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

 

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

 

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

 

From Faribault students: Simply art February 27, 2019

Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Charter School created this vivid work of art for the Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault during a past art show. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ART, WHETHER VISUAL, literary or performing, enriches our lives.

Art helps us view the world from creative and differing perspectives. It jumpstarts thoughts and conversations, broadens our world, enhances our lives with beauty, causes us to pause and consider. Art stimulates change, builds bridges, enlightens and much more.

We need art. From early on. It’s just as important as math, science, technology…

 

Art from a past exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Give children crayons to scribble, wooden spoons to beat a rhythm upon kettles, books to read or simply turn the pages.

Let them dance. Let them write stories. Let them splash in puddles. Let them create art with chalk and fingerpaints and markers.

Delight in their creativity. Encourage it. Embrace it. Appreciate it. For art holds great value.

 

The art exhibit threads along hallways, into corners and into a room on the second floor of the Paradise. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from a past show.

 

My community values the creativity of young artists. This Friday, March 1, one of my favorite annual local shows, the Faribault Area Student Art Exhibit, opens at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. Student art will line second floor hallways and fill the second floor gallery.

 

Woven art created by students from the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind for the 2017 art exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

The student art always impresses me. The simple. The detailed. The colorful. The color-less. The texture, the patterns, the shapes.

 

Roosevelt Elementary fifth grader Jose painted this portrait for a previous student art exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Each artist holds within himself or herself the ability to express creativity. Certainly, some students are more gifted in art than others. But that matters not in this art show. There are no ribbons, no awards, no rankings or ratings. There’s art. Simply art.

 

Bold, vivid art by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School for a previous exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For young people to have this opportunity within my community to publicly show their art pleases me. We are telling them we value their creativity. We are teaching them the value of art. And that is a good thing in a world that needs art now more than ever.

 

TELL ME: What are your thoughts on the value of art?

FYI: An opening reception for the student artists is set for 5 – 7 p.m. March 1. The exhibit runs through April 6.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The long Minnesota winter February 26, 2019

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I stood in our driveway to show you the height of the snow piled at the end of the drive, on both sides. The stop sign on the street corner is barely visible from this perspective. Backing out of the driveway and pulling onto the roadway require caution as snow piles block vision lines.

 

I’VE COMPLAINED A LOT about winter recently. Both here and in conversation. I’m not alone. Ask almost any Minnesotan (except my friend Jackie) if they are weary of winter and the answer will be a resounding yes.

 

Clearing snow is a seemingly endless task. Here Randy works to clear the sidewalk.

 

The record-breaking snow of February pushed us all to that brink of winter weariness. The endless snow removal, plans canceled by weather, difficult driving conditions, schools closed, brutal temps and winds, and much more combine to make this a challenging winter.

 

A view of Willow Street, an arterial street running past our Faribault home.

 

We need a break. Not everyone has the ability, financial or otherwise, to escape to a warmer place.

 

Another view of the snow piled at the end of our driveway.

 

If I was 50 years younger, my attitude likely would differ. As a child, I embraced winter on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, playing for endless hours atop mountainous, rock-hard snowdrifts and racing across towering snow piles. Sledding and skating. And in between, farm chores, which were finger-numbing cold in winter. Not fun, really, but necessary for our financial survival.

 

The narrow snow banked pathway to our front door.

 

Randy finally decided just to leave the ladder outside, leaning here against the garage. He’s been on the garage and house roofs twice to shovel off the snow.

 

Time warp to today, to adulthood. Snow no longer represents fun. It represents work. Randy has handled the bulk of snow removal using our ancient (I term it Noah’s ark) snowblower. But some shoveling still needs to be done in areas like the roof, front steps and walk.

 

You can barely see Randy’s head over the snow piled at the end of our sidewalk.

 

Shoveling the snow wall built by the city snowplow at the end of the sidewalk.

 

And when the snowplow pushes snow into the end of the sidewalk or driveway, the snow often needs to be sliced apart for the snowblower to chomp through the snow wall. Randy and I sometimes work in tandem on that task, me working the shovel.

 

Finally, through the snow wall and moving down the sidewalk.

 

The snow piles have reached such a height now that when Randy blows the snow, it won’t even go over the tops of some snow mounds.

 

The sidewalk past our house cleared of snow Sunday afternoon.

 

On Sunday afternoon I grabbed my Canon DSLR and shot some images of my neighborhood, including our home, to try and give you a perspective on the height of the snow. All the while I did this, I remained cognizant of ice. The last thing I need is to slip and break another bone.

 

Another look at my neighborhood Sunday afternoon, February 24, 2019.

 

I’d say enjoy the photos. But that seems a ridiculous statement. Rather, appreciate the documentation of what has been an especially notable and memorable winter in southern Minnesota.

 

FOR ANOTHER photo view of snow in southeastern Minnesota, click here to see images from my friend Greg at Almost Iowa. He’s an incredible writer with a great sense of humor. He lives in the country near the Minnesota-Iowa border.

Then click here to view photos by my friend Jackie from Rochester. She’s the Jackie referenced in my opening paragraph. Jackie loves winter. I mean really really loves winter. She’s a talented photographer and does a great job of documenting the blizzard in Rochester, one of the hardest hit areas.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling