Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

COVID-19 stories from Minnesota November 18, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots photo taken in downtown Faribault, MN on May 15, 2020.

AT 6 PM TODAY, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz is expected to announce more restrictions related to COVID-19 during an address to our state. With cases, hospitalizations and deaths exploding, additional measures seem wise and necessary. Minnesota recorded 67 COVID deaths today, a new record.

On Tuesday afternoon, the governor led a press conference that focused on stories, what he termed “the basic human part of what COVID is.” If you read my MN Prairie Roots post yesterday, you understand the value I place on stories. Last Friday I emailed the governor’s office and suggested stories as a way to personalize COVID. Whether my email helped shape the approach taken at yesterday’s briefing, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. What matters are the powerful stories shared. I feel it’s important to pass along these stories, using notes I took during Tuesday’s press conference.

“IF WE DON’T ACT NOW…”

Former State Representative Nick Zerwas from Elk River began the storytelling with his COVID experience, one which landed him in the hospital for five days. Only 39 years old but with an underlying heart defect, he required supplemental oxygen. “I was stunned that I was so overwhelmed and ill from this virus,” he said.

At times throughout the tele-conference, I heard Zerwas coughing and wondered if he would make it through the briefing.

Zerwas, a Republican, has done an about face on the virus, now advocating mask wearing and coming together to stop rampant community spread. He spoke candidly about his change in attitude, noting, though, that the virus situation (community spread) now is much different than this summer.

I’ve seen the same attitude changes recently in other Republican leaders who, just last week, became infected with COVID. It’s a welcome shift that I hope ripples to the public and ends the politics of COVID-19.

In his lengthy storytelling, followed by a media question, I found this statement by Zerwas to be particularly powerful: “The virus is here. If we don’t act now, God help us.”

IN THE ICU WITH HEART AND KIDNEY FAILURE

The second speaker, Sarah Winston, the mother of a 17-year-old daughter infected with COVID-19, spoke next. Hers is a story that needed to be told and to be heard by anyone who thinks they are “safe” from the ravages of the virus just because they are young and healthy.

Sarah described her daughter as a healthy student athlete who contracted COVID from an asymptomatic friend. Ella ended up in the hospital for 10 days with heart and kidney failure and more and deals now with inflammation of her heart.

This mother urged Minnesotans to stay home, to quarantine even if they test negative after exposure, to wear masks, to be safe, to be smart.

I was surprised to hear her say, though, that she wants sports to continue (for the mental health of young people).

“AN AWFUL EXPERIENCE”

Dr. Jon B. Cole, a doctor in Hennepin Healthcare emergency medicine, termed COVID-19 “an awful experience.” He spoke from both a personal and professional perspective. In March, when COVID was just breaking in this country, he canceled a trip to Florida with his wife and four children. Five days later, he developed the virus and was among the first in Minnesota to test positive for COVID. Cole emphasized how thankful he was for his decision to cancel the Florida trip.

On a professional level, he spoke of the “substantial number” of nurses and doctors now sick with the virus or in quarantine. He warned of a shortage in healthcare workers.

GRIEVING

“I don’t want anyone else to endure what my family has had to endure,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said after sharing the story of losing her brother to COVID-19 in March. She described her brother as “a Marine, tough as nails.” He cared for their father, who died in January. Not long after, he was diagnosed with aggressive cancer and then COVID.

Flanagan noted that she never got to say goodbye to her brother, that she hadn’t processed her grief. It wasn’t until October that her family buried his ashes. Grief threaded through her narrative. As did strength and a determination that her experiences will make a difference.

She emphasized that every life has value, no matter an individual’s age in obvious reference to many elderly in care centers who have died as a result of COVID.

Flanagan said it’s “killing” her not to have Thanksgiving with her mom, asking Minnesota families to do the same so the chairs around their holiday tables are full next year. She encouraged people to drop the “magical thinking” that one Thanksgiving dinner won’t count in stopping the spread of COVID. Those were hard words to hear.

“COVID will continue to spread as long as we allow it to,” she concluded, urging everyone to take care of themselves and each other.

SOME WORDS FROM THE GOVERNOR

When the press conference ended, the media asked questions, mostly of the governor. He noted there will be a pause in sports and other restrictions announced today.

He also expressed gratitude to those who shared their stories Tuesday afternoon. I am grateful, too, for those stories which, as the governor stated in his opening remarks, add the human element to this virus.

Walz offered one final observation: “This is as bad as it was in New York in the spring.” If only he was wrong.

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Take care, dear readers. Make good choices for yourself and others. Follow health and safety guidelines/mandates. Be safe. Be well.

NOTE: I welcome comments and sharing of stories. However, I moderate all comments and will not publish those which are inflammatory or which spread misinformation and/or false narratives.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My take-aways from a COVID-19 situation press conference in Minnesota November 17, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

STORIES. THEY MATTER. And, during a Monday afternoon press conference addressing COVID-19 in Minnesota, the powerful stories shared by Abbot Northwestern Hospital ICU nurse Kelly Anaas took this crisis down to a personal level.

I—we—needed to hear this. Stats, data and information, while important, can only go so far before we numb to the numbers. Stories translate into real people, real situations. They hit home.

As Anaas stood at the podium and talked of patients from Stacy, Brainerd, Bemidji waiting for hours for helicopters and/or ambulances to transfer them, of the ICU filling, of overwhelmed healthcare workers, I could see the stress on her face, the worry, the strong desire to convince Minnesotans to follow health and safety guidelines and take this virus seriously. If her plea doesn’t convince people, I don’t know what will.

“So, Minnesota, lawmakers, mask wearers and COVID deniers, I’m here today to say that you need to believe nurses when we tell you that these things are happening,” she said.

Just moments earlier Anaas dismissed the term frontline workers, instead shifting that to say, “Minnesota, we are your only line.”

One of her most memorable statements: “Please, Minnesota, stay home this Thanksgiving so you don’t have to ring in the new year with me.”

WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER

Repeatedly throughout the news conference, our governor, public health officials and other healthcare workers (including another nurse and a doctor) called for Minnesotans to do their part, to work together, to be kind, to stay home, to mask up, to social distance, to limit their Thanksgiving celebration to their immediate household. That’s a change from just days ago when we were advised it was OK to gather with no more than 10 people from three households.

How quickly things evolve with this pandemic. Reported record high daily infections of nearly 9,000 with deaths breaking records also prompted Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm to term the numbers “terrifying.” And she warned the situation will worsen as the high infection rate translates to increasing hospitalizations and deaths in the upcoming weeks.

Mixed with that bad news, though, seemed a concerted effort by those speaking to set a positive tone. A pep fest, if you will, praising Minnesotans for their efforts thus far and inspiring them to work together as “One Minnesota” (Governor Tim Walz’ unifying theme). Walz also noted the light at the end of the tunnel in promising vaccines. But we’re not there yet. He repeatedly called upon Minnesotans to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19.

A LIGHT-HEARTED MOMENT

In the midst of all the dire news, Dr. Cuong Pham of M Health Fairview delivered a light-hearted moment when he shared how he learned to cut his hair via YouTube. I appreciated the humor mixed into his observations of hospitals at near-capacity, his concern about “the little hospitals in greater Minnesota,” his worry, too, about patients with healthcare needs beyond COVID. Heart attacks, strokes, car accidents and other emergencies continue. He stressed wearing masks, with the added words “over your nose.” I appreciated that. Over, not under, your nose.

These are difficult days. There’s no questioning that. I’d like to believe that we as Minnesotans have the ability to live up to our Minnesota Nice moniker, to believe healthcare workers like Kelly Anaas who need us to listen, and, as the governor said, “fight the virus and not each other.”

NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish inflammatory comments or those which spread misinformation and/or false narratives.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Northfield: When fire damages an historic river inn

In the center of this photo, you can see the burned back section of the Archer House, west side. Photo take on Sunday afternoon, November 15.

I STOOD NEXT TO THE RIVER, camera aimed across the dark waters of the Cannon River to the historic building on the east bank. To the building with the gaping hole on the top floor. I struggled to hold my zoom lens still in the fierce wind of the bitterly cold Sunday afternoon. Viewing the devastating scene before me, I felt a deep sense of loss. No image I framed can fully capture the depths of loss for this southeastern Minnesota community. Material. Financial. Historic. Emotional.

The section of the sprawling building where the fire began in a smoker, then raced up walls from the lower level restaurant.

Last Thursday, November 12, at around 3:30 pm, fire broke out in a restaurant’s meat smoker inside the historic Archer House in downtown Northfield and quickly spread. The 1877 sprawling inn anchors the historic downtown on the north end. It’s perhaps the most recognizable of this community’s landmarks and much-loved.

Sunday afternoon, barricades blocked access to the burned Archer House River Inn and tenant businesses.

Today, the future of the aged building, which housed three restaurants—including Smoqe House, where the fire began, the 40-room inn and a gift shop—remains uncertain.

The welcoming front entry to the historic Archer House River Inn.

But of one thing I’m certain, if this historic river inn can be saved, it will be.

This is a beautifully-detailed building.

When I photographed the fire, water and smoke-damaged structure days after the fire, many others were doing the same. After viewing the inn from the west side of the Cannon, I moved to the east side, along Division Street, to get a full front view. This “landmark for hospitality and elegance” built in the French Second Empire Style stood tall and stately still, yet marred now by shattered windows, missing roof, fallen brick, and other debris.

From atop the library hill, I photographed the Archer House.

First I photographed from across the street, atop the hill by the Northfield Public Library, stepping across a dormant flowerbed next to a wrought iron railing. Later I descended to street level to also include the street barriers and yellow tape that keep onlookers away from the scene.

The Archer House sits across Division Street from the Northfield Public Library.

No matter the photographic perspective, the view looked the same. Devastating.

The highest window with the construction year noted, 1877 (part of the number is missing).

But as the good people of Northfield do—just as they did in 1876 to defeat the James-Younger Gang during a raid at the First National Bank—they’ve rallied. The Northfield Downtown Development Corporation has established an Archer House Relief Fund to assist and provide economic relief for the river inn and its tenants. The goal is $25,000. If you are able and inclined to contribute, please do so by clicking here.

The Archer House truly anchors downtown Northfield.

I don’t need to tell you these are challenging days in general. But then, to throw a fire into the mix of difficult times, well, it can all feel overwhelming.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Birthday wishes to my daughter November 16, 2020

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Miranda. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

TODAY MARKS A SPECIAL DAY in my life, as much as it marks a special day for my second-born, Miranda. Today she celebrates her 30-something birthday.

This post celebrates a daughter who is beautiful in every essence of her being. She is strong and loving and compassionate. Those who know her well value her quiet spirit, her resilience, her kindness. She has always been deeply considerate of others, never needing to be the center of attention, a good listener.

Those qualities made Miranda really good at what she did professionally. I write that in past tense because, earlier this year, she lost her job as an independent contract Spanish medical interpreter. That happened in the spring when Madison, Wisconsin, hospitals and clinics closed their doors to elective visits and surgeries due to COVID-19. The need for her services could be handled by in-house interpreters.

Miranda poses in front of the UWL hillside letters at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, on her graduation day in 2010. She earned a degree in Spanish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

After years of interpreting, most in the Fox Valley area of northeastern Wisconsin, Miranda found herself without the job she loved. Interpreting for Spanish-speaking patients was such a good fit for her given her love of language, her calm personality and, most of all, her compassion for helping others. When you’re interpreting for patients and their families in crisis (think automobile accidents, stabbings and other medical emergencies) or getting difficult diagnoses or even at the birth of a child, it takes a special person to remain calm and professional.

Miranda realized immediately after her job loss that she needed to find other employment because it could be months before regular healthcare resumed. Eventually, she landed a job as a letter carrier with the U.S. Postal Service. Today she continues to deliver mail, working six days a week, sometimes 10-plus hours a day. I admire her positive attitude about this new job despite the long hours, only one day a week off and the political attacks a few months back on the postal service. That’s a lot of negatives.

Yet, as she’s always done, Miranda has risen above the challenges. She is strong. She is hardworking. She is resilient. I love this daughter of mine, this beautiful young woman who has always been here for our family and so many other families. Loving and caring, in her own quiet way.

It is my hope that someday she can return to interpreting. But in these days when hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients and on the cusp of, if not already, shutting down elective surgeries and visits, she needs job security. For now that comes in delivering mail as an essential worker, someone who cares about getting letters and magazines and all those packages delivered.

Miranda, five days old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I remember my daughter’s early delivery, how we scrambled in the early morning hours to find someone to watch her big sister so I could get to the hospital days ahead of a scheduled C-section. Even back then, Miranda had a mind of her own. From the very beginning, she set the timetable for her life in asserting her strength and independence.

Happy birthday, dear Miranda! I love you and I miss you!

© Copyright Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look at COVID-19 in Minnesota & it’s bad November 13, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

THE PAST WEEK HERE IN MINNESOTA has been a difficult one as daily COVID-19 cases rise right along with deaths. The numbers are staggering. A record 7,228 positives reported Thursday. A record 56 reported deaths on Wednesday. I feel like I’m almost numbing to the statistics, to the ever-growing cases and deaths, including five new deaths reported in my county of Rice on Wednesday, another on Thursday. Likewise the number of care centers and schools with infections numerous enough to make the Minnesota Department of Health outbreak list lengthens.

Nearly every day recently I’ve received an email or a text notifying me that someone I care about, or one of their loved ones, is infected with the virus. That includes two sisters-in-law and a brother-in-law. Both my mom and my father-in-law are back in quarantine after new cases of COVID in staffers at their care centers. Concern for my husband at his workplace is ongoing given the many mask-less customers and co-workers not masking properly. He can’t do his job from home; he’s an automotive machinist. We discuss his work situation often and his need to put his health and safety first.

Social distancing remains part of the safety protocol to protect ourselves and others from COVID-19. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

This pandemic is out of control. You all know that. And it doesn’t need to be this way. I’ve long felt deep frustration over the failure of some many to follow basic health and safety guidelines like masking up (and that means wearing the mask correctly, covering mouth AND nose), keeping six feet or more away from others, washing/sanitizing hands, avoiding crowds, and staying home if you’re sick, have symptoms, have had contact with an infected person or are awaiting COVID test results. These are not difficult requirements to follow.

Posted on the door of a business in Northfield, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

A friend recently offered this comparison to those who claim masks do no good:

If you were having surgery would you want the surgeon to wear a mask? We wear masks during the pandemic for the same reason surgeons wear masks in surgery, to prevent the spread of germs.

He’s right. I’ve used that same analogy. And this week the Centers for Disease Control stated that wearing masks not only protects others, but also ourselves. I’ve long thought that. Yet, too many still view mask mandates as political, as government intrusion, as anything but what they are, a way to protect all of us from COVID-19. This is science and health-based. But, for some reason, too many people in my community of Faribault continue to ignore the science and our state mask mandate. I see unmasked individuals (and those wearing them below their noses or around their necks only) in public all the time.

The #1 reason to mask up. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

I am thankful that Minnesota’s governor this week added restrictions to help stop the spread of COVID in my state. Those include closing bars and restaurants at 10 pm, banning bellying up to the bar and limiting games like darts and pool, capping funeral and wedding reception sizes, and asking us to limit private gatherings to 10 people from no more than three households. Already, people are whining and complaining. “What about Thanksgiving? And what about Christmas? And what about…?” (The Free Community Thanksgiving Dinner and Faribault Winterfest have been cancelled due to COVID-19. I’m so relieved organizers made those smart choices.)

I photographed this sign on a business in Crosby, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Yet, politicians continue to fuel the fire of opposition to mandates by citing economic concerns and abuse of power. I understand the economic fall-out. I’ve lost income due to the pandemic. My daughter lost her job. My son-in-law lost his job. (They’re working now.) The hospitality industry, especially, is hurting. I get that. I acknowledge that. But the constant criticism of efforts to stop the spread of COVID makes zero sense. We are in this together. Together. Elected officials who continually attack public health mandates are hurting efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19. I don’t understand why they don’t understand that this pandemic is, first and foremost, a public health issue that takes top priority.

Can you imagine being a healthcare worker right now (and I know some of you are)? Many are voicing their frustration over the failure of the public to grasp the severity of the pandemic, to follow basic preventative measures. Minnesota hospitals are filling. Our healthcare workers are getting sick.

The reason the Rare Pair in Northfield gives for wearing face masks. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

We all want life to return to normal. But in between now and a vaccine, we must each adhere to health and safety guidelines. When we don’t, we risk our own health and the health of others. I, for one, don’t need more emails and texts telling me of loved ones or others infected with COVID.

And I don’t want to read more disheartening headlines like these published in my local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, this week:

COVID-19 outbreak at care center swells to 74 staff, residents

COVID surge drives Faribault district to distance learning

With COVID cases on the rise, City Hall to shut its doors

We each have a responsibility to try our best to stop the spread of COVID by following health and safety protocols. Thank you to those who are doing just that.

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Note: I moderate all comments and will not publish inflammatory comments, including those which spread misinformation and false narratives.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The saga continues: Unsustainable & unaffordable health insurance November 12, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ELEVEN MONTHS CANNOT pass quickly enough for me. And, no, this has nothing to do with COVID-19 although I certainly wish for an end to that, too.

What I most anticipate, what I’m most excited about and looking forward to from a financial perspective in 2021 is turning 65. And getting on Medicare. Why? Because of the cost of my health insurance.

Recently, Randy brought home the new premium numbers for 2021. Since I’m self-employed, I get my coverage through his work plan. Based on media reports and based on the across-the-board decline in medical services provided this year (due to hospitals canceling elective surgeries early in the pandemic and fewer people seeking medical care, etc.), I expected our premiums would remain the same or even decline. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

We are facing another increase, of nearly $200 a month, to monthly premiums of $1,245 each. Times two, that’s $2,490 a month (up from $2,297/month) for policies with $4,250/each deductibles. That’s an 8.4 percent increase.

This is a photo of an x-ray showing the implant I have in my left wrist. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

Let’s break that down. Randy’s employer pays half of his premium. None of mine. Therefore our portion of the premiums will be $1,868 a month, $144 more than the $1,724/month we currently pay.

This is unsustainable. And ridiculous. This is not affordable health insurance, to all you politicians out there who claim you’ve made healthcare affordable. Talk to me. I’ve remarked to Randy that soon he will need to pay his employer to work for him, just to cover our health insurance premiums. While I may be stretching that a bit, I see the numbers on his paychecks. When I do the math, I see that nearly three weeks of his base gross wage each month goes toward health insurance premiums.

I also recognize that employers, especially small businesses, feel the financial impact of such high health insurance premiums. If you are fortunate enough to work for an employer who covers your full premium and maybe even contributes to family coverage, consider yourself “lucky.” I have no doubt Randy’s employer is looking forward to his getting off the company plan in 11 months as that will save the business money.

An incorrect medical bill I received in 2018 after surgery to place a plate into my broken left wrist. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

I’ve always been a financially responsible person, someone who spends her money wisely, who doesn’t need the newest/biggest/best. Live within your means, don’t accrue unnecessary debt. That will never change about me. Or Randy. But, still, I yearn for an updated kitchen to replace the 1970s yellowing cupboards, the brown sink with the leaky faucet, the Formica countertops, the worn vinyl flooring…, well, you get the picture. I could have had that lovely new kitchen years ago if not for the exorbitant cost of health insurance.

But, more than that, I dislike that my hardworking husband is giving up a sizable chunk of his paychecks to pay for health insurance that is basically only a catastrophic plan. Any suggestion that we simply go without insurance is not a financial risk we wish to take. Not at our age. So we wait. Eleven more months…

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring our veterans, including my dad November 11, 2020

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My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

Vesta—Pfc Elvern Kletscher, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kletscher, was wounded in action on Heart Break Ridge in Korea on February 24th. He was engaged in mortar firing at the time. A burst of enemy schrapnel (sic) struck him in the face. He spent a few days in the hospital and was released, but has not returned to active duty. Elvern entered service on February 15, 1952 and has been on front line duty in Korea since November 7th.

The above short article about my father published in a rural Minnesota newspaper in the early winter of 1953. I can only imagine how my grandparents received the news about their son, wounded in action in Korea.

On the back of this photo from my father’s collection, my dad simply penned “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

In a letter written to them just days after his February 26, not February 24, war injury, my dad mentioned nothing about the incident. Rather, he wrote of snow, called Korea a “hell hole” and advised his family not to worry. But how could they not worry, realizing that their son was in the thick of battle as a frontline infantryman with the US Army? According to an earlier newspaper article, he was training with the 24th infantry, the first American division to fight in Korea, from Pusan to the Yalu River in 19 months of combat.

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

My dad shared only a few stories about his time in Korea. He talked about the events leading up to his shrapnel wound. Ordered to take out a sniper who, for days, had been picking off fellow platoon soldiers, Dad hunkered inside a trench. A bullet struck his trench. Dad studied the angle of the bullet, angled his rifle up and shot. He heard a “ka-pook,” understanding that he had hit his intended target.

Two days later, when 12 men were sent to retrieve the sniper’s body, Dad stood guard to assure the enemy was not circling behind. Suddenly, 10 small mortars lobbed toward them, one landing near him. Had it gone off, my father would have died. Instead, shrapnel struck his face. “I knew the blood was running,” he said in a 2000 interview with a Minnesota TV station at the time he was awarded a long overdue Purple Heart. He was shaking and scared, but couldn’t leave his post.

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad’s military photos, is simply labeled “front line.” That would be “front line” as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

Eventually, my dad would make it safely back to rural Minnesota, resume his life as a farmer, marry my mom and raise a family of six children. But he was a changed man, scarred by war, dealing with PTSD (unknown back then) and other issues resulting from his time on the frontline in Korea.

The Rice County, Minnesota, Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault stands in front of the courthouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, Veterans Day, I honor my father (who died in 2003) and all others who have served and continue to serve our country, whether they have been in direct combat, served in support capacities or otherwise. I appreciate their efforts to secure our democracy, our freedom.

TELL ME: Who would you like to honor today? Or, if you’ve served, please share your thoughts on this important day.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The choice is ours November 10, 2020

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The historic Ames Mill sits along the banks of the Cannon River in downtown Northfield. Malt-O-Meal hot cereals are made in the mill. You can often smell the scent of cereal wafting through this southern Minnesota community.

THE CITY OF NORTHFIELD, about a 20-minute drive northeast of my Faribault home, has long-rated as one of my favorite Minnesota communities. For many reasons.

Crossing the pedestrian bridge over the Cannon River in downtown Northfield.

It’s situated along the banks of the Cannon River, making for a picturesque setting.

Standing along a river walk, I photographed the pedestrian bridge in downtown Northfield.
I spotted this art on the hood of a car parked along Division Street near Bridge Square.
From the river walk, nearly under the pedestrian bridge, I photographed the Cannon River and distant buildings.

Homegrown businesses fill the historic downtown, which edges the river. Here you’ll still find an independent bookstore plus antique shops, boutiques, restaurants, an arts center, the public library and much more.

Bridge Square, Northfield’s downtown community gathering spot often chalked with messages.

And, in the heart of Northfield’s business district you’ll also find a community gathering spot. Bridge Square. Here you can buy popcorn from a vintage wagon in the summer, take the kids or grandkids to visit Santa during the holiday season. You can rest here on a bench and engage in conversation. Watch the river flow by or the water fall over the fountain sculpture or the nearby dam.

This motor vehicle bridge lies next to the Ames Mill, across the river from Bridge Square.

But Bridge Square is so much more than a Norman Rockwell-like place to meet, gather and relax. It’s also a spot where opinions are expressed. Students from St. Olaf and Carleton, two noted private liberal arts colleges based in Northfield, use this space to gather and voice their concerns. And, even though I may not always agree with their views, I appreciate that they share them. To see young people concerned enough about an issue to publicly express their thoughts gives me hope.

Among the many messages, peace vs division.

For the first time in a long time, I feel hope. Out of all the chalked messages I read on Sunday while at Bridge Square, I found one that really spoke to me. Peace vs division. Oh, how we need that. Peace. Not division.

A message printed on a step leading to the river walk. You’ll also find poems imprinted into sidewalks in downtown Northfield.

That stop at Northfield’s town square, with so many issues printed in chalk on cement, could easily have overwhelmed me. I could have despaired at all the problems that need fixing. But rather, I choose to see this as an acknowledgment of concerns. Of the possibilities. Of the solutions. Of choices which can bring peace rather than division.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An architecturally historic bridge in Waterford Township November 9, 2020

NOTE: This post features photos from a mid-August stop at the historic Waterford bridge near Northfield, Minnesota.

The historic Waterford Bridge, located in Waterford Township in Dakota County, Minnesota.

 

TO THE MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT of Transportation, the historic Waterford Bridge some two miles northeast of Northfield is tagged as bridge number L3275. I suppose bridges, like roads, require such numerical identifiers.

 

This is truly an artful and unique bridge in southern Minnesota.

 

Much more than a name or number, this “140-foot, steel, riveted and bolted, Camelback through truss on concrete abutments” bridge, according to MnDOT, stands as an historic bridge spanning the Cannon River.

 

The new plain-looking bridge.

 

Rare in design here in Minnesota, the 1909 bridge closed to vehicle traffic in 2009 and was rehabilitated in 2014. A new, non-descript modern bridge replaced it.

 

Weeds, wildflowers and other plant growth surround the bridge.

 

I’ve long wanted to see the old bridge in Waterford Township as it reminds me of a similar truss bridge from my childhood. That bridge took US Highway 71/Minnesota State Highway 19 traffic across the Minnesota River near Morton. When my dad drove our family Chevy across the bridge en route to Minneapolis once a year to visit relatives, my siblings and I pounded on the interior roof to scare any trolls lurking underneath at water’s edge. That all seems silly now, reflecting as an adult. But, back then, it was great fun.

 

The narrow path to the bridge.

 

I stopped along the path to photograph a butterfly atop a thistle. I saw multiple butterflies.

 

Fast forward to today and my desire to see a similar-in-design bridge. Randy had actually driven across the Waterford Bridge at one time while doing some automotive repair work for a farmer in the area. So he easily found it. After parking, we set out to reach the bridge, weaving through a narrow pathway bordered by trees, thistles, goldenrod, wildflowers and other plants. Boulders blocked the deteriorating paved trail to motor vehicle traffic.

 

I hesitated, but only for a moment.

 

Upon reaching the bridge, I wondered if we should even venture onto it given the BRIDGE CLOSED—BRIDGE NOT SAFE NO TRESPASSING signage. But the deck looked safe…and many others had obviously been here before us.

 

In need of paint, or perhaps replacement.

 

The Waterford Bridge spans the Cannon River.

 

There’s lots of graffiti on the bridge.

 

Once on the bridge, I was surprised at its condition. Rusting metal. Flaking paint. Weathered boards. Graffiti. Vandalized signage. Cracked pavement.

 

Historical details on a sign posted high above the bridge deck.

 

As I walked, dodging dog poop, I considered the condition of the bridge built by the Hennepin Bridge Company with Dakota County Surveyor Charles A. Forbes leading the project design. His name and that of other government officials are listed on a plaque atop one end of the bridge which now appears abandoned to the elements. The bridge is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Tubers exit the Cannon River near the new Waterford Bridge.

 

The new Waterford Bridge photographed from the old bridge with tubers in the distance at river’s edge.

 

A couple carries their kayaks along the narrow path leading to the historic Waterford Bridge.

 

Under that bridge, the Cannon River flows, muddy and brown, carrying tubers, canoeists and kayakers—we met two of them, saw others—to places eastward. We watched as one couple carried their kayaks along the narrow path to the bridge with plans to travel eight miles to Randolph, a journey they expected to take three hours.

 

The muddy Cannon River, a popular waterway for water sport enthusiasts.

 

It was a lovely summer day to be on the water. Or, like us, to walk across an historic bridge that, for me, bridges past to present via childhood memories.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Creating kind words in chaotic times November 6, 2020

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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My vintage Scrabble game. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

GIVEN MY LOVE OF WORDS, I’ve always enjoyed playing Scrabble. But it’s been years since I pulled out my 1970s vintage game to build words on a board. Randy doesn’t like the game. So it sits in the closet, collecting dust.

But let’s imagine for a second that I pulled out that Scrabble game, turned all the letters face down and randomly selected seven to start the game. What words would I form? Could I plan ahead and make the most of my letters to score the most points? I could try. Yet, another player’s actions often change the best thought-out plans.

Much is also left to chance. There’s only so much you can control while playing Scrabble, or most games for that matter. Kind of like life.

“Protect the herd” plays off Northfield, Minnesota’s “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” slogan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Like right now we can do everything possible to protect ourselves from COVID-19 (such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing our hands, avoiding crowds, etc.). But we may still contract the virus. That doesn’t mean, though, that we should just give up and resign ourselves to getting COVID. We do have the power, and the responsibility, to try our best—by following health and safety guidelines, by making changes in our behavior and finding ways to improve our health—to possibly fend off the virus. And we need to recognize that our choices and actions affect others. Just like in Scrabble.

The past few days have been difficult ones, not only because of the presidential election, but also because more and more people I care about have either contracted COVID or have loved ones with the virus. COVID cases and deaths here in Minnesota are breaking records. I feel pretty stressed, as I’m certain many of you do.

Displayed at LARK Toys. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

What’s a person to do besides stay the course and seek ways to relieve the building anxiety and stress? Part of the answer rests on the Scrabble board I photographed several years ago at LARK Toys in Kellogg. Be kind.

I can be kind to myself, recognizing that my feelings are valid. And if I feel like I need a handful of dark chocolate chips to help me feel better, that’s OK.

I can also strive to work harder at kindness. I recognize I sometimes fail and miss opportunities to express kindness. I can choose to take my focus off scoring points to creating kind words. That’s my Scrabble analogy.

And just so you know, the one person who always beat me at Scrabble was my mother-in-law, Betty, gone 27 years now She proved a fierce competitor. And I loved her for that.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling