ON AN EARLY OCTOBER Sunday in Wabasha, brilliant sunshine angled sharp shadows across the beaten grass of a riverside attraction teeming with kids and watchful adults.

 

 

 

 

 

The lion tunnel proved especially popular.

 

Here, while a young boy carried his tacklebox and fishing pole along a busy Mississippi River walkway, kids tossed rings, rolled balls, scrambled through a tunnel, zipped down a slide and more in a magical land. Here adults encouraged and interacted with the little ones and clicked endless photos.

 

 

 

 

My son-in-law, Marc, takes Izzy’s photo as she walks through the tiger tunnel while her mom (my daughter Amber) watches.

 

Walking on the colorful walrus crafted from tires…

 

My husband and I joined in on the SeptOberfest kids’ activities along with our 18-month-old granddaughter and her parents.

 

You can zip down this elephant slide into Zootopia on the RiverFront.

 

 

I discovered the play area after sighting an elephant slide behind Hill’s Hardware Hank. I walked the half-block to check it out and found the city of Zootopia. The good folks of Wabasha crafted a temporary themed play area after the movie of the mammal metropolis. What a delight for not only grandmas like me, but also for all those kids and other adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wabasha has always impressed me as a small town that knows how to bring visitors into the community. The addition of Zootopia on the RiverFront to this year’s nearly two-month long SeptOberfest just notched up my respect for the tourism, business and other leaders in this southeastern Minnesota town of some 2,500. These folks are smart enough to realize that bringing families into town equals an immediate financial return plus an investment in future returns. The kids’ activities are free. But the local economy benefits from monies dropped in restaurants, gas stations, and ice cream and other shops.

 

Randy waits for Izzy to emerge from the lion tunnel.

 

Running in the kick ball croquet area.

 

Even the big kids/aka grandpas can have fun.

 

Watching my 1 ½-year-old granddaughter crawl multiple times through the lion tunnel, place rings on elephant trunks, roll a ball in the kick ball croquet area and more simply made me happy. Even at her young age, Izzy could participate in most of the activities.

 

 

This Zootopia rated as just plain good old family fun—Wabasha style.

 

In the foreground, on the hillside, giraffes (and zebras) overlook Zootopia.

 

FYI: Zootopia on the RiverFront continues through October 21. Click here for more details.

Check back for two more posts on kids’ SeptOberfest activities in Wabasha.

This community is also home to the National Eagle Center, another family friendly place to visit.

 

Random bits of autumn from southeastern Minnesota October 11, 2017

I love Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha, especially in autumn decor. A photo similar to this hangs next to the hardware exhibit in the “Our World” play area at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. Hill’s inspired the exhibit. I am honored to have my photo hanging in the museum.

 

WITH OCTOBER NEARING mid-month and days until winter here in Minnesota dwindling, I feel a sense of urgency to observe and experience every nuance of autumn. That often means ignoring outdoor fall chores for a road trip or a walk in the woods or a stop at the apple orchard.

 

Among the many inviting autumn scenes staged in Wabasha.

 

This past Sunday took Randy and me east toward the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, one of my favorite southeastern Minnesota communities. This city knows how to welcome visitors via two months of celebration, coined SeptOberfest. I’ll share two aspects of Wabasha’s focus on fall in upcoming posts. But for today, here’s a photo peak at those nuances of autumn which so endear me to this season in Minnesota.

 

The beauty of rural Minnesota in autumn along a county road east of Bellechester and heading toward Wabasha.

 

I love the vistas of drying corn and soybean fields sweeping across the land.

 

A farm site viewed from Minnesota State Highway 60 in the Zumbro Falls area.

 

I love the flashes of red farm buildings in a muting landscape.

 

My sister Lanae, a floral designer in Waseca, created this autumn scene in her backyard.

 

I love the fall décor that infuses townscapes and gardens.

 

One of several seasonal boutiques in Wabasha. Barton’s Brickhouse Boutique is located across from the VFW.

 

I love the seasonal boutiques offering handcrafted gifts and the scent of pumpkin and apple crisp.

 

We didn’t find fall colors in Wabasha; we were too early. But we spotted beautiful colors in this treeline at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park on our drive back to Faribault.

 

In our many years of day trips in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I have found some of the best fall colors in Rice County. This scene was shot from Rice County Road 84/Falk Avenue. The gravel road parallels Rice County Road 20, which is considered the “back road” between Faribault and Northfield. This scene is near the intersection of CR 84 with 154th street.

 

I swapped on my telephoto lens for a closer look at the distant treeline as seen from CR 84. Other places to view wonderful fall colors in Rice County are west of Faribault around the lakes and also in Faribault along residential streets in old neighborhoods, at River Bend Nature Center and from City View Park. I think we have some of the best autumn hues in southeastern Minnesota.

 

I love the hillsides of trees transitioning from green to yellow, orange and red.

 

I shot this image and the four following at River Bend Nature Center late Sunday afternoon.

 

 

I love, too, the individual leaves that wave color in the wind.

 

 

I love drying milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

There’s so much to love about October, except the prospect of winter edging closer.

 

TELL ME: What do you like most about autumn? Feel free to share details about favorite fall destinations.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling