Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Welcome, anglers & vegetable lovers August 8, 2020

The sign marking Lake Country Convenience & Bait in tiny Shieldville, Minnesota.

 

AT LAKE COUNTRY CONVENIENCE & Bait in Shieldsville, you can pick up a Heggie’s pizza, meat from Dean’s Smoke Shack, firewood, a fishing or hunting license, coffee, even a face mask, and much more.

Need bait? Pull out your Minnow Punch Card. Buy six scoops of minnows and the seventh is free.

Fuel up. And, if you need to use the restroom, Lake Country claims to have “the cleanest bathrooms in the area.” Rather important in these days of COVID-19.

This convenience store/gas station/bait shop also claims to have “the best soft serve ice cream in Rice County,” although Dairy Queen may dispute that.

 

The sign on the back of the vegetable stand and visible from Minnesota State Highway 21 with the convenience store seen in the background.

 

But there’s one more aspect of Lake Country Convenience that may just draw you to this business serving the community of Shieldsville and the surrounding lakes area. That’s Mark’s Fresh Veggies, a seasonal pop-up vegetable stand.

 

 

Recently, while driving through Shieldsville, which is about 10 miles northwest of Faribault, Randy and I stopped to check out Mark’s produce, displayed inside a small metal shed next to the Lake Country parking lot. The portable shed appears to also serve as an ice fishing shelter in the winter.

 

The non-descript entrance to Mark’s Fresh Veggies Stand.

 

The produce is divided into bins in the handcrafted display area.

 

 

 

We pulled up, waited for another customer to exit the tiny vegetable shed and then went inside, masked, and looking for fresh sweetcorn. We found the corn, along with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and cabbage, all separated in custom-built compartments. The kohlrabi were gone; no problem for me as I don’t particularly like them.

 

Put your money here.

 

I expected payment would be inside the convenience store. But, nope, Mark has set up an honor system payment plan. I love this, when roadside vegetable vendors trust customers. Mark provides bags, a scale, and even a notebook to jot down purchases before dropping payment into a secure metal box. And then, he’s even thoughtfully set out hand sanitizer.

 

Choose your corn.

 

Weigh your tomatoes, or just pay 75 cents for two.

 

Note your purchases.

 

Randy bagged our six ears of sweetcorn while I chose two tomatoes. He paid. And then we exited Mark’s Fresh Veggies Stand, grateful for gardeners like Mark who provide us with fresh seasonal vegetables here in southern Minnesota.

 

Mark’s Fresh Veggies, one of many sources for fresh produce in Rice County.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite spot to get local fresh produce? We buy from a variety of local vendors, including those at the Faribault Farmers’ Market.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Pet parade, COVID-19 style August 7, 2020

Parade pooch.

 

NOT EVEN A GLOBAL PANDEMIC could stop the 84th annual Faribault Pet Parade from rolling through commercial and residential areas of my community Thursday evening.

 

The Faribault Parks and Recreation Department planned, and participated in, the parade.

 

A Hawaiian-themed parks and rec unit pulls an electronic sign.

 

Heading west on Fourth Street, the signage alerts motorists to the parade.

 

Rather than kids and adults leading and carrying leashed pets, participants were required to stay inside/on vehicles. Car cruise style.

 

Parade vehicles aim west along MN State Highway 60/Fourth Street.

 

It’s all about man’s best friend in this parade entry.

 

Stuffed into the back of a pick-up, kids, a dog (s) and stuffed animals.

 

Numbers were down considerably from previous parades when kids cram streets and parade watchers fill sidewalks. Randy and I were the lone observers sitting in our lawn chairs along a busy stretch of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street, the main route into the heart of downtown.

 

I wasn’t quick enough to get a good photo of the farm animals on this trailer. But, oh, that girl’s wave and smile…

 

Pink balloons mark a convertible carrying cancer survivors and their pet dogs. The 2020 Relay for Life of Rice County is happening this evening, August 7, with a drive-through event at the fairgrounds.

 

We get a hearty wave from the driver of the Heartland Animal Hospital car.

 

Despite the low numbers, the spirit of the parade prevailed with waves and smiles and simply an overall happy feeling. Much needed.

 

One family’s humorous take on COVID-19.

 

Masking up inside a vintage ambulance decorated with assorted oddities and a barely noticeable dog peeking out the passenger side window.

 

I have yet to figure out why Woody from Toy Story was placed on the front of this vintage car.

 

There were reminders, though, of COVID-19 in face masks worn and in a humorous message shared by one family.

 

Mixing political aspirations into the parade…a city council candidate advertised her candidacy on multiple vehicles.

 

Not your typical royalty…Princess Mocha.

 

We moved and viewed the parade again near its ending just blocks from Central Park.

 

All too quickly, the police-led parade, the pets, the aspiring politician, Princess Mocha, passed. But the memories will remain. Of a pet parade that proceeded even during these difficult days of a global pandemic.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When COVID-19 alters summer plans August 6, 2020

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Nearing Madison, Wisconsin, in early July.

 

THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE our summer. The summer to explore. The summer of no broken bones and physical therapy and health crises. Three years in a row of challenges left us yearning for a good summer. Randy and I already had tentative plans to spend time in Madison—where two of our adult children live—and explore that region of Wisconsin.

 

Plans to spend more time outside of Minnesota this summer changed. This sign is located at the entry point to our state near La Crosse, Wisconsin.

 

But then COVID-19 happened and all summer plans vanished. Poof. Just like that.

 

Along the interstate in Wisconsin in July, returning home to Minnesota.

 

Now, rather than discovering Wisconsin, we are simply traveling from Point A in Faribault some four hours to Point B in Madison. And once there, our activity is restricted to visiting with family. No touring museums. No dining out. No anything that will put us in contact with the general public.

 

I never tire of appreciating and photographing the beautiful farm sites in the valley east of La Crosse.

 

Except we still have that matter of needing to stop at interstate rest stops en route and back. The newly-constructed one in La Crosse gets a gold star rating for easy access and overall cleanliness. The eastbound one near Mauston…won’t ever stop there again.

 

One of my favorite barns looms on a hillside along the interstate near Madison.

 

A longer trip like this also requires one gas up. While Randy filled the van in Madison, I went inside to grab a bottle of lemonade, and then waited in a long line marked with social distancing circles. Most customers were complying and wearing masks. (This was prior to Madison, and now Wisconsin’s, mask mandate.) But then two unmasked young men walked in and stood right next to me. I gave them a look, looked intentionally down at the social distancing circle and then back at them. They got the message and stepped away. No words necessary.

 

A farm in Amish country in southeastern Minnesota.

 

It’s interesting how, in a global pandemic, even stopping to get gas or pee or to picnic raises concerns and takes thought. And care. Masking up, grabbing hand sanitizer, dodging people… I’ve never felt so anti-social.

 

Wisconsin offers plenty of places to pick up cheese as seen on this interstate sign.

 

East of La Crosse and in the Wisconsin Dells area are particularly stunning rock formations jutting from the landscape.

 

Anyone remember supper clubs? Every time I see this sign along the interstate, I think, “I want to dine there.”

 

All of that aside, wouldn’t you just love to hop in your vehicle now and drive away from it all? Drive to see loved ones. Drive to explore some interesting natural place you’ve never seen before. Dine out. Stop at cheesy attractions. And I mean that literally when it comes to Wisconsin. Or drive away into the future, when no COVID-19 exists.

 

Look at all the places these campers have traveled.

 

Westbound on the interstate, nearing La Crosse.

 

More campers…saw lots of those in July on the interstate in Wisconsin en route to and from Madison.

 

I expect some of you have gotten away. Still vacationing. Still traveling. If that fits your comfort level and you’re being careful, then good for you. Just be mindful of mandates and quarantines and everything you can do to protect yourself and others.

 

A lock and dam on the Mississippi River by La Crosse, on the river that separates Wisconsin from Minnesota.

 

Life goes on. Even in a lockdown. And as cranky as too many people seem over restrictions and shutdowns, I’m grateful for those requirements. Health and safety are more important than temporary inconveniences or sacrifices or whatever argument spewed. I don’t need to send more sympathy cards to friends who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. I’ve already mailed two.

 

Nearing Claremont, Minnesota, as the sun sets upon our return from Madison.

 

Maybe next summer will be my summer to explore Wisconsin…

 

TELL ME: What did you intend to do this summer before COVID-19 changed your plans? Or did you continue as planned? If you could go one place right now, where would that be? How are you coping with everything?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The nuances of Northfield keep me returning August 5, 2020

Beautiful historic buildings grace downtown Northfield, Minnesota.

 

NORTHFIELD. There’s so much to appreciate about this southern Minnesota community with the slogan of Cows, Colleges and Contentment. Cows honor the area’s rich agricultural heritage. Colleges reference the two resident colleges, Carleton and St. Olaf. And contentment frames the feeling in this riverside town rich in natural beauty, history, and a thriving business community and arts scene.

 

A view of the Cannon River in downtown Northfield from the flower-edged pedestrian bridge connecting riverside walkways.

 

Every time I walk along the River Walk aside the Cannon River or meander through the downtown on Division Street, I am struck by the sense of artistic vibrancy. The sense of care in this community. Pride. Hometown loyalty.

 

The display windows of Content Bookstore grab attention in vivid hues. I once participated in a poetry reading here.

 

I see this in shop windows with displays that are creative and eye-catching.

 

Poetry is stamped into sidewalks throughout the downtown district.

 

I read this in words imprinted in cement as part of Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry Project.

 

One of several musicians performing last Friday evening at The Contented Cow Pub & Wine Bar.

 

I hear this in music performed outdoors at eateries.

 

Art showcased in the exterior lower streetside window of the Northfield Arts Guild.

 

I view this in colorful art.

 

At the Northfield Public Library, this sculpture is changed up to promote the U.S. Census.

 

Bold art.

 

You’ll find plenty of coffee shops in Northfield.

 

And a hometown bakery, Quality Bakery and Coffee Shop.

 

In neon lights marking businesses.

 

A personal note posted in a business that has closed.

 

In publicly posted gratitude.

 

Banners honor the Northfield High School graduates of 2020.

 

And banners that show each individual matters.

 

Novelty tees displayed in the front window of the Northfield Historical Society reference the 1876 bank robbery by the James-Younger Gang.

 

Photographed through the front window of MakeShift Accessories, a handcrafted bracelet.

 

Temporarily closed because of COVID-19, Antiques of Northfield is one of my favorite stops.

 

Northfield draws me back, as a writer and a photographer, to notice nuances of place. The rushing water. The home-grown art. The aged buildings in this community where locals, in 1876, defeated the James-Younger Gang during a raid at the First National Bank.

 

No longer the First National Bank, this historic building houses Merchants Bank. The original First National (site of the bank raid) sits across the street and houses the Northfield Historical Society and Museum.

 

Northfield is simply one of those towns when, each time I visit, I leave feeling better for having spent time there.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Bridge Square in Northfield: Black Lives Matter August 4, 2020

Messages related to the Black Lives Matter movement are chalked in Northfield’s Bridge Square.

 

BRIDGE SQUARE in Northfield. It’s a gathering spot for the community. A place to relax and enjoy music and conversation and even popcorn from the popcorn wagon. Water flows from a fountain. Benches beckon visitors to linger. Colorful flowers spill from large, lush planters. Nearby, the Cannon River roars over a dam. People fish and picnic and walk along and over the river. It’s a beautiful setting of trees and sky and water.

 

This is a common phrased used in the current Black Lives Matter movement. Chalked names fill the sidewalks at Bridge Square.

 

The downtown park also provides a place to express public opinion, most recently related to the Black Lives Matter movement. On a recent walk through Bridge Square and several blocks along the River Walk and Division Street, I read the concerns expressed about lives lost, about racial injustice…

 

A broader view of the names and messages leading to and surrounding the fountain.

 

Written in chalk were names of the dead. And messages. Powerful. Heartfelt. Even as rain and sun have faded the chalk writings, the meaning remains that Black Lives Matter.

 

Next to the fountain, this fading portrait of James Baldwin.

 

Next to Baldwin’s portrait, one of Paul O’Neal.

 

Chalk portraits of James Baldwin and Paul O’Neal give faces to names that we should all remember. Like Baldwin, an author and Civil Rights activist. Like O’Neal, shot in the back by Chicago police in 2016. And, more recently, the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, sparking nationwide protests, unrest, destruction, and calls for police reform and justice.

 

Barricades have been set up along this street next to Bridge Square to separate traffic and pedestrians/protesters on a bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

The poem I found particularly meaningful in relation to Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd.

 

After crossing a partially barricaded street to follow the River Walk, I paused to read a poem imprinted in the sidewalk as part of Northfield’s Sidewalk Poetry Project. Reading the seven-line poem, the final line—Just breathe—struck me. George Floyd, when he lay dying on a Minneapolis street, said, “I can’t breathe.”

 

I followed the River Walk, eventually turning onto this footbridge across the Cannon River.

 

And so I walked, down steps, along the pedestrian river path hugging the banks of the Cannon River. I thought of that poetry and of those names and messages in Bridge Square.

 

One of many Black Lives Matter signs I spotted in downtown Northfield, this one in the upper story window of an historic Division Street building.

 

I considered how, no matter our skin color, our background, our education, our whatever in life, that we are all just people. We see beauty. We feel sunshine. And sometimes we share the silence that forms in our minds.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Of gravel roads, barns & cornfields August 3, 2020

Rural Rice County, west of Faribault, Minnesota.

 

ON A SULTRY SUNDAY SUMMER AFTERNOON of oppressive heat and humidity, I needed to get out of the house. Away. Into the country. On a drive. It was too hot to walk, to do anything outside of air conditioning.

 

Steady rain the night before kept the dust down on gravel roads we drove.

 

Following back county and township roads in and around Faribault, Randy and I got the rural fix we needed. For me, the crunch of gravel upon tires and the washboard vibration of a road in need of grading.

 

The corn crop around here looks good.

 

I needed, too, to see cornfields stretching across the land, tassels flagging fields. My heart aches at the sight, for the missing of living in the country. Memories still root me there.

 

 

And then I spotted a barn flashing bold red into the landscape on the edge of Warsaw. I’ve long admired that well-kept barn.

 

 

Weaving through Warsaw, Randy reminisced about living there decades ago as we passed his former rental place. At the Channel Inn in Warsaw, we paused only long enough for a photo of the vintage signage.

 

Without my telephoto lens on my camera, I couldn’t get a good shot of these turkeys. But you can make out two along the treeline and one by the field. The rest went the other direction.

 

And then we followed more gravel roads, routes not previously taken, but which revealed a PIG HOTEL sign on a house. I missed that photo op, but I promise to return. I almost missed the wild turkeys edging the woods.

 

 

A bit further, I saw the cutest little brick barn. Solid. As good as new. Beautifully poetic in its construction.

 

 

Past a gravel pit and an unknown lake and farm sites set among fields on rolling land, we aimed back toward town. Past Ableman’s Apple Creek Orchard, a favorite, and a roadside sign reminding us that we are not alone. Ever.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t be an outlaw in Northfield: Protect the herd August 2, 2020

In the front display window of a downtown Northfield, Minnesota, business.

 

SUPERHEROES mask up.

 

The image represents the James-Younger Gang.

 

As do outlaws.

 

The reason the Rare Pair gives for wearing face masks.

 

And those who love others.

 

“Protect the herd” plays off the city’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Northfield is home to Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges.

 

When I walked through downtown Northfield—the place of Cows, Colleges and Contentment—on Friday evening, I intentionally looked for signage on Minnesota’s new face mask mandate. This college city did not disappoint. I found signs ranging from serious to humorous.

 

More humor in a COVID-19 sign that relates to safe practices outdoors.

 

I especially welcomed those that made me laugh, something we all need in these days of living with COVID-19, when even leaving our homes sometimes seems like venturing into the Wild Wild West.

 

Site of the famous bank raid, now a museum.

 

Tour the museum and learn the story of the bank raid.

 

Northfield Historical Society face mask humor..

 

At the Northfield Historical Society, the historians draw on Northfield’s claim to fame—the defeat of the James-Younger Gang during an 1876 robbery of the First National Bank—to get across the mask mandate message. Please Don’t Be an Outlaw, states the message on museum doors.

 

A message posted on the front door of Antiques of Northfield.

 

At Antiques of Northfield, a personal note from Carole about the store’s temporary closure made me simultaneously laugh at her comment and then reflect. Too many of our seniors have died as a result of contracting COVID-19.

 

The sign on the door of The Contented Cow, a British style pub in downtown Northfield.

 

Some mask signs are more straightforward, like at The Contented Cow, with a please added to the request.

 

This Northfield business wants to stay open.

 

At a home furnishings and floor covering store, they want customers to mask up so businesses can stay open, as good a reason as any for masks.

 

The #1 reason to mask up.

 

I appreciate, too, the signage that states the clear and obvious scientific reason for wearing a face mask during a global pandemic: for our health & yours.

 

For those who forgot their masks… Note that a new Minnesota state law went into effect on August 1, raising the age to buy tobacco to 21. These signs were photographed on July 31.

 

At the tobacco shop, customers can even get a free mask inside the store.

 

Customers can’t possibly miss all the signage at this Northfield business.

 

Whatever it takes. We all need to get the message loud and clear that masks help stop the spread of this virus. Yeah, they’re uncomfortable and hot and diminish social interaction. But we can manage those minor inconveniences because, you know, this is something simple we can do to show our care for others and protect each other.

 

Just do it. Wearing a mask is required in indoor public places in Minnesota.

 

And masks are mandatory in Minnesota, along with 32 others states (as of this writing).

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Walk, sit & then study Faribault’s history via educational benches August 1, 2020

 

“Faribault supports the military” themes a recently-installed bench.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, I featured historic-themed benches recently installed in historic downtown Faribault. Well, more have been added to Central Avenue. And some I missed during my first walking tour. More are yet to come.

All 12-plus (I’ve lost count) highlight important aspects of my community’s history in images and words.

 

Alexander Faribault and the fur trade focus a bench on the north end of Central Avenue.

 

This depiction of Alexander Faribault trading with 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.

 

The home of town founder Alexander Faribault, located just a block off Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

One bench focuses on town founder, Alexander Faribault, and the local fur trade he began with the Dakota peoples. He was of French-Canadian and Dakota heritage. One of his fur trading posts eventually became the site for the town of Faribault.

 

Focus on downtown.

 

This mural on the corner of Minnesota State Highway 60 (Fourth Street) and Second Avenue, welcomes people to our historic downtown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A 1950s scene along Faribault’s Central Avenue is shown in this mural in our downtown district. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another bench shines a light on the core business area with Downtown: The Place to Be.

 

An historic photo of students and staff at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind backs one bench.

 

Honoring a teacher and leader at the school for the blind.

 

Another bench highlights the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf.

 

Across the river on the east side of Faribault, sit the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind and the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, schools still in operation and each getting their own benches along Central Avenue.

 

WASP Pilot Liz Strohfus, after whom the Faribault airport is named.

 

Finally, Faribault’s support of the military themes another bench that showcases WASP Pilot Liz Strohfus and Brigadier General Lewis Beebe, a veteran of WWI and WWII, a POW and more of notoriety.

 

The bench honoring the school for the deaf sits on the north end of Central Avenue.

 

There’s a lot of historic information to take in on these benches, a project coordinated by the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism and Faribault Main Street and supported by local businesses. My posts only summarize what you will discover on these locally-crafted park style benches that now enhance our downtown.

 

Here you see the fleur de lis symbol.

 

No detail is too small. On the bench ends, the branding symbol of Faribault—the fleur de lis—has been incorporated into the iron work. Depicting a lily, the symbol honors Faribault’s French roots.

 

Markers like this tag historic buildings throughout downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

There’s so much to learn about my southeastern Minnesota community from these benches. I invite you to walk along Central Avenue, sit for a spell, shop, admire the historic buildings, enjoy the many historic murals in the downtown core. Faribault truly is an historic gem. In so many ways.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling