Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

COVID-19 deaths reach 100 in Rice County April 7, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
Tags: , , , ,
Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only.

YESTERDAY MY COUNTY of Rice reached a mournful milestone with the 100th death of a resident due to COVID-19. That individual was only in his/her upper fifties.

Not that age matters. Every individual is to be valued, whether a child, a senior or anyone in between. Yet, I am citing this age to reaffirm that COVID kills more than the oldest among us. None of us knows how COVID will affect us. We may experience mild or no symptoms or symptoms so severe we land in an ICU. We could become long-haulers. Or we could die.

In the span of a year, 100 individuals in Rice County, population 64,142, died due to COVID-19. That’s a lot of families grieving, hurting, adjusting to life without a person they loved. Think about that for a minute or ten.

SEEING MORE & MORE NON-MASKERS & HALF-MASKERS

And then consider this. Every time I am out in public—whether buying groceries or shopping at a Big Box store or popping into the local dollar store, I see half-maskers and non-maskers. Their numbers are increasing. Just the other evening I stopped to pick up balloons for my granddaughter’s birthday and two young women stood behind me in line, neither wearing a mask. I exited that store angry and frustrated and wondering what’s so d**n hard about wearing a face mask.

I feel that way a lot. We are so close to this pandemic ending and people are exhibiting incredibly selfish behavior by not masking, or by half-masking. This has been an issue since mask mandates went in to place in Minnesota last summer. This is not about making a political statement or taking away individual rights, but rather about public health, about preventing the spread of a virus, about saving lives. Why can’t people understand that? Do non-maskers and half-maskers ever pause to consider that they may unknowingly pass along a virus which could make someone really sick or even kill someone? Where is the sense of responsibility, the concern for fellow human beings?

So, yeah, when I see individuals like the young father in the grocery store with a gator pulled over the back of his neck and over the top portion of his head but not covering his face, I feel disrespected. I tried to avoid him. But he bounced around the aisles like a ping pong ball. Ironically, his elementary-aged daughter wore her face mask correctly. He should follow her example.

THIS IS PERSONAL

My husband, who works in an automotive machine shop, tells me mask compliance is getting worse with maybe half his customers masking. That concerns me. I love him. I don’t want some idiot I-don’t-give-a-d**n-about-COVID customer infecting him. He doesn’t have a work-from-home option. Only recently did Randy secure a vaccine appointment, even though he’s nearly 65. Our tech savvy daughter helped him land that. Without her help, he’d still be waiting. If you’re anti-vaccine, don’t bother to tell me in the comments section. I refuse to give voice to that viewpoint or to misinformation on this, my personal blog.

According to statistics shared on the Rice County Public Health website on April 6, nearly 42 percent of the county population has received at least one vaccine dose. That seems a good start. But I know from our experience that vaccine appointments are elusive. Randy drove to Owatonna for his shot at a Big Box store. There he met a young mom from Lonsdale desperate to get an appointment for her immune-compromised mother.

While Randy got vaccinated, I shopped for a few essentials. And the entire time, I dodged half-maskers and non-maskers and wondered why? Why can’t we all care about one another and do the right thing by masking, and masking properly? In one section of the store, a pharmacist injected a life-saving vaccine. And, in too many aisles, too many customers (and some employees) chose to ignore a very basic way to stop the spread of COVID-19 by masking.

100 DEAD AND COUNTING

And now here we are with 6,889 Minnesotans dead (as of April 6) due to COVID-19, with 100 of those in my county of Rice.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetry of spring along the Cannon River in Faribault April 6, 2021

A budding tree against the backdrop of sunset.

OH, HOW GLORIOUS spring in Minnesota.

These past few days, especially, of sunshine and 70-degree temps have sprung spring. To see buds forming, to hear birdsong, to feel sun upon skin…oh, the joy.

On Saturday evening, as the sun set, Randy and I followed the asphalt trail that winds along the Cannon River in North Alexander Park. It’s a favorite place to walk. Uncrowded. Beautiful.

The trail follows the river, curving around trees.

I love the way the trail curves around trees.

The river draws waterfowl.

I love how the river draws my eyes to view reflections and to appreciate the ducks and geese which populate this waterway. The quacking of a lone mallard pulled me to river’s edge. I observed how the water trailed in a lengthy V as the duck paddled across the still surface. Poetry seen, not written.

The historic Faribault Woolen Mill, a subject I enjoy photographing any time of year.

Across the Cannon, the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill focused my eyes as it reflected in the river. And I thought of all the blankets woven here, the history of this place.

Water rushes over the Cannon River Dam by Father Slevin Park.

At the Cannon River Dam, aside the trail, I noticed how the dam walkway seemingly follows a straight line to the historic mill. Sometimes it’s about perspective, pausing to consider a place in a different way. I challenge myself, in my photography, to view my surroundings creatively. While I created, people fished, a popular activity along this stretch of the Cannon.

Looking down the Cannon, before it spills over the dam.

The river absorbed the pink tint of twilight. Soft. Muted. Another poem to photograph.

And if I’d had my zoom lens on my Canon EOS 20-D, I would also have photographed the two bald eagles following the river like a road map. I never tire of watching these majestic birds.

The top of this evergreen is lopped off, removed following a tornado several years ago.

As day edged closer to night, Randy and I retraced our route back to the van. A bit farther down the trail, teens packed basketball courts, their raucous voices rising.

Ballpark lights and a treeline contrast with the orange hue of sunset.

To the west, the sun glowed fiery orange like an exclamation mark ending a glorious spring day in southeastern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Easter hope April 2, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , ,
A sculpture inside St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

AS HOLY WEEK MOVES ever closer to Easter Sunday, I find myself focusing on hope. It’s such a positive word. One that I’ve held close to my heart through some really difficult challenges in life.

This past pandemic year has challenged all of us. Stretched our endurance, our patience, our ability to cope. To live life in a way that would keep us, and those we love, safe. I’ve felt frustrated about lax attitudes and behaviors regarding COVID-19. But through all of this, I’ve tried to balance that with hope.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

Hope seems synonymous with spring in Minnesota. Nature reveals hope in spring bulbs popping, in trees budding, in dormant grass greening and much more.

After a season of cold and darkness, hope breaks forth in longer days. More warmth. More sunshine. More light.

And now, in this too long season of COVID, hope for an end to this pandemic.

A photo of Christ’s face from a stained glass window in my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

As a woman of faith, I also view this time of year through the lens of eternal hope. I see the face of Jesus. Determined. Caring. Suffering. Dying. And then living, breathing. Alive. Darkness replaced by light on Easter morning. The light of eternal life.

This Easter Sunday, just like last, I’ll miss celebrating Easter in person with my faith family. I’ll miss the feeling that comes with worshiping inside a church with other Christians. I’ll miss the scent of lilies and the reverberation of the organ. I’ll miss the blessings of being among friends, of joyful Easter greetings.

Yet, I can still view the Easter service online or listen on the radio. I can experience worship indirectly. I can praise God and pray and let the joyful music of Easter fill my ears. And my mind. Hope remains. I know that my Redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives!

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile on a memorial for Barb Larson (murdered in an act of domestic violence) in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS, I wish you a most blessed, joyful and hope-filled Easter!

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Quoted lyrics are from the hymn, I Know that My Redeemer Lives.

 

Reflections after a country drive April 1, 2021

Farmland dominates the landscape east of Faribault near Minnesota State Highway 60.

EAST OF FARIBAULT, the land stretches long and flat. Wide open. Fields punctuated by farm sites.

We followed this narrow, and muddy, gravel road.

Gravel and asphalt roads divide farmland into grids. Orderly. As if a ruler was laid across the earth and straight lines inked thereon.

Building sites break the monotony of fields.

Sunday afternoon, after a hike at Falls Creek County Park, Randy and I took a country drive. We are farm-raised, decades removed from the farm, but with an enduring connection to the land.

An old hayrack, so familiar to me, parked in a field east of Faribault.

On the cusp of spring planting time in Minnesota, the draw back to the land, to the familiarity of fields, calls. For me, there’s this deep yearning, this need to lay my eyes on the bare earth or the residue of last year’s crops.

I feel connected to all of this via my rural upbringing in southwestern Minnesota.

At times my heart aches for missing the land. I want to smell the scent of soil, to touch the cold earth, to remember all those springs back on the farm. The steady rhythm of the tractor, the corn kernels pouring into the planter and then the faint hint of green lining the black fields.

An aged abandoned outbuilding on a former farm site just outside Nerstrand.

Much about farming has changed since my leaving of the land in the early 1970s. But the basics remain. The planting, the growing and harvesting.

Power poles along a gravel road are such a strong rural visual.

And even though I’ve lived in town far more decades than on a farm, my rural upbringing roots me to the land and takes me back each season. To honor my hardworking farmer dad. To equally appreciate my mom who gardened and fed and raised six children on the land. My hardworking parents instilled in me a love of the land, a connection to place and the innate need to follow gravel roads into the countryside.

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)
A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980.

This post is dedicated in loving memory of my farmer father, Elvern Kletscher, who died on April 7, 2003. Thank you, Dad, for raising me to appreciate the land, for teaching me the value of hard work. for instilling in me a love of God and of family. I am grateful. And I miss you.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods at Falls Creek Park March 31, 2021

Moss feathers across the end of a hewn tree.

AS SPRING EASES INTO MINNESOTA, I embrace the transition of seasons in indecisive weather and in the subtle greening of the landscape.

A greening vine in the otherwise muted landscape.

I don’t trust that winter has really, truly, exited. Yet, these early glimpses of spring assure me that the bulk of winter lies behind us.

Randy walks in the woods.

I saw that in the woods of Falls Creek County Park on Sunday afternoon. Randy and I hiked in this 61-acre park a mile east of Faribault off Minnesota State Highway 60. It’s a relatively unused park, one of the reasons we are drawn here.

Water rushes under the bridge and over rocks.

Here a dirt hiking path curves along the waterway winding through woods. Access to that path comes via an arched pedestrian bridge. There water rushes over rocks and we always pause to appreciate the soothing sound of rushing water.

The creek meanders, wide in some areas, narrow in others.
In places, the creek runs clear.
A fork in the creek.

And we also always walk to the side of the creek, to examine the water at the bend, before it flows under the bridge. Recent rain left that water muddied. Later we would find the creek flowing clear.

Loving the light, color and texture on this tree trunk moss.

Entering the woods, I determined to photograph signs of spring in the muted landscape. That requires focus. Examples of spring are elusive and seen mostly in vivid green moss carpeting fallen tree trunks.

A fallen tree provides a canvas for art.

But I can photograph only so much moss. Thus I expanded my perspective. Nature writes details upon the landscape. Even in a scene of mostly muted browns.

Hillsides of trees rising

and fungi laddering

and dried leaves curling.

Nature’s “antlers.”

And the branches of a tree twisting like antlers.

Nature’s sculpture.

And felled trees that appear like natural sculptures.

The makeshift bridge.

All of these nuances I noticed as we walked, as I stopped to take in my surroundings, as Randy steadied me while I crossed a makeshift branch bridge across a spillway.

Randy crosses the bridge out of the woods.

There is much to see in this seasonal transition, if only we pause to appreciate. To look. And really see. To hear. And really listen. It’s there. The poetry of wind and water and woods and words.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Appreciating local art, especially now March 30, 2021

Created from clay, this piece by Faribault artist Tami Resler is currently displayed at the Paradise Center for the Arts.

AS A CREATIVE, I’m biased when it comes to the importance of art in education and in our lives.

“Nebraska Sky,” acrylic on canvas by Kate Langlais.

Art takes us beyond the functional and necessary basics to a place that feeds our spirits and our souls. That frees our minds.

Faribault artist Julie Fakler, who works and teaches at the Paradise, specializes in animal portraits. This cat portrait is titled “Monet.”

With canceled concerts, celebrations and theatrical productions, closed arts centers and more during the past pandemic year, we’ve realized just how much we miss, and need, the arts. Or at least I did. I felt especially grateful that Faribault’s weekly outdoor summer concert series continued in 2020. I looked forward to the Thursday evening performances in Central Park where I felt comfortable among socially-distanced attendees. For more than an hour, I could immerse myself in music and relax in the outdoors. And now, with restrictions loosening, access to the arts, in all forms, is slowly returning.

Kate Langlais paints during a June 2020 concert at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

At one of those concerts last summer, I met Faribault artist Kate Langlais, who was painting on-site. She’s a gifted artist and shares her talents via teaching classes through the Paradise Center for the Arts. Langlais’ art, and that of other instructors and gallery committee members, is currently exhibited through April 3 at the Paradise in historic downtown Faribault.

Linda Van Lear’s “Bachrach Building” (an historic building across the street from the PCA,), second from right, and Dee Teller’s “Precious To Me” watercolor and ink on paper on the far right. Van Lear died in January and was active in the PCA.

And what a talented group of local artists. Their showcased art features acrylic on canvas/hardboard, watercolor & ink on paper, clay, wax dye resist on fabric and more.

“Bunny,” a truly creative clay birdhouse by Diane Lockerby.

I photographed a sampling of the gallery pieces. I celebrate this creativity. This art inspires me. Uplifts me. Causes me to think. Makes me happy.

“My Soul Sings” by Deb Johnson

I expect these featured artists feel like they have to create. Just like I have to create via my writing and photography. To do so gives me joy, feeds my spirit and my soul.

Outside the Paradise Center for the Arts (a former movie theater), with its stunning marquee.

FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Ave. N., Faribault, is open from noon – 5pm Thursday and Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on this season of spring in Minnesota March 29, 2021

In this file photo, snow edges the patio as I’m about to hang laundry on the clothesline in early spring.

WHEN I STEP OUTSIDE to hang sheets and towels on the clothesline, I feel such gratitude for the arrival of spring in southern Minnesota. Winter gets long in these parts.

Crocuses are in full bloom in my front yard flowerbed.

I long for sunshine and blue skies and more light than darkness. Birds tweeting. Crocuses unfolding and tulips stretching above the earth. And no more freezing my fingers while hanging laundry in the morning. Early spring brings all of those.

Laundry on my clothesline. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I love hanging laundry outside. The rhythm of pulling items from the laundry basket then clipping and repeating soothes me. The physical task gives pause in my day, reconnects me with generations of women who did the same, connects me to nature via the warmth of the sun and the music of birds.

And then, when I reverse the task in the afternoon and carry the air-dried laundry indoors, I breathe in the scent of nature. The air of spring.

A biker swings his bike onto Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street past the Rice County Courthouse on a recent warm spring afternoon.

For others, spring signals biking season. And plenty of bikers have been out and about. Some even earlier, in winter.

My grandson hopscotching in his two-year-old way.

And the kids, oh, the kids. Taking them outside is so much easier with no snowpants or snowboots to pull on. Randy and I played with our grandkids in the driveway of their home last weekend with Izzy circling on her bike and Isaac jumping, rather than hopping, on chalked hopscotch squares. Then we headed to the neighborhood park with Izzy zooming ahead on her bike and me pushing her brother in the stroller, trying to keep up, but failing. At the playground, we pushed both kids in the swings with Isaac calling for “higher.”

Always the first flower of spring in my yard. The beautiful crocus.

How wonderful this time with our grandkids. To be in the moment. To feel their joy. To watch them soar and climb. To hear them laugh. To experience their delight. I feel blessed in this season of life.

TELL ME about your joyful spring moments.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the Paradise: Student art reflects the pandemic March 26, 2021

This vivid art by Faribault Middle School seventh grader Levi pops color into the student art exhibit at the Paradise.

THE ALL AREA STUDENT SHOW rates as one of my annual favorite art exhibits at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. I love viewing the creative efforts of students from elementary age through high school. Their talent always impresses me and this year is no exception.

This year’s exhibit is significantly smaller, filling only a single second floor hallway.

But the 2021 show, because of the pandemic and mostly distance learning, is scaled back. Way back. Art lines only a section of one hallway rather than multiple hallways and the walls of the second floor gallery.

Bethlehem Academy sixth grader Diego drew the masked portrait, left, one in a long line of masked portraits by BA students.
Masked portraits by BA sixth graders, Allison, left, and Megan, right.
Lillian, from the sixth grade class at BA, created the portrait on the left.

Not only are fewer pieces of art displayed, but the art, too, reflects the pandemic and distance learning. Students from Bethlehem Academy, for example, drew portraits. Of their masked selves.

“Lines” by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Aronranrcsy reminds me of the prairie. This is one of my favorites.

I also noticed a lack of copycat art with teachers assigning students to a specific art task and then student after student after student creating the same thing. I observed more creativity and diversity. And I really appreciated that individuality as it allows students to open their artistic wings and soar.

“Color” by Mohamed, Faribault Middle School eighth grader. This just makes me happy.

Paradise Center for the Arts Executive Director Heidi Nelson and I briefly discussed my observations. She agreed that distance learning definitely factored into the artwork, noting that some of the art is computer generated/created.

What incredible talent…portraits by Faribault High School student Stacie.
Each work of art is tagged with the artist’s name and school. I’d welcome info on the art medium.
Hazel, a third grader at Bridgewater Elementary School, created this family portrait, which I absolutely love. If we’ve learned one thing during the pandemic, it’s the value of family.

However these students created—whether via a pencil or a brush or a computer or some other method—they share the common denominator of making art. And for that, I feel inspired and grateful.

FYI: The All Area Student Show on the second floor of the PCA continues through April 10. The Paradise Center for the Arts is open from noon – 5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Experience Faribault through the art of Joe Kral March 25, 2021

Faribault themes “My Hometown” by Minneapolis artist Joe Kral.

WITH NEARLY 100 PIECES of art displayed in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault native Joe Kral’s “My Hometown” exhibit takes time to view. But there’s not much time to see this place-focused show, which opened in mid-February and closes April 3. I’d encourage you, especially if you have a Faribault connection, to view Kral’s art now.

The art of Joe Kral fills the Carlander Gallery.
“The Happy Clown.” Kral’s art celebrates the clown graphic used on the Tilt-A-Whirl amusement ride created and made in Faribault, up until recently.
Kral’s signature art highlights Faribault.

The Minneapolis artist creates mixed media paintings in a signature style that appeals to my love of vintage graphics, fonts, old print ads and nostalgia. Kral sources vintage materials from books, magazines, maps and postcards. He then adds colors and texture with spray paint, stencils and ink, according to information on his website. The results are a visual and creative delight.

The Hardwood General Store building still stands near the King Mill Dam.
Some of the businesses featured in Kral’s art still exist. But most don’t.
The King Flour Mill was destroyed by fire and is honored here by Kral.

Faribault residents and natives, particularly, will feel like they are walking down memory lane when viewing “My Hometown.” Kral features primarily Faribault businesses. Like Brand Peony Farms, Fleck’s Beer, King Flour Mills, Farmer Seed & Nursery and Tilt-A-Whirl—all gone. But he also includes art on current businesses like the well-known Faribault Woolen Mill and KDHL radio.

Chief Taopee art created by Kral.
Town founder, Alexander Faribault, portrayed in Kral’s mixed media art.

Two locally important early leaders, Chief Taopee and Alexander Faribault, are also included in Kral’s hometown exhibit.

More of Kral’s art…

With the historic bend of this show, “My Hometown” seems like a good fit also for a history center/museum, which may draw an entirely different audience. This speaks to the diverse appeal of Kral’s art.

Joe Kral, when he was a student at McKinley Elementary School in Faribault.

In his bio, Kral shares that he was raised on skateboarding, BMX, heavy metal and art. I see that influence in his art. And I also see his love for Faribault—which I expect comes from leaving his hometown, reflecting and then appreciating the place that grew him as an individual and as an artist.

Kral’s Brand Peony Farms art recognizes Faribault’s past history as a peony capital. The business no longer exists.

FYI: The Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue N., Faribault, is open from noon – 5 pm Thursday and Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays. While at the Paradise, check out the other gallery exhibits. I will feature some of that art in upcoming posts.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, the joy of the unexpected in a Minnesota arts center March 24, 2021

Jimmy Reagan’s art splashes across a tote and backpack for sale in a New Ulm arts center gift shop.

IT WAS THE VIVID COLORS which first caught my eye inside The Grand Artisan Gift Shop in downtown New Ulm. Bold hues flashed, accented by strong lines of color, as if the artist had pulled every crayon from a box of crayons and dashed them across the canvas.

Backpacks feature Jimmy Reagan’s colorful art.

This is the work of Jimmy Reagan, a 27-year-old St. Paul artist influenced by the likes of Picasso and van Gogh. His art graces backpacks, totes, sweatshirts in this gift shop on the first floor of The Grand Center for Arts & Culture. You’ll find a wide selection of art from other creatives here also.

Reagan’s work “offers him a means to illustrate his perspective of the world,” according to a promotional bio I picked up in the gift shop. This young man views life through the lens of autism. He was diagnosed with complex autism as a toddler.

These sweatshirts, with Jimmy’s signature “tick marks” (left), hang in the entrance to The Grand Kabaret, an entertainment space in The Grand.

Since 2009, he has created art and is internationally-recognized. I admire Reagan, who rose to the challenges of his autism to express himself and to communicate. Strong colors, simple images and signature “tick marks” (those short dashes of color) define his art. I, for one, am a fan.

The colorful bathroom with the canvas for chalk art above.

I’m also a fan of the public restroom on the second floor of The Grand. It’s not often I write about or photograph restrooms, although two photos I took of “The View from Our Window: Grant Wood in Iowa” rest area along I-380 northbound near Cedar Rapids published in the book, Midwest Architecture Journeys, edited by Zach Mortice and printed by Belt Publishing.

A sampling of the temporary art.

The Grand restroom in New Ulm is not artist-themed, but rather an artistic canvas for anyone who steps inside. The lime green walls first caught my eye as I walked past the bathroom. (As a teen, my bedroom was painted a similar lime green.) And then I noticed the chalk art above the tile and thought, what a great idea. Maybe it’s nothing novel for a public bathroom. But it was to me. And, although I didn’t pick up chalk and add to the black canvas, I photographed it. And that, too, is art.

Check back for more photos from downtown New Ulm.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling