Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

 

Connecting a British rock band & ice fishing in Minnesota February 11, 2016

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The rock band name on this shed leaves the unanswered question, "Why?"

The rock band name on this shed leaves the unanswered question, “Why?”

IN A SOUTHWEST FARIBAULT backyard rests a shed emblazoned with the name of an English rock band, Led Zeppelin.

This might be more than a shed. It looks like an ice fishing house. For those of you from warm weather states unfamiliar with such a shelter, here’s the deal. In the frigid cold of winter, anglers walk or drive onto frozen lakes to fish. Yes, you read that right. Drive. Once there, they hunker down in the open air or in mini houses to fish through holes drilled into the ice.

Houses can range from mass-produced collapsible fabric to homemade from plywood to massive homey shelters resembling mini cabins.

 

Led Zeppelin name on shed 61 close-up

 

I’ve only ever fished in an ice house similar to the Led Zeppelin one. That was decades ago when I was in my late twenties, newly-married and slightly interested in the sport.

But many Minnesotans take ice fishing seriously. This past weekend, thousands of anglers converged on frozen Gull Lake in northern Minnesota for the Brainerd Jaycees $150,000 Ice Fishing Extravganza, the largest ice fishing tournament in the world. The winner, a Chaska man, hooked a 5.33 pound walleye to land the grand prize of a GMC pick-up truck. Not bad for a day of fishing.

See how thoughts thread together, how the name of a rock band on a shed in Faribault can lead me to expound on ice fishing in Minnesota? Yes, winter is growing long.

Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How are the fish biting on Central? December 10, 2013

Pawn Minnesota often displays merchandise, including this fish house, outside its downtown Faribault store.

Pawn Minnesota often displays merchandise, like the red fish house, outside its downtown Faribault store.

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY you spot a fish house positioned on a street corner in an historic business district.

But then this is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and home to lots of fishing enthusiasts who can’t wait for lakes to freeze thick enough for ice fishing. Yes, in Minnesota we do walk and drive onto frozen lakes to fish.

Outdoor merchandising...

Outdoor seasonal merchandising…

That said, Pawn Minnesota likely grabbed the attention of shoppers with the Quickfish 3 pop-up portable fish house set up outside the business at 230 Central Avenue in downtown Faribault Saturday afternoon.

To make this even more noteworthy, the pawn shop is housed in the former Poirier Drug Store featured in the 1993 movie Grumpy Old Men. In that film, co-stars and ice fishermen Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon visit the then old-fashioned pharmacy.

In an ironic twist, the now-closed Dandelet Jewelry across the street was converted into a pawn shop for the movie. And now there’s a real pawn shop in what was once the drugstore.

If this sounds a bit confusing, consider also that Matthau and Lemmon ice fished in Grumpy Old Men. Thus the fish house erected outside the former drugstore seems especially fitting.

Minnesota weather appropriate merchandise outside the pawn shop.

Minnesota weather appropriate merchandise showcased in historic downtown Faribault.

That’s how my thoughts wandered when I spied that fish house on the corner with two snowblowers parked next to it. Now if you tell me the fish are biting there…

FYI: If you think my brain cells are frozen, then click here to read about the annual Grumpy Old Men Festival set for February in Wabasha. The fest includes, among other activities, an ice fishing contest and an “Ice shacks n’ Plaid Parade.”

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Call us crazy, but we really do drive vehicles onto lakes in Minnesota February 4, 2013

HOW WOULD YOU REACT if you read this warning on a website:

Winsted Lake closed to motor vehicle traffic

Now, if you are a native of say California or Texas, Hawaii or Florida, you might react with an incredulous expression and/or a follow-up question:

What do you mean, motor vehicle traffic on a lake?

But, if you reside say in Wisconsin, the Dakotas or Minnesota, you’d understand motor vehicles on a lake and the ban issued by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources on January 25:

Winsted Lake in McLeod County has been temporarily closed to motor vehicle traffic due to deteriorating ice conditions…

The DNR urges the public to exercise extreme caution if using the lake, especially in the area near the aeration system. Ice thicknesses in that area may be less predictable than in other parts of the lake.

This is expected to be a temporary closure. Once ice thicknesses have stabilized, the lake will be reopened to motor vehicle traffic.

A recent ice fishing scene from Lake Mazaska west of Faribault in Shieldsville.

A recent ice fishing scene from Lake Mazaska west of Faribault in Shieldsville shows a cluster of fish houses and vehicles on the lake.

Yes, in Minnesota we drive cars, trucks and other vehicles onto frozen lakes to access ice fishing houses or open-air fishing spots. Sounds crazy, I know. But ice fishing, in which a hole is drilled into the ice to fish, is a big sport here. For example, some 5,500 fish houses are set up each winter on Mille Lacs Lake, probably our state’s most popular winter fishing destination. Roads are even plowed, bridges placed, across Mille Lacs to allow easier access to houses outfitted with kitchens, beds and other comfy accommodations.

Decades have passed since I ice fished on Roberds and Cannon lakes near Faribault with my husband, in the days before children. We’d fish, drink a little beer, play cards and, maybe, catch a few fish. That was all good and fun, until the first time I heard the ice crack. Let me tell you, that sharp crack and the sudden realization that ice can give way (duh) unsettled me. Not that I stopped ice fishing. But I thought more about the vast cold lake beneath me and how I couldn’t swim, as if swimming would be of any value anyway in icy water.

Those long forgotten worries crossed my mind the other day when my husband and I drove through Shieldsville, past Mazaska Lake where nomad fishermen (and perhaps some women, too) have set up a temporary village on the ice. Randy asked if I wanted to go onto the lake, as in our car. My answer was an emphatic no.

Simply put, I put faith in the DNR’s warning:

There is no such thing as 100 percent safe ice.

A slightly different version of the scene above. "What's that, a penguin walking across the lake?" my husband laughed.

A slightly different version of the scene above. “What’s that, a penguin waddling across the lake?” my husband laughed.

HAVE YOU EVER GONE ice fishing? What are your thoughts on the sport and/or driving onto a frozen lake?

FOR ANOTHER TAKE on ice fishing, check out Gretchen O’Donnell’s blog post, “Ice Fishing is for Real,” at A fine day for an epiphany by clicking here.

Or visit Gary Sankary’s humorous Old and in the Way blog to read about ice fishing in Wisconsin in “Blake Lake Report where I ask–What the hell?’ by clicking here. And then follow-up by clicking here to read his second post, “Ice Fishing–Answering the question “why?”, a persuasive “speech” on the merits of fishing on a frozen lake.

Did you know a production crew was in the Mille Lacs Lake area recently filming for a possible truTV show on ice fishing, according to the St. Cloud Times?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I’ve never met Garrison Keillor, but… June 8, 2011

SO, HOW WOULD YOU feel if a photo you took was incorporated into a video/slide show narrated by Garrison Keillor?

Would you slip on your red shoes, lace up the laces and dance a polka?

Since I don’t own red shoes like Keillor and I don’t polka, I enthused to my husband repeatedly about my stroke of luck. I haven’t really boasted to anyone else. We don’t do that sort of thing here in Minnesota. But, I thought maybe I could tell a few of you. A photo I shot of winter on the Minnesota prairie is part of a video/slideshow narrated by our state’s most famous storyteller.

Now, how does this happen to a blogger like me who happily blogs along each day with words and photos from Minnesota, without a thought, not a single thought, that Keillor may someday come into my life. Well, I didn’t exactly meet him and I haven’t exactly spoken to him, but…

A MONTH AGO, Chris Jones, director of the Center for Educational Technologies at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, commented on my January 7, 2010, blog post, “Wind and snow equal brutal conditions on the Minnesota prairie.” He was inquiring about using my photo of winter on the prairie in a video/slideshow for retiring President R. Judson Carlberg and his wife, Jan.

Typically I do not personally respond to comments via email. I am cautious that way, protective of my email address and of anybody out there who may not have my best interests in mind. So I didn’t, just like that, snap your fingers, fire off a response to Jones. First I sleuthed. Honestly, I had never heard of Gordon College and I sure can’t spell Massachusetts.

Here’s what I learned from the college’s website: “Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, is among the top Christian colleges in the nation and the only nondenominational Christian college in New England. Gordon is committed to excellence in liberal arts education, spiritual development and academic freedom informed by a framework of faith.”

I am Lutheran and that all sounded conservative enough for me.

So I emailed Jones, with several questions. You really didn’t expect me to not have questions, did you? I asked Mr. Gordon College guy: “Could you explain to me the nature of this video, which photo you are interested in using and where this video will be shown?”

That’s when he dropped Garrison Keillor’s name as the video/slideshow narrator. Sure. Yeah. Use my photo. Wherever. Whenever. Fine with me. Credit me and Minnesota Prairie Roots, send me a link to the completed video and allow me to blog about this and we’ve got a deal.

And so we did. Have a deal. After I promised not to publicly share the video with you. Sorry, I wish I could because it’s an entertaining media presentation, but I gave my word.

I also gave my word that I would make it clear to you, dear readers, that Garrison Keillor doesn’t just go around every day narrating surprise media presentations for college presidents’ retirement parties.

He met Jud and Jan Carlberg on a cruise. They struck up a friendship and, later, when the college was planning the video/slideshow, a Gordon writer “thought boldly, imagining this as a wonderful surprise for the Carlbergs, and started making inquiries,” Paul Rogati, Gordon’s CET multimedia designer, shared in a follow-up email. “When Mr. Keillor agreed to record the narration, the script was written for his style of monologue, with a reference to the winters on the prairies of Minnesota. Your image was a perfect match.”

"The photograph," taken along Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota.

And that is how my photo taken in January 2010 along Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota became connected to Garrison Keillor.

My prairie picture is one of many, many, many images incorporated into this retirement tribute to a “tall Scandinavian scholar from Fall River, Massachusetts” who was inaugurated as Gordon’s seventh president “in a swirling March blizzard” in 1993.

Yes, the whole piece is pure “A Prairie Home Companion” style and it’s a pleasure listening to Keillor’s silken voice glide across the words penned by authors Jo Kadlecek and Martha Stout.

The monologue opens like Keillor’s radio show, but “on Coy Pond on the campus of Gordon College.” It is a pond which “sometimes freezes up solid enough to go ice fishing on,” Keillor professes. And “there are rumors of an ice fishing shack being built” by the retired president with more time on his hands.

Several other references are made to Minnesota in a presentation that mixes humor with factual information about the Carlbergs’ 35-year tenure at Gordon, a “college which includes Lutherans” and which offers students off-campus experiences in places like the Minnesota prairie.

Then, finally, at the end of the video, the Carlbergs are invited to “sometime come up to the prairies of Minnesota to see what winter is all about.” A snippet of my photo appears on the screen, slowly panning out to show the full winter prairie landscape frame.

I’m not sure which the Carlbergs will do first in their retirement—sneak past Gordon College security and park an ice fishing shack on Coy Pond or visit southwestern Minnesota in winter, where, no doubt, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.”

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WHEN (not if) the Carlbergs travel to Minnesota in the winter, they will also see scenes like this on the southwestern Minnesota prairie:

An elevator along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

The sun begins to set on the Minnesota prairie.

Barns abound in the agricultural region of southwestern Minnesota, this one along U.S. Highway 14.

A picturesque farm site just north of Lamberton in Redwood County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling