Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A trailside mystery in Dundas May 7, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,

The foreground tree to the right of the path marks the location of the mysterious discovery.


A WALK ALONG A RECREATIONAL trail in Dundas on Sunday afternoon yielded a magical discovery at the base of a tree.



I don’t generally glance downward when searching for photo ops. But this day I did and noticed a small toy white horse.



I don’t know the story of who placed the horse here or why. Sometimes mysteries are better left unsolved.

I reacted by embracing this enchanting discovery, of letting my imagination imagine, of accepting the joy this brought to me on a day when I needed joy.


TELL ME: If you have any ideas on this mystery, please share.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove? April 27, 2018


The historic Valley Grove Churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.


ALL YOU SCIENTIST, ENTOMOLOGY, biology types out there, I need your input to solve a mystery. I suppose I could google the topic, but I’d rather read your theories or fact-based conclusions.


The buzzing started once we stepped inside the front gate and onto the grass between the two churches.


Last Sunday afternoon while walking on the grounds of Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand, I heard a buzzing. Like a zillion bees. At first I thought I was hearing things because, when I would stop, the droning also stopped.

I questioned whether I could be suffering from tinnitus, an occasional issue given my hearing loss. I’m nearly deaf in the my right ear which causes all sorts of problems in determining sound sources and in hearing in general.



But this buzzing seemed real. I risked asking my husband if he heard what I heard. He did. We paused on the dormant dried grass. No buzzing. Then we took a few steps and the irritating hum resumed. Then my observant husband, with the way better vision than me, saw the flies. Everywhere. Infinite numbers settled on the grass as if sunning themselves. I strained to see the camouflaged flies and then photograph them. I managed one image of a single fly. Whenever either of us moved, they, too, moved. It was the craziest thing.


One of several birdhouses located on the grassland hiking area.


I’m a woman who has a history with flies. They were part of my growing up environment on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. A fly swatter was always at the ready. Sticky fly traps dangled from ceilings in our farmhouse; one even hung over the kitchen table. Not at all appealing. But I’d rather see a dead fly than have one land on my dinner plate. In the barn, biting, swarming flies were a constant problem. For cows. And for humans.


This aged, massive oak is a focal point in the corner of the cemetery.


But why were these thousands (maybe even millions) of flies here, on these church and cemetery grounds on a sunny late April afternoon, the first warm weekend of the season in Minnesota? There were no cattle (although the occasional piles of deer and other animal poop). There was no food.



The insects didn’t swarm the entire grounds—mostly just the area between the two historic church buildings and along the edge of the adjoining cemetery.



Once I got past the fly territory, I enjoyed my time at Valley Grove. It’s a beautiful place of quiet, of peace, set high atop a hill with lovely rural vistas. There are hiking trails and history in the cemetery (and churches when they are open). Generations of families are buried here. And there are oak trees, including one held together by thick chains in the corner of the cemetery.

This place holds stories. And now it holds one more story—the mystery of the fly invasion.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An unexpected package from Santa December 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


WHEN A SMALL PACKAGE arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday with a Merry Christmas! From: Santa Faribault, MN 55021 return address, I had no clue what I would find therein.

But, oh, the sweetness of this surprise moved me to tears at the thoughtfulness of the mysterious Santa who clearly read my recent post, “Passing a love of books onto the next generation.” In that post I reference a favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and my regret at not purchasing a copy spotted at a Pequot Lakes antique shop.



That reader took my post to heart and sent me a vintage copy of Three Billy Goats Gruff. See why I’m thrilled with this unexpected gift. This individual gifted me with a book that I hold dear.



Now, rereading this story as an adult, I like it even more:

I’m not afraid,” said Little Billy. And up onto the bridge he ran—trip-trippety-trip!



This fairy tale of three billy goats attempting to cross a bridge under which a mean troll lives inspires bravery. The trio outwits the troll and gets safely to the other side and a hillside of lush grass. The empowering message of strength and courage proves as applicable for children as for adults.



As to the identity of Santa, I have only a few clues—the name NANCY ANN OLSON stamped inside and that Faribault postmark and return address. I don’t know any Nancy Olsons. The giver could be someone other than an Olson. Or it could be Nancy. I have no idea.

But to you, dear anonymous Santa reader, please know that your gift of Three Billy Goats Gruff touched me deeply. I am grateful for your kindness, which truly exemplifies the spirit of giving. Thank you. And Merry Christmas!

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Set in central Minnesota, a psychological thriller draws my personal interest May 5, 2017


I BLAME IT ALL on Nancy Drew. She is the reason I read mysteries more than any genre. The series was especially popular when I was growing up.

So it’s no surprise that, after reading a review of a debut mystery written by Minnesotan Frank F. Weber, I simply had to get my hands on Murder Book. His publicist obliged.


Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.

Frank F. Weber grew up in Pierz, Minnesota.


But there’s more to this I need to read this book than its mystery classification. The author grew up in Pierz. My husband likewise is from the area and knew the Weber family. Frank’s mom was Randy’s teacher, a brother a classmate.

The book is set primarily in and around Pierz. I was curious to see how the setting would weave into the plot. We writers are often advised to “write what you know.” The author’s familiarity with rural Morrison County and its people and his knowledge as a forensic psychologist are deeply imprinted throughout this fictional story.

Murder Book held my interest from beginning to end as I tried to determine what happened to 16-year-old Mandy Baker who vanished, followed by the disappearance of an 11-year-old girl some 10 years later.

The story narration switches between the main character, Jon Frederick, key suspect in Mandy’s disappearance and now a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator; Serena Bell, Jon’s long ago love interest; and the perpetrator, Panthera. This method of storytelling offers in-depth character insights that define this book as a psychological thriller. Jon, for example, exhibits obsessive traits in his fixation on numbers and more. Panthera’s narcissism shows in his thought process and horrific crimes.

This is much more than simply a whodunit story of crimes, resolution of those crimes and a look at minds of criminals, the accused and victims. The author, raised in a Catholic family of 10 children, incorporates the region’s strong Catholicism and faith base into his book. I would expect that in a story set in Pierz.

Throughout the story, Weber also includes powerful statements that are especially credible in the context of his extensive experience as a forensic psychologist. According to his back book cover blurb, he has completed assessments for homicide, sexual assault and physical assault cases. In particular, I took note of these statements written into this work of fiction:

The perfect victim is the one who never goes to the police.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

Narcissists…can’t stand being denied.

No family member comes out of a bad situation unscathed…

Our most powerful drive is a desire for affirmation—to be heard, understood, comforted, and soothed.

There’s one more nuance of setting that I appreciate about Weber’s book. He writes about rocks pocking the landscape of Morrison County. I have seen many a rock pile in this central Minnesota region and heard many a story about rock picking from my husband. And now I’ve heard another, this time associated with a fictional crime.

FYI: Murder Book, the title of Weber’s mystery, is defined as follows: the twenty-first century term for a cold case where a homicide is suspected.

His book, published by North Star Press of St. Cloud, releases May 9. For more information, click here.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Images and my review copy are courtesy of Krista Rolfzen Soukup at Blue Cottage Agency.


The mysterious delivery of a dozen roses May 11, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:43 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

The UPS delivery man dropped a dozen multi-colored roses and a box of chocolates off at my house late Thursday morning. I asked him: “Are those really flowers in that box?” He gave me a look like, “Lady, what do you think is in that box?” Well, sir, I’ve never received flowers in a box.

FOR SEVERAL HOURS, the mystery remained a mystery.

But I was determined to solve it—to learn the identity of the individual who sent me a dozen boxed roses and a sampler of chocolates, without a note.

I could have simply called the San Diego-based world-wide floral company listed on the return address label. But why opt for the easiest solution? I would play sleuth.

First I phoned a Minnesota floral shop and then sent two text messages before crossing my husband, floral designer sister and my oldest daughter’s boyfriend (because he is one of the few Californians I know) off the list.

Next I texted my other daughter who lives in eastern Wisconsin. She was working and couldn’t respond. I didn’t suspect her anyway given she is a recent college grad paying off student loans.

Finally, I had run out of ideas and phoned the San Diego floral company.

“We must have forgotten to put the note in the envelope,” the kindly woman on the other end of the line said.

Uh, huh.

After giving her the order number, the nice lady told me she couldn’t identify the sender, but she could share the missing message. I listened as she read an endearing Mother’s Day message from…the daughter in Wisconsin.

Thank you, Miranda, for the lovely, surprise gift. It’s the first time I’ve received a dozen roses. Ever.

They’re beautiful, just like you, my dear, sweet, precious daughter.

The chocolate sampler sent by my daughter Miranda.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Detour into Fergus Falls to see… April 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:49 PM
Tags: , , ,

IF YOU’RE TRAVELING this holiday weekend along I-94 in the western part of Minnesota, take exit 54 and swing into Fergus Falls.

Drive several blocks until you’re in the vicinity of Minnesota State Community and Technical College.

Just down the road from Mills Fleet Farm along North Tower Road on the west side of the college, look toward the grassy boulevard as you’re rounding the curve.

You’ll read a name you recognize, right out there for the whole world (or at least those traveling North Tower Road) to see.

Next week I’ll explain this mysterious post. If you’re among those who understand what I’m talking about here, shhhhhhhhhh.

I promise, dear readers, this exciting news will be worth the wait.

© Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The mysterious message at the ANTIQUE MAUL in Sleepy Eye March 7, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:00 AM
Tags: , , , , ,

BECAUSE I’M A WRITER, I notice misspelled words. When I traveled through Sleepy Eye a few months ago, I spotted the improper spelling of “mall” on a building along U.S. Highway 14, the main route through this southwestern Minnesota town. Instead of “mall,” the building was tagged ANTIQUE MAUL.

At first glimpse, I noticed only the misspelled "ANTIQUE MAUL."

So Saturday, when my family passed through this community of 3,644, I had my camera ready to snap a few images of the spelling error out the front passenger side window as we drove by.

Not until later, when I was back home viewing the uploaded photos on my computer, did I realize I had captured more than a misspelling. I’m not certain exactly what I photographed.

My attention was quickly diverted from “MAUL” to the block letter message splayed across the front windows of the padlocked store: “Y WOOD THE LORD TRUST ANY ONE IN SLEEPY EYE? AS U DID TO BABY FAITH: YOU DID TO BABY JESUS!”

What is the meaning behind the strange messages on the windows?

I was stunned. Who placed this message on these windows for all to see? Who is baby Faith and what happened to her? What does this bold, apparently angry, statement mean?

I have no clue.

I called my husband to the computer to study the photo. He noticed more, graffiti scrawled on the windows: “R U A SPOOK…R U A SPY”

We are baffled. What is going on here at the ANTIQUE MAUL in Sleepy Eye?

Further study of the photo reveals bumper stickers plastered onto the padlocked door. They read:

“fight Air Pollution!…Gag a politician!…”

“No Nuclear Dump…”

“MN FAIR SAYS STOP Radioactive Waste…It glows on & on”

The bumper stickers point to an opinionated person with viewpoints that may not exactly fit into this conservative, close-knit, mostly- Catholic, Minnesota farming community.

I lived in Sleepy Eye in the early 1980s when I worked as a local newspaper reporter. I got a good feel for the community then. Maybe it’s changed. But, I’ll be honest here and tell you that, as an outsider and a Protestant, I never felt at home in Sleepy Eye. That feeling of exclusion, but mostly a less-than-ideal work environment and a better job offer at a nearby daily prompted me to leave after only six months.

I don’t know the exact pulse of Sleepy Eye today. But you’ll still find a solid Catholic foundation here which includes a parochial school, a retreat center and a church. I expect the beliefs of that population base are reflected in the pro-life signs edging this town. I appreciate and admire the public stand residents in this area make for unborn babies and their right to life. I support them.

That focus on babies takes me back to that strange, strange message at the ANTIQUE MAUL: “Y WOOD THE LORD TRUST ANY ONE IN SLEEPY EYE? AS U DID TO BABY FAITH: YOU DID TO BABY JESUS!”

I can’t imagine anyone feeling such animosity toward the people of Sleepy Eye. These are, from what I remember, good, honest, hardworking folks. The statement is so condemning.

(Just as a side note, if you recall, Sleepy Eye was the focus of world-wide attention in 2009 when then 13-year-old Daniel Hauser fled Minnesota for California with his mother to avoid court-ordered chemotherapy treatments for his cancer. The family, members of a spiritual organization that promotes natural healing methods, later changed their minds and Daniel underwent chemotherapy.)

The Hauser story has nothing to do with the topic of this post. I mention it simply to point out that even in rural areas (and maybe more so there), individuals have strong opinions and they’re not afraid to voice them.

Does anyone out there know who’s voicing an opinion on the storefront windows of the ANTIQUE MAUL and what, exactly, those words mean?

I would really like this mystery solved and an explanation for the messages I find all too unsettling for a small town in southwestern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling