Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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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

 

In Deerwood: Water tower on the range August 30, 2021

An historic 1914 water tower in Deerwood, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

A TIME EXISTED WHEN I PAID minimal attention to water towers. They all looked the same. Simple silver metal structures rising on leggy supports above prairie towns, dwarfed only by grain elevators.

Through the decades, those standard water towers have mostly vanished, replaced by more modern holding tanks. I understand the need to upgrade, to improve, to advance. Communities grow. Needs change. My city of Faribault is currently planning a new water tower, which will be visible from Interstate 35. If Faribault ever housed a simple metal tower, it was long before I moved here.

Community identifier. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

But in the small town of Deerwood in Crow Wing County, a vintage water tower still stands, by a city park with picnic shelter and splash pad, near an apartment complex, next to the fire station and across the street from the historic Deerwood Auditorium (city hall and police department).

Randy and I discovered the 1914 water tower when we stopped for a picnic lunch en route to a family lake cabin on a Saturday afternoon in July. Previous drives north, we drove right through Deerwood without pause. In a hurry to get to our destination.

That’s problematic. That word, hurry. By hurrying, we too often miss simple delights. Like the historic Deerwood water tower.

Looking up at the tower offers artistic and architectural angles. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I grabbed my camera to photograph the tower, attempting to document it from multiple perspectives. Architecturally. Artistically. Historically.

Identifying construction information at the base of the Deerwood water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Upon later researching the Deerwood water tower, built by the Des Moines Bridge & Iron Co., I learned it is one of five such Cuyuna Iron Range water towers on the National Register of Historic Places. Added in 1980, the other towers are located in Crosby, Cuyuna, Ironton and Trommaid. They are known collectively as the “Cuyuna Range Municipally-Owned Elevated Metal Water Tanks.”

Just another underneath view. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

The towers, erected between 1912-1918, were of historical importance in development of the Cuyuna Iron Range. Tax revenue generated from the iron ore mines funded their construction.

Posted on a street corner by the water tower, a positive message. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I appreciate that these five towns on the iron range valued their aged water towers enough to pursue and acquire historical designation. The water towers represent a time in Minnesota history. They represent, too, the architecture and art of yesteryear.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear of vintage water towers you’ve noticed and appreciate. Tell me, too, why you value them.

Please click here to read my previous post about the historic Deerwood Auditorium. And click here to read my post about the town’s deer sculpture in Elmer Park.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About that auditorium in Deerwood August 27, 2021

Deerwood Auditorium, located a block from the water tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

THE STURDY STONE STRUCTURE anchoring a corner in Deerwood drew my photographic and historic interest during a recent stop in this central Minnesota community in Crow Wing County.

What craftsmanship in this stone-faced building. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

How could it not? Buildings like this with a fieldstone facing hearken from a bygone era, from days when intense hands-on labor factored in to construction. Workers hauled 800 tons of fieldstones from the site of the Cuyuna Country Club to build the Deerwood Auditorium between 1935-1936.

So many fieldstones harvested and used in construction of the auditorium. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

That’s a lot of rocks. I understand, not because I ever hauled that much stone anywhere. But, as a child, I spent many a summer plucking rocks from farm fields in southwestern Minnesota and tossing them into a wagon. Picking rock is hard work. Darn hard.

Imagine the time, labor and effort involved in constructing these walls. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I admire the tenacity, determination and ingenuity of our forefathers. They relied on local natural resources to build buildings. And, in the case of the Deerwood Auditorium, materials also from the old Meacham Mine machine building to incorporate into the structure.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Donations and Works Progress Administration funding and labor were also part of this project.

A side and rear view of the building. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

The completed building included village council chambers, a kitchen, locker rooms, library, space for fire fighting equipment and that all-purpose 38 x 80-foot gym with overlooking second floor balconies. Today the auditorium, on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as a community center and gathering spot for celebrations like weddings, birthdays and family reunions.

Another side view of the historic Deerwood Auditorium. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

Back during construction, locals aimed to have the building finished in time for the community’s annual fall lutefisk dinner. It was completed for the event, which drew an estimated 1,000 diners to feast on the lye-soaked cod of Norwegian culinary delight.

The front entry with identifying usage information. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

On the July Saturday I paused to photograph this WPA building, I knew none of these historical details. I couldn’t get inside the Deerwood Auditorium, today home to city hall, the police department and community center. Oh, how I wish I could step inside. To take in the history of this place. To imagine locals packed shoulder to shoulder forking down slippery, smelly lutefisk, their conversations creating a deafening din.

Once the library entry… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I settled instead for appreciating the exterior workmanship, the talent and strength required to build this remarkable building. The craftsmanship. The hours and hours of labor. That shows in a structure that exudes strength, that honors those who work with their hands, for their work endures.

Please check back next week for one final (of three) post from Deerwood.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Great Invader readies for school August 26, 2021

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An abandoned rural Minnesota schoolhouse, used for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a rising revolt threatened the kingdom, especially the remote villages.

The Great Invader observed the discontent, the disagreements, the squabbling and outright lies. He delighted in the division permeating the land. He was an opportunist who wasted no time sneaking into villages and even cities. The more misinformation spread, the more he gloated, the easier his mission to inflict sickness and death upon the land.

When he learned the Ministry of Education was meeting to discuss plans that would thwart his efforts, he took note. He needed to gather information, to strategize and then to implement a strong plan of attack.

So The Great Invader slid into the meeting room, tucking into a corner unseen. His invisibility was especially useful in situations like this. Already, he liked what he saw—people packed together, most without protective armor. Perfect. He felt giddy inside. He had allies.

ANGRY, DEFIANT VILLAGERS SPEAK

When the villagers stepped up to address the Ministry of Education, The Great Invader could hardly contain his joy. They—with the exception of two—sided with him, expressing outrage toward any efforts to protect the young children of the kingdom. This was going so much better than he had hoped.

“You will not tell us what to do,” said one defiant mother, her son posed beside her. “My children will not wear masks when they are in the village school.” That defied official recommendations from the Ministry of Health to wear protective face masks.

The Great Invader nearly revealed his presence by pumping his arm in celebration. That sent a ripple of air into the room. He reminded himself then to sit still and listen.

THE GREAT INVADER LOVES WHAT HE’S HEARING

Another mother stepped forward, claiming a mask would traumatize her children, that a face covering was unnecessary, and that she, and her children, had rights. The Great Invader nearly danced right there in the midst of his powerful grassroots allies.

But even he couldn’t believe the mother’s statement that “No kids have died (from the virus he inflicted).” He knew this to be a bold lie and hadn’t expected such an uncaring and uninformed public declaration of untruth. Yet, this only bolstered his campaign, so he quietly applauded.

And he applauded, too, when a villager attacked the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and called face masks “child abuse.” He hadn’t even considered that, noting the need to share this with his Office of Misinformation. He felt such gratitude for the angry villagers filling the room.

UGH, SOMEONE CARES, HE THINKS

But he loathed the two mothers who spoke in support of masking in the village school. The shared their concerns for the health and safety of their children, all the children and the village educators. This was not helpful. Not at all.

PLACES TO BE, WORK TO DO

In the end, The Great Invader needn’t have worried. The Ministry of Education voted only to strongly recommend (not require) wearing of face masks in the village school. He noted, though, two dissenting votes. One ministry member expressed her deep concern about the safety of the young village children. The Great Invader filed that for future reference before slipping from the room. He felt certain many of the village children would come to school unmasked. Oh, how this pleased him. He could roam freely, infecting the youngest with incredible ease.

Now, with schools opening soon, he had work to do. Routes to map. He would target the children of the kingdom, especially those too young to take a magic potion that helped many of the village elders and others keep him at bay. He held deep disdain for those who chose to protect themselves, their families and friends, and other villagers. How dare they challenge him. How dare they try to stop him. How dare they…

NOTE: In every story truth exists, this one no exception. The setting and quotes in this story are, sadly, real. Be safe. Be well. Care about our children. And each other. The Great Invader (COVID-19) is still hard at work in The Land of Plenty and beyond.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The leaping deer of Deerwood August 24, 2021

Leaping whitetail deer art in Deerwood, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I APPRECIATE OUTDOOR public art. That includes kitschy roadside sculptures that define communities. The walleye in Garrison. The prairie chicken in Rothsay. The otter in Fergus Falls. Babe the Blue Ox in countless Up North Minnesota towns.

And in Deerwood, a Crow Wing County community of around 550, a leaping whitetail deer. The jumping deer, located in Elmer Park, is visible from Highway 6. I snapped a shot of it from the road last trip through this town in mid-July.

A little poking around online revealed that Deerwood was originally known as Withington. But, after being too often confused with Worthington in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, it was officially named Deerwood. That makes sense given its location among the lakes and hardwoods of central Minnesota where deer abound.

I learned a bit more history. Cuyler Adams of Deerwood discovered the iron ore which led to mining in this region. Thus the name Cuyuna Range—a combination of Adams’ first name and the name of his dog, Una.

Oh, the things you learn upon seeing, and photographing, a memorable deer sculpture next to a roadway.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite roadside sculpture? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Revisiting & appreciating Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse August 18, 2021

Little Prairie School, rural Dundas, Minnesota. The date on the building conflicts with the date on an on-site memorial and I don’t know why. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED since Randy and I stopped at the Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse, rural Dundas. But on a recent weekend afternoon, we picnicked on the school grounds, next to a cornfield and a stone’s throw away from a vintage outhouse.

We ate our picnic lunch here. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I embraced this rural Bridgewater Township setting as I ate my sandwich and watched the occasional vehicle fly by on paved Rice County Road 8. Mostly, though, quiet prevailed.

Little Prairie United Methodist Church, repaired following a damaging tornado several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

When I finished my lunch, I grabbed my camera to document the country school and more, including Little Prairie United Methodist Church just across the road. Last visit, the then-pastor toured us through the church and then unlocked the schoolhouse. This time, I had to settle for peering through a school window.

A paver honors Little Prairie founders, the Emerys. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Little Prairie—a name that resonates with my prairie roots—was settled in 1855 when Jacob and Eliza Emery homesteaded here. He’s noted as the church founder on a paver at the Little Prairie Community Memorial, new since our last visit. Emery, as history goes, cut a 3-mile track through the Big Woods to find this 60-acre prairie. Little Prairie.

A memorial honors the people of Little Prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Among the “farmer” pavers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Students remembered. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

A study of the memorial pavers reveals names of early settlers, farmers, teachers, families and others with connections to this prairie place. History imprinted upon stone.

I pushed Randy briefly on the merry-go-round, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Beyond that, when I let this place speak to me, I could hear the voices of children as they played tag on the playground. Or circled on the aged merry-go-round. Screams. Laughter. Joy. Maybe even pleas to stop the dizziness.

The mud scraper. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear, too, the scraping of shoes on the mud scraper bolted to cement steps outside the front doors.

A necessity at rural schools, the water pump. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear the creak of the water pump handle moving up and down, up and down.

The outhouse has been painted since the last time I was here and a screen added.

I could hear the bang of the outhouse door.

A view inside the classroom through a window. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Locked doors kept me from accessing the school. But I imagined the determined voice of a teacher, the recitation of spelling words, the scratch of chalk upon slate, the clomp of shoes upon wooden floor…

A back view of the simple country schoolhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

This schoolhouse, built in 1858, holds no personal meaning to me. Yet, I cherish it. Within these walls, children learned. They flourished. They grew friendships and knowledge and, I expect, a deep appreciation for their community. This place. This Little Prairie.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Merry-go-round details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021.
Information on ordering and purchasing a memorial paver for $225 is available inside this mailbox on the schoolhouse steps. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling