Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault celebrates winter & the holidays in a big way this weekend December 6, 2019

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A city of Faribault snowplow decked out in holiday lights for a past Winterfest parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAY SEASON and all things winter this weekend during the third annual Winterfest in my southeastern Minnesota community. Unlike last year, when a snowstorm resulted in a postponed Parade of Lights, the weather looks to be ideal for the event, already in to its second day.

I missed Thursday’s kick-off. The granddaughter’s angelic debut in her preschool Christmas program took precedence. But plenty of Winterfest activities continue today through Saturday.

 

The dining room set for the holidays during the Alexander Faribault House Christmas open house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

Today the Alexander Faribault House, historic home of our town founder, opens to showcase a French-Canadian Christmas from 4 – 7 p.m. and then again on Saturday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. And, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, “Peter Pan” opens at the Paradise Center for the Arts for a weekend run that also continues into next week.

 

Skaters from a past holiday ice show at Shattuck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Saturday brings a day packed with events appealing to a broad range of ages and interests. Shattuck-St. Mary’s School on Faribault’s east side hosts its annual Campus Christmas Walk beginning with a figure skating holiday ice show at noon. Family-geared activities follow at the historic upper campus from 1 – 3 p.m. with cookies and crafts, visits with Santa and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

 

Musicians perform at a previous Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

 

Meanwhile in our historic downtown, the Faribault Winter Farmers’ Market runs from 1 – 4 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. At the same time, the Faribault Sno Go Club hosts a Vintage Snowmobile Show along Central Avenue.

 

Artisan gifts like this Christmas ornament are available for purchase at Fleur de Lis Gallery along Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A block off Central, 10,000 Drops Distillery opens its space to 40-plus local craft vendors for the annual Holiday Craft Market. The downtown business district offers plenty of other home-grown shopping options.

 

A previous Winterfest ice sculpture. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

While you’re exploring, be sure to check out the ice sculpture by Sakatah Carvers located at the corner of Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street and Central Avenue.

 

Fireworks from a previous Winterfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Capping the three days of Winterfest are fireworks at 5:30 p.m. (launched from the American Legion) followed by the Holiday Parade of Lights at about 5:45 p.m. Just a note that taller buildings along Central Avenue can block the view of fireworks. A street dance from 6:30 – 10 p.m. ends Winterfest. Organizers promise heaters spaced around the area to keep dancers warm.

So there you go. Lots to do this weekend in my southeastern Minnesota community.

TELL ME: How are you embracing the holiday season this weekend?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mixed message December 3, 2019

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AS A WORDSMITH, I’m especially drawn to signage, including this one spotted Sunday afternoon along Division Street in downtown Northfield.

I laughed given the falling snow, the snow banked on the front of the pick-up truck parked curbside and the mixed message sent.

Cacti are not warm and fuzzy, although the environment in which they grow is warm, even hot. I suppose that was the idea—to get us Minnesotans thinking about warmer places like Little Joy Coffee with its hot brew.

While the words and art seem especially mismatched to me, I noticed, photographed and remembered them. Thus, marketing accomplished.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Post Thanksgiving gratitude December 2, 2019

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HOW WAS YOUR THANKSGIVING?

The question has been repeated to me many times in past days. My response? It was wonderful. Wonderful to have all three of my adult children here for the first Thanksgiving in probably 10 years. My mama’s heart overflowed with joy.

Simply being together made me happy. We talked and laughed as we gathered around a table enjoying an abundant and delicious meal. I especially appreciate that my girls prepare and bring foods, thus easing the workload of hosting.

 

The scene in historic downtown Faribault on Thanksgiving weekend. A pre-Thanksgiving storm dropped about eight inches of snow here.

 

After dinner, everyone (except me and almost 11-month-old Isaac) bundled into winter gear and headed up the street to slide down the hill at Wapacuta Park. It’s the same place my kids went sledding while growing up. I’m happy to see the winter tradition continue now with the next generation. If you’re going to live in Minnesota, you may as well get outside and enjoy the snow. (Remind me in a month or two that I wrote this.) Family reported back that my 3 ½-year-old granddaughter, Isabelle, loved sliding—her first time out.

 

I set out an assortment of colorful chalk.

 

With that tradition continuing, I also attempted to start a new one, with minimal success. I pulled a vintage chalkboard from a closet and asked everyone to add things for which they were thankful. Not everyone did. I initiated the list and took a bit of ribbing for writing texting. I explained that, because texting is the primary way we communicate when apart, I am grateful for this technology.

 

The gratitude list…

 

I loved my granddaughter’s additions, vocalized to my eldest daughter, who chalked them onto the board. My dolly, Grandma and Grandpa, Mommy, Ms. C…

But it was my second daughter who later came up with the singular word that made me laugh aloud. CHEESE. What can I say? She lives in Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

New efforts to help Minnesota farmers in crisis November 19, 2019

Tilling at sunset, Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

I WITNESSED THE DESPAIR first-hand. The overwhelming concern that can settle in when bad weather affects crops, prices drop and the bills pile high.

 

A well-kept, stately barn west of New Ulm, Minnesota.

 

Too many years I observed the struggles my dad faced as a farmer. Even as a kid I understood. But now, as an adult reflecting on my past, I understand even more. I observed the stress Dad faced in 1976 when a drought left him without enough feed for the livestock and necessitated purchasing a boxcar full of hay from Montana. I recall, too, the time he dumped milk down the drain, part of a National Farmers Organization protest over low milk prices. And then, when a tornado hit our farm, he had to make agonizing decisions about whether to rebuild.

 

A farm site in my native Redwood County, Minnesota, where the land and sky stretch into forever.

 

Certainly, my years on a southwestern Minnesota crop and dairy farm in the 1960s and 1970s differ from today in many ways. Farms are bigger now, family farms fewer. Technology weaves into every aspect of farming. And many farmers (and their spouses) now hold off-the-farm jobs to make ends meet, to continue farming. Yet, the basics of unpredictable weather and prices and resulting stress remain unchanged.

 

About 10 days ago, farmers in southwestern Minnesota rushed to harvest crops.

 

This has been an especially difficult year for farmers in Minnesota. Too much rain. Dairy prices that have plummeted. I don’t know all the intricacies of what’s happening. But I understand enough to recognize that many farmers are in crisis. Financially. And mentally.

 

Harvesting with snow already on the ground near New Ulm, Minnesota, on a recent Saturday.

 

Unlike the era in which my dad farmed, people are doing something about these issues. The Minnesota Departments of Agriculture and Health are holding safeTALK training at locations around the state—including in my community of Faribault on Wednesday, November 20—to help people help farmers in crisis. The training is aimed specifically at suicide prevention and intervention.

 

The grain elevator in Morgan in southwestern Minnesota.

 

This latest focus on the mental health of the ag community is long overdue. Farmers have always been there for one another in times of need, when another farmer, for example, battled a disease like cancer. But when it came to mental health, not so much.

 

Still bringing in the corn in early November in southwestern Minnesota.

 

These latest efforts reflect a societal shift in mental health awareness. More and more of us are talking about it. And that is a good thing. Now we need more mental healthcare professionals in rural areas. Talk is only as valuable as the resources and action to back it up.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Mankato’s emerging massive mural represents diversity & more November 18, 2019

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THE ARTWORK CAUGHT ME by surprise as I looked across the Minnesota River toward the grain towers dominating the riverside skyline in Old Town Mankato.

 

One of many sculptures in Mankato and North Mankato that change yearly as part of the city’s sculpture walk.

 

Yet, the presence of an evolving mural in this arts-centric southern Minnesota city didn’t surprise me. Mankato is a community rich in public art from poetry to sculptures. It is one of the qualities which draws me back to this place where I graduated from college in 1978 with a degree in mass communications and a minor in English.

 

My poem, River Stories, attached to a railing along the Minnesota River Trail. In the background are the Ardent Mills silos and the bridge from which I photographed the in-progress mural.

 

This time I arrived in town to view my latest poem selected as part of The Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. Spotting the in-progress mural on the 135-foot high Ardent Mills grain silos was a bonus find. I snapped a few quick frames while crossing the Minnesota River bridge and then while heading onto U.S. Highway 169. Only too late did I notice public viewing areas along the roadway.

 

 

Upon my arrival home, I researched the $250,000 project by Australian artist Guido van Helten. Although specifics of the mural design are elusive, the art will represent diversity and more. I saw that in the image of a young Dakota boy already painted onto the towering canvas. This region holds a rich Native Peoples heritage, making the art particularly powerful.

 

“Forgive Everyone Everything” themes this art in Reconciliation Park. Names of the 38 Dakota who were hung at this site in 1862 are inscribed thereon along with a prayer and a poem.

 

Having grown up some 80 miles to the west, in a region between the Upper and Lower Sioux Indian Communities, I’m aware of the strong Dakota history and also of The U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862. Within blocks of the Ardent Mills silos, Reconciliation Park honors 38 Dakota tried and hung by the U.S. government following that war. The healing continues.

 

 

This latest public art represents so much—history, culture, diversity and a coming together of peoples. And today, more than ever, we need that sense of community, of understanding that no matter our backgrounds or the color of our skin or our history, we are simply people who need one another.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Public poetry in Mankato & I’m in, again November 15, 2019

That’s my poem, viewed through the opening in the flood wall in downtown Mankato, Minnesota.

 

ALONG A BUSY STREET in the heart of downtown Mankato near Reconciliation Park, across a duo set of train tracks and then through an opening in a flood wall mural, you’ll find a work of literary art. Mine. A poem, River Stories.

 

Me, next to my posted poem, River Stories. Photo by Randy Helbling

 

 

Photographed from the opening in the flood wall, the mural showcases the Minnesota River, to the right.

 

My poem was recently selected for inclusion in the Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride, a public art project that now boasts 41 poems posted on signs throughout Greater Mankato. This, my fifth poem picked in recent years for the project, will be displayed for the next two years at the site along the Minnesota River Trail hugging the river. I am honored to share my poetry in such an accessible way via this ongoing effort of the Southern Minnesota Poets Society.

 

 

To hear River Stories, call 507-403-4038 and enter 406 when prompted. (That’s not me reading.)

 

This 67-ton Kasota stone sculpture stands in Reconciliation Park. It symbolizes the spiritual survival of the Dakota People and honors the area’s Dakota heritage. The park is the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The U.S. government tried and hung 38 Dakota here following the U.S.-Dakota Conflict of 1862. The location of my poem near this park seems fitting as part of the city’s river stories.

 

The Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride is a competitive process which challenges Minnesota poets to pen poems of no more than 18 lines with a limit of 40 characters per line. River Stories is short at only nine lines. Just like crafting copy for children’s books, creating poetry is among the most challenging of writing disciplines. Every word must prove its worth. Poetry has made me a stronger and better writer.

 

The Minnesota River, which runs through Mankato, inspired River Stories.

 

In writing poetry, I often reflect on my past and on a strong sense of place. Rural. My previous Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride poems include Cornfield Memories, Off to Mankato “to get an education”, The Thrill of Vertical and Bandwagon.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Belview: A taste of small town Minnesota November 13, 2019

Looking to the south in downtown Belview.

 

TOO MUCH TIME HAS PASSED since I’ve explored small towns with my camera. Things happens and we get diverted by more important matters that require our full attention. So life goes. But life is settling somewhat now and I have time to pause and take in the nuances of places, which I love to document.

This past weekend Randy and I traveled 2.5 hours west to my native Redwood County to visit my mom in a senior living center. But before we pulled into Parkview, we swung through the heart of Belview, population around 350. It’s a small farming community on the southwestern Minnesota Prairie.

 

The sandwich board caught my attention as we drove by.

 

Belview did not disappoint. I spotted a sandwich board outside the Belview Bar & Grill that required a stop and a few quick photos. The sign was, oh, so Minnesotan with a menu listing that included Tater Tot Hotdish. We joke about our hotdishes here in Minnesota. That would be casseroles to those of you who live elsewhere. Hotdish ingredients here lean to hamburger, pasta/rice/tater tots and a creamy soup (mushroom/chicken/celery) to bind everything together. Spices? Salt and pepper.

 

The sign also promoted the University of Minnesota Gophers football game at 11 that morning. The Gophers went on to defeat Penn State.

 

At some point in Minnesota culinary lore, Tater Tot Hotdish became our signature hotdish. I don’t know that it still holds such high esteem. I much prefer Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s more savory and complicated Classic Chicken Wild Rice Hotdish.

 

While I’ve not eaten at the Belview Bar & Grill, I will always choose a home-grown eatery over a chain.

 

But others, I expect, still embrace the basics of that solid and comforting tater tot-topped hotdish. Belview Bar & Grill advertised the dish, along with chili and beef stew, as hunters’ specials. That would be deer hunting. I saw a few orange-attired hunters in Belview, including two who stopped at the senior care center to drop off lunch for an employee.

These are the small town stories I love. Stories that I discover simply by observing, by listening, by gathering photos that document everyday life.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling