Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The winds of December topple holiday trees December 6, 2021

The Holiday Tree Display in Faribault, late Sunday afternoon, when winds tipped trees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

WICKED WINDS SWEEPING from the northwest into Faribault Sunday afternoon into Monday brought more than cold temps. The strong winds also toppled Christmas trees displayed in Central Park.

Tipped tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen ornaments atop a Christmas tree skirt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen snowman tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Randy and I headed out to view the Holiday Tree Display, a project of the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, after the Vikings game. When we pulled up, we observed numerous trees lying on the ground, ornaments littering the lawn, tree toppers askew.

A member of the Wunderlich family stands near the tree (left front) he and his sister donated. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A cross tops the tree donated by the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Tubes of sand anchor a tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Several tree sponsors arrived to deal with the unexpected damage. A Wunderlich family member who, along with his sister set up a tree honoring loved ones and community members who died of cancer, headed across the street to Ace Hardware for sandbags. I noticed sandbags anchoring several trees. And when two women came to upright their trees, Randy and I convinced them to let the trees lie given the prevailing winds.

Randy chats Sunday afternoon with a member of the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Even though toppled onto the ground, this star topper still shines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A particularly beautifully-decorated tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

When Randy drove by the holiday display Monday morning on his way to work, he reported more trees down with only perhaps 10 of the 34 still standing. Winds still blew, with the temp dipping into the single digits. It feels a lot like winter now. No snow here, though. But central and northern Minnesota got enough to create travel issues and necessitate late school starts.

Across the street, the beautiful, historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour provides a lovely backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Ah, Minnesota. I expect next year precautions will be taken to keep those holiday trees standing straight.

An unusual tree sponsor name. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
So many beautiful ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Grey against grey. A rustic star. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

This is only the second year of a project which spreads Christmas joy. All trees are sponsored and decorated by local businesses, organizations, civic groups, etc., and then donated to families/individuals without a tree. It’s a great idea, one which garnered the 2020 Minnesota Recreation and Park Association Award of Excellence for Faribault Parks and Rec.

In the grey of a December day, this red star brings light. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

I feel thankful to live in a community of generosity.

Found among the ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021.)

None of us ever knows when strong winds will sweep into our lives and knock us down. None of us ever knows when we will need the kindness of others to uplift us, to help us stand, to support us. To give us hope. There is something to be learned from wicked winter winds. We need one another, even if sometimes we think we don’t.

Photographed Sunday afternoon. All trees have now been placed upright. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

FYI: The trees have now been placed upright and staked, and will be displayed until December 10.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finding the perfect imperfect Christmas tree

A family searches for just the right tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

TYPICALLY, WE DON’T BUY our Christmas tree until later in December. But this year we purchased ours the day after Thanksgiving. Why? Because I didn’t want to risk Ken’s Christmas Trees running out of trees.

Like so many other items (remember the run on toilet paper?), there’s a supposed shortage of Christmas trees. True? I’m uncertain. But the fact is that Faribault has far fewer places to purchase real trees than just a few years ago. Faribault Garden Center closed. Farmers Seed and Nursery closed. And Donahue’s Greenhouse stopped selling Christmas trees a while back when they opted to open only in spring and summer.

Of course, trees can still be found in multiple locations in and around Faribault. But none of the trees are quite like Ken’s. If you prefer old-fashioned/Charlie Brown style, this is your go-to place. I prefer imperfect to perfect, short-needled to long and short to tall.

Customers flock to Ken’s tree lot post Thanksgiving. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

So on the day after Thanksgiving, Randy and I headed to Ken’s Christmas Trees in his pop-up parking lot location at 1407 Fourth Street Northwest across from Arby’s in Faribault. When we arrived, the place was buzzing with customers. When I saw a tree I liked, I asked for it to be set aside while I continued my search. I wasn’t about to risk losing my perfect tree to a perfect stranger. In the end, that first tree made it atop our van.

That’s Ken, far right, walking towards us. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

We chatted a bit with Ken Mueller, who has operated this seasonal business since 1988. The tree lot has been in existence since 1939 under a different name, different locations. Randy knows Ken from back whenever. He’s a down-to-earth, hardworking guy with a big smile and a friendly attitude. Perfect for vending trees. Ken shared that he raised his prices this year (we paid $35, his lowest price) to offset increased costs of hauling all those trees from Up North to southern Minnesota. He’s bringing in 630 trees in four loads. That may sound like a lot, but not when you draw customers far and wide who are looking for trees like Ken’s.

You’ll find more than just trees here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Besides trees, customers will also find porch pots, wreaths, garlands, evergreen gnomes and dogwood.

Choosing a tree… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

Our tree isn’t inside the house yet. This early in December seems too early to bring it into the warmth and heat. But soon. When I untangle and layer the lights, hang vintage and homemade ornaments, and then drape the branches in strands of tinsel, I’ll flash back to the Christmas trees of childhood. The Charlie Brown trees. So imperfectly perfect.

Folksy signage adds to the charm. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

FYI: Ken’s Christmas Trees is open from 2 – 7 pm Monday-Friday; 9 am – 6 pm Saturday; and 11 am – 6 pm Sunday.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling