Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Revisiting & appreciating Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse August 18, 2021

Little Prairie School, rural Dundas, Minnesota. The date on the building conflicts with the date on an on-site memorial and I don’t know why. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED since Randy and I stopped at the Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse, rural Dundas. But on a recent weekend afternoon, we picnicked on the school grounds, next to a cornfield and a stone’s throw away from a vintage outhouse.

We ate our picnic lunch here. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I embraced this rural Bridgewater Township setting as I ate my sandwich and watched the occasional vehicle fly by on paved Rice County Road 8. Mostly, though, quiet prevailed.

Little Prairie United Methodist Church, repaired following a damaging tornado several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

When I finished my lunch, I grabbed my camera to document the country school and more, including Little Prairie United Methodist Church just across the road. Last visit, the then-pastor toured us through the church and then unlocked the schoolhouse. This time, I had to settle for peering through a school window.

A paver honors Little Prairie founders, the Emerys. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Little Prairie—a name that resonates with my prairie roots—was settled in 1855 when Jacob and Eliza Emery homesteaded here. He’s noted as the church founder on a paver at the Little Prairie Community Memorial, new since our last visit. Emery, as history goes, cut a 3-mile track through the Big Woods to find this 60-acre prairie. Little Prairie.

A memorial honors the people of Little Prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Among the “farmer” pavers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Students remembered. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

A study of the memorial pavers reveals names of early settlers, farmers, teachers, families and others with connections to this prairie place. History imprinted upon stone.

I pushed Randy briefly on the merry-go-round, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Beyond that, when I let this place speak to me, I could hear the voices of children as they played tag on the playground. Or circled on the aged merry-go-round. Screams. Laughter. Joy. Maybe even pleas to stop the dizziness.

The mud scraper. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear, too, the scraping of shoes on the mud scraper bolted to cement steps outside the front doors.

A necessity at rural schools, the water pump. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear the creak of the water pump handle moving up and down, up and down.

The outhouse has been painted since the last time I was here and a screen added.

I could hear the bang of the outhouse door.

A view inside the classroom through a window. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Locked doors kept me from accessing the school. But I imagined the determined voice of a teacher, the recitation of spelling words, the scratch of chalk upon slate, the clomp of shoes upon wooden floor…

A back view of the simple country schoolhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

This schoolhouse, built in 1858, holds no personal meaning to me. Yet, I cherish it. Within these walls, children learned. They flourished. They grew friendships and knowledge and, I expect, a deep appreciation for their community. This place. This Little Prairie.


Merry-go-round details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021.
Information on ordering and purchasing a memorial paver for $225 is available inside this mailbox on the schoolhouse steps. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


On the backroads of Rice County with Mr. Bluebird August 17, 2021

Mr. Bluebird, Keith Radel. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

DOWN THE GRAVEL ROAD, I saw him exit the ditch, cross the roadway and then climb into his red pick-up truck.

A man on a mission, to save bluebirds. Those are nesting boxes in the truck bed. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

“That’s Keith,” I told Randy. Even from a distance I recognized the tall, lean profile of Keith Radel. Known as Mr. Bluebird, he travels the backroads of Rice County checking bluebird nests.

Keith puts on countless miles in his red pick-up truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Randy and I had just finished a short hike at the nearby Cannon River Wilderness Park when I spotted Keith on a gravel road in rural Dundas. We paused, his pick-up and our van pulled side-by-side, windows rolled down, the three of us conversing like farmers meeting on a rural road to talk crops.

Keith’s simple mission statement. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Except we were talking bluebirds. Not that I know much about these songbirds. But Keith, who’s been tracking, counting and caring for bluebirds for nearly 40 years, does. He’s relentless in his passion to assure this bird thrives. And that devotion drives him to drive miles upon endless miles to check nest boxes and count eggs and do whatever it takes to assure bluebird survival. Rice County has the most successful bluebird recovery program in Minnesota.

A nesting box for bluebirds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I didn’t take notes when we were talking, although I recall Keith saying major ice storms in Texas this year had a devastating effect on the current bluebird population. He keeps meticulous notes on each nesting box.

Bluebird eggs. We didn’t see any bluebirds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Mostly, I focused on being in the moment. When Keith offered to show us two bluebird nesting boxes just down the road, we didn’t hesitate, reversed course, our van following his truck in a trail of dust. Once parked, Keith led us down the side of a ditch, lifting the nest cylinder from its post to reveal three beautiful blue eggs inside. The next nest held only a single egg.

Keith checks a bluebird nest. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Soon we were on our way, Randy and I looking for a place to eat a picnic lunch and Keith continuing with his bluebird checks.

The personalized license plate on Keith’s pick-up truck. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

But there’s more to this story than that of a man sporting a MINNESOTA BLUEBIRD RECOVERY PROGRAM cap with a specialty BLUEBRD license plate and a window sticker on his pick-up that proclaims his mission, Helping Bluebirds. There’s a personal connection. Keith is from my hometown of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. He grew up north of town. I grew up south of town. Both of us on family farms.

I photographed this cornfield and farm site from the gravel road where we stopped with Keith to check a bluebird nesting box. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Place connects us. Most people in Rice County are clueless as to the location of Vesta, or even our home county of Redwood some 120 miles to the west. So whenever I see Keith, I feel this sense of connection to my home area, to the land. When we met on that gravel road on a July afternoon, Keith understood my need to exit Faribault, to follow gravel roads, to reconnect with the land. And, yes, even to look at the crops.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A must-listen: “Tilly Remembers Her Grandfather” August 13, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

SHE DEFINES SADNESS in these words: an ocean filled with nothing.

That definition comes not from a poet or a songwriter, but rather from 12-year-old Matilda Breimhorst in a May 1, 2020, podcast interview with Michael Barbaro of The New York Times, The Daily.

I encourage every single one of you to listen to this 20-minute interview, “Tilly Remembers Her Grandfather.” It will leave you emotionally exhausted/drained/heartbroken as you hear Tilly speak about her beloved Papa.

The Rev. Craig Breimhorst died on April 16, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19. He was the first person in my county of Rice to die of the virus. That county death tally has since risen to 113. As shared in my post yesterday, Breimhorst’s life will be celebrated on Saturday during his funeral.

When I published that post, I was unaware of the podcast. But Minnesota Prairie Roots reader Sandy Varley directed me to the NY Times podcast and for that I feel grateful. Please, take 20 minutes of your time to listen to Tilly talk about her Papa.

About the grandfather who climbed with her onto their special spot on the roof of his house to talk and star gaze. About the grandfather who would show up unexpectedly at school to eat lunch with Tilly (even stealing her chips) and tell stories to her and her friends. About the grandfather whose t-shirt she slept in when he lay dying in the hospital.

I admire the strength of this 12-year-old in telling her story, sharing her grief. Her words are powerful, her insights remarkable for someone so young. Via this podcast, via the bravery and honesty of Tilly, Rice County’s first COVID-19 death transforms from a statistic to a granddaughter remembering and grieving her grandfather. Her beloved Papa.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflecting on COVID-19 in Rice County August 12, 2021

From the front page of the April 17, 2020, Faribault Daily News.

ON SATURDAY, AUGUST 14, family and friends of the Rev. Craig Breimhorst will gather to celebrate his life during a long-delayed funeral. This husband, father of three, grandfather of seven, and spiritual and community leader died on April 16, 2020. His death marked the first COVID-related fatality in my county of Rice.

I remember well the shocking headline in the local newspaper: Faribault pastor dies from COVID-19 complications. That singular head and the story that followed shook me and imprinted upon me the seriousness of this virus. This was no longer a virus an ocean away or half a country away in New York. This was here. In Minnesota. In my county. In my community.


And now here we are, nearly 1 ½ years later and the virus still rages. Since Breimhorst’s death, an additional 112 Rice County residents have died from COVID. I knew some of those individuals or had connections to them. The most recent death—an individual between the ages of 45-49—was reported on Wednesday.

Still, despite that death count of 113, despite 351 hospitalizations (62 in ICU ranging in age from three months to 95), despite 8,425 cumulative COVID cases (as of Wednesday) in Rice County, there are still doubters. Still anti-vacciners. Still those who refuse to wear masks, or argue/complain about wearing masks. Still those who cannot look beyond themselves and their agendas to the health and safety of their friends, families, neighbors, and, yes, even strangers.


Now more than ever with the highly-contagious and more serious delta variant, we need to care. And take care. Breimhorst’s online obituary ends with this requirement: Everyone not vaccinated of all ages are requested to wear a mask (at the funeral). Among Rice County residents ages 12 and older, 60.7 percent are fully-vaccinated, according to data listed by the Centers for Disease Control. Additional stats show 52.3 percent of the county’s population fully-vaccinated. That leaves a lot of unvaccinated people in Rice County. Too many by choice. And then those under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination and have no choice.


Rice County remains in the high community transmission category for COVID. And that is leading our local school district to rethink its “no masks when school starts” stand of just a few weeks ago. The Faribault School Board will vote soon on whether to require masks of staff and students when classes resume. We, as a community, owe it to our kids to protect them, to offer the safest and healthiest environment possible in which to learn. I cannot even fathom why anyone would object to masks to protect our children, especially. But then I can’t fathom either why people refuse vaccination.

A recent article in the Faribault Daily News quotes local student representatives saying that students feel wearing masks “is a small request…if it means staying in school in person.” Additionally, those reps state that vaccine hesitancy “seems to come from parents more than students themselves.” That doesn’t surprise me. Even though I don’t have kids in school, I still care about kids in Faribault.

I feel thankful for businesses, churches and others who are now asking, even requiring, the public (both vaccinated and unvaccinated) to wear face masks in an effort to stop the spread of COVID. Rice County is once again requiring face coverings to be worn in all county government buildings. And, yes, I’m definitely masking in indoor public places, adding another layer of protection to my vaccine protection. I don’t want to get a break-through case of COVID and then perhaps unknowingly spread COVID to my friends, family, neighbors or strangers. I feel a strong sense of personal, social and community responsibility.

I would like to think that I am also honoring the Rev. Craig Breimhorst by masking. A line in his obit reads: With Craig, love always won and love will always win. Those are words to ponder, to take to heart as this pandemic rages, to remember that love is more than a word. It is an action.


NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine or anti-masking, please do not comment. I moderate all comments and will not give voice to those views on this, my personal blog. My stands on wearing face masks and vaccination are rooted in care. And in love.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Appreciating River Bend Nature Center in Faribault August 11, 2021

Black-eyed susans on the prairie at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

WHENEVER I NEED TO CONNECT with nature nearby, my go-to destination is River Bend Nature Center, just across the Straight River on Faribault’s east side.

A viewing and resting spot by the prairie wetlands, now drying up due to the drought. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

In this 743-acre natural space, I can immerse myself in a diverse landscape of woods, prairie and wetland. Each setting provides not only a sensory change from the noise and motion of living along a busy street, but also a much-needed mental break.

An unknown to me prairie plant. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

When I’m at River Bend, I forget about what’s happening in my life or the world. Rather, I focus on being present in nature. Listening. Observing. Connecting.

Rain gardens front the RBNC interpretative center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

That word, connecting, fits River Bend, which emphasizes its purpose as helping connect people to outdoor education, recreation and natural resource conservation close to home.

River Bend has an extensive trail system, some paved, some not. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

My own children, while growing up and attending school in Faribault, went on many field trips to River Bend. I remember also one winter evening when our then-young son delighted in a star-gazing event, complete with telescopes, on prairie’s edge. Today I occasionally take my grandchildren to walk RBNC’s trails. Randy and I also hike the paths.

A prairie path. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Perhaps my favorite part of this spacious nature center is the prairie. It reconnects me with my prairie roots. With southwestern Minnesota, the land of open spaces and spacious skies. I love to walk through the path sliced into the prairie at River Bend. The path edged by tall prairie grasses and wildflowers. The path where I can pause to take in the vast sky with no trees blocking my view. I need to visually breathe.

Coneflowers, one of my favorite prairie flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
“Rattlesnake Master,” Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Wildflowers and grasses mix on the prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

On my most recent visits, the prairie has focused my attention. Specifically the wildflowers—those interspersed among the grass and those planted in the rain garden near the interpretative center. While fading, the flowers remain an integral part of the prairie eco-system as they form seeds and then grow and/or re-sprout in the spring.

A lone turtle suns itself on a log. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

I also spent time in the nearby woods, stopping at the Turtle Pond to photograph turtles sunning on logs. They delight me and generations of kids, including mine, fascinated by those lazing turtles.

Signage helps visitors identify plants and flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

River Bend holds generational appeal. I’ve seen young families pushing babies in strollers, teens driving remote-controlled vehicles on limestone shelves, older couples like us walking, and much more.

A lone daisy blooms among the prairie grass. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Next week, August 16-20, River Bend focuses on its annual Ramble fundraising campaign. As a nonprofit, RBNC relies on fundraising, donations and memberships to keep the center open and operating. For more information about the Ramble, visit the RCNC website.

TELL ME: Where’s your favorite place to escape into nature near your home?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From Faribault: Our growing & evolving city parks August 10, 2021

Creative climbing apparatus at Faribault’s newest park, Fleckenstein Bluffs. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

AS A GRANDMOTHER OF TWO, ages 2 ½ and 5 who sometimes spend the weekend with Randy and me, I’m appreciative of public playground equipment. The City of Faribault is doing a great job of installing/updating playground equipment and other amenities in our city parks. Our park system is growing as our community grows and our needs change.

A paved recreational path, part of the city trail system, runs right next to the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Among the newest of parks is Fleckenstein Bluffs Park, located near downtown (First Avenue NE) and along the Straight River. Next door sits an under-construction apartment complex. A riverside recreational trail runs nearby. This park is sure to be well-used, especially once a picnic shelter, canoe launch site and river overlook are in place.

Just waiting for kids to discover, hidden animals. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
Fossils are imprinted in the “stone” too. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
Love these acorn cap seats. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Recently, I stopped at the park to check out the nature-themed playground equipment. The closer I looked, the more I discovered—like animals and fossils hidden in the mini rock climbing walls and stacked logs, the acorn caps, the replica branch supports, the toadstool and stump stepping points, and much more. What a creative way to incorporate nature in to play. I expect my grandchildren will delight in finding a chipmunk, for example, among the logs.

Kids can make music at Fleckenstein Bluffs. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Opportunities to create music on an over-sized xylophone also impress me.

The natured-themed playground equipment at Fleckenstein Bluffs Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I appreciate, too, that this playground is subdued in brown hues, fitting into the natural environment rather than splashing bold colors. This spot, after all, highlights the river, the woods, the backdrop bluffs. Nearby, the Fleckenstein Brewery once stood—thus the park name.

Meadows Park on Faribault’s east side. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Across the river on the east side of town, another new park offers diverse playground equipment. My friend Brenda, who lived in Faribault until moving to Connecticut with her family, tipped me off to Meadows Park during a summer visit. Her daughter, Lyla, played with friends at this park along 14th Street NE across from Milestone Senior Living Faribault.

I appreciate that the playground equipment is labeled by age appropriateness. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

I appreciate Brenda’s recommendation as this will be a good play space for my grandchildren, especially given their age differences. The park offers distinct play areas marked for specific ages—one for ages 2-5 and another for ages 5-12. I don’t always feel comfortable with Isaac playing on the same equipment as his big sister, Isabelle. So this arrangement is ideal.

Up close playground details. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And, if I ever decide to pick up pickleball, Meadows Park also has courts.

Age labeled at Meadows Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Likewise, Windsor Park in south Faribault offers pickleball courts and playground equipment sized to various ages. I liked what I saw from a distance, although I didn’t stop to investigate close-up.

“Call of the Wild” details at Meadows Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

And just up the hill from my home, the city recently installed a basketball court in Wapacuta Park. It was much-needed and is already well-used. In the evening, especially, I hear young people playing basketball, their voices drifting over and down the wooded hillside. I smile thinking of these teens bouncing balls and shooting hoops outdoors rather than locked inside staring at screens. Years ago this park housed basketball and tennis courts, which, for whatever reason, were removed. I’m thankful the tall metal slide that our daughters climbed is gone and replaced with safer playground equipment. The grandkids enjoy Wapacuta, too.

An overview of the Meadows Park playground. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Finally, I’m especially excited about another planned park, this one in a green space under and around our historic viaduct. The park, as yet unnamed, will be in a highly-visible location along Minnesota State Highway 60 and just a block from Central Avenue (the main street through our historic downtown). So many possibilities and opportunities exist to make this a community gathering spot. A place for the arts. For enjoying the outdoors. For recreation. For showcasing Faribault.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Of blossoms & butterflies August 6, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Phlox. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

PHLOX IN VIBRANT SHADES of purple and pink, interspersed with occasional white blossoms, fill my flowerbeds. They thrive, their fragrance scenting the air that drifts through my office window.

A yellow swallowtail butterfly. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Occasionally I spot butterflies flitting among the phlox, random milkweeds, wild orange tiger lilies, ferns and other unidentified plants growing in a tangled mess of wildness. I love watching them—the monarchs and the swallowtails—their wings flapping with such incredible grace. They swoop and dip and pause. As if dancing. As if performing. As if penning poetry.

A mess of flowers grow on a hillside next to woods in our backyard. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Moments like this imprint upon me the importance of pausing to appreciate the beauty of nature. The details of a flower petal. The curve of a butterfly wing. The bend of a milkweed pod.

Phlox up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

Now, more than ever, I need this connection to nature, these moments to reset. To see that, even as a pandemic rages, flowers still bloom and butterflies still fly.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The satisfaction of pulling crabgrass August 5, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,
Our side yard, dug up during water line replacement and before it was overgrown with mostly invasive crabgrass. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2021.

AS I WRITE THIS EARLY WEDNESDAY afternoon, the civil defense siren blares. There’s no emergency, just a monthly routine testing of the system.

This time of day, after lunch, my energy dips. The wail of the siren interrupted my dozing off in the recliner while reading a book. It’s not often I fall asleep during the day, which is revealing in itself. I am tired because I’m not sleeping well. Lots on my mind. I tend to overthink. To ruminate. Uncertainty stresses me.

We’re all different personalities, different in the ways we handle whatever life throws at us. And that’s OK. Some of us are early risers, work best in the morning people while others are evening/night people. Nothing right or wrong about either. I’m up early, focusing on mental tasks in the morning.

Shortly I’m heading outside to pull crabgrass, a job I started last evening and which I found incredibly satisfying, even if labor intensive and sometimes difficult. To dislodge those strong roots from the soil and then toss the clump empowered me. I felt like I was ridding our yard of an unwanted invader. And I was.

Since the digging of our yard and replacement of a water line in June, the crabgrass has had plenty of time to take hold. I was happy just to see green again rather than bare earth as we await the right time to sod or seed in this drought. Randy informed me that the crabgrass needs to go. He wants to use chemicals. I don’t. Thus I am willing to pull weeds, although, in the end, he may still need to apply a weedkiller.

This isn’t about who’s right and who’s wrong, but about eventually solving a problem. About different approaches. About trying and evaluating. And, for me, about satisfaction that comes from doing something with my hands. Touching the soil. Reconnecting with the land. Remembering all the summers I pulled weeds from the family garden and cockleburrs and thistles from my dad’s soybean fields. We didn’t use chemicals back then to eradicate weeds.

But farming has changed. The world has changed. Life has changed. Yet, the satisfaction of pulling weeds by hand has not changed. Not for me.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“Together”: Doesn’t seem that way August 4, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , ,
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

ON PAGES 444 and 445 of my 2003 Webster’s New World Thesaurus, I read synonyms for the word together. (Jointly) collectively, unitedly, commonly…

Clearly, together means everyone working toward a common goal/purpose for the good of all.

Many times people have come together, especially during disasters, to help others. I recall when my second daughter traveled twice to New Orleans to help with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. Recently, rescuers worked tirelessly to find victims and survivors following the collapse of a condo in Surfside, Florida. Locally, folks are providing financial support for a professional juggler who broke both wrists after falling from a ladder during a performance.

These examples of togetherness, rooted in genuine care for others, encourage me. They give me hope. They uplift me.

Together and togetherness as defined in the Fourth Edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


As I reflect further, though, I grow disheartened. Disheartened because, as much as the “We’re all in this together” motto defines many official/marketing statements about COVID-19, I don’t feel it. I don’t see it. I don’t experience it. Perhaps it’s time for public health officials and others to ditch the word together as it relates to this global pandemic.

I suggest tapping into personal experiences, sharing the stories of those who’ve experienced COVID at its worst, to perhaps reach those who remain skeptics about every facet of this virus and vaccines. Stories hold power in a way that generalizations don’t.

Like many, I feel such frustration that COVID is now back full force in the much more contagious and deadly delta variant. This didn’t need to happen…if only people would get vaccinated. I’m thankful to read that vaccination rates are rising. I hope that continues.

In the meantime, my county of Rice is among 45 (as of Monday) Minnesota counties in the high or substantial risk categories for community transmission of COVID. The Minnesota Department of Health, following CDC guidelines, recommends everyone (regardless of vaccination status), wears a face mask indoors in public settings. Yes, even those of us who are vaccinated can spread the virus, which is why we, too, must mask.


Now some retailers, colleges, entertainment venues and more in Minnesota are embracing those CDC guidelines and reinstating masking. For that I feel great gratitude.

My healthcare provider has also joined a growing number of providers requiring vaccination of all employees. Finally. I have never understood how anyone in the medical profession (and that includes those working in long-term care and assisted living) can, ethically or morally, continue to care for patients/residents while unvaccinated. And, looking at it from a patient perspective, I don’t want an unvaccinated nurse/doctor/lab tech/whoever near me, even if I am vaccinated.

One source for the definition of “together.” Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.


That brings me to education. I really struggle with preschool-high schools that are not requiring students and staff to wear face masks going into the new school year. I fail to understand that thinking. Our public health officials tell us that masking is one very basic, and easy, way to help stop the spread of COVID. My concern focuses primarily on those under age 12, who can’t yet be vaccinated. Schools owe it to children, like my 5-year-old granddaughter, to implement the strongest health and safety protocols possible. Teachers fought last year for the best protection for themselves, and rightly so. Protecting our kids is equally as important.

When I hear people say, “Well, just keep your child home or send them to school in a mask,” I cringe. Most parents want their kids in the classroom. And putting the burden of protecting himself/herself on a young child seems pretty selfish and childish behavior on the part of adults. Most kids prefer to “fit it” with their peers. A parent may send their child to school with the directive to “wear your mask.” But we all know that doesn’t mean they will, especially if masking is optional and their classmates are mask-less.

Where’s the compassion, the care, the willingness to provide access to education for all in a safe school environment? It’s best, from a health and safety perspective, to require (rather than recommend) face masks in schools for everyone.

So, yeah, I’m not seeing much togetherness during this global pandemic. I’m disheartened. I’m disappointed. And, yes, I’m even angry. I feel like, just as we were making progress in ending the pandemic, we are now back to START, farther than ever from the FINISH LINE. I’m beyond frustrated. (Just like Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.)

That all said, we can decide, right now, to work together. to mask up, to get vaccinated, to make choices that protect ourselves and each other. To end this pandemic sooner rather than later.

NOTE: I welcome readers’ comments. However, if you are anti-vaccine or anti-mask, I will not give voice to those viewpoints on this, my personal blog. As always, with any posts, I screen/moderate comments and determine which I will, or won’t, publish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Racing woodticks in Cuyuna August 3, 2021

The Woodtick Inn in Cuyuna. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I GET GIDDY UPON discovering something totally odd and quirky or whatever word fits a place like the Woodtick Inn, host to the annual Woodtick Races in Cuyuna.

Cuyuna City Hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

During a recent cabin stay in the Brainerd lakes region, Randy and I routed through Cuyuna on our way to Crosby some four miles to the south. We often follow the road less traveled because doing so can lead to fascinating finds.

Woodtick Races scoreboards posted on the side of the Woodtick Inn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

And for us on this day, it was the woodtick-dubbed bar and grill and, of all things, Woodtick Races. The Inn hosts the races annually on the second Saturday of June.

An artist’s rendition of a woodtick hangs on the bar’s exterior. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

But let’s back up a minute. What, exactly, is a woodtick? It’s a parasitic arachnid. Yup, a nasty bug that will latch into your skin and suck your blood. Many varieties of woodticks exist. But those raced in Cuyuna are the common American Dog Tick. And, yes, these ticks will find a host in a dog.

The sign which first caught my eye when entering Cuyuna. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Many years have passed since a woodtick determined I would be a good feeding source. But, as a child, I often found ticks stuck to my skin after playing outdoors. And, yes, they can spread diseases. And, no, I don’t like them. Not one bit.

The Woodtick Inn also welcomes anglers in this big fishing region. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

But I can embrace Woodtick Races. What a novel event that puts Cuyuna, a former iron ore mining town in Crow Wing County, on the map. Or at least on our map. Cuyuna, a community of about 350, sits on the Cuyuna Iron Range. While the local mine closed long ago, going from boom to bust between 1907-1925, the mine lakes left behind now draw vacationers into the region.

There’s plenty of outdoor space for racing woodticks. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

And I expect the annual Woodtick Races also draw plenty of participants and curious observers. This year, the 42nd annual event, the top three cash prizes ranged from $224-$560. That’s a good chunk of change for a race with a $5 entry fee and an additional $1 if you buy a “caught” tick rather than bring your own.

Lots of original signage identifies the Woodtick Inn. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I wondered aloud how event organizers gather woodticks for the races. “Send a kid into the woods,” Randy joked.

Meat raffles are a draw at the Woodtick Inn also. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

However those ticks are gathered, the rules call for racers to place their woodticks in the middle of a circle on a table. Whichever tick reaches the outside of the circle first wins. And, yes, referees oversee the races.

In 2021, Gopher Tackle, based in Cuyuna for 40 years, was sold and relocated to Milford, Iowa. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Some day I hope to witness these races at the Woodtick Inn in Cuyuna. And I need to further explore the spread-out town named after surveyor Cuyler Adams and his Saint Bernard, Una. The Cuyuna I saw is vastly different from a boom town that once housed a hospital, high school, theater, hotels, saloons, grocery stores and much more. A town once teeming with iron ore miners and their families. And today, woodticks.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling