Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Ready to seed September 16, 2021

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The excavator used to dig a trench for the new water line. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2021.

FOR THE PAST THREE MONTHS, our front side yard has looked like a disaster. Not from the drought, although that factored into the issue. Rather, excavation to replace an aged, failing water line into our house resulted in a dug up mess of a yard. I’m not blaming the excavators. Running a line into our house required a round-about and lengthy access route.

So here we are, months later, finally ready to fix our unsightly yard during the cooler days of pre-autumn. I started the process by hand pulling crabgrass, which had overtaken most of the lawn. That annual thrives in dry conditions, quickly spreading and rooting into the soil. I spent hours, days, yanking the invasive grass…until I realized I simply couldn’t do it any more.

Randy used a chemical—what I was trying to avoid by all that hands-on work—to kill the rest.

Since then, he’s tilled the soil, carefully digging for utility lines marked by flags and paint. I appreciate these markings, but wish we were informed as to the depth of these pipes and lines. The last thing we want is to slice through a line and have that added expense on top of our original water line replacement bill of $5,000. Yes, you read that right.

We need to seed this entire side yard, part of the front yard and the entire boulevard. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo June 2021.

But back to the lawn. The plan is to seed grass. If we were younger and stronger, owned a truck, had endless cash flow, and weren’t in a drought, I’d prefer sod. But grass seed it shall be. Now what to seed…

I just read an article online about research by the University of Minnesota’s Turfgrass Research, Outreach and Education Center (who knew there was such a center?) which suggests Minnesotans rethink seeding Kentucky bluegrass, the seed grass of choice in our state. Rather, the center suggests considering fine fescues. That slower growing grass requires less water and fertilizer and is more tolerant of shade and drought conditions, according to the researchers. Hmmm. That sounds worthy of consideration to conserve water and to deal with dry conditions.

Or, I had the thought of just letting the tilled yard be…and seeding field corn in the spring…because Randy and I both grew up on crop farms and…

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TELL ME: I welcome your input and advice on seeding of our now dirt yard.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Crafting baked beans September 15, 2021

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Baked beans prepared for Bean Hole Days in Pequot Lakes. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

THUMBING THROUGH THE PAGES of the July/August issue of Country Living magazine recently, I found a recipe, “Slow Cooker Baked Beans,” which inspired me to try making baked beans from scratch.

I read through the list of ingredients noting that all were common and in-stock in my kitchen, except for the pound of dried navy beans. Too often I find magazine recipes calling for ingredients I don’t have or can’t find locally. But this recipe was a go. So I bought a bag of beans and determined I could do this.

But…just to assure I would do everything correctly, I texted my sister-in-law Annette, who makes incredible baked beans, to ask a few questions. Do I soak the beans overnight on the counter or in the fridge? Covered or uncovered?

Perhaps she chuckled at my basic bean questions. Maybe not. Whatever, I appreciated her advice to soak the beans in a covered container. In case a fly or ? gets in the house, she wrote. It was the question mark which concerned me given I live in an old house with many access points for mice. Once upon a time (true story) I found a dead mouse floating in a water-filled crockpot. I’d left the uncovered pot soaking overnight in the kitchen sink. I took her warning seriously and covered the beans before I left them to soak overnight in a kettle on the counter.

Aside from that advice, Annette shared one more important tip which, had I not followed, likely would have resulted in a baked bean failure: Beans will NOT soften any further once anything sweet is put in such as brown sugar, catsup or molasses. What? The recipe did not include that important detail. But I believed my sister-in-law, an expert in crafting baked beans. I cooked the beans for 45 minutes to their desired softness before dumping them into the crockpot along with the three afore-mentioned sweet ingredients, bacon, spices, onion and water.

Volunteers guide a kettle of baked beans lifted from a pit at Bean Hole Days. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I should have remembered also that the good folks of Pequot Lakes, who have since 1938 prepared massive kettles of baked beans for the community’s annual Bean Hole Days, partially pre-cook the soaked navy beans with propane. The oversized pots of beans are then lowered into a pit to cook overnight over wood coals. And I gotta tell you, the deliciousness of those bacon-laced beans in a secret, special sauce ranks right up there with those my sister-in-law makes.

How did mine turn out? Well. They were tasty and flavorful. And not at all soupy. I worried initially that I might be eating bean soup given the ratio of beans to liquid in the crockpot. But, during the slow, all-day cooking, that problem remedied itself.

Will I make these beans again? Absolutely. I’ve noted Annette’s tips in the margin of the printed recipe because, even though I think I will remember, I likely won’t. And who wants a baked bean bomb? Not me.

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TELL ME: Have you ever made baked beans from scratch? If yes, I’d like to hear about your bean-baking experiences/tips/recipes.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Poetic reflections from Faribault Energy Park September 14, 2021

Among the many beautiful wildflowers growing at Faribault Energy Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

DESPITE THE STEADY THRUM of traffic along adjacent Interstate 35 and the drone of the power plant, Faribault Energy Park remains a favorite place to walk. Not because it’s quiet—because it’s not, not at all. But because of the dirt trails that wind through 35 acres of wetlands and ponds.

Dirt trails ring the ponds. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Here, when I put sneaker to ground, I feel connected to the land. There’s something satisfying and comforting about earth directly beneath my soles.

The foxtail, especially, remind me of the prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo September 2021.

And although this isn’t prairie, the openness of this park appeals to me. It reminds me of my prairie roots, of the gravel drives and roads I biked and walked while growing up in southwestern Minnesota. Sometimes my heart hurts for missing those familiar wide open spaces and spacious skies.

The park’s single wind turbine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

At Faribault Energy Park, I pause occasionally to look skyward, to the expanse of blue. Or toward the churning arms of the wind turbine which, during my most recent visit, spun shadows across the land.

A view of the power plant from across the pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

It should be noted that I’m not particularly fond of wind turbine fields. I understand their importance, but don’t like their visual intrusion upon the landscape. Like visual pollution, they detract from the beauty of the land. They seem out-of-place, invasive to my eyes. I feel the same about massive solar panel fields planted on farmland. But here at Faribault Energy Park, only one wind turbine stands, across the road from a solar garden (not field).

Goldenrod, one flower I can identify. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I’ve always loved milkweeds from fluff to pods to how they are necessary for the monarch butterfly population. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Dainty wildflowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Mostly, I notice the wildflowers and grasses. Goldenrod. Black-eyed Susans. An endless variety of plants that I should take time to research for identification. Rather, I settle for photographing them and appreciating their beauty. How they sway in the wind. How they appear in the sunlight. How they splash color into the landscape.

I especially love how these grass plumes bend and blow in the wind, like poetry. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
Bold berries jolt color into the landscape. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.
I love the hue and texture of this grass, whatever it may be. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

If my current photos were poems, they would write of Autumn and her floral dress flowing, billowing as she walks the runway of Faribault Energy Park. (My poetic interpretation of all those colorful wildflowers edging trails.) Audience applause rising. (My poetic interpretation of the droning traffic on I-35 and the noisy power plant.) I imagine that as easily as I recall prairie memories.

There is an abundance of cattails at Faribault Energy Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2021.

Faribault Energy Park, 4100 Park Avenue North, keeps drawing me back. To follow the dirt trails. To appreciate the landscape. To, for a short while, escape, even if quiet remains elusive.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on 9/11 after 20 years September 10, 2021

A drawing by my then young son of “something to remember” for a grade school assignment: A plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

TWENTY YEARS. TWO DECADES. Two hundred and forty months.

Whatever words are attached to the time that has passed since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, the reality of that day in our nation’s history remains forever imprinted upon our collective memories.

On the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, a plaque honors an alumna who died on 9/11. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

That day changed us. It changed how we view each other and the world. The acts of those terrorists not only claimed lives, but our sense of security. Our sense of peace. And much more.

I remember well that September morning, how my then seven-year-old son and his friend Sam reacted to scenes unfolding on our television set. My husband had phoned me from work, alerting me to the attacks. I switched on the TV. And the boys saw it all, right alongside me. Perhaps I should have been a responsible mother/caregiver and turned off the television. But I didn’t.

I reconstructed a tower using the same blocks my son and his friend used on September 11, 2001, to duplicate what they saw on television. These are also the same airplanes they flew into the tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2001.

Soon Caleb and Sam were building twin towers with wooden blocks and flying toy airplanes into the skyscrapers. It was heart-breaking to watch. Both reality unfolding on the screen and then the re-enactment on my living room floor.

For a Minnesota mom geographically far-removed from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, none of this seemed distant. I felt the collective fear. I felt the collective pain. I felt the collective grief.

A memorial at the Faribault Fire Department honoring those who died on 9/11. The department will host a commemoration this Saturday, September 11, beginning at 7:46 am. That includes a welcome by the fire chief, a flag presentation, ringing of the bell and a brief eulogy. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

Today I remember, 20 years later, those who died. The families left without loved ones. The heroes. And those two little boys who saw, yet didn’t fully-understand, the events unfolding far from Minnesota. Yet too close.

Here’s a poem I wrote shortly after September 11, 2001:

September 11, 2001

You clutch your silver toy jetliners

then blast them into the twin towers,

blocks scattering across the floor.

Like that show on TV,

you tell me,

where the planes crashed

into those two tall buildings.

—————————————-

Somehow I must tell you

that this was no show on TV,

but real people

in real buildings.

Moms and Dads

with little boys just like you,

boys who build towers and fly toy airplanes.

—————————————————————

How do I begin to show you the truth

behind a scene so terrifying

that it keeps replaying in my mind?

Hollywood could have written the script,

the latest disaster film, grossing millions

for an industry embedded in itself.

You’re right; this could be a show on TV.

———————————————————-

Except this is very real,

so real that I want you to believe

those were just pretend buildings, pretend airplanes.

But you see the worry in my eyes,

hear the sadness in my voice.

You know the truth,

even before I tell you.

——————————-

My son, only seven years old,

too young to fully understand

the evil that has invaded the world,

the fear that grips the American heart, my heart,

the sense of security forever lost.

Like so many blocks scattered across the floor,

we must pick up the pieces and rebuild, peace by peace.

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Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesotans write about pandemics & social justice in “This Was 2020” September 8, 2021

A collection of essays and poems by Minnesotans, including me. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

RAW. HONEST. EMOTIONAL. POWERFUL.

Those words describe This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year. This collection of 54 poems and essays by 51 writers is a finalist for the Minnesota Author Project: Communities Create Award. Two other books are vying for this MNWrites MNReads honor supported by the Minnesota Library Foundation. The winner will be announced at the Minnesota Library Association’s annual conference in October.

The collection includes my poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic.” Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I am humbled and honored to have “Funeral During a Pandemic” selected for publication in this award-nominated book. In my poem, I share my thoughts and experiences from my father-in-law’s funeral in a small rural Minnesota town. During a pandemic.

The book features short bios on each writer. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As the title of this collection conveys, the 170 pages of writing focus on pandemics and social justice. Those who penned these pieces, solicited by the Ramsey County Library via a competition, are a diverse group. In age. In writing backgrounds, although many are seasoned writers with extensive writing credentials. In skin color and ethnicity. In perspective and experience. That said, most writers live in the metro with a few of us from other places in Minnesota, including several from my county of Rice.

Those from outside the metro include a 12-year-old from New Market. Evelyn Pierson, in “My Experience at the George Floyd Memorial,” writes of her emotional reaction to visiting the site where Floyd died at the hands of police on May 25, 2020. It’s heart-wrenching—to feel her torrent of emotions, to read her insights and thoughts, to envision her tears. But it’s important, even necessary, to hear the voice of this eighth grader.

Just like it’s necessary to read Brainerd resident Susan Smith-Grier’s essay, “Black in White.” I find her observations and experiences of a black woman living in a primarily white community to be particularly powerful. She moved with her parents/family to north central Minnesota in the early 70s to escape the violence in Chicago. One of very few black families in her new northern home. The death of George Floyd triggered childhood memories of tear gas and rubber bullets, fires and looting…and then, today, a bit of hope that things will change.

Hope weaves into many of the pieces. As does overcoming the fear, the loss, the grief and more that too often defined 2020.

In his poem, “The streets emptied out, but their lungs,” Moyosore Orimoloye reminds us that, despite lungs filling with fluid from COVID, lungs also filled with song on the balconies of Turin.

The incredible cover art features the work of Carolyn Olson, “Grocery Store Cashier and Bagger (Essential Workers Portrait Series #1). 2020, Duluth, MN. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

So many writers detailed how the pandemic affected them—from worries about going grocery shopping to separation from loved ones to ways in which they learned to cope. I found Dave Ryan’s “Living and Dying in Memory Care” profoundly relatable given my mom lives in a long-term care center. I’ve experienced some of the same scenarios—trying to visit through a window, for example. Before he could no longer visit his mom due to COVID restrictions, Ryan installed a video camera in her room. That connected him to her. But then the unthinkable happened. As I read the conclusion of his essay, my heart broke right along with his.

On the back cover, a summary of the book and a list of the writers whose work was selected for inclusion in this collection. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

These are stories you need to read. Real. Life. Authentic. Eye-opening (especially Chee Vang’s “To Kuv Niam,” about how her mother was treated upon contracting COVID). I learned so much, particularly from those writers who have experienced social injustice. From those writers, too, who live in the Twin Cities, who are widely-traveled and who have seen and experienced much more than a farmer’s daughter from southwestern Minnesota.

But I share one commonality with poet and educator Katie Vagnino of south Minneapolis. I am, like her, a Rapunzel with overgrown hair.

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FYI: I encourage each one of you to purchase This Was 2020 by clicking here or buying it elsewhere (in print or as an e-book). Besides the 54 pieces, the book includes writing prompts, a discussion guide and a short list of grief, mental health, and anti-racism resources. This truly rates as an outstanding collection of writing that documents historical events which have forever changed us.

Publication of this book was made possible by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Thank you, Minnesota voters, for supporting the arts. And thank you, Paul Lai of the Ramsey County Library for your hard work on, and dedication to, this book project. I appreciate you and every single writer who contributed to this exceptional must-read book.

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© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Getting cultured in Faribault: From opera to Somali song to booyah September 7, 2021

A promo for Mixed Precipitation’s on-the-road performance. Graphic source: Mixed Precipitation.

IN ONE WEEK’S SPAN, I heard opera for the first time and then seven days later listened to an internationally-known Somali singer perform. Both right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

What a delight to experience these performing arts locally, to be exposed to something new to me.

And at 6 pm Friday, September 10, I’ll be back in Central Park, enjoying “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon,” a play presented by Minneapolis-based Sod House Theater.

If I’m sounding a bit giddy, it’s because I am. I love the arts and feel grateful for our local Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, I often yearn to see more. But I don’t want to go into the metro. And, truth-be-told, there’s always cost to consider. Even in attending local arts events. I expect others in Faribault face the same barriers.

So I feel such gratitude for our long-running free summer Concerts in the Park series. And I feel thankful, too, for sponsoring groups like the City of Faribault Parks & Recreation Department and the Paradise Center for the Arts and the local businesses and residents who helped fund the special events I attended recently.

When Mixed Precipitation brought its The Pickup Truck Opera, Volume 1: The Odyssey to Faribault on August 26, I wondered how I would respond. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I needn’t have concerned myself as the adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey proved lively and entertaining with dancing and over-sized puppets and toe-stomping music. Plus opera. And it was performed on the grass, in front of the historic bandshell from the bed of a blue pickup truck. I felt like I was in a small village of yesteryear being entertained by a traveling troupe.

Dalmar Yare. Photo source: Faribault Parks & Rec Facebook page.

The feel was completely different on September 2, when I set up my lawn chair in Central Park to hear and watch Dalmar Yare, a Somali entertainer from Minnesota and with family ties to Faribault. He describes his music as a blend of traditional Somali styles with hints of western influence.

I quickly found myself swinging my crossed left leg to the tempo of the upbeat music. I didn’t understand what Yare sang in a language foreign to me. But I understood the joy I felt, the joy I saw. Throughout the park, local Somali children, teens and adults gathered to listen. Many danced, especially the kids. It seemed part concert, part celebration, part reunion. Simply joyful.

While I listened, I observed the crowd. I noted the open affection of Somali youth for one another. Young men draped arms over shoulders as did teen girls. Preschool girls in their flowing dresses and hijabs ran hand-in-hand across the park. I noticed, too, a stunningly beautiful 20-something layered in a golden dress and matching hijab, fashionable mini purse dangling from her shoulder. The vibrant colors and patterns of dresses and hijabs swirled like a kaleidoscope. An ever-changing gallery of art.

Dressed in my casual attire of jeans, a tee and a zipped sweatshirt with the hoodie occasionally pulled up to provide warmth and protect me from the rain, I felt under-dressed and conscious of my white-ness. And that’s OK; I needed to feel this. I only wish more long-time Faribault residents would have attended.

Photo source: Sod House Theater

Now this week I’ll learn about booyah, a rich and flavorful stew that is supposedly an Upper Midwest tradition, although I’ve never eaten it. Booyah will theme the Sod House Theater musical comedy about Arla Mae, a rural Minnesotan claiming to operate the state’s first food truck out of which she serves her famous booyah. The play aims to spotlight buying and eating fresh local food. Thus the involvement of James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim in creating a special booyah recipe for the production. So what goes into this stew, which is traditionally cooked outdoors in large kettles over a wood fire? You name it: a mix of meats and an assortment of vegetables—onion, potatoes, rutabagas, cabbage, carrots, celery, peppers…

I envision a collage of shapes and colors. Art in a kettle. Art that is new to me. Served to me. Right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

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NOTE: “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon” will also be performed in neighboring communities on these dates and at these locations:

Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas, 6 pm on Thursday, September 23

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, rural Waseca, 6 pm on Friday, October 1

Northfield Central Park, Northfield, 6 pm on Thursday, October 7

© Text Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on Labor Day 2021 September 3, 2021

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Portraits of industrial workers stretch along the Madison-Kipp building in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

WITH LABOR DAY only days away, I’m reflecting on employment. Not the unofficial end of summer or the start of school. But on jobs.

I can’t recall a time when jobs seemed so abundant, when businesses can’t find enough workers.

One look at my local paper and shopper shows postings for transit bus drivers, sandwich makers, managers, truck drivers, construction workers, nursing assistants, housekeepers, maintenance people, a city finance clerk, sports reporter, mortgage banker, cylinder delivery driver, pharmaceutical researchers, direct care staff, meat market counter help, digital media specialist, appraiser, engineering tech, bilingual-Somali eligibility worker and more.

Companies are offering sign-on bonuses, free food, enticing benefits and better wages. Not that these higher wages are high enough to meet the ever-growing cost of living in a community like mine with a housing shortage. In both rental and home ownership. I expect many in Faribault struggle to manage monthly rent of $831-$1,315, for a two-bedroom apartment, for example.

Many, despite full-time employment, struggle also to put food on the table, to afford healthcare, and more. Life is not vacations and dining out and having the newest and the best for many. Rather, it’s about getting by and budgeting and shopping thrift stores and stretching dollars until they stretch no more. This is reality.

Strong, determined, skilled… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots seems as wide as ever. And often that distance exists not for a lack of hard work, but rather in the differing values placed on jobs. Or disparities that exist due to greed. Or a lack of appreciation for the knowledge and skills of hands-on laborers, especially, versus white collar workers.

The pandemic, too, has challenged the work force in ways we’ve never experienced. I feel, especially, for those who work in healthcare (namely hospitals), who are overwhelmed by the stress and pressures of caring for COVID patients. I can only imagine how disheartened they feel as cases surge, when it didn’t need to be this way. I can only image how disheartened they feel when dying patients and their families continue to deny the realities of this deadly virus.

That each window focuses on one worker highlights their importance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

I am grateful for all those “essential workers” who continued to go to work when others could stay home and work from the safety of their home offices. Workers like my husband, an automotive machinist. Workers like my cousin, a grocery store cashier. Workers like another cousin, a nurse. Workers like my second daughter, who lost her job as a contract Spanish medical interpreter early in the pandemic and now works as a full-time letter carrier.

Faribault’s newest mural, LOVE FOR ALL, created by Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I appreciate, too, the creatives who continue to create during the pandemic. The writers. The artists. The poets. The photographers. The musicians. I think, in the midst of lockdowns and lack of direct access to the arts, we began to understand the value of the arts to our mental health. Art heals. Art provides an escape. Art encourages and uplifts. We need art.

And so this Labor Day, my gratitude for the workforce runs high. But I’m also grateful for the unpaid workers—the volunteers—who serve with compassion and care. They, too, labor, giving from their hearts and souls to help their communities.

I value workers. Paid. And unpaid. Thank you for all you do to make this world a better place.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota mining disaster up close & personal at Milford Mine Memorial Park September 2, 2021

A peaceful and lovely scene at Milford Mine Memorial Park on a hazy July afternoon, rural Crosby. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

IN A BEAUTIFUL NATURAL SETTING, among the woods and water and wetlands, an American tragedy unfolded nearly 100 years ago on the Cuyuna Iron Range. In the late afternoon of February 5, 1924, water seeped into and then flooded the Milford Mine near Crosby, killing 41 miners in Minnesota’s worst mining disaster.

Information about the mine disaster is included in a traveling exhibit from the Minnesota Historical Society. I photographed this at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Their deaths left 38 women without husbands. And 83 children without fathers.

This sign marks the gravel road entry to the memorial park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Today the memories of those 41 hardworking iron ore miners, and the seven who survived the mine collapse, are honored at Milford Mine Memorial Park. The Crow Wing County Park is located four miles north of Crosby, just off County Road 30. The Milford Mine Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places, so important is this to the region’s mining history.

Those who died in the mine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
The first boardwalk lists the victims’ names, spaced along the path. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Signs along the trail honor each miner. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

This is truly a remarkable park that covers the history of this event in a deeply personal way. Through names on boardwalks and brief bios on signs, this park moves this disaster beyond statistics. Only then do we begin to understand, to feel the loss.

Honoring George Butkovich. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

George Butkovich, 29, an Austrian immigrant married to Anna Perpich (a well-known name to Minnesotans who remember our 34th and 36th governor, Rudy Perpich, a native of the Iron Range) died in the mine. He lived with Anna and their three children in Ironton.

A summary of the disaster. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Emil A. Carlson, 29, from Finland, was the father of four and married to Elma. They lived in Crosby.

The bios of four who died in the mine. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Nels R. Pitari, 37, also a Finnish immigrant, was married to Hilda. They lived in Brainerd and had four children, one only five months old at the time of his father’s death.

The park is not only a great place to learn about history, but also a great place to hike and enjoy nature.
Bold berries pop alongside the trail. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Not to be missed, the many wildflowers gracing this park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

According to signage at Milford Memorial Park, the park “is an attempt to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives to pursue the American dream, provide for their families and build their community.” That’s necessary to understand given the importance of iron ore mining in this region. The high grade ore from the Milford Mine was used in the production of steel. This region of Minnesota was built around iron ore mining.

History honored and shared… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Many who came to this area arrived from across the US, Canada and the European continent. They were a diverse group, looking to better their lives, to raise their families in a new place, to build strong communities.

Site of the timber shaft. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
What I presume to be iron ore. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
The entry to the mine shaft is fenced around and over. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

In walking through the park, pausing often to read the history of this place and to view marked sites like the machine and blacksmith shops and the mine and timber shafts, I felt a sense of reverence, a sense of understanding of the loss connected to this land.

Originally named Lake Foley, the lake has since been renamed Milford Lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
Water lilies in Milford Lake, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.
A flower brightens woods’ edge near the lake. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Investigators determined that pressure from Lake Foley, connected to adjoining wetlands, caused water to rush into the mine resulting in the collapse of the mine’s walls. Within 20 minutes of that occurrence, the 200-foot deep mine shaft filled to within 15 feet of the surface. That allowed only minimal time for the miners to attempt an escape. Only seven got out. They, too, are recognized at the memorial park on a survivors’ boardwalk: Carl Frals, Harry Hosford, Mike Zakotnik…

Lengthy memorial boardwalks curve into the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

As I walked the boardwalks and trails, I felt sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer tragedy of the Milford Mine Disaster. So much loss. So much grief and pain. So many father-less children. And it is that, perhaps, which touched me the most.

NOTE: Milford Mine Memorial Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset. I encourage you to visit, to experience this important part of Minnesota history.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning about Minnesota’s worst mining disaster September 1, 2021

A photo of iron ore miners displayed at the Soo Line Depot Museum in Crosby, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo July 2021.

I CANNOT IMAGINE WORKING as a miner. Underground. Enclosed in tight spaces. Enveloping darkness. Fear and danger and sometimes unsafe working conditions. I couldn’t do the job. I need light and air and space. To feel free, not trapped.

A photo of the Milford Mine displayed at the Crosby museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo July 2021.

On February 5, 1924, nearly 50 men mining iron ore in the Milford Mine on the Cuyuna Iron Range in central Minnesota faced their greatest fear. Death. They were only 15 minutes from the end of their shift when the unthinkable happened at 3:45 pm on a Tuesday. When mud, water and quicksand from Foley Lake flooded the shaft. Only seven of the 48 miners escaped.

Mining photos and equipment are part of the museum display. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I cannot imagine the horrible scene which unfolded in that mine as these hardworking men struggled to get out. To survive. To return to their families. To see the light of day. To breathe.

The headline in the Duluth newspaper erroneously reports that 42 (not 41) miners drowned. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Forty-one men died as the 200-foot deep mine shaft filled with water to within 15 feet of the surface in just 20 minutes. That’s not much time to scramble up a ladder to safety.

Canaries really were used to detect gas levels in mines, as replicated at the museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Until two months ago, my knowledge of Minnesota’s worst mining disaster was limited to just that—an awareness that this tragedy happened. Beyond that, I was uninformed. I don’t recall ever hearing of this disaster in any history classes.

Info on use of caged canaries is included in the museum exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Yet, this event, this substantial loss of life in a single horrific tragedy, needs to be taught and remembered. It’s an important part of our state’s mining history and of the families who lost loved ones in the Milford Mine. I expect many a family in the Crosby area—the mine was located just miles from town—can trace genealogy back to the disaster.

The Soo Line Depot Museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

In Crosby, the Soo Line Depot Museum, 101 1st St. NE, features a display on iron ore mining with an emphasis on the mining disaster at Milford. The displays heightened my interest, my desire to learn more. And I did by visiting Milford Mine Memorial Park located some four miles north of Crosby on Milford Lake Drive, just off Crow Wing County Road 30, just off Minnesota State Highway 6.

Miners pose for a photo in this image displayed in the Soo Line Depot Museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo July 2021.

I’ll take you to that memorial park, which personalizes this tragedy and honors the men who died and those who survived. It’s a remarkable park in volume of historical information and setting—on-site of the disaster. Boardwalks and hiking trails lead visitors into the woods, across marshland and along a mining lake. In a beautiful natural setting, where, 97 years ago, 41 miners died, trapped underground.

A list of mines on the Cuyuna Range shown at the museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

NOTE: The Soo Line Depot Museum closes for the season on Labor Day weekend and reopens Memorial Day weekend. Milford Mine Memorial Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Promoting kindness in Deerwood August 31, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Deerwood’s historic water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

IN RECENT POSTS, I’ve highlighted several points of interest—an historic water tower and auditorium and a roadside deer sculpture—in Deerwood, a small town in the central Minnesota lakes region.

Kindness promoted in Deerwood. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

But I need to include one more discovery. That’s the posting of kindness messages on several street corners. I have no idea who posted them or how long they have been in place. But I appreciate them. They gave me a really good impression of this Crow Wing County community on the Cuyuna Iron Range.

Perhaps more are displayed around town. Even if not, this trio was enough to uplift, encourage and give me pause. Now, more than ever, kindness needs promoting. That seems a bit ridiculous to even write. Kindness should come naturally. Sadly, in today’s ever divisive world, kindness is elusive to many.

Kindness is also an “act,” not simply words. This was posted near Deerwood’s water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

So what exactly is kindness? It’s being nice. You know. Using nice words. Doing nice things. Smiling. Caring. Listening, especially listening. Putting others before yourself, eliminating the me-centered thinking which pervades too much of society.

Kindness, too, is thinking before you speak or post something mean or untrue or uncaring on social media.

Kindness is empathy and understanding and compassion. It is all that is good and lovely and wonderful.

Kindness matters today more than ever. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I can’t help but think that, if we could reclaim kindness, we could overcome this pandemic. That’s simplifying the situation, of course. An article I read recently on MPR about a Texas pastor who nearly died from COVID-19 really resonates with me and fits this kindness topic. I encourage you to click here and read what Pastor Danny Reeves has to say about “what it really means to love our neighbor.” It’s a powerful story that summarizes kindness in a deeply personal way.

To the good people of Deerwood who posted these kindness signs, thank you for the positive messages. I appreciate you and your efforts.

TELL ME: If you’ve seen similar upbeat signage, please share. I’d like to hear what you’ve seen and where. Also feel free to share your definition of kindness.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling