Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Minnesota: So this is spring? April 10, 2019

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My neighborhood Wednesday evening.

 

CLOSED SCHOOLS. Closed Interstate. Crashes and back-ups. All were the result of a winter storm that socked parts of Minnesota today, my community included.

Officials shut down Interstate 35 between Faribault and Medford for hours on Tuesday afternoon into evening following multiple vehicle crashes. Thirty-five, I heard. True? I don’t know. Then the detour route onto a county road was closed after a semi hit a railroad bridge, according to one report I read.

 

My snowy backyard photographed early Wednesday afternoon as the snow fell.

 

What a day. Ambulances and police cars screaming by my house along with all that detoured traffic. Snowplows scraping snow that fell at a rapid pace. Snow layering to six inches.

 

I photographed these crocuses in my front yard flowerbed just days ago. Now they are buried under six inches of snow.

 

Randy and I just got back inside after clearing heavy wet snow from our driveway and sidewalk and that of a neighbor. This is heart attack snow, thus I paced myself. I’ve had it with winter. Only days ago spring seemed here. Temps in the sixties. Sunny. Lawns hinting at green.

 

My backyard shortly after the snow began falling Wednesday morning.

 

And now this, this storm set to linger into Friday. Already winds are picking up. Cold. Biting. Nothing like spring.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Minnesota blizzard closes interstates, creates difficult or impossible travel February 24, 2019

Red circles mark road closures in Minnesota as of late morning Sunday. Source: MnDOT 511 website

 

GOOD MORNING, DEAR READERS,

Here we are, in the midst of another winter storm in southeastern Minnesota. The good news from Faribault: Our snowfall total this morning was not nearly what I expected. About six inches instead of ten. Yahoo. Snow started falling around 6:30 p.m. Saturday and ended sometime early this morning.

I live in town, in a valley. That means my home is sheltered from the brunt of winds that will reach 50 mph this afternoon. Friends who drove into Faribault from the country for 8 a.m. church reported some drifting, but overall decent roads for the weather we’re experiencing.

I expect that to change as the day progresses and wind speeds increase to create drifts and white-out conditions. A blizzard warning remains for southern Minnesota.

Our governor has declared states of emergency in Steele (the neighboring county to my county of Rice) and Freeborn counties.

One look at the Minnesota Department of Transportation website and the severity of this storm and the resulting impossible travels conditions are clear. Every red circle on the map represents a road closure. That includes Interstate 35 from Owatonna to the Iowa border. For awhile the interstate was closed beginning at Faribault. Interstate 90 along the Minnesota-Iowa border. Closed. U.S. Highway 14. Closed. State Highways 60, 30, 15… Closed. I can’t possibly list all of the road closures.

Here’s the deal. Just stay home. It’s not worth risking your life to travel today (outside of city limits) anywhere in southern Minnesota. End of sermon.

TELL ME: If you live in Minnesota, what are conditions like in your area today? Share your weather stories.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter photo poetry February 18, 2019

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A WINTER LANDSCAPE IN RURAL Minnesota can, at first glance, seem visually unappealing. White upon white upon white.

But then a moment happens. A curtain opens in the mind to reveal a scene that holds spectacular beauty.

Stubble pokes through snowy fields. A farm site stands isolated, yet strong, in all that winter vastness. And then, a layer of golden light slips between land and clouds.

The light. The textures. The immensity of the scene. All collide before my eyes, to create a winter photo poem. Beautiful in its complexity. Beautiful in its simplicity. Winter.

 

I photographed this scene along Interstate 35 somewhere north of Faribault around sunset Saturday.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Managing an especially cold & snowy Minnesota winter February 15, 2019

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My neighbor across the street moved and put his house on the market several months ago, but has yet to sell it. Now he’s clearing snow from two properties. If you’re looking for a house to buy in Faribault and want to be my neighbor…

 

THE SNOW KEEPS PILING up here in Minnesota in storm after storm after storm. And when snow isn’t falling, brutal cold settles in. This weather is taking its toll, physically and mentally.

 

The snow piles continue to grow in Faribault, here at a gas station along Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street.

 

We long for warmth and sunshine and a day without snow removal. As snow mountains obscure vision at the ends of driveways, sidewalks and street corners, clearing the snow becomes more taxing.

 

Special snow removal equipment works on the Cedar Avenue bridge over the Minnesota River on Wednesday afternoon.

 

This snow-filled truck and snow blowing tractor creep along Interstate 35 in Burnsville Wednesday afternoon.

 

During lulls between storms, snow removal crews work to widen roadways, clear snow from bridges and shoulders.

 

Ice dams and icicles on our house.

 

And then there are those ice dams forming along rooflines. I’ve never seen anything like it, the length of some icicles extending to the ground. Randy has yet to tackle the task of shoveling snow from our house and garage roofs. He can barely keep up with clearing snow from our place and that of a neighbor after a long day of work.

 

Passersby stopped to help push my elderly neighbor’s car up her snowy driveway during a recent storm. Randy warned her of the ice underneath, but…

 

A recent commute home from Northfield took him nearly an hour rather than the usual 22 minutes due to treacherous roads in a snowstorm. As an automotive machinist, he doesn’t have the option of working from home. If he doesn’t work, he doesn’t get paid.

Schools across the state closed an unprecedented number of times in past weeks.

 

On a day when highways were clear, Randy and I came upon a five-vehicle crash on Interstate 35 in Burnsville. Vehicles in ditches and endless crashes have marked this winter.

 

Any plans are tentative, based on weather and road conditions. Travel during bad winter weather and you risk going in the ditch, getting in an accident, becoming stuck in metro gridlock or stranded in a rural area. No, thanks. I’ll stay home and read a book.

 

Snow blows from the top of a semi tractor trailer Wednesday afternoon along Interstate 35 north of Faribault.

 

All of these challenges make winter sometimes difficult to navigate. But then I read something that causes me to pull my head out of the snowbank and smile. Like the story in the Faribault Daily News about local high school teacher Dave Wieber whose physics students video recorded kindergartners sledding. With the video data collected, they determine how fast the average student slides down the hill. How fun is that? I love when teachers get creative, make learning fun and exciting.

 

The scene exiting Interstate 35 into Faribault onto Minnesota State Highway 21 from the north.

 

And I love when a community celebrates winter with an event like last weekend’s Faribault Flannel Formal. Although I didn’t attend, I’ve seen enough photos to know this is exactly the type of event Minnesotans need in February. Flannel attire, music, drinks, contests, conversation. And hotdish.

 

A neighborhood near my home, along Fourth Avenue.

 

When I think about it, fun and creativity help many of us manage winter. New York state songwriter Linda Bonney Olin, in her song Praise God From Whom All Blizzards Flow, is a great example. She uses humor to write her “doxology for those blessed with wintry weather and a sense of humor.” It’s well worth your read. Click here and be thankful for shovels, gloves and plows. And the ability to still smile in this longest of winters.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Scenes along the interstate in Minnesota May 8, 2017

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Driving toward downtown St. Paul along Interstate 35-E.

 

YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT you’ll see while traveling the interstate. Too many motorists engage in risky behavior like tailgating, weaving from one lane to the other, texting, talking on their cells when their full attention should be on the roadway and more. It’s a crazy driving world out there.

 

I admire these MnDOT responders who aid motorists, here in the thick of interstate traffic near downtown St. Paul. It appears a mighty dangerous job.

 

I’m no fan of heavy traffic or travel in the Twin Cities metro. But then I suppose many people aren’t. Rural roadways can be just as unsafe.

 

Is the tanker actually carrying coffee or simply advertising it? Photographed northbound on I-35 toward the Twin Cities metro.

 

What’s the final destination of this outdoor enthusiast headed eastbound on I-35E?

 

How does the boss drive?

 

All of that aside, I always spot interesting scenes along the interstate. Interesting to me, anyway.

 

Southbound into St. Paul along I-35E.

 

TELL ME: What have you observed while traveling along the interstate?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the Road: About patriotism &, um, Zombies February 13, 2017

WHEN MY GIRLS were little—which would have been about 25 years ago—stickers were all the rage. Kids filled mini sticker books with page after page after page of stickers. Puppies and kitties and…, for my equine loving second daughter, horses.

I didn’t understand the rationale behind transferring stickers from one piece of paper to another. But the girls loved their sticker collections and paging through them.

 

patriotic-zombie-stickers-on-vehicle-5

 

That memory flashed through my mind Saturday afternoon when I spotted a mobile sticker collection on a vehicle heading north toward the Twin Cities on Interstate 35. At first glance, I thought the stickers purely patriotic: Home of the Free, Support Our Troops, Land of the Free Because of the Brave.

 

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But then, after examining the photos I shot of the vehicle, I discovered these stickers: Zombie Outbreak Response Team and Deep Inside We All Want a Zombie Apocalypse. Uh, no we don’t. Except perhaps in Illinois. Lawmakers in the House last week approved October as “Zombie Preparedness Month.” You just can’t make this kind of stuff up. The legislators aren’t really talking zombies here, but rather preparation for natural disasters, according to media reports.

But then again, who knows? The license plate on the patriotic zombie vehicle reads Illinois.

TELL ME: What do you think of any of this? The stickers? The legislation?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reclaiming an appreciation for winter through photography February 2, 2017

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winter-landscape-12-treeline

 

IN THE DAYS OF MY YOUTH, I embraced winter. I saw potential in every snowfall. Snow caves and tunnels. Snow forts. Sledding.

 

winter-landscape-14-sky-field

 

Snow pushed to the edge of the farmyard and rock-hard snowdrifts formed a mountain range, a seasonal anomaly on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. It was the ideal setting to role-play the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or to challenge siblings in King of the Mountain.

 

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I can’t reclaim those carefree days lingering now only in memories. But I can still appreciate winter, an attitude I’m relearning. That is easiest accomplished through the lens of my camera.

 

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Heading out of Faribault last Sunday afternoon for Owatonna along Interstate 35, I felt the sun radiating warmth through the van windows. And I noticed, too, the blueness of the sky scuttled by white clouds. I welcomed the blue after too many grey January days.

 

winter-landscape-6-farm-site

 

Aiming my camera to the west toward farm fields layered in a thin coating of snow, I was nearly fooled into thinking I was back on my native prairie. The land appeared familiar in the winter commonality of bare trees and open fields. And I found comfort in that—in the uncluttered landscape, in the simplicity of lines, in the visual vulnerability the earth shows in winter.

 

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TELL ME: What do you most appreciate about winter, if you appreciate it? If you don’t, why not?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling