Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Faribault: When graffiti overtakes nature & history May 6, 2021

A view of the Straight River and the railroad bridge crossing it, photographed from the footbridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

IF NOT FOR THE OFFENSIVE GRAFFITI, the natural setting would be particularly inviting. But obscene words and disturbing messages kept me from fully enjoying the trail leading from Faribault’s Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center.

Along the trail from Teepee Tonka Park into River Bend Nature Center, I saw trees tagged with graffiti. Here I’m approaching the footbridge crossing the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Even trees were tagged with paint. That’s a first.

Randy looks over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

On the footbridge which spans the Straight River, I found the most disturbing of accusations—J**** killed my mother. That shifted my already on-alert mode to what the h*** is going on in these woods? I read derogatory comments about Faribault. And I thought, why do those who hate this community so much stay here?

This marker on one end of the bridge remains unmarred. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I tried to overlook all that awful graffiti, but it was just too much to dismiss. I wouldn’t bring a child here, not one who can read anyway.

I expect there’s a story behind this beautiful railroad bridge over the Straight River. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Yet, there’s much to see and appreciate here, if you look beyond the tagging, the offensive messages. Nature and history intertwine, leaving me with more questions than answers.

I felt tempted to climb these stairs, but didn’t have the energy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

A lengthy stairway climbs a hillside. Slabs of limestone and chunks of concrete—perhaps foundations of long ago buildings—cling to steep banks.

Graffiti mars the tunnel entrance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And then there’s the tunnel. The 442-foot-long tunnel, which I refused to enter. One look at the graffiti at the entry, especially the rat art, and I knew, no way, would I walk through that former root cellar. So I photographed that space, editing out the obscenities (which proved nearly impossible).

A sign above the tunnel details its history. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And I photographed the sign above, which summarizes the history of this 1937 Works Progress Administration project. Workers hand dug the tunnel with picks, hauling the dirt and rocks away with wheelbarrows. Once complete, the tunnel served as a root cellar for the Minnesota School and Colony (later known as The Faribault State School and Hospital). The Teepee Tonka Tunnel once held 25-30 carloads of vegetables to feed the 2,300 residents and 350 employees. Most of those potatoes, carrots, beets, onions and cabbage were grown on the school farm.

Another snippet of the tunnel graffiti. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Now the history, the hard work, the humanity were dishonored by those who use this as a canvas for words and art that shouldn’t be here.

Trees tower over the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

All of this saddened me as I retraced my steps, watched as a young man walked along the railroad tracks, backpack strapped on, county music blaring. This should be a place of peace. Not only noise-wise, but also mentally. I pictured picnic tables near a footbridge devoid of menacing messages. I pictured a beautiful natural setting where I could bring my grandchildren. But, in reality, I understood that those tables would only be defaced, maybe even burned.

The beautiful Straight River, which winds past Teepee Tonka Park and River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

This could be so much. A respite. Water and woods converging. River flowing with history. Images of men hard at work tunneling into a 60-foot high hill. I could envision all of that…the possibilities beyond that which I’d seen.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Among the wildflowers in Kaplan’s Woods May 5, 2021

Spring wildflowers at Kaplan’s Woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

FLOWERS OF SPRING EMERGE in the woods. Among layers of dried leaves. Among fallen limbs. Sometimes blanketing hillsides.

White trout lilies. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
A mass of white trout lilies in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
An unidentified, by me, wildflower cluster. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Saturday morning, as Randy and I hiked through Kaplan’s Woods Park in Owatonna, I found myself searching the edges of the wood chip covered trails for wildflowers.

A sign inside the woods details the Parkway. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I love this foot bridge which crosses the creek and leads into the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Near the creek, this solo boulder seems out of place in the woods. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

This time of year, especially, I crave flowers. They represent the shifting of seasons, of plant life erupting as the landscape transforms.

Dainty violets are among the spring wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The largest of the wildflowers I saw. Can anyone identify these? Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The brightest of the flowers I spotted, this one also unknown to me. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Green begins to fill the woods, accented by bursts of violet and yellow and white hugging the earth. Low to the ground, easily missed if you focus only on the trail ahead.

Low water. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

We have walked Kaplan’s only a few times and this visit I noticed the low water level of the creek that winds through the woods.

Hillside wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I noticed also the noise of traffic from nearby Interstate 35. Motorists en route somewhere on an incredibly warm and sunny morning in southern Minnesota. I hope that at some point they paused to appreciate the day. The sun. The trees. Maybe even the wildflowers. And the brush strokes of green tinting the landscape.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mourning Week Day, age six May 4, 2021

Week Day. Photo source: Hamilton Funeral Home.

TODAY A FAMILY BURIES their six-year-old daughter and sister on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. My heart breaks. Tears flow. And sorrow roots deep within me.

To see the photo of an adorable girl with a sweet smile and braided pigtails makes this all too real. This COVID-19. This deadly virus which, on April 25, claimed the life of Week Day.

She emigrated with her family from a Thai refugee camp to Marshall, Minnesota, in December 2015. Week was not quite 18 months old. The daughter of Mu Mu and He Lars. And then big sister to Michael.

And when she passed, the first grade student of Ms Hewitt and a classmate and friend at Park Side Elementary School.

My heart breaks for those who knew and loved this little girl. The girl who loved the color pink and singing and dancing and drawing and painting. The little girl with the kind heart, best attitude, bright smile.

Any death from COVID-19 is tragic. But, when a child loses her life, it’s especially difficult to take.

If you wish to show your love and support to the family of Week, please send cards, words of encouragement and donations to:

Hamilton Funeral Home

Family of Week Day

701 Jewett St.

Marshall, MN. 56258

Thank you.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Alley-side art in Faribault May 3, 2021

Faribault’s newest mural, completed late last year.

OUTDOOR PUBLIC ART enhances a community. It provides an outlet for creativity, adds interest to place and often brings joy. At least that’s my assessment.

As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal exposure to the arts—or perhaps more accurately minimal opportunity in the arts—I deeply appreciate the arts.

This sculptor 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.

My community of Faribault, where I’ve lived for the past 39 years, embraces creativity, centered today at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, the visual arts extend well beyond the walls of the Paradise to stained glass windows in our historic churches, an art collection at Buckham Memorial Library, sculptures, architecture, home-grown shops, historic-themed murals and even the graceful curves of the historic viaduct.

In this January 2016 photo taken from the viaduct, you can see the back of The Upper East Side (white stucco building) before the mural was added. The historic building originally housed W.H. Stevens Drug. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You can see Faribault’s newest addition to the outdoor art scene from that viaduct, which offers a sweeping view of the downtown area.

Visual layering is part of this mural.

But I viewed this latest public art close up from an alley. On the back and sides of The Upper East Side, an art and gallery space at 213 Central Avenue, Morristown area artist Jeff Jarvis (West Cedar Studio) painted a mural onto the stucco building.

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

The mural differs significantly from the historic-themed murals scattered throughout our downtown as part of The Mural Society of Faribault’s ongoing mural installation efforts.

Close up, colors and graphics pop.

The Upper East Side mural, a project of owner Suzanne Schwichtenberg and Jarvis, is more modern and graphic with strong lines. Less detailed. Bold. With unexpected pops of color. I find the zipper painted into the mural to be especially creative—the unzipping of history, of stories, of past and present. The mural invites introspection rather than simple reflection on an historic place or memory.

That’s my take. Not as someone with an art education, but rather as a creative who has grown to appreciate the arts in her community and beyond.

A locally-themed tote displayed at The Upper East Side. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2018.

FYI: Suzanne Schwichtenberg leads paint-and-sip events and other painting sessions at The Upper East Side and also takes painting/social gatherings on the road. Jarvis is a third-generation artist specializing in historical sketches and scenes from everyday life. He is passionate about local and regional history, authoring a book on the area’s mill history.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On this May Day: Pigs, horses, bikes & baskets May 1, 2021

Two May Day baskets were dropped on my front steps in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

HAPPY MAY DAY, dear readers!

Do you hold sweet childhood memories of May Day like me? I remember elementary school days of weaving baskets from strips of colored paper and crafting paper flowers to arrange inside. And then gifting the basket to Mom.

Four homemade chocolate chip cookies were tucked inside a May Day basket. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

And then, a few years back, hearing my doorbell ring on May 1 to find bags and baskets crafted by the children of friends. Homemade chocolate chip cookies and Puppy Chow were tucked inside. Candy centered flowers on another. Their thoughtfulness brought me such joy.

The sweet May Day surprise friends dropped onto my front steps in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The gifts of May Day had come full circle. Perhaps today you can drop a May Day basket on a front stoop, ring the doorbell and run away before being spotted. Or walk if you can’t run.

An interior view of the swine barn, building #7, set for demolition today.

Or you can give the gift of time, if you live in my area. The Rice County Fair Board is seeking volunteers to dismantle the aged swine barn today. Just show up with your gloves and hammer (and other demo tools) at 9 a.m. at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Many hands make light work. The building will eventually be replaced with a new barn.

Fans watch The Kentucky Derby at the Paradise Center for the Arts in 2015.

At the end of the day, you can kick back and enjoy The Kentucky Derby. Typically, the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault holds a watch party, Big Hats & Big Hearts. But, because of the pandemic, that won’t happen this year.

My friend Beth Ann gifted me with official Kentucky Derby from 1986 and 1991 some years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But in my mom’s southwestern Minnesota care center, they’ll host a Derby party for residents, including hats crafted especially for the ladies. I’m thrilled. My mom has always loved The Kentucky Derby. The big hats and finery. Watching the race. If this party sparks memories, brings happiness into her day, then I am grateful. It’s been a difficult past year-plus for our seniors, their families and those who care for them. They need this escape to Kentucky, to watch horses with names like Known Agenda, Midnight Bourbon, and Soup and Sandwich (what kind of name is that?) compete.

It’s motorcycle season in Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

One more interesting event in the region rounds out the weekend, this one beginning at 10 a.m. Sunday in Owatonna. It’s the 25th annual Owatonna Bike Blessing at the Steele County Fairgrounds. Motorcycle riders and others will gather for music (by the Roadside Redemption Band), a guest speaker, food (available from 10 vendors) and blessings.

A May Day basket I received in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

To you, my dear readers, whatever you do this weekend, may you be blessed. Happy May Day!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling