Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memories of a long ago challenging Minnesota winter & more March 15, 2019

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I took this photo several years ago on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown. White-out conditions can happen quickly in that wind-swept part of the state. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOME 50 YEARS AGO, getting to school each day during the winter months proved difficult. It was a particularly snowy winter with strong prairie winds drifting snow across and blocking many roadways. I lived a mile from Vesta on a crop and dairy farm. But I lived some 20 miles from the junior high school I attended in Redwood Falls.

In that late 1960s winter to remember, buses stopped driving into the country to pick up students. That pretty much covered everyone from the Vesta area. Nearly all of us lived on farms.

 

A bus I photographed near Morgan, Minnesota, in May 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

If we could get into the cafe in Vesta, we could board a bus that would then travel Minnesota State Highway 19 to our school in Redwood. But getting there took effort and determination. My oldest brother and I climbed onto the John Deere tractor driven by Dad for the ride into town. And just to clarify, that tractor did not have a cab, only a canvas shield of sorts around the seat. And even though girls were banned from wearing pants at school, I slipped a pair of pants on underneath my dress.

I don’t recall additional details of those tractor rides. But I do recall the bus ride to Redwood along a state highway with snowbanks towering well above the bus. Single lanes cut into rock-hard drifts.

And then I recall the reactions of some teachers when all of us Vesta kids arrived two hours late. They were angry and told us so. Really? You try hopping on a tractor in the cold of winter to get to town to catch a bus and then ride another half hour to school. Be thankful we made it to class.

Kids now days certainly don’t face those challenges. And, if they did, they’d be tucked inside a heated tractor cab. More likely a pick-up truck. But Minnesota prairie kids still face canceled rural routes. “Buses on plowed roads only” is not uncommon during the winter in parts of Minnesota. And just yesterday, I read on the KLGR radio website out of Redwood Falls that buses in at least three schools—Lakeview, Echo Charter and, surprisingly, Redwood—would travel on paved roads only.

Muddy gravel roads and flooding can also become a problem as winter transitions toward spring. And right now Minnesota is experiencing plenty of flooding of roadways and streets.

 

The Faribault American Legion and Heritage Place businesses, a block from downtown, are surrounded by flood waters in September 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

And more. In Faribault, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

SANDBAGS: The City of Faribault will be providing to city residents sand and bags if, and when, flooding occurs. If sandbags are needed now because of a localized flooding event (like backyard flooding into a door in a walkout basement, for example) contact the Faribault Fire Department at 507-334-8773.

 

A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In the small town of Wabasso (where I attended high school) in my home county of Redwood, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

The city of Wabasso recommends turning your sump pump discharge outside. This means either into your yard, the street, or on top of the snow.
The water flowing through the sanitary sewer has been elevated since this afternoon.
When the sewer is overloaded, there is a risk that residents will have sewage back up into their homes.
Please turn your sump pumps to the surface as soon as you are able.

This winter of too much snow and now a too quick snow melt with too much rain is challenging all of us. But eventually conditions will improve. And we can look back and remember the difficult winter of 2019. Like I remember that late 1960s winter of riding the John Deere tractor to catch the school bus.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Heartfelt February 11, 2019

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IT’S A SIMPLE FABRIC HEART. Puffed with stuffing. Hand-stitched with red thread. The words I Love You printed with red paint.

I could have trashed the heart years after the son crafted it for me in elementary school. But there are some things you keep. Things that remind you of the sweet love of a child, of a heartfelt gift lovingly made for a mother.

This heart reminds me that love threads through our lives—in memories, in moments, in the art of living.

Remember that on Valentine’s Day and always. You are loved.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

February family birthdays February 8, 2019

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One of my all-time favorite photos of my son at age 5. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FEBRUARY 9 AND 10 HOLD importance for me. They are the dates two of my three children, now all adults, were born. The daughter arrived first, a second daughter 21 months later in November and then the son on February 9, the day before his oldest sister’s eighth birthday.

Yes, I was a busy mom. There never seemed to be time for myself or enough time in a day. Something always needed doing. Someone always needed help or attention. I’m not complaining, just telling it like it was.

I miss those days. I miss my kids. But I did my job, as best I could, raising them to be independent adults. The daughter is married, a busy mother of two, including a newborn. I love watching her with her daughter and son. She’s attentive, loving, caring and just a really good mom.

 

My eldest daughter at three months old. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Sometimes when I look at my granddaughter, I glimpse Amber at the same age. There’s a certain way Izzy will act or a profile I’ll catch or a look I’ll see that makes me think for a moment that I’m watching my eldest daughter. What a gift to experience that timeless moment.

With my son, who lives way too far away from Minnesota in Boston, I remember most the moment he arrived home from school. Nearly daily Caleb asked for a hug. He didn’t need to ask. I would have given him one. But to hear his sweet request, oh, what joy that brought this mama. I miss his hugs. Whenever he’s back for a visit, I grab all the hugs I can to hold emotionally close in his absence.

There will be lots of hugs in the next few days as Caleb flies in for a short visit, totally unexpected. It will be the first time since 2012 that we’ve been together on his birthday. I’m excited.

Because of distance and/or busyness of life, I seldom celebrate my kids’ birthdays with them. It just is not possible. But that doesn’t change how I feel about their birthdays. Their births opened my heart to a love that is intuitive and deep and unconditional—a mother’s love.

Happy birthday, Amber and Caleb! I love you both always. And I look forward to celebrating with both of you this weekend. My mama’s heart is happy.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Looking back to my “firsts” in 2018 December 31, 2018

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THE END OF THE YEAR offers a time for reflection. I could spew generalities about 2018, telling you it was a year of positives and negatives. And that would be true. But it’s a summary nearly anyone might make about 12 months of life.

Instead, I decided to list 10 firsts for me in 2018. They may seem trivial compared to what many of you have done in the past year. But I live a relatively quiet life in what is considered flyover country. And that’s just fine with me. Minnesota that is. And my small town (open to interpretation depending on where you live) life. I’m mostly content here, except when winter starts in October and stretches into April or May. But pros and cons exist wherever you live.

So let’s get to it—that list of 10 firsts for me in 2018, in no particular order.

 

Randy on the beach outside our lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

1) Randy and I stayed in a lakeside condo timeshare in Detroit Lakes in west central Minnesota late this fall. (Thanks to friends who offered several days they couldn’t use.) Late October into early November isn’t the best time to visit this resort area with trees stripped of leaves and a brisk wind sweeping across the lake. But our time there proved quiet, peaceful, relaxing. I kind of liked, OK really liked, my first time ever at a lakeside condo timeshare.

 

A water feature at Olbrich Botanical Gardens, Madison, Wisconsin, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

2) As long as we’re on the travel topic, this year I discovered Madison, Wisconsin, after my second daughter and her husband moved there last spring. It’s a lovely city of abundant green space and one I look forward to exploring more.

 

An inside look at VR goggles.

 

3) Virtual reality took me on another adventure as the son brought his VR goggles home at Christmas and introduced me to a whole new world. Wow. I could go places without going places. It really was an amazing experience. You gotta remember that I grew up without a telephone and a TV (until I was about ten). Virtual reality, now that’s something.

 

 

 

4) I read my first Stephen King novel, Elevation. I’ve always steered clear of King’s books given the genre. But something prompted me to pull this short title from the library shelves. As strange as the storyline, I found some current day truths within and I’ll try another King novel soon. Even though I shied away from his fiction, King’s nonfiction book On Writing rates as my favorite book on the craft of writing.

 

A graphic illustrating options to consider due to unaffordable health insurance. Our health coverage will cost $1,603/month in 2019 with $4,000 individual deductibles. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

5) Prior to the mid-term elections, I sent my first email ever to my local state representative addressing my concerns about the high cost of health insurance. He never responded. There you go. He didn’t get my vote. If you can’t reply pre-election to a constituent…

 

Two of my posts published on Warner Press this summer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

6) This spring I landed my first paid blogging gig. With Warner Press. I’m grateful for the opportunity to further share my writing talents with this Christian publisher. I’ve written greeting card verses for Warner for years.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a mural in Farmington, Minnesota.

 

7) I also shared my time and talents this summer by, for the first time, organizing a silent auction fundraiser for a friend in need. You can bet I was humbled and honored to hand my friend a hefty check.

 

Site of trivia night in Detroit Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2018.

 

8) I learned this year that I, for sure, suck at trivia. While vacationing in Detroit Lakes, Randy and I dined at a local pizza joint on trivia night. We decided to join the fun, even enduring the stink eye of another player after Randy responded to a text from our eldest during the game. Apparently that’s a no-no. In all fairness to the host, we were told beforehand that looking up answers on our smartphones constituted cheating. We clearly weren’t cheating given our solo correct answer. Try convincing the guy at the table next to us that we didn’t cheat. We left midway into the second round.

 

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 promotes attractions in our Minnesota community, including the new 10,000 Drops Distillery. Photo edited.

 

9) A month or so ago, after an evening of theater in Faribault, Randy and I walked a half-block to 10,000 Drops Distillery, our first visit to a cocktail lounge. It won’t be our last, even though we aren’t much for drinking. It was the setting of exposed brick and wood and cozy seating areas designed for conversations that will bring us back. It’s simply a really cool place that you would expect to find in the Twin Cities metro area, not necessarily Faribault. Yes, my city may just surprise those of you who haven’t been here for awhile or who’ve never been here.

 

A sign marked the location of my granddaughter’s first birthday party in 2017. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

10) Finally, for the first time, I missed my granddaughter’s birthday party. Because of a late April snowstorm. Never mind that Isabelle was only turning two.

There you go…my memorable firsts for 2018.

TELL ME: What firsts happened in your life during the past year?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vintage snowmobiles & memories of a snowmobile misadventure December 20, 2018

Staying warm trumps fashion during a Minnesota winter. This vintage parka accented snowmobiles on display at Sleds on Central in historic downtown Faribault.

 

MY TIME SNOWMOBILING, even though I’m a life-long Minnesotan, is limited to several ride-alongs as a teenager. I never had that much interest in the sport. Either you’re really into snowmobiling or you’re not. That’s my assessment anyway.

 

 

Even with that minimal interest, I still wanted to check out Sleds on Central, Vintage Snowmobile Show, this past Saturday as part of Faribault’s second annual Winterfest.

 

 

Once there, I focused initially on keeping my 2 ½-year-old granddaughter safe after a pick-up truck unexpectedly drove through what I thought was a closed street. Alright then. I was tempted to move orange safety cones into the traffic lanes of Central Avenue to keep vehicles out.

 

 

Instead, I steered Izzy to two pink snowmobiles. She loves anything pink. That distraction worked briefly.

 

 

Then Grandpa scooped her up…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

so I could take photos without that traffic worry.

 

 

 

 

I don’t really know much about snowmobiles, just that they can go fast, make lots of noise and break down. An avid snowmobiler would likely emphasize the positives of speed, the outdoors and winter fun.

 

Polaris snowmobiles are signature Minnesotan. The company opened in the 1950s in Roseau in far northwestern Minnesota.

 

I recall some fun rides with my cousin Kevin as he raced across the flat farm fields of southwestern Minnesota. But I also recall the not-so-fun time my older brother invited me to hop on his snowmobile for a ride across the field to the gravel pit on our family farm. Doug stopped in the pit and somehow persuaded me to get off. Then he left. Just drove away. I’ll never forget that moment of watching him speed away as I stood there in the deep snow in the cold of winter with no way back to the farm site. He must have picked me up eventually. But that abandonment is seared into my memory. I’d never trust him again on a snowmobile.

TELL ME: Are you a snowmobiler or have you ridden on one?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Autumn on a rural Minnesota acreage, a photo essay October 4, 2018

A restored windmill towers above a refurbished mini barn (soon to be art studio) on my brother and sister-in-law’s rural Redwood County acreage.

 

OF SIX FARM-RAISED SIBLINGS, only two live in the country. Neither farmers. But two work in the ag industry, one as the CEO of an ethanol company, the other as part owner in an implement dealership.

 

 

My middle brother remains in our home county of Redwood and welcomes us back for extended family gatherings, most recently our annual autumn tradition of making horseradish—157 jars this year. The tradition honors our deceased farmer father. He dug and processed horseradish roots for many years. Now we do the same but with easier methods than using an old meat grinder powered by a drill. Like Dad, we give away the condiment.

 

Sunflowers ripen and dry under the prairie sky.

 

Our annual gathering in rural Lamberton isn’t about the horseradish as much as it is about family.

 

I’ve always delighted in milkweed pods bursting with seeds.

 

 

 

While I enjoy our time together, I usually slip away to meander, to take in the rural setting, to photograph. I need that peacefulness amid all the chattering and joking and loudness of a group with some strong personalities.

 

How lovely the broom corn rising and swaying in the prairie wind.

 

My artsy sister-in-law creates vignettes like this that change with the seasons.

 

A sunflower, heavy with seed, bows to the earth.

 

I need quiet. And I need to take in the shifting of the seasons, the artful autumn displays, the aged buildings, all the visual reminders of a rural life I still miss decades removed from the country.

 

A gazing ball in a flower garden reflects sky, land and dried black-eyed susan seed heads.

 

I am grateful for the opportunity to escape to this acreage, to reclaim the serenity of rural Minnesota.

 

An old shed recently moved onto the acreage, to be rebuilt or salvaged for the wood.

 

I realize nostalgia tinges my view of country life. Much has changed since I left the farm nearly 45 years ago. But not the love I hold for the land, for the quiet and grace and muted tones of harvest time.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The value of no child left inside August 21, 2018

I appreciate the message on this license plate, photographed last fall in Nisswa, Minnesota. For every National Wildlife Federation license plate purchased in Montana, $20 goes toward programming that encourages kids in that state to get outside and play.

 

GROWING UP IN RURAL SOUTHWESTERN MINNESOTA in the 1960s and 1970s, I spent most of my time outdoors. There was nothing to keep me inside. No TV for a long time. No electronic games. No anything. Except books. And the few toys we had.

 

I love this scene of two boys who dumped their bikes at the edge of a pond to look for life in the water. I photographed this scene in October 2016 at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault.

 

The outdoors offered so much more. A grove in which to carve paths. Trees for a treehouse. A spacious farmyard for a game of softball. Tall grass for a journey West via imaginary covered wagons. Gravel drive and gravel roads for biking. Snow mountains and drifts to sled and slide and travel across. Vast expanses of grass upon which to lie and gaze at animal-shaped clouds.

Outside of play, the outdoors presented a place to work—to pull weeds from soybean rows and tassels from seed corn, to pick rocks from fields, to haul hay and buckets of milk replacer, to wheel grain and do all those chores necessary on a farm.

The house was mostly a place to sleep and eat and, on Saturday evenings, wash away the grime in the galvanized bath tub hauled from porch to kitchen.

It all sounds so nostalgic. So wonderful. And it was in many ways. But life was also admittedly hard in the kind of way that day-in-day-out, the physical labor circled in a never-ending cycle. We had little in material possessions. I suppose you could say our family lived in poverty, although I had no recognition of that at the time.

 

Boys at the turtle pond, River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

We were rich, though, in our love of the outdoors, of the land. I wanted to be outside. I am thankful for having grown up in a place and time when I could roam outdoors without fear and in free play.

 

It’s important to take time and notice nature. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

 

Most kids today are missing that unstructured free time outdoors to just be kids, to stretch their imaginations. Sometimes I wonder if kids are even capable any more of playing on their own, without adults planning an activity, a game, a sport, for them. It’s a different world. If I was a kid today and lived as I did then, I would be considered free-range and my parents probably would be the object of concern and likely under fierce attack on social media.

 

Minnesota Praiire Roots file photo, October 2016.

 

Despite the changes in society, it’s still important for kids to get outdoors–away from electronics and scheduled activities–to simply play. To use their imaginations. To be in nature. To appreciate the warmth of the sun, the waft of the wind, the scent of flowers, the smell of earth, the feel of dirt between their fingers, the taste of a sun-ripened tomato, the birdsong of morning…

THOUGHTS?

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

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