Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota kids promote winter preparedness in hit Super Bowl LII music video January 31, 2018

Minnesota kids (and adults) need warm hats and mittens during these cold and snowy Minnesota winters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IF YOU GREW UP IN MINNESOTA or any similar cold climate place, you likely heard this directive from your mom whenever you left the house in winter: Remember your hat and mittens. And wear your boots.” I did.

 

The snow boots I wear today are warm, practical and fashionable. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When I became a pre-teen, though, I thought I knew better and often didn’t listen. I couldn’t muss my hair by wearing, God forbid, a stocking hat or appear unfashionable in clunky, practical boots.

 

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts. My home farm is located near Vesta in Redwood County.

 

But Mom’s warning imprinted upon me enough that I eventually recognized the wisdom of her words and passed the same advice along to my three children. Living on the windswept Minnesota prairie, Mom understood that brutal winter cold could cause frostbite and worse. Best keep safe and warm.

 

I grabbed this quick shot of the students and their teacher, right, on GMA.

 

So when I heard about the music video, “Coats, Hats & Gloves,” created by students at Franklin Middle School in Minneapolis, I thought of all those Minnesota moms (and dads) who have delivered the same message of preparedness through the generations. Except their words were more often than not dismissed.

But now kids from The Futureboys and Futuregirls program at Franklin have made keeping warm decidedly cool in their video gone viral. Tuesday morning the kids and their teacher appeared on Good Morning America to talk about the song that welcomes Super Bowl visitors to Minnesota. Temps here on game day are predicted to be around zero, if that, and even feels-like lower if wind factors in.

Their basic message—when you come to Minnesota, you better be ready…never leave your house without your coats, hats and gloves—is the same my mom delivered. Except they present it in a way that’s decidedly hip, decidedly cool and decidedly memorable. Well done, kids of the Bold North.

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Click here to watch the video.

Note: The Super Bowl LII Host Committee has branded Minnesota as Bold North in promoting our state. That applies to our climate and beyond.

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Rider in the storm or… January 30, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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DAYS AFTER A MAJOR STORM dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault, I spotted a motorcycle in the parking lot of a local liquor store. It wasn’t exactly bike riding weather with the temp at around 30 degrees.

 

Days after the storm, a fleet of city snow removal equipment lined up in front of my home as sunset broke.

 

Perhaps this Bold North biker had something to prove. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

I snapped a few photos of the bike with my smartphone, not even noticing the expired tabs and the travel bags until I reviewed the photos later. Hey, I’m not one to stand around outside in cold weather without proper warm attire.

 

 

Once inside Fareway Spirits & More, I mentioned the bike to the clerk. Turns out it had been sitting in the parking lot for days, moved there from the unplowed street (which is now plowed). She wondered if the abandoned motorcycle might be stolen, but had not phoned police. I didn’t either.

Monday evening the bike was still parked in the same spot in the cold and snowy Bold North of Faribault. From all forecasts I’ve seen, the weather in Minnesota won’t be suitable for riding anytime soon, including on Sunday. Forecasters are already predicting the coldest Super Bowl on record with lows of minus 10 – 15 degrees and a high above zero. If we’re lucky.

UPDATE, 7:15 pm, Tuesday, January 30: The bike, still parked in the same lot, is a Yamaha Star, Arkansas license, so reports the husband who stopped to check this evening.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fox trot in Faribault January 27, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:21 PM
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A MINUTE LATER, a minute earlier, and I would have missed it—the beautiful fox that stood on the snowy wooded hillside in my backyard late Saturday afternoon as my husband and I arrived home from a Walmart run.

“Fox,” I shouted to Randy, as he drove into the garage. I grabbed my camera bag from the floor, unzipped the case, pulled out my Canon DSLR and flung open the car door, all the while hoping the fox hadn’t trotted away.

 

 

I raced to the side of the garage. Any shots I took would come from that spot or the patio. Even though I wore boots, I had no intention of flailing through deep snow. I fired a few frames, then moved to the patio where I got an even better look at the unexpected wild animal moving with agility through the snowy woods.

 

 

At one point the fox stopped, turned and looked directly at me, just like my initial sighting. Given my excitement, I was uncertain whether I had managed any clear photos. I did. We’ve lived here since 1984 and had many wild animals on our property—raccoon, skunk, possum, woodchuck, deer and the usual abundance of squirrels and rabbits. But never a fox.

Now I’m left wondering whether the fox has a den on this hillside next to my home, next to Wapacuta Park in the heart of a residential neighborhood in south central Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the strange, but true: Coyotes for a cause January 26, 2018

Thousands gather each summer in Faribault for the Straight River Stroll to raise funds for cancer research and to remember, celebrate and pray for those touched by cancer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

WHEN IT COMES TO RAISING money for cancer research and cancer support groups, I typically think of a cancer walk, silent auction or such. Not a hunt.

 

A hunter in a Minnesota field, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But a group in Blooming Prairie—just south of Owatonna—has organized the 1st Annual Coyotes “Fur” Cancer Fundraiser for this Saturday, January 27. A coyote hunt (yes, you read that right) coupled with a chili and soup feed, and a raffle will raise monies to help locals dealing with cancer.

On its Facebook page, event host The Cue Company restaurant promotes the fundraiser:

Enjoy the day by hunting coyotes with your comrades in your personal favorite spots. At dark bring all your coyotes to the back parking lot of The Blooming Prairie Cue Company for a group hunting picture. All coyotes will be collected and sold to a fur buyer with the profits being donated to The Blooming Prairie Cancer Group.

 

I photographed these bras dangling from Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo, North Dakota. “Bras on Broadway” raises funds for those fighting breast cancer and for the American Cancer Society. I like this creative idea to raise funds and awareness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Alright then. That’s certainly a creative idea, but not one which appeals to me personally. I do, though, appreciate the efforts of organizers and the end goal.

 

At the Rice County Steam and Gas Engines Show, this John Deere tractor helped raise cancer awareness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Coyotes, by the way, are not a protected animal in Minnesota. They are, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, our state’s most abundant large predator. About 4,000 are shot or trapped here annually for their fur, described by the DNR as soft, warm and luxurious.

 

I’m uncertain whether White Fox Fur & Feather Company in Pemberton buys coyote pelts. But when I photographed the business in 2010, the company was looking for deer hides. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

I realize the threat coyotes pose to livestock and other animals. I’m struggling, though, with hunting coyotes as a fundraiser. It’s certainly a novel, attention-getting idea, but…

THOUGHTS?

UPDATE, 1:30 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2018: The Coyotes “Fur” Cancer Fundraiser raised $17,000 and counting, according to an article published in The Owatonna People’s Press. That far surpassed the goal of $2,000 – $5,000. Six hunting parties killed 24 coyotes. The animals’ fur will be sold with proceeds directed to The Blooming Prairie Cancer Group. Additional monies raised at the event came from a raffle, silent auction and chili and soup feed.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why a community should care about its alleys January 25, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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This alley of art in Clear Lake, Iowa, impresses me. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I NOTICE DETAILS, always have. This heightened awareness weaves into my work. I write and photograph with a strong sense of place, a quality instilled in me long ago by growing up on the prairie. In that vast space of sky and land, every nuance of the environment imprints upon the soul.

My reactions to a place evolve from first impressions, most often viewed through my camera lens. I see the world in details of color, balance and perspective, of light and mood and texture and more.

 

An alley in Milaca, photographed in September 2017.

 

With that background, you can perhaps better understand why, when photographing a community, I notice more than the slick fronts of buildings, the parks and other attractions tourism offices promote. I look beyond those to the alleys, the roof lines and even the sidewalks. The details.

 

The scene along a balcony on the back side of a building along Third Street N.E. in downtown Faribault, just across the alley from the post office is one of my favorite alley photos for the story it tells. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

 

It is the alleys in particular that draw my visual interest and show me the side of a community often overlooked. And too often neglected. There’s much to learn in those alleyways about people and places and cultures and even socioeconomic status.

 

I love the sweet surprise of these floral paintings brightening an alley in downtown Clear Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

Hanging baskets line the alley behind Larson’s Mercantile in Clear Lake, adding a splash of color to the downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2015.

 

The Contented Cow opens onto a riverside space between buildings in historic downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2014.

 

Looking further down that narrow space, I photographed a wedding party gathering near the Cannon River. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A mural on The Key (youth center) building in downtown Northfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

Through the years, I’ve documented many behind and between businesses scenes with my camera. I’ve seen how a community can convert an alley into a lovely and inviting space. Clear Lake, Iowa, and Northfield, Minnesota, especially, have succeeded with this attention to detail beyond storefronts.

 

Michelle’s Garden, right next to the alley behind buildings along Faribault’s Second Street and Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

The back of The Crafty Maven (now closed) sat right across the alley from the garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

This mural of an iconic scene from downtown Faribault was installed along an alleyway visible from busy Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street in the heart of downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My community of Faribault, too, boasts an alley-side mini park and an alleyway mural creating a more inviting downtown. But dumpsters overflowing with garbage in other sections of the downtown counterbalance the positive efforts.

 

The behind buildings parking lot scene in downtown Faribault highlights the area’s ag base. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2014.

 

In my opinion, every community should pay closer attention to the details. They are part of the whole, of the impression visitors gather of a place beyond the side we’re supposed to see.

THOUGHTS? I’m interested, especially, in hearing how your community or other communities have beautified alleys and/or backs of businesses.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How one little girl put some fun back in my Minnesota winter January 24, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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My granddaughter watches while her grandpa rolls a snowball.

 

AS I’VE AGED, I complain more about Minnesota winters. But I didn’t always dislike this season of cold, snow and ice. I once loved being outdoors in the winter—rolling snowballs in to snowmen, engaging in snowball fights, racing up and down snow piles, sledding, digging caves into snow banks, making snow angels, running across rock-hard snow drifts, ice skating and constructing snow forts. Winter as a child was fun in between doing farm chores.

Even when I had my own three children, winter remained semi fun with some of the same winter activities. But as the kids grew, so did their disinterest in outdoor winter play. It’s been years since I’ve thought about the fun aspect of the months spanning November – April in Minnesota.

But then along came my granddaughter who is now nearing age two. On Saturday Randy and I offered to play with Izzy so her parents could have an afternoon out. My motive was also grandma selfish in wanting some time with this sweet little girl.

 

Ready to head outside into the snow.

 

With temps around 40 degrees, I decided (and Grandpa went along with the idea) it would be a great day to play with Izzy in the snow. After I bundled her into her snowpants, boots, coat, cap and mittens and then got myself ready, we finally headed to the backyard. I’d forgotten how long it takes to get a little one into snow gear.

 

 

Once in the backyard, Randy and I pulled Izzy around on a Lion King sled Randy recently retrieved from the garage rafters. It’s the same sled Isabelle’s mama used as a child.

 

 

While Grandpa rolled snowballs and stacked them into a snowman, I played with Izzy. She trundled in the snow as best she could, occasionally reaching for my hand to assure she stayed upright. When I started throwing snowballs at a tree trunk, she burst into waves of giggles. She may have been laughing at Grandma’s inability to hit the target about 50 percent of the time.

The time outdoors with my granddaughter on a balmy January afternoon in Minnesota put the fun back in winter for me. Oh, the power of a child. Over a grandmother.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So…we got a little snow here in Faribault… January 22, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:55 PM
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My patio and backyard photographed around 4 p.m. Monday when the snow let up for a bit. You can see the snow depth by looking at the table and the vintage lawn chairs near the tree to the left.

 

SNOW HAS BEEN FALLING for more than 15 hours now in Faribault with an unofficial accumulation of 14.5 inches measured on my backyard patio.

 

The heavy snow made for some beautiful scenery.

 

Love these snow-laden branches.

 

Strong winds plastered snow to the side of our house, for awhile completely covering the kitchen window.

 

Coupled with high winds, blizzard conditions continue in the region. The Minnesota Department of Transportation advises no travel along roadways like Interstate 35 from Owatonna, past Faribault to just south of the metro. For awhile today, Rice County pulled its snowplows. My husband’s commute home from Northfield along Minnesota State Highway 3 doubled in time to 45 minutes. I convinced him to leave work early, around 12:30 p.m. Conditions were the worst he’s seen on the road in 34 years of driving to and from Northfield.

 

Randy begins the process of clearing snow from our driveway at 4 p.m. Monday.

 

Now, after three hours of tag team snowblowing and shoveling, we have our driveway and sidewalk cleared and that of a senior neighbor. My back aches and I’m tired. It’s been a long time since we’ve had this much snow in one shot.

 

 

Soon I’ll kick back, watch the evening news for snowfall totals across Minnesota. And then sometime during the middle of the night, I’ll startle to the banging of a snowplow blade on Willow Street or the beep of a city plow backing and clearing the intersection.

 

 

When I awaken Tuesday morning, I’ll separate curtain panels and peer outside to see the driveway apron packed with bladed snow. And the process of clearing snow will start all over again.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling