Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

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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

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Of Vikings, a blizzard & Minnesota Nice

The Vikings’ loss and fan reaction headlined news late this morning on a Twin Cities TV station.

 

NOT WANTING TO SOUND like a poor loser the day after the Minnesota Vikings’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game, I pondered what to post here. Watching the second half of the game, which ended with a 38 – 7 win for the Eagles, proved difficult. I mostly read a book, diverting my attention from the disaster unfolding on the TV screen.

But rather than wallow in the disappointment of the Vikings not advancing to the Super Bowl in their hometown, I choose to remember the seven days in which Minnesotans united in exuberance over the Minneapolis Miracle. It felt good, really good, to be part of such a positive experience, the pride in our state strong.

As the Vikings-Eagles game ended Sunday evening, I turned to my husband and asked, “Now who are you going to cheer for in the Super Bowl?” His answer was swift. “The Eagles,” he said, explaining that he often roots for the underdog. Me, too. Typically. But our son lives in greater Boston and the New England Patriots hail from Massachusetts…

And then I read a post by Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins, whom I respect as a news blogger. He wrote this morning about the way some Eagles fans treated some Vikings fans yesterday in Philadelphia. It wasn’t pretty with taunting, foul language and even beer cans tossed. Is this normal behavior? I hope not. Collins points out that in just two weeks, Eagles fans will arrive in Minnesota from the City of Brotherly Love. Will we show them our signature Minnesota Nice? I am confident we will.

 

Minnesota kids need warm hats and mittens during these cold and snowy Minnesota winters.

 

An email which arrived in my in-box this morning from Thrivent Financial, a Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee Partner, confirms my premise that we Minnesotans are good at heart and we’ll show the world that during Super Bowl LII. Thrivent is partnering with Hats and Mittens for a Super Hats & Mittens event the day before the game to make (or collect) 52,000 hats and mittens for those in need. Attendees will craft hats and mittens from fleece during the gathering which also features food, an author, music and more. If this event wasn’t located just blocks from US Bank Stadium, I’d consider attending. But I don’t want to be anywhere near the stadium around Super Bowl time.

 

The view from my home office window this morning as a blizzard rages outside.

 

And this would be my kitchen window which is totally covered by wind-driven snow.

 

Early this morning I took this shot from an upstairs window of the van parked in my driveway near the garage.

 

All of this aside, we here in southern Minnesota have another, much more important, distraction today. The weather. My county of Rice and several other Minnesota counties are in a blizzard warning until midnight. Fierce winds are driving snow nearly horizontally across the landscape. It’s not pretty out there.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Minnesota: When a football team brings a state together January 21, 2018

 

I photographed this billboard along the northbound lane of Interstate 35 near Lakeville. Kwik Trip is headquartered in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, with many convenience stores in southern Minnesota.

 

EIGHT DAYS AGO, I couldn’t have identified a single Minnesota Vikings player. But this morning, only hours from the NFC championship game and one week after the Vikes’ stunning win over the New Orleans Saints, I know the names Stefon Diggs and Case Keenum.

 

The “true Minnesota” reference refers to Old Dutch, started in St. Paul in 1934 and still based in Minnesota, in Roseville. Photographed at Fareway Foods, Faribault.

 

And I know something else. This state has come together in a way I haven’t seen in a long long time. We needed the Minneapolis Miracle. We needed a reason to celebrate that stretches far beyond simply winning a football game. We needed this win to bring us all together during an incredibly divisive time in our country.

 

At Fareway Foods in Faribault, the push is on to sell snacks for the play-off game today and then for the Super Bowl.

 

The level of excitement and enthusiasm and pride in Minnesota right now has created a strong sense of community here. We are Bold North proud. We are hardy Minnesotans united in our desire to see the Vikings, our team, in the Super Bowl that we are hosting in just a few weeks. We. Us. Good, typically stoic folks who are now chanting Skol! Skol! Skol! from small town school gymnasiums to the Mall of America.

You’ll see Vikings pride on interstate billboards and in grocery stores. Everywhere.

On this morning before the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles, this feels like our year. To win. Big.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on the US – Dakota Conflict of 1862 & my changed approach to history January 20, 2018

This archway leads to the Wood Lake State Monument, on the site of the battle which ended the US -Dakota Conflict of 1862. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

TUCKED INSIDE A CARDBOARD BOX among teenage journals, clippings of news stories I wrote, old greeting cards, my last childhood doll and more rest pages of history. History I gathered from books, summarized and typed on a manual typewriter into a document titled “The Sioux Uprising of 1862.” I wrote that term paper in ninth grade, or maybe as a sophomore. All these decades later, specifics elude me.

 

The Rice County Historical Society in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

But my interest in this Conflict, centered in my home area of southwestern Minnesota, remains steadfast. Thursday evening the Uprising, more appropriately tagged today as The US – Dakota Conflict/War of 1862, focused a presentation by Tim Madigan at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault. A history major, Madigan taught social studies back in the 1970s in Morton, near the epicenter of the Conflict. He is also a former Faribault city administrator.

 

A photo panel at the Traverse des Sioux Treaty Center in St. Peter shows Dakota leaders photographed in Washington D.C. in 1858. The photo is from the Minnesota Historical Society.  The quote reflects the many broken treaties between the Dakota and the U.S. government. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

To a rapt audience of nearly 50 mostly history buffs, Madigan outlined basics of the war from its root causes—in delayed annuity payments, withholding of food and resulting starvation among the Dakota people—to information on battles and more. I hadn’t forgotten those basics. But considering them now as an adult rather than as a high school student completing an assignment opened new perspectives. Madigan made it clear that history, as written, includes not only facts, but also myths, lies and more depending on the source. His talk seemed appropriately titled “The Fog of War: Perceptions and Realities, US – Dakota Conflict 1862.”

 

The Loyal Indian Monument at Birch Coulee Monument near Morton honors Native Americans and features strong words like humanity, patriotism, fidelity and courage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

The Milford State Monument along Brown County Road 29 west of New Ulm commemorates the deaths of 52 settlers who were killed in the area during the US – Dakota Conflict. Located along the eastern edge of the Lower Sioux Reservation, Milford had the highest war death rate of any single township. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Going into the presentation, I thought I knew almost everything about the Conflict. But I didn’t. Or perhaps I’d forgotten details like 500 – 700 people of European descent killed in the war along with 100 Dakota warriors and an unknown number of Native civilians. Refugees displaced as a result of the war numbered 20,000. As I listened, I thought of my own maternal ancestors who fled their Courtland area farm for safety in St. Peter some 30 miles distant.

 

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault and a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

But it was the Rice County connection to the war which I found most interesting. My interest always centered on what happened in my native Redwood County and neighboring Brown County versus my home of the last 35 years in Faribault. I was unaware that town founder and fur trader Alexander Faribault (who was part Dakota and part French), for example, was at the Battle of Birch Coulee, an intense battle waged near Morton. I can only imagine the personal conflicts Faribault sometimes felt as a person of mixed blood in the war between the Dakota people and white settlers and soldiers.

 

Trader Andrew Myrick refused to grant the Dakota credit, remarking, “Let them eat grass.” After an attack on the Lower Sioux Agency, Myrick was found dead, his mouth stuffed with grass. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Madigan also noted the challenges Dakota leader Little Crow experienced in a war he didn’t initially support. I expect Little Crow felt extreme pressure as he tried to negotiate with government agencies while his people starved.

 

Above the photos and info is this quote by Bishop Henry Whipple to President Buchanan in August 1860: “In my visits to them (the Dakota), my heart had been pained to see the utter helplessness of these poor souls, fast passing away, caused in great part by the curse which our people have pressed to their lips.” This was part of a 2012 display at the Northfield Historical Society on the Rice County aspect of the US – Dakota Conflict of 1862. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

And then there was Bishop Henry Whipple, a well-known figure in my county of Rice and Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop. He played a key role in the US – Dakota Conflict. Madigan tagged him as “the disappearing hero,” noting Whipple’s strong advocacy for Indian missions; his support of efforts to educate the Dakota and convert them to Christianity and agrarian ways; his backing of fair treaties between Native peoples and the U.S. government; and, most important, his role in convincing President Abraham Lincoln to reduce the number of Dakota executed in a mass hanging in Mankato following the war. Of the 303 men sentenced to death, 38 were hung.

 

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

Whipple centered much of the audience discussion following Madigan’s talk. In the context of today’s world, Whipple’s approach to changing the Dakota way of life, rather than respecting their culture, seems outdated. Yet, change appeared inevitable in a time period when settlers moved West into Dakota hunting territory to establish homesteads and to farm, several people noted. I couldn’t help but think those expectations of change and adaptation remain strong today toward our immigrant populations.

The Faribault faith leader’s peaceful approach and genuine kindness toward the Dakota was, as you would expect, not embraced by all. There were, noted Rice County Historical Society Executive Director Susan Garwood, assassination attempts on Whipple’s life. This proved news to me.

 

Dakota beadwork displayed at the Rice County Historical Society Museum in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

Following the war, about 80 Native Americans moved to the Faribault area under the protection of Whipple. Some even helped construct The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, Whipple’s church and the oldest cathedral in Minnesota. Built between 1862 – 1869, it’s on the National Register of Historic Places and remains a place of community care with the Community Cathedral Cafe, many support groups, public concerts and more based there.

 

The historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As a related addendum, Director Garwood shared that several Dakota and African Americans attended Faribault’s long ago Seabury Divinity School directed by Whipple. The presence of those non-white seminarians caused concern among some, as you might imagine.

 

A scene in downtown Faribault during a 2015 Car Cruise Night shows my community’s diversity, which includes Somali immigrants. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Much has changed, yet much hasn’t. In my community of Faribault, where Whipple worked nearly 160 years ago to embrace and express love to all peoples, conflict remains between many long-time locals and our newest immigrants. The same goes for acceptance between Caucasians and Native Americans in my native Redwood County. To deny its existence would be fooling ourselves. We have, in many ways, become more accepting of each other. But we still have far to go.

While I took away new information from Madigan’s talk, I left with more. I realized how much my approach to history has changed since high school, since I researched and wrote about “The Sioux Uprising of 1862.” My perspective shifted to actually thinking about issues rather than simply regurgitating historical facts/myths/lies. And that is a good thing.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bringing poetry to the people in Mankato & I’m in January 19, 2018

 

NEARLY SIX MONTHS have passed since I stopped at Spring Lake Park in North Mankato to view my poem posted there as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride.

 

The post just to the front left of the car holds a sign with my poem printed thereon.

 

 

Looking back across the lake toward the willows and my nearby poetry sign.

 

Located at the edge of a parking lot next to a trail and within a stone’s throw of drooping weeping willows, my award-winning poem about detasseling corn contrasts with the tranquil setting of lake and lawn separated by bullrushes flagged by cattails.

 

The Sibley Farm playground inside Sibley Park features these cornstalk climbing apparatus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The poem may have been more appropriately placed next to cornstalk climbing apparatus at the Sibley Farm playground in Mankato’s Sibley Park.

 

A beautiful setting for poetry.

 

 

 

Still, I am grateful for this opportunity to get my poetry out there in a public place. This placement of selected poems along recreational trails and in parks in Mankato and North Mankato brings poetry to people in an approachable and everyday way. That is the beauty of this project—the accessibility, the exposure in outdoor spaces, the flawless weaving of words into the landscape.

 

Inside a southern Minnesota cornfield. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My poem, as with much of my writing, reflects a strong sense of place. In Cornfield Memories, I take the reader into a southwestern Minnesota cornfield to experience detasseling corn, a job I worked several summers as a teenager. It’s hard work yanking tassels from corn stalks in the dew of the morning and then in the scorching sun of a July afternoon. All for $1.25/ hour back in the day.

 

My poem, Bandwagon, previously posted at Lion’s Park in Mankato as part of a previous Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

My poem shares rural history, a story, an experience. Just as my past poems—The Thrill of Vertical, Off to Mankato to “get an education” and Bandwagon—selected as part of previous Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride contests did.

 

 

I value public art projects like the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Not only as a poet, but as an appreciator of the literary arts. Poetry doesn’t need to be stuffy and mysterious. And this project proves that.

I’D LIKE TO HEAR your thoughts on bringing poetry to the public in creative ways like this. Have you seen a similar project? Would you stop to read poems posted in public spots?

NOTE: All photos were taken in early September, within weeks of the 2017 Poetry Walk & Ride poems being posted.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Domestic violence awareness event stresses collaboration & a directive to speak up January 18, 2018

 

 

A YEAR AFTER TWO HIGH PROFILE murder-suicides in my community, a small group of Faribault residents and several professionals came together for a community-wide meeting on the topic of domestic violence Wednesday evening.

 

 

 

 

While statistics show substantial (49 and 121 percent respectively) increases in cases of domestic and sexual assaults in Faribault last year, the numbers don’t necessarily equate a significant rise in those crimes. Rather, there’s a heightened community awareness, resulting in more cases being reported, according to Erica Staab-Absher, executive director of HOPE Center.

 

 

Staab-Absher focused on the progress Faribault has made in the past year, specifically through the Blueprint for Safety Program. The program is a collaborative effort of HOPE Center, local law enforcement and other agencies that communicate and work together in addressing the issue of domestic violence. Professionals have been trained in the past year, for example, on strangulation and stalking. Law enforcement officers now carry a card listing questions to ask suspected victims of domestic abuse/violence. Advocates are called to the scene immediately to help victims and to assess their situations and the dangers they face. Most important, victims know help is available to them.

That theme of cooperation and heightened awareness threaded throughout Wednesday’s meeting as did the admonition that “we all have a calling to help our neighbors.”

 

 

Two of the speakers, Ruthann Lang of Rice County Child Protection Services and Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen, cited specific cases (the murder of a child and the current case in California of 13 malnourished children held captive by their parents) of people failing to intervene. They stressed the importance of speaking up rather than remaining silent.

The topic of mental health also surfaced, the police chief expressing frustration with the lack of mental health services available locally.

 

 

Many frustrations remain and much work still needs to be done. But I am hopeful. Any time a community improves communication, works together, creates awareness, we break the barriers of silence. Domestic abuse thrives in silence. In Faribault I hear a voice rising against domestic abuse and violence: No more. No more.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

All graphics published in this post were available to the public at Wednesday’s awareness meeting.

 

Just an important reminder… January 17, 2018

 

Graphic courtesy of the Faribault Police Department Facebook page, via Peter van Sluis.