Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The power of a Turtle October 1, 2020


Leonardo, up close in Zimmerman, Minnesota.


THE SIGHT OF LEONARDO standing strong and tall at the wheel of a motorboat left me feeling simultaneously nostalgic and amused.

Amused because, well, who expects a fictional turtle piloting a parked boat in Zimmerman, Minnesota? The scene caused me to laugh. And, today more than ever during these unsettling and difficult times, I need laughter.

I need laughter to loosen muscles that are too often tight. A head that too often hurts from hearing too much hatred and rhetoric. I need this momentary visual escape from reality.


Figurines displayed at a past toy exhibit at the Steele County History Center, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


And so, as I photographed this cartoon character manning a stationery boat in a residential neighborhood, I also remembered how my daughters—children of the 80s— watched the superhero cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And embraced the four turtles named after Italian Renaissance artists. Leonardo. Michelangelo. Donatello. Raphael.

They played with Turtle figurines, sang the cartoon theme song, even celebrated a birthday with a home-crafted Turtle cake, although I no longer recall which character or which daughter.

The masked hero in the boat is Leonardo, the leader of the quartet and named for artist, engineer and scientist Leonardo da Vinci.


A design allowing actors to fly across a stage, included in the “Machines in Motion” exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.


In 2012, I toured an exhibit, “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion,” at The History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin. To see a show originating in Florence, Italy, here in the Midwest was a gift. The exhibit featured 40 operating machines built from da Vinci designs. Amazing. (I encourage you to check out my photos and story about “Machines in Motion” by clicking here.)


One last look at the unusual “public art” in Zimmerman.


Now, eight years later, I am reminded of that museum exhibit. I am reminded, too, of my daughters, now grown into adulthood and one with children of her own. I am reminded also that, in the chaos and uncertainties of today, I can find a reason to laugh. Thank you, Zimmerman boater, for placing Leonardo inside your boat parked on your front lawn. You made me laugh.

TELL ME: What has caused you to laugh recently?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Goin’ to the lake June 27, 2016

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Boat, 1 ahead on I-94


TRAVELING TO CENTRAL and northern Minnesota on a summer weekend, motorists expect heavy traffic as folks head to lake cabins and resorts. It’s a given. Campers, trucks pulling boats and loaded-down vehicles cram roadways. Ditto for the return trip home Sunday afternoon.


Boat, 5 pulled along I-94


Even knowing this, I did not expect to see a semi truck transporting an oversized boat along Interstate 94 between Monticello and Clearwater on Saturday morning. As traffic slowed in both lanes, my husband and I wondered if we’d encounter an accident, road construction or what.


Boat, 7 close-up of along I-94


And then, as speeds picked up again, we saw the or what—the ginormous boat carried by the semi.

That led to speculation: What lake in central/northern Minnesota can handle a boat of this size? How will the owner get this boat into a lake? And what is the value of this boat?


Boat, 9 along I-94 in side mirror


Randy, who grew up in central Minnesota, unlike me a native of (mostly) lake-less southwestern Minnesota, speculated on Gull Lake near Brainerd as the boat’s destination. Right or wrong, we’ll never know. We lost track of the watercraft after sneaking ahead of the boat-towing-semi just before it crossed the Mississippi River bridge at Clearwater.

IF YOU’RE A MINNESOTAN, I’d like to hear a story about driving north on a summer weekend. If you’re not from Minnesota, tell me about traffic in your state on the weekends, perhaps areas you avoid or wish you could avoid.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling