Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back to winter in Faribault February 25, 2017

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WHAT A DIFFERENCE a week makes.

Last Saturday, temps reached nearly 60 degrees here in southern Minnesota in a landscape bare of snow. Today, as I glance out my office window, snow covers the ground and the temp hovers around 30 degrees.

My neighborhood on Friday morning.

My neighborhood on Friday morning. With schools and some businesses closed due to the winter storm, traffic was lighter than usual along this arterial road through Faribault.

Faribault was among cities in the path of a Thursday into Friday storm that dumped a lot of snow. I estimate a foot here. After a string of exceptionally warm spring-like days, the snow is a bit of a shock. It shouldn’t be. Afterall, this is February, not May, in Minnesota.

Randy blows a path around the car so I can sweep the snow from it without walking knee-deep in snow.

Randy blows a path around the car so I can sweep the snow from it without walking knee-deep in snow.

Friday evening my husband and I tag teamed–him with the snowblower and me with the scoop shovel–to clear snow from our property and that of a neighbor. The task took 90 minutes, a lot longer than usual due to ice under the snow. The snowblower couldn’t gain traction and moisture-heavy snow clung to blower blades. I moved slowly, too, nearly slipping twice on the ice.

In the fading light of day, Randy works to blow snow from the driveway.

In the fading light of day, Randy works to blow snow from the driveway.

Add to that, a city snowplow dug into our street, depositing clumps of asphalt at the end of the driveway. Randy figured that out when he hit the hidden chunks with the blower. Not exactly safe to have pavement missiles shooting from the snowblower. So more shoveling ensued.

Snow from the Walmart and mall parking lot if pushed into mini mountains.

Snow from the Walmart and mall parking lot is pushed into mini mountains.

Today compacted snow on city streets is melting. Snow is shoved from parking lots into mini man-made mountains, which, if I was still a kid, I would find ideal for King on the Mountain. The sun shone bright on a Winter Wonderland which just days ago looked nothing like winter.

I grew up playing on snow mountains like this on the farm in southwestern Minnesota.

I grew up playing on snow mountains like this on the farm in southwestern Minnesota.

TELL ME: What’s the weather like in your area? Is your landscape snow-covered? Or is your environment one of warmth and greenery?

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

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Noticing details at Faribault’s historic woolen mill February 23, 2017

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River.

The Faribault Woolen Mill sits on the bank of the Cannon River. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

SNUGGED ALONG THE BANKS of the Cannon River in Faribault, the 150-year-old Faribault Woolen Mill stands as a noted local landmark and a nationally-recognized producer and purveyor of high quality wool blankets and more.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe.

Faribault Woolen Mill blankets/throws are artfully hung on a simple pipe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In recent years, with the acquisition of the briefly-closed mill by successful and marketing savvy Minnesota businessmen, the mill has experienced growth and significant national exposure. Many times I’ve picked up a magazine to see the mill’s products featured.

In the upper left corner of the mill, the sign unnoticed by me until several days ago.

In the upper left corner of the mill, the sign unnoticed by me until several days ago.

What I’d not noticed until recently was a faded sign along the back side of the historic mill, the side visible from North Alexander Park. My view of the mill complex is typically the public side motorists see while driving by on Second Avenue.

The back of the mill as photographed from the North Link Trail. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Several years ago the city of Faribault received a $300,000 Minnesota Historical Cultural Heritage grant for rehab of the smokestack.

The back of the mill as photographed from the North Link Trail. The mill is on the National Register of Historic Places. Several years ago the city of Faribault received a $300,000 Minnesota Historical Cultural Heritage grant for rehab of the smokestack.

But this time I was walking, following the North Link Trail that runs through the park and is part of a city-wide recreational trails system. I paused to appreciate the inky blue waters of the Cannon on a brilliantly sunny afternoon when my gaze drifted to the mill. There I focused on white sign advertising BLANKETS. Faded, indiscernible lettering hovered over that key word.

A replica of an original sign is now in the Woolen Mill's historic display area.

A replica of an original sign is now in the Woolen Mill’s historic display area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I wondered how, in my 35 years living in the area, I failed to notice the vintage signage. Sometimes familiarity of place creates a lack of visual awareness. We become so accustomed to our usual surroundings that we fail to truly see. And to appreciate.

TELL ME: Have you ever felt the same upon discovering something (what?) in your community that’s been there forever but you didn’t see?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A spectacular February weekend in southern Minnesota in photos February 20, 2017

TO ALL THE SNOWBIRDS who’ve headed to Texas or Florida or Arizona for the winter. To all the people out there who consider Minnesota nothing more than a place of snow and cold. To any Minnesotan who complains about winter (and I have and I do), I present this weekend photo essay from balmy southern Minnesota:

Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan was shirt-sleeve warm for this teen on his cellphone.

Saturday afternoon in downtown Jordan was shirt-sleeve warm for this teen on his cellphone.

Families were out and about everywhere, including this little girl with her baby doll in downtown Jordan.

Families were out and about everywhere, including this sandal-clad girl with her baby doll in downtown Jordan.

Snow clings to the edges of Sand Creek rushing through the heart of Jordan.

Sand Creek rushes through the heart of Jordan with only remnants of snow remaining.

Bikers were out all over, some powered by their two feet and...

Bikers were out all over, some powered by their two feet and…

others powered by fuel, like these bikes parked in downtown Jordan.

others powered by fuel, like these bikes parked in downtown Jordan.

Minnesotans fished, here Sunday afternoon from the banks of the Cannon River by the woolen mill dam in Faribault. Snow pushed from the parking lot edged the river bank.

Minnesotans fished, here Sunday afternoon from the banks of the Cannon River by the woolen mill dam in Faribault. Snow pushed from the parking lot edged the river bank.

Meanwhile, on Union Lake in northern Rice County, ice fisherman by the dozens fished Sat

Meanwhile, on Union Lake in northern Rice County, ice fisherman by the dozens fished Saturday afternoon despite water puddling atop ice near the shoreline. Vehicles lined the road in Albers Park next to the lake.

Saturday proved a perfect warm and sunny day for sitting on an overturned bucket on the frozen lake to fish.

Saturday proved a perfect warm and sunny day for sitting on an overturned bucket or lawn chair on the frozen lake to fish.

Just south of Union Lake Trail along Rice County Road 46, a bald eagle watched me...

Just south of Union Lake Trail along Rice County Road 46, a bald eagle watched me…

watching it.

watching it.

At Faribault Energy Park Sunday afternoon, geese dealt with frozen and partially open pond water.

At Faribault Energy Park Sunday afternoon, geese dealt with frozen and partially open pond water.

Runners ran along city streets and sidewalks and along rural roads in ideal weather conditions, here along Rice County Road 46.

Runners ran along city streets and sidewalks and along rural roads in ideal weather conditions, here along Rice County Road 46.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault, moss greened the ground.

At Oak Ridge Cemetery in Faribault, moss greened the ground.

At Faribault Energy Park, the windmill was set against a beautiful sunny blue dky.

At Faribault Energy Park, the windmill was set against a beautiful sunny blue sky on a day that felt more like spring than winter.

Remind me of this glorious, stunning, unbelievably warm weekend of near 60-degree temps after the next snowfall and the next plunge to sub-zero temps. I want to remember this stretch of February days and how our collective Minnesota spirit soared.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How Faribault is honoring Barb Larson with an outdoor art installation February 17, 2017

NEARLY TWO MONTHS have passed since Barb Larson was shot to death by her ex-husband at her work place, the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office. Dick Larson, a retired Faribault police officer, then killed himself.

Today my community continues to heal, to create an awareness of domestic violence and to celebrate the life of this vivacious and vibrant woman. I feel a real sense of unity, a deepening compassion and a connectedness that I’ve not experienced before in Faribault.

And now that care is extending to a public art project that honors Barb’s life. The Chamber is seeking proposals from area artists for an outdoor sculptural installation on the very building where Barb was killed.

 

The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson.

The words in this word cloud describe Barb Larson and are meant to inspire artists in proposing a public sculpture in her honor.

The concept the Chamber hopes to convey is depicted in descriptive words submitted by those who knew Barb. Words like friendly, welcoming, vivacious, energetic, caring, kind… I never knew Barb. But based on the words filling a word cloud on the request for proposals, I understand why she was much beloved. I think all of us would like to be remembered with such positive adjectives.

Artists’ proposals are being accepted through March 24. Click here for more information. What a great opportunity to propose artwork that represents all the positive qualities Barb embodied.

We are a community that continues to heal. And we are a community determined to focus on the spirit of goodness and light in the darkness of tragedy.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sober reminder along a recreational trail in Faribault February 16, 2017

SOMETIMES A DEVIATION from the planned can lead to the unexpected. That happened last Sunday afternoon after iced-over trails at River Bend Nature Center prompted Randy and me to walk elsewhere. We chose the Northern Link Trail. Occasional ponding of snow melt covered the ice-free pathway in Faribault’s North Alexander Park. This would work; we were both wearing snow boots.

Stepping from the car, I braced into a brisk wind that whipped across the flat and mostly open terrain along the bank of Faribault Lake, a widening of the Cannon River. Full sunlight and the beautiful bold blue of the river and sky fooled me into thinking this would be a comfortable walk. Only when sheltered in the boughs of windbreak evergreens did I feel any warmth. We cut our walk short because of the cold.

 

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But not before we paused to study an unexpected find. Randy noticed a marker cemented into grass bordering the pathway. It and an adjacent tree honor those injured or killed in drunk driving crashes. The 1989 date led me to believe the Minnesota Mothers Against Drunk Driving plaque was connected to Greg Fette of Faribault. Kim Morrow, Greg’s sister, confirmed that, noting that the death of Tina Johnson of Lonsdale also prompted the marker installation and tree planting. Like Greg, Tina died in 1984. She was 18. Greg was just 16. Both were killed as a result of crashes involving drunk drivers.

Greg died not all that far from the marker site at the intersection of Second Avenue and Minnesota State Highway 3. The driver of the vehicle that struck Greg’s car had a blood alcohol content level of 0.19, according to media reports. He got six months in jail under the Huber law, Kim said. Attitudes toward drunk driving were much different in 1984 than they are today.

After their son’s death, Joyce and Dick Fette worked with Tina’s parents, Nancy and Dennis Johnson, to effect change and create awareness regarding drunk driving. The list of their accomplishments is remarkable as is their tenacity. Joyce remains active in the Rice-Scott Chapter MADD Victim Impact Panel that meets six times annually. Nancy helped found Minnesotans for Safe Driving. Both couples have been honored many times for their efforts.

I admire these parents who, in their grief, actively and vocally took a stand against drunk driving. They have made a difference in Minnesota laws and how we view the problem of drunk driving. And in Faribault, along a recreational trail used by runners and bikers and walkers, this simple plaque serves as a visual reminder of the families affected by the bad choices of others. Because two men chose to drink and drive, Greg and Tina died.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At the Faribault library: When a knock-knock joke is more than just a knock-knock joke February 7, 2017

What did one plate say to the other?
Lunch is on me.

What do you give a sick pig?
Oinkment.

How do you count cows?
With a cowculator.

NOW YOU MIGHT EXPECT a third grader shared those knock-knock jokes with me or perhaps I read them in a joke book?

 

library-easy-chair-close-up-2

 

But you would be wrong. I read them on new furniture placed several days ago in Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. You read that right. The jokes are printed on easy chairs and loveseats. But this isn’t just any furniture. Minnesota prisoners crafted this furniture.

So what’s the story with the construction and the upholstery design? For the answers, I turned to Library Director Delane James.

 

library-2-easy-chairs

 

In the market for the first new furniture since a library remodeling project in 1996, James looked to the state vendor approved MINNCOR Industries, a Minnesota Department of Corrections prison industry. Inmate labor is utilized for manufacturing products and for services. She likes the idea, James says, of prisoners learning marketable skills that may prevent recidivism.

 

library-loveseat

 

James also knew that the quality, durable furniture will last. For the past 21 years, MINNCOR furniture endured in her library that today sees 500-700 daily users.

With specific goals, the library director started poking around on the MINNCOR website for fabric options. “I wanted something that was attention-getting and to promote literacy,” she says. “I wanted the unexpected, to get them (library users) to read.”

 

library-loveseat-super-close-up-words

 

She found that in the Funnybone Collection, in a print labeled KNOCK KNOCK in a color tagged Class Clown.

Already, James has seen the positive results of her fabric choice. She observed two high school students reading knock-knock jokes to one another during a library Homework Help session.

 

library-loveseat-straight-line-of-words

 

Among jokes printed on the fabric is this one:

How do prisoners make phone calls?
With cell phones.

That joke is the favorite of prisoners and is the talk of the prison, James learned when $40,000 in lounge chairs, loveseats, computer chairs and 90 stackable chairs were delivered to the library late last week. Only the loveseats and three of the easy chairs are imprinted with jokes.

 

library-exterior-copy

 

The KNOCK KNOCK design chosen by James is also putting Buckham Library in the spotlight. A MINNCOR marketing staffer photographed the furniture in the Faribault library on Friday to promote usage in other libraries. Perhaps more Minnesota library directors will take a cue from James and select prison-built Funnybone furniture that grabs attentions, promotes literacy and prompts conversation.

TELL ME: Have you seen this or similar inspiring furniture in a public place? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take two: A second look at the film “Sweet Land” & immigration issues February 6, 2017

sweet-land-envelope-copy

The letter Inge received from Olaf, in the fictional film Sweet Land.

She is not one of us. We speak a common language. We have a common background, a common culture. She is not one of us.
#

We have to be careful about this sort of thing…German nationals. German nationals engage in prostitution. They harbor dangerous political convictions. Are you aware of the Espionage Act of 1916?
#

English only in the church. English.
#

You’re German. It’s a bad influence. You’re German. It’s a disruption to my community. You make coffee that’s too black.

She makes good coffee, not like the women in church.
#

I was fearful of her differences, but I was hopeful she could join us on our path….Do not allow your good lives to be poisoned by these two.
#

This is German food?

No, just food.
#

You don’t have the papers.

sweetlandposter_mini

Promotional from Sweet Land website.

LAST WEEK I REWATCHED Sweet Land, an award-winning independent film released in 2005. The movie, based on Minnesota writer Will Weaver’s short story, “A Gravestone Made of Wheat,” and filmed on my native southwestern Minnesota prairie, rates as a favorite of mine.

sweet-land-farmhouse-copy

Olaf Torvik’s home on the prairie. The film was shot in and around Montevideo, Minnesota.

I appreciate the early 1920s setting, the music, the story and, now, its relevancy to today. The above dialogue comes from Sweet Land, which focuses on the challenges faced by Inge Altenberg, summoned to America by Norwegian farmer Olaf Torvik. He expects a Norwegian mail order bride as do others in the community. But Inge is not Norwegian; she is German.

Thereafter, the conflict begins with “She is not one of us.”

The land and love shape the story.

The land and love weave into this story. Here Inge and Olaf dance on the prairie.

I won’t give away the plot, which includes a love story. But I will tell you that I watched the movie this time from a much different perspective, in the context of current day immigration issues in our country. Sadness swept over me.

Please watch this thought-provoking, conversation-starting film. It’s a must-see whether you make coffee that’s good, judged as too black or you don’t brew coffee at all. It’s still coffee.

FYI: Sweet Land, the musical opens April 29 at History Theatre in St. Paul. It runs for five weeks, Thursday – Sunday, until May 28. Will I go? I’d love to…

RELATED: Saturday afternoon a sizable crowd gathered on the Rice County Courthouse grounds in my community for a peaceful protest. Please click here to watch the video, Faribault, Minnesota Immigration Ban Protest 2-4-17, posted by Terry Pounds. Faribault is home to many immigrants and refugees, including from Somalia.

A photographic exhibit of refugee children who fled Syria, leaving everything behind, is showing at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis. Photos for Where the Children Sleep were taken by award-winning Swedish photojournalist Magnus Wennman. In order to increase community access to the exhibit, the ASI is providing free admission on Wednesdays in February. The exhibit runs through March 5. Where the Children Sleep launches the Institute’s 2017 “Migration, Identity and Belonging Programming.”

Review © Copyright 2017 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling