Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sunday afternoon drive snapshot: Sculpture garden in Jarrett November 10, 2013

Sculpture, lens flare on arch

SUN FILTERED THROUGH THE STAND of cedars. Bright enough to cause lens flare when I shot toward the scraggly close-knit cluster of trees shadowing the banks of the clear, fast-flowing Zumbro River.

The setting appeared almost surreal and haunting in the sense that viewing the unexplained can impress upon the mind.

Sculpture, castle

I’d heard of this place, missed it on a previous pass through Jarrett, and nearly missed it again. But on this Sunday afternoon drive, I glimpsed the stone configurations among the cedars and asked my husband to swing the van around.

So here we were, pulled off Wabasha County Road 11, parked in a drive about the length of our van. I wasn’t even sure we should be here, uncertain whether this was public or private land. But I figured “No trespassing” signs would mark the property if visitors weren’t welcome into this sculpture garden.

Sculpture, wreath

In the quiet of this Sunday afternoon, and I cannot imagine any day being anything but quiet here in this secluded wide spot in the road, we meandered among the sculptures, shoes sinking into squishy earth tunneled by varmints.

Sculpture, cone top sculpture

Arches and points.

Sculpture, stones close-up 1

Sculpture, stone close up 3

Sculpture, stone close-up 2

Stones joined somehow into these interesting pieces of art. By whom? And why?

As Randy and I wandered and examined and wondered aloud, my appreciation grew for this artist. I expect he worked alone here, drawn to the solitude of this rugged place in the valley. He was, perhaps, viewed as a bit of an odd fellow. Was he a poet? A farmer? A musician?

Do you know the story of this artist and the rock garden in Jarrett, the unincorporated community which made headlines when the Zumbro roared from its banks during the flash floods of September 2010? I’d like to hear.

Someone tends this sculpture garden as flowers grew (during the warmer months) here among the artwork. Someone cares…


As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me in my tracks. We saw boards lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

As I walked away from the sculpture garden toward the Zumbro River, I spotted this charming old water pump. I moved closer, until my husband stopped me. We saw boards, mostly buried under leaves, lying across the ground around the pump, an indication that this might not be a safe place to walk.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Ongoing stories of flood recovery in Hammond, Jarrett and Zumbro Falls January 5, 2011

THREE MONTHS AGO I met four strong women from Wabasha County.

They had survived devastating late September floods that ravaged their communities and left two of them homeless.

Since then, I’ve kept in contact with one of those survivors, Katie Shones of tiny Hammond. The floodwaters of the Zumbro River stopped within feet of her front door. Now, that might be enough for Katie to breathe a sigh of relief and continue on with her life. But not Katie. She cares about her hamlet of Hammond and the residents she considers family.


A flood-damaged home and garage in Hammond, along the same street where Katie Shones and her family live. I took this photo only 2 1/2 weeks after the late September flood devastated the area.

I CARE, TOO, and I’ve promised Katie that I will continue telling the story of this region. In the always changing world of natural disasters, we quickly forget about a flood or an earthquake or a tornado as they all blend seamlessly together. That may sound harsh, but I know it is honest reality.

Katie e-mailed a few days ago, after I selected eight posts on the September flooding as my personal favorite Minnesota Prairie Roots stories for 2010.

In her message, Katie updated me on the recovery situation in Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls and Jarrett.

First, she tells me that her brother and his wife, whose main street Zumbro Falls home had water almost up to the first floor ceiling, have purchased a home “way high up on the hill” two miles south of Zumbro Falls. Did you catch that “way high up on the hill” part?

Her dear friend and family, who were living in a hotel and making mortgage payments on an uninhabitable residence, returned to their Hammond home the day after Christmas. “They are so grateful to be back,” Katie writes.

Another resident has moved into a new trailer house on her lot in Hammond. Some 80 percent of the homes and most of the businesses in the community of 230 were flooded.

Katie’s mother-in-law is still shuttling between family members’ homes and hasn’t decided what she will do. Her home of 53 years, two miles down river from Jarrett, had floodwaters flowing out of first floor windows.

Susie Shones, whom I interviewed and who is married to Katie’s husband’s cousin, is now temporarily renting a trailer home above Jarrett. Six feet of floodwaters forced Susie and her husband out of their first Jarrett rental house. Ironically, says Katie, the limestone bluffs surrounding Hammond and Jarrett are among the highest elevation points in Wabasha County.

Businesses along the street where Katie lives are beginning to recover. The bank has reopened. The bar is expected to reopen in March. And the restaurant owner is hard at work remodeling his building.


Minnwest Bank in Hammond, by Katie's home, has reopened.

The partially-gutted restaurant interior, photographed on October 10, 2010, is now being renovated.

“OTHER THAN THAT, not much happening in Hammond and the surrounding area due to the weather,” Katie writes. “Hammond continues to look like a ghost town. Every other street light is shut off and the majority of the homes are dark. I keep expecting to see coyotes roaming the streets……”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Top Minnesota Prairie Roots posts honor “strong women” December 31, 2010

GARRISON KEILLOR, in defining the residents of his fictional Lake Wobegon, characterized all the women as strong.

The same could be said for four women I met this past fall while pulling together a series of stories that I’ve selected as my most memorable posts of 2010 here at Minnesota Prairie Roots.

I had no difficulty choosing my favorite posts, because, hands down, the eight stories I wrote in the aftermath of devastating southern Minnesota floods were clearly the most powerful, emotional and heart-wrenching stories I shared in 2010.

A Zumbro Falls home destroyed by the late September flood.

These posts, interestingly enough, evolved by accident. My husband and I were on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors when we drove into Zumbro Falls, a Wabasha County town of some 200 that was inundated with late September floodwaters. Everywhere we looked, we saw damaged homes.

That’s where I met Zumbro Falls resident Tracy Yennie, who lost her home in the flood. This hard-scrabble young woman willingly shared her story, as did Jackie (I didn’t get her last name), Susie Shones and Katie Shones of nearby Hammond.

Tracy Yennie hangs out in downtown Zumbro Falls 2 1/2 weeks after floodwaters destroyed her home..

These women spoke openly, honestly and frankly about their frustrations, their fears and their concerns about the future. Yet, despite that, they, Yennie especially, maintained a semblance of humor. When Yennie pondered my question about life returning to normal, she replied: “What’s normal? Normal is a setting on a washing machine.”

Throughout their ordeal, Zumbro Falls residents maintained a sense of humor, like that seen in this sign I photographed on the garage of a flood-damaged split-level house along Water Street.

If you have not read these powerful interviews with the strong women of Zumbro Falls, Jarrett and Hammond, then go to “Archives” on my home page, click on “October 2010” and scroll to my October 11, 13 and 14 posts.

You will be impressed by the strength of these women.

In addition to these four, I will also remember a family that was cleaning up their flooded Zumbro Falls property. I asked to photograph them, but the mother lashed out at me, refusing my request. In that moment and in the next moment, when I saw the blank, sad look on her young daughter’s face, I realized the personal, emotional depth of this tragedy.

I was forever changed by that encounter.

The flood-damaged garage of the Zumbro Falls resident who refused my request for a photo.

My stories also brought out the goodness in others. Gary Schmidt of the Twin Cities responded to a November 12 appeal for help in the flooded region. He offered to bring some 10 volunteers to Hammond for several days around January 20. He’s with a church group that has assisted flood victims during the past six years in New Orleans, Rushford, Iowa City and Indiana.

The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery in Hammond, where a portion of a building once stood. The building was lying in a heap in the street.

When I last heard from Schmidt, he was coordinating with a Woodbury church group that helped earlier in Hammond and with Katie Shones, the Hammond resident I interviewed.

You can expect me to follow-up on that volunteerism.

And, next fall, you can expect me to revisit the strong women of Zumbro Falls, Jarrett and Hammond. I’ve promised them I’ll return.

A sign of hope in Zumbro Falls, next to a gas station, on my visit there less than three weeks after the flood.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling




Jarrett, Hammond and Millville: “the forgotten ones” October 11, 2010

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SITTING OUTSIDE the Salvation Army trailer in downtown Zumbro Falls on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October, flood survivor Susie Shones says, “We’re the forgotten ones.”

“We,” she defines, are the nearby small towns of Hammond and Millville and the unincorporated settlement of Jarrett just to the southeast. Up until the Zumbro River overflowed its banks in late September flooding her rental house with six feet of water, Shones called Jarrett home. Today she’s living with a brother-in-law in Millville. Six people in a two-bedroom house.

When the heavy rains came and the Zumbro River swelled, Shones says they were told at about 11 p.m. to get out of Jarrett. The women left and went to Rochester. But the men stayed behind to watch the rising water. At 4 a.m., she says, her husband called to say the water was “going up high.”

Soon they lost their home and her husband’s auto salvage yard, their gun collection, too, an anticipated income source upon retirement.

Today she wonders about her future and feels forgotten.


PER SUSIE SHONES’ suggestion, I headed south and east of Zumbro Falls toward Jarrett. But once I reached Wabasha County Road 11, I found the road closed. Not wanting to risk a hefty fine for traveling on a closed road, I never made it to Jarrett.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling