Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A short drive around Faribault reveals winter’s artistry March 11, 2019

One of the most scenic settings in Faribault–the arched entrance to historic Shattuck-St. Mary’s School, a private college prep school.

 

A MUCH-HYPED WEEKEND winter storm brought more rain than snow to Faribault. Nearly six hours of rainfall followed by about four inches of snow in my southeastern Minnesota community. That’s significantly less than the forecast of up to a foot of the white stuff. For that I am thankful.

 

Randy shovels a path to the grill on the patio because, yes, he still grills in winter.

 

Less snowfall equals less work in clearing heavy wet snow from our driveway and sidewalk and those of our neighbor.

 

 

 

 

The storm also brought spectacular beauty. I awoke early Sunday morning to a winter wonderland of trees layered in white against a backdrop of blue. A blue that only deepened as the morning advanced.

 

 

After brunch, Randy and I took a short drive around town just because it was such a beautiful day with the fresh snow, the blue sky and the sun flooding the landscape with brilliance and a noticeable warmth. We knew any trails in town would prove too icy for safe walking.

 

 

A brief jaunt onto a portion of a slushy/icy/snowdrifted county road reminded us that a drive farther into the countryside would be unwise.

 

A narrow snow-banked sidewalk in southwest Faribault.

 

Driving around town also required a heightened awareness with snow piles blocking visibility at nearly every intersection. Many sidewalks look like trenches.

 

This fairy tale snow house graces the front yard of a home on the corner of Division Street West and Sixth Avenue Southwest.

 

I dodged puddles of melting snow to photograph a snow house along busy Division Street. Traffic passed within feet of me and I hoped I wouldn’t be splashed. I wanted a closer look. But snow and ice prevented me from doing that.

 

The tower of Shumway Hall at Shattuck-St. Mary’s School is stunning no matter the season.

 

All in all, the day proved lovely. Sun shining. Deep blue sky. New snow layering the landscape, transforming winter, for one day, into something artistically beautiful.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Insights into my blog featured in magazine article March 9, 2019

This photo shows the first page-plus of a feature story published in the spring issue of Fleur-de-lis. Nick Gerhardt photographed me in my dining room. My father-in-law, Tom Helbling, painted the winter scene behind me. The chest of drawers is a refinished Helbling family heirloom. And the chain of folded cranes were crafted and gifted to me by Sunny, a wonderful young woman from Boston. The four books represent a sampling of the many anthologies in which my writing has published.

 

EVERY DAY WE WRITE our stories. By the way we live. By what we say and do and how we act. Or don’t.

We craft our personal stories whether at a computer, working retail, raising a child… Each story differs. Each story matters. Every single person matters.

 

A selfie of Randy and me taken in September 2017 at the walleye statue along Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

 

I am honored by the telling of my story in the spring issue of Fleur-de-lis, a lifestyle magazine published by the Faribault Daily News. Freelancer Nick Gerhardt wrote the piece which also features nine of my photos in a six-page spread. Plus Nick’s photo of me. And a selfie Randy took of us by the big walleye statue in Garrison because I am horrible at taking selfies.

Nick got my story right. He captures the essence of me as a person, a writer and a photographer in his focus on my blogging. I appreciate that. When a writer really, truly connects and understands the interview subject, as Nick did with me, it shows.

He spent several hours in my home, not only asking questions, gathering information and taking photos, but also talking shop. Although I haven’t worked in the newspaper field for decades, I can still relate to the profession and its challenges and rewards.

It is clear to me that Nick did his homework, researching my blog in advance of our interview. And it is clear to me that he fully understands my southwestern Minnesota rural background and its influence on my writing and photography. He digs into that in a section tagged “setting the roots.”

 

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration in 2016. This is one of my favorite close-up images and among those published in Fleur-de-lis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Nick describes my blog as “a hotdish of Americana through a Minnesota lens.” I love that perspective. It accurately reflects my writing and photography style and the content of my blog. My images and words focus on rural Minnesota—Main Street, grassroots small town events, the Minnesota countryside, country churches, issues that matter to me and much more.

 

An abandoned farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 east of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. The image is published in Fleur-de-lis. The house, photographed in 2012, is now gone. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When Nick interviewed me, I stressed to him the importance of noticing details. It is a skill rooted in my childhood. When you grow up on the prairie as I did, you notice details in that stark environment. I’ve always engaged all of my senses—not just visual. I can smell harvest, hear the howling wind, feel the bite of winter, taste sunshine in a garden-fresh tomato, see heat waves shimmering over a cornfield in July. That eye for detail weaves into my writing and my photography.

Through the decades, I’ve honed my craft, found my voice. But I’ve never lost touch with my prairie roots. Everything I write, everything I photograph, is rooted directly or indirectly in my rural upbringing. In my Minnesota prairie roots.

 

The cover of the spring issue of Fleur-de-lis.

 

FYI: Copies of the spring 2019 issue of Fleur-de-lis are available from the Faribault Daily News for $2. The issue also includes republication of my blog post, “Winter’s here, so we may as well embrace it,” illustrated by outstanding winter photos by area photographers. That post, I will note, published on January 2, long before this winter became the longest of cold and snowy winters in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo gift to all the winter-weary March 8, 2019

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Photographed inside a Faribault, Minnesota, greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

ON THE EVE of another major winter storm here in Minnesota, I am opting to remember that this snowy season will end and spring will eventually erupt in all her colorful glory.

 

Leaves unfurling in southern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

My great niece waters plants insider her family’s mini greenhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

Apple blossoms at River Bend Nature Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May, 2017.

 

To convince myself of that possibility, I searched my archives for spring images, photos that I can visually imprint upon my thoughts. It is the best I can do now to deal with all this snow. It is my way of handling my disappointment in not seeing my grandchildren this weekend. It is my way of mentally preparing for the 6 – 10 inches of snow forecast to fall here Saturday through Sunday.

 

A pause in field work along the Rice-Steele County line in April 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Several years ago, my crocuses bloomed in mid-March. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Walking with the baby and the dog in Northfield, Minnesota, on March 12, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. 2016.

 

Because I know plenty of other Midwesterners are as sick of winter as I am, I am sharing. May these photos provide a brief break from winter. May they remind you that warmth and greenery really do exist in cold weather locations. Just not now. But spring will come, my friends. Believe it.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BONUS PHOTO: The Lyndale Avenue walk-up/drive-up Dairy Queen in Faribault opened recently, an unofficial sign of spring. And, yes, Randy and I enjoyed our $1.99 Peanut Buster Parfaits.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How a winter drive refocuses thoughts & inspires creativity March 7, 2019

An abandoned building near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

IT IS THE ABSENCE of color. White. Pervasive now in the Minnesota landscape, as one would expect in March.

The whiteness of the southern Minnesota countryside overwhelms vision. Snow layers the land, rooftops, roadways, seemingly every surface. It takes effort to focus on something, anything, beyond the white.

 

 

A much-needed Sunday afternoon drive through rural Rice County provided an opportunity to shift my thinking away from this interminable winter of too much brutal cold and too much snow. Yet, my thoughts never really drifted away from winter. How could they when wind swept snow across the roadway, sometimes finger-drifting drifts?

How could my thoughts wander to spring when everywhere I saw winter?

How could I escape winter when I observed ditches filled with snow to road level?

This drive wasn’t accomplishing what I’d hoped—a temporary alleviation of cabin fever. Who was I fooling? Only a vacation to a warmer climate or a weekend get-away to a hotel could deliver that. Neither will happen.

 

East of Northfield, Minnesota.

 

Realizing that, I tried harder to embrace the winter scenery. My camera allows me to reshape my thinking, to view the world through a different lens. To see beyond the colorless to the color. A red barn.

 

 

A flash of yellow in a road sign.

 

Blue sky backdrops a farm site near Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

A blue sky.

 

Mailboxes protrude from banked snow in Dundas, Minnesota.

 

With camera in hand, I began to notice the details—to see art-wrapped mailboxes embedded in a snow bank,

 

Snowmobiling near Nerstrand.

 

a snowmobiler powering through winter,

 

 

power poles penciling horizontal lines over blank fields.

And when I saw all of that, the poetry of winter overwrote the absence of light, of all that white.

 

Note: All images have been edited with an artsy editing tool.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When snow piles force you to play chicken March 6, 2019

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I stood in my driveway to show you the height of the snow piled at the end of the drive. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.

 

IT’S AKIN TO PLAYING CHICKEN.

That’s the most accurate comparison I can make as we deal with massive snow piles at the ends of driveways and at intersections here in Faribault and throughout Minnesota.

Back out of a snow-banked driveway and you risk hitting a vehicle you may not have seen because of the snow. But even worse, peeking around snow piles at intersections for oncoming traffic.

 

A view of Willow Street, a main arterial street running past my Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2019.

 

I live on a corner lot along a heavily-traveled street in Faribault. I am thankful our driveway is on the side street. Most driveways along this arterial route are not. My side street is busy also, serving as a direct route for parents, students and others to get to the Catholic school just blocks away.

I’m surprised I haven’t witnessed a crash at this intersection. I’ve heard vehicles honk warnings. It’s just a matter of time before a collision occurs. That could be serious given the rate at which many vehicles travel. I often wonder at those drivers who exercise no caution when circumstances call for caution.

 

Another snow obscured intersection in Faribault.

 

So what’s the solution? I’d love to see city crews clear the vision-blocking snow piles at the T-intersection by my house. Public safety is at risk. But I also realize crews are overworked and taxed by continual snow removal as storm after storm after winter storm brings record snow to our area. They have done a great job with snow removal during and right after snowfalls.

I’ve observed additional snow clean-up during lulls between snow events. Just last week several blocks around the Catholic school were widened and snow hauled away. I’m OK with that. Those streets needed widening to accommodate on-street parking and room for emergency vehicles.

But my street, a main route through town, could use widening also and removal of vision-blocking snow piles built by city snow removal equipment. Thousands of vehicles, including emergency vehicles, drive this route daily.

For now, drivers continue to nose into the intersection by my house and hope they don’t miss seeing oncoming vehicles.

TELL ME: Are you dealing with vision-blocking snow piles in your community? Have you witnessed or experienced a collision/near-collision because of snow pile issues? What do you suggest as a solution? (Other than fleeing to a warm weather state.)

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beer, conversations & creativity on a winter day in Minnesota March 5, 2019

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

AS I SIPPED my double IPA at Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday afternoon, I snuggled under a fleece throw inside the revamped long ago chapel. I couldn’t shake the brutal cold of the winter day, even inside this cozy, albeit not particularly warm, building. I removed my mittens, keeping my coat zipped over a flannel shirt and hooded sweatshirt.

I perched on a stool next to the wall, next to a window overlooking a snow-covered deck, snow layering locked down tables and chairs. I wondered how many months before the snow melts, before craft beer lovers will sit outdoors on the riverside deck. It’ll be awhile.

For now, they settled for glimpses of spring on a corner TV screen broadcasting a pre-season Twins game. I was in the minority with no interest in baseball. Only a lush flower commercial for Gertens drew my attention and a personal public service announcement of “Hey, look, spring.”

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

They laughed. The mostly men dressed in mostly flannel shirts. Some, like me, kept their stocking caps clamped on their heads. I felt a sense of closeness in this gathering of strangers unknown to Randy and me. There’s something about the craziness of coming out on a bitterly cold March afternoon during a forever winter of too much cold and snow that builds community. We’re all in this together. We’re surviving. We’re trying to make the best of what this winter has handed us.

 

Inside Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

And then in walked the two guys from Cannon Falls, one dressed in striped bib overalls. I flashed to my farmer dad, who would have celebrated his birthday on Monday. He’s been gone now for nearly 16 years. Dad always wore striped bibs. The stranger’s attire offered me no choice but to comment on his clothing. He’s a farmer, too. Prior to arriving at the brewery, he stopped near Medford to look at a digger dug from the snow by the seller. Now that’s gumption, braving bone-chilling cold to shop for a piece of farm equipment.

 

Kolsch beer served at Chapel Brewing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo February 2018.

 

The things you learn when you decide to strike up a conversation over a beer. I also learned the bibbed farmer appeared in a campaign commercial for a Minnesota politician. He showed me the clip on his phone.

When another beer drinker overhead me say I grew up in Redwood County near Vesta, he chimed in. He’s familiar with the area, having attended Southwest Minnesota State University in neighboring Marshall back in the 1970s. He knew Vesta then as “the cult town,” a term I’d never heard but which likely traces to a religious sect in my hometown. A Twin Cities area native, he didn’t fit into the ag-oriented college all those decades ago. I also learned he lost his wife a year ago and offered my sympathies.

It amazes me sometimes what I learn by observing, by starting conversations, by reaching out to people. I am, by nature, an introvert. I’d rather listen than talk about myself. But I am, by nature and by educational and professional backgrounds, curious. I notice details. I observe. And by observing and caring about others’ stories, I discover connections that spark my creativity. Even in the depth of a long Minnesota winter.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Snow art with a message March 4, 2019

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I APPRECIATE MINNESOTANS who see the possibilities in snow. Like Faribault resident Kurt Klett, who crafted a snow sculpture in his front yard at 417 Second Street Northwest.

 

 

It’s not the first time he’s done so and not just for the fun of it. Klett has a cause—to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis. He has the disease.

I first noticed his Irish-themed duck sculpture on Sunday morning. Maybe it’s been there awhile. I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Klett has taken the time to create this snow art. All art holds meaning to its creator and to those who view it. That’s the beauty and joy of the creative process.

 

 

Whether raising awareness or telling a story or portraying beauty or whatever, art is powerful. In the depths of an incredibly long Minnesota winter of too much snow and too much cold, I applaud the efforts of creatives like Klett. He intentionally chose to create outdoor public art in a season when many of us would rather tuck ourselves indoors waiting for spring.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling