Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

More than a garden…a place of peace & respite August 18, 2022

A coneflower up close in the Rice Country Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

ANYONE WHO GARDENS understands just how quickly plants can grow. Sunshine and rain make all the difference.

Vegetables grow in the foreground in this photo, other plants and flowers beyond. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A month had passed between visits to the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden located at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. And in those few weeks, the vegetables, flowers and other plants grew in length, height and width, some blossoming, some with fruit emerging.

A mini sunflower of sorts (I think) bursts color into the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There are signs aplenty in this teaching garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An eggplant blossom. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To walk here again among the prairie flowers, the zinnias, the hydrangea and hosta, the burpless cucumbers, eggplants, tomatoes and much more is to feel a deep connection to the earth. For it is the soil which roots, which feeds these plants watered by the sky, energized by the sun.

Gardening equipment stashed in a secure area next to the conservation building by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And it is volunteer gardeners who plant and tend this beautiful garden for the enjoyment of many. Like me. I appreciate their time, their efforts, their desire to create this peaceful place in my community.

This broad-leafed plant name fascinates me. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Aiming the camera down at Silver Mound, a wispy plant that I’ve never seen before. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A cucumber forming. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

To visit this spot is to understand how much we each need such a contemplative place. A place simply to meander along wood chip or brick pathways, pausing to appreciate the likes of broad-leafed Pig Squeak or the silvery sheen of Silver Mound or a little-finger-sized prickly cucumber or a Prickly Pear Cactus. There’s a lot to take in among the vast plant varieties.

One of the man-made tree stumps gurgles water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The water feature is to the right of this centering circle. Across the way are an historic church and school, part of the Rice County Historical Society. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And then there’s the water, oh, the water. No garden feature soothes more than a fountain. Here five replica tree stumps spill water into a shallow pond, a focal point defined by a circle of bricks connected to brick paths.

I notice details, like a feather in a bird bath. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Even a bird bath drew my attention with a feather floating therein.

A lily blooms in early August. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The garden also features an arch for climbing clematis, which bloomed profusely earlier in the summer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A bee house posted on a tree by the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Strategically situated benches offer sitting spots to pass the time, chat, read a book or simply take in the garden, the being outdoors, in nature. In this fast-paced world of technology and a deluge of news that is often awful and horrible and unsettling, this garden provides a respite. Nature has a way of working calm into our beings. Easing stress and anxiety. Lifting spirits.

Lovely flowers fill the garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the challenges which have defined my life in 2022, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for this garden. I feel at peace here among the flowers and vegetables, the birds and butterflies, bushes and trees, here under the southern Minnesota sky.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The poetic joy of a butterfly August 17, 2022

An Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly atop a zinnia. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

EVERY TIME I SPOT A BUTTERFLY, joy surges through me. There’s something about the flitting flight of a butterfly that captivates me.

But it’s more than that. I appreciate how these insects appear so carefree, as if their very existence is simply to bring beauty and joy into the world. And maybe it is.

The butterfly perches among my favorite garden flowers, zinnias. My mom planted zinnia seeds when I was growing up on the farm. Zinnias are easy to grow from seed, are prolific, hardy and colorful. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In recent days, I’ve observed two swallowtail butterflies, one black, the other yellow, among the phlox growing wild in my flowerbeds. And some 10 days ago I photographed an Eastern tiger swallowtail atop a zinnia at the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden in Faribault.

That well-tended garden has become a new favorite oasis for me within the city limits. On the Sunday afternoon I visited the garden, I found friends Paula and Ed already there, resting on a bench. Paula was involved early on with development of this garden. She no longer is, but remains an active gardener. Paula was the one who spotted the swallowtail among the zinnias.

Per her direction, I headed to the zinnia patch to photograph the yellow swallowtail with wings outlined in black, splotches of blue and orange adding to the coloring.

Black-bordered wings are nearly wide open atop a zinnia. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The swallowtail perched, unhurried atop the yellow-centered pink flower. I had plenty of time to snap multiple frames. That’s often not the case with butterflies.

That butterflies survive a four-stage life cycle from egg to larva (caterpillar) to pupa (chrysalis) to adult butterfly impresses me. At any one stage, a predator could end their lives. But yet, here was this beautiful butterfly among the zinnias. Like the final verse in a lovely summer poem.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about butterflies? Do you have a favorite?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Along the Cannon River, by a dam in Faribault August 16, 2022

The picturesque Faribault Mill along the Cannon River in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

THE RIVERS RUN THROUGH, the Cannon and the Straight converging on Faribault’s north side at Two Rivers Park.

A view of the Cannon River looking west while standing on the walkway over the dam next to Father Slevin Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The history, the founding of my southeastern Minnesota community is channeled through these waterways. In the history of the Dakota who first called this place home. In the history of the fur traders, including town founder Alexander Faribault, who settled along and traveled the rivers. In the history of flour mills and sawmills and the renowned Faribault Woolen Mill, established in 1865.

There’s a buffer of plants along the shores of the Cannon in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Whenever I walk the Northern Link Trail in North Alexander Park along the Cannon River Reservoir, I pause to view the 1892 Faribault Mill. Often I photograph this iconic brick building aside the appropriately-named Woolen Mill Dam. I appreciate this long-standing business, still operating today, weaving fine woolen blankets and more that have garnered national respect for quality craftsmanship.

Ghost signs on the Faribault Mill along the Cannon River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Ghost signs on the building’s exterior remind me of this mill’s long history here, along the river, by the dam.

There’s a notable absence of water at this dam on the Cannon River in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

A grassy patch away, a second dam manages river flow next to Father Slevin Park. But when I last visited the area on August 7, I saw bare concrete with only a trickle of water leaking through boards at that smaller dam. Rather than rushing water defining this place, stagnant ponding water defines it.

The drying river bed and stagnant water below the dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I observed green algae and litter on the water’s surface. I observed exposed rocks and plants growing where water should flow. All are evidence of the drought conditions we are experiencing here in southern Minnesota. We’ve had some rain since I paused beside the dam. But not enough to totally compensate for the lack of moisture.

Fishing in the Cannon River at Father Slevin Park near the Woolen Mill Dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Typically, anglers frequent the river banks below this particular dam. But not now. Not in this summer of drought. These dry weather conditions plague so many locations across the country and world as the effects of climate change continue. One need only look to the West, to the decades of drought, the wildfires and the ever-growing tensions over water to understand the crisis.

I’ve seen more grasshoppers this year than in recent years, including this one among plants on the Cannon River bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Locally, low river levels visually remind me that we are not untouched by evolving weather patterns. There was a time when I held a heightened awareness of weather as my farmer father looked to the sky, waiting for rain clouds to open, to drench his corn and soybean fields. I remember the summer of 1976 when he purchased boxcar loads of hay from Montana to feed our livestock. Worry defined that summer.

I spotted this buoy tucked next to a corner of the dam, hugging the shore above the dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And now worry edges into my thoughts as I observe the stillness. No sound of rushing water. No sight of rushing water. Only the exposed concrete dam and the stagnant water pooling below.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 

Wood-fired pizza from “where the hills sing & the trees clap” August 13, 2022

On a perfect summer evening, a crowd gathers for music, pizza and conversation at Christ Lutheran Church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

AS OLD COUNTRY BROTHERS belted out popular songs from The Eagles, Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton and many others, volunteers across the backyard of Christ Lutheran Church created, baked and delivered homemade wood-fired pizzas to an appreciative crowd. Randy and I were among those attending the last of the summer Holy Smoke concert series and pizza nights Wednesday at the church on the hill on Faribault’s east side.

The roadside sign posted along Minnesota State Highway 60 by the driveway into Christ Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Old Country Brothers Gregg and Jeff Sartor perform on August 10. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Smoked brisket pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In its sixth year, Holy Smoke is about more than excellent thin crust pizza and music. This is also about a coming together of community on a perfect August evening in southeastern Minnesota. This is also about giving back. Proceeds from the three summer gatherings benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity and HOPE Center.

A themed t-shirt sported by a volunteer who paused to visit with attendees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

A message printed on some volunteers’ t-shirts and on a bench dedicated to Pastor Craig and Carol Breimhorst (the pastor died of COVID-19; the first death in our county) references Isaiah 55:12, fitting Scripture for this hilltop church edged by trees and a sweeping lawn descending to Minnesota State Highway 60.

The menu posted just inside the front door, ticket table to the right. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

There’s joy in that biblical reference just as there’s joy among those who make Holy Smoke happen. A ticket taker, whom I thanked, tapped her hand to her heart, showing me from whence her joy rises.

The pizza bakers at the wood-fired oven just outside the church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Plenty of heat here. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

An overview of the wood-fired oven system. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

I found the same enthusiasm among the crew tending the wood-fired pizza oven. The heat flaming inside to 700-plus degrees made the work station at times uncomfortably hot. But they forged on, baking pizzas.

Volunteers assemble pizzas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Chicken bacon ranch pizza ready for the wood-fired oven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Inside the fellowship hall, other volunteers layered sliced tomatoes, meat toppings, cheese and more onto rounds of dough.

The busy kitchen crew. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the kitchen, three women worked, two doing dishes, the third snipping chives.

When we arrived at around 5:45 pm to find the parking lot overflowing, I thought the wait would be long. It wasn’t. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Still others rolled pizza cutters across pizzas hot from the oven, pizzas ready for more volunteers to carry to hungry customers. The wait time is short, especially if you order a quarter of a pie.

Attendees spread out across the backyard to listen to Old Country Brothers and to enjoy pizza. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

From my observations, the entire pizza-making and delivery process runs smoothly. Everywhere I saw smiles. Smiles on the faces of volunteers, beginning with the greeter who met us at the door. And smiles among those eating pizza and enjoying the music of Gregg and Jeff Sartor. I felt the joy.

Kids blew and caught bubbles, ran free… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Families and friends gather at Holy Smoke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Kids roll down the steep hillside. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Holy Smoke is an event for all ages, from kids blowing bubbles, rolling down the hillside, running across the lawn and climbing on rocks ringing a tree to older folks relaxing in lawn chairs.

There is some on-site seating. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

This is a mostly bring-your-own chairs, own napkins (I’d also advise paper plates, wet wipes and a portable side table) event, although limited picnic table space is available.

Connecting in conversation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Mostly, Holy Smoke seems about community. About connecting. About conversations. About supportive businesses. About joy.

Printed on a t-shirt worn by a pizza baker. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

In the loveliness of the summer evening, I heard the hills sing. I heard the trees clap. And I tasted some “holy smoke, this is good” smoked brisket pizza.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A crisis: In memory of all the Jordyns & Kobes August 12, 2022

A rural Rice County, Minnesota, cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo used for illustration only)

NOT AGAIN. My reaction zipped in a flashpoint of disbelief over yet another young Minnesota man shot and killed by police while experiencing a mental health crisis.

The latest to die is Jordyn Hansen, 21, formerly of Faribault. He recently moved to Otsego in the northwest metro to live with an aunt and uncle. There, according to his aunt who was interviewed by a reporter from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, they hoped Jordyn could recover away from a previous lifestyle that amplified his mental health challenges. He had a history of mental illness and substance abuse and had been in treatment.

When Jordyn experienced another crisis early Sunday morning, his family members called police. Narratives of what happened after law enforcement arrived are vastly different. The police say one thing, the family another. In the end, the family seeking help for their loved one is now attending a funeral, which will be held this morning at my church in Faribault.

I didn’t know Jordyn or his family. Nor do I know the family of Kobe Dimock-Heisler, a 21-year-old man on the autism spectrum who was shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police in 2019.

Both cases involved families seeking help in a crisis. Both involved police response. Both involved knives and tasers and six gunshots that killed two young men. Each only 21 years old, with families and friends who loved them.

I could cite many similar cases, but I’ll leave it at that as I process how upset I feel about the deaths of Jordyn and of Kobe. I can’t put myself inside the heads of responding police officers. Nor was I there to witness what unfolded during each emergency. But I can, as a mother and community member, express my deep concern for this ongoing loss of life among those experiencing a mental health or other crisis. Why does this keep happening? And how can we “fix” this so no family member has to worry about their loved one being shot and killed when they call for help?

Jordyn’s family has started a gofundme fundraiser to help cover his funeral expenses. The goal is $10,000. Jason Heisler, Kobe’s father, donated $21 to the cause. I assume he chose that amount because both his son and Jordyn were 21 at the times of their deaths. It should be noted here that the National Alliance on Mental Illness defines autism as the following: Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental condition that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate with others. Consider that when you think of Kobe, who was on the autism spectrum.

Jason Heisler left (in part) this powerful comment on Jordyn’s gofundme site: …preventable should of never happened to this beautiful boy and his family. A mental crisis is not a crime.

Let me repeat that: A mental crisis is not a crime.

#

I am grateful to the many professionals, individuals and organizations (like the National Alliance on Mental Illness) that are working hard to improve mental healthcare and the response to those in a mental health crisis. Through education, training, advocacy, understanding, awareness, compassionate response and intervention, change is happening. Yet, the pace of change feels too slow. A key component in all of this is listening and communication. The approach to individuals in a mental health crisis needs to be thoughtful. A shift in attitudes to recognize that mental health is health should be the standard, not the exception.

I encourage you to help cover Jordyn’s funeral expenses by donating via his gofundme page or giving directly to his family. Thank you.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of the Zumbro August 11, 2022

Fishing at the base of the Lake Zumbro Dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

WATER RUSHES IN A SHEET over the dam, a powerful wall of water spilling from the 600-acre Lake Zumbro reservoir into the river below by Mac’s Park Place & Campground in rural Mazeppa.

An overview of the dam and fishing area next to Mac’s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Mac’s Park Place by the Zumbro River and dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
The 100-plus year-old powerhouse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Until several months ago, I was unaware of this hydroelectric generating plant along the Zumbro River in southeastern Minnesota. But Randy and I discovered the Rochester Public Utilities facility after turning off Wabasha County Road 21 onto a gravel road that led us to Mac’s at the base of the dam.

The Lake Zumbro hydroelectric dam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I stood in awe of this structure with a spillway spanning 440 feet and a height of 55 feet. Constructed beginning in 1917 and operating since 1919 under ownership of the RPU, this hydroelectric generating plant is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s truly an amazing feat of engineering and construction. Renowned engineer Hugh L. Cooper led the project.

A hillside of trees hugs the bank of the Zumbro River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Not only are the dam and powerhouse impressive, but so is the natural setting in the backwoods of the river valley. Here trees fill the hillside across the Zumbro from Mac’s. In the greening of spring, when we visited, the scene was wild, scenic, beautiful. I expect autumn would yield a hillside flaming in color.

Fishing below the Lake Zumbro Dam on a Saturday afternoon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

An angler’s gear, beverages, etc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
Fishing along the grassy river bank. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a Saturday afternoon in May, anglers angled for fish in the placid river, the roaring dam nearby, dwarfing their size. Access to this seemingly popular fishing spot comes via Mac’s, which charges a fee for non-campers.

Fishing near that powerful wall of rushing water. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

In August 2019, this was the site of a boating incident which injured four people after their pontoon plunged over the dam. I can’t imagine the terror they felt in that moment of realizing what was about to happen.

Angling in the Zumbro River. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

There’s power here, in this wall of water. I heard it, saw it, felt it.

This rock formation in the Zumbro River caught my eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

But then I experienced the power, too, that comes with this natural setting. The power to quiet the spirit in the placid river, the rock formations, the tree-filled hillside… The Zumbro River can be harnessed, but not tamed. There’s an undeniable wildness in this place that yields peace.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Along a river valley backroad near Mazeppa August 9, 2022

The first scene off the highway was this fenced farm site with that lovely aged barn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

BACKROADS IN ESPECIALLY remote rural regions often yield an eclectic mix of discoveries. Like those spotted along a gravel road off Wabasha County Road 21 in the Zumbro River Valley between Mazeppa and Oronoco in southeastern Minnesota. A homemade roadside sign for Mac’s Park Place drew Randy and me to take a path into the unknown.

On the way to Mac’s, a 1950s restored Oliver tractor peeks out from a weathered shed. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I photographed some of the sights along that short route from the highway back to Mac’s, a bar, restaurant and campground along the Zumbro River.

Mabe’s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

What we saw remains somewhat of a mystery, especially Mabe’s Deer Camp. Was this once a public place for hunters and others to gather? Or was this (is this) a private hunting retreat for friends and family?

Skulls identify Mabe’s as a deer hunting camp. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

And who is Mabe?

Signage on a truck parked by Mabe’s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I expect locals could tell me lots of stories. Or I can spin my own backwoods river stories about Mabe’s, imagination running rampant.

A vintage gas pump sign outside Mabe’s. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

That’s the thing about backroads. You see oddities that leave you wondering. And sometimes it’s OK to wonder, to not have all the answers. To delight in the simply seeing. In-the-moment appreciation for that which unfolds before you, unexpectedly.

Also headed back to Mac’s Park Place, a converted school bus. Maybe a party bus. Maybe a camper. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

TELL ME: What oddities have you discovered along a back country road?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Doing my part to raise awareness about mental health August 3, 2022

A hand reaches skyward in a mental health themed sculpture that once graced a street corner outside the Northfield, Minnesota, Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

WHEN HE HEARD ME rant for the umpteenth time about “people just don’t get it, they don’t understand,” he advised, “Then you need to educate them.”

He, my husband of 40 years, is right. Venting to Randy about offensive terminology and uninformed/misinformed comments and attitudes about mental illness does nothing other than temporarily ease my frustrations. Speaking out, writing, based on my observations and experiences, can make a difference. So write about my concerns I will, with the disclaimer that I am not a medical professional.

I photographed this shirt at an event at the Northfield Public Library. This message refers to the struggles with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2019)

WORDS MATTER

Today—on the heels of recent offensive lyrics by Beyonce’—seems the right time to share what’s bothered me for way too long. The pop singer used the derogatory term, “spaz/spazzin,” in her new release, “Heated.” Although she was referencing spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy causing motor impairments in limbs, and not mental health, the analogy fits. Her word choice proved offensive to people who are disabled. And rightly so. To her credit, Beyonce’ acknowledged her unintentional slur and is changing the lyrics. Just like Lizzo, who used the same wordage not all that long ago.

For the millions who each day bravely face mental health challenges and for those who love them, everyday careless language can hurt. Words like crazy, insane, nuts, it’s all in their head, off their rocker, out of his/her mind…are hurtful. As hurtful as the lyrics sung by Beyonce’ and Lizzo.

Recently, while reading a Good Morning America Book Club selection published in 2021, I came across this phrase: “the usual terrible but addictive schizophrenic medley.” In the context of this fictional story, the character was not talking about anything mental health related, but rather about what she was seeing on Instagram. I stopped reading and considered how insulting those words, especially to someone diagnosed with schizophrenia. I doubt the author intended to offend. But she did.

Buttons previously available for the taking at the Northfield library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

IF YOU HAD…

Now you might say I’m being overly-sensitive. But consider if you, or someone you loved, was diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, whatever, and uncaring words (which I can’t even think of) were tossed out there. It’s no different for those diagnosed with bi-polar, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder…

I’m thankful individuals undergoing cancer treatment and/or who have survived cancer, for example, are not subjected to negative/offending words and behavior, but rather are supported with encouragement, fundraisers, even hot dishes delivered to their homes. That type of care and attitude should be a model for how all of us treat individuals dealing with a mental health crisis and their families. We should respond with equal love, compassion, care and understanding. And tangible support.

A sign explains the story behind the “Waist Deep” sculpture in Northfield. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019)

CHANGING ATTITUDES, BUT MORE IS NEEDED

I recognize attitudes toward mental health are changing, that, as a whole, we are growing more informed, finally beginning to reduce the stigma of brain disorders. But much work remains. Individuals in a mental health crisis should have immediate access to care. Busy, understaffed emergency rooms are often the first-line treatment option. I don’t know of a single doctor who would send a person experiencing a heart attack home. Individuals in a mental health crisis, the equivalent of a heart attack, deserve the same immediate life-saving care. Yet the wait to see a psychiatrist often exceeds six weeks, at least here in greater Minnesota. That’s unacceptable.

There’s a need for more mental healthcare professionals and in-patient treatment and recovery centers. There’s a need for more funding, more research. Insurance companies should not determine care/medications or refuse to fully cover mental healthcare expenses.

This sculpture, once located outside the Northfield library, is called “Waist Deep” and addresses mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)

IT STARTS WITH EACH OF US

At a grassroots level—that’s each of us individually—more compassion, support, understanding are needed. A few years ago I walked into a southwestern Minnesota brewery and spotted a man sporting a jacket advertising a neighboring brewery. Imprinted on the back was an image of a straitjacket. I could not believe what I was seeing, especially after also reading the offensive name of the brewery. Later I looked online to read the brewery’s list of “Crazy Good Beer” with words like manic, catatonic, lobotomy, kookaloo… in the craft beer names. Simply writing this makes my blood pressure rise. I wanted to rip that jacket right off that beer drinker, so strong was my anger in that moment. Imagine the uproar, for example, if a brewery used words like chemo or radiation in its beer names or used an IV drip as its logo. Somehow a straitjacket is OK? Not from my perspective.

Imagine, too, if you have gone through cancer treatment and someone said you will be fine now that you’ve completed treatment. In the back of your mind, you recognize that the cancer could return despite the treatment. It’s no different for someone with a serious mental illness. Drugs work for awhile and then they don’t. Medications and therapy help manage symptoms, but there is no cure. Symptoms can return. Relapses, crises, happen.

I highly recommend this book, among many I’ve read on the topic of mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

GRATITUDE & RESOURCES

I appreciate every single person who has made a concerted effort to understand mental health, mental illness specifically. I appreciate organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which works tirelessly to support individuals and their families who face mental health challenges. I appreciate NAMI’s advocacy work and education. I appreciate mental healthcare professionals. And, most of all, I admire those individuals who deal with mental illness—whether depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, bi-polar… They are among the strongest people I know and they deserve, yes, deserve, our love, compassion, understanding, support and respect.

THOUGHTS?

RESOURCES: If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, seek immediate help. Call 911. Call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Connect with NAMI. You are not alone.

Click here to read previous posts I’ve penned on mental health.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dedicated to Randy, a southern Minnesota automotive machinist for 43 years August 2, 2022

Randy at work in the automotive machine shop where he was employed for nearly 39 years until last Friday. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

HE REBUILT HIS FIRST ENGINE, acquired for $25 from a classmate, nearly 50 years ago while a senior at Healy High School in Pierz. He recalls the deconstructed engine as a bit of a mess. But Randy was up to the challenge and successfully rebuilt the engine for his first car, a 1964 Chevy.

One load of machine shop equipment ready to transport from Northfield to the new owner’s garage Monday afternoon. (Copyrighted August 1, 2022, photo by Randy Helbling)

Fast forward to July 29, 2022. This past Friday, Randy clocked out of the job he’s held for the past 38 years and 10 months as an automotive machinist at a southern Minnesota auto parts store. A corporation purchased the business in early May and immediately announced plans to close the profitable and successful machine shop by the end of August. Closure came a month earlier with sale of the machine shop equipment.

Friday evening part of our family gathered at 10,000 Drops Distillery in Faribault to honor Randy for a life-long career with roots in that central Minnesota high school small engines shop class. He was, Randy notes, the only student to use the valve and seat grinder in one entire school year.

Today he’s an expert in his trade with a technical school education in auto mechanics and auto parts management but, more importantly, with a brief mentorship followed by decades of experience as an automotive machinist. Much sought after. And, always, always booked months out with work.

Before and after cylinder head cleaning process. (Photo by Randy Helbling)

I asked Randy to make a list of all the machine shop work he’s done since entering that field in 1979 after several years working as an auto parts counter person. I handed him a legal-sized envelope, recycled as notepaper. He sat on the end of the couch writing for the longest time in block print that is almost too small for me to read. He filled both sides of that envelope.

Here’s his list:

  • Resurface brake drums, rotors, flywheels, cylinder heads, manifolds, engine blocks and pressure plates.
  • Complete valve jobs: includes replacing valve guides, valve seats, valves and springs.
  • Repair cracked heads and blocks.
  • Cylinder reboring, honing and resleeving.
  • Pressure testing heads or magnetic crack inspection.
  • Removing broken bolts, E-Z outs, taps and drill bits.
  • Resizing connecting rods and fitting piston pin bushings to within .0001 of an inch.
  • Cleaning, degreasing cylinder heads, blocks and various engine parts and other parts for industry.
  • Press work with a 50-ton press: pressing U-joints, wheel bearings, front wheel drive and rear wheel drive axle shafts, ring and pinion bearings, forklift wheels and other items needing to be pressed apart or together.
  • Rebuild drive shafts with constant velocity U-joints.
  • Polish crankshafts.
  • Repair radiators.
  • Reline brake shoes.

Impressed yet? I am and so are the thousands of customers who came to Randy for their automotive machining needs. Some stopped by on Friday to thank him, to express their dismay at his unexpected job loss. Randy was reliable, incredibly skilled, excelling in his craft. Customers included car and farm implement dealerships, farmers, garages, marinas, golf courses, the Harley dealer, grain elevators, construction companies, local canning and food companies and other industries, classic car and vintage tractor collectors, do-it-yourselfers and city, county and school maintenance departments, and probably some I missed in this list.

Work piles up in the automotive machine shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

He’s repaired almost everything except airplanes and locomotives. Buses? Check. Boats? Check. Semis? Check. Tractors? Check. Motorcycles? Check. Trucks? Check. Cars? Check. Vans? Check. Lawnmowers? Check. Snowmobiles? Check. Skid loaders? Check. Forklifts? Check. Snowblowers? Check. Vintage tractors? Check. Classic cars? Check.

It all started back in high school with that rebuilt engine for a 1964 Chevy, today a classic car Randy wishes he still owned. Today he owns a history as a hardworking and dedicated automotive machinist who truly was among the best, and remaining few, in his field here in southern Minnesota.

Measuring a cylinder bore. (Photo by Randy Helbling)

I asked Randy what skills he needed to be a successful automotive machinist. He thought for a moment and then said, “knowing how an engine might perform when the work is completed.” I will attest to his knowledge. He can listen to an engine and often immediately diagnose a problem. Yes, he’s that good. An aptitude for math and being detail-oriented are also necessities.

I’m proud of my husband, for how he’s served southern Minnesota and beyond (he had a repeat customer from Sioux Falls, SD). He’s been a real asset to the area considering all of the automotive machining he’s done since 1979. His last day on the job came with mixed emotions. It’s not easy losing your job unexpectedly after 39 years. Randy teared up when talking about the customers who popped in on Friday to thank him. And when our son called from Indiana while we were at the distillery, I know that touched him, too.

From Randy’s office/shop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2022)

In the end, he carried his “office” home in a small cardboard box filled with professional plaques, business cards, a job quote…and a sheaf of carbon paper. Randy carries with him, too, the memory of 43 years of working in the automotive field, of interacting with customers, of knowing he has always, always, done his best.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photos courtesy of Randy Helbling

 

Remembering the 35W bridge collapse 15 years later August 1, 2022

This photo shows the opening spread of the feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are newly-engaged Garrett and Sonja, before the collapse.

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO THIS EVENING, 13 people died and 145 were injured when the 35W bridge collapsed during rush hour in downtown Minneapolis. Vehicles plunged into the Mississippi River. Others clung to the tilted, broken span of roadway. Lives were forever changed at 6:05 pm on August 1, 2007, when faulty gusset plates gave way and the bridge broke.

Garrett with his mom, Joyce Resoft, about a month after the bridge collapse. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2007. Photo courtesy of Garrett’s family)

Among those most seriously injured was then 32-year-old Garrett Ebling, former managing editor of The Faribault Daily News. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, severed colon, broken left arm and ankles, a spinal injury and more after his Ford Focus nosedived 110 feet, the equivalent of an 11-story building, into the river. That he survived seems miraculous. He spent weeks in the hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries. A lengthy rehab followed. His life, physically, mentally and emotionally, was forever changed.

Within months of the collapse, I penned a feature story about Garrett for Minnesota Moments, a now-defunct magazine. Mine was one of the few initial interviews Garrett granted and I was both humbled and honored to share his story as a freelance writer. Prior to his departure from the editorial job in Faribault, we had connected. I remember Garrett’s kindness and compassion toward me after my son was struck by a hit-and-run driver in May 2006. I took great care in writing his story, recognizing that another journalist was trusting me to get it right.

Garrett Ebling’s book.

In 2012, Garrett wrote about his experiences and life thereafter in a book, Collapsed—A Survivor’s Climb From the Wreckage of the 35W Bridge. I reviewed that revealing and emotional book in which this survivor held nothing back.

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. All made it safely off the bus (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

Since then, I’ve lost track of the “author, father and 35W bridge collapse survivor,” as Garrett labels himself on his Twitter account. But I expect today, the anniversary of the bridge collapse, is difficult for him as it is every survivor and every single person who lost a loved one 15 years ago in downtown Minneapolis when the unthinkable happened. When a bridge fell.

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display at the Minnesota History Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

There are moments in history that we never forget and, for me a Minnesotan, August 1, 2007, is one of those dates. When I heard the breaking news of the bridge collapse, I worried first about extended family who live in the metro. They were not on the bridge. While that diminished my personal angst, it does not diminish the tragedy of that day for those who were on that bridge. Like Garrett Ebling, the 144 others injured and the 13 who died. It is a tragedy, too, for those who loved them and for us, collectively, as Minnesotans.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling